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March 31, 2015

2016 NFL Mock Draft -- Way-Too-Early Edition

With one month to go until the 2015 NFL Draft (April 30th in Chicago), I've decided to take a way-too-early look ahead to the 2016 NFL Draft.

It's nearly impossible to nail a mock draft minutes before it starts -- let alone 13 months beforehand. More than anything, the goal is to highlight some prospects and potential fits at this point. It's fair to say, this mock is going to look a lot different in 12 months than it does today.

Obviously one of the challenges of creating a mock draft this far in advance is that we have no idea what the draft order. Well, we have "some idea" given that the Seahawks or Patriots aren't going to be picking first overall, but you get the point.

In future updates (after the 2015 NFL Draft), the draft order used will be the inverse of our NFL power rankings until the real draft order is known.

For this update, I've used Super Bowl 50 odds from Sportsbook.ag beginning with teams with the lowest odds to the best odds to win it. In situations where two (or more) teams had identical odds, I used 2015 NFL strength of schedule as the tie-breaker. (The more difficult the schedule, the more likely they would have a worse record and hence higher pick.)

Where the order differs from the inverse order of odds to win the Super Bowl is that I made sure 12 playoff teams, six from the AFC and six from the NFC, had picks 21-32 with all eight divisions represented.

With all of that said, here is my way-too-early 2016 NFL Mock Draft:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (team draft history): Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
- Super Bowl odds: +300000; SOS: .463
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection (as of 3/27): Leonard Williams

As noted above, I used the inverse order of Super Bowl 50 odds to determine the draft order for this mock. That said, I personally believe that the Jags have taken a number of positive steps toward turning around the organization. In other words, I wouldn't be surprised if they did not have the first-overall pick.

If they do, however, the Jags could add another difference-making defensive line prospect to join Leonard Williams, the top-ranked prospect on my 2015 NFL Draft Big Board.

Per Phil Savage, one organization used Bosa's freshman campaign as a measuring stick for evaluating draft-eligible tackles in 2014 that faced Bosa in 2013. Building upon a strong freshman campaign, Bosa, whose father John was a first-round pick by the Dolphins, posted 13.5 sacks and 20.0 tackles for loss with four fumble recoveries for the national-champion Buckeyes as a true sophomore last season.

2. Tennessee Titans (team draft history): Robert Nkemdiche, DT/DE, Mississippi
- Super Bowl odds: +300000; SOS: .435
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Marcus Mariota

Lofty expectations come with being the top-overall recruit in the nation and some may feel that hasn't fully lived up to those expectations, but Nkemdiche has a rare combination of size, power and athleticism (as seen in the vine below). Along with USC's Williams, he was named to the 2014 AP All-American Second Team at defensive tackle and one of his strengths, like Williams, is his versatility to play multiple positions along the line.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (team draft history): Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi
- Super Bowl odds: +150000; SOS: .425
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Jameis Winston

In his two seasons as the Rebels' starting left tackle, Tunsil was named First-Team All-SEC last season after being a Second Team selection as a true freshman in 2013. Tunsil has allowed just two sacks in his two seasons with Ole Miss.

Based on PFF grades, the Bucs ranked 30th in the NFL in pass-blocking grades. After 13 games at right tackle, Demar Dotson played the last three games at left tackle for the Bucs. Adding a franchise-type left tackle to protect Jameis Winston, the top-overall pick in my 2015 NFL Mock Draft, would be a wise investment and allow the Bucs to shift Dotson back to right tackle.

4. Washington Redskins (team draft history): Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
- Super Bowl odds: +125000; SOS: .478
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Dante Fowler

A few different quarterbacks could be in play as the first-drafted quarterback in 2016. This mock has four signal-callers selected in the first half of the first round. Based on this draft order, the first three teams will have selected a quarterback with a top-three pick in the two most recent drafts -- Jacksonville (Blake Bortles), Tennessee (Mariota) and Tampa Bay (Winston).

That leaves Washington as the first team without one the team (or at least coaching staff) believes can develop into a franchise quarterback. While Washington will have the option to keep RG3 under team control in 2016, he's scheduled for free agency after the 2015 season.

If Cook had declared for the 2015 NFL Draft, I would have slotted him in behind Winston and Mariota but ahead of any other quarterbacks in the draft class. Cook has prototypical size (6-4, 220) and arm strength and all of the physical tools to be successful at the next level. Returning for his senior year should help him work on his footwork and improve his accuracy -- only 58.1 and 58.7 completion percentages over the past two seasons, respectively.

5. Oakland Raiders (team draft history): Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
- Super Bowl odds: +100000; SOS: .545
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Kevin White (WVU)

Selected First-Team All-SEC in both of his years in Gainesville, Hargreaves is the top cornerback prospect eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft. After Hargreaves' freshman season, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has compared Hargreaves to ex-Gator Joe Haden. Hargreaves led the Gators with three interceptions as a true freshman and added three more last season despite offenses often looking the opposite direction.

6. Cleveland Browns (team draft history): Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
Super Bowl odds: +100000; SOS: .543
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selections: DeVante Parker and Malcom Brown

What a three-game run it was for Cardale Jones to close the 2014 college football season! There was some debate whether or not he should strike while the iron was hot and declare himself eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft, but he ultimately decided to return and gain more experience. Returning to Columbus with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller complicates matters, but one excecutive told Fox Sports: "Maybe he would have gone in the second round, but I think it's just as likely we could have gone in the top 10 or 15. Look at that body, that arm -- and look at his competition (in the 2015 draft)."

7. Minnesota Vikings (team draft history): Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
- Super Bowl odds: +6000; SOS: .539
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Trae Waynes

Had Stanley decided not to return to Notre Dame, there is a good chance that he would have been the first offensive lineman selected in this year's draft. Stanley started his (redshirt) freshman season at right tackle and took over for Zack Martin at left tackle in 2014. Stanley possesses the length and agility teams want in a left tackle and Matt Kalil, who is coming off a disappointing season, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016.

8. San Francsico 49ers (team draft history): A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
- Super Bowl odds: +5000; SOS: .561
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Arik Armstead

With the size of a nose tackle (6-4, 320), Robinson has played both nose tackle and defensive end for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman, he actually led Alabama with 5.5 sacks. Starting nose tackle Ian Williams will be a free agent in 2016.

9. Chicago Bears (team draft history): Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi
- Super Bowl odds: +5000; SOS: .531
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Danny Shelton

A gruesome (broken) ankle injury ended his season in early November, but Treadwell appears to be recovering well and expects to be 100 percent in the summer and he's currently running routes "against air." Treadwell, who turns 20 in June, has a great combination of size (6-2, 229), strength and athleticism.

With Brandon Marshall traded to the Jets, Treadwell would fill that void, but Alshon Jeffery is also due to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason as well.

10. San Diego Chargers (team draft history): Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
- Super Bowl odds: +5000; SOS: .518
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Todd Gurley

With Philip Rivers entering the final year of his contract, it's certainly possible that he will have already played his final game as a Charger by the time the 2016 NFL Draft rolls around. That said, I expect both sides to come to an agreement to keep Rivers in San Diego -- or Los Angeles? If they don't, however, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg or Cal's Jared Goff would make sense.

Younger brother of Kyle Fuller, who was selected in the first round by the Bears in 2014, Kendall has started all but of his 26 games with Virginia Tech and has a total of eight interceptions and 26 pass breakups in his two seasons. Although the Chargers have Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett under team control through the 2018 season, you can never have too many cornerbacks.

11. New York Jets (team draft history): Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
- Super Bowl odds: +5000; SOS: .488
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Vic Beasley

After a strong freshman season (2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions), Hackenberg threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (12) as a sophomore and his Y/A and completion percentages dropped from 7.54 to 6.15 and 58.9 to 55.8 percent, respectively. A new coaching staff (Bill O'Brien departed for the NFL), loss of his best receiver (Allen Robinson) and poor offensive line play (44 sacks vs. 21 in 2013) all contributed to his regression in year two. With a bounce-back season, Hackenberg, who has prototypical tools, could certainly be the top signal-caller off the board.

12. Buffalo Bills (team draft history): Jared Goff, QB, California
- Super Bowl odds: +5000; SOS: .486
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: N/A

The Bills have loaded up on offensive skill-position players (LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and Charles Clay), but a big question mark remains at quarterback. If the Bills are going to make a push to take control of the AFC East from Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots, they need much better play at quarterback. As a true sophomore, the 6-foot-4 Goff threw for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season.

13. New Orleans Saints (team draft history): Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
- Super Bowl odds: +5000; SOS: .429
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Byron Jones

Boyd has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in both of his seasons at Pitt and has racked up 163 receptions for 2,435 yards and 15 touchdowns in his two seasons. Only 190 pounds at 6-foot-2, Boyd would benefit from adding some weight and strength, but Boyd has excellent ball skills, body control and athleticism to be the Saints No. 1 wide receiver opposite Brandin Cooks.

14. Houston Texans (team draft history): Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
- Super Bowl odds: +5000; SOS: .417
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Dorial Green-Beckham

A rare two-way player, Jack was named the Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2013. Jack played less offense as a sophomore, but he finished second on the team last season in tackles (88) behind Eric Kendricks, who won the Butkus award.

15. Carolina Panthers (team draft history): Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
- Super Bowl odds: +4500; SOS: .434
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: D.J. Humphries

Ramsey has played both cornerback and safety and took over Lamarcus Joyner's "Star" role last season. A five-star recruit out of high school, Ramsey was named to the 2014 AP All-American Second Team last season. Ramsey led the team in pass breakups (12) and finished second in tackles for loss (9.5), sacks (3.0) and interceptions (two). He also finished fourth in tackles (79) and had two forced fumbles.

16. Cincinnati Bengals (team draft history): Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
- Super Bowl odds: +4000; SOS: .563
- 2015 NFL Mock Draft 1st-round selection: Andrus Peat

The Bengals really struggled to get to the quarterback last season as no team had fewer sacks than the Bengals (20). Although he is a bit raw, Oakman is a physical freak at 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds and posted 11.0 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last season for the Bears.

-> Continue to picks 17-32 in our 2016 NFL Mock Draft


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March 27, 2015

2015 NFL Mock Draft: March 27th Update

With only five weeks to go until the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago, I will continue to make weekly updates to my 2015 NFL Mock Draft. This update includes an added round (Round 3) and the goal is to mock all seven rounds of the draft.

[Follow @EDSFootball for updates.]

With that said, here is my projection for the 2015 NFL Draft:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Draft History): Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

With the Buccaneers releasing Josh McCown earlier this offseason, the Bucs gave us further indication that this pick will be a quarterback. There may be some debate whether it should be Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the two previous Heisman Trophy recipients, but there were reports prior to the combine that Bucs coach Lovie Smith prefers Winston over Mariota.

Although the increase in interceptions were an issue last year, Winston has the strong arm, accuracy, football intelligence and on-the-field leadership skills to develop into a franchise-changing quarterback. NFL Network's Steve Mariucci referred to Winston "the most astute X's and O's guy that he's ever put on the board."

Of course, the biggest concern with Winston is the off-the-field issues -- and those concerns are amplified given the nature of the position and this draft slot. It appears that Winston is the clear favorite here, however, provided the team feels comfortable with him as the face of their franchise.

2. Tennessee Titans (Draft History): Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Do the Titans believe in Zach Mettenberger enough to bypass Mariota here? There have been reports out of Nashville that they do, but general manager Ruston Webster said at the combine that they "like Zach," but are "[n]ot committing to anything now." Recently, one general manager told CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora: "He's going second overall. I don't know to which team, but he's going second overall."

For now, I will slot Mariota here with Titans keeping this pick. A number of teams, most notably Cleveland and Philadelphia, could be highly interested in trading up with the Titans.

Over the course of his collegiate career, Mariota threw for 10,796 yards, rushed for 2,237 yards and accounted for 136 touchdowns -- 105 passing, 29 rushing and two receiving -- with only 14 interceptions. There will naturally be some questions about how well and quickly Mariota will transition from Oregon's spread offense to a pro-style system, but Mariota possesses good size, a strong arm to stretch the field and difference-making mobility for the position in addition to impeccable intangibles.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (Draft History): Leonard Williams, DL, USC

The top overall prospect on my 2015 NFL Draft Big Board, Williams is a scheme-diverse defensive lineman that has the ability to win in a variety of ways at multiple spots along the defensive line. His ability and versatility has generated some comparisons to J.J. Watt and Richard Seymour and the sky is the limit for this 20-year-old defensive lineman.

4. Oakland Raiders (Draft History): Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

The Raiders have found their quarterback of the future with Derek Carr, last year's second-round pick, but one of their focal points in the draft should be to improve the weapons around Carr. As much as the Raiders front office wanted to bolster their group of pass catchers in free agency, it was a big swing and miss for Oakland's front office.

Adding the top-ranked wide receiver in my 2015 prospect rankings would make sense. White has the size (6-3, 215), hands and run-after-catch ability to be a difference maker and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has compared White to Julio Jones. One concern that some had about White prior to the combine was his long speed, but he has eased all concerns after running a blazing 4.35 forty at the combine.

[Related: 2015 NFL Scouting Combine Results.]

5. Washington Redskins (Draft History): Dante Fowler, OLB, Florida

Given their leaky pass protection -- only the Jags allowed more sacks last season -- offensive line could be a possibility here. Well, it's certainly a need, but it's questionable whether any of the offensive line prospects are worth a top-five selection.

Although Ryan Kerrigan had a career-high 13.5 sacks last season, 2015 will be a contract year for him. In addition, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo departed via free agency this offseason. A versatile player with a non-stop motor, Fowler led Florida in tackles for loss (15.0), sacks (8.5) and QB hurries (17) last season.

6. New York Jets (Draft History): Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

The Jets' defensive line is the team's strength and secondary was significantly upgraded in free agency with the return of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie and the addition of Buster Skrine. With both starting outside linebackers (Calvin Pace, who turns 35 this year, and Quinton Coples) due to become free agents after the 2015 season, the Jets should look to add pass-rush depth now.

There were some concerns about Beasley's weight, but he was a rocked-up 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds at the combine without losing a step (4.53 forty) and posting 35 reps at 225 pounds. Not just a workout warrior, Beasley has been one of the nation's most productive pass rushers with a total of 25.0 sacks and 44.5 tackles for loss in 26 games over the past two seasons combined.

7. Chicago Bears (Draft History): Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

One of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this past season, the Bears have plenty of holes to address and could go in a number of different directions. They ranked 31st in scoring defense (27.6 PPG allowed) and 30th in total defense (377.1 YPG allowed). As they transition to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, they need help on all three levels of their defense. The Bears also lost defensive tackle Stephen Paea in free agency as well.

With surprising quickness for someone his size (6-2, 339), Shelton had 9.0 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and 93 tackles despite facing constant double teams last season for the Huskies.

