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PFT’s Week Four picks

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In hindsight, I shouldn’t have complained about the Monday night debacle.

After all, I picked the Seahawks to win by a point and, thanks to the replacement officials, Seattle won by two.  Since MDS picked the Pack, it allowed me to win the weekly contest with MDS by two, 9-7 versus 7-9.

Given the crazy, upside-down games from Week Three, I’ll take a winning record and run with it — as quickly as the Seahawks ran with their unwarranted win.

For the season, I’m now 27-21, and MDS is 26-22.

This week, we disagree on three games.  All 15 of our picks appear below.

Browns at Ravens

MDS’s take: Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has actually looked decent the last two weeks, after a disastrous Week One. But the Ravens’ defense will bring far too much heat for Weeden to handle. I look for Haloti Ngata to pound Weeden into the turf a few times on Thursday night.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 27, Browns 6.

Florio’s take:  The Browns are another close loss or two away from imploding completely.  They won’t have to worry about another close loss on Thursday night.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 31, Browns 13.

Panthers at Falcons

MDS’s take: I still don’t believe the Panthers are as bad as they’ve looked this season, and that by the end of the year they could be fighting for a playoff spot. But Atlanta is the wrong place for the Panthers to try to get back on track.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 23, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons have beaten the Panthers four straight times, scoring 31 points exactly in each game.  Atlanta could be on track to clinching the division by Thanksgiving.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 31, Panthers 14.

Patriots at Bills

MDS’s take: This is a fascinating game in the AFC East race, one that could establish the Bills as the favorites to win the division. I’ve been saying all year that the Bills have made the right moves to become playoff contenders this season, but I just think the Patriots, with their backs against the wall, are going to come out focused and ready to play their best game of the season.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 24, Bills 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bills have beaten the Pats only once since the last time the Pats had a losing record.  Buffalo is moving in the right direction, but New England needs this one badly.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Bills 23.

Vikings at Lions

MDS’s take: Another fascinating divisional game, as the Vikings have a real opportunity here to establish themselves as surprising contenders in the NFC North. However, I see far too many matchup advantages for the Lions’ receivers against the Vikings’ secondary.  Not just Calvin Johnson (who has a matchup advantage over every defensive back in the league) but also receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young and tight end Brandon Pettigrew should be able to get open and get points on the board in Detroit.

MDS’s pick: Lions 28, Vikings 24.

Florio’s take:  The Lions have won three straight in the series, but the Vikings are gaining confidence,  The Lions continue to be more flawed than anyone realized.  Receiver Jerome Simpson returns from suspension in time to help the Vikings take advantage of Detroit’s biggest weakness.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Lions 16.

Titans at Texans

MDS’s take: The Texans are the best team in the AFC South by such a large margin that the question for me isn’t whether they’ll win the division but how quickly they’ll clinch. My guess is some time around Week 11. This win will be another step toward that.

MDS’s pick: Texans 34, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  Yeah, I picked the Titans to win the division.  And if they upset the Texans on Sunday, the Titans will thrust themselves into the conversation.  And if they upset the Texans, it will mean that I picked this specific game incorrectly.  Despite last weekend’s epic in Nashville, the Titans aren’t nearly as good as I thought they’d be.  The Texans are much better than I thought they’d be.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 24, Titans 13.

Chargers at Chiefs

MDS’s take: The Chiefs looked pretty good against the Saints on Sunday, and the Chargers looked pretty bad against the Falcons on Sunday. But I’m expecting the Chargers to win, in a game that I have a hunch will come down to special teams, where the Chargers will make plays and the Chiefs will make mistakes.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Chiefs 21.

Florio’s take:  One week often changes everything.  Last Sunday, the Chargers went from elite to “meh” status, and the Chiefs showed they’ve got some fight.  Home team gets the edge in this one, especially if Jamaal Charles saved some yards for Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 24, Chargers 22.

49ers at Jets

MDS’s take: If not for the injury to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, I’d be very tempted to pick the 49ers to lose their second straight road game. But that Revis injury is devastating to the Jets not only because it radically changes what they can do on defense, but also because while seeing players and coaches on the Jets talking this week, you could practically feel the entire locker room deflating at the loss of their best player. I think the Jets are going to come out looking very bad on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 27, Jets 14.

Florio’s take:  The difference between the 49ers defense and the Jets defense is that the 49ers didn’t put all their eggs in one island.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Jets 13.

