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Packers could be short on running backs Sunday

Alex Green AP

The Packers have wrapped up the NFC North, but they’d still like to get the first round bye that goes to the top two seeds in the NFC come playoff time.

They’ll continue their effort to secure one of those spots against the Titans in Green Bay this Sunday, but they may be short on running backs as they try to do it. Coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that Alex Green suffered a concussion in the victory over the Bears in Week 15 and he hasn’t been cleared to practice yet. McCarthy expressed optimism that Green would recover in time to play against Tennessee (he said the same about guard T.J. Lang, who is also recovering from a concussion), which would be a good thing for Green Bay because they are thin at the spot without him.

With James Starks still sidelined by a knee injury, the Packers would be down to John Kuhn, Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris (who have 44 carries between them this year) with Green out of the picture. The Packers would still have plenty of ways to beat the Titans, but life would be much easier with Green in the lineup.

McCarthy also updated the situations of a couple of other injured players. Safety Charles Woodson still hasn’t gotten clearance to return from his broken collarbone and wide receiver Jordy Nelson didn’t practice because of the hamstring injury that’s kept him out the last two weeks. Neither player’s going to be rushed back to the lineup at this point, but a return to the practice field would be a welcome development in Green Bay all the same.

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Greg Hardy appeal was filed Friday

Greg Hardy AP

On Wednesday, the NFL suspended Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy 10 games.  On Friday, the NFLPA filed a formal appeal of the suspension.

Per a league source, the appeal officially was filed Friday night.  It’s believed that the appeal will focus on the application of the new Personal Conduct Policy standards and processes retroactively to conduct that occurred before the NFL dramatically altered its approach to domestic violence cases.

The league, learning from a lawsuit filed by Adrian Peterson that resulted in a ruling that the new standard can’t apply retroactively, claims that the suspension was imposed under the former policy.  However, it’s obvious that the post-Ray Rice realities of the NFL influenced dramatically a situation that has resulted in Hardy missing 15 games with pay in 2014 and 10 games in 2015 for a first offense that resulted in no criminal liability, due to a civil settlement reached with his accuser, Nicole Holder.  Indeed, Hardy played last year in Week One — and then the Ray Rice elevator video was released, and everything changed.

Under the former policy and procedure, a first-time offender typically received a two-game suspension without pay.  In this specific case, the NFL has separated the incident into four separate violations; in connection with the appeal, the NFLPA undoubtedly will explore whether the NFL took one general incident and broke it into subsets that were then disciplined individually.

According to the source, the appeal also asks the NFL to designate a neutral arbitrator.  The league agreed to use a neutral arbitrator in the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension in 2014, but the league declined to appoint a neutral arbitrator in the appeal of Adrian Peterson’s suspension.  While the neutral arbitrator overturned the Rice suspension as a second punishment for the same conduct that had previously resulted in a two-game suspension, the neutral arbitrator also noted that the NFL could have imposed an indefinite suspension in the first place.

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Browns break bread with Breshad Perriman

Breshad Getty Images

Eventually, it will be easier to list the teams that haven’t shown interest in former Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman.

Per a league source, Browns G.M. Ray Farmer and other team executives had dinner with Perriman on Sunday night in Orlando.

Perriman last week visited the Jets, Titans, and Dolphins, and he has drawn interest from the likes of the Panthers, Bears, Lions, Steelers, Eagles, and Ravens.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network previously pegged four receivers for the top 20:  Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, and Perriman.  Cooper is regarded as the clear favorite to go first.  After that, it could be any of the other three.

The Browns currently hold the No. 12 and No. 19 picks in round one.  The extra first-round selection resulted from the decision in 2014 not to take receiver Sammy Watkins but instead to trade down with the Bills.  The Browns ultimately selected no receivers in last year’s draft, even though they knew Josh Gordon was facing a one-year suspension.  (It later became a 10-game suspension, but he has since been suspended for another year.)

Regardless of the order in which they come off the board, look for another round one run on receivers — especially after the five taken in the first round last year (Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin) have shown that, as football becomes more and more of a passing game, more and more guys coming out of college are pretty good at catching the ball.