8. Atlanta Falcons (Draft History): Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri

The Falcons really struggled to get to the quarterback over the past couple of seasons. Only the Bengals (20) generated fewer sacks last season than the Falcons (22), who had the third-fewest in 2013 as well. The Falcons have added some pass-rushers -- Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and O'Brien Schofield -- in free agency, but none of those guys are elite pass-rushers. In other words, their signings this offseason should not rule out adding someone like Ray, who has an explosive first step and was last year's SEC Defensive Player of the Year with 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last season.

9. New York Giants (Draft History): Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

It's a copy-cat league and the Giants could find themselves copying the success that the Cowboys had last season with the selection of Zack Martin, a college left tackle that moved inside to become an All-Pro guard as a rookie. NFL Network's Mike Mayock made the direct comparison: "When I look at Brandon Scherff, I see a similar example (to current Dallas Cowboys G Zack Martin...). I see a bigger kid with longer arms. That lends you to believe that he could play outside more easily. Again, I believe he can play outside. However, I think his best position, because of his power, his toughness, his football sense, is inside. I think he's an All-Pro guard. But that doesn't mean he can't play tackle in the NFL."

Only the Cardinals (3.3) and Chargers (3.4) averaged fewer yards per carry than the Giants (3.6) and the Giants run-blocking graded out as 26th of 32 by PFF last season. Of 78 qualified guards graded by PFF last season, Weston Richburg and John Jerry graded out as 62nd and 66th, respectively.

On a side note, perhaps it's just me that finds it funny, but Scherff was a 280-pound high school quarterback that had a 190-pound center and as he said, "it should really have been reversed."

10. St. Louis Rams (Draft History): Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Brian Quick was on his way to a breakout season in 2014, but it was cut short to a torn rotator cuff. Perhaps Quick takes that next step forward in 2015, but he is due to become a free agent after the 2015 season. The team re-signed Kenny Britt in free agency, but the Rams get a nice value with Cooper, who is my seventh-ranked prospect overall.

As Alabama's first Biletnikoff winner in school history, Cooper finished with 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which ranked first or second in the nation this season. While he may not have as much upside as WVU's White, Cooper is more pro-ready than any receiver in this draft class and a great route-runner.

11. Minnesota Vikings (Draft History): Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Waynes, my top-ranked cornerback in this year's draft class, boosted his stock at the combine by running a 4.31 40-yard dash and putting up 19 reps at 225 pounds and I'm not sure that he'll make out of the top 10 come April 30th. If he's still on the board here, however, Waynes paired with Xavier Rhodes would give the Vikings one of the better young cornerback duos in the league. With at least six games against Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler (for now) as well as several top-flight wide receivers in the division, a strong secondary is a virtual necessity for the Vikings to get to the top of the division.

12. Cleveland Browns (Draft History): DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

Once again, the Browns will go into the season with a looming full-year suspension for Josh Gordon. Although last year's ban was eventually cut to 10 games, that won't happen this year. The Browns have added Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe, but this position unit is still a weakness without Gordon. Plus the team lost tight end Jordan Cameron in free agency as well.

Sidelined for the first seven games of 2014 with a broken foot, the 6-foot-3 Parker finished with a 43/855/5 line in just six games. NFL.com's Jeremiah compared Parker to Keenan Allen saying Parker is "smooth, physical" and "has outstanding instincts/ball skills." Parker would become an immediate upgrade over all of their eligible-to-play wide receivers next season.

13. New Orleans Saints (Draft History): Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky

The Saints have made some shocking moves this offseason as they try to revamp their roster and salary cap. Last season, their defense was atrocious -- second-most yards allowed, fifth-most points allowed and bad against the run (29th) and pass (25th) -- and I wouldn't be surprised if they used both of their first-round picks on that side of the ball.

New Orleans needs to put more pressure on the quarterback as they ranked in the bottom eight in sacks (34). A former tight end, Dupree is a freak athlete (4.56 forty, 42-inch vertical, 11-6 broad jump) at his size (6-foot-4, 269). Over the past three seasons, Dupree has a total of 21.0 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss.

14. Miami Dolphins (Draft History): La'el Collins, G/T, LSU

Collins, a second-team 2014 AP All-American, started at left tackle for the Tigers in each of the past two seasons, but he also has starting experience (sophomore season) at left guard as well. As a whole, the Dolphins struggled in both pass and run blocking. Based on grades from PFF, the Dolphins ranked 31st in pass blocking and 27th in run blocking in 2014.

15. San Francisco 49ers (Draft History): Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon

What an offseason it has been in San Francisco! The surprising retirement of linebacker Patrick Willis was followed by an even more surprising retirement of his 24-year-old (and expected) replacement Chris Borland. With NaVorro Bowman returning from a significant knee injury that kept him out all of last season, the 49ers will address the inside linebacker position in the draft. More than likely, however, I'd expect them to address that need in Round 2 or later.

The 49ers have added Darnell Dockett via a two-year deal, but he turns 34 in May and Justin Smith may retire this offseason. Described by an NFL general manager as "a 6-foot-8, 290-pound freak," Armstead was a two-sport athlete (football and basketball) at Oregon and possesses excellent footwork and agility and can be Smith's long-term replacement.

16. Houston Texans (Draft History): Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma

The Texans re-signed two starters -- cornerback Kareem Jackson and right tackle Derek Newton -- and added free agents at other positions of need -- nose tackle Vince Wilfork and safety Rahim Moore. Although the Texans have signed Cecil Shorts after releasing Andre Johnson, who signed with the Colts, there isn't much depth beyond DeAndre Hopkins and Shorts, who has consistently struggled with durability.

Off-the-field issues led to his dismissal from Mizzou (and subsequent transfer to Oklahoma), but Green-Beckham may have as much physical talent as any receiver in this year's draft class. One AFC scout told NFL Network's Albert Breer that DGB is "... special. He's gigantic; he has tremendous body control, balance; he runs like a deer and can leap out of the gym and high-point the ball. He's special. It's impressive. If not for all that stuff [off the field], he'd be the best receiver to come out since Calvin Johnson."

-> Continue to picks 17-32
-> Continue to Round 2
-> Continue to Round 3

-> For more mocks, check out our 2015 NFL Mock Draft Database

-> Also, check out our 2015 NBA Mock Draft

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March 25, 2015

2015 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings: Post-Free Agency Update

From 1952 to 2013, there were only 16 rookie wide receivers that eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.

For the first time in league history, however, there were three of them in 2014 -- Odell Beckham (1,305), Mike Evans (1,051) and Kelvin Benjamin (1,008). In addition, Buffalo's Sammy Watkins came very close (982).

Last year's five first-round wide receivers wasn't a record, but it was a five-year high. There is a strong chance that we see five or more wide receivers selected in the first round of this year's NFL Draft.

In my current 2015 NFL Mock Draft, I have five slotted in the first round -- Kevin White, Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham and Jaelen Strong. Beyond those receivers, there are others, such as Breshad Perriman, Devin Smith, Sammie Coates, etc., that could land in the first round as well.

Here are my post-free agency fantasy football wide receiver rankings for 2015:

1. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

In 16 games this season, Brown never finished as the highest-scoring fantasy wide receiver in any given week. (In fact, that applies to both standard- and PPR-scoring formats.) That's a surprise given that no wide receiver had more fantasy points over the course of the season -- in either format -- than Brown.

Over the past two seasons, Brown has a combined 239 receptions for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also has 17 rushing yards and two return touchdowns. More impressive than his overall level of production, however, is his consistency. Brown had at least five receptions and 70 yards in all 17 games (counting their playoff loss) last season. Going back to the start of 2013, Brown has at least five catches and 50 yards in all 33 games.

One of the sayings that you'll often hear in fantasy football is that you can't win your league in the first round, but you can lose it. With Brown's production and consistency, there isn't a safer pick among wide receivers.

2. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

Despite his slow start, Thomas finished the season strong. Going over 100 yards in 10 of his final 13 games, Thomas finished with a full-season stat line of 111 catches and 1,619 yards, both of which were career highs, and 11 touchdowns.

With the Broncos using their franchise tag on Thomas (in hopes of finalizing a long-term deal prior to the July 15th deadline) and Peyton Manning returning for at least one more season, another year of 90-plus receptions, 1,400-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns is a strong possibility.

3. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Even though he was targeted only 136 times, a three-year low, Bryant finished with 88 receptions for 1,320 yards and a career-high and league-leading 16 touchdowns. Even with the team's new-found commitment to the ground game (although DeMarco Murray signed with the Eagles in free agency), Dez has at least 88 catches, 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns in three consecutive seasons. And aside from Marshawn Lynch, Bryant is the only other player with at least 50 total touchdowns over the past four seasons.

Like Thomas, the Cowboys used their franchise tag on Bryant. Compared to Thomas and the Broncos, however, the Cowboys and Bryant appear less likely to find common ground on a long-term deal prior to the July 15th cutoff.

4. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

Including playoff appearances, Megatron has more 200-yard games (six) than any other receiver in league history. And while he still has as much potential as any receiver to take over a given game, he has battled some injuries over the past couple of seasons and missed a total of five games in 2013 and 2014. Johnson also appeared in a few games as a decoy, which is even worse for fantasy owners than missed games. Megatron has five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and he has averaged a stat line of 90/1,467/11 during that span.

5. Odell Beckham, WR, New York Giants

From Week 9 through the end of the season, Beckham was simply unstoppable. Not only was he consistent (90-plus yards in all nine of those games), but his nine-game stat line of 81/1,199/9 on 115 targets was better than the full-season production of most receivers. There were only 11 receivers not named Odell that had more than 1,199 yards over the full season. And as impressive as that sounds, he was especially dominant during that span over his final four games -- 43/606/7 on 63 targets.

While ODB is far from being the biggest receiver, his combination of hands, route-running ability, speed and elusiveness makes him nearly impossible to cover especially in today's age of offense-friendly rules. If there is any concern, it's the return of Victor Cruz, who missed the final 10 regular-season games, but ODB should be in the discussion to be the first receiver off the board on draft day.

6. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

With 21 catches for 448 yards and a pair of touchdowns over a two-game stretch late last season, Jones showed how dominant he can be. On the season, Jones finished with 104 catches for 1,593 yards, both of which shattered his previous career highs, and six touchdowns. Given his size and speed and the fact that he had 18 touchdowns in his first two seasons, I would expect closer to double-digit touchdowns in addition to a similar line of receptions and yards in 2015 with good health.

7. Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

Not only is wide receiver deep, it's deep with elite wide receivers. The only receiver to score more fantasy points than Nelson last season was Brown. While Nelson is far from a lock to finish as a top-two producer at the position once again, he's certainly one of a group of eight wideouts that has the talent and opportunity to do so.

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

Injuries kept Green from building upon his 98/1,426/11 campaign in 2013, but he extended his streak of 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career to four. Only Megatron (6,214), Brown (5,092) and Demaryius (5,034) have more yards during that four-year span than Green (4,874). With good health, Green is a good bet for at least 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2015 and someone that I'd love to settle for as the eighth wide receiver off the board (in drafts where my top-seven wide receivers are off the board before him).

9. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears

With the Bears trading Brandon Marshall to the Jets, Jeffery's outlook for both targets and production is on the rise. That said, he finished with the 11th-most fantasy points among wide receivers last year. Even though his receptions (85) and receiving yards (1,133) were down year over year, Jeffery set a career high in touchdowns (10) last season.

10. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers

Set to turn 25 in August, Cobb re-signed with the Packers prior to the official start of NFL free agency. Of course, playing in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense helps to maximize his fantasy value going forward. Cobb finished the season with 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, all of which set career highs, but I would be surprised if he scored 12 touchdowns again in 2015.

-> View Full 2015 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings

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2015 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings: Post-Free Agency Update

The two-year drought of no first-round running backs should end on April 30th, the date for the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

While the draft features two running backs at the top -- Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon -- that should be selected in the first round, the position group is one of the deepest we've seen in a while with Jay Ajayi, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman and more expected to go in the second round.

Although I have yet to include rookies in my 2015 fantasy football rankings, their landing spots will not only impact their outlooks and those of the running backs already on the rosters they join.

With that said, here are my post-free agency fantasy football running back rankings for 2015:

1. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Bell's production spiked across the board -- 1,361 rushing yards, 83 receptions for 854 yards and 11 total touchdowns -- in his second season as he was named to the 2014 AP First-Team All-Pro Team. Bell finished second to only DeMarco Murray in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage (2,215) and the two backs were tied for the most games with at least 100 YFS (13).

Whether the Steelers have the lead (and want to use the clock) or trail and need to throw, Bell's versatility makes him a true three-down back and his production won't vary much based on game flow. If there is one concern heading into 2015, however, it's the 15 months of probation Bell received from his August arrest for DUI and marijuana. There have been reports that Bell could face a league-imposed suspension of "up to four games."

Provided Bell is suspended for only two games or less, I'd keep him at the top spot. If he is suspended for four games, however, I'd bump him down a few spots. Stay tuned ...

2. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

While it was a relatively disappointing season for Charles, selected first or second in most leagues last season, he still finished as the seventh-highest scoring fantasy running back in 2014. The 28-year-old back rushed for 1,033 yards, his fifth 1,000-yard season, and added 40 catches for 291 yards while scoring a total of 14 touchdowns.

Despite a year-over-year decline in all of those numbers, the biggest concern was the reduction in his workload. After 320 touches in 2012, Charles had 329 touches in Andy Reid's first season as head coach in 2013. Last year, however, Charles had just 246 touches -- 15 running backs had more. Perhaps we won't see Charles get in the 320-range ever again, but it would be a surprise to see him as low as 246 again this season.

3. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

Starting slowly and worrying those that did not heed the general advice of Aaron Rodgers ("R-E-L-A-X"), Lacy carries plenty of positive momentum into Year 3. Lacy faced three elite rush defenses (SEA, NYJ and DET) in the first three weeks of the season, but only Murray and Bell scored more fantasy points than he did from Weeks 4 to 17. Over the final 13 games of the season, Lacy averaged 18.92 touches for 108.85 YFS per game and scored a total of 13 touchdowns.

The benefit of playing with the league's best quarterback means that defenses are less likely to stack the box to slow down Lacy. After averaging 4.15 yards per carry as a rookie, Lacy averaged 4.63 YPC last season (4.89 YPC over final 13 games).

4. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Over the past 12 months, there was plenty of speculation about Lynch's status for the 2015 season, but the Seahawks and Lynch have agreed to a new deal. Playing four full seasons in Seattle, Lynch has rushed for 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns in all four seasons. During that four-year span, no running back has more rushing yards (5,357) or rushing touchdowns (48) and no player has more total touchdowns (56).

Beast Mode has shown no signs of slowing down, but his physical running style (granted, he seems to dish out more punishment than he receives), heavy workload (league-high 1,479 regular-season and playoff touches over that four-year span) and age (turns 29 in April) is at least somewhat concerning. In fact, Lynch has compressed cartilage in his back that at least was part of his consideration on a potential retirement. That said, Lynch seems to be a lock for another 1,200 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns in one of the league's most run-dominant offenses.

5. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills

The good news first -- McCoy rushed for 1,319 yards, third-most in the NFL behind Murray and Bell, and he was one of only two backs to get 300-plus carries. That said, McCoy barely finished as a top-12 fantasy running back as he scored only 0.5 fantasy points more than Washington's Alfred Morris (RB13). In addition, McCoy averaged nearly a yard per carry less in 2014 than 2013 while also seeing his receptions (52 in 2013) and touchdowns (11 in 2013) drop roughly in half to 28 and five, respectively.

When it comes to the offensive skill positions, the Bills have revamped themselves by trading for McCoy while also signing wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Charles Clay. The addition of Harvin and Clay to a group of pass-catchers that already includes second-year receiver Sammy Watkins should help keep opposing defenses from stacking the box, but Rex Ryan won't move away from his preferred ground-and-pound approach, especially given the limitations at quarterback.

6. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears

Not only did Forte lead all running backs in receptions (102) last year, but only three players had more than him -- Antonio Brown (129), Demaryius Thomas (111) and Julio Jones (104) -- and he broke the record for receptions by a running back. With the coaching change, Forte isn't likely to see anywhere close to triple-digit receptions again, but he could certainly finish with around 70 catches. While Forte averaged less than four yards per carry for the first time since 2009, he has rushed for 1,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons and has at least 929 rushing yards in all seven of his NFL seasons. Only the Raiders (337) and Bucs (353) ran the ball less than the Bears (355) last season and I'd expect the Bears to be more committed to the run in 2015.

7. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans

Quick question: What team led the NFL in rushing attempts? (Perhaps the placement of this question gave the answer away, but you'd be correct if you said the Houston Texans.)

With Foster, who turns 29 in August, it boils down to his health. Although Foster missed three games in 2014, he averaged 95.8 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry, both of which were four-year highs, and he scored double-digit touchdowns (13). Foster had at least 23 touches in 10 of his 13 games last season.

Finishing as a top-five fantasy scorer at running back last season, Foster finished as a top-12 fantasy running back in 10 of 13 weeks last season including a nine-game streak from Weeks 5 to 16 (he missed two games and Houston had their bye during that stretch, though).

8. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Fortunately for Murray, he landed in a free-agent destination with one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Some of the other potential landing spots, like Oakland and Jacksonville, would have really damaged his fantasy value. Not only would it be a more significant offensive line downgrade, but those are the two teams that ranked last in scoring offense last season. Opportunities in the red zone would have been dramatically reduced for Murray.

Murray has always been productive on a per-game, per-touch basis. Before last season's career year, Murray averaged 4.95 yards per carry in his first three seasons combined. The issue with Murray (before 2014) was durability as he missed multiple games in each of those three seasons. With a total of 497 touches including the playoffs last year, durability will be Murray's biggest concern in 2015 as well. Even though the team added another talented (and injury-prone) running back (Ryan Mathews) in free agency, I'd expect Murray to still get roughly 20 touches per game, when healthy.

9. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards back in 2012 and is one of the league's all-time best running backs. After last year's lost season, it's unclear where he will play in 2015. The Vikings have no intentions of releasing him, but it appears there is still a strong chance that he plays somewhere else with Arizona being one of the potential landing spots. This ranking may be a little low for someone with Peterson's talent, but he could settle higher in my rankings as the season approaches once we have more clarity on his 2015 status.

10. Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Over the final nine games of the season, Hill had 22-plus carries and 100-plus rushing yards in five games including the final three of the regular season. During that nine-game span, Hill had 172 carries for 929 yards and six touchdowns and no running back had more rushing yards than Hill during that stretch. (Lynch was second with 824 yards.)

For part of that stretch, Giovani Bernard was sidelined, but Bernard was healthy from Week 12 through the end of the season. Going into the 2015 season, Hill is clearly the team's lead back with Bernard as the change-of-pace option.

-> Full 2015 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings

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2015 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings: Post-Free Agency Update

It was the first time in a decade that it didn't happen.

Three of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation -- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees -- all finished outside the top-three fantasy quarterbacks in 2014. From 2005 to 2013, at least one of those three quarterbacks had finished as a top-three fantasy quarterback every season.

Could that happen for a second year in a row? Based on my rankings, my answer is yes even though all three are solid QB1 types heading into the 2015 season.

With that said, here are my post-free agency fantasy football quarterback rankings for 2015:

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

The best quarterback in (real) football and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, Rodgers was also the top-scoring fantasy quarterback as well. Becoming Green Bay's starting quarterback seven years ago, Rodgers has finished as either the No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy quarterback in six of those seven seasons with the lone exception being his injury-shortened (broken clavicle) 2013 campaign.

In his past four seasons, Rodgers has compiled a combined 139:25 TD-to-INT ratio with an average of 8.5 yards per attempt, 112.6 passer rating and 67.0 completion percentage. And although he hasn't rushed for 300-plus yards with four-plus touchdowns since 2010, Rodgers still is good for 250 yards and a couple of scores on the ground.

Earlier in the month, it appeared as though the team would lose wide receiver Randall Cobb and/or right tackle Bryan Bulaga in free agency, but they were able to retain both. Therefore, the Packers return all 11 starters on offense in 2015.

2. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Throwing for 4,761 yards and a league-leading 40 touchdowns, both of which were career highs, Luck's 40 TDs last season nearly equalled his total from his first two seasons combined (46 TDs). As T.Y. Hilton battled a hamstring injury over the final three games of the season, that coincided with Luck throwing for less than 200 yards in the final three regular-season games of the season. Otherwise, he was on pace for 5,000 yards for nearly the entire year. Earlier in the season, however, Luck had the second-longest streak of 300-yard games (eight) in NFL history. Only Drew Brees (nine games, twice) has ever had a longer streak.

Like with Rodgers, Luck gets a boost from his mobility and he rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns last year. Luck has rushed 62-64 times in all three seasons with at least 255 yards each year and a total of 12 touchdowns.

It wouldn't surprise me if Luck finishes as the highest-scoring fantasy quarterback in 2015, but either way, he and Rodgers are close and alone in the top tier of fantasy quarterback options for 2015.

3. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Rodgers. Luck. That's it.

That's the list of quarterbacks that scored more fantasy points than Wilson last season. Of course, the primary reason behind Wilson's fantasy production was his rushing stats with 849 yards and six touchdowns, both of which were career highs, and he even had three 100-yard rushing games this season. It may be unrealistic to expect 800-plus rushing yards again, but he has at least 489 rushing yards in all three of his seasons and should rush for 500 yards (or more) in 2015.

While his passing numbers haven't been gaudy in Seattle's run-first offense, Wilson has thrown at least 20 touchdowns with 10 or fewer interceptions in all three of his NFL seasons. Not only is Wilson the only quarterback to do that in each of his first three NFL seasons, he's the only one in NFL history to do that more than once over that span, per Pro Football Reference.

The volume of pass attempts may not jump a ton in 2015, but the Seahawks pulled off a blockbuster trade for tight end Jimmy Graham and he significantly boosts the team's weapons in the passing game. Graham (51 TDs) is one of only four players with 50-plus touchdowns since 2010, Graham's rookie season.

4. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

With a slow finish to the season, Manning finished the year as the QB4 (312.68 fantasy points) behind Rodgers (354.14), Luck (350.74) and Wilson (327.6). In the first 11 games of the season, Manning averaged 23.96 fantasy points per game (323.45 YPG, 34 TDs and nine INTs). In the final five games of the season, he averaged 9.83 FPPG (233.8 YPG, five TDs and six INTs) and never scored more than 13.02 fantasy points in any of those games. Part of that decline had to do with his thigh injury, but the question remains, how big of a part for the 39-year-old Manning?

5. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

To say Brady got off to a slow start last season would be an understatement as he averaged just 197.75 yards per game with a total of four touchdowns and two interceptions over the first four weeks of the season. From that point on, however, things clicked as only Peyton (31) threw more touchdowns than Brady (29) from Weeks 5 to 17. Provided that Rob Gronkowski remains healthy for the full season, Brady could post a top-five season in 2015.

6. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

It was a down year for Newton, but he dealt with numerous injuries throughout the season and missed two games. That said, Newton has exceeded 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in all four of his NFL seasons. Over those four seasons, he has averaged 3,606 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns per season as well as 643 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Despite the down year, Newton finished seventh in fantasy points per game (17.78) among QBs.

7. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

After three consecutive 5,000-yard seasons, Brees fell short of that mark with 4,952 yards in 2014 and he threw (only) 33 touchdowns, which ties a seven-year low. For the first time since signing with the Saints in 2006, Brees finished outside the top-five fantasy quarterbacks (sixth) in 2014. Brees has thrown at least 650 pass attempts in five consecutive seasons and he led the league in pass attempts per game (41.2) last season, but a transition to a more run-based offense has begun in earnest.

Not only did the Saints trade Graham to the Seahawks (and get one of the league's best run-blocking centers in return), but they traded away Kenny Stills, the team leader in receiving yards last season. In addition to Mark Ingram, they signed C.J. Spiller in free agency and have a three-headed rushing attack with Ingram, Spiller and Khiry Robinson.

8. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Based on 2014 average draft position (ADP), Roethlisberger was one of the biggest values last season. Only four quarterbacks scored more fantasy points than Roethlisberger -- Rodgers, Luck, Wilson and Peyton. Big Ben threw for a career-high 4,952 yards, which tied Drew Brees last season for the league lead, and 32 touchdowns, which tied a previous career high. Admittedly, it wouldn't surprise me if he exceeded my ranking once again.

9. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

Over his past five seasons, Ryan has finished as a top-eight fantasy quarterback in four of them. During that same span, he has never finished as a top-six fantasy quarterback. Although he's not a quarterback I typically target, he's a solid option to settle on later in drafts. Ryan has more than 4,500 passing yards in three consecutive seasons and 26-plus touchdowns in five straight.

10. Eli Manning, New York Giants

In the first six games of the season, Eli finished outside the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks in all but one game. Beginning with Odell Beckham's third NFL game (Week 7), Manning finished as a top-five fantasy quarterback in five of his final 10 games last season. (And a sixth game was inside the weekly top 10.) With a full season of ODB, the return of Victor Cruz, the free-agent addition of one of the league's better receiving backs (Shane Vereen) and more comfort and familiarity with Ben McAdoo's offense, Eli has the potential to post career numbers in 2015.

11. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

No quarterback underachieved expectations more last season than Stafford, who finished as the QB15 in 2014. Even with the free-agent signing and breakout season from Golden Tate (99/1,331/4), Stafford threw for only 4,247 yards, a four-year low, and 22 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. With better health from Calvin Johnson, who missed a few games and was a decoy in others, Stafford should post better numbers in 2015.

12. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Over his past three seasons, Romo's pass attempts have dropped from 648 (2012) to 535 (2013) to 435 (2014). Despite the drop in volume, Romo threw 34 touchdowns, the most for him since 2007, with only nine interceptions, a four-year low. In addition, Romo led the league in Y/A (8.5), completion percentage (69.9), touchdown percentage (7.8) and passer rating (113.2) last year. Assuming the team stays committed to the run game without DeMarco Murray, who signed a free-agent deal with the Eagles, Romo's upside is somewhat limited if he throws in that 450-attempt range again this year. Despite his career year in efficiency, Romo finished just outside the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks last season.

13. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

Tannehill posted career highs in passing yards (4,045), passing touchdowns (27) and completion percentage (66.4) with a career low in interceptions (12) in his first year playing for new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. In addition, he rushed for a career-high 311 yards, which ranked fifth among all quarterbacks last season. Starting in Week 6, Tannehill finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in six of 11 weeks.

There has been some turnover among pass-catchers -- Kenny Stills replaces Mike Wallace, Jordan Cameron replaces Charles Clay and both Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson were released. That said, Tannehill has plenty of upside for those that wait on quarterback in 2015.

14. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

Winning the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2013, Rivers followed up his bounce-back season with 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns but he also threw 18 interceptions. Dealing with a back injury, Rivers threw seven of those interceptions in the final three games of the season. Fortunately Rivers won't have to have back surgery this offseason and he should be a relatively safe bet for 4,000-plus yards and around 30 touchdowns once again in 2015.

15. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

It was mostly a lost season for Palmer, who missed a total of 10 games with significant injuries, but he actually finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in terms of fantasy points per game (17.26) last season. Provided he stays healthy, Palmer is a high-end backup fantasy quarterback in Bruce Arians' vertical passing attack with Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown forming a strong trio of receivers.

16. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

Kaepernick averaged fewer yards per attempt (7.0), threw fewer touchdowns (19) and more interceptions (10) than he did in 2013 (7.7 Y/A, 21 TDs and eight INTs) despite throwing more pass attempts (478 in 2014 vs. 416 in 2013). Given the changes to the roster and coaching staff, the 49ers should find themselves trailing (and throwing) more often in 2015. (Based on Super Bowl 50 odds from sportsbook.ag, only seven teams are longer shots than the 49ers to win the Super Bowl.)

Not only did he set a career high in pass attempts, but Kaep also set career highs in rush attempts (105) and rushing yards (639). After rushing for nine scores in 2012 and 2013 combined, however, he rushed for only one touchdown last year. Despite that dip, Kaepernick still finished as a top-16 fantasy quarterback last year.

17. Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles

Per usual, there will be uncertainty about Bradford's season-long outlook. In five NFL seasons since being drafted first overall by the Rams, Bradford has played a total of 49 games -- and only seven of 32 games in the past two years. In addition, the Eagles have traded for Bradford, but he's not a lock to remain on the roster. ESPN's Adam Caplan confirmed that the Browns had offered the 19th overall pick in the draft for Bradford and it wouldn't surprise me if he's part of a package deal that helps Kelly get Marcus Mariota. If, a big if, Bradford starts 16 games for the Eagles, however, he has the potential to finish as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in 2015.

18. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Benched a game in favor of Jimmy Clausen, Cutler played only 15 games and led the league in multi-interception games (seven) last season. Despite the massive contract given to Cutler from the last regime in the previous offseason, he's clearly not in the team's long-term plans and could have a short leash if he doesn't cut down on the turnovers. Per CSN Chicago, the plan is to "take some things away from Cutler and shrink the game for him," which will hopefully cut down on his interception rate.

19. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Benched in the final three games of the 2013 season, the Shanahans wanted RG3 to be healthy for the offseason. While he did have a healthy 2014 offseason, little was healthy about Griffin in the regular season. Not only did he miss time due to injury, but he was benched by new coach Jay Gruden, who also called him out publicly in a press conference. In response to a recent mailbag question, ESPN's John Keim responded, "If it were up to the coach, Griffin would be gone."

In his nine games last season, Griffin threw only four touchdowns and six interceptions. He also averaged only 19.6 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry, both of which were career lows. Griffin's fantasy upside is derived largely from his rushing ability, but he has just one rushing touchdown in 22 games over the past two seasons. Plus, the rushing attempts exposes him to greater injury risk.

