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NFL morning after: Peyton’s place in history

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The list of players who have won at least five MVP awards in the major sports reads like a who’s who of the greatest athletes in history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan in the NBA. Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky in the NHL. Barry Bonds (perhaps with an asterisk) in Major League Baseball. And that’s it.

Peyton Manning, who almost certainly clinched the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his stellar NFL career, is about to join that list.

We could debate where Manning ranks among the all-time great quarterbacks in football history, but I almost think that’s too narrow a debate. Perhaps the discussion needs to be where Manning ranks among the great competitors in the history of sports.

Think about all Manning has accomplished. He’s already the only NFL player who has ever won four MVP awards. He already owns several NFL records and will most likely own every significant career passing record before he’s finished. In addition to his fifth MVP award this year, he’s also going to get his 13th Pro Bowl selection and his seventh first-team All-Pro selection and perhaps his eighth offensive player of the year award. Last year he added a comeback player of the year award to his trophy case. In college he was a first-team All-American and winner of the Sullivan Award as America’s greatest amateur athlete. In high school he was the national player of the year.

Manning broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season in Sunday’s win over the Texans, with his 51st touchdown pass of the year giving the Broncos their final score in an easy win. Next week he’s likely to break the NFL record for passing yards in a season, as the Broncos just need to beat the Raiders to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They’re one win away from heading into the postseason as the favorites to come out of the AFC and go to the Super Bowl. But as I was watching that unfold on Sunday, I was thinking two somewhat contradictory things.

First, I was thinking that it’s undeniable how great Peyton Manning is. He’s been an American sports star since he was a teenager, and he’s the best player in the NFL today at age 37. He’s about to get his fifth MVP, and there are another few seasons when he had a good case for the award (including last year, when he came in second). He’s just consistently amazing.

But the second thing I was thinking is that, no matter how much he does individually, he won’t be remembered as the greatest ever if he doesn’t get a second Super Bowl ring. That’s not right — football is the ultimate team sport, and no one wins or loses alone — but that’s the way it is. If any team other than the Broncos is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the first Sunday in February, this will be remembered as another year when Peyton Manning didn’t get it done.

To me, though, Manning’s place in history is secure. He’s the best quarterback who ever lived.

Manning was the player who impressed me most on Sunday. Below are some other thoughts:

Dallas has a badly coached defense. We’ve been talking all season about what a bad job Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is doing, and there are many examples of that, but I was particularly struck by how ill-prepared the Dallas defense was when Washington showed a new formation on Sunday. With Washington’s offense lining up four receivers to the left side early in the second half, the Dallas secondary didn’t know how to line up in coverage, and so they blew a timeout — and then Dallas gave up a touchdown pass two plays after that timeout. If your defense is wasting timeouts because you can’t figure out what the other team’s offense is doing, and if you can’t get your coverage straightened out even after you’ve called timeout, you’ve got serious problems. Firing Rob Ryan and hiring Kiffin was a huge mistake for the Cowboys.

Weird call that I liked: Longtime Jaguars center Brad Meester had never caught a pass in his NFL career, but because he was playing his last home game after announcing that he’ll retire at the end of the season, the Jags decided to call a trick play with Meester as an eligible receiver. Sure enough, Meester caught the pass and then made a nifty little move to run for a first down. The Jaguars have had a rough season, but they haven’t quit on coach Gus Bradley, and plays like that pass to Meester show why: Players enjoy playing for a coach who makes football fun, and what’s more fun than letting a 300-pound 36-year-old catch a pass?

Weird call that I disliked, Part 1: With the Broncos facing fourth-and-3 in Houston, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — Denver’s offense should be able to pick up three yards on Houston’s defense. But I hated the play they ran, with Peyton Manning throwing a short pass to tight end Julius Thomas, who was tackled for a two-yard gain. If you’re throwing on fourth down, throw past the line to gain.

Weird call that I disliked, Part 2: With the Titans facing fourth-and-goal in Jacksonville, the offense stayed on the field, and I liked that decision — you’ve got nothing to lose, why not go for it? But I hated the play they ran, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing it out the back of the end zone. If you’re throwing on fourth down, don’t throw it away.

Terron Armstead wasn’t ready. Armstead, the rookie left tackle inserted into the Saints’ starting lineup for the first time on Sunday, looked pretty much the way you’d expect a rookie from a small school like Arkansas-Pine Bluff to look in his first NFL start. The Saints have had problems on their offensive line all year, and I understand why Sean Payton wanted to see if Armstead could help protect Drew Brees’s blind side, but Armstead simply wasn’t up to the task. The Panthers’ pass rush terrorized Brees all day.

