Inside the NFL  


Notebook: Top QB draft prospects, Kirk Cousins' value and more


Cal's Jared Goff threw for 4,719 yards and 43 TDs over 13 games in 2015. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

NFL Media's Albert Breer touches on multiple topics in his exclusive Inside the NFL Notebook, including (click on each link to go directly to the topic):

» Why the Bucs fired Lovie Smith and what they're looking for in his replacement.
» The Redskins fully intend to keep Kirk Cousins -- what kind of money will it take?
» A ballot for the NFL's major individual awards in 2015.
And much more, beginning with a look at this year's top draft prospects at quarterback ...

It used to be that taking a quarterback in the first round was a way for a coach or GM to buy time. No owner, after all, would want to shake up a young passer's development by making major changes after Year 1 or 2, and it wouldn't be fair not to let the decision makers see their biggest decision through.

So much for all that.

Jameis Winston will have a new head coach in 2016, as will Marcus Mariota.

"It's a risk now going into the top 10 with a quarterback," one AFC personnel executive said. "With those guys, outside of a few teams, they have to start right away, and they're not ready. And there's a good chance they're gonna get you fired, so there's not a three- or four- or five-year plan anymore. ... It's the one position you can't cover up.

"You can miss on [junior DL Joey] Bosa or [junior OT Laremy] Tunsil. That would suck, of course, but it's like with [Luke] Joeckel or [Eric] Fisher -- they're not very good, but you can't see it all the time. The quarterback touches the ball on every play."

Draft season kicks off, in earnest, as soon as Monday night's national title showdown between Clemson and Alabama ends. (Related note: Underclassmen have until Jan. 18 to file declaration papers with the league. The official list of underclassmen accepted by the NFL will be released on Jan. 22. And all of the underclassmen discussed above and below have declared their intentions to enter the 2016 draft.) And that means we'll all start zeroing in on the quarterbacks with a shot to go high in April.

Here's a spoiler on how all that will work out: Few folks are convinced that there's one worth taking in the top 10 picks, yet everyone assumes at least one, and maybe more, will go within that range. We don't need to explain why. Most franchises without a QB are rudderless, and drafting one has ancillary benefits that are felt at every level of the organization, often before anyone knows if the kid even can play. The risk is increased, yes, and so some clubs will kick around the idea of waiting, with a class in front of them that has more depth than it does elite talent.

Buyer beware? As Lovie Smith or Ken Whisenhunt would tell you, yes, absolutely.

"There's value in the first three rounds for sure," one NFC general manager said of this year's draft pool. "There are a number of guys that everyone's saying could be the first pick or the second pick. But with the teams up there, you gotta be thinking, Maybe in the second round, I can get them there; or in the third round, I can get them there."

There are examples of the benefits of waiting, too. The Bengals waited in 2011, and got A.J. Green first, then Andy Dalton. The Raiders waited in 2014, got Khalil Mack, then Derek Carr. The Vikings did the same that year, and walked away with Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater. The Seahawks haven't spent a 1 or 2 on a quarterback during the John Schneider/Pete Carroll era, and with those picks sunk into other areas to juice the roster, third-rounder Russell Wilson has had a nice environment to grow in.

The flip side, of course, is that because of the NFL's quarterback-centric environment, it's pretty risky waiting if you really like a guy, because someone else might, too. At other spots, you might say there's not a huge difference between the third-rounder and the first-rounder, but it takes a lot of guts to sit there and have faith that another team doesn't see the third-round QB the same way you do.

"If you're talking about a tackle or a running back or a cornerback or a linebacker, yes, that's fair to do it that way," an AFC college scouting director said. "But if you're taking a quarterback, it's a dumb question to ask. Just take the best one. And if you're not confident in your evaluation, then don't take one until the third round. If you're not taking the best one there, because you don't think any of them are great, fine. But if it's a guy you think is gonna be a good starting quarterback, you take him."

So with all that as our backdrop, here are four quick storylines to follow as 12 clubs get the playoffs going and the other 20 start to push forward to March and April ...

