T.J. Hockenson: We’re moving in the right direction

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions
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The Lions have a new regime with General Manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell to make the club contenders. In choosing offensive tackle Penei Sewell at No. 7 overall, the team is setting up a strong line to be the basis of its offense.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson has only been around since 2019, as the team’s No. 8 overall pick that year. But after seasons with 12 and 11 losses, Hockenson thinks Holmes and Campbell have put Detroit on a positive trajectory.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said, via Eric Woodyard of ESPN. “[Penei Sewell] is just another piece to our puzzle that we can use. … I think you ask anybody on this team, i think we’re all ready to get this thing rolling.”

Hockenson started all 16 games for Detroit in 2020 and was a Pro Bowler for the first time, making 67 receptions for 723 yards with six touchdowns. Hockenson will have to become plenty familiar with Sewell as they’ll line up next to one another on the right side.

Mike McGlinchey: Jimmy Garoppolo is our guy and so is Trey Lance

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The 49ers made Trey Lance their selection at No. 3 overall, setting him up to take over as their starting quarterback sooner than later.

Jimmy Garoppolo has responded positively to the situation, saying he’s going to show Lance the ropes like Tom Brady did for him once upon a time.

But other players are in a little tougher spot. There’s a balance in wanting to support Garoppolo — a player who helped lead them to Super Bowl LIV — while also saying nice things about the player who will obviously take over at QB1. The team’s right tackle Mike McGlinchey tried to thread that needle during a Tuesday appearance on KNBR.

“I think all this hoopla was blown out of proportion for the last four months about what’s going on with Jimmy Garoppolo, nothing is going on with Jimmy Garoppolo,” McGlinchey said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “He’s going to be here, he’s our quarterback and our head coach and General Manager are very comfortable with that, and I think Kyle [Shanahan] clarified that after the draft with all the emotion of the press conferences over the past couple of weeks. Jimmy is our guy, and so is Trey. It’s a pick to solidify a competition in that room.”

McGlinchey noted that when the trade up to No. 3 went down, he and his teammates weren’t talking too much about it. Now that the dust has settled and Lance is the official pick, McGlinchey says Garoppolo’s presence means San Francisco doesn’t have to rush the rookie.

“Jimmy is a guy who has proven that he can take our team to the promised land,” McGlinchey said. “We were six minutes away from getting that done, and as long as he is healthy and on the field, he is a high, high-quality football player. I think with him on our team, they are comfortable picking a guy like Trey who has unbelievable upside. But he’s also a 20-year-old kid that has only played a little bit of college football, a season and a half of college football.”

Lance — who turns 21 on Sunday — is certainly inexperienced. And Shanahan said ownership is comfortable carrying Garoppolo’s $24.1 million base salary through the season. But the fact remains that the 49ers gave up significant draft capital to trade up to No. 3 overall and select a quarterback.

Given all that, it’s likely Lance will have every opportunity to show he can be the starter sooner than later.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: I never really had any heart issues

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Camping World Bowl - Notre Dame v Iowa State
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Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s drop to the Browns in the second round of this year’s draft was a surprise given numerous predictions that he’d go in the first round and a report that a heart issue diagnosed late in the pre-draft process seemed to explain why he lasted until the second day.

Browns General Manager Andrew Berry called Owusu-Koramoah “completely healthy” in a radio interview this week and said nothing suggests his health will get in the way of a long NFL career. Owusu-Koramoah made his own visit to The Jim Rome Show on Tuesday to say that whatever popped up hasn’t had an effect on him.

“You get news,” Owusu-Koramoah said, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “You get a lot of news within the draft and the process you’re going through. There was something that came up in terms of what guys were saying, but in terms of me, in terms of the personal aspect there were no really heart issues at all. There was nothing that was too ticked off and we went back to Notre Dame and looked at the medical records and everything. I never really had any heart issues or anything going on there. You know, you hear a lot of things, but you’ve got to get it from the source.”

Cabot spoke to people around the league who thought Owusu-Koramoah’s size and decision not to run the 40 at his Pro Day may have been reasons why he slipped further than expected. Whatever the concerns, the Browns thought he provided the right value at No. 52 and he’ll get his chance to prove them right.

Matt Rhule on passing on QB: I just believe in Sam Darnold

New York Jets v Detroit Lions
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The Panthers were seen as a potential landing spot for quarterbacks heading into the first round of the draft despite the presence of Sam Darnold and they had a pair of them on the board when the No. 8 pick came up last Thursday night.

Neither Justin Fields nor Mac Jones was the team’s choice, however. They took cornerback Jaycee Horn and cemented their commitment to Darnold by exercising their option on his contract for the 2022 season.