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Trading up for quarterbacks remains a risky proposition

J.P. Losmanwlynch AP

Perhaps there’s a reason the Titans haven’t found a taker for the second pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and a chance to grab Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

It might be because there are some students of history out there.

As noted by Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times, since 2000 there have been 14 instances of a team trading up to draft a quarterback in the first round, with most of them going horribly wrong.

While the Giants (Eli Manning, 2004) and Ravens (Joe Flacco, 2008) have won Super Bowls with those quarterbacks, most of the rest were busts.

A few such as Michael Vick (Falcons, 2001), Jay Cutler (Broncos, 2006) and Mark Sanchez (Jets, 2009) have had some degrees of success, but the rest of the list should give you chills: Kyle Boller (Ravens, 2003), J.P. Losman (Bills, 2004), Jason Campbell (Washington, 2005), Brady Quinn (Browns, 2007), Josh Freeman (Buccaneers, 2009), Tim Tebow (Broncos, 2010), Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars, 2011), Robert Griffin III (Washington, 2012) and Johnny Manziel (Browns, 2014).

What does that tell us? Mostly that quarterbacks have always been, and remain scarce. That leads to desperation. And desperation leads to bad moves. And when you see teams such as the Browns and Washington on that list twice, it points to the kind of organizational instability that leads to rash decision-making.

That’s not to say Mariota is going to be a bust, but it does show that when teams reach for a quarterback, they often pay too high a price for their hope, and it often costs coaches and G.M.s their jobs.

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Monday morning one-liners

Bloomberg & Vanity Fair Cocktail Reception Following The 2015 WHCA Dinner Getty Images

Which quarterbacks are potential draft additions for the Bills?

A call for the Dolphins to make character a bigger concern in personnel decisions.

Sorting through players who may be available to the Patriots with the 32nd overall pick.

The Jets remain in need of a pass rusher.

Is offensive firepower coming the Ravens’ way in the draft?

Looking back at the Bengals’ 2012 draft class.

Texas DT Malcom Brown could fill a need for the Browns.

Steeler fans shopped for L.C. Greenwood memorabilia over the weekend.

The Texans have done well finding value in the draft.

Breaking down what the Colts are looking for at safety.

Six players that the Jaguars should consider in the first round.

Someone finally asks about the Derek Hagan angle to the Titans signing Hakeem Nicks.

Defensive line could be the Broncos’ target early in the draft.

LB Dee Ford is confident going into his second season with the Chiefs.

Ted Hendricks and Ben Davidson are the most memorable No. 83’s in Raiders history.

A positive take on the Chargers waiting to deal with S Eric Weddle’s contract.

Cowboys QB Tony Romo was part of the football contingent at the White House Correspondents dinner.

QB Eli Manning’s lack of concern about a new deal with the Giants may be informed by his brother’s experiences.

Assessing the Eagles’ need for cornerback help.

The Redskins will have their pre-draft press conference on Monday.

What can the Bears learn from the recent history of seventh picks?

Lions QB Matthew Stafford isn’t sweating the team’s left guard situation.

Defensive tackle could be the route the Packers go early in the draft.

The Vikings have the 110th pick for the second time in their history.

A history of Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff’s first-round selections.

The Panthers react to their schedule for the 2015 season.

Defense has been the focus of the Saints’ pre-draft visits.

Weighing defensive line possibilities in the draft for the Buccaneers.

Said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians of draft week, “You tell the truth and everybody thinks you’re lying.”

It’s not their biggest need, but a pass rusher could be the best value for the Rams in the first round.

Several cornerbacks could be in play for the 49ers in the first round.

A look at the Seahawks linebackers heading into the draft.

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Jameis returns to Tampa for Derrick Brooks event

Winston AP

In three days, the Buccaneers officially will be on the clock with the first overall pick in the draft.  All signs continue to point to Jameis Winston’s name that will be written on the card.

Beyond the team making known the work that has been done to investigate Winston’s background and to obtain explanations for multiple off-field entanglements and to conclude that he’s not an off-field entanglement waiting to happen at the next level, Winston has made multiple visits to Tampa, presumably to get fans accustomed to him and comfortable with the apparently inevitability that he’ll be the pick.