Luke Kuechly is amazing. The flip side of the Saints’ offense struggling is that the Panthers’ defense was incredible in Sunday’s win over New Orleans. Kuechly, the second-year linebacker, had an unbelievable day: His 24 tackles were tied for the most the NFL has ever recorded by one player in a game, since tackles began being tracked as a statistic in 1994. Kuechly also became the first player since Derrick Brooks to record 20 tackles and an interception in the same game.

How can teams play so badly, with so much on the line? The Bears entered Sunday night knowing a win would clinch the NFC North. They lost 54-11. The Ravens entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They lost 41-7. The Lions entered Sunday knowing they needed to win to stay alive. They lost at home to the woeful Giants. The Dolphins entered Sunday knowing that if they won out they’d make the playoffs. They were destroyed by the hapless Bills.

We have an exciting Week 17 ahead of us. Some years all of the top teams are locked into their playoff spots before the season’s final Sunday. But not this year. Only one team, the Chiefs, knows its playoff seed (No. 5 in the AFC). Every other contender still has something to play for. We’re going to see some great football on Sunday. Including, I expect, Peyton Manning to set a new NFL record for passing yards in a season while leading the Broncos to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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Thursday’s PFT Live has C.J. Anderson, Rick Spielman, Orlando Pace

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If you’re up late, get to bed. If you’re up early, welcome. Now stick around for Thursday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio.

The three-hour show, starting at 6:00 a.m. ET with a full replay at 6:00 a.m. PT, has for a limited time a one-hour simulcast on NBCSN, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. ET. During that hour on Thursday, the guests include Broncos running back and unsung Super Bowl hero C.J. Anderson, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman, and new Hall of Fame offensive tackle Orlando Pace.

The rest of the show will include plenty of news, analysis, and hot takes. It’ll also be interesting to see if PFT Live producer Rob “Stats” Guerrera continues his unblemished streak of wearing a solid-colored sweater over a dress shirt with a gigantic collar.

Well, “interesting” may not be the best word to describe that. Regardless, dial us up on Sirius 213, XM 202, NBCSportsRadio.com, and any of the fine affiliates broadcasting the program.

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Jim Irsay promises “shocking” contract for Andrew Luck

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Peyton Manning has made it to two Super Bowls since the Colts let him go. The Colts are still trying to get to one.

The heir to Manning’s throne in Indianapolis becomes the biggest beneficiary of the ongoing quest to win championships.

Owner Jim Irsay has made some strong promises about the next contract to be signed by quarterback Andrew Luck. Via the team’s official website, Irsay recently said the eventual deal will be “shocking,” promising that Luck will make more than $20 million per year.

It’s shocking that Irsay would call it shocking, since the goal should be to do the best possible deal under the circumstances, not to hand the checkbook to Luck and say, “Shock me.”

It’s also a bit shocking that Irsay is willing to pay Luck before his rookie contract expires. Twice, Peyton Manning had to play every game of every contract with the Colts before getting another one. With Luck injured and ineffective for most of 2015, why not let him play out the fifth and final year of his deal before signing him to a blockbuster contract?

If anything, last year gave the Colts more than a little leverage in long-term talks. Irsay has squandered it in one sound bite.

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Andy Dalton still hasn’t thrown since thumb injury

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If the Bengals had made it past the wild-card round, they would have needed quarterback A.J. McCarron to keep playing. And if they’d made it all the way to the Super Bowl, they apparently would have still needed McCarron.

Starter Andy Dalton, who broke a thumb in December against the Steelers, told ESPN.com on Wednesday that he still hasn’t thrown since suffering the injury.

Not throwing yet but will soon,” Dalton said, via Coley Harvey of ESPN.com. “Just being conservative with my hand and waiting for it to be officially 100 percent before I start up.”

The injury happened nearly two months ago, as Dalton made a tackle after throwing an interception.

Dalton, by the way, finally has recovered a pair of suitcases that fell off his truck on a highway in Texas. Which is good because I’m not sure I would have been able to sleep if a guy who can afford to buy new stuff hadn’t found his old stuff.

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Vernon Davis heads to free agency with no postseason stats

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Tight end Vernon Davis finally won a ring. But his contributions to the effort were minimal.