During a Tuesday appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, Rhule explained that the rationale behind the Panthers’ pick was that they’ll be better with Darnold and Horn than they would be by doubling down at the quarterback spot.

“I love those guys and I think they’re gonna be great NFL players. I just think for us, when we got Sam and knowing he’s 23-years-old, just turned 24, we just felt like Sam plus another player would be better for the team overall,” Rhule said. “Bill Parcells once said one player can’t do it alone. We’re just trying to build the whole team and I just believe in Sam, I believe that he deserves the opportunity to go out and play with us. I think those other young quarterbacks are gonna be fantastic players, but the hit rate on first-round quarterbacks isn’t real, real high, and to have a chance to get Jaycee Horn and have Sam Darnold, we just kind of felt like, ‘Hey this is two for one.’ Now, we just have to make sure Sam’s a great player for us.”

After taking Horn, the Panthers selected four straight offensive players who can fit around Darnold in the Panthers’ bid to make sure that his Carolina tenure is more successful than his time with the Jets. If that doesn’t work and the other quarterbacks flourish, hindsight won’t be kind to the Panthers. If it does, the rebuild in Carolina should pick up a lot of speed.

Howie Roseman: DeVonta Smith is somebody I think our fans are going to love

2021 NFL Draft
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The Eagles traded up to select wide receiver Devonta Smith, giving the club a key offensive weapon for new head coach Nick Sirianni and quarterback Jalen Hurts.

During a Tuesday radio interview on 94WIP, Philadelphia General Manager Howie Roseman touted Smith’s skill and the way he stood out among Alabama’s wide receivers.

“Obviously, DeVonta is a big-time player for us,” Roseman said. “So, we were going to get this guy and make sure he got on our football team. We’ve got an offensive coach here. We think this guy is a difference maker.”

Roseman went on to note there’s plenty to love about Smith as a player, including his work ethic, route running, hands, and speed.

“[Alabama] had four first round picks at wide receiver on their team in 2019 and you look at the guy who has got the most targets on that team, it’s DeVonta Smith,” Roseman said. “The ball finds DeVonta Smith. You get to a situation where it’s third down, it’s a big play in the game, and the quarterbacks are looking for DeVonta Smith. Elite route runner, this guy is just an adult. He’s just somebody I think our fans are going to love. I picture a lot of [No.] 6 jerseys in our stands in the fall and for years to come.”

Smith won the Heisman Trophy in his final season at Alabama, recording 117 catches for 1,856 yards with 23 touchdowns in 2020. Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs, and Jerry Jeudy have all been selected in the first round out of Alabama in the last two years.

Ja’Marr Chase will wear No. 1 with Bengals

2021 NFL Draft
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Ja'Marr Chase can keep that jersey he received on the draft stage in Cleveland last week.

The Bengals announced numbers for their rookies, and the wide receiver has chosen No. 1 — the same number he had at LSU.

With the new number rule, wide receivers are among the positions who can wear numbers 1-49 and 80-89. With no previous jersey inventory to buy out as an incoming rookie, Chase can easily take No. 1 and wear it to his heart’s content.

Chase is one of a few rookies who have decided to take advantage of the new numbers rule. Falcons No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts will sport No. 8 as a tight end. Buccaneers No. 32 overall pick Joe Tryon will wear No. 9 as a defensive end.

Sean Payton once said Ian Book reminded him of how he played in high school

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game Semifinal Game - Notre Dame v Alabama
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The Saints drafted quarterback Ian Book in the fourth round and head coach Sean Payton said that he thinks Book showed he’s a “real good competitor” while at Notre Dame.

Payton added that he doesn’t think Book’s style of play is reminiscent of the way Payton played in high school. That came up at his press conference because of something Payton said on The Dan Patrick Show in March.

Payton was asked which quarterback in this draft class reminds him of how he played in high school and said, via Luke Johnson of NOLA.com, “that kid at Notre Dame is pretty scrappy. He’s pretty interesting to watch on tape.”

When asked about that over the weekend, Payton said he didn’t recall the comment, wouldn’t make that comparison, and wasn’t dropping a hint about the team’s plans.

“Listen I read that, I can’t remember even making that comment,” Payton said. “He doesn’t remind me of me. I wouldn’t have drafted me. So he’s done a great job at Notre Dame. We’ve seen a lot of his tape, obviously and watched a lot of film on him. Dan had to bring his name up because at that time, generally the host is kind of moving the direction of an interview. But no, it would have been so hard to even project where we were this weekend from that interview.”

Payton played three games for the Bears as a replacement player during the 1987 strike. Book will be hoping for a more expansive playing career now that he’s got his NFL shot.

2022 draft in Las Vegas could feature Allegiant Stadium

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The NFL had big plans for the first-ever Las Vegas draft in 2020. The pandemic had bigger plans.