On Sunday night, Winston returned to Tampa for a charity event held by Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks.  Via JoeBucsFan.com, Winston was photographed with Brooks and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, both of whom (like Winston) played college football at Florida State.

As noted by Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith also attended the event — and Winston will be playing in the associated golf tournament on Monday, with current and former Buccaneers.

Brooks has made clear his hope that the Buccaneers will draft Winston, and men like Brooks and Sanders are expected to directly mentor him at the next level.

While none of this means the Buccaneers definitely will pick Winston, it’s just another piece of evidence that in a tapestry that strongly suggests Winston soon will be in Tampa on a more regular basis.

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Dolphins reportedly “covet” running back Todd Gurley

gurley Getty Images

When Georgia running back Todd Gurley got good news at the medical re-check recently, it cemented his status as a first-rounder (such that he wasn’t already).

And as we get closer to the 2015 NFL Draft, it’s looking more and more likely he’s going in the top half of the first round.

Via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins “covet” Gurley, which might mean the floor for his torn ACL-triggered fall could be the 14th overall pick.

“He’s a talent. He’s definitely a player that his ability stands out and shines,” Dolphins assistant general manager Eric Stokes said. “He’s an exciting guy to watch. We’ve enjoyed working through that process with him and seeing him. From there, we’ll see where things shake out.”

They might have to wait, because there’s no guarantee he’s going to be there when they pick.

As news circulates about Gurley’s condition, more people are beginning to feel his draft status is going to be closer to where it would have been pre-injury, and that could mean the Dolphins might have to turn their attention to another back, or another position.

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Leonard Williams is the No. 1 prospect, but no one knows where he’ll go

Leonard Williams AP

USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams is the consensus best player in the 2015 NFL draft. Mike Mayock thinks so, Mel Kiper thinks so, and most of the lesser-known draft “experts” who pop up around this time of year think so.

But where there’s widespread agreement that Williams is a great player, there’s no agreement at all about which team will draft Williams on Thursday night. And there’s even a chance that the best player in the draft could drop.

The Buccaneers appear to be set on Jameis Winston, so Williams won’t go first overall.

The Titans seem to be leaning toward drafting Marcus Mariota, or trading the second overall pick to a team that wants Mariota.

The Jaguars have been widely reported to be fond of Florida pass rusher Dante Fowler at No. 3.

The Raiders would make a lot of sense for Williams, but there are also plenty of reports that Oakland wants Alabama receiver Amari Cooper at No. 4.

Could Williams fall to Washington at No. 5? Could he fall even further than that? It’s hard to imagine that the consensus top player would drop that far.

But as we close in on Draft Day, we just don’t know where Williams will go.

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Adrian Peterson trade continues to look unlikely

Britain Steelers Vikings Football AP

Before and after running back Adrian Peterson was cleared to make a full return to the NFL for the 2015 season, the Vikings have insisted that they want him back for the 2015 season.

Peterson’s been less enthusiastic about returning to the only team he’s played for as a professional, but the signs continue to point toward his rerun to Minnesota for another season. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Vikings continue to say “publicly and privately” that Peterson will be playing for them or no one in 2015. As a result it would take “maybe too much” in a trade offer to tempt them to change their minds.

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports also reports that the price tag for a Peterson trade and the Vikings’ own desires will make it tough to get a deal done. Per Robinson, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman “feet are in cement” when it comes to holding onto the running back and that a “sledgehammer” of an offer is the only way to change that.

Robinson leaves open the possibility that the Cardinals may change their mind about dealing their first-round pick if they want and miss out on Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, something Rapaport mentions as well, but points out that getting a deal of this type done in a short time frame on Thursday night might not work out.

All of that points to no deal getting done, unless it is a financial one that involves making Peterson happier about playing out his contract with the Vikings.

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Add Amari Cooper to the list of Chicago no-shows

Amari Cooper AP

Florio mentioned last week that in addition to quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, at least 10 other players have declined invitations to the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago.

