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#pounditTuesday, April 13, 2021

Stories by Dan Benton:

Jets punter received angry comments from fans for helping team win

New York Jets

The New York Jets picked up their first win of the season in a Week 15 upset of the Los Angeles Rams, and punter Braden Mann certainly deserves some of the credit.

With 5:33 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Jets up 23-20, Rams punt returner Nsimba Webster broke out into the open field and appeared to be headed for a score. However, Mann, a high school linebacker, managed to size Webster up and take him down at the Jets’ 43-yard.

The Rams would eventually turn the ball over on downs and the Jets’ offense would run out the remainder of the clock.

Under normal circumstances, Mann would be hailed as a hero. But this is 2020 and the Jets, who are in a race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, may have cost themselves a chance at Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the victory.

As a result, Jets fans were furious with Mann and they let him know it on social media.

“I got a few messages like that,” Mann said, via ESPN. “But whoever says something like that, I don’t think they ever tried to compete at something like this. For us, we get paid to play. We get paid to win.”

While fans were upset, Jets players and coaches were not. In fact, they were elated and many offered Mann a pat on the back for a job well done.

“I couldn’t care less about the social media reaction, to be honest with you,” Mann added.

In the end, Mann just happens to be the current lightning rod for a fan base that is beyond frustrated. He’ll likely take a few more days of heat before they move onto their next target.

5 most important remaining games on NFL schedule

Alex Smith

It may be hard to believe, but we’ve reached the final stretch of the 2020 NFL regular season.

Despite the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL has managed to maneuver their way to the tail-end of the schedule. And with just two weeks remaining this season, playoff contenders are beginning to separate themselves from the pretenders, which also means each game is of the utmost importance.

With plenty left to be decided, here’s a look at the five most important games remaining on the NFL schedule.

5. Week 16: New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings

The Saints currently lead the NFC South by one game, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looming. Meanwhile, the Vikings find themselves on the outside of the wild card race looking in and cannot afford to lose again this season. Although these two teams seem destined for different outcomes, they collectively make up one of the most important remaining games of the season — third in terms of importance factor heading into Week 16. The reason for that is simple: regardless of the outcome, it will impact both the Saints and Vikings, as well as the Buccaneers, Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals. And that’s the fun of late-season games during a tight playoff race.

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5 under-the-radar NFL players performing at a Pro Bowl level

Robby Anderson

The 2020 regular season is now beyond the midway point and as we’ve gone over in recent weeks, there have been plenty of surprises as well as plenty of letdowns.

But the surprises tend to run more deep and extend beyond just unsuspecting players performing at a high level. There are also several household names who have exceeded expectations and are playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Here is a look at five of those players.

5. Garett Bolles, OT, Denver Broncos

Over the first three seasons of his career, Garett Bolles looked like a potential draft bust in the making. During that span, he was among the most penalized offensive lineman in the game. He even drew the public ire of his general manager, John Elway. Outside of the penalties, Bolles was average at best, and at his worst, struggled in pass protection. Here in 2020 however, the former first-round pick has completely — and we mean completely — turned a corner. Not only has Bolles seen a dramatic decrease in the number of penalties called against him, he leads all tackles with a 90.2 Pro Football Focus grade and is top four in both pass protection and run blocking grades (1st). That’s Pro Bowl stuff any way you slice it, and the reason why he got a big contract extension from Denver.

4. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

Brandon Graham feels like a player who will forever be underrated, and it’s no different here in 2020. Through eight games this season, the relentless smack-talking Graham has recorded 7.0 sacks, which is just 2.5 shy of his career high. His 80.5 Pro Football Focus grade is also tops among Eagles defenders, second overall on the team, and within the top 15 (11) league-wide at his position. Graham is consistent and can be relied upon for a certain level of play each week and that speaks volumes about his overall value to the team away from statistics, numbers and analytics. What’s even more remarkable is that he’s played well for 11 consecutive seasons and never once been named to the Pro Bowl. That could very well change this year.

3. Leonard Williams, DL, New York Giants

When the Giants acquired Leonard Williams from the New York Jets in 2019, general manager Dave Gettleman faced overwhelming criticism. However, it may be Gettleman who gets the last laugh after all. Williams is second on the Giants (250-plus snaps) with a 79.9 Pro Football Focus grade and leads the defense with 6.0 sacks. Always stout against the run, Williams has drastically improved his pass rush, and he’s arguably the best all-around player in East Rutherford. His play has helped elevate a defense that has unexpectedly kept the Giants in all but one game this season.

