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#pounditTuesday, April 13, 2021

Stories by Dan Benton:

5 best undrafted rookie free agents

Hunter Bryant

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone, and despite some concerns over potential pitfalls, the virtual event was received well. Sure, there were some morbidity issues thanks to ESPN, but that had far more to do with the broadcast than the actual functionality of the draft.

For as many star players and prospects who were drafted, there were still plenty of players who went undrafted. Some of those players can develop into quality starters.

Here’s a look at the best five undrafted rookie free agents and where they landed.

5. J.J. Taylor, RB, New England Patriots

Make no mistake about it, the 5-foot-5, 185-pound J.J. Taylor went undrafted due to his size. One of the smaller players in the NFL Draft and now in the NFL, Taylor isn’t the cut-and-slash type running back you may expect. Rather, he’s a head-down, North-South runner who is fearlessly willing to take on anyone standing in front of him. What will separate Taylor at the NFL level — and why Bill Belichick was so willing to take a flier out on him — is that he’s got good hands and will make plays through the air out of the backfield. He’s very coachable, smart, and willing to work. He’s everything that Belichick and the Patriots love.

4. Lavert Hill, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

Lavert Hill’s size (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) is likely the reason he went undrafted in 2020, but the Chiefs decided to take a flier, and they may benefit as a result. Although he’s obvious undersized, Hill has a high football IQ, good instincts, strong ball skills, and a willingness to mix it up. His talent and athleticism carried him on the outside in college, but that’s not a role he’s likely to see nor succeed in at the NFL level. Rather, Hill projects more to a nickel corner where he’ll be able to match up against smaller wide receivers and use press skills to his advantage. There is still a little concern with his top-end speed, but it’s a low-risk, high-reward scenario for Kansas City.

3. Anthony Gordon, QB, Seattle Seahawks

The opinions on Anthony Gordon heading into the 2020 NFL Draft were admittedly mixed, but at worst, many expected him to be a priority free agent. Unsurprisingly, he was. Several teams rushed to sign him, but Gordon and his representation ultimately decided that Seattle was the best fit. The big knock against Gordon is his overall lack of experience (just 14 college starts), which hurts his ability to read and react to defenses. That, of course, will come over time. But there’s a lot to like about Gordon outside of that, including his accuracy, touch, and willingness to stand in the pocket. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, but he’s able to fit the ball into tight spaces and lead his receivers down the field. Gordon is just the latest in the long long of Mike Leach “Air Raid” successes.

2. Trey Adams, OL, Buffalo Bills

Once upon a time, Trey Adams was an ascending offensive tackle who many believed would be the top-ranked player at his position. Unfortunately for Adams, a torn ACL in 2017 and a serious back injury in 2018 stunted his development and dropped him down many big boards. He did return to the field in 2019, but his play was so-so at best, and that’s likely due to the aforementioned injuries. In the NFL, Adams will need to rely heavily on the strength and conditioning program in hopes of beefing back up and returning to his former glory. It’s a low-risk move for the Bills, but could pay huge dividends over time. And how could any coach not love that 6-foot-8 frame? There’s a lot to work with in Adams.

1. Hunter Bryant, TE, Detroit Lions

If you were to look at any “best of” list relating to undrafted free agents, Hunter Bryant is all but guaranteed to appear. Most experts and evaluators had Bryant with a draftable grade, but for one reason or another, that did not happen. Instead, the Lions ended up signing one of the most coveted rookie free agents of the year. The 6-foot-2, 239-pound Bryant has a good combination of size and speed, and although he excels as a pass-catcher, he’s an adequate blocker. His development at the NFL level may hinge upon finding the right scheme, but there’s a lot to work with in Bryant, who drew an NFL comp to Jordan Reed.

5 potential trade-up targets in the NFL Draft

Justin Herbert

The 2020 NFL Draft is nearly upon us, and rumors about potential trades are beginning to heat up.

While very few things about the draft are predictable, it’s easy to guarantee a slew of trades will take place in Round 1 and beyond — many of those coming over the first 10 or so picks. Even in a virtual setting, that’s not likely to change.

With that in mind, here’s a look at five of the top potential trade-up targets.

