NEWS AND NEAR NEWS

Pats’ Wolf says team is ‘open for business’ … The draft world is abuzz here and here and here this afternoon after New England’s defacto GM Eliot Wolf said at his pre-draft presser earlier today that the Patriots are ‘open for business’ heading into next week’s draft and that they would be prepared to move up or down in the first round or any other round for that matter.  New England, of course, has the 3rd overall pick in this year’s opening round and while they have been widely projected to select a QB at that spot, the Patriots have continued to tease just a bit that they could move down. In fact, a closer reading of Wolf’s remarks in fact sound closer to tease than substance. The comment actually came at the beginning of his press conference and he actually appeared to talking in a more generic than specific sense and ultimately talked almost exclusively about the possibility of the Patriots trading up in later rounds. Wolf also did mention that even if the Patriots did seriously want to consider the option of trading down, they haven’t actually received any substantive offers at the point.

On the other hand, Washington GM Adam Peters indicated at his pre-draft presser that the Commanders are “real close” to making the call on which player they’ll select with the 2nd overall pick. Peters also indicated that he doesn’t see a scenario where the Commanders trade the pick.

As the QB turns with the draft just a week away … The start of the 2024 draft is now barely a week away and what had been a rather orderly process to date seems to have turned a little weird! The way the draft normally works is that teams with high picks that need a QB take a QB if one is available. And this year’s draft seemed to be unfolding that way with just about everybody presuming that QBs were pretty much locked into the first three picks next week with Chicago taking Caleb Williams with the first pick, followed by Washington selecting Jayden Daniels at #2 and New England grabbing Drake Maye at #3. However, the Patriots kind of threw a wrinkle out there when they had Michael Penix, who is considered a mid first round prospect at best, is for a very late visit at the beginning of this week; that at least suggested they might be possibly thinking about either taking another position at #3 or trading down. In fact, there is just a little bit of a buzz out there that there might be something going on between New England and Minnesota which has made no secret of the fact that they want to move up into the top 5 to get one of the top 3-4 QBs. Time will tell.

Then Washington took the somewhat unusual step of having Daniels, Maye, Penix and JJ McCarthy in for a group visit Tuesday and Wednesday and Daniels, for one, the Commanders’ presumptive pick was not impressed with his agent retweeting a couple of non-complimentary posts. Needless to say, there’s not much the Daniels’ camp can do about it, but they are meeting today with Minnesota officials. Which would normally be a normal part of the pre-draft process, but the window for ’30’ visits ended yesterday, so Daniels is actually meeting with the Vikings in Baton Rouge later today as teams can still meet with players at their campus or home. Of course, its also a bit of an unusual move for the Vikings as they would not normally want to be out on the road meeting with players, especially one that it does not appear they have a shot at, when there is so much to do back at the office. Stay tuned!

Top FCS prospect passes away … The real world intruded on the build up to next week’s draft with word that star Albany DE AJ Simon, one of the better FCS prospects in the 2024 class, passed away earlier today from an undisclosed cause. Simon, who was considered to be a late-round or free agent candidate, posted 12.5 sacks last fall as he helped Albany to a conference championship and a berth in the FCS national semi-finals. Simon was 25. Our condolences to his family, friends and teammates.

Draft buzz: Wednesday the 17th … With the start of the 2024 draft now just over 8 days away and counting, there does seem to be a bit of an uptick in the noise around next week’s event. On the one hand, more than one team out there is watching and waiting for a decision from the league on any possible resolution of the allegation that Atlanta tampered with free agent QB Kirk Cousins prior to signing him away from Minnesota when the new football year kicked off in March. There has been some speculation that if the Falcons were indeed found to be guilty of the alleged  transgression, the compensation could involve them being forced to flip the 8th and 11th picks in next week’s opening round with the Vikings. Needless, to say if that were to happen it would put Minnesota in that much better position to move up into the top 5 in order to acquire a QB. For its part, the league is simply saying at this point that the investigation is ‘ongoing.’ Read more

Patriots host QB Penix … With just a few days left for teams to bring in out-of-town prospects for pre-draft visits to their facilities, there was something of a noteworthy development in New England where the Patriots had Washington QB Michael Penix in for one of their allotted ’30’ visits. Its noteworthy because the Patriots have the 3rd pick overall in next week’s draft while Penix, while a very talented, productive prospect, isn’t generally thought of as a top 10 type candidate. Of course, teams bring in players for visits for a number of reasons including simply for future reference. And while it still seems like something of a longshot, the fact the Patriots had Penix in for visit has triggered some speculation that just maybe they are still considering a trade down from the 3rd pick, for a passle of picks with the idea of taking Penix, who did lead college football in passing last fall later in the opening round. Just 9 days to go!

