NEWS AND NEAR NEWS

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Browns, 49ers 1-2 in opening round selection order … To nobody’s surprise around the NFL, if the 2018 draft were held this week, Cleveland and San Francisco would have the first and second picks overall. Here’s the full, updated selection order for the opening round of the upcoming draft were it to be held this week. Note that the strength of schedule percentages are for each team’s full 16-game schedule, not just games played to date.

SC QB Darnold dinged – in more ways than one – in thumping loss to Irish … Going into Saturday’s big national TV game at Notre Dame, Southern California redshirt sophomore QB Sam Darnold, who entered the season as the consensus favorite to be the first player selected at the 2018 draft, but has had his ups and downs so far this fall, was almost certainly hoping to use the exposure to resecitate his flagging draft prospects. Instead, the same flaws that have plagued Darnold this year were exposed even more in the Trojans 49-14 loss to the Irish. Darnold did complete 20 of 28 passes, but he muffed the snap on USC’s first play of the night resulting in a turnover deep in his own territory and then was picked off later in the contest. For the season, Darnold has 17 turnovers, including ten picks, in the Trojans first 7 games. And that has taken a lot of the air out of Darnold’s draft balloon; enough that there are rumblings out of USC that Darnold may opt not to enter the upcoming draft and rather return to school with the hope of getting back to the top of the board. And to add injury to insult – literally – Darnold was forced to leave the game in the 4th quarter after injuring an ankle. The injury is not thought to be serious, but it will bear watching this week.

More QB issues for Browns … If Cleveland does in fact end up with the #1 pick overall at the 2018 draft there is a very good chance that the Browns will be looking at QBs. At the start of the season, the Browns thought they may have found their QB of the future in DeShone Kizer whom they selected with a second round pick this past spring. However, Kizer was benched for the second time in three weeks after throwing back-to-back interceptions in today’s overtime loss to Tennessee. For the season, Kizer has completed just a tad over 50% of his pass attempts and has thrown 11 picks against just 3 TDs. Making matters even worse for Kizer, he was reportedly out partying in the early hours of Saturday morning. Kizer was at practice later on Saturday afternoon, but the Browns’ still weren’t impressed. Stay tuned!

Browns, 49ers, Giants still -1-2-3 in weekly selection order … There are still a couple of games to go to wrap up the week, but we can confirm already that there will be no changes to the first half dozen picks when the weekly ‘if the draft were held today’ selection order for the opening round of the 2018 draft is released after tomorrow night’s Monday nighter between Philadelphia and Washington. Cleveland at least made things interesting as the Browns took Tennessee to overtime, but still lost for the 7th straight week and will hold onto the #1 pick for at least another week. San Francisco also dropped to 0-7, but will end up sitting on the second pick because the 49ers have a stronger strength of schedule metric than the Browns. Meanwhile, if the draft were held today, the Giants would pick 3rd, followed by Indianapolis at #4, Cincinnati at #5 and Tampa Bay at #6. The full, updated first-round selection order will be posted after tomorrow’s Monday night game.

College sched heats up; who to watch this weekend … After several rather blasé weeks on the college football docket, the season starts to heat up this weekend as the season passes the midway point. And the biggest games on this weekend’s schedule are in South Bend and Happy Valley as Notre Dame hosts Southern California in their annual classic, while Michigan will be at Penn State in what is almost an elimination game in the very competitive Big Ten East division. For good measure, those two games also feature potentially the first couple of players to be selected at the 2018 draft in USC QB Sam Darnold and Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. Here’s a quick preview of all the top prospects in those two games, although you’ll have to keep your clicker handy as both games kick off at the same time (7:30 PM ET) on Saturday evening. Meanwhile, GBN Associate Editor Pigskin Paul Guillemette weighs in with his weekly picks and previews of who to watch in this weekend’s other key games on the college docket. Enjoy!

Dallas to host 2018 draft … NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced earlier today that Dallas will host the 2018 draft at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas next April 26th to 28th. This will be the first time the draft will be held at an actual NFL stadium. Its also the 4th year that the draft has been on the road after Chicago held it in 2015 and 2016, while Philadelphia hosted it this past spring.

Who caught Pigskin’s eye in college football last week … With the latest week of the college football season in the books, GBN Associate Editor Pigskin Paul Guillemette weighs in with some thoughts on the players that caught his eye in last weekend’s action.