Then there were three: Cal's Jared Goff appears to be the safe pick to be the first one off the board. "People are gonna compare Goff to Carr, because of his body type, quick release, and that'll help him ... It's a positive comparison," said the AFC college scouting director, who likes the true junior better than the rest. The NFC GM countered, flatly, "The kid at Memphis is the best one." The questions on Goff concern his thin frame and the spread offense he comes from. The Memphis kid, junior Paxton Lynch, has enticing physical tools, but he's still a bit of an unknown because he was a late bloomer. Then there's Michigan State senior Connor Cook, who came into 2015 as the top guy, but carries concerns about leadership/personality (he wasn't a captain at MSU) and consistency (though the tools are there).

The Hackenberg conundrum: Two years ago at this point, Bill O'Brien was leaving Penn State, and Christian Hackenberg was on a track to be taken first overall this April. Now where will he go? "Where did Ryan Nassib go?" the AFC college director asked, with a laugh. The junior has all the tools, but was a shaky fit for James Franklin's spread offense -- and rumors of an even shakier relationship between O'Brien's replacement and O'Brien's prodigy have run rampant all fall in the scouting community. As for talent, the NFC GM says, "It's there. Just take him in the second or third round, and he has a chance to be a damn good player. ... He was lights out that first year. Next year, he's a totally different guy. But he can't do everything himself." What the QB-needy Texans do here, for obvious reasons, will be very interesting.

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Small-school riser: You're gonna hear a lot about North Dakota State senior Carson Wentz over the coming months. He's missed the last couple months with a broken wrist, but will return to action Saturday as the Bison go for a fifth straight FCS national title. And the comparison, for a number of reasons, you'll hear a lot will be Joe Flacco, another large kid from a small school. "He's a big dude, athletic, strong," the AFC personnel exec said. "There's something to work with there." There are questions on his release and his footwork, but it's not impossible to think he could sneak into the bottom of the first round.

The draft field: Looking at the top 10 draft order, 2016 shapes up as an anomaly: Many teams drafting high don't have crying quarterback needs. You have Cleveland at No. 2, San Francisco at 7 ... and that's really it. There are more in the 11 to 15 range (Chicago, Philly, St. Louis). That is unusual, and it might make it difficult for the Titans to try and get fair value for the first pick, if they do indeed try to deal it to a quarterback-needy suitor. It also could create opportunity for teams like the Cowboys or Giants or even the Saints to spend a pick on a QB now, with the idea of letting that guy sit. And given that college offenses are what they are, those types of situations actually might be the best ones for these prospects.

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So, to sum it up: If you're looking for an Andrew Luck or a Winston, you're not getting one here. That means that if you're drafting a QB high, you'll have to swallow hard and decide to take that chance.

"It's a crapshoot, but yeah, inevitably someone will take one there," said the AFC personnel exec. "A lot of those guys have potential, but you're taking your life into your own hands. There are better players at other positions."

But getting a quarterback means more than it ever has, even if that doesn't mean quite what it used to.

Four downs

1) Bucs' future. By the end of the day on Thursday, the Bucs were shipping slips off to get permission to talk to assistants with other teams -- the NFL world moves fast, of course, and Tampa Bay is already behind the other six teams with openings. But they do have a leg up in one sense, and that's because the guy captaining this process, GM Jason Licht, was in the room for a very successful coach search just three years ago in Arizona. So what does it mean? Well, what Licht saw in Arizona was a GM, in Steve Keim, and a coaching candidate, in Bruce Arians, who were a perfect fit personality-wise. He also saw other candidates, like Mike McCoy and Jay Gruden, who could've fit the bill from that standpoint. As such, that will be important: Finding someone who can be brutally honest and upfront, and who he can challenge and be challenged by, without anyone getting offended. (Think Mike Zimmer, in that respect.) And as for personal qualities -- and this fits into the Arians mold, too -- expect the Bucs to look for a coach who can a) reach players, b) instill toughness and c) set a culture. What's less of a big deal, as I understand it, is whether that coach is from an offensive or defensive background, or has head-coaching experience of any sort. As for why the change was made, it's pretty simple: The defense regressed over time, even as the team added free-agent fits for Lovie Smith; the special teams struggled; the Bucs tied for the NFL lead in accepted penalties; and Smith's assistant coach hires were spotty. So now, they go to the market armed with a talented young quarterback, an offense that was starting seven guys 22-or-under at one point, a defense with foundational pieces in Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, and owners who are willing to spend. Dirk Koetter is the early leader in the clubhouse, but not a sure thing.

