And now, it begins. Thursday night 8 p.m. in Philadelphia. All the projections, mock drafts, debate, etc. will be replaced by actual teams picking actual players. It’s the NFL Draft 2017.
This will start (allegedly) with the Browns at #1, and then conclude around 3 1/2 hours later when the Saints (who got New England’s pick in the Brandin Cooks trade) will take the last player of the first round.
With all of this in mind, here are the four story-lines that intrigue us the most:
What do the Jaguars do at #4?
As we wrote earlier this week, Jacksonville not only has a new regime’ but they hold serious leverage with this early pick for themselves or potentially someone else.
Will it be LSU stud RB Leonard Fournette? Will it be a QB (Deshaun Watson?) or might the Jags deal out of this spot because the names Fournette, Mitchell Trubisky, Watson, and others are there, and are not something they feel they have to have?
Does Dalvin Cook last until the Buccaneers pick at #19?
Again, we have written a bunch about this possible marriage, but there are two essential scenarios:
Someone grabs Cook well before the Bucs can, or he starts to fall right into a position, where it seems to be a natural fit (Tampa Bay).
Many believe that both Fournette and Christian McCaffery will go before Cook in the opening round. That remains to be seen. It is also very likely that if both are gone, let’s say by the 10th pick, that several teams will be interested in picking or trading up to pick, Cook before #19.
Now, if he’s there for the Buccaneers, many believe GM Jason Licht will pull the trigger and take him. We will obviously find out very quickly whether Cook’s truly a priority (they take him). Or if the Bucs believe that they can trade down, they’ll take the risk of Cook being there later or just taking someone else later on, instead.
No matter what, it’s one of the big story lines, not only in our state, but around the entire NFL.
If it’s not Dalvin Cook, who’s the first state player taken in the first round?
This is a great debate. Is that name David Njoku, tight end from The U? Is it Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis? As our Jamil King suggests, is it maybe Noles DE Demarcus Robertson sneaking into the first round?
The Noles have had a player taken in round one in six of the last seven drafts, and it’s likely Cook will continue that trend. Then again, he may not. So we’re watching with you on who’s name from “the Sunshine State” comes up instead.
Finally, the Dolphins have to wait the longest of the three Florida NFL teams. Is it a defensive end?
It seems Miami has one main priority: pass rush. And there are a bevy of them in this draft, but who will still be there at #22? Derek Barnett of Tennessee? Charles Harris of Mizzou? Taco Charlton of Michigan? Or, do they covet another name?
Or if one or more of those guys are available and they pass on that position, what do they value more? Offensive line help? Secondary?
Miami was a playoff team in 2016 and has a lot of pieces in places. What do they add? We’re about to find that and a lot more out coming up tonight.
Early read on potential fantasy football breakout starts with Florida ties
It’s never too soon to start looking at those fantasy football lists and analysis for the upcoming season. What, with training camps getting underway in three weeks and all, you can’t get enough of the info and debate.
With that in mind, the NFL Network’s fantasy guru, Michael Fabiano, has an interesting list out of potential impact players ready to “breakout” for 2018. And, when we saw numerous players on his list that play for either the Bucs, Dolphins or Jaguars and/or have a tie to Florida somehow, we were more interested.
And a TE.
— NFL (@NFL) July 6, 2018
Right after talking up Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley to lead off his list, the fact that Fabiano went to Vikings RB Dalvin Cook next was eye opening. Cook, the former Noles star, got off to an explosive start at the beginning of 2017, only to blowout his ACL in the Vikings fourth game of the year.
He’s expected to be back fully healthy for preseason and now has new free agent signee QB Kirk Cousins at the controls of the offense. That will only help open the running lanes for Cook to make the plays that everyone envisioned.
Another running back ranking that jumped out was Fabiano going with Dolphins tailback Kenyan Drake, as the fourth choice for players to step up in 2018. We have written extensively that Drake will have a great opportunity to be the feature back, especially in the redzone and “goal to go” situations.
