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Seventh round draft picks seldom carve long careers in the NFL. They are dice rolls, fliers and high-variance prospects by design. Teams are incentivized to take risks, to think big because they’re not expected to glean any real value from that late-draft position anyway.

Safety Eric Hagg was supposed to be different—perhaps not at first, but definitely, as he inched closer towards his second year.

Selected with the 248th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Cleveland Browns, Hagg quickly stood out relative to the rest of the team’s secondary early on. It was surprising on many levels, but it also wasn’t out of nowhere.

His college career hinted that he might be able to stick at the NFL level. He spent four years at Nebraska, where he amassed a reputation as one of their most versatile and reliable defenders. In his senior season alone, he racked up 41 solo tackles and five interceptions through 14 games.

Though he never really made a name for himself as an interception threat through his first three years at Nebraska, his solo playmaking was almost always present. He combined for 59 solo tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons. His freshman year was a wash, as it can be for many collegiate players. He racked up five assisted tackles while playing minimal downs across seven appearances.

Given his consistency in the secondary when actually granted playing time, though, it came as little surprise to people at Nebraska when, in 2012, Hagg became the favorite to start in Cleveland. Injuries opened the door for him to become part of the defense’s regular rotation, but he was routinely outplaying then-No. 1 safety Usama Young, who had struggled with both his performance and injuries the year before.

It was a perfect storm of circumstances, and it led to Hagg getting real run during his second NFL season—a serious accomplishment for someone selected so late in the draft. He recorded 12 appearances that year, including four starts, through which he amassed 20 solo tackles and one QB hit.

The groundwork for an every-week player was there, even if he wasn’t necessarily starter’s material. Unfortunately, injuries began to derail his availability from there. He didn’t play in the 2013 NFL season, and though he latched onto the Denver Broncos in 2014, he never made it past their practice squad. Hagg retired from the NFL, officially, in July 2014.

None of which makes his story a cautionary tale. Again, for where Hagg was drafted, his track record is not unique. His career arc is more so evidence of just how hard it is for seventh-round draft picks to stick beyond their second season. They are guaranteed nothing entering the NFL.

Most, in fact, are guaranteed to see even less time than Hagg ultimately did.

June 20th, 2012

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The Seattle Seahawks have a lot of work to do over the offseason. They’re set on offense so long as Russell Wilson is under center, but they need to address needs at every imaginable level on the defensive end.

Though they’re not bone-thin in the secondary, that is where they figure to have the most territorial battles, both on the left and right side of the field. None of their main guys are free agents, and they’re expected to make a play for corners both in the draft and free agency.

Seattle’s right side cornerback rotation is headlined by Tre Flowers and Neiko Thorpe. Their left side rotation is topped by Shaquill Griffin and Akeem King. Of those four, Griffin is probably the safest after making a Pro Bowl for his work in the 2019 season. But that still leaves three spots in which they could stand to make upgrades. 

Flowers may be the most at risk. The Seahawks moved him from safety to corner after drafting him, and he’s kind of faded into the backdrop since. King and Thorpe are flight risks by default. They will be entering free agency, though they’re not considered primetime targets for teams around the league.

>Names to watch in the draft include Trevon Diggs, Jaylon Johnson or A.J. Terrell. The Seahawks don’t traditionally burn earlier draft picks on corners—they picked up Richard Sherman in the fifth round—and those are guys that could still be available when Seattle uses one of its three selections in the fourth and fifth rounds. 

As far as free agency goes, the Seahawks have a lot of options. They have a boatload of cap space entering the offseason; their spending power could rise near the $60 million markers. They can have their pick of the litter.

Depending on how much cash they’re willing to burn, they could take a look at Chris Harris Jr., a four-time Pro Bowler from the Denver Broncos. Bradley Roby from the Houston Texans and Bradley Jones from the Dallas Cowboys are also options, though both could be in the market for deals that run longer than Harris’s next contract.

If the Seahawks can pair Griffin in the secondary with another impact corner—Logan Ryan from the Tennessee Titans and James Bradberry from the Carolina Panthers are also in play—they’ll be in a position to field a much better defense next year. 