2. Robby Anderson, WR, Carolina Panthers

Robby Anderson spent an entire career with the New York Jets hovering around 750-800 yards per season with the sole exception of 2017 when he broke out, finishing the year with 941 yards and seven touchdowns. It was a glimpse of what Anderson could achieve, but a plateau he never reached again — until now. Anderson signed with the Carolina Panthers this offseason, and that appears to have been the right move for his career. Through 12 games this season, Anderson has hauled in 75 receptions for 912 yards and two touchdowsn. His 74.7% catch rate also represents a career high by nearly 20%. If Anderson gets those TD numbers up, there’s no denying that’s Pro Bowl-level play.

1. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Miami Dolphins

Entering his fifth NFL season, Emmanuel Ogbah had never recorded more than 5.5 sacks, which he did twice in his career — first as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns and then again in 2019 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Through 11 games in 2020, Ogbah leads the Dolphins with 8.0 sacks and 14 QB hits. But his impact is not exclusive to rushing the passer. Ogbah also has three forced fumbles and is third on the team with five passes defensed. Collectively, those numbers also make him one of the most successful all-around defensive ends in football and should warrant serious Pro Bowl consideration.

Photo: Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia via CC-BY 4.0

5 NFL players flying under-the-radar

Michael Gallup

The 2020 NFL regular season has reached the midway point and contenders are beginning to separate themselves from pretenders. And on a more individual basis, stars are beginning to separate themselves from the under-performers.

But there is somewhat of a middle ground.

There are some players who are performing well but still somehow avoiding the limelight. Here’s a quick look at five such players.

5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

A second-round pick of the Colts in April, Jonathan Taylor was somewhat of an afterthought entering the season. He was originally slated to serve as the backup to Marlon Mack, the team’s leading rusher in 2019, but a ruptured Achilles ended Mack’s season and changed the plans in Indianapolis. Taylor was thrust into the starting role and he’s done nothing but quietly excel. Through eight weeks, Taylor leads the Colts with 389 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and is on pace to finish just shy of the 900-yard mark. However, should Taylor’s workload increase over the second half of the season, we may see him finish in the top 15 (or even top 10) in rushing league-wide.

4. Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ offense is loaded with talent, especially at the wide receiver position, where Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb take up residence. But it’s actually Michael Gallup, their WR3, who leads Dallas in yards per reception (16.6) by a wide margin. He has six plays of 20-plus yards so far this season, which is even more impressive when you consider he has just 26 receptions — 20 of which have gone for a first down. Gallup is on pace to finish the year with 864 yards, two touchdowns and 40 first downs. Not bad for a guy who is clearly being overshadowed, overlooked, and should demand a trade.

3. Scotty Miller, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As a rookie sixth-round pick in 2019, Scotty Miller didn’t really factor in for the Buccaneers last year. He hauled in 13 receptions on 26 targets for 200 yards and scored one touchdown, which came in a late-season romp of the Detroit Lions. However, with Tom Brady now under center in Tampa Bay, Miller’s production is off the charts. Through eight weeks, “Scooter” is tied for third on the team with 25 receptions and leads the way with 400 yards and a per-catch average of 16.0. With so many weapons on Brady’s disposal, it speaks volumes about Miller that he’s established himself as the most productive of the bunch. And even with Antonio Brown soon arriving on the scene, ole Scooter isn’t likely to fall off the map any time soon.

2. Jamel Dean, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have not just one, but two players performing at an unexpectedly high level who remain under-the-radar for the time being. That’s likely to be short-lived however, as both the aforementioned Scotty Miller and Jamel Dean are playing exceptionally well. A third-round pick in 2019, Dean took a while to get his feet under him, but ultimately finished the season strong. In 2020, he’s come out on fire and is fifth among all cornerbacks with a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.2. Dean could be headed toward both a Pro Bowl and All-Pro nod.

1. Brian Burns, EDGE, Carolina Panthers

As a first-round rookie in 2019, Brian Burns established himself as a quality pass rusher, picking up 7.5 sacks on the season. However, he struggled against the run and was far from a solid tackler, which led some to believe that he might be a one-dimensional player. Burns clearly took that to heart and returned in 2020 improved across the board. Through eight games, Burns has already recorded 31 tackles and three stuffs, which are both career highs. And while he’s registered just three sacks to date, his Pro Football Focus grades show a vastly improved all-around player. Currently, he has an 84.4 overall grade, while his tackling grade is 71.3, up from 42.1 as a rookie. His run defense grade has almost improved from 55.2 to 63.4.

Photo: All Pro Reels/Flickr via cc by-sa 2.0

5 players most likely to be dealt by NFL trade deadline

Dwayne Haskins

As hard as it may be to believe, the 2020 NFL trade deadline is rapidly approaching. Determinations are being made on which teams are buyers and which teams will be sellers. However, this trading deadline may be a bit different than in years past due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the league.

While the coronavirus makes it difficult to predict just how active the next few weeks will be, some superstars will undoubtedly be on the move. Here’s a look at five of the most likely trade candidates.