Drake saw a mere 57 touches in his first 11 games of last season, but he put up huge totals when thrust into a bigger role in his final five. While the Dolphins did add Frank Gore and Kalen Ballage to the backfield, Drake looks to be Miami’s new top runner. He’s a good bet to see 250-plus touches in 2018, making him a potential high-end No. 2 back.
Fabiano mixed in receivers like Stefon Diggs of the Vikings and quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson of the Texans on his list, and then, when he got to #16, it was a Bucs rookie that has him intrigued:
Ronald Jones II, RB,Tampa Bay Buccaneers: An electric playmaker who has drawn comparisons to Jamaal Charles, Jones should be considered the favorite to start in a Bucs backfield that let Doug Martin walk in the offseason. I see him as a top-50 overall selection in drafts.
Jones will split time with Peyton Barber, and for the Bucs first three games with QB Jameis Winston suspended, their running game will take on more significance
Finally, Dolphins WR DeVante Parker was two slots later on the watch list at #18. With, Miami choosing to trade Jarvis Landry to the Browns, but adding Danny Amendola from New England and Albert Wilson from the Chiefs, Parker will be challenged to get a lot of opportunities.
Again, it’s early. Way early for all of this, especially as teams have yet to report.
Still, it’s fantasy football. And everyone is looking for info and an edge on their opponents.
Who remains in free agency?
With the calendar flipping to July on Sunday, we check back in on the potential free agents that are still available for the Bucs, the Dolphins, and the Jaguars (and everyone else) with training camps beginning in about three-four weeks.
Here’s what’s still there.
If the Bucs specifically, due to the Jameis Winston suspension, are interested in a third QB to go along with veterans Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin, there are choices. First, we wrote that maybe Griffin might develop into a better option for starter on opening day. And to do that, he would have to play significantly in the preseason. Still, former Dolphins QB Matt Moore is available.
Moore filled in for the injured Ryan Tannehill at the end of 2016 and won three games. He also played in the Wildcard loss to the Steelers. Last year, he replaced Jay Cutler starting two games as well. He’s definitely an option, but Tampa Bay will likely stick with the two Ryans.
The premier one that remains is Cowboys star Dez Bryant. There is some speculation Bryant might suddenly re-sign a discounted deal with Dallas. If he doesn’t then, might the Jaguars be looking for another veteran weapon to go along with their young core of Marqise Lee, DeDe Westbrook and newly acquired Donte Moncreif? Would Bryant, who’s 30 but has also been in the Pro Bowl three times, want too much money that Jacksonville doesn’t have?
Still, it’s intriguing for Jags fans to wonder.
Still hanging out there is veteran Kenny Vaccaro late of the Saints. Vaccaro played in 12 games a year ago with 60 tackles and three INTS. He’s 27 and has already visited with the Dolphins after the draft, and has yet to sign anywhere. Miami could use a veteran safety, but Vaccaro may be holding out for a team to lose a star at his position due to injury and then try to cash in.
The Bucs have a serious ankle injury to second year LB Kendell Beckwith that will have him still sidelined into the start of camp and maybe beyond. The Jags and the Dolphins also could use a veteran presence. That’s with Jacksonville seeing Paul Posluzsny retiring and Miami electing to release veteran Lawrence Timmons after one season. Former 49ers Pro Bowl inside LB Navarro Bowman is an option. He’s 30 and played last year with the Raiders. He would be a solid and inexpensive option for any of the three to go to, if they want.
Finally, Running backs:
Both the Bucs and the Dolphins could still use a veteran in their backfield. And former Cards RB Adrian Peterson (above) and former Titan ball carrier DeMarco Murray are both unsigned as of Sunday. Both are over the age of 30, and Murray was under consideration by Miami before they signed veteran Colt free agent Frank Gore. So, the Dolphins are not a likely destination for him.