20. Nick Foles, St. Louis Rams

Two seasons ago, Foles had a breakout season (27:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 9.1 Y/A in 13 games) and Chip Kelly said he would be the team's quarterback for the "next 1,000 years." After a disappointing half-season prior to breaking his collarbone, the 1,000 years are up and Kelly has traded him to the Rams. The transition to the Rams is a downgrade on a number of fronts -- leakier offensive line, lesser talent at skill positions (compared to 2013/2014 Eagles) and tougher pass defenses in NFC West compared to NFC East.

Here are the best of the rest:

21. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
22. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
23. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
24. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
25. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
26. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
27. Matt Cassel, Buffalo Bills
28. Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns
29. Ryan Mallett, Houston Texans
30. Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans

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March 19, 2015

Dwayne Bowe, Browns agree to free-agent deal

The Cleveland Browns and free-agent wide receiver Dwayne Bowe have agreed to a two-year deal, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

After the Chiefs agreed to a five-year deal with Jeremy Maclin, they released Bowe, but they would have likely released him for salary-cap reasons either way.

Along with all other Chiefs receivers last season, Bowe had zero touchdowns and finished the season with only 60 receptions for 754 yards. Bowe now has 801 yards or less in three consecutive seasons after back-to-back 1,100-yard campaigns in 2010 and 2011.

Part of Bowe's lack of production can be attributed to the Alex Smith's struggles and reluctance to throw the ball downfield, but catching passes thrown from Josh McCown (or Johnny Manziel) won't significantly elevate his level of production.

With Josh Gordon's looming full-year suspension, the additions of Brian Hartline and Bowe in free agency are a step towards improving the receiving corps. But as I project in my 2015 NFL mock draft, I'd expect the Browns to add a wide receiver early in the draft. (Then again, that seemed like a virtual certainty last year as well.)


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2015 NFL Mock Draft: Post-Free Agency Update

More than a week into the new NFL league year (and free-agency period), nearly all of the top free agents have found new homes (or returned to their existing homes). While teams will continue to make moves, we have a fairly clear idea of what teams have what needs going into the 2015 NFL Draft.

This update of my 2015 NFL Mock Draft will include the first two rounds of the draft, but my goal is to add the other five rounds to this mock before April 30th in future updates.

With that said, here is my projection for the 2015 NFL Draft:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Draft History): Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

With the Buccaneers releasing Josh McCown earlier this offseason, the Bucs gave us further indication that this pick will be a quarterback. There may be some debate whether it should be Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the two previous Heisman Trophy recipients, but there were reports before the combine that Bucs coach Lovie Smith prefers Winston over Mariota.

Although the increase in interceptions were an issue last year, Winston has the strong arm, accuracy, football intelligence and on-the-field leadership skills to develop into a franchise-changing quarterback. NFL Network's Steve Mariucci referred to Winston "the most astute X's and O's guy that he's ever put on the board."

Of course, the biggest concern with Winston is the off-the-field issues -- and those concerns are amplified given the nature of the position and this draft slot. It appears that Winston is the clear favorite here, however, provided the team feels comfortable with him as the face of their franchise.

2. Tennessee Titans (Draft History): Leonard Williams, DL, USC

Personally, I think the Titans should take Mariota here. When it comes to what they will do, which is what I'm trying to project, I'm torn. In many previous versions of my mock including my previous update, I've slotted the reigning Heisman Trophy winner here. While they appear to be comfortable in giving second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger more time to prove that he's the answer, the team's general manager Ruston Webster said at the combine that the team is "not in a position to commit to anything."

With the team re-signing Derrick Morgan and added Brian Orakpo in free agency, I do not expect them to use the No. 2 selection on one of the top edge guys. The top overall prospect on my 2015 NFL Draft Big Board, Williams is a scheme-diverse defensive lineman that has the ability to win in a variety of ways at multiple spots along the defensive line. His ability and versatility has generated some comparisons to J.J. Watt and Richard Seymour and the sky is the limit for this 20-year-old defensive lineman.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (Draft History): Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska

The Jaguars allowed a league-high 71 sacks last season and although offensive line may be their biggest need, there isn't an offensive lineman worthy of a top-three pick in this draft. Especially considering they will have to face Andrew Luck for the next decade or so, it would make sense to add someone like Gregory, who has the athleticism and length to potentially develop into an elite pass-rusher at the next level.

4. Oakland Raiders (Draft History): Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

The Raiders have found their quarterback of the future with Derek Carr, last year's second-round pick, but one of their focal points in the draft should be to improve the weapons around Carr. As much as the Raiders front office wanted to bolster their group of pass catchers in free agency, it was a big swing and miss for Oakland's front office.

Adding the top-ranked wide receiver in my 2015 prospect rankings would make sense. White has the size (6-3, 215), hands and run-after-catch ability to be a difference maker and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has compared White to Julio Jones. One concern that some had about White prior to the combine was his long speed, but he has eased all concerns after running a blazing 4.35 forty at the combine.

[Related: 2015 NFL Scouting Combine Results.]

5. Washington Redskins (Draft History): Dante Fowler, OLB, Florida

Given their leaky pass protection -- only the Jags allowed more sacks last season -- offensive line could be a possibility here. Well, it's certainly a need, but it's questionable whether any of the offensive line prospects are worth a top-five selection. Another position group in need of major upgrades is the secondary and Michigan State's Trae Waynes could be in play here as well.

As noted earlier, Orakpo signed with the Titans in free agency. Meanwile, Ryan Kerrigan had a career-high 13.5 sacks last season, but 2015 will be a contract year for him. A versatile player with a non-stop motor, Fowler led Florida in tackles for loss (15.0), sacks (8.5) and QB hurries (17) last season.

6. New York Jets (Draft History): Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

If Mariota slips past the first two picks, it will be interesting to see if Chip Kelly and the Eagles make a move to to take Mariota. If he's still on the board at this spot, the Jets should be thrilled.

The transition to a new coaching staff and front office is often followed by a transition to a new quarterback. With new head coach Todd Bowles referring to incumbent Geno Smith as a "great college quarterback," it was far from a ringing endorsement for Smith, who has a career 25:34 TD-to-INT ratio.

Over the course of his collegiate career, Mariota threw for 10,796 yards, rushed for 2,237 yards and accounted for 136 touchdowns -- 105 passing, 29 rushing and two receiving -- with only 14 interceptions. There will naturally be some questions about how well and quickly Mariota will transition from Oregon's spread offense to a pro-style system, but Mariota possesses good size, a strong arm to stretch the field and difference-making mobility for the position in addition to impeccable intangibles.

7. Chicago Bears (Draft History): Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

One of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this past season, the Bears have plenty of holes to address and could go in a number of different directions. They ranked 31st in scoring defense (27.6 PPG allowed) and 30th in total defense (377.1 YPG allowed). As they transition to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, they need help on all three levels of their defense. The Bears also lost defensive tackle Stephen Paea in free agency as well.

With surprising quickness for someone his size (6-2, 339), Shelton had 9.0 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and 93 tackles despite facing constant double teams last season for the Huskies.

8. Atlanta Falcons (Draft History): Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

The Falcons really struggled to get to the quarterback over the past couple of seasons. Only the Bengals (20) generated fewer sacks last season than the Falcons (22), who had the third-fewest in 2013 as well. The Falcons have added some pass-rushers -- Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and O'Brien Schofield -- in free agency, but none of those guys are elite pass-rushers. In other words, their signings should not rule out adding someone like Beasley here.

There were some concerns about Beasley's weight, but he was a rocked-up 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds at the combine without losing a step (4.53 forty) and posting 35 reps at 225 pounds. Not just a workout warrior, Beasley has been one of the nation's most productive pass rushers with a total of 25.0 sacks and 44.5 tackles for loss in 26 games over the past two seasons combined.

9. New York Giants (Draft History): Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri

The Giants used their franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who bounced back and recorded 12.5 sacks after a career-low 2.0 in 2013. While the Giants and JPP have until July 15th to work out a long-term deal, they could find themselves in the same situation next offseason as Ralph Vacchiano of the NY Daily News tweeted that the Giants are "not afraid" to let him play on his franchise tag.

Past successful Giants teams have thrived with a dynamic pass rush so adding another pass-rusher like Ray would make some sense even if Pierre-Paul is inked to a long-term deal. Albeit a bit undersized for defensive end at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Ray has an explosive first step and was last year's SEC Defensive Player of the Year with 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last season.

10. St. Louis Rams (Draft History): Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Brian Quick was on his way to a breakout season in 2014, but it was cut short to a torn rotator cuff. Perhaps Quick takes that next step forward in 2015, but he is due to become a free agent after the 2015 season. The team re-signed Kenny Britt in free agency, but the Rams get a nice value with Cooper, who is my seventh-ranked prospect overall.

As Alabama's first Biletnikoff winner in school history, Cooper finished with 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which ranked first or second in the nation this season. While he may not have as much upside as WVU's White, Cooper is as pro-ready as any receiver in this draft class and a great route-runner.

11. Minnesota Vikings (Draft History): Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Common selections in previous updates of my mock draft were Iowa's Brandon Scherff and Louisville's DeVante Parker and I think both would still make sense here. That said, Waynes, my top-ranked cornerback in this year's draft class, really boosted his stock at the combine by running a 4.31 40-yard dash and putting up 19 reps at 225 pounds and I'm not sure that he'll make out of the top 10 come April 30th. If he's still on the board here, however, Waynes paired with Xavier Rhodes would give the Vikings one of the better young cornerback duos in the league. With at least six games against Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler (for now) as well as several top-flight wide receivers in the division, a strong secondary is a virtual necessity for the Vikings to get to the top of the division.

12. Cleveland Browns (Draft History): DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

Once again, the Browns will go into the season with a looming full-year suspension for Josh Gordon. Although last year's ban was eventually cut to 10 games, that won't happen this year. The Browns have added Brian Hartline (and maybe they'll add another free-agent receiver), but this position unit is still in the bottom quarter of the league without Gordon. Plus the team lost tight end Jordan Cameron in free agency as well.

A broken foot sidelined Parker for the first seven games of 2014, but the 6-foot-3 wideout finished with a 43/855/5 line in just six games. NFL.com's Jeremiah compared Parker to Keenan Allen saying Parker is "smooth, physical & has outstanding instincts/ball skills." Parker would become an immediate upgrade over all of their eligible-to-play wide receivers next season.

13. New Orleans Saints (Draft History): Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky

The Saints have made some shocking moves this offseason as they try to revamp their roster and salary cap. Last season, their defense was atrocious -- second-most yards allowed, fifth-most points allowed and bad against the run (29th) and pass (25th) -- and I wouldn't be surprised if they used both of their first-round picks on that side of the ball.

New Orleans ranked in the bottom eight in sacks (34) and there is a significant drop from Dupree and the next available pass-rusher. A former tight end, Dupree is a freak athlete (4.56 forty, 42-inch vertical, 11-6 broad jump) at his size (6-foot-4, 269). Over the past three seasons, Dupree has a total of 21.0 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss.

14. Miami Dolphins (Draft History): Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

As a whole, the Dolphins struggled in both pass and run blocking. Based on grades from PFF, the Dolphins ranked 31st in pass blocking and 27th in run blocking in 2014. Scherff played left tackle at Iowa and while he could play tackle at the next level, he may be better at guard and starting guard Daryn Colledge is a free agent. Either way, Colledge graded out as the 74th of 78 qualified guards last season.

15. San Francisco 49ers (Draft History): Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon

What an offseason it has been in San Francisco! The surprising retirement of linebacker Patrick Willis was followed by an even more surprising retirement of his 24-year-old (expected) replacement Chris Borland. Plus, NaVorro Bowman is coming off a significant knee injury that kept him out all of last season. I think they will address the inside linebacker position in the draft, but not with the 15th overall pick.

The 49ers have added Darnell Dockett via a two-year deal, but he turns 34 in May and Justin Smith may retire this offseason. Described by an NFL general manager as "a 6-foot-8, 290-pound freak," Armstead was a two-sport athlete (football and basketball) at Oregon and possesses excellent footwork and agility.

16. Houston Texans (Draft History): Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma

The Texans re-signed two starters -- cornerback Kareem Jackson and right tackle Derek Newton -- and added free agents at other positions of need -- nose tackle Vince Wilfork and safety Rahim Moore. Although the Texans have signed Cecil Shorts after releasing Andre Johnson, who signed with the Colts, there isn't much depth behind them and Shorts has consistently struggled with durability.

Off-the-field issues led to his dismissal from Mizzou (and subsequent transfer to Oklahoma), but Green-Beckham has as much physical talent as any receiver in this year's draft class. One AFC scout told NFL Network's Albert Breer that DGB is "... special. He's gigantic; he has tremendous body control, balance; he runs like a deer and can leap out of the gym and high-point the ball. He's special. It's impressive. If not for all that stuff [off the field], he'd be the best receiver to come out since Calvin Johnson."

-> Continue to picks 17-32
-> Continue to Round 2

-> For more mocks, check out our 2015 NFL Mock Draft Database

-> Also, check out our 2015 NBA Mock Draft

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Dolphins won't match Bills offer sheet for Charles Clay

The Buffalo Bills continue to re-make their offense by adding talented skill-position players for new quarterback Matt Cassel.

With the Miami Dolphins using their transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, they had until Sunday at midnight to decide whether to match the Bills offer sheet for Clay or not.

Per Amando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins won't match the offer sheet.

Free-agent running back C.J. Spiller signed with the Saints and the team released tight end Scott Chandler, who has signed with the Patriots, but they have added (via trade or free agency) LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and now Clay this month. Of course, last season they traded up to fourth overall to select Sammy Watkins.

Clay's numbers dropped in 2014 (58/605/3) compared to 2013 (69/759/6), but he got off to a slow start -- average of 3.4 receptions for 29.2 yards in the first five games of the season. Beginning in Week 7, however, Clay averaged 4.56 catches for 51.0 yards per game and scored all three of his touchdowns. From Week 7 to 17, Clay ranked fifth among tight ends in fantasy points per game (7.1).

Meanwhile, Miami's group of pass-catchers will look quite different as they have signed tight end Jordan Cameron in free agency, traded for Kenny Stills, which led to a trade of Mike Wallace to Minnesota and they hosted free-agent receiver Michael Crabtree on Wednesday.


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March 13, 2015

Darren McFadden, Cowboys agree to two-year deal

The Dallas Cowboys are unlikely to replace the loss of star running back DeMarco Murray, who signed with the Eagles yesterday, with just one back.

One of the players they hope to fill part of the void is ex-Raiders running back Darren McFadden, who has agreed to a two-year deal with the team, per Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Since being the fourth overall pick by the Raiders in the 2008 NFL Draft, McFadden has underwhelmed as a pro.

Durability has been a huge issue with McFadden, who played a full 16-game season for the first time last year but missed at least three games in each of his first six seasons.

