HOUSTON: Texans' O'Brien uses 1st draft as GM to address many needs
Coach Bill O’Brien addressed many of the Houston Texans’ needs in his first draft as the team’s general manager, despite not having a first-round pick.
O’Brien went heavy on defense early on, using his first pick on TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock in the second round at No. 40. The Texans needed depth on the defensive line after nose tackle D.J. Reader left for the Bengals in free agency.
The Texans didn’t have a pick in the first round after trading it to Miami in August as part of the deal that brought left tackle Laremy Tunsil to Houston.
Houston was looking for a pass rusher after trading 2014 first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks before last season. They found one in Florida outside linebacker Jonathan Greenard in the third round with the 90th pick.
Greenard led the Southeastern Conference with 10 sacks and 16 tackles for losses in one season with the Gators as a graduate transfer. He played three years at Louisville before missing the 2018 season with a wrist injury.
“I definitely think we’ve improved,” O’Brien said. “We’re pretty good on defense. We’ve got a lot of depth in the offseason ... then we add two guys that we feel are going to add to the competition. I feel good about the defensive side of the ball.”
O’Brien has worked as both the team’s coach and general manager since Brian Gaine was fired in June after less than 1½ years on the job. He was officially made general manager by team owner Cal McNair in January, not long after the Texans allowed the Chiefs rally from a 24-point deficit for a 51-31 win in the divisional round of the playoffs.
While O’Brien is ultimately in charge of the draft, he was quick to point out that he leaned heavily on his staff as he went through it for the first time as a GM.
“We have a great team here, I’ve said it before, and I really mean it ... we make decisions that are formed around a consensus,” O’Brien said. “That’s what (late team owner) Bob McNair wanted and that’s the way (owner) Cal McNair wants it and that’s what we try to do.”
The Texans moved to offense with their first pick of the fourth round, selecting North Carolina tackle Charlie Heck with the 126th pick. The 6-foot-8, 315-pound Heck was a three-year starter for the Tar Heels and played both left and right tackle in his career. His father, Andy Heck, was an All-America offensive tackle at Notre Dame, where he won a national title in 1988. He is now the offensive line coach for Kansas City.
Houston used its second pick in the fourth round to fill another need, grabbing Penn State cornerback John Reid at 141. It was a reunion of sorts after O’Brien recruited Reid when he was a sophomore in high school and the coach was at Penn State.
Reid played four seasons for the Nittany Lions, piling up 125 tackles and seven interceptions. The Texans were looking for depth at cornerback after parting ways with 14-year veteran Johnathan Joseph this offseason.
The Texans, who traded superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona in March, drafted Rhode Island receiver Isaiah Coulter in the fifth round. Coulter was a solid player for Rhode Island, an FCS school, and had 1,855 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns in three seasons.
He certainly won’t be expected to make up for the loss of Hopkins, who was an All-Pro in each of the last three seasons. But he should add depth to a group of receivers now led by Will Fuller, who has struggled with injuries in his NFL career.
While O’Brien is excited about this year’s draft class, he is concerned about the unique challenges these rookies will face without the benefit of rookie mini-camp and other offseason workouts because of the new coronavirus.
“I think these guys know (they) better stay in shape and be ready to go,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very difficult season for rookies to just jump right in and be ready to go.”
-- By Kristie Rieken, AP
TENNESSEE: Titans wrap quiet NFL draft with more roster moves to come
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans made only one trade throughout the NFL draft, and general manager Jon Robinson's move came in the final round for a sixth-rounder in 2021.
A drama-free draft for a team with no big holes to fill coming off an unexpected run to the AFC championship game.
General manager Jon Robinson said that's the identity for a franchise now with four straight 9-7 seasons.
“We roll our sleeves up and we go to work, and we're not looking for flash or any of that ...," Robinson said Saturday night. “We've got an awesome thing going."
The Titans took their 6-foot-6, 350-pound right tackle of the future in Isaiah Wilson of Georgia at No. 29 overall, and hope they added a cornerback who can start this season in Kristian Fulton of LSU at No. 61 in the second. Robinson split his six selections evenly between offense and defense.
Appalachian State running back Darrynton Evans is the new backup to NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, while Cole McDonald of Hawaii was a seventh-round pick to compete with Logan Woodside to back up Ryan Tannehill, who earned himself a four-year deal worth $118 million after leading the NFL in passer rating.
Tennessee also added depth to the defensive line selecting Larrell Murchison of North Carolina State in the fifth round, and defensive back Chris Jackson of Marshall capped their draft at No. 243 overall in the seventh.
INTEREST IN CLOWNEY
Robinson has not shied away from expressing the Titans' interest in at least talking with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, still on the free agent market.
Asked if the potential of signing Clowney influenced the Titans in the draft, Robinson said they looked at some edge rushers without taking any.