Star Cal LB Downs out for year … California’s huge upset win over 8th ranked Washington State last weekend came at a cost as the Bears’ star MLB Devante Downs, one of the most productive defensive players in the country, will miss the rest of the year with what is being described as a ‘lower-body injury’. The 6-2, 245-pound Downs leads the Pac-12 with 65 tackles including 3 sacks, plus he also has a couple of picks as well as a couple of forced fumbles. Downs had been considered to be a mid-to-late round prospect, but it isn’t known how much the injury will affect his draft status. If its a break there is a better than even chance he would be ready for pre-draft testing, but a torn knee ligament might keep his off the field past the draft. We’ll update when we get more info.

Husky LT out for year with ACL … Washington junior LT Trey Adams, who had been considered a potential first-round prospect for the upcoming draft, will miss the rest of the season after tearing an ACL in the Huskies upset loss to Arizona State this pat weekend. The 6-7, 327-pound Adams, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2016, reportedly will return to school next fall rather than enter the 2018 draft, although he still has plenty of time to change his mind.

4th pick on the line in Monday nighter … Want to know how wacky the NFL season has been to date. Look no further than tonight’s Monday night game in which 2-3 Tennessee hosts 2-3 Indianapolis. The winner of tonight’s game takes over first place in the AFC South, while the loser will end up sitting on the 4th pick in the 2018 draft, at least for this week as they will be the 2-4 team with the weakest strength of schedule. The top three positions in the proverbial ‘if the draft were held this week’ selection order for the opening round of the 2018 draft are already set with Cleveland and San Francisco, the league’s two remaining teams, set to hold the first and second picks respectively, while the Giants, who got off the schneid last night with an upset win in Denver, will have the third pick. We’ll have the first full updated selection order for this year’s opening round after tonight’s game.

Pigskin posts GBN college Top 10 … With the college football season essentially at the mid-point, the road to the national playoff is starting to take shape, although after this past weekend’s craziness in which 4 top ten teams were upset suggests just about anything can still happen. With all that in mind, GBN Associate Editor Pigskin Paul Guillemette has posted his initial college ranking of the top 10 teams plus in the country. Let the debate begin.

Trojans rally for big win despite QB Darnold struggles … Southern California kept alive its national playoff hopes rallying from a 21-7 deficit to defeat previously unbeaten Utah 28-27 when the Utes failed to convert a two-point conversion in the game’s dying seconds. Despite the win it was not a particularly memorable outing for USC redshirt sophomore QB Sam Darnold. Forget the three fumbles, two in the red zone and a third that Utah returned for a TD, but Darnold just didn’t look comfortable in the pocket with his mechanics. He wasn’t setting his feet in the pocket, he didn’t appear to be seeing the field very well and he appeared to rush a lot of throws. And all that represents a trend for Darnold, who was the consensus favorite to be the first player selected at the 2018 draft, but who has seen his stock dip appreciably since. Indeed, there is a growing buzz out of LA that Darnold could actually decide not to enter the upcoming draft if his grade continues to fall and instead opt to return to school in order to clean up his mechanics and get back into the discussion for the top pick in 2019. Meanwhile, it also wasn’t a great week for Darnold’s LA rival Josh Rosen of UCLA who was picked off three times in the Bruins’ loss at Arizona yesterday. In fact, the storyline for the upcoming draft through the first half of the college season has been that while the year started with as many as three potential elite QBs in Darnold, Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, all three have struggled to date leaving what could be a major void at the top of the 2018 board. Stay tuned!

Friday the 13th upsets jumble NFP picture … For those that went to bed early last night just hoping to survive another Friday the 13th, college football’s national playoff picture got turned on its head by a couple of huge upsets last evening. Indeed, for much of the year, the race to the national championship game has looked more like a formality for a repeat appearance by Alabama and defending national champion Clemson. Not any more as Clemson was shocked 27-24 at Syracuse last evening. That’s the same .500 Syracuse team that lost earlier this season at home to Middle Tennessee. Clemson, of course, could still make the 4-team playoff if they run the table, but the Tigers are no longer even guaranteed making the ACC championship game as they trail North Carolina State in the divisional standings and have to play the Wolfpack on the road on November 4th. Meanwhile, out on the west coast, 8th ranked Washington State went down 37-3 to California as star QB Luke Falk was picked off 5 times.

Another interesting weekend on college football docket … Another week in which there is no true national marquee match-ups on the college football schedule, but there’s still plenty to see this weekend, especially with an eye toward the 2018 draft. As usual, GBN Associate Editor Pigskin Paul Guillemette has posted his weekly picks of the games he’ll be watching this weekend with an eye toward next draft.