Over his first four seasons, McFadden was highly productive on a per-touch basis with an average of 4.75 yards per carry from 2008 to 2011. Among RBs with at least 400 carries over that four-year span, McFadden's 4.75 YPC average ranked eighth in the NFL. Over each of the past three seasons, however, McFadden has averaged 3.4 YPC or less each season.

At this point, the Cowboys could add another running back via free agency, but I'd also expect them to consider adding a running back on Day 1 or Day 2 of the 2015 NFL Draft. Fortunately, it's one of the deepest running back classes in recent memory.


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March 12, 2015

Jordan Cameron signs with Dolphins -- not Browns

Earlier tonight, it was reported that the Cleveland Browns and tight end Jordan Cameron agreed to a two-year deal.

Instead of signing with the Browns, however, Cameron has signed a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, who have announced that the signing is official.

Of course, Cameron dealt with a less-than-ideal quarterback situation in Cleveland, but he said that Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was "a big part" of his decision.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have not pulled their transition tender on tight end Charles Clay, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.

Cameron is an athletic mismatch at tight end and had a breakout season in 2013 with 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. That said, durability (specifically concussions) is a concern for Cameron, who played only 10 games in 2014 and posted a stat line of only 24/424/2.


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Chiefs part ways with Dwayne Bowe

When the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to a five-year deal with Jeremy Maclin, it was all but certain that the team would part ways with Dwayne Bowe.

And they have as the team announced today.

Bowe had 60 receptions for 754 yards and no touchdowns last season. To be fair, no Chiefs receivers had a touchdown last season.

Back in 2010, Bowe actually led the NFL in touchdown receptions (15), but he has had less than that over the past four years combined (13). Since back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011, Bowe has had 801 yards or less in three consecutive seasons and has averaged just 742.67 per season during that stretch.

That said, part of the blame can be attributed to the team's offense and Alex Smith's inability to push the ball downfield. Bowe is the third-best available free-agent wide receiver behind Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree.


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Browns re-sign TE Jordan Cameron to two-year deal

The Cleveland Browns have re-signed tight end Jordan Cameron to a two-year deal worth $15 million, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

After Julius Thomas signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cameron was the top available free-agent tight end on the market.

Cameron is an athletic mismatch at tight end and had a breakout season in 2013 with 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns.

That said, durability (specifically concussions) is a concern for Cameron, who played only 10 games in 2014 and posted a stat line of only 24/424/2.

It's unclear whether Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel or someone else will be under center in Week 1, but the Browns ranked last in the NFL last year with only 12 passing touchdowns.

Given the suspension (again) of Josh Gordon, the Browns really lacked weapons in the passing game with Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins projected as the team's starting wide receivers in 2015.

[UPDATE: Cameron agreed to a deal with the Browns, but he did not sign the contract. He has officially signed with the Dolphins, instead.]


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Justin Forsett re-signs with the Ravens on three-year deal

The Baltimore Ravens and running back Justin Forsett have agreed to a three-year contract, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Forsett was one of the league's biggest surprises last season with a breakout campaign of 1,266 rushing yards, fifth-most in the NFL, and eight touchdowns. In addition, his average of 5.4 yards per carry led all running backs last season.

Although he turns 30 in October, Forsett had only 347 carries before last season.

"He doesn’t have the wear and tear, and Justin did a very good job of coming in, competing and then being our bell cow," general manager Ozzie Newsome said during a recent news conference. "We would like to retain Justin, but I’ve learned something since the end of the season about Justin that I didn’t really know. He has mentored some very good, young backs, starting with Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Maurice Jones-Drew when he was in Jacksonville. Having Justin here, and with the opportunity also bringing in hopefully another young running back, to have Justin be around that guy would be an asset also. So, we will work to try to retain Justin."

Second-year back Lorenzo Taliaferro should see an expanded role and it's possible that the Ravens use an early-round pick on a back as well. Bernard Pierce has been a disappointment over each of the past two seasons and his roster spot could be in jeopardy depending on what happens in the draft.

Forsett won't finish as a top-eight fantasy running back once again, but it's likely that he improves upon his 44/263 receiving numbers under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.


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Report: DeMarco Murray expected to sign with Eagles

A little more than a week ago, the Philadelphia Eagles traded running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Since that trade, the Eagles have agreed to deals with Frank Gore, who has instead signed with the Colts, and Ryan Mathews, who has yet to sign his contract.

And with today's news, it's more than likely that Mathews never plays a snap (signs his contract) in Philadelphia.

The leading rusher in the NFL last season, Murray rushed for a franchise-record 1,845 yards on a league-high 392 carries and scored 13 touchdowns. Adding career highs in receptions (57) and receiving yards (416), Murray also led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,261).

Both the Cowboys and Eagles have great run-blocking offensive lines so there isn't much of a downgrade, if any, from that standpoint. The obvious big concern with Murray is his durability as he had never played a full 16-game season before last year. In addition, Murray accumulated a massive 497-touch workload counting two playoff games last year.

With Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams on the depth chart, the Cowboys will look to upgrade the position via free agent, NFL Draft and/or trade.

[Update: Eagles will give Murray five-year deal worth $42 million (with $21 million guaranteed).]


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March 11, 2015

Andre Johnson signs three-year with Colts

Released by the Houston Texans a few days ago, Andre Johnson will get a chance to face his former team (at least) twice per year.

Johnson announced via his Instagram account that he is officially a Colt.

Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, it's a three-year deal worth $21 million.

Averaging 11.0 yards per reception and 62.4 yards per game, both of which were nine-year lows, Johnson finished the season with 85 catches for 936 yards and three touchdowns.

Set to turn 34 in July, Johnson ranks ninth all-time in receptions (1,012) and 12th all-time in receiving yards (13,597). In addition, he has had five 100-reception seasons (tied for NFL-most with Wes Welker and Brandon Marshall) and four 1,400-yard seasons (only Jerry Rice has more).

With Reggie Wayne not being re-signed by the Colts and Hakeem Nicks being a free agent, Johnson should start opposite T.Y. Hilton in two-receiver sets and his signing diminishes Donte Moncrief's breakout potential.


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Jeremy Maclin's deal with Chiefs is worth $55 million over 5 years

A few days ago, it was reported that the Kansas City Chiefs would sign free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Per ESPN's Chris Mortensen, it's a five-year deal worth $55 million and includes $22.5 million in guarantees.

Before Maclin can sign the deal, however, the Chiefs need to clear the cap space and a likely salary-cap casualty is Dwayne Bowe, who had 60 catches for 754 yards and no touchdowns last season.

Coming off a career year (85/1,318/10), it's highly unlikely that Maclin repeats that type of production for Andy Reid and the Chiefs. In his four seasons playing for Reid in Philadelphia, Maclin never exceeded 70 receptions or 964 yards.

While the Eagles threw the ball 38.8 times per game, fifth-most in the NFL, the Chiefs threw it just 30.8 times per game, fifth-fewest, last season. In addition, Alex Smith doesn't throw the ball downfield. Based on data from PFF, Smith had just 24 pass attempts of 20-plus yards, which ranked 37th last season.

Finishing with the ninth-most fantasy points among wide receivers last year, Maclin is more likely to finish as a low-end WR2 this year.


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Ryan Mathews expected to sign with the Eagles

After trading away stud running back LeSean McCoy, the Philadelphia Eagles had thought they had their replacement -- Frank Gore.

Although Gore got cold feet, free-agent running back Ryan Mathews is in Philadelphia for "more than a visit," per Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo.

Durability is the biggest concern with Mathews, who has missed a total of 18 games over five NFL seasons including eight last season. Mathews, who turns 28 on May 1st, has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in his career and has averaged 4.40 yards per carry over his five seasons.

Making another blockbuster trade yesterday that sent Nick Foles to the Rams for Sam Bradford, the Eagles will have one of the league's least durable starting QB-RB combinations provided Bradford isn't somehow part of a master plan to move up in the draft to get Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

If Mathews can stay healthy for a full season, always a major IF, Mathews has RB1 upside in Chip Kelly's offense. No player had more carries than McCoy (626) over the past two seasons combined.

[Update: Mathews and the Eagles have agreed to a three-year deal worth $11.5 million.]


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March 10, 2015

Jets officially release Percy Harvin, first visit to Bills

When the New York Jets traded a fifth-round pick for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, we knew that the team would release wide receiver Percy Harvin.

Now they have. Officially.

There are reports the Patriots are interested in Harvin, but perhaps he stays within the division and reunites with his head coach last season.

Harvin had a total of 51 receptions for 483 yards and 33 carries for 202 yards with two touchdowns last season. With the exception of 2013 when he played just one game, Harvin's 43.3 yards per scrimmage per game was the lowest of his career.

In addition to the headaches he may cause in the locker room and for the coaches, Harvin has struggled with durability as he has played only 23 games over the past three seasons combined.

If Harvin ends up signing with Buffalo, however, the trio of LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and Harvin would give the Bills a talented core of young skill players.


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Torrey Smith, 49ers agree to 5-year, $40 Million contract

Going into the start of NFL free agency today at 4 p.m., Torrey Smith was my second-ranked available wide receiver after Jeremy Maclin, who is expected to sign with the Chiefs.

That said, there were reports that Smith and the San Francisco 49ers were "a done deal" -- and now it is.

With Michael Crabtree being an unrestricted free agent, Smith fills the void his departure creates and he's reunited with ex-Ravens teammate Anquan Boldin, who is entering the final year of his deal and turns 35 in October.

Smith is one of the league's better deep threats and he has averaged 16.86 yards per reception in his four NFL seasons. Among players with a minimum of 50 receptions over the past four seasons, Smith's 16.86 Y/R ranks fifth behind Danario Alexander (17.29), DeSean Jackson (17.27), Josh Gordon (17.11) and Malcom Floyd (17.04).

Although Smith set or tied career lows in receptions (49) and yards (767), but he set a career high in touchdowns (11) and finished the season strong. Smith had a 38/591/10 line over his final 10 games last season.


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Eagles trade Nick Foles to Rams for Sam Bradford

The Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams have swapped starting quarterbacks, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Not only will the Eagles send Nick Foles to the Rams for Sam Bradford, but there will also be draft-pick consideration sent to Philadelphia as well.

There were some reports that the two teams would swap first-round picks. That said, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says that is not the case.

[Update: Eagles get Bradford and 2015 fifth-round pick and a conditional 2016 draft pick (third or fourth round); Rams get Foles, 2015 fourth-round pick and 2016 second-round pick.]

Foles had a breakout 2013 campaign with a league-best 9.1 Y/A and a 27:2 TD-to-INT ratio, but he regressed in 2014 before breaking his collarbone and missing the second half of the season. In eight games last season, Foles completed just 59.8 percent of his pass attempts and posted a 13:10 TD-to-INT ratio.

Joining Mark Sanchez, who re-signed with the Eagles for two years, Bradford has struggled with durability and has played just seven games over the past two seasons due to back-to-back ACL tears. Bradford also missed six games in 2011.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and entering the final year of his contract, Bradford completed 60.7 percent of his pass attempts for 241.0 yards per game, both of which were career highs, and a 14:4 TD-to-INT ratio in his seven games played in 2013.

Of course, the biggest wild card when it comes to the Eagles' quarterback situation is Oregon prospect Marcus Mariota, for whom Chip Kelly could mortgage the future for the right to select him in this year's draft.


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Saints trade Jimmy Graham to Seahawks

Just minutes prior to the start of the 2015 NFL league year, the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks negotiated a blockbuster trade that will send tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle.

Per Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, the Seahaws get Graham and a fourth-round pick in exchange for center Max Unger and a first-round pick.

The move fills a void for the Seahawks, who lacked difference-making pass-catchers on their roster.

Although he battled a shoulder injury in the second half of the season, Graham finished with 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns. While those numbers were considered somewhat of a disappointment for Graham, he would have led the Seahawks in all three of those categories.

Only Dez Bryant (51) has more receiving touchdowns than Graham (46) over the past four seasons. Graham also ranks fifth during that span in receptions (355) and 10th in yards (4,396).

The addition of Graham further boosts the fantasy outlook for Russell Wilson, who scored the third-most fantasy points last season behind only Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. Of course, the loss of Graham is a huge blow to the fantasy outlook of Drew Brees.

Behind New England's Rob Gronkowski, Graham will (still) be my second-ranked fantasy tight end heading into 2015, but his fantasy value takes a bit of hit. New Orleans averaged the second-most pass attempts (41.2) per game last season and Seattle has averaged the fewest (28.4/G).

In addition, trading Graham makes Josh Hill an interesting sleeper at tight end next season.


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March 09, 2015

Report: Frank Gore "intent on joining" the Colts (not Eagles)

Until a player signs on the dotted line, a deal is not yet a (done) deal and a player could get cold feet.

Apparently, that may be happening with running back Frank Gore, who was expected to sign a three-year deal with the Eagles when free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport also tweeted to "keep an eye on the Colts" for Gore's services.

In fact, Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports says that "all indications" have Gore in Indianapolis.

With Ahmad Bradshaw now a free agent, Trent Richardson expected to be released and Dan Herron playing on a one-year tender, the Colts are expected to also add a running back, potentially in Round 1, in the NFL Draft as well.

Gore turns 32 years old in May, but he rushed for 1,106 yards (4.3 YPC) last season and he has exceeded the 1,100-yard mark in each of the past four seasons. While he has been durable -- no missed games during that span, he has the third-most touches behind Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy over the past four years.

Finishing with the 17th-most fantasy points among running backs last season, Gore should have a chance to finish as an RB2 (top-24 RB) in either Indianapolis (or Philadelphia) in 2015.


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Andre Johnson released by Texans

A week ago, it was reported that the Houston Texans had granted permission for wide receiver Andre Johnson to seek a trade.

Given the remaining terms of his contract, it's not surprising that a team wasn't interested in taking on his contract and today the Texans have released Johnson.

Averaging 11.0 yards per reception and 62.4 yards per game, both of which were nine-year lows, Johnson finished the season with 85 catches for 936 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, teammate DeAndre Hopkins saw a big jump in his production with 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns.

Set to turn 34 in July, Johnson ranks ninth all-time in receptions (1,012) and 12th all-time in receiving yards (13,597). In addition, he has had five 100-reception seasons (tied for NFL-most with Wes Welker and Brandon Marshall) and four 1,400-yard seasons (only Jerry Rice has more).

Given Houston's lack of postseason success and the team's quarterback struggles during his tenure, I'd expect solid quarterback play and team competitiveness to be the two primary considerations for Johnson at this point in his career.

It's possible the favorites to sign Johnson are in the AFC South as the Colts have one of the league's best young quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano recruited Johnson to Miami (FL). In addition, they won't be re-signing Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks is also a free agent.

Of course, the Patriots and Tom Brady or the Seahawks and Russell Wilson are the last two Super Bowl champions and Johnson would be able to play a significant role as a member of either team's receiving corps.