Traded to the Broncos from the 49ers in the last year of his contract, Davis caught no passes in three postseason games. He also had no receptions in a Week 17 win that clinched the top seed in the AFC. His last catch came on December 20 at Pittsburgh, when Davis had one reception for five yards.

For whatever reason, things never clicked between Davis and Peyton Manning, especially after Manning’s return to the lineup in Week 17. And so Davis, who said after being traded that he’d been dreaming of playing with Peyton since leaving college, ended up doing nothing with Peyton in crunch time of the 2015 season.

It suggests there’s a potentially great untold story regarding why Davis and Manning never connected. Maybe at some point that story will surface, especially as Davis tries to persuade another team to sign him to a contract worth something more than the veteran minimum.

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Hakwins says (again) that widening field would cut down on injuries

Andrew Hawkins AP

Writing that it’s a “fact” that players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins took to Twitter Wednesday to say it would “logical” for the NFL to explore widening the field to cut down on injuries.

Hawkins believes the big hits pass catchers take between the numbers could be standard tackles with more space available. He played in the Canadian Footbal League before sticking with the Bengals but wrote that he’s advocating the NFL to widen the field by 3-4 yards, not to make it 65 yards wide as it is by CFL rules.

Hawkins said basically the same thing three years ago, when the topic was discussed in NFL circles but ultimately didn’t make it to the competition committee. At the time, NFL V.P. of football operations Ray Anderson basically said the idea was old news and something he wasn’t sure would make the game safer.

Hawkins had his 2015 season ended by a second concussion in November. He was hospitalized overnight for observation after being hit by Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones following an interception.

Back in 2013, Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian took Hawkins’ side and pushed for the NFL to explore widening the field.

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Jerry Jones hates not being a Super Bowl participant

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The Dallas Cowboys appeared in eight of the first 30 Super Bowls. They’ve appeared in none of the last 20. And that drives owner/G.M. Jerry Jones crazy.

“I hate it,” Jones said over the weekend at the NFL Honors ceremony, via the Dallas Morning News. “I scream in my pillow when I go home at night when we’re here. I want [the Dallas Cowboys] to be here so bad, but it’s filling my bucket up so we can go.”

Still, experiencing the Super Bowl makes Jones want to get back even more.

It’s inspirational,” Jones said. ” It makes you want to just empty your bucket to get in here and have this kind of experience. We feel that way. It’s deliberate.”

For 2016, the Cowboys once again have hope, and it starts with the ability of quarterback Tomy Romo to have a big year.

“Candidly, I’m just counting on Tony to come back and have some of the greatest years, if not the best years, of his career,” Jones said. “We want to make sure that we’ve got him the supporting cast. . . . We tried to do it this year. We didn’t get here. We’ll keep trying to get it done.”

Along with the other 31 teams. And all of them are currently 0-0, with seven months to get ready for the chase to win the 51st Super Bowl trophy to be awarded by the league.

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Jim Fassel blames Cam’s Super Bowl performance on his gold shoes

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  A detail of the shoes worn by  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers prior to Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Now we’ve heard everything about Cam Newton and the Super Bowl.

Jim Fassel, the former coach who took the Giants to the Super Bowl after the 2000 season, had what may be the strangest assessment yet of Newton’s Super Bowl-losing performance on Sunday. According to Fassel, Newton set the stage for his disappointing game with his choice of footwear in pregame warmups.

“All of the numbers pointed to Carolina. And when I saw Cam Newton walk out in gold shoes — ‘MVP’ — I switched my mind, essentially, right then,” Fassel said on Mile High Sports 1340. “I said, ‘That’s not what a starting quarterback, MVP, leading his team — and I had a lot of respect for him during the season — that’s not what happens.’ You don’t do that. And I said, ‘This guy’s already become soft,’ and that’s what he was.”

It’s true that Newton wore gold shoes with “MVP” on them in pregame warmups, before switching to the blue shoes he and his teammates wore for the game. Why Fassel thinks those shoes had anything to do with Newton’s style of play, however, is unclear. Newton has always had a unique fashion sense, and it didn’t seem to hurt him during the regular season or the first two games of the postseason.

There are legitimate things to criticize about Newton’s Super Bowl performance, from his fourth-quarter fumble to his quick press conference departure. But criticizing his footwear is silly.

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Ex-NFL receiver Josh Morgan charged, accidentally shot himself

Josh Morgan AP

Former NFL wide receiver Josh Morgan is facing misdemeanor weapons charges after he accidentally shot himself.