Illini DT Newton works out … Illinois DT Johnny Newton was finally able to work out in front of pro scouts earlier today. Newton, a late first or early second round prospect for the upcoming draft, has not been able to participate in either the Combine of Illinois’ pro day as he has been rehabbing from a foot injury. Newton, though, didn’t do any of the field testing today, so teams will go into the draft next week not sure of his pure foot speed, but he did do positional drills and reportedly showed plenty of power and explosion. For the record, 21 of the 32 teams were at Illinois for Newton’s work out today.

College spring transfer portal open … Expect a little more craziness in the world of college football as the spring transfer portal opened this week. already two fairly prominent names have been added to the list of available college players including Penn State WR Keandre Lambert-Smith who at one time last year was being talked about as a rising prospect for the 2024 draft. At the same time, RB Peny Boone is leaving Louisville after never having played a down for the Cardinals. Boone, the MAC POY last year where he ran for over 1,400 yards, transferred to Louisville earlier this year, but apparently will be on the move again. Meanwhile, one otehr top back to keep an eye is Damien Martinez, who is leaving Oregon State after rushing for almost 1,200 yards last season.

Couple of notes from another very quiet weekend … With the draft now just over ten days away, the NFL appears to still be on pretty much total lockdown. This weekend, for example, we scoured newspapers from all the cities whose teams have picks in the top half of the opening round round next week and there was quite literally not one story of substance talking about the upcoming draft. At the same time, there is some buzz regarding teams like Jacksonville, Buffalo and Kansas City, which currently pick in the second half of the opening round, which are reportedly working the phones hard to try and move to get a top WR on the 25th. Fortunately, for them, though, if they don’t find a trade partner, there should be quality receivers available well into the backend of the opening round as well as well into the second. Also note that Friday, the 19th, is the final day for teams to bring players in on ’30’ visits to their facilities. A couple of visits of note this week, LSU QB Jayden Daniels, who is widely expected to be selected by Washington with the 2nd pick overall, will in fact be in the nation’s capitol for a two-day stopover on Monday and Tuesday, while Michigan QB JJ McCarthy was in Boston visiting with the Patriots this past weekend. Also note that Illinois DT Johnny Newton, one of the top 2-3 prospects at the position but who has not been able to workout so far, will have a private pro day on Tuesday. Lastly, we wanted to mention a name that has popped up in our conversations with people around the league as a potential sleeper. That’s DE Justin Blazek a two-time FCS All-American from Wisconsin-Platteville who tested really well at his pro day after posting 17.5 sacks over the past couple of seasons. The 6-3, 252-pound Blazek didn’t necessarily time all that well with a 4.85 40 clocking, but he also had a very good 36.5-inch vertical and was especially quick in the shuttle drills.

Are Cards, Vikes playing a little chicken with 4th pick? … We are just kind of spitballing here, but we are starting to get a sense that what happens with the 4th pick overall at this month’s draft could come down to whether Arizona or Minnesota blinks first. As noted earlier, people around the league are now pretty convinced that QBs Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye will go 1-2-3 to Chicago, Washington and New England, respectively, with the first three picks. At the same time, Arizona has made it pretty clear that with JJ McCarthy still on the board, the 4th pick is there for the taking to any team that ponies up their asking price of what appears to be multiple first round picks. Indeed, not that long ago it appeared that there were as many as 4 teams – the Giants, Minnesota, Denver and Las Vegas – which were interested. However, it now appears that the Giants, who pick 6th, don’t appear to be willing to part with any future #1 picks, while neither Denver nor Vegas, which pick 12th and 13th, are prepared to part with both their 2025 and 2026 first rounders, at least for the 4th rated QB in this draft class. That leaves Minnesota at #11 which still seems very interested. Earlier this week, for example, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was quoted as saying that there were a number of QBs that the Vikings were ‘in love with!’ and that they were willing to pay the price which according to reports would include the 11th and 23rd picks this year and their #1 in 2025. At the same time, though, Adofo-Mensah also cautioned that there ‘were also other guys they were in love with if they could get them at a certain value.’ Translated, the Vikings also aren’t going to overpay for the right to move and have some legitimate backup alternatives. If that is in fact the case, and again we’re just speculating here, then there may not be a whole lot of pressure on either team to rush into a deal and if anything gets done it could very well be much closer to the draft. Stay tuned!

