NFL Draft Daily: Takeaways from Alabama and Georgia in the national championship game

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 106 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Georgia and Alabama put a bow on the 2021 college football season with Monday’s national championship game. The Bulldogs snapped a 41-year title drought as Kirby Smart finally beat his former boss and mentor Nick Saban.

If you’ve been paying attention to college football or tracking draft prospects this year, you know there were a ton of future NFL players on the field in Indianapolis. Some won’t be eligible for this season, but my goodness, Saban and Smart continue to prove that they are among the elites when it comes to attracting and developing NFL-caliber talent. Saban has a better history than Smart on both sides of the ball, but there is no denying Smart’s prowess on defense.

Having had a chance to watch the game and work back through the film again, there was a lot to like when it comes to spotting future NFL players. Here are my biggest takeaways from Monday night.

Smart has landed a top-five recruiting class each of the past four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Georgia’s defense is on another level

The Dawgs were led by their incredible defense all year long, not allowing more than 14 points against any opponent the entire regular season. They allowed 9.5 points per game, including the SEC Championship game where Alabama dropped 41 on them. That is 6.5 points per game less than Clemson, who allowed 15 points and finished with the second-best scoring defense.

As I mentioned above, Smart is the best recruiter and developer of defensive talent in the country right now. Georgia has future top-50 picks at every level of their defense and a handful of guys who will go in the mid to late rounds backing them up. By now, you likely know names like Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Derion Kendrick. However, guys like Devonte Wyatt, Nolan Smith and Lewis Cine (more on him later) are all potential top-50 selections as well. Then there are Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. Neither one was a featured player or even really a full-time starter for Georgia, and yet, it would not be a surprise to see both of them go later on Day 2. Robert Beal Jr., who had 6.5 sacks this season, doesn’t even get mentioned when talking about this defense most of the time.

The next wave of talent is exciting as well. Jalen Carter could be a future first-rounder. Kelee Ringo, who had the game-sealing pick-six, will be eligible next season and will certainly have opportunities to work his way into the top 50. He had a really strong performance that makes me excited to watch more of him in the future. Smael Mondon Jr., Nazir Stackhouse and MJ Sherman should all see more action next year as this next wave of talent heads to the NFL. The pipeline from Athens to the NFL is only growing stronger.

I was wrong about Stetson Bennett

I told coworkers, friends and my very patient wife who probably tuned me out because she was not quite as invested in Georgia’s starting quarterback situation as I was, that I really thought the Bulldogs needed to turn their offense over to J.T. Daniels for the College Football Playoff. Georgia was finally tested in the SEC title game and forced to play from behind. It seemed like Bennett was not cut out to keep up with Alabama if the Tide built an early lead again. He attempted just 287 passes across 13 games. That ranked 79th among quarterbacks in FBS this season. Bennett was never asked to be the guy, and I assumed that it meant he couldn’t fill that role.

Turns out, he was more than ready to lead the team when they desperately needed someone to step up, this time on an even bigger stage. Bennett went over 300 yards passing and had three touchdowns against a good Michigan defense in the Orange Bowl, securing a rematch with ‘Bama.

With Georgia’s run game looking incredibly sluggish in the first half. Then, Bennett was strip-sacked and Alabama took an 18-13 lead, and the pressure was really on. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, the former walk-on quarterback was flawless. He tossed two touchdowns to build a lead and the defense closed it out with a pick-six. Bennett had plenty of help, but he also showed that he was capable of leading this team at a time when it needed leading.

I don’t think this makes him an elite quarterback prospect or anything, but maybe this puts him on the radar as a seventh-round pick or preferred free agent, if he is even interested in going pro. He has the makings of a player who could succeed as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Teams like the Bengals, Chargers or Bills, who could all be in the market for a backup quarterback this year, make sense as potential landing spots for the championship-winning quarterback.

Harris had 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Christian Harris and Lewis Cine made themselves some money

Every year, there are a few players that cement their status or really capitalize on the increased attention on them to shoot up draft boards. If there are two players that I think did that better than anyone else on Monday, I would pick Alabama’s Christian Harris and Georgia’s Lewis Cine.

Let’s start with Harris. He started the year as a player many thought could go in the first round and possibly even be the first linebacker off the board. While far from an exact science and not at all indicative of how the league views him, the website NFL Mock Draft Database shows Harris dropping from the 20th ranked player overall in early October to 55th in the middle of December. He had an up and down season, struggling to sort through traffic and failing to read his keys. It was unfortunate to watch for such an instinctive and dynamic defensive playmaker.

Against Georgia, Harris showcased the incredible upside that makes him such an eye-catching prospect. He racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss and looked downright explosive. He still has a long way to go when it comes to gap discipline, but he should be in the mix in the late first round or early second round.

On the other side, Cine was seemingly everywhere for Georgia’s defense. He had seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass break up. Those counting stats are far from outstanding, but his play went well beyond the numbers. He made a number of key stops for the Bulldogs, which was something they could not do against the Tide in the SEC championship game. It was the type of game that I think will propel him into the top 50 conversation. With a number of teams picking at the backend of the first round or early in the second round, Cine could be in the running to be the second safety selected, following Kyle Hamilton.

Will Anderson Jr. will start the 2023 draft cycle as the No. 1 player on my big board

This guy is incredible. He showcased his full range of skills on Monday night. He batted a pass at the line, made opposing offensive linemen look silly in pass protection and set the edge against the run with authority. In my estimation, he should have won the Heisman this year. He had 34 tackles for loss in 15 games this season. That is 2.3 tackles for loss per game. Leo Chenal and Devin Lloyd tied for the second best average at 1.6. That came on top of 17.5 sacks, which was tops in the country, and trailed only Andre Carter II in terms of sacks per game. Reminder: this was playing in the SEC against some of the best college offensive linemen in the country.

His length, physicality and athleticism at one of the most coveted positions in college football make him one of the most exciting prospects in recent years. Put him in the same air as Chase Young and Myles Garrett. I am so excited to break down his film this summer.