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5 biggest movers in the 2020 NFL Draft

Jalen Hurts Tua Tagovailoa

The 2020 NFL Draft is coming up soon and will continue as planned despite major global adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, NFL teams are still doing their due diligence, poring over game tape and re-watching NFL Combine workouts to get a feel for the players they can no longer work out privately. It’s an interesting and unexpected adjustment, and it’s having equally interested and unexpected impacts on players.

Here’s a look at five players who have either seen their draft stock rise or fall in recent weeks and months.

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5 must-watch games on NFL Game Pass

Marshawn Lynch

The coronavirus pandemic has brought most of the world to a halt, and that includes the world of sports. Every major American sport has been paused, delayed or canceled for the year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your fill.

In an effort to offset the lack of sports, the NFL has decided to offer up Game Pass for free for several months, giving fans the opportunity to watch any game their heart desires from the 2009 season on.

Here are five games (and one bonus game) that are absolutely worth your time.

5. Seattle Seahawks vs. New Orleans Saints (January 8, 2011)

Of course this game was destined to make the list — how could it not? It was a miracle that the 7-9 Seahawks, who were in their first year under head coach Pete Carroll, made the playoffs at all. Then they topped it off by upsetting the heavily favored Saints in front of more than 66,000. The two teams battled back-and-forth for four quarters, and the game was neck-and-neck until under 4:00 remaining when Seattle put what amounted to a game-clinching touchdown on the board. The win sparked a revolution in Seattle and propelled the Seahawks into power for the next half-decade. Am I forgetting something? Oh, that’s right … that game-sealing touchdown came courtesy of Marshawn Lynch, who broke countless tackles on the way to the end zone, leaving the crowd in such chaos that is actually registered on sensitive earthquake-detection equipment. The run was aptly named the “Beast Quake.”

4. New York Giants vs. New Orleans Saints (November 1, 2015)

Louisiana native Eli Manning returned home to take on Drew Brees and the Saints early in the 2015 season, and no one could have foreseen what was coming. Manning and Brees put on a show for the ages, combining for over 850 yards and 13 touchdowns as their teams put up 100-plus points. It was an aerial display — the likes of which the NFL has rarely seen — with big plays coming with remarkable frequency. The two teams battled back-and-forth from the jump, and that persisted until the final seconds. With the game tied 49-49, the Saints sent in kicker Kai Forbath for his first and only field goal of the game, which he drilled down the center from 50 yards out as time expired, giving New Orleans a thrilling victory. If you’re into high-powered and nearly unstoppable offense, this is the game for you.

3. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams (November 19, 2018)

One of the most hyped games in recent memory, the high-powered Chiefs took on the equally high-powered Rams on Monday Night Football, which drew an average viewership of 16.7 million — one of ESPN’s most-viewed NFL games since 2016. And the contest certainly delivered, as both Kansas City and Los Angles got their licks in throughout the contest. In the end, the Rams and Chiefs became the first teams to score 50 points each in a game, while the game itself closed as the third-highest scoring contest in league history. Their 14 combined touchdowns were also the second-most ever. In the end, the Rams walked away victorious as Jared Goff hit Gerald Everett for a score with under 1:50 remaining. Of course, the Chiefs would eventually get the last laugh as they proved themselves more sustainable, winning the Super Bowl a year later.

2. Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals (January 16, 2016)

A few weeks removed from the Cardinals absolutely dismantling the Packers — Aaron Rodgers’ worst loss ever — the two teams were back at it in the divisional round of the playoffs, and they delivered an instant classic. The game itself wasn’t exactly the sharpest football you’ll see, but that doesn’t make the game any less thrilling. Facing elimination late in the fourth quarter, Rodgers, who is known as a Hail Mary master, connected on two — the first coming on a fourth down, and the second coming as time expired. That pushed the game into overtime, but veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald refused to be outdone, taking the first pass of overtime 75 yards down the field. Two plays later, Fitz took the shovel pass to the house, sending Arizona to the NFC Championship Game. It was arguably one of Fitzgerald’s grittiest and gutsiest performances, which overshadowed Rodgers’ late-game magic.

1. Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints (January 14, 2018)

You want wild and unexpected? It doesn’t get much more wild and unexpected than this. After falling behind the Vikings 17-0 in the divisional round of the playoffs, Drew Brees and the Saints slowly chipped away, clawing their way back into the game before eventually taking a 21-20 lead with just over 3:00 remaining in the fourth quarter. But that’s when things began to get a little crazy. Kai Forbath, playing against his former team, regained the lead for Minnesota after connecting on an impressive 53-yard field goal with just 1:29 remaining. But Brees & Co. struck back quickly, converting on a 4th-and-10 before connecting on a field goal of their own, giving them a 24-23 with just 25 seconds remaining. It would take a miracle for Minnesota to win, and the Minnesapolis Miracle is exactly what they got. With 10 seconds remaining from their own 39-yard line, quarterback Kirk Cousins aired it down the field for wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who went up for it and braced for impact. But that impact never came as the New Orleans defender whiffed, leaving Diggs nothing but room to run in for thew game-winning score, sending the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game as their hometown fans erupted and nearly brought down the stadium.

Bonus: New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles (December 19, 2010)

I’m admittedly a fan of the Giants and cover them for a living, so there is some level of bias that goes into these lists, no matter how hard I try to remain neutral. However, when compiling the top 5 here, I couldn’t bring myself to list this game. I also couldn’t bring myself to leave it off the list entirely. Therefore, as a bonus suggestion, I present to you the Miracle in the Meadowlands II. All punter Matt Dodge had to do was boot a ball out of bounds and all would have been well. Instead, he sent it right to DeSean Jackson, who subsequently took it to the house with :00 on the clock, giving the Eagles a victory and essentially ending any remaining playoff hopes the Giants had. It was an amazing game for anyone who isn’t a Big Blue fan.

5 NFL free agents worthy of a one-year, prove-it deal

Tyler Eifert

NFL free agency is about to begin. When the first few major waves settle, several potential diamonds in the rough are likely to remain. There are always several dozen free agents with clear talent or a history of success who linger on the market for a while. Usually, that’s due to a recent history of injury, an unexpected down season or, quite simply, age. Those free agents tend to land one-year, prove-it deals. Sometimes the deals work out, sometimes they don’t.

Here’s a look at five impending free agents who could be looking at some of those one-year, prove-it deals.

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5 NFL free agents who could come at a bargain

Breshad Perriman

The NFL’s free agency period is near, which means several of the league’s top players are about to be paid the big bucks. After that first tier of free agents are gone and the second tier is picked through, general managers from across the league will be tasked with finding diamonds in the rough — a bargain, if you will.

Here’s a look at five players who have substantial upside but are likely to come at a discounted price over the next month or so.

5. Nick Kwiatkoski, linebacker

When poring over the list of available free agent linebackers, some outside of Chicago may simply skip over the name of Nick Kwiatkoski, who earned a 72.6 Pro Football Focus grade in 2019. His statistics from a season ago aren’t going to blow the doors off of you and unless someone cuts the film, it’s easy to overlook the 26-year-old former fourth-round pick. But beyond the box score, there’s a lot to like about Kwiatkoski’s game. He’s a solid run defender and can more than hold his own in coverage, but will likely garner less attention than his counterparts, Joe Schobert, Blake Martinez and Cory Littleton. That’s good news for a team looking to add a quality inside linebacker at a team-friendly price in the aftermath of the initial free agency feeding frenzy.

4. Isaiah Crowell, running back

Isaiah Crowell was expected to take on a substantial role for the Raiders in 2019, but a torn Achilles cost him the entire season and his first true opportunity to serve as a bellcow back. Now headed into free agency, Crowell shouldn’t be forgotten about or labeled as injury-prone. Prior to 2019, he had missed just three games over his first five seasons. Assuming he bounces back from the Achilles injury, he should have relatively fresh legs for a 27-year-old. A talented all-around back, Crowell was 12th in yards from scrimmage (4,725) from 2014-2018 despite having the second-fewest touches (997) among the backs who topped that list. Making that all the more impressive? Crowell put up those numbers despite playing behind offensive lines that ranked 28th or worst in three of his first five seasons. With the value of today’s running back fading, some team is going to steal Crowell and then laugh all the way to the bank.