2) Chiefs' resurgence. No one in Kansas City expected to start 1-5. And no one was expecting a 10-game winning streak, either. But if you talk to Andy Reid, as I did about this, it actually makes some sense that things played out this way. Here's how he explained it: "On offense, we were playing a lot of young guys, so we were off by a hair here or there. In the passing game, we were off by a hair. We were playing some young linemen, off by a hair. So we kind of worked through it and it solidified. And on defense, you got [Mike] DeVito, DJ [Derrick Johnson], [Dontari] Poe coming off major surgeries. You got EB [Eric Berry] coming off cancer. You got a young corner [Marcus Peters]. And then a corner that's suspended for three games [Sean Smith] having to come back, and not just coming back, but working himself back into shape for a couple games. You take all those things, and they all gelled at the same time. In reality, that's what happened." Of course, getting to this point -- the Chiefs visit Houston on Saturday afternoon with a shot to win their first playoff game since Joe Montana was the quarterback -- took a lot more than a bunch of guys improving individually. It also took a belief that things would get better in a situation that would threaten the fabric of many locker rooms. And on that end, Reid credits the players ("I'm proud of the guys, that's the locker room") and the work of GM John Dorsey. "The character of the guys, Dorsey has done a phenomenal job," Reid said. "In a couple spots, we're working our third, fourth guy. And they just kinda step in and go. It's good coaching by the coaches, but you're also coaching good players."

3) Cousins will like the offseason. At one point earlier this season, before the leaves fell, the Washington Redskins weren't planning on using the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, because of the promise that it fall north of $19 million, depending on where the cap is set. Now? They've come to grips with the fact that they might need to. Per sources, the Redskins intend to execute a blockbuster deal with their new franchise quarterback before the deadline to tag players in early March, but are fully prepared to franchise Cousins if they can't beat the clock. As one source explained it, "He's not getting out of the building." That's a pretty remarkable turn of events, when you consider only three quarterbacks have been franchised this decade -- Peyton Manning (2011), Mike Vick (2011) and Drew Brees (2012) -- and Cousins wasn't even the starter coming out of training camp. Thing is, he's answered pretty much every question there is to answer since then. He broke a 29-year-old club record with 4,166 yards passing, threw 29 touchdown passes, led the NFL in completion percentage (69.8), guided the team to a division title and cut way down on his turnovers, throwing just 11 picks on 543 attempts after throwing nine interceptions on 204 attempts last season. What's he worth on the open market? It's worth looking at the 2014 extension received by Andy Dalton (Jay Gruden's QB in Cincinnati), which has a base value of $96 million over six years, $19 million in additional upside and is structured in a year-to-year manner. Cousins played his rookie deal out, while Dalton got his extension with a year left, but Dalton had a longer track record of success when his new deal was executed than Cousins does now. And you can add two years of inflation, too. Still, this is a pretty good issue for the Redskins to have going forward. After four years, it looks like they did get their quarterback out of the 2012 draft. It's just not the one they invested so deeply in then.

4) A deal-breaker in a potential Mariota/Chip reunion. With the Tennessee Titans' coach and GM spots open, it's worth revisiting why Ken Whisenhunt was fired in November -- and trying to explain how it could chart the team's course going forward. Shortly after the change, a high-ranking Titans source put it this way to me: "The quarterbacks are getting hit a lot, and it's exactly what happened last year. We had [Jake] Locker on IR, [Zach] Mettenberger on IR. The quarterbacks were getting crushed. And now, Mariota's gotten hit a lot. Mettenberger got killed against Houston, he was sacked seven times and there wasn't any help in protection. ... We just got done with Locker, and now we have another, and you have to protect the quarterback. Some of it is the offensive line. Some of it is not." The breaking point, for Titans' upper management, was the coaching staff's decision to leave rookie Jeremiah Poutasi singled on Cameron Wake and J.J. Watt in a 15-day span. The two star defenders combined for 6.5 sacks in those contests. Mariota was injured for the third time in 2015 against Miami. After the Houston game, Watt openly questioned the Titans' decision to leave him alone on a rookie. So what does this have to do with Tennessee going forward? Clearly, Mariota's future, and his ability to hold up over the long haul, is a priority for the Titans. And so, there's skepticism in Tennessee's building over the idea that the decision makers there would be willing to bring in Chip Kelly to work with his college quarterback, because the ex-Eagles coach presided over a significant number of QB injuries (Mike Vick, Nick Foles, Sam Bradford) in Philly. The concept of reuniting the two is, of course, exciting to think about, and it'd seem the high-end potential is there. But as the Titans see it, there's serious risk there, too.