“The roster-building process is never over,” Robinson said. “We'll continue to look at guys that are available in the post-draft process, these rookies that did not get drafted, as well as some veteran guys that are still out there.”
The Titans waited until No. 61 overall to take cornerback Kristian Fulton out of LSU, but he'll likely get the first chance to replace veteran Logan Ryan who's currently a free agent after starting every game the past three seasons with Tennessee. Ryan handled the slot, and Fulton said how he felt about playing inside was one of the first questions the Titans asked him.
HENRY'S NEW BACKUP
The Titans found themselves an upgrade as Henry's new backup in Evans after releasing Dion Lewis in March. The Florida native who ran the 100 in high school went to Appalachian State as an athlete playing receiver who switched to running back. Evans also brings more speed to the backfield as the second-fastest running back at the NFL combine running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds.
He has another skill that will appeal much more to Vrabel: No fumbles in 482 career carries — a school record. Evans also can be an option on special teams having returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.
DEFENSIVE LINE BOLSTERED
Not having a pick in the fourth round because of the March 2019 trade for Tannehill meant the Titans had to wait until near the end of the fifth round before adding Murchison of North Carolina State with the No. 174 pick overall.
The Titans traded away five-time defensive lineman Jurrell Casey in March for a seventh-round pick. That left them needing more depth there with only recent veteran signee Jack Crawford and Isaiah Mack, an undrafted free agent a year ago, behind Jeffery Simmons and DaQuan Jones. Murchison had seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season playing across the line.
The man nicknamed “Trader Jon” couldn't get through this draft without one move. He traded the 23rd pick in the seventh round, the one they got in March from Denver for Casey, to Kansas City for the Chiefs' sixth-rounder in 2021. The Titans finished with six picks for a second straight draft, but Robinson said they should have at least eight in 2021.
Robinson said they agreed to terms with Missouri kicker Tucker McCann as an undrafted free agent to compete with Greg Joseph. That's what the Titans didn't do last year expecting veteran Ryan Succop to be healthy for the season. Instead, Joseph was the fifth and final kicker for a team that had the NFL's worst field goal unit converting a mere 44.4%, and Succop was released in March.
Joseph made only one field goal in the AFC championship loss after the Titans went four straight games without a field goal.
-- By Teresa M. Walker, AP
INDIANAPOLIS: Colts find new potential weapons in draft to help Rivers
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts found some new playmakers in this year's draft.
They may have picked up their quarterback of the future, too.
General manager Chris Ballard stuck to the game plan, using four of his first five picks on offensive players. He took a big receiver, Michael Pittman Jr., and a powerful running back, Jonathan Taylor, in the second round before adding strong-armed quarterback Jacob Eason in the fourth round Saturday.
Ballard made one thing clear: He would not reach for a long-term successor to Andrew Luck.
“Look, we spent all this time lining the board up and we don’t force it," Ballard said Saturday. “We put these guys at the right spot for our team and Jacob was there. That's why we took him."
Eason fell to the Colts at No. 122 overall. Next season's expectations will be low. He'll spend time learning the playbook, developing relationships with new teammates and serving as understudy to Philip Rivers and backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
But after starting Saturday with three quarterbacks on the roster and none signed beyond 2020, Ballard thought Eason was worth a gamble — even as critics debated Eason's work ethic and accountability.
“My job is to go in there, prove those stories are false and go in there and learn from a great coaching staff and get in there with an outstanding team," he said. “I’m going to go in there and prove myself as a workhorse and a leader and a good football player. They can say all they want but the truth of the matter is I’m going to go in there and prove them wrong.”
Ballard moved quickly to find offensive weapons.
With no first-round pick, Ballard used the No. 34 selection on the 6-foot-4 Pittman, whose father won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay, and traded up to No. 41 to get the record-breaking Taylor.
Pittman gives the Colts the big receiver they wanted playing opposite Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton and with speedy Parris Campbell. Pittman was one of four FBS players to catch more than 100 passes last season and was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award.
Taylor is the only FBS player to top the 6,000-yard mark in three seasons and the only one with 12 200-yard games. He also won the Doak Walker Award in 2018 and 2019.
The Colts added another big receiver, Dezmon Patmon of Washington State, in the sixth round.
The Colts also added depth along the offensive line with the selection of Danny Pinter in the fifth round.
He played tight end until two years ago at nearby Ball State before moving to tackle. He even caught a TD pass. And now he'll chase his lifelong dream likely playing guard or center with his home-state team.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, I have played football here my whole life," Pinter said. “To have the opportunity to stay here and stay around a bunch of people who helped me get to this point is really, I can’t put it into words."
When Ballard wasn't chasing offensive players, he worked on the secondary.
He took safety Julian Blackmon of Utah in the third round and added linebacker Jordan Glasgow of Michigan in the sixth. Ballard also traded cornerback Quincy Wilson to the New York Jets and used that sixth-rounder on cornerback Isaiah Rodgers of Massachusetts.