Considering Johnson was born and raised in Miami, the Dolphins would make sense among the next tier of potential suitors with Mike Wallace's status up on the air and some previous cuts at wide receiver. Another potential suitor could be the Eagles with Jeremy Maclin expected to sign with the Chiefs.


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Bills retain Jerry Hughes on five-year deal

It's not often that talented and young pass-rushers reach the open market and that's the case for edge rusher Jerry Hughes, who turns 27 in August.

The Buffalo Bills and Hughes have agreed to a five-year deal, per Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News.

Hughes, the first-round pick by the Colts in 2010, got off to a slow start with the Colts -- 5.0 sacks in 40 games over his three seasons in Indianapolis.

With the Bills, however, Hughes has posted exactly 10.0 sacks in back-to-back seasons.

Hughes was one of three Bills to record double-digit sacks last season. Mario Williams (14.5) and Marcell Dareus (10.0) were the others.

Buffalo ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring defense (18.1 points per game) and total defense (312.2 yards per game) while leading the NFL in sacks (54).


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Safety Devin McCourty re-signs with Patriots for 5 years, $47.5 million

When the New England Patriots used their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski (instead of free safety Devin McCourty), it seemed reasonable that the Patriots had felt confident that they would be able to re-sign McCourty prior to the start of the NFL free-agency period on Tuesday.

And they have.

The Patriots and McCourty have agreed to a five-year deal worth $47.5 million with $28.5 million of it guaranteed, per ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss.

A converted cornerback, McCourty is only 27 years old and one of the league's best free safeties and he was ranked second in my NFL free-agency rankings.

Next up on the to-do list for the Patriots will be to re-sign cornerback Darrelle Revis, who has a roster bonus that becomes guaranteed on Monday. It's been reported that Revis would re-sign with the Patriots if the free-agent offers are comparable.


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Torrey Smith to 49ers described as "done deal"

The way Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti described Torrey Smith's impending free agency, it was fairly clear that Smith would play home games somewhere other than Baltimore in 2015.

In a blog post written by Smith yesterday, he thanked the City of Baltimore, the Ravens organization and their fans, but wrote that he "will be playing for a different organization."

Per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, it's a "done deal with the 49ers."

The 49ers had a need at wide receiver with Michael Crabtree being an unrestricted free agent and Anquan Boldin, with whom Smith has remained close, turning 35 in October.

Smith set a career high with 11 touchdowns last season, but his 49 receptions and 767 yards either tied or set career lows. Smith started the season slowly, but he finished strong with 38/591/10 over his final 10 games.


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Mark Sanchez re-signs with the Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles have re-signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a two-year deal worth $9 million with $5.5 million guaranteed, per Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports.

With Nick Foles breaking his collarbone last season, Sanchez played in nine games, starting eight of them, and threw for 268.7 yards per game with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

If both Foles and Sanchez are on the roster in September, it's likely that Foles would be the starter.

But Foles' status for the 2015 season seems anything but certain as Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer refers to him as the "odd man out" as the team potentially (likely) trades up to get Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

It will require a lot for the Eagles to move up from 20th to get Mariota, who isn't expected to last any further than the sixth overall pick.

This offseason, the Eagles have traded away their leading rusher (LeSean McCoy) to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso and their leading receiver (Jeremy Maclin) is expected to reunite with former coach Andy Reid in Kansas City. In turn, the Eagles are expected to sign free-agent running back Frank Gore.


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Julius Thomas expected to sign with the Jaguars

Tight end Julius Thomas is expected to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Tuesday when the 2015 NFL league year officially begins.

Meanwhile, the Denver Post projects the deal to be worth close to $9 million per year for five years.

Thomas, who turns 27 in June, broke out two seasons ago with 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013 and followed up his breakout campaign with another 12-TD season but struggled with injuries. In 13 games last season, Thomas had 43 catches for 489 yards.

Transitioning from Peyton Manning and the Broncos to Blake Bortles and the Jaguars negatively impacts Thomas' fantasy outlook, but it helps that of Bortles.

The addition to Thomas to a group of wide receivers that includes last year's second-round picks Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, undrafted free agent Allen Hurns and could get Justin Blackmon back from indefinite suspension would give Bortles a talented nucleus of young pass-catchers.

Thomas will be my third-ranked fantasy tight end heading into 2015 behind Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.


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March 08, 2015

Report: Jeremy Maclin to sign with Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are expected to sign free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin when free agency opens on Tuesday, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

In order to clear the cap space to sign Maclin, the Chiefs are likely to cut Dwayne Bowe, who had 60 receptions for 754 yards and no touchdowns last year. In fact, none of Kansas City's wide receivers scored a touchdown in 2014.

After missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL, Maclin signed a one-year deal with the Eagles and had a career year in Chip Kelly's offense with 85 receptions, 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The move from Philadelphia to Kansas City certainly hurts Maclin's fantasy outlook. In his four seasons playing for Andy Reid, Maclin had never exceeded 70 receptions for 964 yards.

In addition, Alex Smith doesn't throw the ball downfield. Based on data from PFF, Smith had just 24 pass attempts of 20-plus yards, which ranked 37th last season. As a comparison, both Nick Foles (59) and Mark Sanchez (37) had more than Smith even though both started only eight games for the Eagles.

With Maclin signing with the Chiefs, it only further enhances the breakout potential for Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia's second-round pick in 2014. Matthews had 67/872/8 as a rookie and should lead the team in targets in his second season.


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Brandon Flowers, Chargers agree to four-year deal

The San Diego Chargers and cornerback Brandon Flowers have agreed to a four-year deal worth up to $36 million, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

After a down 2013 season with the Chiefs, Flowers signed a one-year deal with the Chargers last offseason and had a bounce-back year in 2014. Leading the team in interceptions (three) and pass break-ups (11), Flowers graded out as the 15th-best cornerback by PFF last season.

The Chargers used their first-round pick last year on cornerback Jason Verrett, who started four games but missed more than half of the season with a torn labrum.

The team's other starting cornerback, Shareece Wright, as well as starting strong safety Marcus Gilchrist are both unrestricted free agents.

With Kareem Jackson re-signing with the Texans and Byron Maxwell expected to sign with the Eagles, the top three free-agent cornerbacks are now off the market.


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Byron Maxwell to get 6 years and $63M from Eagles?

Earlier today, Jayson Braddock of SportsTalk 790 in Houston tweeted that a "deal is done" that free-agent cornerback Byron Maxwell will sign with the Eagles with $25 million guaranteed.

That said, his agent, Alvin Keels, made sure to point out that the deal is not official.

Considering players can't sign free agents from other teams until Tuesday at 4 p.m., I suppose there is always the possibility that another team could swoop in before Maxwell signs on the dotted line.

That said, CBS Sports Jason La Canfora has tweeted that the "final contract numbers" are "very likely" to be six years, $63 million with $25 million guaranteed.

The top-ranked free-agent cornerback not named Darrelle Revis, Maxwell, who turned 27 last month, has good size (6-0, 207) and had his best season as a full-time starter.

Without either of their starting cornerbacks -- Cary Williams, who was released, and Bradley Fletcher, an impending free agent, the Eagles had a major hole at cornerback and their secondary was a team weakness with both Williams and Fletcher last season.

Only the Falcons (279.9 Y/G) allowed more passing yards last season than the Eagles (264.9 Y/G), who also allowed the fourth-most passing touchdowns (30).

Per NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks, the Eagles are targeting Tramon Williams to pair with Maxwell.


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Frank Gore expected to sign three-year deal with the Eagles

With Chip Kelly moving star running back LeSean McCoy, the Philadelphia Eagles are expected to sign running back Frank Gore in free agency, per NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks.

Teams are officially allowed to sign free agents from other teams starting Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, it's a three-year deal with the $7.5 million in the first two seasons guaranteed.

Turning 32 years old in May, Gore rushed for 1,106 yards on 255 carries -- 4.3 yards per carry -- and four touchdowns last season and added 11 catches for 111 yards and another score. Over the past four seasons, Gore has rushed for more than 1,100 yards in each season, but he has been extremely durable with no missed games during that stretch.

Not only is Gore on the wrong side of 30, but only two running backs have more touches than Gore (1,301) over the past four seasons including playoff games -- Marshawn Lynch (1,479) and LeSean McCoy (1,306).

While Gore's skill set fits Kelly's offense well, it's an obvious downgrade from McCoy, who was traded to the Bills last week for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Gore finished as the RB17 in standard-scoring leagues in 2014. Provided continued good health, Gore should be at least a low-end RB2 in standard-scoring leagues in 2015.


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Report: Ndamukong Suh to sign with Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins and free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh have agreed to a six-year deal worth $114 million that includes $60 million in guaranteed money, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

Since the official start of free agency doesn't begin until Tuesday at 4 p.m., the Dolphins and Suh won't be able to finalize the deal until that point or after.

According to ESPN, the Detroit Lions offer was for $17 million per year and included $58 million in guaranteed money.

Assuming that there are no snags in contract talks and Suh lands in Miami, he will once again be a part of a dynamic front four with Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Vernon Olivier. Over the past five seasons, only DeMarcus Ware (62.5) and Jared Allen (62.0) have more sacks than Wake (57.5).

The second overall pick in 2010, Suh, the top free agent in our rankings, has been named first-team All-Pro in four of five seasons and has a total of 36.0 sacks over his five seasons.


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Randall Cobb, Packers agree to four-year, $40 million deal

Some teams like the Oakland Raiders were rumored to have prioritized wide receiver Randall Cobb in free agency, but he's staying put.

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Green Bay Packers and Cobb have agreed to a four-year deal worth $40 million.

Only 24 years old, Cobb, the team's second-round pick in 2011, had a career season last year with 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, all of which were career highs.

The Packers have had a ton of success with second-round receivers. Using data from Pro Football Reference, ex-Packers receiver Greg Jennings, Nelson and Cobb rank third, fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of career approximate value for active receivers selected in the second round. The other three in the top six are Anquan Boldin, Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson.

Playing with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Jordy Nelson on the outside, Cobb's fantasy value is maximized by his return to Green Bay. However, his return reduces the upside of Davante Adams, (still) the team's No. 3 receiver, and Jeff Janis, who would have been poised for a much larger role in his second season had Cobb departed via free agency.

Either though Nelson finished second among wide receivers in fantasy points last season, Cobb also finished in the top six.


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Saints, Mark Ingram agree to four-year deal

The New Orleans Saints have re-signed running back Mark Ingram to a four-year deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Despite missing three games, Ingram had 226 carries for 964 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which were career highs, last season and added 29 catches for 145 yards, also career highs.

Through his first four seasons, Ingram has missed a total of 14 games, but he has come into his own over the past two seasons with an average of 4.4 yards per carry (versus 3.9 YPC in his first two seasons).

Ingram, the team's first-round pick in 2011, won't turn 26 years old until late-December and was my second-ranked free-agent running back behind only DeMarco Murray.

With the Saints re-signing Ingram, it's a blow to Khiry Robinson's upside in 2015 and Ingram should lead the trio of Ingram, Robinson and Travaris Cadet in touches. Pierre Thomas was released earlier in the week.


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March 07, 2015

Texans re-sign CB Kareem Jackson to four-year deal

Not only did the Texans re-sign right tackle Derek Newton earlier today, but they have reached an agreement with starting cornerback Kareem Jackson on a four-year deal as well, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

According to Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle, the deal is worth $34 million with $20 million guaranteed.

Jackson, the team's first-round pick in 2010, has started in all five of his seasons in Houston. Although his career started slowly, he has developed into a quality starting cornerback.

With three interceptions last season, Jackson graded out as the 11th-best cornerback (of 108) by PFF. Teammate Jonathan Joseph graded out as the 23rd-best cornerback.

Jackson was the third-ranked cornerback in my 2015 NFL free-agent rankings behind Seattle's Byron Maxwell and San Diego's Brandon Flowers. If Darrelle Revis gets to the free-agent market, however, he would top the list.

As a defense, the Texans allowed the 21st-most passing yards (243.1/G), but only two teams -- 49ers (23) and Browns (21) -- intercepted more passes than the Texans (20) last season.


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Texans re-sign RT Derek Newton to five-year deal

Only three days away from the start of the 2015 NFL free-agency period, the Houston Texans and starting right tackle Derek Newton have reached a five-year deal on a new contract, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the deal is worth $26.5 million and includes $10 million of guaranteed money.

Newton was the third-ranked offensive tackle in my 2015 NFL free-agent rankings behind Bryan Bulaga and Doug Free. Earlier this morning, Free and the Cowboys agreed to a three-year deal.

As the team's seventh-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton has started at right tackle for them in each of the past three seasons.

Graded out as the 19th of 84 qualified tackles by PFF last season, Newton had a negative grade in pass protection (-6.4) but he was fourth in run blocking (+13.4). Newton was graded 72nd among 76 offensive tackles in 2013.


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March 06, 2015

Report: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks agree to a new deal

The Seattle Seahawks and running back Marshawn Lynch have agreed to a new deal and Lynch will play in 2015, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

There was some speculation that Lynch, who has compressed cartilage in his back, might call it quits after last season.

Details of the new contract aren't yet known, but Beast Mode will be back for at least one more season.

[Update: Per PFT, the deal is three years for $31 million including $12 million this year.]

In all four of his full seasons with the Seahawks, Lynch has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns every season. Last year, Lynch had 1,673 yards from scrimmage, 37 receptions (the second-most of his career) and a career-high 17 touchdowns.

No player has more rushing yards (5,357) or total touchdowns (56) over the past four seasons. LeSean McCoy is only other back with at least 5,000 rushing yards and Dez Bryant is the only other player 50 touchdowns during that span.

Four of our contributors did a way-too-early fantasy football mock draft in mid-February and Lynch, who turns 29 in April, was selected with the seventh overall pick.


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Niles Paul agrees to 3-year deal to stay in Washington

Tight end Niles Paul was the sixth-ranked tight end in our 2015 NFL free-agent rankings, but the Washington Redskins will keep him from reaching the open market on Tuesday.

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the two sides have agreed to a three-year deal worth close to $10 million.

Washington has one of the most talented young tight ends in Jordan Reed, but Reed has struggled with durability and Paul stepped up when Reed was out last season.

In his first three NFL seasons, Reed had only 14 receptions for 228 yards and a touchdown. Paul had more than that in his first four games last season alone.

During that four-game span, Paul had a minimum of 60 yards in each game and he posted a line of 21/313/1. Over the rest of the season, however, Paul posted a line of just 18/194/0 with 19 yards or less in all but two games.


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No surprise: Jets will cut Percy Harvin

Before today's trade for Brandon Marshall, it seemed as though the Jets would part ways wide receiver Percy Harvin.

After the trade, that seemed like more of a certainty and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has tweeted the team will release Harvin.

Not only was Harvin due a salary of $10.5 million this season, but the Jets would have had to send a fourth-round pick to the Seahawks if he were on the roster on March 19th. Instead, they will send a sixth-rounder to the Seahawks as compensation for the midseason trade last year.

