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Wisconsin coach: NFL scouts tell me Montee Ball is draft’s top back

AP

Wisconsin’s Montee Ball will be the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL draft. At least, he will be if you believe his coach.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema told ESPN that he has spoken with NFL scouts about their views on his team, and they’ve always told him that Ball is the best running back prospect in the country.

“I’ve had several guys comment to me this year that they thought he’s the first back to go in this year’s draft,” Bielema said. “Many make the statement without a doubt.”

Ball decided to return to Wisconsin for his senior year after first checking with the NFL draft advisory board and being told he would likely be a third-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. As I wrote at the time, it’s hard to see what Ball could do as a senior to change NFL teams’ minds from the way they viewed him as a junior, and Ball’s production this year has declined significantly from last year.

If NFL scouts view Ball as the top running back in the draft, that may mean NFL scouts don’t think there’s much running back talent in this draft. Even if Ball is the first running back selected, it might not be in the first round.

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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

AP

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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Cowboys finally get another Switzer

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The last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl, the head coach’s name was Barry Switzer. They’ve now added a player with the same last name, but no relation.

North Carolina receiver Ryan Switzer, a West Virginia native (of course I’m going to mention that), has arrived via round four of the draft.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky recently praised praised Switzer during a visit to PFT Live. Switzer has sure hands and quick feet, but the decision is a bit of a head scratcher with Cole Beasley already manning the slot in Dallas.

Switzer, who ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, also can return punts for the Cowboys.

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