Dare we say, it might even be Super Bowl-caliber with such an addition.

June 20th, 2012

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The Green Bay Packers took a swing in 2012 NFL free agency, signing 30-year-old running back Cedric Benson to a fairly substantial contract ($825,000) with the hope that he could add a punch out of their backfield.

Investing in ball-carriers with seven years of experience is typically considered taboo. Running backs have some of the shortest shelf lives in the NFL, and Benson arrived in Green Bay with more than 1,500 career carries. The Packers were rolling the dice on his age-29 season with the Cincinnati Bengals, wherein he cleared 1,100 yards from scrimmage, including 1,067 on the ground, and racked up six touchdowns. 

Even in the context of this gamble, it was a borderline no-brainer move. The Packers employed a hodgepodge of talent in the backfield, most notably James Starks and Alex Green. Benson afforded them certain optionality they could use to leverage the play option around franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But the move never worked out. Benson suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his foot five games into the season and was deemed out for the year. He would never suit up in the NFL regular season again.

It’s a wonder that the Packers team finished 11-5 and won a playoff game at all. Injuries ripped through their backfield, hitting just about everyone. Green led the team in carries, with just 135. Three running backs, including Benson, churned through 70 carries and five finished with more than 30. 

Lesser issues have doomed better teams. The Packers just so happened to have one of the greatest playmakers in NFL history under center to get them by. They finished fifth in points per game despite all the instability in the backfield.

Knowing what we know now, some might be inclined to call the Benson signing a mistake. It doesn’t make sense to go that far. Serious injuries are both parts of the game and unpredictable. Benson wasn’t ineffective because he was older or run down; he was averaging an adequate 3.5 yards per carrying before his injury. He still had football left in the tank.

Signing him to help diversify the backfield was a winning decision. Had he stayed healthy, the Packers would’ve had another sturdy red zone option. Maybe they’re even more dangerous in the playoffs. We can’t be sure. 

We can, however, be certain of one thing: His tenure in Green Bay is one of the potential lost to injury, not a fundamental failure.

June 13th, 2012

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D.J. Williams is not a name many have heard of or thought about in a while. Chances are most didn’t pay him much attention even when he was in the NFL.

And that’s a shame.

Superstars are the players who receive the most shine. Part of being a superstar is getting recognition, though. That puts non-skill position players at an inherent disadvantage. Teams and the media always drum up quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends. On the defensive side, they’re more likely to highlight cornerbacks, safeties or defensive ends and linemen who rack up a ton of sacks.

In fact, other than offensive linemen, linebackers might be the NFL’s most underappreciated players in general. They don’t always have the interception, sack and tackle numbers to match other defensive positions, yet they arguably often have the toughest jobs.

Indeed, players in the secondary are tasked with covering lightning-quick receivers. And teams can also fall apart if they don’t have a strong pass rush on the defensive line. But linebackers, in most instances, are the quarterback of the defense. They set the tone by making calls at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, by calling audibles and by filling various responsibilities across the plane. They blitz, stop the run, break up passes and even sometimes venture out into the secondary.

This is not an easy job to master, particularly over a long period of time. But Williams did it well throughout his career, especially during his time with the Denver Broncos.

In his first eight years with the team, he only missed a total of eight games—and those absences came in two separate seasons. He also tallied an absurd 619 tackles, in addition to another 193 assisted tackles.

Denver has always had a reputation as a team that runs out gritty defenses. This held true for most of Williams’ tenure. He was a billboard for good health until he reached his age-30 season, and he vacillated between each of the three linebacker spots.

Despite placing in the top 10 of total tackles twice during his prime, Williams never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. Don’t bother trying to explain that. It is inexplicable—and further illustration of just how underappreciated he was, even at the height of his powers, when he was spearheading a top-shelf defense for what was a semi-consistent playoff team.

June 9th, 2012

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The Las Vegas Raiders have a lot of work to do before next season if they want to make the playoffs for just the second time since 2003. Nothing, though, is more important than figuring out the quarterback position.