Jameson Williams and John Metchie III should consider returning to school

This was the worst part of the game by far. Williams emerged as a legitimate contender to be the first receiver taken in the 2022 draft with his electric playmaking and field-stretching ability. The Ohio State transfer stepped into the void left by Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and flourished. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter and will now miss the entire pre-draft process and potentially the beginning of the 2022 season.

While I don’t think any team will look at him as damaged goods or take him off their board because of the injury, it will almost definitely hurt his stock. He was someone who likely would have ran well at the combine and boosted his stock even further. Williams could very reasonably still go in the first round. There is something to be said for getting paid while you rehab your surgically repaired knee.

However, he will likely be losing out on some money in the process. I could realistically have seen him coming off the board as early as No. 10 to the Jets (hard to see any receivers going before that point, barring trades) before the injury. He will likely slide some. Even falling 11 spots to the Patriots (projected) at No. 21 would cost him $7.3 million over the course of his rookie deal. If he potentially drops further to the Chiefs (projected) at No. 29, it would be about $9.3 million less.

In the end, Williams will have to do whatever works best for him and his family. If he, God forbid, got hurt again after returning to school, he could cost himself a lot more money than that. There is certainly still a good amount of risk. That being said, there are worse situations than returning to Alabama to play with Bryce Young and potentially John Metchie III again. Metchie also suffered a torn ACL playing in the SEC title game. He was not projected to go quite as high as Williams and his injury could set up a return to Tuscaloosa. Those two back at school would only bolster a team that is already the favorite to win the national title in 2022. Williams could erase any doubt about the injury and find himself in the mix to go in the top 10 in 2023. Injuries are one of the harsh realities of football and will set up one of the most interesting decisions to watch when the deadline comes up Monday, January 17th.

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: Georgia and Alabama players dominate first round following national championship game

College football is officially in offseason mode. While it is obviously sad we won’t have college football to fill up our Saturdays anymore, it was a thrilling season, capped off with an exciting championship game. Now, we shift our focus even more so to the upcoming NFL draft, as many players who featured in Monday’s game expect to hear their names called early on draft night.

One of the unfortunate storylines of the night though was the non-contact knee injury suffered by Jameson Williams. This came just about a month after his partner in crime, John Metchie III, tore his ACL in the SEC title game. Both were potential top-50 picks, with Williams rising into the top 10 for several draft experts. With such a serious injury this late in the season, I wonder if he might not be better off returning to school for his senior year. Williams would still likely garner significant draft interest, but this likely hurts his stock. With so much uncertainty surrounding the situation right now, I left him out of the first round until I know more.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, 18 teams are officially in offseason mode as well, with the remaining 14 gearing up for the postseason. There are definitely some changes since my last mock draft as I’ve continued to sift through film and the draft order has changed based on the final few results of the NFL regular season.

We still have a long way to go until we reach the draft in Las Vegas, but the pre draft process is just beginning to heat up. Players are accepting Senior Bowl invites, which is coming up at the beginning of February in Mobile, Alabama. Plus, the East-West Shrine Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl are also just weeks away.

With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my first mock of 2022. The draft order is according to Tankathon.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville had a fun Week 18, stunning the Colts to keep them out of the playoffs and still holding onto the No. 1 pick. With that top selection, it is hard to overlook Aidan Hutchinson. This Jaguars defense, outside of a surprising six-sack showing to close the season, has struggled to generate pressure. Hutchinson will give the Jags a nightmarish duo with Josh Allen playing opposite him.

2. Detroit Lions (3-13-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.

3. Houston Texans (4-13) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Houston could head a number of directions here. I personally love Ahmad Gardner, who has the makings of a lockdown corner. I’ve talked about it before, but it is impossible to be a true No. 1 corner in the NFL without length. The threshold seems to be right around 5’11”. Gardner is 6’3″ and moves exceptionally well for someone that size. He will need some coaching to improve his man coverage technique, but already dominates as a zone corner. He would give the Texans a talented defensive back to rebuild the defense around.

4. New York Jets (4-13) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
While the Jets might have more pressing needs, Evan Neal is too big a talent to overlook. Literally. At 6’7″, 340 pounds, the Jets could potentially bookend their offensive line with massive tackles to protect Zach Wilson now and into the future. Neal played at right tackle prior to taking over at left tackle in 2021. With Morgan Moses and George Fant headed for free agency, this makes a ton of sense as well. If one or both of them is back, then that could reshuffle New York’s priorities in the draft.

5. New York Giants (4-13) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Dave Gettleman may have retired, but the Giants could take a page out of his book and do what he always promised: build an offensive line. Ikem Ekwonu is a nasty run blocker with impressive power. He has room for growth in pass protection, but all the physical tools to excel. Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones would both greatly benefit from his addition.

6. Carolina Panthers (5-12) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Carolina needs a quarterback, but I don’t have a first-round grade on any of the passers in this class at the moment. Instead, the Panthers can rebuild an offensive line that was among the worst in the league in 2021. Tyler Linderbaum is an athletic center who can get out in space to lead the way on outside runs and screen plays. That bodes well for a team with Christian McCaffrey. Make no mistake though, Linderbaum is still capable of putting defenders on their back if they aren’t careful.

7. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (6-11) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
New York continues to build in the trenches with their second pick in the top 10. George Karlaftis is not quite on the same level as the top two edge rushers in this class, but he has a great first step off the edge and some enticing physical tools. He has the versatility to play with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 alignment or stand up on the edge in sub packages. This would give the Giants an exciting pairing on the edge with Azeez Ojulari.

8. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) – Drake London, WR, USC
Will Calvin Ridley return to the Falcons? We’ve not seen the former first-round pick since October as he stepped away from his mental health. Now, there is buzz that he could be traded. That would leave Atlanta desperately needing a new No. 1 receiver. I know Kyle Pitts is already in place, but he cannot do it alone, nor has he shown an ability to produce in the red zone. Drake London should help with that. He plays a lot like Mike Evans, using his massive frame and athleticism to high point the ball and catch it away from his body. London led the nation in receptions prior to a season-ending ankle injury.