3. Breshad Perriman, wide receiver

Largely considered a first-round bust entering 2019, Breshad Perriman found an opportunity last season when the Buccaneers lost both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin late last season. After being unexpectedly thrust into the No. 1 role, Perriman erupted over the final quarter-plus of the season, hauling in 25 receptions for 506 yards and five touchdowns in five games to close out the year. Over that span, he averaged 20.2 yards per reception and was one of just four players with five or more touchdown receptions. In total, Perriman posted career highs in targets (69), receptions (36), yards (645) and touchdowns (six). While it may not be enough to earn Perriman a massive free agent contract, his 2019 performance will be enough to keep him on the radar of wide receiver-needy teams and may earn him a larger opportunity in 2020.

2. Ereck Flowers, guard

I’ll be the first to admit, I may have gotten it wrong when it came to Flowers’ transition from tackle to guard. I didn’t think he would improve to any significant degree simply because there were footwork flaws to his game that seemed resistant to coaching. But his time in Washington has resulted in a little crow pie for folks like myself, and that’s good news for the former first-round pick. Washington has made it clear they’d like to bring him back in 2020, but he may still hit free agency having just reset the clock on his career. Flowers finished 2019 with a 64.2 Pro Football Focus grade, which is a major step up for him, having surrendered just two sacks over 16 starts. The more time he sees at guard, the more he will improve and that’s good news for whatever team ultimately ends up signing him.

1. Kevin Johnson, cornerback

With players like James Bradberry, Byron Jones and and Chris Harris Jr. slated to command most of the attention among cornerbacks, Kevin Johnson is going to fly under-the-radar and prove to be a steal for some team out there. He took on a somewhat limited role for the Bills in 2019, spending a little time outside and some in slot, ultimately finishing the season with 402 defensive snaps. That alone was somewhat encouraging for Johnson, who dealt with seemingly relentless injuries in Houston. But beyond that, Johnson surrendered just 19 receptions a season ago, while posting a 73.6 coverage grade (73.2 overall grade) — all of which represented career highs. The former first-round pick is also just 27 years old, so there may be a lot of meat left on the bone. There is some risk involved given Johnson’s history, but that’s why he’ll likely come at a bargain.

5 free agents NFL teams should avoid

Tom Brady
The official start to free agency is now just a few weeks off, and NFL teams are beginning to gear up for their annual spending spree.

However, for every top-end free agent capable of changing the trajectory of a team, there is a landmine sitting around the corner that could derail an organization financially. So with that in mind, here are five free agents — some of them controversial — who teams should avoid.

5. Tyler Eifert, tight end

Tyler Eifert was finally healthy in 2019 and played all 16 games, so a team should be willing to take a high-priced flyer on him now, right? Wrong. While Eifert deserves a pat on the back for appearing in all 16 games for the first time in his career, teams looking for a tight end cannot ignore the fact that he had played in just 14 games over the previous three seasons (2016-2018) and just 43 games over his first six seasons, with 15 of those coming as a rookie. Not only that, but despite being completely healthy for the first time in his career, Eifert didn’t produce. His 10.1 yards per reception was the lowest of his professional career, while his catch rate dropped to 68.3 percent. Once a potential star, Eifert has been reduced to a quality depth tight end and should be paid accordingly.

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CenturyLink Field employee diagnosed with coronavirus

A CenturyLink Field employee who worked a February 22 game between the XFL’s Seattle Dragons and Dallas Renegades has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The employee, who served as a vendor during the game, recently tested positive for COVID19 and has been quarantined. No other employees have tested positive to date and the schedule at CenturyLink Field remains in place.

“There are no extra precautions required for those who attended the Feb. 22 game or who will attend upcoming events,” the King County press office said in a statement, via ESPN. “But all King County residents should know that the risk for infection with COVID-19 is increasing in our community.

“As of now, Seattle’s professional sports organizations — Dragons, First & Goal/Seahawks, Mariners, and Sounders FC — will continue with scheduled events. The teams are in touch with local health officials and their respective leagues on a regular basis, as this public health issue continues to evolve.”

In response to the employee falling ill, the XFL has established a COVID-19 taskforce.

“The health and safety of the extended XFL family — especially our fans in Seattle — is of the utmost importance,” Jeffrey Pollack, XFL president and COO said in a statement. “We share everyone’s concern about this public health issue and understand it is evolving on a daily basis.”

In addition to home games for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and XFL’s Dragons, CenturyLink Field is also home to the MLS’ Seattle Sounders and MLB’s Seattle Mariners.

The next sporting event on schedule is an MLS game between the Sounders and Columbus Crew on Saturday, March 7.