Seahawks at Rams

MDS’s take: The Seahawks don’t have any time to send thank-you notes to the league office for their gift on Monday night, because they’ve got a road trip to St. Louis on a short work week. I like the way Jeff Fisher’s defense is playing, and I think Russell Wilson will feel a lot of pressure, but Seattle’s defensive line will have Sam Bradford under pressure, and the Seahawks will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 10, Rams 9.

Florio’s take:  Short week, significant travel, improving opponent, and guilty conscience add up to trouble for the Seahawks in St. Louis.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 14, Seahawks 12.

Dolphins at Cardinals

MDS’s take: It’s taken me a while to learn to believe in the Cardinals, but I’m there now. Which probably means they’re going to lose. But I’m picking them anyway.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Dolphins 7.

Florio’s take:  This has the potential to be one of those early-season “correction” games.  But how can the Dolphins win if they can’t score any offensive touchdowns against once of the best defenses in the league?

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 17, Dolphins 6.

Bengals at Jaguars

MDS’s take: I loved the game Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden called on Sunday against the Redskins. Look for Bengals receiver A.J. Green to have another big day against the Jaguars.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 28, Jaguars 24.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Bengals, a week after finally winning a game they were supposed to lose, to lose a game they’re supposed to win.  But the Bengals are better than the Jaguars on both sides of the ball — and the Jaguars will have a hard time keeping up with a suddenly dynamic and diverse offense.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Jaguars 14.

Raiders at Broncos

MDS’s take: It says something about what we’ve come to expect from Peyton Manning that he had 330 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers on Sunday against a very good Texans defense, and yet everyone is talking about how he’s just not the same. Playing a weak Raiders defense will result in Manning looking a lot better, and the Broncos improving to 2-2.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take:  Peyton Manning won’t need much arm strength to move the ball against a defense that can’t do much to stop him.  Or anyone.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Raiders 17.

Saints at Packers

MDS’s take: Raise your hand if you predicted these two teams would be a combined 1-5 heading into this game. I see the Packers’ problems as much more correctable than the Saints’ problems, and I see Aaron Rodgers having a big day against a shaky Saints defense.

MDS’s pick: Packers 27, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints can thank the Seahawks and the replacement officials for what they’re about to endure.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 45, Saints 17.

Redskins at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bucs have a bad offense and a good defense; the Redskins have a good offense and a bad defense. I like Tampa Bay’s defense to keep it close and the Redskins’ defense to give up a big play at the wrong time.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 14, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:  That win over the Saints in New Orleans is looking less impressive by the week.  And the Bucs are better than their record would suggest.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 20, Redskins 16.

Giants at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles need to bounce back in a big way after laying an egg against the Cardinals. I think they’re going to, with Michael Vick finally making it through a game without a turnover.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Giants 21.

Florio’s take:  Eagles coach Andy Reid does his best work when his back is against the wall.  And his back is already against the wall.  And he said just enough this week to put his quarterback’s back against the wall, too.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Giants 24.

Bears at Cowboys

MDS’s take: As impressive as the Bears’ defense has been, I think they’ll struggle with the explosiveness of Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who should have a huge game in a Dallas win.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Bears 20.

Florio’s take:  If the Cowboys can keep Tony Romo in two or fewer pieces (factoring in the possibility of the partial loss of an ear), the Cowboys should win this one.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 26, Bears 17.

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Air Force players were led to believe they could head to the NFL

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On Saturday, it became publicly known that the Air Force has changed its policy regarding football players from the Air Force Academy with NFL opportunities, requiring them to spend two years on active duty before playing professional football. It was news to the Air Force players, too.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the players had been led to believe throughout the pre-draft process that they could join the NFL. As a result, they spent time and money training for the selection process. Air Force receiver Jalen Robinette even participated in the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine under the clear impression that he would be permitted to play in the NFL. Several other Air Force players went through the pre-draft process, including a Pro Day workout held at the Air Force Academy on March 21.

The players believed NFL opportunities could be pursued, and as recently as Thursday they continued to be under that impression. Most if not all became aware of the change through the Denver Post article communicating the sudden shift in Air Force policy.

Coaches aren’t happy. Apart from negatively impacting future recruiting efforts, the change comes after a new class of recruits signed up under the impression that they’d have a path to pro football, too, if they play well enough in college.

The situation could make for a somewhat awkward visit by Air Force players to Washington on Tuesday, where they will receive The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy from the Commander-in-Chief.

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Jerry Jones “very skeptical” of report Randy Gregory failed drug test

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones indicated on Saturday evening that he didn’t believe the report that came out Saturday morning saying Randy Gregory has failed another drug test.

I would be very skeptical,” Jones said of the TMZ report, via the Star-Telegram.