It has become clear that Derek Carr will not develop into a superstar prospect. He has been too erratic over the past few years. Injuries could be at fault, but inconsistency at the quarterback is too damning.

All of which has the Raiders looking in another direction—specifically in NFL free agency. They have been linked to veterans Tom Brady and Andy Dalton, and some have even suggested they take a flier on a trade for Jacksonville Jaguars QB Nick Foles.

None of these options are super appealing. Brady is a big name, but he’s very clear on the downside. The same goes for Dalton and Foles. They are recognizable names, but their production no longer matches up with their reputation.

Holding onto Carr will be cheaper. He hasn’t been paid like a star quarterback, a la Jason Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. The Raiders can float him under center without breaking the bank.

Perhaps if there were a stellar QB in his prime on the open market, the team could go in a different direction. Even then, though, adding a big name who produces will be costly. Throwing the bag at someone doesn’t make much sense when the Raiders aren’t sure they have the ancillary pieces on offense to make the most out of whoever is under center for them.

Besides, Carr might be good enough. His arm strength is in question, but he just completed more than 70 percent of his passes while posting an interception rate comfortably below two. If the Raiders can put some more competent wide receivers around him, he’ll have a chance at piloting a league-average offense.

This isn’t to say the Raiders have to view Carr as their future. Again: He hasn’t built up the goodwill on the field to deserving the benefit of the doubt. But rather than spending big money on a free-agent quarterback who doesn’t really shift their outlook, they should be open to taking one in the upcoming NFL draft.

Most of the flashiest prospects will be gone by the time the Raiders get on the clock at No. 12. They also don’t have picks in the second or third round. But they do have two first-rounders. If someone doesn’t tickle their fancy at No. 12, they should be prepared to roll the dice on a QB prospect at No. 19.

June 3rd, 2012

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Running back Darren McFadden turned in a more than admirable NFL career. He played nearly 10 seasons, rushed for over 1,000 yards twice and was, at one time, billed as a future superstar. There is no shame in that resume.

And yet, McFadden once seemed like he’d become so much more.

Rewind it all the way back to the 2010 NFL regular season. The Oakland Raiders weren’t very good; they were more mediocre. That year ended with an 8-8 record. But McFadden developed into a major bright spot, the kind that would shift their fortunes. In just his third season, he carried the ball more than 213 times and racked up 1,1157 rushing yards to go with seven touchdowns. He also added another 500-plus yards and three touchdowns as a pass-catcher.

That type of offensive versatility was more uncommon back in 2010 than it is now. McFadden wasn’t quite an anomaly, but he was pretty damn close. He sported this combination of power and finesse; he was someone the Raiders could run through a brick wall once inside the red zone but also torch defenses when catching passes and juking in space.

Superstardom wasn’t just the hope at this time. It was McFadden’s consensus trajectory. But then the 2011 regular season rolled around, and everything changed.

McFadden suffered a Lisfranc foot injury during the Raiders’ seventh game of the year and missed the rest of the campaign. Though he entered 2012 training camp talking about how he was ready to regain his previous form, he never truly did.

That year, McFadden mustered just 707 yards on 216 attempts. Then, in 2013, he ran for just 379 yards on 114 attempts while appearing in just 10 games. While he played in all 16 games the following season, including 10 as a starter, he was not afforded serious volume. He finished with over 534 yards on a mere 155 rushing attempts.

Leaving the Raiders that summer proved to be the best thing for him. He landed with the Dallas Cowboys and went onto top 1,000 rushing yards for the second time in his career during the 2015 season. But the good vibes lasted only so long. Injuries limited him to just four appearances over the next four years. He’d play his last NFL down in the 2017 season.

Injuries are fickle in this way. One early-career setback ended up costing McFadden a world of momentum. He was never the same superstar prospect, and the Raiders never recovered from losing such a promising outlook.

June 3rd, 2012

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Mohamed Sanu has never quite lived up to his NFL potential.