Three checkdowns

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1) With the expectation that we'll have a conclusion to the Los Angeles saga next week, but no clear indication on what that conclusion will be, here's how you want to look at the battle to go to the league's second-largest market: One camp is focused on the projects, the other on the owners/teams involved. The project-centric camp, led by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is focused on the best possible outcome in L.A., after 21 years away, and favors the Rams' more advanced Inglewood proposal. The owner/team-centric camp, led by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, is more wrapped up in which groups are neediest and have done the most for the league, and, as such, backs Chargers owner Dean Spanos in his partnership with the Raiders in Carson. At this point, neither camp has the necessary 24 votes and it won't be easy to get them. So that sets up for a couple fascinating days in Houston next week.

2) Here's one thing to say for Chip Kelly and his staff, as they depart Philly: The numbers say they were heading in the right direction on Sam Bradford, as he started to get his sea legs in the offense and on his surgically repaired knee. His 78.95 completion percentage in the finale was the highest by an Eagle with over 30 attempts. Over the last three games, Bradford posted a 96.6 passer rating and threw for 1,061 yards and five touchdowns. And in his last seven starts, that QB rating was 97.0 and he had 1,959 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. Was he perfect? No. But considering that the offseason trade was done with more than one year in mind, and the incumbent had been Nick Foles, that was hardly a disaster.

3) Cleveland's new structure certainly is one worth scrutinizing, given that no team has ever sold out on analytics the way the Browns are. But one thing that they are using as a carrot: The coach as the face of the franchise. Executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown might have final say over the 53-man roster, but the new coach won't be reporting to him; he'll be reporting directly to owner Jimmy Haslam. And having a direct line to the owner is something many coaches see as significant. As for the personnel chief job, the idea is to streamline the job under Brown and Paul DePodesta to be focused almost exclusively on scouting, making it far more like the role a director of player personnel, rather than a general manager, plays in most franchises.

Two college players to watch Monday night

1) Clemson CB Mackensie Alexander (vs. Alabama, CFP title game, Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): An AP All-America as a redshirt sophomore, and a former five-star recruit, Alexander delivered on his considerable potential this year -- and has caught the eye of everyone paying attention. "He's a good competitor," an AFC college scouting director said. "He's an aggressive player vs. the run. Good quickness and speed. Instinctive player, but a gambler who will jump routes and get burned at times. ... He's the third-best corner -- to [Florida's Vernon] Hargreaves and [Tre'Davious] White from LSU -- that Ridley will have faced this year." The "Ridley" that the college director is referring to is Alabama true freshman Calvin Ridley, whose debut season has been good for 83 catches for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns, and who exploded for eight catches, 138 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide's Sugar Bowl rout of Michigan State. That matchup could go a long way, in scouts' eyes, toward establishing Alexander as elite, after a season during which the Florida native was rarely tested. Evaluators might also get to see Alexander match up some with freakish 'Bama junior TE O.J. Howard, so this game is a good one all-around to check out the Tigers star. With NFL Media's Rand Getlin reporting that Alexander is leaning toward applying for early entry into the 2016 NFL Draft, Monday is obviously a huge night for the 22-year-old.