Morgan was charged with misdemeanor reckless use of a firearm in Virginia, TMZ reports. The charge reportedly comes as a result of an accidental shooting in which Morgan was cleaning his gun and shot himself. His injuries were not serious.

The case brings to mind that of Plaxico Burress, who spent two years in prison after accidentally shooting himself in the leg. Burress, who was possessing the gun in New York illegally, was convicted of a felony.

The 30-year-old Morgan was a sixth-round draft pick of the 49ers out of Virginia Tech in 2008. He played three years in San Francisco, two in Washington and one in Chicago. He was cut after spending training camp with the Saints last year.

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George Toma: Sod on Levi’s field was second-best we’ve had at a Super Bowl

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

The quality of the playing field at Levi’s Stadium has been an issue since the stadium opened and it was an issue for some players during Super Bowl 50.

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward each criticized the surface after Denver won the game and a video showing Panthers tackle Michael Oher looking like he was wearing roller skates while trying to pass protect has been making the rounds online.

Other players, including Von Miller, had no complaints and NFL turf consultant George Toma, who has worked on the fields at all 50 Super Bowls, said he hasn’t seen many better fields in the history of the game.

“I’m an 87-year-old man and I’ve been in this game for 74 years and been to 50 Super Bowls,” Toma said, via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. “And I thought this was the second-best sod we’ve had at a Super Bowl.”

Toma said the turf in Miami for a rainy Super Bowl XLI, which was also won by a Peyton Manning-quarterbacked team, was the only one better than the one the Broncos and Panthers played on last Sunday. Toma said that players are “hard-headed” about which cleats to wear and that “all they had to do was their change cleats” to get better footing.

CBS reported early in the game that several players on both teams were doing just that, although the Oher video shows that different players had different experiences on a field that the NFL’s longtime turf guru says was perfectly fine.

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Bill Polian: Peyton Manning could be a G.M. “immediately”

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with his son Marshall Manning and Bill Polian after defeating the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

Peyton Manning hasn’t shared his plans for the future, but if he wants to one day become a General Manager, one of the best to ever do that job thinks he’s ready now.

Hall of Famer Bill Polian said on SiriusXM NFL Radio that Manning was a “football nerd” who used to have in-depth conversations about personnel with him when they were both with the Colts.

“During our 14 years together in Indianapolis, he would often discuss with me prospects coming out in the draft, SEC players he’d seen, players he’d seen in other parts of the country,” Polian said, via the Indianapolis Star. “He pays close attention to the rosters of the other players in the league, with specific attention to the AFC.

He knew the strengths and weaknesses of every player on every defense in the AFC and many on offense, because he met them and got to know them at the Pro Bowl and soaked up information. He is a football nerd, as am I. He’s more than prepared to do that job.”

Many have wondered what path Manning will pursue — once he stops drinking beer — but Polian said he could start soon, and not need much time to get up to speed.

“All he would need would be a brief tutorial on the league rules and things like the general terms of trades and contract language — of which he’s also very familiar, because of his own contract,” Polian said. “He’s well-prepared to do that. He could step right from the playing field into a role like that, because he’s ready. I don’t know that he will, but if someone wanted him to do it, he would be ready immediately to do it.”

The teams most closely linked with Manning as an executive — the Titans and Browns — have each made hires on that side of the ball recently.

But if Manning indicated he was interested in pursuing such an option, there would likely be even more teams interested in giving him that chance.

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Dungy would take Harrison over Owens “every day of the week”

during the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts on December 28, 2008 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Getty Images

Former coach Tony Dungy will be entering the Hall of Fame with one of his former players in Indianapolis, receiver Marvin Harrison. Appearing on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Dungy was asked whether his teams game planned to stop Owens, given the recent comments from former linebacker Jonathan Vilma that his team’s didn’t.

“It depends on where he was,” Dungy said. “There were some places where you knew he was gonna be a big factor.”

Dungy then offered a comparison of Owens and Harrison: “Terrell Owens was a great receiver but I’ll say this, if I’m going for Marvin Harrison or Terrell Owens I’m taking Marvin Harrison every day of the week. Just as productive, just as hard to defend and made his teams better. There still is to me a characteristic that goes into that. I’m not taking anything away from Terrell Owens’ ability but when you get traded or released five times in your prime and you’re a great player but teams are not re-signing you, that says something.”

Dungy’s comments mesh with the widespread belief that Owens didn’t make it over Harrison due to Owens’ disruptiveness. Presumably, Owens eventually will make it. But if the concerns about T.O. are significant, it could take a while.