Harvin had a total of 51 receptions for 483 yards and 33 carries for 202 yards with two touchdowns last season. With the exception of 2013 when he played just one game, Harvin's 43.3 yards per scrimmage per game was the lowest of his career.

One of the more electric playmakers with the ball in his hands, Harvin is only 26 years old so he should generate plenty of interest on the free market, but he will soon be playing for his fourth NFL team.

In addition to the headaches he may cause in the locker room and for the coaches, Harvin has struggled with durability as he has played only 23 games over the past three seasons combined.


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The Colts won't re-sign WR Reggie Wayne

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne is about to become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday and the team said today that they will not re-sign one of the best players in franchise history.

Averaging only 51.9 yards per game, his lowest since 2002, Wayne finished with 64 receptions for 779 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. Wayne returned from a torn ACL suffered in the middle of the 2013 season.

Wayne ranks seventh all-time in receptions (1,070) and eighth all-time in receiving yards (14,345) and he ranks second all-time (behind Marvin Harrison) in franchise history.

It's unclear whether Wayne, who turns 37 in November, will retire or seek to play for another franchise.

Meanwhile, T.Y. Hilton had a career-best season (82/1,345/7) as he finished the year as a top-12 fantasy wide receiver and Donte Moncrief will be poised for a significant bump in playing time and targets in his second season.


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Saints WR Marques Colston agrees to a restructured contract

Per Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston has agreed to a restructured contract although the specific details weren't known.

Colston was scheduled to count $9.7 million towards this year's cap with a base salary of $6.9 million, but those numbers will certainly be lower based on the restructuring.

As of yesterday, the Saints were still roughly $16 million over the 2015 NFL salary cap, per The Times-Picayune.

Finishing 33rd among wide receivers in fantasy points, Colston had a disappointing season in 2014 as he finished with 59 receptions for 902 yards and five touchdowns. He set career lows in both receptions per game (3.7) and yards per game (56.4) and his five touchdowns tied a career low.

The former seventh-round pick out of Hofstra, Colston is the Saints' all-time leader in receptions (666), receiving yards (9,239) and touchdowns (68).


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Bears trade Brandon Marshall to Jets for 5th-round pick

The Chicago Bears have traded wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick, per NFL Network's Albert Breer.

Battling ankle injuries for much of the season, Marshall had a disappointing 2014 season with 61 receptions for 721 yards, both of which were his lowest totals since his rookie campaign, and eight touchdowns.

Before last season, however, Marshall had seven consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus yards.

During that seven-year span, he exceeded 1,200 yards five times and 100 receptions five times as well. Marshall's five 100-catch seasons is tied for the most in NFL history with Andre Johnson, who should be traded or released this offseason, and Wes Welker.

With better health, Marshall, who turns 31 later this month, should have a bounce-back season as the Jets' No. 1 receiver even if the offense and quarterback situation is a dropoff from what he had in Chicago.

Perhaps Geno Smith will be under center in 2015, but I have the Jets selecting Oregon's Marcus Mariota in my latest 2015 NFL mock draft update.

The trade for Marshall likely guarantees the release of Percy Harvin before March 19th. If Harvin is on the roster on March 19th, the Jets will have to send a fourth-round pick (instead of a sixth-rounder) to the Seahawks as compensation for last year's trade.


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2015 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Free-Agency Update

With NFL free agency fast approaching, NFL teams will have an opportunity to address (some of) their needs starting next Tuesday by signing players on the open market. At the same time, new needs are created as teams release players either due to performance or salary-cap reasons.

Over the course of the next eight weeks, I will continue to make weekly updates to my 2015 NFL mock draft and add more rounds with the goal being a full seven-round mock.

[Follow @EDSFootball for updates.]

With that said, here is my projection for the 2015 NFL Draft:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Draft History): Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

With the Buccaneers releasing Josh McCown earlier this offseason, the Bucs gave us further indication that this pick will be a quarterback. There may be some debate whether it should be Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the two previous Heisman Trophy recipients, but there were reports before the combine that Bucs coach Lovie Smith prefers Winston over Mariota.

Although the increase in interceptions were an issue last year, Winston has the strong arm, accuracy, football intelligence and on-the-field leadership skills to develop into a franchise-changing quarterback. NFL Network's Steve Mariucci referred to Winston "the most astute X's and O's guy that he's ever put on the board."

Of course, the biggest concern with Winston is the off-the-field issues -- and those concerns are amplified given the nature of the position and this draft slot. Given the team recently had Winston in town to meet with ownership, at this relatively early stage in the process, it appears that Winston is the slam-dunk choice here provided the team feels comfortable with him as the face of their franchise.

2. Tennessee Titans (Draft History): Leonard Williams, DL, USC

Personally, I think the Titans should take Mariota here. When it comes to what they will do, which is what I'm trying to project, I'm torn. In many previous versions of my mock including my previous update, I've slotted the reigning Heisman Trophy winner here. While they appear to be comfortable in giving second-year quarterback Zach Mettenberger more time to prove that he's the answer, the team's general manager Ruston Webster said at the combine that the team is "not in a position to commit to anything."

The top overall prospect on my 2015 NFL Draft Big Board, Williams is a scheme-diverse defensive lineman that has the ability to win in a variety of ways at multiple spots along the defensive line. His ability and versatility has generated some comparisons to J.J. Watt and Richard Seymour and the sky is the limit for this 20-year-old defensive lineman.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (Draft History): Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska

The Jaguars allowed a league-high 71 sacks last season and although offensive line may be their biggest need, there isn't an offensive lineman worthy of a top-three pick in this draft. Especially considering they will have to face Andrew Luck for the next decade or so, it would make sense to add someone like Gregory, who has the athleticism and length to potentially develop into an elite pass-rusher at the next level.

4. Oakland Raiders (Draft History): Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

The Raiders have found their quarterback of the future with Derek Carr, last year's second-round pick, but one of their focal points in free agency and/or the draft should be to improve the weapons around Carr. ESPN's Adam Schefter said on the radio Thursday that the Raiders will "prioritize" impending free agents Randall Cobb and Julius Thomas, two of my top-four available free agents on the market.

If the Raiders don't sign Cobb and/or Thomas, adding the top-ranked wide receiver in my 2015 prospect rankings would make sense. White has the size (6-3, 215), hands and run-after-catch ability to be a difference maker and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has compared White to Julio Jones. The concern that some had about White prior to the combine was his long speed, but he has eased all concerns after running a blazing 4.35 forty at the combine.

[Related: 2015 NFL Scouting Combine Results.]

5. Washington Redskins (Draft History): Dante Fowler, OLB, Florida

Given their leaky pass protection -- only the Jags allowed more sacks last season -- offensive line is a possibility here. Well, it's certainly a need, but it's questionable whether any of the offensive line prospects are worth a top-five selection. Another position group in need of major upgrades is the secondary and Michigan State's Trae Waynes could be in play here as well.

Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo will be an unrestricted free agent next week and Washington is not expected to re-sign him. Orakpo has been productive when healthy, but he has had a torn pectoral three times and has played a total of 24 games over the past three seasons. With a career-high 13.5 sacks last season, Ryan Kerrigan is about to enter a contract year as well. A versatile player with a non-stop motor, Fowler led Florida in tackles for loss (15.0), sacks (8.5) and QB hurries (17) last season.

6. New York Jets (Draft History): Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

If Mariota slips past the first two picks, it will be interesting to see if Chip Kelly and the Eagles make a move to get in front of the Jets to take Mariota. If he's still on the board at this spot, the Jets would be thrilled.

The transition to a new coaching staff and front office is often followed by a transition to a new quarterback. With new head coach Todd Bowles referring to incumbent Geno Smith as a "great college quarterback," it was far from a ringing endorsement for Smith, who has a career 25:34 TD-to-INT ratio.

Over the course of his collegiate career, Mariota threw for 10,796 yards, rushed for 2,237 yards and accounted for 136 touchdowns -- 105 passing, 29 rushing and two receiving -- with only 14 interceptions. There will naturally be some questions about how well and quickly Mariota will transition from Oregon's spread offense to a pro-style system, but Mariota possesses good size, a strong arm to stretch the field and difference-making mobility for the position in addition to impeccable intangibles.

Based on what ESPN's Louis Riddick was told at the combine, Mariota was "killing it" during interviews and that he was "as/more impressive" than Russell Wilson.

7. Chicago Bears (Draft History): Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

One of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this past season, the Bears have plenty of holes to address and could go in a number of different directions. They ranked 31st in scoring defense (27.6 PPG allowed) and 30th in total defense (377.1 YPG allowed). As they likely transition to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, they need help on all three levels of their defense. With surprising quickness for someone his size (6-2, 339), Shelton had 9.0 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and 93 tackles despite facing constant double teams last season for the Huskies.

8. Atlanta Falcons (Draft History): Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

The Falcons are in dire need of pass-rush help as only the Bengals (20) generated fewer sacks last season than the Falcons (22), who had the third-fewest in 2013 as well. There were some concerns about Beasley's weight, but he was a rocked up 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds at the combine without losing a step (4.53 forty) and posting 35 reps at 225 pounds. Not just a workout warrior, Beasley has been one of the nation's most productive pass rushers with a total of 25.0 sacks and 44.5 tackles for loss in 26 games over the past two seasons combined.

9. New York Giants (Draft History): Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri

The Giants used their franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who bounced back and recorded 12.5 sacks after a career-low 2.0 in 2013. While the Giants and JPP have until July 15th to work out a long-term deal, they could find themselves in the same situation next offseason as Ralph Vacchiano of the NY Daily News tweeted that the Giants are "not afraid" to let him play on his franchise tag.

Past successful Giants teams have thrived with a dynamic pass rush so adding another pass-rusher like Ray would make some sense even if Pierre-Paul is inked to a long-term deal. Albeit a bit undersized at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Ray has an explosive first step and was last year's SEC Defensive Player of the Year with 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last season.

10. St. Louis Rams (Draft History): Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Brian Quick was on his way to a breakout season in 2014, but it was cut short to a torn rotator cuff. Perhaps Quick takes that next step forward in 2015, but he is due to become a free agent after the 2015 season. In addition, Kenny Britt, who played more than three-quarters of the team's offensive snaps, will be a free agent on Tuesday. As Alabama's first Biletnikoff winner in school history, Cooper finished with 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which ranked first or second in the nation this season. While he may not have as much upside as WVU's White, Cooper is as pro-ready as any receiver in this draft class and a great route-runner.

11. Minnesota Vikings (Draft History): Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

A common selection in previous updates of my mock draft were Iowa's Brandon Scherff and Louisville's DeVante Parker and I think both would make plenty of sense here. That said, Waynes, my top-ranked cornerback in this year's draft class, really boosted his stock at the combine by running a 4.31 40-yard dash and putting up 19 reps at 225 pounds and I'm not sure that he'll make out of the top 10 come April 30th. If he's still on the board here, however, Waynes paired with Xavier Rhodes would give the Vikings one of the better young cornerback duos in the league. With at least six games against Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler and several top-flight wide receivers in the division, a strong secondary is a virtual necessity to get to the top of the division.

12. Cleveland Browns (Draft History): DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

Once again, the Browns will go into the season with a looming full-year suspension for Josh Gordon. Although last year's ban was eventually cut to 10 games, that won't happen this year. And while the team recently signed Josh McCown, who was released by the Bucs, his value as a mentor to Johnny Manziel is potentially a bigger value to the franchise than his on-field performance even if he opens as the Week 1 starter.

Regardless of which quarterback is under center, the Browns, who had a league-low 12 passing touchdowns last season, would be wise to improve the receiving corps for McCown or Manziel (or mystery quarterback). A broken foot sidelined Parker for the first seven games of 2014, but the 6-foot-3 wideout finished with a 43/855/5 line in just six games. NFL.com's Jeremiah compared Parker to Keenan Allen saying Parker is "smooth, physical & has outstanding instincts/ball skills." Parker would become an immediate upgrade over all of their eligible-to-play wide receivers next season.

13. New Orleans Saints (Draft History): Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky

Bad against both the run (29th in the NFL) and pass (25th), the Saints allowed the second-most yards (384.0 per game) in the NFL and fifth-most points (26.5 per game). They also struggled to get to the quarterback as they finished in the bottom eight in sacks (34). A former tight end, Dupree is a freak athlete (4.56 forty, 42-inch vertical, 11-6 broad jump) at his size (6-foot-4, 269). Over the past three seasons, Dupree has a total of 21.0 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss.

14. Miami Dolphins (Draft History): Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

As a whole, the Dolphins struggled in both pass and run blocking. Based on grades from PFF, the Dolphins ranked 31st in pass blocking and 27th in run blocking in 2014. Scherff played left tackle at Iowa and while he could play tackle at the next level, he may be better at guard and starting guard Daryn Colledge is a free agent. Either way, Colledge graded out as the 74th of 78 qualified guards last season.

15. San Francisco 49ers (Draft History): La'el Collins, G/T, LSU

Assuming that Mike Iupati, my top-ranked guard in free agency, is playing for another team in 2015, the 49ers will have a huge hole to fill at left guard. Collins, a second-team 2014 AP All-American, started at left tackle for the Tigers in each of the past two seasons, but he also has starting experience (sophomore season) at left guard as well.

16. Houston Texans (Draft History): Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

Better as a run blocker than he is a pass protector, Peat has the length and foot quickness to develop into a starting left tackle in the NFL some day. For now, however, Texans starting right tackle Derek Newton is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next week.

-> Continue to picks 17-32
-> Continue to Round 2

-> For more mocks, check out our 2015 NFL Mock Draft Database

-> Also, check out our 2015 NBA Mock Draft

To keep track of our updates: (1) follow us on Twitter, (2) LIKE us on Facebook and/or (3) add us to your Google+ circle.


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March 04, 2015

2015 NFL Free-Agency Rankings: Ndamukong Suh tops list of free agents

With the start of the 2015 NFL free-agency period set to begin on Tuesday, I posted my top-50 2015 NFL free-agency rankings as well as my positional rankings earlier today.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I will continue to make daily updates to our free-agent rankings as players are released, signed, etc.

Here are our 2015 NFL free-agent rankings of available players (Sept. 1st age in parenthesis):

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions (28)

Selected as a First-Team AP All-Pro in each of the past two seasons, Suh is a disruptive interior pass-rusher with 36.0 career sacks over his five seasons. In addition, he graded out as PFF's second-best defensive tackle against the run last year. It's rare for a player with Suh's ability to hit the free-agent market in the prime of his career.

2. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers (25)

Cobb, who turns 25 in August, posted career numbers across the board last season with 91 receptions, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. Reports are that Cobb is seeking $12 million per year. Cobb is a versatile and dynamic player, but his best fit would be to re-sign with the Packers.

3. Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots (28)

Only 27 years old, the converted cornerback is one of the best coverage safeties in the league, but it's unclear whether he'll reach the free-agent market on March 10th. With the Patriots using their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, it's possible that they are close to a long-term deal with McCourty. Provided the Pats don't re-sign before March 10th, demand for McCourty's services will be high.

4. Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos (27)

Not a great blocker (how many tight ends are these days?) and durability has been an issue (has missed multiple games each season), Thomas has the athleticism to create mismatches.

5. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys (27)

Not only did Murray lead the NFL in rushing, but he had nearly 500 more rushing yards than Le'Veon Bell, who finished second in the league. The Offensive Player of the Year, Murray broke Emmitt Smith's single-season rushing record and has averaged 4.8 yards per carry over his four-year career. It was his first full 16-game season, however, and Murray had 497 touches including the playoffs last season.

6. Jerry Hughes, DE, Buffalo Bills (27)

With Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul getting the franchise tag, Hughes is the top edge rusher to hit the open market (assuming that he doesn't agree to a long-term deal with the Bills before March 10th). Struggling in his first three seasons with the Colts, Hughes has posted 9.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons.

7. Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks (27)

With Richard Sherman on the other side, Maxwell saw plenty of action his way and played well. The Seahawks would certainly like to re-sign the 6-foot corner that recently turned 27 years old, but he will have plenty of suitors, which should drive up his price tag to roughly $10 million per season.

8. Pernell McPhee, DE/OLB, Baltimore Ravens (26)

Playing only 48.8 percent of the team's defensive snaps last season, the versatile McPhee had 7.5 sacks and 64 quarterback pressures. The Baltimore Sun described McPhee as a "luxury item the Ravens probably can't afford" and expect McPhee to fetch up to $10 million per year on the free market.

9. Jason Worilds, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers (27)

Worilds, who turned 27 at the beginning of the month, has a total of 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons and is one of the best pass-rushers to hit the open market. Worilds also tied for third among 3-4 OLBs in run-stop percentage (7.1) per PFF.

10. Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers (27)

It will be interesting to see what happens with Hardy on the free market. Over the past three seasons, Hardy has 27.0 sacks in 32 games and will turn 27 years old this summer. That said, he played in only one game last season and remains on the commissioner's exempt list and could be facing league discipline in 2015 from domestic-violence charges that have since been dropped.

11. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (27)

After tearing his ACL in 2013, Maclin signed a one-year prove-it type of contract and he posted career-high numbers of 85 catches and 1,318 yards with 10 touchdowns.

12. Brandon Flowers, CB, San Diego Chargers (29)

Signing a one-year deal with the Chargers in 2014, Flowers had a bounce-back season. Flowers may lack size at 5-foot-9, but he has the versatility to play both inside and outside.

-> Continue to our full Top-50 2015 NFL Free-Agency Rankings

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Saints cut running back Pierre Thomas

The Saints have released running back Pierre Thomas earlier today.

Thomas, who turns 31 in December, carried the ball only 45 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns and added 45 receptions for 378 yards and a touchdown in 11 games last season. In 2013, however, he had a running back-high 77 receptions.

In addition to Thomas, the Saints backfield will be without Mark Ingram, who is coming off a career-best season and ranked second among running backs in our 2015 NFL free-agency rankings.

Based on the backs currently on the roster, Khiry Robinson should handle the bulk of early-down carries and Travaris Cadet should be the primary third-down back.

Given the team's salary-cap situation, the Saints will need to make more cuts to get under the cap before the league year begins on Tuesday.


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Report: Peyton Manning agrees to $4M pay cut

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is "close to an agreement" to take a $4 million pay cut for the 2015 season, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

The Broncos could use the additional cap space as tight end Julius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton will be unrestricted free agents on Tuesday and they used their franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

[Related: Our 2015 NFL Free-Agency Rankings]

Manning threw for 4,727 yards, the second-highest of his career, with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, but he struggled down the stretch with more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four) in the final five games of the season counting the team's one-and-done playoff appearance.

While his late-season cold(er)-weather struggles have occurred before, at least part of his drop in production at the tail end of the 2014 season was due to a thigh injury.

Manning, a five-time league MVP, ranks first all-time in passing touchdowns (530) and is second in passing yards (69,691) behind Brett Favre (71,838).

While passing records and league awards make Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, a large part of his legacy will be connected to his postseason success (or shortcomings). Based on odds from Sportsbook.ag, the Broncos (12/1) have the fourth-lowest odds to win the Super Bowl behind the Patriots (13/2), Packers (15/2) and Seahawks (15/2).


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Bills acquire quarterback Matt Cassel from Vikings via trade

One day after making a blockbuster trade for running back LeSean McCoy, the Buffalo Bills have traded with the Vikings for backup quarterback Matt Cassel.

The Bills will also get the Vikings sixth-round pick this year and send their 2015 fifth-round pick and a 2016 seventh-round pick to Minnesota.

There's a fairly strong chance that Cassel will win the starting job one year after the team signed street free agent Kyle Orton to start over E.J. Manuel, the team's first-round pick in 2013.

Buffalo will be Cassel's fourth team after spending the past two seasons with the Vikings.

With nine starts in his 12 appearances over those two seasons, Cassel has completed 59.7 percent of his pass attempts for 6.9 Y/A with a roughly even 14:13 TD-to-INT ratio. Cassel has had a couple of solid seasons -- 2008 replacing an injured Tom Brady and a Pro Bowl 2010 season -- but he has started only 26 games over the past four seasons combined.

Regardless of whether Manuel or Cassel begins the season as the starter, the Bills will use a heavy ground-and-pound approach with McCoy, Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown.


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March 03, 2015

Eagles trade LeSean McCoy to Bills for Kiko Alonso

There has been plenty of speculation recently that running back LeSean McCoy would be moved at some point in the offseason.

With the majority of the speculation related to a potential trade-up scenario to select Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL Draft, Chip Kelly and the Eagles have traded McCoy to get a different Oregon Duck (via Buffalo).

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Eagles have traded McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

In his two seasons in Chip Kelly's offense, McCoy has rushed for 2,926 yards with 80 receptions for 694 yards and a total of 16 touchdowns. With the acquisition of Darren Sproles last offseason, however, McCoy set a career low in 2014 with 28 receptions for 155 yards. In addition, he lost goal-line opportunities more frequently down the stretch to Chris Polk.

Over the past five seasons, no player has more rushing yards than McCoy (6,155). Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (6,094) and Houston's Arian Foster (6,052) are the only other running backs with at least 6,000 rushing yards during that span.

Given the Bills quarterback situation and Rex Ryan's ground-and-pound philosophy, McCoy could potentially lead the NFL in touches in 2015. With C.J. Spiller entering free agency and Fred Jackson turning 34 last month, it seemed as though Bryce Brown, who was also acquired via trade with the Eagles, was poised for an expanded role in 2015. That obviously won't happen now.

Alonso missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but he was one of the most productive inside linebackers in the league during his rookie 2013 season. Not only did Alonso rank third among all players in tackles (159) behind Vontaze Burfict (171) and Paul Posluszny (161) that season, but he ranked first among 35 qualified inside linebackers in yards per cover snap (0.43) via PFF.

In addition to acquiring Alonso, the Eagles made some other moves on defense earlier today by releasing starters Cary Williams and Trent Cole as well.


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March 02, 2015

Texans grant Andre Johnson permission to seek a trade

Andre Johnson has played all 12 years of his career in Houston, but it is unclear where he will play his football in 2015. It appears though that the one place that it won't be is Houston.

Johnson, who turns 34 in July, has two years remaining on his existing contract and is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. Averaging 11.0 yards per reception and 62.4 yards per game, both of which were nine-year lows, Johnson finished the season with 85 catches for 936 yards and three touchdowns.

One of the challenges last year (and in previous seasons) was poor quarterback play. After all, the Texans had four different quarterbacks -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum and Tom Savage -- throw at least 19 pass attempts in a game last season.

That said, second-year wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins saw a big jump in his production to 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns.

Johnson ranks ninth all-time in receptions (1,012) and 12th all-time in receiving yards (13,597). In addition, he has had five 100-reception seasons (tied for NFL-most with Wes Welker and Brandon Marshall) and four 1,400-yard seasons (only Jerry Rice has more).

At his age, it's natural for him to be on the downward slope of his career, but he can still be a 1,000-yard receiver for another year or two. More importantly, I hope he gets an opportunity to play for a title contender as his career winds down.


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Dolphins use transition tag on TE Charles Clay

The Miami Dolphins have used their transition tag on tight end Charles Clay, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

With the transition tag, any of the other 31 NFL teams can sign Clay to an offer sheet, but the Dolphins would have seven days to match the offer.

Numbers for the versatile tight end dropped in 2014 (58/605/3) from 2013 (69/759/6), but he got off to a slow start -- average of 3.4 receptions for 29.2 yards in the first five games of the season.

Beginning in Week 7, however, Clay averaged 4.56 catches for 51.0 yards per game and scored all three of his touchdowns. From Week 7 to 17, Clay ranked fifth among tight ends in fantasy points per game (7.1). Only Rob Gronkowski (14.0), Coby Fleener (9.2), Antonio Gates (8.8) and Jimmy Graham (8.3) averaged more during that span.

Note: We have tracked all players designated with the franchise tag here.


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Patriots use franchise tag on Stephen Gostkowski -- not Devin McCourty

Although free safety Devin McCourty is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Patriots have decided to use their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

It's the third time in the past five seasons that the Patriots have used their franchise tag. They also used the tag on Wes Welker in 2012 and Logan Mankins in 2011.

Gostkowski has led the NFL in field goals made in each of the past two seasons with 38 and 35 in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and he made a career-high 94.6 percent of his attempts last season. His previous career high in FG% was 92.7 percent in 2013.

The Patriots and Gostkowski have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term contract. If the Patriots don't agree to a long-term deal with McCourty by March 10th, he will become an unrestricted free agent. If he reaches the open market, he'll be one of the most sought-after free agents.

Note: We are tracking all players designated with the franchise tag here.


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Giants use franchise tag on DE Jason Pierre-Paul

The Giants used their franchise tag today on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, per NY Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano.

Both sides will have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal, but if the two sides can't agree to one by then, Pierre-Paul would play out the 2015 for a fully-guaranteed salary of $14.813 million once he signs his tender.

After posting a career-low 2.0 sacks and missing five games in 2013, JPP bounced back with 12.5 sacks in 2014 and forced a career-high three fumbles.

The 12.5 sacks that JPP had in 2014 were the second-most of his career after the 16.5 he had in 2011 and he ranked eighth in the NFL in sacks last season. Kansas City's Justin Houston, who led the league with 22.0 sacks, was also franchise tagged today.

Note: We are tracking all players designated with the franchise tag here.


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The Cowboys designate WR Dez Bryant with franchise tag

With the team recently saying they would use the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant, it's no surprise -- but official -- that the team has used the franchise tag on Bryant today, per Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo.

By designating Bryant with the franchise tag, both sides will have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal. If both sides can't reach a long-term deal, Bryant would otherwise play under a fully-guaranteed $12.823 million salary once he signs his tender.

The Cowboys may have some reservations about giving Bryant a lot of guaranteed money given some off-the-field concerns, but Bryant has been absolutely dominant on the field.

In each of the past three seasons, Bryant has had at least 88 receptions, 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Not only did Bryant lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns (16) last season, but no player has more over the five years since Bryant was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Over the past five seasons, only four players have 50-plus touchdown receptions: Bryant (56), Rob Gronkowski (54), Calvin Johnson (53) and Jimmy Graham (51).

Note: We will track all players designated with the franchise tag here.


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The Lions announce they won't use franchise tag on DT Ndamukong Suh

With the prohibitive cost of $26.9 million, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh won't be designated with the franchise tag today.

Both sides have until March 10th to negotiate a long-term deal, otherwise Suh will become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

As Tim Twentyman of the team's website notes, Suh will count $9.7 on the team's 2015 salary cap even if he signs a free-agent deal elsewhere based on a sixth-year option in the contract and some previous contract restructures.

Suh's next contract is expected to be in the $100 million range as J.J. Watt recently signed a six-year and $100 million contract while Gerald McCoy received a $95.2 million deal.

Named to the 2014 AP All-Pro First Team, Suh led the Lions with 8.5 sacks and 37 quarterback hurries last season.

Note: We will track all players designated with the franchise tag here.


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Broncos will designate WR Demaryius Thomas with the franchise tag before today's deadline

The Chiefs were the first team to designate a player with the franchise tag this morning by making certain that Justin Houston wouldn't hit the free-agent market.

Another player that won't become a free agent this offseason is Denver's Demaryius Thomas, who will be designated with the franchise tag before today's 4 p.m. deadline, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

We will track all players designated with the franchise tag here.

Both sides will have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal, otherwise Thomas would play out the season on a guaranteed salary expected to be $12.8 million.

The Broncos have a couple of other key free agents, such as tight end Julius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, but it's possible that both reach free agency.

In the three seasons since signing Peyton Manning, Demaryius has more than 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns every year.

During that three-year span, he has a total of 297 receptions, 4,483 yards and 35 touchdowns. Only Calvin Johnson has more yards (4,533) and only Dez Bryant has more touchdowns (41) during that span.


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Chiefs designate OLB Justin Houston with the franchise tag

One of the league's best young pass rushers, it was a virtual certainty that the Chiefs wouldn't let outside linebacker Justin Houston hit unrestricted free agency.

And he won't.

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Chiefs have designated Houston with their franchise tag.

Today is the deadline for teams to designate players with the franchise tag and we will track all players designated with the franchise tag here.

Both sides will have until July 15th to negotiate a long-term deal. Otherwise, Houston will play out the 2015 season on a guaranteed salary of $13.17 million.

With double-digit sacks in each of the past three seasons, Houston, who turned 26 in January, led the NFL with 22.0 sacks in 2015. Only J.J. Watt (51.5) has more sacks than Houston (43.0) over the past three seasons.


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Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell faces a suspension of "up to four" games

For his July DUI arrest, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell was expected to receive a two-game suspension to start this season.

Perhaps Bell will still only get a two-game suspension, but PFT's Mike Florio notes that Bell is facing a suspension of "up to four" games based on league's new substance-abuse policy.

Here's what Florio wrote: "[T]here’s a catch that could result in a doubling of Bell’s expected punishment. The new substance-abuse policy makes a two-game suspension the standard penalty for a DUI arising from alcohol use. For violations of the law involving other substances of abuse, a first offense exposes the player to a suspension of 'up to four' games."

Selected to the 2014 AP All-Pro Team along with DeMarco Murray, Bell finished his second NFL season with 1,361 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and averaged more than a yard per carry more in 2014 (4.7) than in 2013 (3.5). In addition, he added a franchise-RB record 83 receptions for 854 yards and three touchdowns.

With the release of LeGarrette Blount, Bell reeled off a stretch of four consecutive games as a top-two fantasy running back from Weeks 11 to 15 for an average of 31.25 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring formats (and 36.5/G in PPR formats).

On a per-game basis, I expect Bell to lead all running backs in fantasy production in 2015, but let's hope the number of games is 14 -- and not 12.


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