Dec 19, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; BYU Cougars quarterback Tanner Magnum (12) is sacked for a loss by Utah Utes defensive tackle Viliseni Fauonuku (98) in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)
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2) Alabama ILB Reggie Ragland (vs. Clemson, CFP title game, Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): A second-year starter, the senior has taken the mantle in a great line of inside 'backers at 'Bama. This contest, his last one as a collegian, will be a good one to watch him, too, because of the challenge in running with and combatting Heisman finalist quarterback Deshaun Watson. "He's tough," said an AFC area scout assigned to the Tide. "Instinctive player. Sure tackler. His coverage needs some work, but he's capable right now. I see him as a sure-fire second-rounder, but I won't be surprised to see him go around where [Saints LB Stephone] Anthony went last year [31st overall]." As for who he looks like among his predecessors, the scout said he and Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower are "similar. Ragland is more instinctive. I'd say Ragland is closer to Hightower and [Rolando] McClain than he is to [C.J.] Mosley -- Mosely being more rangy and fluid with the other guys as bigger bodies and heavy hitters." There, of course, will be some question on how much of Ragland's success is based on playing behind monstrous defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, but there's nothing he can really do about that.

Extra point

This week, I filled out a ballot for the MMQB's annual awards, as I do every year. Being the tech wiz I am (40,000 unread emails), I thought I sent it. But apparently, the laziness that produces a full inbox can lead to future emails not going out. (You've been warned.)

And so I emailed Peter King my ballot late, after I realized it was never sent, and he said that since the story was already publishing, he couldn't squeeze my votes in. But he suggested I use what I sent him in my notes this week. So I'm doing that here, while adding some opinion from guys who scout on the pro level for good measure.

The MMQB rules are to list a top five for each award, and throw in comments on some of them. Here ya go!


1) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: Without his top weapon going into the season, a revamped line and a backfield that lacked real depth, Newton carried the Panthers through a number of shootouts. The most valuable quarterbacks are the ones who make up for deficiencies for their teams as the season goes on. Newton most certainly did that.
2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: An AFC pro scouting director said, "The mark of an elite QB is his ability to make those around him better, even when presented with very little. There hasn't been a better offensive game conductor, regardless of instruments at his disposal, than Brady over the past two years. He has been able to navigate through an injury minefield while keeping the Patriots relevant."
3) J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans: There might not be a player in football who's better at his job -- it's mind-blowing the numbers that Watt piles up, as much as he plays on the interior. An AFC exec added, "all the while getting doubled, at times tripled, chipped, and always the focal point of the offensive game plan."
4) Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals.
5) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota was considered a potential playoff team before the year -- but very few would've had them outdistancing the Packers for the NFC North crown. And Peterson, at age 30, carried the ball 39 more times than any back in football.


1) Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs: The team's best offensive player (Jamaal Charles) was lost for the year, and the best defensive player (Justin Houston) missed a month. And somehow, 1-5 became 11-5. "He evolves his plan around the team," an NFC personnel exec said. "It's not his scheme, but how he gets the most out of what he has."
2) Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers: This isn't merely because of the team's 15-1 record, although that doesn't hurt. It's also Rivera's ability to navigate situations like the Greg Hardy fiasco last season, and how he's kept a steady hand on the wheel this season as Carolina has proven it can win the shootout just as proficiently as it can outpoint its opponent in a slugfest. Very few head coaches have the pulse of today's young athlete like Rivera does.
3) Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings: Another coach who guided his team through the tall grass of a bad situation in 2014, and saw the team pull intangible benefits from that in 2015. Everything we heard for years about the assistant coach Zimmer -- as a person, as a teacher and as a leader -- has proven true about the head coach Zimmer. As our AFC exec put it, "If anyone has really 'led' their team to success, and showed them how to win, it's Mike Zimmer."
4) Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins: The quarterback decision is the big one here. Gruden has been determined to have the program in Washington that's a meritocracy, and he's felt all along that Cousins is his best signal caller. But he also incorporated new coaches like Joe Barry and Bill Callahan to his staff, and helped a new GM carry out a vision for a tougher, more physical team. "The guy has gone from the Arena League to OC to head coach in the NFL of a team that was going in multiple directions," our NFC personnel exec said. "And he found a way to make guys wanna play for him."
5) Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans.


1) Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh was without Ben Roethlisberger for five games, Martavis Bryant for five games, Maurkice Pouncey for the whole year, and has seen Le'Veon Bell and Kelvin Beachum land on IR. And yet, the Steelers are third in the NFL, and first in the AFC, in total offense, and still seem to have room to grow in the playoffs. "Todd did a very good job adjusting his play calling and game planning with Mike Vick and Landry Jones in the lineup," said an NFC pro scouting director. "His ability as a play caller is the top reason that Pittsburgh is the team that scares people in the playoffs.
2) Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers: Yes, they have big-time talents at corner and linebacker and defensive tackle, but this unit has undergone serious attrition over the last three years because of cap issues. And in the midst of all of that, Carolina seems to have established not just a standard but a tradition of strong play on that side of the ball, which has a lot to do with McDermott.
3) Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati finished seventh in scoring, but this is about more than the numbers. It's about a new mindset from a quarterback (Andy Dalton), and the development of young players (like Tyler Eifert and AJ McCarron), and the ability to withstand the shots as they keep coming.
4) Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos.
5) George Godsey, offensive coordinator, Houston Texans.


1) Scot McCloughan, general manager, Washington Redskins: In 12 short months, McCloughan changed the face of a laughingstock by adding a draft class with a handful of tough, smart contributors, rewarding decorated vets like Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Williams, and bringing in bargain free agents (Terrance Knighton). "Scot has done a nice job of bringing football back into focus in Washington," said the NFL pro director. "His evaluation prowess has been evidence with the value they've found in draft picks and their free-agent signings. But as much as anything else, this is about being willing to go to the owner and tell him the truth about his quarterbacks."
2) Mike Maccagnan, general manager, New York Jets: They missed the playoffs, but just barely, and being able to get a starting quarterback and No. 1 receiver, in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, who get you to 10 wins for sixth- and fifth-round picks, respectively, is staggering. Drafting Leonard Williams also gives the team roster flexibility going forward with stars Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. "Mike hit the ground running after being hired and did a very good job of filling voids on their roster," said the NFC pro director. "They have a really good mix of young and veteran players. With Todd [Bowles] as the coach and Mike handling personnel, the NYJ are shaping up to be a viable AFC contender for years to come."
3) Steve Keim, general manager, Arizona Cardinals: It's like every other week, there's another star emerging, and that's because, over the last three years, there isn't a team with a better personnel record than Arizona. "His relationship with his head coach and willingness to buck trends in terms of age, size and character helped him build a team that's scary," our NFC personnel exec said. "His understanding that his coach can handle a team helps him take the right chances."
4) Dave Gettleman, general manager, Carolina Panthers: Our AFC pro director explained it like this, "From repeatedly being passed over for GM jobs, to being counted out in his first few years, along with a rookie head coach, Dave's been a master chef whose unwavering patience has yet again paid off. His methodical manner in constructing a championship-caliber unit should serve as a blueprint to owners about being given the time and understanding in building a team -- that slowly cooked meals taste better than the microwaved one."
5) Nick Caserio, director of player personnel, New England Patriots.


1) Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams: Yes, he missed three games and was a part-timer in another. No, his 1,106-yard season wasn't a record-breaker. But no other rookie passed the eye test like Gurley did this year. The Rams nearly made it to .500 without much to speak of at the quarterback position, and a lot of transition on the line. The reason why? The former Georgia star, who should only get better with time. Next year, of course, he won't be coming off a torn ACL.
2) Jameis Winston, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith didn't have to hand leadership to his quarterback -- Winston took that naturally. With the rookie swiftly proving how ready he was for the pro game, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was able to progressively open the playbook, and the Bucs surged in midseason as a result. "This kid proved to everyone that he has matured," said the NFC pro director. "His ability as a leader of men is second to none. He'll need to continue to improve on his decision making on the field, but TB has found the cornerstone of the franchise for the next 10-plus seasons."
3) Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders.
4) Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Redskins.
5) Tyler Lockett, WR/PR/KR, Seattle Seahawks.


1) Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs: Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton trusted him within his aggressive scheme from the start, and Peters has delivered. The Washington product's off-field issues caused his fall to the bottom half of the first round in April, but Andy Reid and John Dorsey loved his competitiveness and passion, and that's shone through in Year 1. "This kid was the best corner in last year's class," one NFC pro director said. "And he proved he has the ability to be a No. 1 corner in this league."
2) Leonard Williams, DL, New York Jets.
3) Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills: Our NFC personnel exec kept this one simple: "He played at an All-Pro level."
4) Mario Edwards Jr., DL, Oakland Raiders.
5) Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.



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