At 6-1, 226 pounds, Glasgow could become a hybrid safety for the Colts. For now, though, the Colts will keep him at linebacker and hope he can excel on special teams.
Meanwhile, Blackmon will continue recovering after tearing an ACL during the Pac-12 title game.
“I had a lot of contact with the coaches," Blackmon said. “They told me, ‘Hey, don’t be surprised if we pick you earlier than what people expect. We don’t care that you’re hurt.’ And here I am, a Colt.”
Ballard knows just how crazy the scramble for undrafted rookies is in a normal year. This year is different.
“It’s fun, but it’s always a circus," Ballard said. “I actually told our guys I think it’s got a chance to be better because we’re all on this Zoom call and we’re all going to be right in front of each other. Usually what happens at the office is everybody gets spread out, we’re looking for coaches, you’re recruiting players, but we’re all going to be in one spot."
-- By Michael Marot, AP
JACKSONVILLE: Jaguars put more emphasis on character to improve culture
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell says it often: They’re not all going to be choirboys.
It’s his way of justifying having players on the roster with questionable character, a few guys who create highlights and headaches.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Linebacker Telvin Smith. Defensive end Dante Fowler. Running back Leonard Fournette. Each of them contributed to a fractured locker room that coach Doug Marrone felt trickled onto the field as Jacksonville finished consecutive seasons last in the AFC South.
Former personnel chief Tom Coughlin was widely blamed for the team's disconnect and dysfunction. Owner Shad Khan fired Coughlin late last year, kept Caldwell and Marrone, and tasked them with cleaning up the mess.
They addressed the bloated salary cap by parting ways with five aging veterans: Calais Campbell, Nick Foles, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus and Marqise Lee. They took another step this weekend by drafting team captain after team captain, high-character guy after high-character guy, a bunch of Boy Scouts essentially. The hope is it leads to an improved culture — and more wins.
No one knows for sure how it will pan out. Jaguars fans have seen it before, though, so they have to be skeptical. Former general manager Gene Smith took a similar approach between 2009 and 2012, placing a premium on integrity. Jacksonville failed to finish above .500 in any of those years.
Caldwell and Marrone hope to have better results with their revamped roster.
“Is it big? Absolutely,” Marrone said. “Is this something that we’ve stressed? Yes. But we were able to do that without sacrificing the talent or potential.”
Jacksonville drafted 12 players, the most in franchise history, and didn’t budge to get any of them. They had numerous holes to fill, many of them they intentionally created.
The team's common theme throughout the three-day event was few, if any, red flags. Sure, they drafted a couple guys with injury concerns — Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault in the second round and Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton in the sixth — but everyone else was as “clean” as could be.
“Honestly, we’ve always tried to do that,” said Mark Ellenz, the team’s director of college scouting. “Sometimes it means making some concessions. But we’ve always tried to find high-character guys throughout my career. I wouldn’t say it was mandated, but it was stressed, definitely.”
It was on display during Day 3 of the draft, the final four rounds that help build the back end of the roster. Jacksonville chose offensive tackle Ben Bartch from Division III St. John’s (Minnesota), Michigan State cornerback Josiah Scott and Miami linebacker Shaq Quarterman in the fourth.
Bartch gained 86 pounds thanks to daily protein shakes that consisted of seven eggs, cottage cheese, grits, peanut butter, banana and Gatorade.
“A couple of my roommates have tried it before," Bartch said. “I don’t know if they actually completed it. They just are not as nasty as me, I guess.”
He used the extra bulk to make a successful move from tight end to left tackle in 2018 and then held his own against better competition at the Senior Bowl.
Quarterman grew up in Jacksonville before becoming a four-year starter and team captain for the Hurricanes.
“It just takes somebody to maybe say something and I’ve learned that that’s just the role that I have to play,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with talent on and off the field, but even more so as a person. I’m not too cool to tell my teammates that I love them and that I need them. And doing things like that go a long way more than most people actually know.”
Jacksonville also drafted Auburn safety Daniel Thomas, Texas 6-foot-6 receiver Collin Johnson, Georgia Tech tight end Tyler Davis and speedy Memphis kick returner Chris Claybrooks.
“I’ve been a leader my whole life,” said Davis, who had to move into his backyard during a Zoom call to escape friends and neighbors driving by, honking and screaming congrats.
Jacksonville hopes its new additions help promote a better work environment for everyone following Coughlin's tyrannical reign. It might even benefit Fournette and disgruntled defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. Both players were on the trading block during the draft, but the Jaguars couldn't find suitors.
“I'm excited about a bunch of young guys that have done things the right way for the most part,” Marrone said. “That's something we should be celebrating, something we should be proud of.”
-- By Mark Long, AP