9. Denver Broncos (7-10) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Denver traded away Von Miller this season and has two pending free agents for starting linebackers (when healthy). Nakobe Dean might actually find a way to fill all of those voids to a certain degree. He is an athletic linebacker with great range and some sneaky good pass rush ability. He will be a difference maker at the next level with his closing speed. He draws comparisons to Jonathan Vilma, which the Broncos could desperately use in the middle of their defense.

10. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (7-10) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
New York’s secondary was bad in 2021. The Jets allowed the third most yards per attempt, yards per game and third-highest completion percentage in the league this season. Landing Derek Stingley Jr. here could be a coup. He was assumed to be CB1 heading into the season, but injuries and some inconsistent play since that dominant freshman year make his projection a bit more murky. I sincerely hope we get to see him at the combine.

11. Washington Football Team (7-10) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
This is still too early for a quarterback if you ask me. Instead, Washington can attempt to address its very underwhelming defense. Supposedly the strength of this team, Washington allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game this season. Landon Collins had a rough season at safety, but seemed to excel when he moved into a hybrid linebacker role. He could be a post-June 1 cut to save cap space as though. Kyle Hamilton is essentially a better, more well-rounded version of Collins. Adding him to save money and upgrade at the same time makes a ton of sense.

12. Minnesota Vikings (8-9) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Minnesota will be disappointed to see Hamilton off the board, but Andrew Booth Jr. is an excellent consolation prize. With Jeff Gladney gone and Patrick Peterson turning 32 in July, the Vikings need some new blood at corner. Yes, they have spent a number of premium draft picks at the position, but that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. Booth is a projectable starter in the NFL. I know it is important to scout the player, not the helmet, but the development of A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen in the NFL makes optimistic there is still untapped potential for Clemson’s No. 1 corner.

13. Cleveland Browns (8-9) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
There buzz continues that Baker Mayfield could be done in Cleveland, but this is not the draft to try to replace him. Instead, the Browns should put their former No. 1 pick in the best position to succeed. Adding Garrett Wilson would do just that. He is a proven playmaker with good hands, above average quickness and a nose for the end zone. Cleveland’s wide receiver room is fairly deep, but lacks a true No. 1 option. Wilson could develop into just that.

14. Baltimore Ravens (8-9) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
With the top three corners off the board and the Ravens set to get a number of key players back in the secondary from injury, I think they should target the defensive line. Jordan Davis is a disruptive people-mover and space eater. He is massive, listed at 6’6″, 340 pounds. Brandon Williams turns 33 in February and is a pending free agent. Davis would step into that run stuffing role with some added pass rushing ability.

15. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (9-8) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
I know, the Eagles don’t prioritize linebackers, but maybe they should. Avery Genard and Alex Singleton are both replaceable. Devin Lloyd is a dynamic off-ball linebacker who can rush the passer. He has the range to make plays sideline-to-sideline and hang with backs and tight ends in coverage. After a slow start to the season, he finished the year strong. There is room to improve as a block shedder, but I really like what he brings to the table.

16. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Might as well continue to retool that front seven. David Ojabo has an underwhelming performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but the upside he brings is still apparent. His athleticism pops off the charts. Still relatively new to the sport, he is just scratching the surface. He could contribute early on as a third-down sub package player as he continues to develop his technique as a pass rusher.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
The Chargers defensive line is in desperate need of a boost. DeMarvin Leal projects best as a three-technique tackle, but he has the versatility to kick outside as well. He flashes some exciting potential as a pass rusher, but disappeared at times as well. Playing alongside Joey Bosa should allow him to have a larger impact. He will be someone I am eager to see test in Indianapolis.

18. New Orleans Saints (9-8) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
With Terron Armstead unlikely to be back in 2022, the Saints will have a huge hole at left tackle. Charles Cross is a good candidate to be a Day 1 starter in the NFL. There will be some growing pains with limit run snaps and some concerns about how grabby he is in pass protection. That being said, he is a fluid mover and anchors well against power rushers.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
After going defense with their first two picks, the Eagles turn to the offense to find another weapon for Jalen Hurts to work with. DeVonta Smith has proven himself thus far as a reliable target, but the rest of the receiving corps is a bit more suspect. Treylon Burks brings an exciting combination of size and speed. He was a bit inconsistent against some of the top teams he faced this year, but flashed the potential to be a quality receiver in the NFL.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Finally, we have a quarterback come off the board. The likelihood is that one will go before this point, but I don’t think any should. Pittsburgh unquestionably needs to find its quarterback of the future with Ben Roethlisberger headed for retirement. Kenny Pickett obviously gets to stay home, but he also has the best resume of any of the draft eligible quarterbacks. He has a live arm with impressive accuracy. He has enough athleticism to compete in the modern NFL, extending plays with his legs. His ceiling might be a bit lower than others in this class, with Pickett set to turn 24 in June, but that works well for a Steelers team that is otherwise ready to contend now.

21. New England Patriots (10-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
If Trent Brown returns, then there is no reason to target a tackle here, but if Brown leaves, then New England will need someone to take over at right tackle. Trevor Penning could be the perfect candidate. He is a large human being, measuring in at 6’7″ and 320 pounds. He moves really well for a player that size and shows a lot of requisite skills to succeed in pass protection in the NFL. There will unquestionably be a learning curve coming from the FCS level, but we’ve seen plenty of players make the jump in recent years.

22. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (10-7) – Nicolas Petit-Frère, OT Ohio State
Miami’s offensive line is still a patchwork unit with a lot of holes. Maybe the Dolphins will give the young unit another year to gel, but they had the worst pass block win rate in the league this season. Reinforcements are likely needed. Perhaps a move in free agency will be required, but until then, Nicolas Petit-Frère seems like a worthy option at this spot. He looked strong against George Karlaftis this year, which underlines his talent. He also struggled mightily against Aidan Hutchinson, which highlights areas for growth. Either way, he likely won’t be much worse than Miami’s current tackles.

23. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Unfortunately, Henry Ruggs is done in the NFL. That means the Raiders once again have a need for a receiver. Chris Olave can help fill the void. While he is not quite the speedster that Ruggs was, he does have some wheels. He is capable of stretching the field, can work the middle of the field on crossing concepts as well. Adding him alongside Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow would give Derek Carr a solid complement of weapons.

24. Arizona Cardinals (11-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
The Cardinals’ defense has stepped up in the second half of the season while the offense has slumped a bit. However, the loss to Seattle points to Arizona’s clear offseason needs in the secondary. Roger McCreary would give the Cards a long, rangy corner with the ability to develop into a true No. 1 option. He put together an impressive season against good competition.

25. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
While the Bengals feel good about drafting Ja’Marr Chase, the pressing need for offensive line help has not disappeared, especially on the interior. Kenyon Green has experience all over the line and should be a plug-and-play option to help protect Joe Burrow. He has plenty of reps against elite defenders playing in the SEC. Cincinnati gave up the third-most sacks in the league this season.

26. Buffalo Bills (11-6) – Sean Rhyan, OL, UCLA
As the season has worn on, it has become clear that Buffalo needs to revamp the interior of its offensive line. Sean Rhyan is your classic college tackle who might be better off playing guard in the NFL. He is a steady operator, but lacks the elite athleticism needed to contend on the outside with pro-caliber edge rushers. His history as a tackle likely boosts his value though because he could start there in a pinch.

27. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (12-5) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
While this is not a great quarterback class, the Lions can take a crack at the one with the highest upside. Malik Willis is cut from the same cloth as Lamar Jackson with his electric running ability in the open field and dazzling arm strength. However, Jackson was likely a bit further along in his development as a passer than Willis is at the moment. The Liberty star hangs onto the ball for way too long and tends to play hero ball. He struggles with accuracy. That being said, his upside is worth gambling on in this spot. If Detroit ends up with a top-five pick next season, they can always move Willis for additional draft capital and take a more proven prospect like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.

28. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Dallas’ defense has been one of the most surprising stories of the year, but it is unlikely to sustain this success without reinforcements. Daxton Hill is a versatile safety who can line up in the slot. He has the speed to track down players on the boundary and the physicality to make plays in space. Given the Cowboys’ salary cap constraints, there is a good chance Damontae Kazee will not be back and Donovan Wilson is heading into a contract year.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Jahan Dotson has the explosive playmaking ability and proven production that puts him in the conversation to go in the first round. He has great hands and can separate from defenders. He is not the biggest receiver, but he is still capable of playing on the outside. While that might feel a bit redundant given Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman filling similar profiles, Dotson can operate as a bit more of a possession receiver than either of them.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Tampa continues to stay ahead of future needs by drafting for its front seven. While Vita Vea is locked in to a long-term deal, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston and Steve McClendon are all pending free agents. Devonte Wyatt cannot replace all of them, but he can soften the blow. Often overlooked, he has been one of the key contributors to this Georgia defense. He would help the Buccaneers continue to stay stout against the run and offer some interior pass rush ability as well.

31. Tennessee Titans (12-5) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
With Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans both headed for free agency, Tennessee has a need at linebacker. Christian Harris feels like great value to fill that need at the back end of the first round. Harris is a bit like an attack dog, when you let off the leash, he is capable of wreaking havoc. However, he also locks in sometimes and loses track of his assignment. There is also room for improvement when it comes to block shedding. That being said, his ability to shoot the gap and make a big play is enticing.

32. Green Bay Packers (13-4) – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Another Georgia defender in the first round. Travon Walker is built like Za’Darius and Preston Smith, Green Bay’s two current edge rushers who could both be cap casualties this offseason. Walker will help fill the void. He was a consistent performer on the Bulldogs’ championship-winning defense, producing six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2021. His versatility, lining up on the interior, on the edge or even as a stand up backer, would make him an intriguing chess piece for Joe Barry to deploy.

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Dolphins made a critical mistake in firing Brian Flores

Monday after the regular season ends is usually a busy day for front offices across the NFL. It is when coaches and general managers are let go following the end of the season. The Vikings, Bears, Giants and Dolphins all moved on from either their general manager, coach or both after missing the postseason. That came in addition to Vic Fangio losing his job on Sunday when the Broncos’ season ended on Saturday night.

Most of these firings were predictable. Pressure had been building in Minnesota, Chicago and New York all season. Denver stumbled down the stretch and perhaps Fangio took too much blame for a team whose fatal flaw was at quarterback. That was not something he had control over. That being said, the Broncos went 19-30 in his tenure.

Flores went 9-9 against the rest of the AFC East in his three years. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is what happened in Miami, which cannot be classified as anything other than a colossal mistake. Brian Flores took a young, developing roster to the brink of the playoffs two years in a row. He posted back-to-back winning seasons, overcoming uneven drafting by the front office. Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Liam Eichenberg have all gotten off to rough starts in South Beach. Then there are free-agent decisions like signing Will Fuller, who played in two games and recorded four receptions, and releasing Kyle van Noy, who had six sacks in 14 games for the Dolphins in 2020.

Sure, you can hold not reaching the playoffs over Flores’ head at this point, but that feels incredibly unreasonable. Tua Tagovailoa has struggled at times early in his career, but seemed to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem down the stretch for Miami. Just as he was finally settling into his role as franchise quarterback, this now removes any sense of stability for him heading into his third season.

Beyond any of that, Flores was beating the Patriots! He went 4-2 over his three seasons against his former team, including sweeping them in 2021. Former Bill Belichick assistants have rarely had success against him. It is truly inexplicable for the team to move on from him, especially at this point. Yes, the Dolphins started the season terribly, but they have so many young players in key positions. I think the second half of the year is closer to what that team really is right now: a wildcard-caliber team that seemed to be headed in the right direction.