Don’t get us wrong: He’s squeaked out an impactful career. For someone selected late in the third round of the 2012 draft, he has absolutely yielded more value than would be typically expected.

But, at the same time, he’s always seemed to have more to offer. He has the physical tools of a No. 1 option, at 6’5” and 215 pounds, and can be used in trick-play situations as a pass-thrower. He’s been seen in practices and on video throwing 50-plus-yard bombs with fairly good accuracy. That he’s never made a Pro Bowl, or turned in a 1,000-yard season, seems weird.

Some of this can be chalked up to the situations in which he’s found himself. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he was never the No. 1 option. By the time he left as a free agent in 2016, he was firmly behind tight end Tyler Eifert and star wide receiver A.J. Green in the pecking order.

Upon landing with the Atlanta Falcons, Sanu was once again limited to complementary duty, behind megastar receiver Julio Jones and a dual-headed running back system. Then, a few years after that, he was flipped to the New England Patriots, a team that prides itself on spreading the ball around rather than featuring any one receiver.

There is still time for Sanu, 30, to have a breakout campaign. The Patriots are thinner at wide receiver than they have been in years past, and they might be in line to add a new quarterback should Tom Brady prove too expensive or decide to sign elsewhere. And yet, if Brady returns, he won’t have the arm to properly accentuate Sanu’s long-distance routes.

Really, if Sanu was ever going to become a star, he might’ve been better off re-signing with the Bengals in 2016. They ended up dealing with injuries to Eifert and Green, both of whom project to leave the team, which paved the way for former No. 3 receiver Tyler Boyd to emerge as a quasi-No. 1 option.

Sanu was well within his rights to bolt for a bigger contract. He made the right decision in that regard. It’s the Bengals who made the mistake. They overestimated their depth at wide receiver. Sanu could’ve ended up carving out a nice career for a team that has spent the past half-decade looking for filler production while its top pass-catchers navigate injuries.

May 27th, 2012

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When the Los Angeles Rams, formerly the St. Louis Rams, are on the clock at the NFL draft, they should have one positional focus that towers above all else: Offensive linemen.

Last year’s showing proved this much. The Rams went 9-7 and missed the playoffs while struggling to gain any sort of traction on the ground. They’re super reliant on running back Todd Gurley, but they don’t yet have the bodies up front to carve out the holes necessary to help him pick up big gains.

Only six teams last season averaged fewer yards per rushing attempt than the Rams. That, in turn, forced them into third-and-long situations in which they needed to trust the arm and precision of quarterback Jason Goff. And though they signed him to a record NFL extension months prior, he just didn’t play the way expected of big-money QBs.

Improving the offensive line depth will go a long way toward helping both Gurley and Goff. Another pass-catcher to stretch defensive coverages would be good as well. Unfortunately for the Rams, they might not have access to an immediate difference-maker.

Looking at the depth chart, they need at least one offensive tackle and one interior offensive lineman. The problem: They don’t have their own first-round pick. They flipped it as part of the Jalen Ramsey trade. And not only does their first pick doesn’t come until the second round, but they won’t be on the clock until the end of it, at No. 52.

Many draft experts don’t even have them taking an offensive line contributor at that spot. There aren’t a ton of notable names expected to be available in that range. This year’s second-round well is flush with defensive tackles, players in the secondary and the occasional position offensive player.

Maybe the Rams will get lucky and fall into offensive guard Damien Lewis out of LSU. Given the year he just had, though, most don’t believe he’ll make it out of the 40s.

With no clear offensive-line options on the board, the Rams shouldn’t force it. They can pick up a defensive tackle or, more preferably, roll the dice on another receiver. Jalen Reagor from TCU and K.J. Hamler from Penn State are two downfield weapons that could still be on the board when the Rams make their initial selection.

Whatever they end up doing, it sure seems like they won’t be able to immediately plug their holes on the offensive line in the draft—at least not before Round 3.

April 24th, 2012

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After missing the NFL playoffs for a 17th consecutive season, the Cleveland Browns once again find themselves entering the draft with a ton of needs to fill. Fortunately, they have the equity to address their most glaring holes.