How’d we get here?? … As a long-time Giants’ fan/analyst we have, not surprisingly, been inundated with emails from other Giants’ followers asking how it came to be the the team is 0-5. There’s no simple answer, though, we do have some thoughts that are likely a little off the beaten path. More in the Giants Report.

Browns bench QB Kizer; Hogan to start … In the wake of an 0-5 start to the season, Cleveland has confirmed that third-year pro Kevin Hogan will start this weekend against Houston in place of rookie DeShone Kizer. Kizer won the Browns’ starting gig with a strong fall camp, but he has struggled to date completing just 51% of his pass attempts while throwing 9 picks against just 3 TDs. In contrast, Hogan, who was originally a 5th-round draft pick by Kansas City in 2016, has a 68% completion rate in the three games in which he has come off the bench to relieve Kizer; in fact, Hogan led the Browns to all the points they scored in each of those three games. The bigger question for the Browns may be what they do going forward. The Browns say they continue to have confidence in Kizer – what else are they going to say – but it appears they are almost assured of another top 5 pick at the 2018 draft and with a number of quality passers expected to be on the board this coming April may be tempted to go back to the position at that time. At the same time, though, Cleveland has passed on the elite QB prospects available in the past two drafts – recall they waited until the 2nd round to get Kizer last spring – so may not force a pick this coming year. Stay tuned!

Cards get RB Peterson from Saints for conditional pick … Arizona has acquired veteran RB Adrian Peterson, one of the NFL’s best ever backs, from New Orleans for what is being reported as a conditional 6th round pick in 2018. So far, the conditions remain undisclosed but are believed to relate to Peterson’s productivity with the Cardinals this season. Peterson actually played in just 4 games for the Saints after he signed as a free agent this ff-season.

Bolts win; three stay winless in race to top pick … In our view, its still a tad early to be posting the draft order for the 2018 draft; we normally like to wait until every team has at least 5 games in the books which will happen next week. However, while its still early in the campaign, the early selection order is already starting to take shape especially after the LA Chargers got off the schneid with a come-from-behind 27-22 win over the Giants in New York. That leaves the Giants as one of three still winless teams along with Cleveland and San Francisco. The Browns dropped to 0-5 with a home loss to the NY Jets, while San Francisco also fell to 0-5 with a tough overtime loss to the Colts in Indianapolis. If the draft were held today, the 49ers would have the first pick overall as the 49ers’ strength of schedule based on their opponents’ collective W-L record (.494) is weaker than that of Cleveland (.506) and the Giants (.520), although the actual statistical difference those figures isn’t all that significant this early in the campaign. Meanwhile, there are currently only two other teams – Chicago and the Chargers – with just one win, with the Bears still to play this weekend as they will face Minnesota in the Monday nighter.

Big upset in early college football … The national playoff landscape in college football may have shifted dramatically after Iowa State came from 14 down to shock 3rd ranked Oklahoma 38-31 right in Norman. That breaks an 18-year losing streak for the Cyclones against the Sooners. And they did it with a 3rd string QB – senior Kyle Kempt – who had thrown all of 2 passes in his college career. Kempt though rose to the occasion as he completed 18 of 24 passes for 343 yards and 3 scores, including the game winner, a 25-yarder to veteran WR Allen Lazard, with just 2:19 play. The loss is a crusher to Oklahoma’s hopes of advancing to the national playoff. It also may be a crusher for OU QB Baker Mayfield’s Heisman hopes. Mayfield was okay against the Cyclones completing 24 of 33 passes for just over 300 yards, but he failed to move the team when the Sooners got the ball back with two minutes to play.

Top prep recruit commits to Dawgs … QB Justin Fields, the consensus top-rated high school recruit in the country, has confirmed that he will be attending Georgia next year. The 6-3, 220-pound Fields, who hails from Kennesaw, Georgia, is thought by more than one observer, to be the best overall prep prospect to come along in a while, although of course he won’t be NFL draft eligible until 2021. Fields, who originally signed at Penn State before decommitting this spring, will join a crowded QB position at UGA which also has sophomore Jacob Eason, a former five-star prospect who started as a true freshman last fall, but lost his job due to injury this season, and true freshman Jake Fromm, the current starter who has the unbeaten Bulldogs ranked 5th in the country.

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