Via Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is among that group, having decided to skip the trip to the Windy City.

Individually, the absences might not mean as much.

But if the first three picks in the draft go by without anyone hopping on stage to hug commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s going to be a bad look for a league that has put so much into this road show.

Whether Cooper would have attended if the event was still in New York’s unclear, but it’s obvious that something’s amiss, as we’ve suddenly had three top players decide en masse to bypass the red carpet.

Of course, if there’s a trade in the top two, and someone makes a move for a quarterback, we probably won’t miss the grip-and-grin shot with Goodell and a player, even one as talented as Cooper.

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Titans like Mariota, unless there’s a deal to be made at No. 2

Marcus Mariota AP

With the clock ticking (lurching, crawling, staggering) toward the start of the 2015 NFL Draft Thursday night, we’re in the final phases of the will-they-or-won’t-they game of the top two picks.

And at last, there’s some clarity.

The Titans seem comfortable taking Marcus Mariota. Unless they trade the pick.

That’s via Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who has talked to a lot of people and come to the conclusion that it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen.

The Titans are still open to dealing the pick, but apparently haven’t gotten the right kind of offer yet.

That’s ostensibly why they’ve been talking up quarterback Zach Mettenberger all offseason, to convince people they really are fine making a deal, if the right one comes along.

But they’re also confident in Mariota’s ability to transition to a pro offense, with an Oregon source telling King the Titans were the most thorough team researching him throughout last season and offseason. There, they learned that Mariota was more comfortable in the pocket than many think, as he threw 23 of his 36 passes against Florida State in the national semifinal from the pocket.

What does all that mean?

The Titans are clearly sitting by the phone, waiting for it to ring, with nothing bigger than the direction of their franchise in the balance.

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Report: Jets believed to “have an affinity for” Andrus Peat

Foster Farms Bowl - Maryland v Stanford Getty Images

With a new head coach (Todd Bowles) and General Manager (Mike Maccagnan) in the fold, and with a host of roster needs, the Jets could go numerous ways with the No. 6 overall pick in Thursday’s draft.

However, a few other clubs reportedly think they have an inkling of a prospect New York especially likes.

According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, “several” NFL personnel directors suspect the Jets are fond of Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat.

Offensive line would be a logical area for the Jets to address early in the draft. Three of their starters are at least 31 years old, and right tackle Breno Giacomini turns 30 in November. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who enters his 10th season as a starter, will turn 32 in December.

As the Daily News notes, Peat took a pre-draft visit to the Jets, who have six draft selections in 2015. Given their lack of picks, the Jets would seem a logical trade-down candidate.

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John Harbaugh provides passionate defense of football

John Harbaugh AP

As the game of football faces questions about its long-term viability given the fairly recent realization that the inherent risks of football include chronic brain issues that may develop into cognitive impairments, the battle lines have been drawn between those who attack the game and those who defend it.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh defends it zealously in an article recently posted at the team’s official website.

“The question is asked over and over:  Why would anyone want to play football?  And why would anyone let their kids play?” Harbaugh writes.  “Here’s my answer:  I believe there’s practically no other place where a young man is held to a higher standard.”

Harbaugh realizes that the concussion issue has brought football to a “turning point” like the one in the early 1900s that prompted significant changes in response to a rash of deaths and serious injuries.

“We have to continue to get players in better helmets,” Harbaugh writes.  “We have to teach tackling the right way, and that starts at the NFL level.  Change the rules.  Take certain things out of the game.  It’s all the right thing to do.”

Harbaugh focuses his views on high school football, the highest level of the sport in which 97 percent of all players participate.

“How many youth and high school coaches serve as a father figure to their players?” Harbaugh writes.  “How many mothers look to the coaches of their son’s football team as the last best hope to show their son what it means to become a man — a real man?  More than we’ll ever know.”

Some will say that Harbaugh’s decision to articulate his views confirms that those with a vested in football are worried about its future.  Maybe those with a vested interest in football should be worried about its future; of all the sports and other activities that entail risk of short-term or long-term injury, football is one of the few that now comes under regular scrutiny.

