NEWS AND NEAR NEWS

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Early odds for SB51 and next draft … With the 2016 draft now in the books and this year’s free agent signing frenzy, something of a distant memory NFL rosters is slowly starting to take shape. And while there is still almost 3 and a half months until the first real kick-off of the year, there is a growing buzz around the league as to which are the teams most likely to contend to get their ticket to this year’s Super Bowl in Houston. Not surprisingly, the usual suspects are at the top of most lists including New England, Seattle, Arizona, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, along with last year’s finalists Denver and Carolina.
At the same time, no one will be shocked if a surprise contender emerges this year like Carolina did last fall when they went from a sub-.500 campaign in 2014 to a 15-1 mark last season that culminated in a spot in the Super Bowl. Among teams thought to be lurking this year include Minnesota, which has been stockpiling a solid roster of quality young players including QB Teddy Bridgewater. Meanwhile, Houston, which has always had a championship quality defense led by all-world DE J.J. Watt, may finally have an offense to match with the acquisition of former Denver QB Brock Osweiler. And the sleeper of sleepers this year could be Jacksonville, which gets back 2015 first rounder Dante Fowler, who missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, and also added possibly the best 1-2 rookie combination in the 2016 draft with the selection of DB Jalen Ramsey and LB Myles Jack in the 1st and 2nd rounds respectively. Then there are several wild-card teams like Dallas, which slumped to 4-12 after losing Tony Romo for the year, but look to be the favorite in the NFC East with their starting QB in the lineup. The fact is there are a lot of NFL teams with at least some potential to go a long way in 2016 making it tough on even the most astute oddsmakers like William Hill. Visit their site and try NFL betting at William Hill.
At the other end of the spectrum,  the early favorite to make a claim to the first overall pick at the 2017 draft is Cleveland, which did a nice job adding to its talent base wheeling and dealing through this past April’s, but still don’t have a QB in what is unquestionably a passing league. And the problem for the Browns may be that the upcoming draft looks like a ‘player’ draft in which all the top prospects including LSU RB Len Fournette and Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett are positional players. Meanwhile, other teams that look like they could be in line for top picks next spring include San Francisco, Tennessee, and San Diego.

Pigskin grades Bills draft …  Are the Buffalo Bills ready to finally challenge New England for the AFC East title. Time will tell! For now, GBN Associate Editor Pigskin Paul Guillemette takes a look at what he liked and didn’t like with the Bills’ 2016 draft and what they added and didn’t add in their quest to close the gap on the Patriots in the latest of his team draft profiles.

Sooner WR dinged for trespass … Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook, a rising second-tier prospect for the 2017 draft, was arrested in his hometown of Cameron, Texas, earlier this week on a complaint of criminal trespass. Not sure what he was up to, but Westbrook is expected to be a big part of the Sooners’ offense this fall with the departure of 2016 second rounder Sterling Shepard; last year, the 5-11, 170-pound Westbrook was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year when he had 46 catches for 743 yards and 4 TDs after transferring in from a junior college.

Pitt RB Connor cancer free; should be good to go this fall … For those that didn’t hear the news earlier this week, Pitt RB James Connor got the best news of his life when the latest medical tests showed that he is cancer free after undergoing a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy to deal with Hodgkin lymphoma tumors which were found on his neck and chest last fall. Connor, who had been considered to be a potential top 100 pick at the 2016 draft before getting his diagnosis, has been cleared to resume full football activities when fall training camp gets underway in August.

What goes around comes around … We don’t normally wander very far off the path to the draft, but with the NFL in the post-draft doldrums – and the story does have a football angle – we just couldn’t resist noting the impeccable irony that at the same time that the Trump campaign in the US presidential election is dredging Whitewater and Lewinsky to lob in Hillary Clinton’s direction, Ken Starr, the Whitewater special prosecutor, has either been fired, or is in the process of being fired depending on the source as the President and Chancellor of Baylor as a result of the way the school handled, or maybe more accurately didn’t handle, several allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Bears’ football team. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Jags’ 7th rounder likely done for year … Its beginning to look like if Jacksonville didn’t have any bad luck with their recent draft picks they wouldn’t have any luck at all as the team has confirmed that DE Jonathan Woodard, the Jags’ 7th round pick this year from Central Arkansas, likely will miss the 2016 season after tearing an Achilles tendon during a workout earlier this month. That’s on top of the news that CB Jalen Ramsey, the team’s first-round selection, suffered a meniscus tear in his right knee late last week and met with noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion today. Depending on the type of surgical procedure required, Ramsey could miss anywhere from six weeks to six months. The good news for the Jags, though, is that Ramsey has signed his rookie contract. The Jags are also cautiously optimistic that DE Dante Fowler, last year’s #1 pick who missed the year after tearing an ACL in training camp, appears to be fully recovered and should be good to go when training camp opens at the end of July.