This is just hard to understand. Miami does not need to look far to see what true futility looks like. The in-state Jaguars had the biggest distraction in the league as their head coach, secured their second consecutive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and largely wasted the first year of Trevor Lawrence’s career. Then there is the team in their own division. The Jets have had one winning season since 2010, have finished last in the AFC East in five of the past six seasons and are in the midst of at least their third rebuild in the past 12 years.

Tua Tagovailoa threw 16 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions while completing 67.8 percent of his passes this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Flores is one of the most-respected leaders in the NFL. He inherited a team headed nowhere with a huge question mark at quarterback and a roster that needed to be torn down. This is going to be an attractive head coaching opening with a young quarterback, tons of cap space and a talented defense.

For Flores, I hope he gets picked up right away. The Bears, Vikings, Giants, Broncos and Jaguars should all have him on their shortlist of coaches to interview. He would be an upgrade over most of the coaches that were previously in place, with Mike Zimmer and Fangio standing out as potential outliers.

As a Jets fan, I should be thrilled by this news. I don’t really see someone well-suited to take over this franchise and guide them to immediate success. More likely than not, the new coach will likely run Tagovailoa out of town and send the Dolphins into another rebuild.

However, I am more disappointed that a good coach was unjustly fired. I think Flores had done enough to deserve at least one more year to show he could get this team over the hump and into the postseason. If he failed to do that again in 2022, then I think it would have been fair to make a change.

All in all, this is a shocking move. Miami will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason as they search for a new coach and look to take the next step.

2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 18

Let’s get ready for Week 18! That still feels weird to type. Normally, the NFL regular season would be finished and the remaining 12 (now 14 teams) would be preparing for the playoffs. Instead, we have another full slate of action with some major playoff implications.

Before we get there though, let’s look back at Week 17. It was a stunner. Two teams reached 50 points, Antonio Brown left during the middle a game that the Buccaneers nearly lost to the Jets and the Titans somehow reclaimed the top spot in the AFC. Let’s get into everything that happened and how these teams stack up heading into this final week of the regular season.

Packers logo

1. Green Bay Packers: 13-3 (Last Week: 1)
Won 37-10 vs. Minnesota
Green Bay finally shut down Dalvin Cook. The Vikings running back managed a meager 13 yards on nine rushes. Things were so lopsided, Jordan Love got into the game. There are still small areas where the Packers can undoubtedly improve. They settled for field goals early in the game, with both coming from the red zone. Slow starts against quarterbacks other than Sean Mannion could prove to be the difference when the season is on the line in the postseason.

Buccaneers logo

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 12-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 28-24 at New York
Did something happen to the Buccaneers this week? Antonio Brown’s stunning exit overshadowed a lackluster performance, rescued by Tom Brady’s last-minute heroics. For those pointing to this game and Brown’s departure as to why Tampa Bay is in trouble, I wouldn’t be so sure. Brady has won Super Bowls with less talent around him. This defense should get stronger as it gets healthier and there are still plenty of receiving options, highlighted by Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski. The Jets played really well. The Buccaneers didn’t. Tampa still won.

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3. Cincinnati Bengals: 10-6 (Last Week: 8)
Won 34-31 vs. Kansas City
Cincinnati is hitting its stride in these final few weeks of the regular season. This was a massive statement victory for the Bengals. Joe Burrow looks incredible and his connection with Ja’Marr Chase is paying dividends. The defense had a rough start, but bounced back to hold the Chiefs to just three points in the second half. This does not make the Bengals a Super Bowl favorite, especially with them likely needing to go on the road to Kansas City or Tennessee in order to reach the big game. Far from impossible, but a tough task nonetheless.

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4. Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 34-31 at Cincinnati
The streak is over and Kansas City got a wake-up call. Andy Reid pointed out the team’s inability to hold their first half lead. It is a bit concerning, with many of the early-season woes that plagued the defense popping up once again. Ja’Marr Chase ran rampant through the secondary, racking up 266 yards and three touchdowns. What’s more, the Chiefs lost their hold on the No. 1 seed in the AFC, meaning they could have to play an extra playoff game and travel to Tennessee in order to return to the Super Bowl. There is a lot on the line in Week 18.

5. Los Angeles Rams: 11-5 (Last Week: 3)
Won 20-19 at Baltimore
Goodness, it is really hard to trust this team right now. Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions, including a pick-six. Sure, he rebounded and led the team on a fourth-quarter game-winning drive. It should not have been needed though. Baltimore is incredibly banged up on both sides of the ball. Joe Burrow shredded this same secondary for 525 yards. This does not bode well for the Rams’ chances at making a deep playoff run. At the same time, L.A. is still in line to win the division in Week 18.

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6. Arizona Cardinals: 11-5 (Last Week: 7)
Won 25-22 at Dallas
What second-half fade? Arizona bucked the trend it established last season and seemed to be headed again this year with a crucial win in Dallas. The Cardinals shut down the Cowboys’ run game, holding them to just 2.6 yards per carry. Arizona’s own offense was nothing special, but did enough to get the job done. Antoine Wesley stepped up with a pair of touchdown catches. He seems poised to bridge the gap until DeAndre Hopkins returns. If the Cardinals can get healthy, they are going to be tough to beat in the postseason.

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7. Dallas Cowboys: 11-5 (Last Week: 4)
Lost 25-22 vs. Arizona
Seems like that 56-point outburst was just a fluke. The Cowboys continue to struggle offensively and will not have to forge on without Michael Gallup, who reportedly suffered a torn ACL in the loss on Sunday. Dak Prescott played really well, but he was asked to do too much in the absence of a reliable ground game. A costly fumble by Prescott was likely the difference in the game, as Dallas’ defense failed to generate any turnovers. All is not lost, but this is a significant blow.