Drug testing is handled at the league level, not at the team level, and it’s unclear how much information Jones has been given on Gregory’s situation. But Jones said the report’s claim that Gregory blew off NFL officials is incorrect, and that Gregory is working within the league’s substance abuse program.

“That’s just not right,” Jones said. “He is getting a lot of support. He is not void in any way. He’s got in my mind a better method of support than he had most of last year. I’m very comfortable with his support and we are trying to stay in communication with him.”

Gregory is suspended for the entire 2017 season, but Jones said the Cowboys remain supportive of Gregory and still hope he’ll play for them in the future.

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Jourdan Lewis: I’m completely innocent of domestic violence charge

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The Cowboys picked up three cornerbacks during the draft, including Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis with the 92nd overall pick.

Lewis is facing a July trial on a domestic violence charge stemming from a March incident in Ann Arbor. Lewis is accused of dragging his girlfriend across a room by the neck and holding her down on the floor during an argument and has been charged with a misdemeanor.

Lewis plead not guilty and said he was confident that the matter will be resolved in his favor.

“I completely think that all charges will be dropped and I think I will be exonerated from everything,” Lewis said, via ESPN.com. “I’m completely innocent. I believe that wholeheartedly. And I’m just going to have to see what happens in my next trial date.”

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team had their general counsel Jason Counts involved in the investigation into Lewis’ case and they had an in-house reference on Lewis in safeties coach Greg Jackson, who was Michigan’s defensive backs coach in 2015.

Lewis will not face league discipline as the Personal Conduct Policy does not apply to players before they are drafted.

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Broncos make Chad Kelly Mr. Irrelevant

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Chad Kelly was far from irrelevant, as a guy who made plenty of plays, plenty of headlines and had a Hall of Fame uncle.

But now, he’s Mr. Irrelevant.

The Broncos took the injured Ole Miss quarterback with the 253rd and final pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.

He’s not going to be able to throw for at least two more months after undergoing wrist surgery earlier this month. And he was coming off a torn ACL suffered last season anyway, so it’s hard to tell how much he’ll be able to do anytime soon.

Kelly, the nephew of former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, was an accomplished passer but had issues off the field as well.

Now, he goes to a place where they have an established quarterback competition, with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch at the top of the depth chart.

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Jets’ Devin Smith out for season with torn ACL

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Jets receiver Devin Smith’s season is over before it started.

The Jets announced today that Smith suffered a torn ACL at the team’s first offseason workout and will miss the entire 2017 season.

It’s the same ACL that Smith tore in 2015, bringing his rookie season to an end. That injury lingered into 2016 and continued to affect him during his second season. And now his third season is over.

The Jets selected Smith with the 37th overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Through three seasons, he has managed just 10 catches.

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Lions tab Brad Kaaya late in sixth round

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The Lions have taken a quarterback in the sixth round for the second straight year.

They selected University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya with the 215th overall pick. Jake Rudock was the 191st pick last year and was the only quarterback on the roster other than Matthew Stafford before the Kaaya pick.

That would suggest there’s a good chance that one of the two of them will be serving as Stafford’s backup for the 2017 season, although disappointing offseason work could give the team cause to look at a more experienced option.

Kaaya got a good review from current Miami head coach Mark Richt in the days before the draft and likely got one from Richt’s predecessor as well. Al Golden is now the Lions’ tight ends coach and one would imagine that Kaaya wouldn’t be in Detroit if Golden didn’t think he has something to offer the team.

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Jake Butt has no regrets

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Michigan tight end Jake Butt slid to round five round in the draft, due in large part to a torn ACL suffered during the Orange Bowl, his final college game. He has no second thoughts about the decision to play one more game.

“I’ll never regret playing in a football game in my life,” Butt told reporters on Saturday after being drafted by Denver. “I don’t play football because of the money or the fame or the hype or anything. I play football because it’s what I love to do. I was dedicated to my team at Michigan. I’m going to be a dedicated Denver Bronco, and it’s never going to cross my mind to sit out of a game because of money or any other possibility. I’m out there and I’m going to give it my all every time I step on that field. I still have absolutely no regrets, and again, I’m just happy it worked out like this because I’m a Denver Bronco.”

As to his much-publicized loss-of-value insurance policy, that according to ESPN will pay him $543,000, Butt says it’s not quite that simple.

“I’ve been following that insurance policy, and it’s really not completely accurate,” Butt said. “There’s a lot more that’s going into that than what’s being tweeted today. I really don’t know. It could be ‘X’ amount of dollars. It could be ‘Y’ amount of dollars. There’s so much more that will go into it than I’m able to understand right now, and that’s going to be something that I have to speak to with my agent and my dad and some lawyers about.”