5. Ryan Kerrigan, EDGE, Washington Football Team

The thought of trading Ryan Kerrigan might seem blasphemous to most fans of the Washington Football Team, but all good things must come to an end, as they say. At 32 years old, Kerrigan is on the down side of his career. Washington is in obvious rebuilding mode, and since Week 1, the veteran’s production has been very little. The longer Kerrigan continues to flounder (51.8 PFF grade so far this season), the more value he loses. And while head coach Ron Rivera may appreciate the depth off the edge, accumulating more assets is what this team needs. It would be difficult to pull the trigger, but it’s a new era in Washington, and some difficult decisions need to be made.

4. Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots

Although the Patriots gave Stephon Gilmore a substantial pay raise this offseason, that did not prevent Bill Belichick & Co. from dangling the cornerback out there as potential trade bait. As recently as training camp, the Pats were floating Gilmore as a potential trade chip, and there’s no reason to believe that’s going to change as the trading deadline approaches. The Pats are 2-2 to start the season and no longer appear to be the powerhouse they once were. So if Belichick doesn’t believe they can compete down the stretch, it would make sense to ship Gilmore out for either picks or other assets as New England looks to rebuild in the post-Tom Brady era.

3. Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

The Giants are going nowhere fast, and following an offseason in which the hype was built up to astronomical levels, tight end Evan Engram has fallen flat in New York’s struggling offense. However, Engram will still flash his rare and elite athleticism from time-to-time, and that’s enough to keep teams interested. Opposing head coaches frequently rave about the tight end’s potential, and many consider Engram to be a Jordan Reed clone. Someone out there will be willing to take a flier on him. The Giants may as well entertain the idea of trading him because their ongoing rebuild appears as if it will linger for a while. Engram may not be a make-or-break factor for the Giants, but he could be a key asset for a playoff team that’s just a piece or two away.

2. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Washington Football Team

It’s hard to believe that Dwayne Haskins might get the Josh Rosen treatment this early in his career, but here we are. Haskins has not only been benched in D.C.; he’s been demoted to QB3 and has not been with the team since said demotion (allegedly due to illness). And although head coach Ron Rivera insists he has not yet given up on the 23-year-old, rumors have begun to swirl that the quarterback could be traded in the near future. Despite Haskins’ early struggles, there’s no denying that he possesses the talent necessary to find a foothold in the NFL, even if it doesn’t come in Washington. His attitude may need some adjustments though.

1. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

This was potentially the year A.J. Green would bounce back and reestablish himself as one of the league’s elite wide receivers, but the connection between him and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow just doesn’t seem to be there. Through four games, Green has hauled in just 14 of his 33 targets for 119 yards and no touchdowns. His catch rate of 41.2 percent is a career-low by a mile. Ditto his 8.5 yards per reception. Green came into this season playing on the franchise tag and there does not appear to be a long-term future for the 32-year-old in Cincinnati. It’s time for both sides to move on, and that’s likely how things will play out in the coming weeks.

5 biggest surprises through three weeks of the 2020 NFL season

Josh Allen

The 2020 NFL season has been unique so far due to COVID-19, but the NFL has handled the virus well and played all games as scheduled.

The early part of the season has paved the way for quite a few disappointments, which we examined last week, as well as quite a few surprises. Here’s a look at five of those surprises, with an emphasis on positive stories.

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5 NFL players who have been a letdown through two weeks

Tom Brady

The 2020 NFL regular season is now officially through two weeks and there has been a lot to absorb. The lack of fans has certainly presented its challenges for some teams, while injuries seem to be adding up across the board.

But those aren’t the only letdowns so far. Quite a few players who were expected to stand out above the rest have done anything but that and instead find themselves disappointing.

Here’s a look at five players who need to pick it up.

5. Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

Entering the 2020 regular season, Giants tight end Evan Engram was riding one of the most robust hype trains in recent memory. Everyone from coaches to players and from pundits to fans expected this to finally be the year Engram breaks out and establishes himself as one of the best. Instead, Week 1 saw him drop several passes, stop a route short costing the team a touchdown, and commit a back-breaking offensive interference penalty while playing equally poor in pass protection. Engram did catch six balls for 65 yards in Week 2, but was kept out of the end zone in another loss. Eight receptions on 15 targets for 75 yards and two drops is not what the hype would have suggested.

4. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Like Evan Engram, this was supposed to be the year Carson Wentz stayed healthy and put it all together. Instead, he’s looked horrendous through two weeks, completing just 58.8 percent of his passes and tossing four interceptions, which is more than half of his total from each of the previous three seasons. Add in two fumbles, and the scope of Wentz’s issues becomes apparent. In a Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams — a game that wasn’t even close — Wentz managed to get booed. That’s significant because there aren’t even any fans in the stands. That’s how bad it is for Wentz and Philadelphia right now.

3. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

A.J. Green missed seven games in 2018 as the result of a toe injury and then missed the entire 2019 season after tearing ligaments in his ankle. Despite that, the Bengals slapped him with the franchise tag this offseason and expected a bounce-back season with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow taking snaps. So far, Cincinnati has not gotten a return on their investment. Although Burrow has played well, he and Green have not developed a strong chemistry, and it shows. Through two weeks, Green has just 8 receptions on 22 targets for 80 yards and no touchdowns.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns

Odell Beckham Jr. has been effective over his first two seasons with the Browns, but has not come close to scratching the surface of his early success in New York. But entering the new league year, OBJ proclaimed he was in a better mental state and ready to take back over his throne atop the NFL. Of course, we’ve all heard that before — it’s like a broken record on repeat at the start of every season. In Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens, Beckham was held to 3 receptions on 10 targets for 22 yards. In Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Beckham did manage to find the end zone, but his offensive snaps were limited to just 39. 7 receptions on 16 targets for 96 yards and one touchdown is not the kind of production OBJ had in mind to start the season. And his 43.8% catch rate? Yeah, it’s by far the lowest of his career (and yes, we recognize that some of this is the fault of quarterback Baker Mayfield).

1. Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady going to the Buccaneers was the league’s biggest offseason story. Finally, the world would see who was responsible for all of the success in New England: was it Brady or Bill Belichick? Well, early on, things are not looking too wonderful for Brady. In a Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Brady tossed two interceptions and fumbled the ball, and later found himself being chewed out by head coach Bruce Arians. In Week 2, the Bucs managed to pick up a win over the Carolina Panthers, but it wasn’t exactly because Brady lit things up. He tossed another pick and a lost a fumble while posting a QBR of just 54.1. In two games, Brady has thrown for just 456 yards and three touchdowns to go along with three interceptions and two fumbles (one lost). His QBR of 43.7 is 30th in the NFL. His 79.93 QB rating isn’t much better.

5 biggest surprises of NFL Week 1

Tom Brady

Week 1 of the 2020 NFL regular season has now come and gone, and the fact that it happened at all amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a bit of a surprise. However, it was far from the only surprise, so let’s take a look at a few others from the start of the season.

5. Aldon Smith had no rust

As a result of his long and extensive legal history, Aldon Smith has been out of football since the 2015 season. However, he was reinstated back in May and given the green light to play in Dallas. Despite having not played football in nearly five years, he returned to dominance almost instantaneously. In his first game back, Smith recorded 11 tackles (six solo, one for a loss), two quarterback hits and one sack. Pro Football Focus gave him a modest grade of 72.6, but even that is remarkable when considering how long he had been away from the field.

4. Saquon Barkley rendered useless

While no one expected the New York Giants to start hot (or even be that good) in 2020, the general consensus was that running back Saquon Barkley would be heavily featured in Jason Garrett’s offense and put up historic numbers as a result. In Week 1, that was anything but the case. The Pittsburgh Steelers sold out on shutting Barkley down and did just that, limiting him to six yards on 15 carries. He also averaged a negative 0.7 yards before contact per carry, which was dead last in the NFL. Outside of one fake reverse screen pass where he got into open space, Barkley was rendered completely useless on Monday night and showed that he’s a severe liability in pass protection. Barkley even got called out by a former Giant for that.

3. The Washington Football Team

After a horrendous offseason that featured a name change, new uniform designs, domestic abuse arrests, reports of sexual harassment and just about every other negative you can possibly imagine, the Washington Football Team, under head coach Ron Rivera, came out and whooped the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, they did get off to a slow start, but over the final three quarters, the game wasn’t even close as Washington physically laid it on their NFC East rivals. They out-scored Philadelphia 27-7 over the final three quarters, including a 13-point fourth quarter. Washington now stands alone at the top of the division with a 1-0 record — all other teams are 0-1. Who saw that coming?

2. Mitch Trubisky, the comeback kid

The Chicago Bears trailed the Detroit Lions 23-6 entering the fourth quarter on Sunday, and then Mitch Trubisky decided it was time to play a little football. He tossed three touchdowns during the final frame, leading the Bears on a 21-0 run that eventually gave them a 27-23 road victory. It was the first time since Jay Cutler in 2014 that a Bears quarterback tossed three-or-more touchdowns with no interceptions to secure a fourth quarter comeback victory. Trubisky also finished the day with a 143.3 QB rating, which led the NFL.

1. Tom Brady the dude

Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason and he was going to prove to everyone that he was the reason behind New England’s dynasty. At least that’s what many pundits and fans would have you believe, but it’s not how things shook out. While Bill Belichick and the Pats got off to a 1-0 start, Brady and the Bucs took an “L” and looked terrible doing it. The Brady hype train crashed hard with the future Hall of Famer tossing two bad interceptions in the 11-point loss. After the game, head coach Bruce Arians ripped Brady’s play. The realization that it’s truly “Tom vs. Time” set in.