Browns get late Titans’ pick for vet OT … Tennessee has acquired 2nd year pro OT Leroy Watson from Cleveland in exchange for a 7th round pick, the 227th overall, at this month’s draft. Given that Watson is a former undrafted free agent who has never started an NFL game, his acquisition likely isn’t going to change’s the Titans interest in selecting at OT at this month’s draft, very possibly as early as the first round where they have the 7th pick and have usually been associated with Notre Dame OT John Alt in almost every mocks.

NFL announces 13 players to attend draft … The NFL announced earlier today that 13 players including QBs Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye have confirmed that they will be attending this year’s draft in Detroit which will be getting umderway in just over 2 weeks as we speak. The 3 QBs, of course, are expected to be the first 3 players selected on the 25th. The remaining committed players include WRs Marvin Harrison, Malik Nabers, Rome Odunze and Brian Thomas; OT JC Latham; CBs Terrion Arnold and Quinyon Mitchell; DEs Dallas Turner and Latiatu Latu; and DE/DT Darius Robinson. Reportedly, the NFL also invited QB JJ McCarthy, OT John Alt and TE Brock Bowers to the draft, but the latter two defrred saying they’d rather watch the draft at home with their families, while for some reason McCarthy apparently simply didn’t respond at all which is kinda strange because the draft will be held in Detroit.

UGA’s Bowers, Mims do work out, but don’t run … In the end, both star TE Brock Bowers, a potential top 10 candidate, and OT Amarius Mims, who has top 20 potential of his own, did work out for pro teams today at Georgia, but only did positional drills and passed on any field testing including the 40. Both have been dealing with hamstring issues and weren’t cleared for the Bulldogs’ official pro day last month after both missed significant time in 2023 with ankle injuries that required surgery.

Let me count the ways: 1-2-3-4 … There are still 15 days to the draft, and the opening round seldom goes just by the number, but there really does appear to be a growing sense around the league that QBs could indeed go 1-2-3-4 with the first four picks for the first time in history when the clock starts ticking on the 25th. On the one hand, its hard to find anyone in the NFL these days that does not believe that Chicago will be taking USC’s Caleb Williams with the first pick overall; that LSU’s Jayden Daniels is headed to Washington with the second pick; and that New England will be selecting North Carolina’s Drake Maye with the 3rd. And, as we have noted, that puts Arizona in the catbird seat with the 4th pick with Michigan’s JJ McCarthy still on the board and as many as four other teams believed to have at least some interest in moving up to get him. In fact, there are reports that the Cardinals have indeed spoken to ‘multiple’ teams about a possible trade. Arizona GM Monte Ossenfort has let it be known though that if Arizona is to drop a ‘significant amount’ in the opening round – and that means you Minnesota, Denver and Las Vegas, which have the 11th thru the 13th picks respectively – the asking price will be at least three first rounders. Sources also indicate that the Cardinals would prefer to get two of those #1s this year rather than accept two future first rounders which would appear to give the Vikings an edge as in addition to the 11th pick, they have the 23rd acquired earlier this year from Houston. At the same time, though, as we noted earlier, teams like the Vikings, Broncos and Raiders are musing whether there is enough of a difference between McCarthy and Michael Penix of Washington or Oregon’s Bo Nix to warrant giving up two extra #1 picks for. Meanwhile, Giants’ GM Joe Schoen, who reportedly had been hoping that one top 4 QBs would still be on the board at the 6th pick, sounded a little resigned that that likely isn’t going to be in the cards in an interview with Albert Breer of SI.com. Said Schoen: “If the quarterbacks go 1–4, then we’re getting the second-best position player, not quarterback, at six, which is O.K., too. That player will really help us.”

UGA S Starks out for spring; shoulder … Georgia All-America safety Malachi Starks, potentially one of thr top prospects at the position for the 2025 draft, is not practising with the Bulldogs as he recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Starks, though, is expected to be ready for the start of the upcoming season. The Bulldogs open the season on August 31st when they face Clemson in a big early season match-up.

Iowa CB DeJean passes pro day test … NFL teams had to wait a little bit extra to finally get to check out Iowa CB Cooper DeJean, but it may have been worth the wait as the former Hawkeyes’ star reportedly had a pretty good workout at a private pro day earlier today. DeJean, who had been sidelined since November when he suffered a fractured leg, reportedly ran in the 4.45 range for the forty with a split as low as 1.52 seconds, while he also had an athletic 38.5-inch vertical. And all that despite the fact that he was just cleared for full football activities just a week or so ago. The 6-0.5, 202-pound DeJean, who may could ultimately end up at safety at the next level, is considered to be one of the top 3-4 corners available in this year’s draft and figures to be in the mix to be selected in the mid-to-late first round on April 25th.