He ultimately may need to hire some lawyers and direct those lawyers to file some lawsuits, because rarely if ever does an insurance company spit out huge money without red tape, delay, and/or multiple threshold efforts to deny or limit payment.

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Browns may eventually rescind the Caleb Brantley pick

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Leave it to the Browns to find new ways to do things in the NFL, while still mastering the time-honored trend of losing many more games than they win.

After using a sixth-round draft pick on defensive lineman Caleb Brantley, who currently faces criminal assault charges, executive V.P. of football operations Sashi Brown said that the team is still investigating the situation, and that the Browns could release him based upon what they eventually learn.

It’s hard not to wonder whether the P.R. reaction from the selection will influence the final decision, regardless of what the team learns through its investigation. Even if the Browns conclude the kid is clean, he still could face prosecution, conviction, and incarceration.

Brantley allegedly punched a woman last week, rendering her unconscious and knocking out a tooth. Before the incident, the player was regarded as a potential first-round pick.

In 1996, the Patriots rescinded their rights to fifth-round defensive lineman Christian Peter after ownership became aware of his criminal history. There, the team knew everything it needed to know before making the pick.

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Despite battery charge, Browns draft Caleb Brantley

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If you’re willing to overlook off-field red flags, you can get first-round talent in the sixth round.

That’s what happened today when the Browns took Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley with the 185th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

As recently as a week ago, some projections had Brantley going in the first round. But then came word that Brantley had been arrested for allegedly punching a woman, knocking her unconscious and knocking her tooth out. Brantley is facing a misdemeanor battery charge, and many teams took him off their draft boards because of it.

The Browns, however, still think Brantley is worth the risk. They just added a talented football player, but it remains to be seen whether he’s a player who’s going to be a bigger problem off the field than he is an asset on the field.

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Bucs happy with Doug Martin’s trajectory, add back in fifth round

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The Buccaneers used two of their first three draft picks on offensive players, but they veered away from predictions that they would add a running back in the first two days of the draft.

Doug Martin is suspended for the first three games of next season and has no guaranteed money left on his deal as a result of the suspension, leading some to think they’d prepare to move on from him during the draft. General Manager Jason Licht had positive things to say about Martin on Friday night when he was asked about not picking a back, however.

“We’ve been happy with the trajectory that he’s on. I’ve said that before but it’s true,’’ Licht said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s had the right mindset and we still have some time there. But just two years ago, he was the second-leading rusher in the NFL. You know, we like Jacquizz [Rodgers] and Charles [Sims] and Peyton [Barber]. Sometimes people seem to think that’s a [need]. In the building, we feel comfortable with our guys and that includes Doug.”

That group of running backs got a little bigger in the fifth round when the Bucs drafted Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols. McNichols ran for 3,046 yards and 43 touchdowns over the last two seasons and added 88 receptions, something that lumps him in with tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin as draft picks who could aid Jameis Winston.

Whether that will be enough to push Martin, who also went to Boise State, or another of the backs off the roster remains to be seen, but Tampa has given itself another option out of the backfield.

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Bills add quarterback Nathan Peterman

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The Bills were expected to select a quarterback at some point in the 2017 NFL draft, and in the fifth round they finally did.

Buffalo chose Nathan Peterman of Pittsburgh with the 171st overall pick.

The Bills are committed to Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback for now, but Peterman is a developmental prospect who could become a starter at some point.

Beyond Taylor the Bills have Cardale Jones, T.J. Yates and Josh Woodrum on the roster at quarterback. Now they can feel free to toss Peterman into the mix.

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Mike Mayock doesn’t hide his contempt for draft’s circus atmosphere

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There was a time when it went without saying that the NFL draft was only for the hardest of hard-core football fans: Who on earth would spend a spring day watching football players’ names being called except people who live and breathe football?

But that time has passed, and not everyone who lives and breathes football is happy about it.

Now the NFL has turned the draft into a massive event, one that draws tens of thousands of fans in person and several million viewers on television. Just as the Super Bowl now includes musical acts that hard-core football fans don’t care about, the NFL draft now includes picks being announced from locales around the world and even in outer space, all in an effort to make the draft a bigger event that appeals to more than just the hard-core fans who have always watched.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, about as hard-core a football fan as there is, got fed up with it today. As the Colts’ picks were announced with help from an orangutan at the Indianapolis Zoo, Mayock ripped his employer’s attempt to inject some levity into the proceedings.