Cleveland has seven picks in the upcoming draft, including all of its own picks through the first four rounds and also the Houston Texans’ third-round selection. They don’t have any of their own selections in the final three rounds, but they do boast the Arizona Cardinals’ sixth-rounder and Green Bay Packers’ seventh-rounder.

Those five picks in the first four rounds will be the Browns’ bread and butter, the assets most likely to shore up their rotation. Their most glaring concerns at the moment are on the offensive line, safety, defensive line, and linebacker. They could use another receiver and tight end, but those issues will be secondary to everything else.

Experts expect the Browns to go with an offensive tackle when they’re on the clock with their first pick at No. 10. They need to find a way to better protect quarterback Baker Mayfield and offer more blocking for running back Nick Chubb. The name most likely to monitor here is Andrew Thomas out of Georgia.

After that, it makes the most sense for the Browns to focus on deepening their secondary, specifically at safety. They were 17th in passing touchdowns allowed last season, and the going doesn’t project to get any easier. Ashtyn Davis out of California is the player most are calling for, assuming he’s still available.

That brings us to the third round, where the Browns own picks No. 74 (their own) and No. 90 (Houston’s). Picking up another offensive line talent at No. 74 could become the goal; it would give the Browns more bites at the apple. But if linebackers Jordyn Brooks from Texas Tech or Malik Harrison from Ohio State are still on the board, we can reasonably expect either of them to end up in Cleveland.

The defensive line will then become the focus at No. 90—although another offensive lineman could be in play here, too. The best fit among realistic options is Jordan Elliott, an inside defensive lineman from Missouri who would do wonders for their pass rush.

Finally, to cap off our four-round look at the Browns, we could see them going with a pass-catcher. Still, this is where we think they’ll inevitably lean toward another offensive line addition. The name we’re watching is Solomon Kindley from Georgia. Along with everyone else we’ve mentioned, he’d go a long way toward improving the Browns’ chances of returning to the playoffs.

April 20th, 2012

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The Los Angeles Rams, formerly the St. Louis Rams, don’t have a knack for draft-day drama. They’ve traded away picks in advance, but they seldom complete deals to move up while on the clock when the draft itself rolls around.

True to that form, the calls for them to pull off said moves don’t typically gain a ton of steam. Not since the 2012 draft, when many were begging for them to trade up and land Trent Richardson, has there been momentum for them to deal their way up their draft-day ladder.

Could the 2020 NFL draft be different?

Many think it should be. The Rams already traded away their first-round pick as part of the Jalen Ramsey blockbuster. They clearly have no regrets about that home-run swing, but they also have more needs on the roster than strictly beefing up their secondary.

Chief among their most pressing holes is acquiring another pass-catcher, either at the wide receiver or tight end slot. Last year’s trio of Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods underwhelmed relative to expectations. They’re all rock-solid options, but they’re not the type of wideouts who can thrive without a top-shelf quarterback or another No. 1 wideout option. Really, all three of them are best suited as second wheels.

Knowing that a primary receiving playmaker is their top target makes this a complicated discussion. They’ll need to acquire a pick that’s pretty high up in their draft order for that to be their immediate solution.

Remember: After trading for Ramsey and giving QB Jason Goff one of the richest extensions in NFL history, the Rams are firmly operating on a win-now timeline. They don’t have the freedom to select someone who will take years to groom.

Fortunately, this year’s draft has a couple of immediate impact players. Jerry Jeudy from Alabama, CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma, Tee Higgins from Clemson and Henry Ruggs III, also from Alabama, all loom as potentially instant contributors at the pro level.

The problem? Getting in a position to take them.

All four names project to go in the top 15 of the 2020 NFL draft. The Rams don’t have the expendable asset equity to climb that high when they don’t have a first-rounder of their own to dangle.

They can always hope to strike gold in the second round, but for what they need, it’s probably best for them to be most aggressive on the free-agent market. Trading up in the draft isn’t going to cut it this year.

April 19th, 2012

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