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8. Buffalo Bills: 10-6 (Last Week: 9)
Won 29-15 vs. Atlanta
Josh Allen turned in one of his worst performances in years, but the Bills finally found a successful ground game to lead the way. Devin Singletary’s 110 yards and two touchdowns helped take the sting out of Allen’s three interceptions. He added 81 yards and two rushing touchdowns of his own, but Buffalo will certainly need more for its passing game in the playoffs. Thankfully, the defense stepped up five sacks as well and clinched a third straight playoff berth.

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9. Tennessee Titans: 11-5 (Last Week: 11)
Won 34-3 vs. Miami
The Titans have very quietly continued to win and reclaimed their No. 1 seed in the AFC following the Chiefs’ loss against the Bengals. This win was a dominant one as well. D’Onta Foreman rumbled for 132 yards and a score, while Dontrell Hilliard added 45 yards and a touchdown of his own. If Tennessee can hold off Houston to secure the top spot in the conference, it would secure home field advantage and a first-round bye. That would be crucial in letting Derrick Henry heal up for a potential postseason run. If he looks anything like his early-season form, look out.

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10. Indianapolis Colts: 9-7 (Last Week: 6)
Lost 23-20 vs. Las Vegas
A costly loss for the Colts puts them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Carson Wentz had a fairly underwhelming performance as the offense sputtered down the stretch. The defense did its job for the most part, producing two interceptions. However, an inability to contain Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones ultimately cost them the game. Thankfully, the Jaguars are all that stand between the Colts and a return to the postseason, but this takes a lot of wind out of Indianapolis’ sails.

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11. New England Patriots: 10-6 (Last Week: 10)
Won 50-10 vs. Jacksonville
If this is not a testament to how much better the Patriots are as a franchise than the Jaguars, then I don’t know what is. Mac Jones was nothing shy of spectacular, which stood out in stark juxtaposition to his fellow rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Jones had plenty of help, whereas Lawrence essentially had none. New England racked up 181 yards and four rushing touchdowns, while the defense came up with three interceptions. The Pats bounced back in a big way following a deflating loss to the Bills, but now they need to continue to build that momentum heading into the postseason, especially with a chance to win the AFC East.

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12. San Francisco 49ers: 9-7 (Last Week: 13)
Won 23-7 vs. Houston
Trey Lance flashed his immense potential, but it is clear that this team’s best chance to win is with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. At least for now. Lance struggled for much of the first half, but finally came alive in the second half with a pair of touchdowns. Elijah Mitchell led the way on the ground with 119 yards while the defense clamped down on Davis Mills. Despite the positive result, the path to the playoffs is still far from clear. San Francisco controls its own fate, but needs to beat Los Angeles, who needs a win to secure the NFC West title, in order to lock up a postseason spot. A loss opens the door for the Saints to keep the 49ers out.

13. Los Angeles Chargers: 9-7 (Last Week: 14)
Won 34-13 vs. Denver
Los Angeles turned it around after falling flat on its face in Week 16. It wasn’t the prettiest game ever from the offense. The Chargers managed just three yards per carry, but Justin Herbert took care of the football and the offensive line kept him clean. On defense, L.A. bent but rarely broke. They kept Denver out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. This sets up a huge showdown with the Raiders in Week 18. The winner earns a playoff berth.

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14. Las Vegas Raiders: 9-7 (Last Week: 17)
Won 23-20 at Indianapolis
Drama continues to follow this team, on and off the field. The Raiders pulled off a dramatic victory over the Colts, kicking a last-second field goal. Unfortunately, rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge early Monday morning. Considering everything Las Vegas has already dealt with this season, this might not phase the locker room at all, but it comes just two months after Henry Ruggs’ deadly DUI crash. Needless to say, it is another distraction for a team that is in the mix to reach the playoffs.

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15. Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7 (Last Week: 16)
Won 20-16 at Washington
Philly continued its expectation-defying season by earning a playoff spot. It was far from the most convincing victory for the Eagles, but they made just enough plays to squeeze past Washington. Jalen Hurts is winning over many of his critics in the midst of this late-season surge. Philadelphia is clearly playing with house money. However, it might be best to keep expectations low. The Eagles are 0-6 against teams with a winning record this season.

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16. Baltimore Ravens: 8-8 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 20-19 vs. Los Angeles
Baltimore nearly pulled off a huge upset that would have put them in the driver seat to earn a playoff spot. Chuck Clark sparked a banged up secondary with an early pick-six, but the Ravens never managed to get into a groove offensively, never finding the end zone. Four field goals gave them a lead, but the decimated defense could not hold it in the closing minutes. Somehow, the Ravens still have a chance to make the playoffs, but they need a ton of help.

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17. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-7-1 (Last Week: 18)
Won 26-14 vs. Cleveland
Big Ben closed out his time at Heinz Field with an incredibly ugly win. The future Hall of Fame quarterback enjoyed a nice send off and leaves behind a legendary legacy on the field and a checkered past off it. What the Steelers do from here is very much unknown. Pittsburgh still has a chance at the postseason, but the path to getting there feels very unlikely. The Colts would need to lose to the Jaguars and the Raiders and Chargers cannot end in a tie. Stranger things have happened, but the Steelers also need to beat the Ravens. After such an emotional win, they feel primed for a let down.

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18. Miami Dolphins: 8-8 (Last Week: 15)
Lost 34-3 at Tennessee
Put a fork in them. Miami rode a seven-game win streak to the cusp of the postseason, but Ryan Tannehill and Tennessee put a stop to all of that. Tua Tagovailoa was awful behind a porous offensive line that gave up four sacks. The Dolphins’ run defense was also horrendous, giving up 198 yards on five yards per carry. Brian Flores has had Miami in the mix twice now, but he needs to find a way to get this team over the hump. It starts with protecting Tagovailoa and shoring up that front seven.