“If we’re going back to the zoo, I’m walking off the desk,” Mayock said. “I’ve about had the zoo, OK? Enough. Enough. I mean, is this good TV?”

NFL Network’s Rich Eisen introduced the zoo segment with some sarcasm, saying, “If we don’t go to the zoo, the world will stop spinning.”

When the orangutan revealed the Colts’ selection of defensive tackle Grover Stewart, Mayock indicated he thought it was unfair to Stewart to turn one of the most significant moments of his life into a circus.

“I think we’ve got to be a little respectful,” Mayock said. “It’s a big day for Grover Stewart, and rather than talking about that chimp, let’s get back to some football here. It’s a big day for him.”

As NFL Network went to a commercial after that, Mayock could be heard saying, “At some point we’ve got to be able to talk about this.” It wasn’t clear if he was saying that to the audience or if he thought the commercial break had already begun and was saying it to his colleagues. Either way, he raises an important point: The NFL wants to grow the draft, but as it does so, it risks leaving its most passionate fans disillusioned.

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Broncos grab Jake Butt

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Tight end Jake Butt’s college career ended with a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl, which led to a draft drop for a player projected to be picked in the first couple of rounds before he was injured.

Butt was able to cushion the fall thanks to an insurance policy and it came to an end at the start of the fifth round. The Broncos took Butt with the 145th overall pick and first selection of the fifth round.

Butt won the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end last year and caught 138 passes for 1,646 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Wolverines over his career. It will be some time before the Broncos know when Butt will be able to get on the field, but playing time should be available if he can play at the same level as he did before getting hurt.

Michigan has now had 10 players selected in this year’s draft. It’s the first time since 1974 that they’ve had that many players picked.

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DeDe Westbrook denies being kicked out of a Scouting Combine interview

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After the Jaguars picked receiver DeDe Westbrook in the fourth round of the draft, ESPN’s Todd McShay said a team kicked Westbrook out of one of the 15-minute Scouting Combine interviews.

Westbrook denies that.

“I don’t think I was necessarily kicked out of a Combine interview,” Westbrook told reporters after he was picked.

Asked more broadly what happened, Westbrook said, “I have no idea. I’m not aware of that.”

G.M. Dave Caldwell separately said Westbrook has “no margin for error” regarding off-field issues, and Westbrook agrees.

“At the end of the day that’s up to me, and I’ve overcome adversity many times in my life and it’s just another chance for me to overcome it,” Westbrook said. “I thank the Jacksonville Jaguars for giving me the opportunity to do that in their organization.”

Caldwell added that Westbrook likely will play in the slot, and that he could have the same type of role as 2016 Chiefs draft pick Tyreek Hill.

“This is a guy that was a Biletnikoff Award winner, fourth in the Heisman running, averaged 18 yards per catch,” Caldwell said. “He is a punt returner. He is a dynamic athlete, speed and with the ball in his hands. Sitting there in the fourth round, he was a guy sticking out there on the board.”

So how did they get past the off-field issues, which included multiple allegations of criminal wrongdoing?

“We did a lot of work on it,” Caldwell said. “All the way back to his high school days. We have some really good sources there at Oklahoma that I have known for a long period of time. The football aspect of it is really good. Obviously he has had some issues early in his career. We feel that is behind and that has to be behind him.”

Caldwell sounds comfortable with the potential for scrutiny arising from the decision to pick Westbrook.

“I think we have done our due diligence enough to realize that is behind him and that, like we said, all of those charges were dropped,” Caldwell said. “I think we all have been accused of things, not all of us, but many of us have been accused of things. We don’t take it lightly. Obviously it is a serious issue, and we just feel like at this point in time to give the kid a chance to make it right.”

If he doesn’t, he won’t be in Jacksonville for long. And the Jaguars will have wasted a fourth-round pick.

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Cards fourth-round pick Dorian Johnson not worried about liver condition

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His exact spot varied from list to list, but many pre-draft rankings had guard Dorian Johnson listed as a possible pick on the second day of this year’s draft, but he remained on the board until the Cardinals took him in the fourth round with the 115th overall pick.

The biggest reason why Johnson was still available at that point is a liver condition that Johnson has had since birth. Johnson’s agent Joe Panos told Adam Caplan of ESPN that teams told him they passed on Johnson earlier “even though his heptalogist said his condition will in no way affect his ability to play.”

Johnson said that it has never caused him problems in the past and doesn’t anticipate it will in the future.

“I have no issues with it,” Johnson said, via the Cardinals website, “I’m absolutely not worried about it at all.”

Johnson started 42 games at Pittsburgh and could compete for a starting job in Arizona as a rookie.

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