Next year, Vegas gets its turn as the home of the draft. Via Mick Akers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the head of the league’s live event production said that the NFL will revisit the plans that were made for 2020, and that the league will determine whether there “are areas that we could grow, expand, or change.”

The next draft likely will include a virtual element, especially since virtual elements seem to be part of the new normal. However, the league plans to have more in-person prospects in Las Vegas than the league hosted in Cleveland — if the pandemic sufficiently subsides.

Another possibility could include adding Allegiant Stadium to the plans. Akers writes that the venue is “likely to play a bigger role” in the draft.

Regardless of the specific configurations of fans and facilities, the league believes it could be the most heavily attended draft in league history, surpassing the record 600,000 who showed up two years ago in Nashville.

Here’s hoping that happens. If it does, it will mean that the world has indeed begun to return to normal.

Titans: We were made aware of Rashad Weaver’s assault charge this morning

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Pitt at Notre Dame
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When the Titans picked defensive end Rashad Weaver in the fourth round on Saturday, they did not know about the criminal complaint filed against him.

That’s according to a statement the club released following the report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday afternoon.

“We were made aware of this news this morning,” the statement reads. “We obviously take this seriously and are in the process of gathering details and working with the league.”

Weaver has been charged with simple assault, with the criminal complaint filed on Friday — a day before the Titans selected him. A woman alleged she had been punched in the head by Weaver when police found her lying on the ground early on the morning of April 18. While another witness said the same thing, an officer noted no injury consisted with a punch to the head.

A hearing in the case has been set for October 5.

Bears to release Charles Leno

Chicago Bears v Tennessee Titans
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The Bears drafted Oklahoma State offensive lineman Teven Jenkins in the second round on Friday. It’s now looking like he’ll be the Week 1 starter at left tackle.

Chicago is releasing left tackle Charles Leno, according to multiple Monday reports. A former seventh-round pick, Leno started 93 consecutive games for Chicago dating back to 2015, making the 2018 Pro Bowl.

Leno was a seventh-round pick in 2014. His release will create $6.2 million against the Bears’ cap, though it will also result in $5.1 million in dead money. He was about to enter the final season of his four-year contract extension signed in Aug. 2017.

Leno, 29, may not be out of work for long, as there are still teams — like the Colts — looking for veteran tackle depth on their respective offensive lines following the draft.

Brett Veach: Eric Fisher injury, Mitchell Schwartz surgery raised urgency for OL changes

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
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After struggling to protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LV, the Chiefs have overhauled their offensive line this offseason.

Depending on how you look at it, the line could include five new starters when Kansas City lines up Week 1. While Mike Remmers is expected to play right tackle for the club again in 2021 after starting the majority of the season in that spot last year, he took over the position when Mitchell Schwartz suffered a back injury.

Elsewhere on the line, the Chiefs traded for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., signed guard Joe Thuney, signed center Austin Blythe, lured guard Kyle Long out of retirement, and will get guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back after he opted out of the 2020 season. Then the club drafted Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey in the second round on Friday.

The Chiefs released Schwarts and former left tackle Eric Fisher earlier this offseason. Former center Austin Reiter remains an unsigned free agent.

During his Monday press conference, General Manager Brett Veach said the Chiefs’ plan to transform the offensive line didn’t just come together because of the team’s Super Bowl performance.

“Even at the start of the season, Austin Reiter was going to be a free agent,” Veach said. “And certainly Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz were both getting up there in regards to years experience and years playing the league. So I think our eye was always on that as our college guys were on the road. And as we started to meet in free agency in that process. And even before ‘Fish’ got hurt, when we met I think in early December, late November, our blueprint early on was, we’re going to really solidify some offensive line play in regards to tackle depth, interior depth and where can we find value in free agency?

“Certainly that plan got put into ultra-gear after Fish got hurt and then it was made aware to us that Mitch was going to get offseason surgery. It was on our radar the whole time. But I think the level of urgency just really picked up as soon as Eric got hurt and we got word that Mitch was going to get surgery. So I think that was probably going to be our priority anyway in the offseason. We probably doubled down a little bit, knowing that some of the veterans that we anticipated back wouldn’t be back either.”

Whether it was always the plan or not, the Chiefs have not been content with what they had up front despite employing one of the league’s best quarterbacks. The moves have set up Kansas City for a run at a third consecutive AFC championship.

Chris Ballard: Left tackle’s a need, but it didn’t match up at that point in the draft

NFL: FEB 25 Scouting Combine
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When Anthony Castonzo elected to retire following the 2020 season, it made left tackle an immediate position of need for the Colts.

They were widely expected to address it during the draft. But aside from bringing in Penn State’s Will Fries in the seventh round, Indianapolis didn’t select any offensive linemen. Its first two picks were on the defensive line in Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo.