Undrafted Ducks QB flies north … Montreal has signed former Oregon QB Vernon Adams to a 3-year contract. The Alouettes signed Adams after acquiring his CFL rights from the B.C. Lions in exchange for Montreal’s first round pick at the Canadian league draft next year. Adams was overlooked at this year’s NFL draft despite a terrific college football resume, in large part because he was considered to be undersized for a quarterback at just 5-11. Adams then had rookie mini-camp try-outs with both Seattle and Washington, but was not signed by either.

Embattled ex-Missou QB lands at EKU … Eastern Kentucky is building quite a little reputation as a reclamation home for troubled former FBS players. Last year, for example, EKU gave former Ohio State star DE Noah Spence a second chance and he ended up as a second round pick at the 2016 draft. Now, EKU has confirmed that former Missouri QB Maty Mauk has enrolled and will play his final season with the Colonels this fall. Mauk was one of college football’s best stories in 2014 when he led the Tigers to an upset SEC East title, but hasn’t been able to stay out of trouble off the field since. Mauk was suspended three times in 2015 and was finally given the boot in January after a video showing him snorting what appeared to be a line of cocaine emerged. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for official word that former Texas Tech QB Davis Webb will play for the Golden Bears this fall. Webb, who started for the Red Raiders for a couple of seasons when he put up some decent numbers, but lost the job to emerging star Patrick Mahomes last fall, was originally going to transfer to Colorado, but switched to Cal where he is expected to replace Jared Goff, the first player selected at this past April’s draft. As a graduate transfer, Davis will be eligible immediately.

Titans’ UDFA CB/KR retires … In a minor roster move that kind of slipped under the radar earlier this week, Tennessee placed CB Morgan Burns on the retired/reserve list after he decided to leave the game and follow a career in the ministry. Burns was an All-American kick returner at Kansas State, but went undrafted in April before signing with the Titans.

Cowboys sign top two picks … A day after signing RB Ezekiel Elliott, the 4th player selected at the 2016 draft, Dallas has reportedly come to terms with former Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith, their second round pick this past April. Smith, of course, was originally projected to be a top-five pick this year before sustaining torn knee ligaments (ACL and LCL) as well as nerve damage to the joint in the Irish’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. As a result, Smith was still available when the Cowboys took him with the 34th overall pick in the second round, despite the fact that there is a very good chance he will not play at least until 2017. Smith reportedly signed a standard four-year deal including a $2.9 million signing bonus. Meanwhile, the Cowboys also signed power forward-turned-TE Rico Gathers, whom they selected out of Baylor in the 6th round despite the fact that he hasn’t played football since middle school.

Jags’ CB Ramsey tears MCL … Jacksonville has confirmed that CB Jalen Ramsey, the Jags’ first-round pick at the 2016 draft, has wjat is being described as a ‘small’ meniscus tear in his right knee. Ramsey, the 5th player taken at this year’s draft, will reportedly get a second opinion next week to determine if surgery is required to repair the cartilage damage. Ramsey is the second straight top 5 pick by the Jaguars have had go down with a knee injury before ever playing a regular season game; last year’s #1 pick, DE Dante Fowler, tore an ACL in training camp and missed the entire 2015 season. Ramsey’s injury isn’t likely anywhere near as serious as Fowler’s, but there has to be some concern by the Jaguars that Ramsey’s injury is to the same knee he had microfracture surgery on in his sophomore year in high school, although he has played the 5 years since without incident until now.

Top Tide OT prospect out on bond after arrest on drug, weapons charges … After spending over 24 hours in the pokey, star Alabama junior LT Cam Robinson was released from jail earlier this morning after posting a $5,000-plus bond. Robinson, a potential top 5-10 prospect for the 2017 draft, was arrested early Tuesday morning along with reserve safety Hootie Jones on weapons and narcotics charges that included a charge possession of a stolen firearm which is a felony and carries a minimum one-year jail sentence. Alabama head coach Nick Saban also addressed the issue publicly, but said only that the school is still gathering information, although the players almost assuredly will face some kind of suspension to start the season , if they are allowed to play at all. Indeed, the big issue for Robinson at this point, or at least for his lawyers, is to find a way to get that felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, we are left scratching our heads wondering when will these guys ever learn or maybe stupid just doesn’t have an expiry date.