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19. New Orleans Saints: 8-8 (Last Week: 22)
Won 18-10 vs. Carolina
The Saints aren’t done yet. In fact, New Orleans has a pretty reasonable path to that final wildcard spot. If the 49ers lose to the Rams, the Saints can claim the seventh playoff position with a win over the Falcons. Considering all the injuries this team has dealt with this season, most notably at quarterback, this would be an impressive feat. Before we get ahead of ourselves though, Atlanta won the first game between these two teams this season. New Orleans still has a job to do.

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20. Cleveland Browns 7-9 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 26-14 at Pittsburgh
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a worse performance by an offensive line. Considering that many viewed Cleveland’s front five as one of the best units in the league heading into the season, this was a really surprising collapse. Baker Mayfield was sacked nine times, taking a total of 11 hits. Those would be impressive numbers for a defense over a three game stretch. The Browns have a lot of soul searching to do this offseason. There is a ton of buzz that Baker could be on his way out. Consider this a pivotal few months for this franchise.

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21. Minnesota Vikings: 7-9 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 37-10 at Green Bay
Sean Mannion had no chance. The Packers finally tamed Dalvin Cook, holding him to 13 yards on nine carries. The only way the Vikings were going to win this game was with a big performance from Cook. When that didn’t come, Minnesota’s hopes looked bleak. One meaningless game at the end of the season should not dictate what comes next for this team, but a loss to the divisional-rival Bears could cost Mike Zimmer his job. Questions will certainly be asked about Kirk Cousins’ future as well. There is no way he returns on his current contract. Cutting him before June 1 will save $45 million in cap space. This could be the start of a rebuild for Minnesota.

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22. Denver Broncos: 7-9 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 34-13 at Los Angeles
Denver’s midseason surge appeared to take a lot of pressure off Vic Fangio as the Broncos flirted with playoff contention. Three straight losses knocked them down a peg and ended hopes of reaching the postseason for the first time since their 2015 Super Bowl run. It is clear the team needs to figure out its future at quarterback. As good as Patrick Surtain II has looked, it is hard to wonder what Denver’s outlook would be like had it taken Justin Fields or Mac Jones instead.

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23. Chicago Bears: 6-10 (Last Week: 25)
Won 29-3 vs. New York
This won’t save Matt Nagy’s job, but it certainly points to a brighter future in Chicago. At the very least, it shows the importance of the Bears’ depth at quarterback. Both teams were without their starters due to injury. Andy Dalton is clearly a step up from Mike Glennon. It helped that the defense put together a dominant performance, holding New York to -6 passing yards to go along with four forced turnovers and a safety. Glennon had a QBR of zero. The Bears can overtake the Vikings in the standings with a win on Sunday.

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24. Washington: 6-10 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 20-16 vs. Washington
This was a much more competitive showing than the drubbing Washington took a week ago. However, it is clear that this team is already focused on its future with the front office announcing it will unveil a new team name on February 2. It is fair to wonder about the future though without a clear plan at quarterback and some massive regression on the defensive side of the ball. Ron Rivera is going to be facing a lot more pressure to fix things in 2022.

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25. Atlanta Falcons: 7-9 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 29-15 at Buffalo
On one hand, the Falcons intercepted Josh Allen three times and held him without a passing touchdown. That feels like a formula to beat the Bills, especially given their well-documented struggles to run the ball. Well, Buffalo racked up 233 yards rushing and four scores. So much for that narrative. Matt Ryan had another lackluster game, failing to top 200 yards passing while taking five sacks and losing a fumble. It is unclear the direction this team is headed right now.

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26. Seattle Seahawks: 5-11 (Last Week: 27)
Won 51-29 vs. Detroit
Russ is finally cooking again. It is way too little too late for Seattle, but it was a good sign that Wilson is finally nearing full strength again. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Three went to D.K. Metcalf en route to a 50-point performance. Rashaad Penny’s emergence has been significant as well, 170 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Lions are far from a good benchmark to measure yourself against, but executing at a high level is never a bad thing.

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27. Houston Texans: 4-12 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 23-7 at San Francisco
The win streak is over and the optimism for the Davis Mills-led offense is clearly dampened. Houston stood strong early, holding San Francisco to just three points in the first half. Unfortunately, the Texans only managed seven points themselves. If we are being honest though, this team has been playing with house money all year long. There were no expectations for this team with a massive hole at quarterback given Deshaun Watson’s legal issues and trade demands. Not to mention a first-time head coach. At least the Texans can finally start to rebuild after paying the price for the ill-advised Laremy Tunsil trade.

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28. New York Jets: 4-12 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 28-24 vs. Tampa Bay
What a brutal way to lose a game. It was all too familiar for Jets fans, knowing all too well that Tom Brady was going to engineer a game-winning drive as soon as that head-scratching fourth-down attempt failed. Still, there are a lot of positives to take away, even in a loss. Zach Wilson played the best game of his young career. The combination of Austin Walter, Michael Carter and Ty Johnson moved the ball well against a stout Buccaneers run defense. Plus, it seems like the Jets might have their No. 2 and No. 3 corners on the roster in Bryce Hall and Michael Carter II. This might have honestly been the best-case scenario, as the Jets still preserve their high draft pick with the confidence-inspiring loss.

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29. Carolina Panthers: 5-11 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 18-10 at New Orleans
How did this offense fall apart so quickly? Sure, injuries played a significant role, but Sam Darnold looked like a capable starting quarterback to open the season. Now he looks like a deer in the headlights behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Panthers are also incredibly undisciplined, tallying the eighth-most penalties and second most drops in the NFL. It raises some questions about Matt Rhule’s future. He should get another year to try to turn this around, but this is a critical offseason for Carolina.

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30. Detroit Lions: 2-13-1 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 51-29 at Seattle
Just in case anyone needed reminding, the Lions need a lot of help on defense. Russell Wilson carved up their secondary and the front seven were bowled over by Rashaad Penny. Starting Tim Boyle likely didn’t help matters much. He did toss two touchdowns, but he also had three interceptions. On the bright side, Amon-Ra St. Brown looks fantastic!