In wrapping up the draft on Saturday, General Manager Chris Ballard made it seem like the club just didn’t see value at the spot whenever they were on the clock.

“Look, any time you have a player like Anthony Castonzo retire, it’s a need,” Ballard said, via Bob Kravitz of TheAthletic.com. “Having said that, it just didn’t match up at that point in the draft. I’ll be honest, how many true left tackles were there in this draft? … Prototypically, maybe some of these guys are going to play left tackle; let’s see if they stay there their whole careers. But if you’re going to draft a guy that high, and you’re drafting him to play left tackle, you’ve got to know he’s going to be able to do it his whole career.”

Christian Darrisaw was on the board when the Colts selected Paye at No. 21 overall. The Vikings picked him at No. 23, ostensibly to replace left tackle Riley Reiff. So Ballard’s comments at least reflect what he and the Colts believe about Darrisaw’s potential.

Indianapolis signed former Chargers left tackle Sam Tevi in free agency, and the job appears to be his for now. But with another wave of free agency coming coming soon, the Colts could still address the position with a veteran to help protect Carson Wentz.

Brad Holmes: We would’ve considered a QB if one was graded higher than Penei Sewell

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Oregon at USC
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Though the Lions acquired Jared Goff and the Rams’ 2022 and 2023 first-round picks in exchange for Matthew Stafford, they still considered selecting a QB at No. 7 overall in last week’s draft.

General Manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell did attend many of the Pro Days for the top passers to evaluate them in person.

But with Justin Fields and Mac Jones still available at No. 7 overall, Detroit chose offensive tackle Penei Sewell — setting up the team with what could be one of the league’s best offensive lines. Quarterback was still on the table for the Lions, but their draft room’s reaction makes it clear how excited they were to add Sewell.

“If there was a quarterback that was just like graded way higher over Penei we would have had to strongly consider that,” Holmes said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “But it unfortunately for our sakes, it wasn’t — Penei was the highest-rated guy when we took him.”

Detroit will have to see Fields twice a year for the foreseeable future, as Chicago traded up to select him at No. 11 overall. But if Goff doesn’t work out in 2021, the Lions should be able to use those Rams’ picks as draft capital to find their quarterback of the future.

Matt Nagy: Everyone will know when the time is right for Justin Fields to start

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears
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After trading next year’s first-round pick to the Giants as part of a move up the draft board to take quarterback Justin Fields on Thursday night, Bears General Manager Ryan Pace said that the team still views Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback.

It’s not the first time head coach Matt Nagy has been in a situation like this. He was on Kansas City’s staff in 2017 when they drafted Patrick Mahomes with Alex Smith on hand, which he said gives him “some type of blueprint to at least work off” as they bring Fields along.

Nagy called Fields fortunate to have Dalton and Nick Foles in the quarterback room and said that it won’t happen “overnight” for the rookie, but that no one will miss the signs when Fields is ready to take over the job.

“There’s some observations from all of us as coaches every single day, and just like we would tell any quarterback, when you come in here, you do everything you can to be the best quarterback that you could be,” Nagy said, via NBCSportsChicago.com. “Whether it’s in the meeting room or whether it’s in practice, and everything else will take care of itself. All of those guys are going to do it. And then we just got to decide then when we get to that point, how is he developing and how is everybody doing, and really keeping it as honest as possible with all of those guys. Then when the time is right, I promise you every single person will know including Justin when it’s the right time, and that’s naturally how it happens.”

Mahomes sat for an entire season as the Chiefs went 10-6 and took over once Smith (and Nagy) moved on in 2018. It remains to be seen if the Bears will be able to be as patient with Fields.

Rams agree to terms with nine undrafted free agents

Texas State v Boston College
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Though they didn’t have a first-round pick, the Rams selected nine players in the 2021 draft. Los Angeles then brought in nine more rookies as undrafted free agents.

The club announced it had agreed to terms with the nine players, including another pair of wide receivers.

Jeremiah Haydel caught 96 passes for 1,141 yards with nine touchdowns in four years at Texas State — including 40 passes for 408 yards as a senior last year. Iowa State’s Landen Akers had 18 receptions for 269 yards with a touchdown as a senior in 2020.

Los Angeles drafted a pair of receivers — Louisville’s Tutu Atwell in the second round and Notre Dame’s Ben Skowronek in the seventh round.

Iowa offensive tackle Alaric Jackson, Pitt safety Paris Ford, Merrimack College safety Jovan Grant, Western Kentucky offensive lineman Jordan Meredith, Boston College outside linebacker Max Roberts, Air Force defensive tackle George Silvanic, and BYU safety Troy Warner round out the group.