A couple of transfers of note … Its moving season in college football as transferring players find new homes. In a couple of moves that could have an impact on the 2017 draft, former Oklahoma RB Alex Ross has transferred to Missouri, while former Nebraska DT Kevin Williams is staying in the Big Ten with a move to Michigan State. Both have graduated and will be immediately eligible for their senior seasons next fall. Williams, in fact, will be a 6th year senior next fall as he was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after he missed both the 2011 and 2013 campaigns with knee injuries. The 6-2, 275-pound Williams was a highly regard recruit, but has been slowed by those injuries. Meanwhile, the 6-1, 227-pound Ross never got many snaps with the Sooners’ regular offense, but has been one of the better KO returners in the country with a career 25.7 yards per return average.

Bills top pick to have surgery … Buffalo has announced that DE/OLB Shaq Lawason, the team’s #1 pick at the 2016 draft, will undergo surgery on his right shoulder on Tuesday. Lawson, the 19th player selected at last month’s draft, played with the condition throughout Clemson’s run to last year’s BCS national title game and said during the pre-draft testing process that the injury really wasn’t an issue and that he wouldn’t require surgery.  However, Lawson suffered a recurrence of the injury during a non-contact drill last week and the Bills decided to schedule the surgery sooner rather than later as a pre-emptive measure. Lawson’s rehab is expected to take 4-6 months meaning he likely could miss the opening of the upcoming season.

Titans sign top pick … Tennessee has agreed to terms with former Michigan State OT Jack Conklin, the 8th player selected at the 2016 draft. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Conklin signed a standard four-year contract that includes a team option for a fifth season. The deal is believed to be in the $16M range with a signing bonus close to $10 million according to the slotted value of the contract on the NFL’s rookie wage scale. Conklin’s signing brings to 20 the number of first-round picks from this year’s draft who have have signed to date.

Eagles complete front office restructure … Following up on yesterday’s announcement out of Philadelphia that confirmed the Eagles’ hire of former Chicago and Baltimore executive Joe Douglas as the team’s new vice president of player personnel, the Eagles have also announced that former Ravens’ scout Andy Weidl is joining the team as assistant director of player personnel. And in addition to the hiring of Douglas and Weidl, Alec Halaby was named vice president of football operations and strategy, while Tom Donahoe moves back into the role of senior football adviser, Anthony Patch returns as senior director of college scouting, Trey Brown becomes director of college scouting, Mike Bradway was named the assistant director of college scouting, and Rick Mueller is back in place as player personnel executive. If all of this sounds a tad familiar to Eagles’ fans, the Philly front office now closely resembles what the team had in place before the ill-fated experiment with Chip Kelly running the team the past couple of years.

Expectations for the next NFL season … The Denver Broncos stampeding all over the Carolina Panthers in their 24-10 Super Bowl victory may have signaled the end of regular season NFL football but the league currently isn’t short on excitement. As the new season draws near, many are already speculating as to which teams are likely prospects to call the Lombardi Trophy their own. more

Green Riders make former Sooner OT 1st pick in CFL draft … Saskatchewan selected 6-6, 310-pound former Oklahoma OT Josiah St. John with the 1st pick in the CFL’s annual draft of Canadian players. In fact, 4 of the first 5 picks in this year’s CFL were offensive linemen as Montreal chose Laval OG Phillippe Gagnon with the 2nd pick and Hamilton took Grand Valley State G/T Brandon Revenberg at #3, while B.C. took Charles Vaillancout, another Laval OG with the 5th pick. Former Acadia WR Brian Jones was the only non-OL to be taken in the fitsy 5 picks after he went 4th overall to Toronto. The 2nd thru 8th rounds of tonight’s CFL draft are being streamed live on TSN.ca, while the are also available on TSN.ca’s live draft tracker. As noted in an earlier report, the CFL draft is complicated by the fact that a number of the better players eligible to be drafted have already signed with NFL teams and will be in training camps south of the border this summer. That includes Manitoba DE David Onyemata, who would be be clear #1 prospect for tonight’s CFL draft, but he was selected in the 4th round of last week’s NFL draft by New Orleans and likely won’t be available to any CFL years for at least several years. Meanwhile, former Iowa WR Tevaun Smith signed with Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent following last week’s NFL draft, while Michigan State CB Arjen Colquhoun signed with Dallas, Boston College DE Mehdi Abdesmad signed with Tennessee and Calgary CB Elie Bouka signed with Arizona.

Bears stay in-house for top college scout … Chicago has reportedly named veteran scout Mark Sadowski as the team’s new director of college scouting. He replaces Joe Douglas who left the team to become personnel director at Philadelphia. Sadowski was the Bears’ senior national scout last year.

Pats get pick for vet LB … New England has acquired a conditional 7th round pick at the 2017 draft from Detroit in exchange for veteran MLB Jon Bostic.

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