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31. New York Giants: 4-12 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 29-3 at Chicago
It is getting harder and harder to understand how Joe Judge is still the head coach of the Giants. He seems to have lost the locker room, he is constantly clashing with the media and the team’s play on the field does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. This was one of the worst offensive showings I can remember, at least from a passing perspective. Saquon Barkley did account for 100 yards on the ground, but that was rendered meaningless by the negative passing yards posted by the offense. It feels like this team desperately needs to clean house.

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32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-14 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 50-10 at New England
Seriously, how did this team beat the Bills? At least Trevor Lawrence finally threw a touchdown pass. Unfortunately, he also threw three more interceptions, bringing his season total to 17. This team desperately needs to get this coaching hire right this offseason and find a way to surround its franchise quarterback with more talent, fast.

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NFL Draft Daily: The NFL’s tight end revolution

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 116 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Kelce has the highest receiving yards per game average by a tight end in NFL history. (Wikimedia Commons)

The tight end position has drastically changed in the NFL over the past 10 years. As the league has leaned into its passing revolution, tight ends have become legitimate receivers in just about every offense. Honestly, the NFL might be in the midst of its tight end heyday, at least so far. With Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews and (somehow) Rob Gronkowski leading the charge, we could be watching several future Hall of Famers right now.

That being said, the league still seems to be adjusting to the concept of receiving-specific tight ends. In the past, blocking has been a requirement. The best tight ends in the league are still excellent blockers. Kelce, Kittle and Gronkowski are all known for their receiving prowess, but what sets them apart is their blocking ability. They are well-rounded superstars. That prototypical player is still going to be the most coveted for the position.

However, we’ve seen a more recent rise of these wide receiver/tight end hybrid players. Waller, Andrews, Mike Gesicki and Kyle Pitts all headline this group. Waller is a converted receiver who lines up all over the place on offense. Andrews leads all tight ends in receiving yards this season and has been Baltimore’s top target for the past three seasons. He is not quite in the same tier as Kelce, Kittle and Gronkowski as a run blocker, but he is better than most of these receiver-only guys. Gesicki is basically a big slot receiver in Miami. He is almost always flexed out or lining up on the perimeter. Then, there is Pitts, who many expect to be one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. He has basically been the opposite of the traditional tight end. He dominates as a receiver between the 20s, but his one touchdown so far this season points to some struggles in the red zone.

Despite battling through injuries and previously retiring, Gronk is still one of the league’s elite tight ends. (Wikimedia Commons)

What’s significant about this is that these players are rarely if ever asked to block. Teams are essentially just using them as a mismatch option in the passing game. That’s why these players are successful. Arthur Smith is not keeping Pitts in to block on running plays or to chip edge rushers on third down. He’s using Pitts as the receiver he is.

However, there have been far too many cases of teams simply not knowing how to use these uber-athletic receiving tight ends. Prominent ones that come to mind are David Njoku in Cleveland, Irv Smith Jr. in Minnesota and Evan Engram in New York. Maybe even O.J. Howard should be in this conversation. None of these players have been able to get off the ground. Some of it is due to injuries, but a lot of it is the schemes they play in.

Engram, who is a huge liability as a blocker, has struggled to transition to the NFL. People will point to a 2020 Pro Bowl appearance, but that was a questionable selection. His talent is undeniable, but it feels like the Giants simply have not found a way to maximize his potential. An anemic pass offense and archaic play calling under Jason Garrett didn’t help matters, but it is time for him to join a different offensive system. It will be interesting to see if he lands in a more pass-happy offense that is willing to let him play as a big receiver on the outside.

Meanwhile, Smith Jr. and Njoku were buried on the depth chart by much less athletic tight ends. Kyle Rudolph was the incumbent in Minnesota and Smith Jr. could not unseat him for the starting job. He likely would’ve had a chance to be the featured target at the position, but injuries cost him the entire 2021 season. Njoku struggled with consistency and eventually lost his starting job to Austin Hooper. He also plays in a run-heavy scheme that does not put him in a position to succeed.

Engram has not topped 700 receiving yards in a season since his rookie year in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

The book is still largely unwritten on Smith Jr.’s time in Minnesota, but time is up for Njoku and Engram. They will be looking for new homes in 2022. Howard is done in Tampa Bay after this season, too. There is a chance he simply isn’t cut out for the NFL either. Howard’s inconsistency and lack of durability has him as the third tight end in Tampa Bay.

All of these players struggling to transition definitely begs the question: is the NFL using these players properly, or are we in the media overvaluing these athletic move tight ends? We are enamored by the athleticism, speed and receiving ability by these players on the college stage. All of them were top-50 selections though, with three of them going in the first round. Clearly, the NFL believed in their playmaking ability translating as well.

So what went wrong? Players bust in the NFL all the time. Perhaps, these are three (maybe four, jury is still out on Smith Jr.) players that just could not live up to the hype. However, I think it might also be that these teams misused all of these players. Gesicki and Pitts are great examples of how to deploy this type of player. You can flex them out and play them out wide on the boundary to create mismatches.

I wonder if we could see a second-half renaissance for any of these players if they land in better situations. The Chargers, Titans, Bengals, Saints, Panthers and Packers all could use an upgrade at tight end this year. Each has a good history of utilizing receiving tight ends. Imagine Engram hauling in passes from Aaron Rodgers or O.J. Howard toasting a linebacker to catch a score from Justin Herbert. This is all speculation, but it is something I will be watching closely this offseason.

Bottom line, the NFL is still figuring out how to best deploy these hybrid players. The same can be said on defense, with players like Isaiah Simmons, Derwin James and the upcoming Kyle Hamilton challenging a lot of traditional positional tropes. It will be interesting to see if receiving tight ends like Jahleel Billingsley, Jalen Wydermyer and Isaiah Likely will fare as the latest group of prospects to arrive in the NFL. In the right system, any one of them could have a Waller or Gesicki-like impact on an offense. The league is still just scratching the surface on how it utilizes tight ends.

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