Is football dangerous?  Yes.  It always has been, and it always will be.

Obviously, plenty of things are dangerous.  It’s become popular in some circles to distinguish the risk of accidental injury from, for example, riding a bike to the reality that football necessarily entails head contact when it operates as intended.  But head contact doesn’t always lead to concussion and concussion doesn’t always lead to brain damage.  In football, brain damage isn’t inevitable.  In other activities, accidents likewise aren’t inevitable.

A wide range of activities have risks and rewards.  Everyone needs to decide whether the rewards justify the risks.  Regardless of what anyone chooses, it doesn’t mean the activity should be abandoned or outlawed, unless the risks become too great and/or the rewards become too small.

Many people, like John Harbaugh, believe the rewards outweigh the risks, and that the stewards of the game have an obligation to find ways to reduce the risks as much as possible.

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Kevin Johnson could be the first cornerback taken

Johnson Getty Images

Our first (perhaps only) mock draft of the year had Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson going 18th overall to the Chiefs, two spots below cornerback Trae Waynes, to the Texans.  The order of their depature from the draft board ultimately could be flipped.

With the draft four days away, we’re told that multiple teams have Johnson ahead of Waynes.  If one of those teams ends up on the clock and decides to take a corner, Johnson will go before Waynes.

Johnson, who entered college at a mere 155 pounds, has steadily added weight.  Reaching 175 last year, Johnson currently spins the dial to 188.

That’s nearly twice what he weighed in adolescence.

“I had ability, I was just a late bloomer,” Johnson has said.  “My freshman year of high school, I was five feet tall and weighed 96 pounds.  So I’m just growing every day.  I’m still growing now.”

His confidence has grown, too.

“I’m the best cornerback in the draft,” Johnson said.  “I think I’m a lockdown cornerback.”

Regardless of whether he’s the best cornerback in the draft, he could be the first one taken on Thursday night.

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Unnamed personnel executive: Class of 2015 has “no draftable kickers”

Reese's Senior Bowl Getty Images

There have been multiple kickers selected in each of the last three drafts.

However, there’s some feeling that not a single kicker merits being selected in the upcoming draft, which starts Thursday in Chicago.

In a story published Sunday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an unnamed personnel executive panned the kickers in the Class of 2015.

“There’s no draftable kickers,” the executive said, according to the Journal Sentinel‘s Bob McGinn. “The combine was probably the worst display of kicking talent I’ve ever seen. It was, like, ‘Are you kidding me? You can’t develop a kicker?’ ”

In his 2015 NFL Draft Preview, personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki gave six kickers draftable grades, with Louisiana-Monroe’s Justin Manton getting the highest mark. However, only Manton received a grade equating to a “fair chance to earn a roster spot,” with the other five kickers graded as “capable of battling for a roster spot.”

It’s uncommon to have a draft without a kicker selected. The last was in 2010, which snapped an 11-year streak of at least one kicker drafted per spring.

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PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Amari Cooper’s draft position: 4.5

Amari Cooper AP

Leading up to Thursday’s NFL draft, we’ll put on our oddsmaking hats and Ace Rothstein glasses and set one proposition “bet” per day for PFT Planet to ponder. At the conclusion of the draft, we’ll see how PFT Planet did on the wagers, which are for entertainment purposes only.

Here’s the second in our series of five draft-related props:

PFT Draft Prop No. 2: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper’s draft position in Round One: 4.5.

Cooper is certain to be one of the top receivers taken on Thursday. Though quite unlikely to be the No. 1 overall pick, Cooper could seemingly appeal to a variety of other clubs selecting early, including Tennessee at No. 2 or Oakland at No. 4. In fact, Rotoworld draft expert Josh Norris has the Raiders taking Cooper in his latest mock.

However, Cooper could also fit with teams after Oakland in the draft order, with Washington (No. 5), the Jets (No. 6) and Bears (No. 7) all logical landing spots.

So where does Amari Cooper land in Round One? The poll is open, as are the comments.

Previous draft props

PFT Draft Prop No. 1: Over-Under on first-round RBs: 2.5

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