‘Horns’ DT Sweat booked on DWI charge … From the ‘not what you wanna be doing 2-3 weeks before the draft’ but former Texas DTe T’Vondre Sweat, a potential late first, early second round pick at the upcoming draft, was arrested in Austin early this morning and charged with driving while intoxicated, a Class B misdemeanor in Texas.Swet was released after posting a $3000 bond. Hard to tell whether this will significantly impact his grade, but it is not going to help.

Final medical re-checks underway in Indy … It is actually one of the more important weekends on the NFL draft schedule as 2024 prospects with significant injury concerns will be back in Indianapolis for final medical checks. Needless to say, the results don’t get published but will be passed on to every team.

The draft, QBs and the long game … The NFL has gone pretty much stone quiet the past few days which has led us to think a little bit about the QB situation at the very top of the board. And this isn’t based on anything really concrete in terms of verifiable evidence, but we still wonder if it is a scenario that could be evolving. The general expectation around the NFL with now less that 3 weeks to go until the draft is that QBs will go 1-2-3 with the first three picks on the 25th – most likely USC’s Caleb Williams, Drake Maye of North Carolina and LSU’s Kayden Daniels in some order – leaving Arizona holding all the cards (sorry, we couldn’t resist) with the 4th pick with as many as 4 teams looking to trade up to select Michigan’s JJ McCarthy (or whichever of the 4 top-rated QBs isn’t taken in the first three picks.) Those 4 teams, of course, are the Giants who currently have the 6th pick, as well as Minnesota, Denver and Las Vegas, which have the 11th thru the 13th picks, each of which has made little secret of their interest in possibly moving up to take the 4th QB. However, what if those teams have started to ask themselves whether that 4th QB is in fact so much a better prospect than either of QBs 5 and 6 – Washington’s Michael Penix and Bo Nix of Oregon, who for the record were the top two passers in college football over the past couple of seasons – or at least so much a better prospect to justify parting with possibly as much as a couple of future first rounders to get there. There is still the problem for those teams that they would be four teams chasing three QBs so there may be some pressure to get to the head of the line, but it also possible we could see those teams hold their water until they see how the QBs actually start coming off the board on the 25th. It could also put a little pressure on the Cardinals, who it appears really do want to move down and pick up at least an second 2025 first rounder, not to wait too long for fear of missing out altogether. We’ll see who blinks first! Stay tuned!

Big Board updated … With less than 3 weeks to go until the 2024 draft, the GBN Big Board has been updated and extended to the 350 top prospects for this year’s draft. There is still the possibility – even the likelihood – that they will be some tweaking over the next couple of weeks, but this is pretty close to final.

Guess who’s coming to dinner! Part deux … One of the things we try and do during the course of the ’30’ visits process is identify under-the-radar prospects who making an unusual number of visits suggesting that the league may actually have them rated higher than they are generally credited with. And while its still early in the process with another couple of weeks during which teams can bring out-of-town candidates for one of their allotted visits, there are already several players who fall into that category. Most notably are Georgia State OT Travis Glover and DT Khristian Boyd of Northern Iowa, both of whom have had more than a half dozen visits to date. Glover is a massive guy at 6-6, 330 with 57 career starts at GSU; Glover was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster where he held up very well. Teams that have shown interest in Glover include Arizona, Dallas, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Houston and Jacksonville. Meanwhile, Boyd, who made several FCS AA teams this fall, is a squatty 6-2, 330 pound run-stuffer with exceptional weight room strength – he managed 38 BP reps at his pro – as well as some decent short-area quickness; he’s getting looks from Buffalo, Detroit,Green Bay, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, New Orleans and the NY Giants. At the same time, Samford QB Michael Hiers has also had invites from a half dozen teams including Las Vegas, Denver, Detroit, Washington and the NY Jets. Hiers, who spent 2 years at a CC before enrolling at Samford, is a very accurate passer who completed 74% of his pass attempts over the past two years while he connected on 52 TD passes against 12 picks. However, while he’s a good athlete who was also an all-conference basketball and baseball player in high school, the 6-1, 215 pound Hiers doesn’t run much. Other names to keep an eye in this context include Tennessee WR Ramel Keyton, who has never put up big numbers, but has been a big-play threat when he does get his hands on the ball, USF OT Donovan Jennings, Arizona ER Taylor Upshaw, a 6-6, 250-pound Michigan transfer who posted 8.5 sacks this past season, and Oregon LB Jamal Hill.

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