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Texans hire female head of communications

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  A referee is seen standing on a Houston Texans logo while the Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Texans have promoted Amy Palcic to senior director of communications, making her the only woman in charge of an NFL media relations department.

“We don’t discriminate or give preferential treatment,” Texans owner Bob McNair said, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. “Amy was the best person for the job.

“We promoted Amy because she was the most qualified. She’s done a great job for us. She comes from a football family.”

Palcic’s father, Bob, is a longtime college football assistant coach who also coached 12 years in the NFL. Her brother, Joe, is an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) University. She takes over for Kevin Cooper, who left the Texans to work for the Houston Super Bowl committee.

Amy Palcic had been the director of corporate communications for the Texans. She previously worked in media relations and communications with the Browns.

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Report: Police recommend criminal charges for LeSean McCoy

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy ponders a question while speaking to the media during NFL football minicamp in Orchard Park, N.Y., Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert) AP

Bills running back LeSean McCoy is moving closer to returning to Philadelphia for reasons unrelated to football.

According to 6abc.com, police have recommended that McCoy be charged with, among other things, aggravated assault following a weekend fight in a Philadelphia nightclub.

Per the report, a group of off-duty police officers had ordered multiple bottles of champagne. One of the men with McCoy took one of the bottles from an officer’s hands. A fight ensued, and one of the officers was “punched, kicked and stomped on his body and head multiple times” by McCoy and three other suspects.

The final decision on charges for McCoy and anyone else will come from prosecutors. If, however, the police are recommending charges, prosecutors will be more likely to proceed, given the symbiotic relationship between police departments and those who use the work of police departments to obtain convictions of those who break the law.

The NFL began investigating the incident immediately after news of it emerged. The league also said that placement of McCoy on paid leave is not imminent because players currently are not with their teams.

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Malik Jackson: I’d love to stay, but it’s a business

during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. Getty Images

Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson scored the first touchdown of Super Bowl 50 when he fell on a fumble forced by Von Miller in the end zone to give Denver a 10-0 lead over the Panthers that they’d never relinquish on the way to a 24-10 win.

The Broncos celebrated that win in Denver on Tuesday, but the NFL doesn’t leave much time to linger in the moment. Free agency will be upon us before too much longer and Jackson is set to be one of the most productive players to hit the open market this offseason.

Broncos General Manager John Elway called holding onto Jackson a priority for the offseason, although the need to sign Miller and possibly quarterback Brock Osweiler may not leave much space for Jackson. During a Wednesday appearance on PFT Live, Jackson said he’d like to be back while acknowledging the business side of things may make that impossible.

“Oh yeah, I love it here man. I think I’m accustomed to living here,” Jackson said. “I’ve tried my past four years to get better and prove to Mr. Elway that I like it here with my play. You know it’s one thing about this this thing is it’s a business you know it doesn’t matter what you like or where you like it. It’s where you can feed your family and make enough money to feed your family. So for me it’s one of those things I would love to stay here and just kinda continue to start here with my boys. Continue this run with them and try to get another one with this defense but you know it is a business and I gotta feed my family so we’ll see what happens.”

Jackson said he’d be happy to get the franchise tag — “I would be making what fourteen or fifteen million in a year?” — in the event the Broncos are able to lock up Miller before the deadline to use the tag, which may be a long shot but it’s one that will remain in play for a few more weeks. If they can’t, Jackson should be the object of desire for several teams looking to fortify their defensive line this offseason.

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Mayock calls Carson Wentz the draft’s best quarterback

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 30: North team's quarterback Carson Wentz #11 with North Dakota State looks to throw a pass during their game against the South Team on January 30, 2016 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s primary season in the NFL draft campaign, and North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz just picked up a big endorsement.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network came out with his first draft rankings of the year, and Wentz is atop Mayock’s quarterback list.

Jared Goff of Cal and Paxton Lynch of Memphis are, as expected, ranked second and third. Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott round out the Top 5.

The Titans, owners of the first overall pick, won’t draft a quarterback this year after drafting Marcus Mariota last year. But they could be looking to deal their pick to a team that falls in love with Wentz, Goff or Lynch.

Among teams that may consider a first-round quarterback are the Browns at No. 2, the Cowboys at No. 4, the 49ers at No. 7, the Bears at No. 11, the Eagles at No. 13 and the Rams at No. 15. The Titans would love it if one quarterback emerges as the clear-cut top prospect, and some of those teams start a bidding war for the top pick. Mayock thinks that top quarterback will be Wentz.

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