Meanwhile, Peterson who’s a Hall of Fame candidate, could be a short term option in Tampa Bay. This, as they are prepared to go into the season with third year largely unproven RB Peyton Barber, and rookie speedster Ronald Jones, whom they got in the second round of the draft.
Teams will tell you that they have their rosters set, but if their position group struggles and as mentioned earlier, injuries happen (and they will) then these names above will be contacted.
Key free agents remaining for Bucs, Dolphins, and Jaguars
Things have begun to settle down post NFL Draft for the franchises, but as we continue to document, your roster evaluation doesn’t cease during this time period. And for the Buccaneers, Dolphins and Jaguars, there are still some players out there that could help each club.
And, as Miami demonstrated late last week, they were unsatisfied with all of what happened in the draft. First they traded for young veteran defensive tackle Akeem Spence from Detroit, and then, when the Jets pulled the plug on veteran and former fourth round pick, QB Bryce Petty, the Dolphins wasted no time claiming him and assuming his over $750,000 salary for this year.
Obviously, there are several prominent names sitting out there as the calendar has flipped to May.
And there might be some interest for the the following guys:
RB C.J. Anderson- Late of the Broncos, we mentioned pre-draft that he might be a fit in Tampa Bay or Miami. However, the Bucs drafted Ronald Jones in the second round, and the Fins took Kallen Ballage in the fourth round, who both seemingly fill the need. Still, Anderson has veteran experience and will likely come cheap, and even perhaps on a one year deal.
S Kenny Vaccaro- After being allowed to test free agency by the Saints, he visited the Dolphins three weeks ago. He’s a hard hitting safety that battled groin and ankle injuries in 2017. Still, he made 60 tackles and had three interceptions in New Orleans. And like Anderson, may be willing to take a one year deal at this point to hook on with a team. It should be noted that the Jags (Ronnie Harrison), Bucs (Jordan Whitehead) and the Fins (Minkah Fitzpatrick) all drafted a safety.
However, Vaccaro is a veteran presence, former Pro Bowler, and one of the teams may be looking for depth at safety.
At linebacker: Navarro Bowman or Brian Cushing- Bowman is a former 49ers Pro Bowler who is 30, and played last year in Oakland. Cushing is 31 and had played his entire 10 years for the Houston Texans. He’s battled a season ending knee injury earlier in his career, but last year was suspended 10 games for violating the performance enhancing drugs.
All three teams drafted a linebacker last weekend. Miami went with Ohio State’s Jerome Baker in the third round, but the Bucs and Jaguars picks were both were in the sixth and seventh rounds. So, that would not necessarily preclude Tampa Bay and Jacksonville from looking at a veteran. The Bucs are without Kendell Beckwith with a broken leg in a car accident that has him sidelined into training camp. Meanwhile, Jags veteran Paul Posluszny retired last month creating a void.
Offensive line depth: While the Bucs not only signed free agent Ryan Jensen of the Ravens, but drafted Division II guard Alex Cappa in the third round, they still might be interested in someone like the Cardinals free agent Alex Boone. He’s a 31 years old, started 13 games last year and has played on a one year deal the last two years in Arizona and Minnesota.
The Dolphins did not draft an offensive lineman last weekend, could also be interested in Boone or perhaps also, former #1 pick G Luke Joeckel, who played last year in Seattle, and is 26 years old.
The Jags made a free agent splash after signing the Panthers Andrew Norwell to a massive contract, and then last weekend, took N.C. State T Will Richardson in the fourth round. So, it’s unlikely that they will have a need.
It’s unlikely that any team of the teams has an interest in Cowboys free agent WR/Diva Dez Bryant, who would likely come at a large cost. And, while the Dolphins took a good look at veteran RB DeMarco Murray, late of the Titans, in March, they elected to sign veteran Frank Gore instead.
That means Murray must likely keep looking beyond the Sunshine State.
Don’t be surprised if some of the names above will still be available through the summer, staying in shape, and waiting for a possible training camp or preseason injury to jump back on an NFL roster.
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