In this era of “embrace debate,” it’s hard to find any consensus in sports. Ask analysts or fans who the best quarterback in the league is and you won’t get 100 percent of the crowd saying Tom Brady. The same goes for running back, shared in last week’s article, where the NFL scouts and executives polled almost all voted for Le’Veon Bell as the league’s best back.
This week I polled 30 NFL scouts, coaches, executives and players with one simple question: “Who is the best receiver in the game?”
98 percent said the same name: Julio Jones.
The Atlanta Falcons wideout was described by one scout as “Big, strong, fast, physical [and has the] catch radius, leaping ability and body control everyone wants.” Said one player, “He’s just a monster. Freak of nature.”
After turning in 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns last year, you’d expect more opinions leaning toward Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr., but both receivers were afterthoughts when the experts weighed in.
Jones has rare physical traits that make him not only the best receiver in the league but also made him a rare find coming out of Alabama in the 2011 NFL draft. If you could create a No. 1 receiver, Julio is a pretty good model to follow.
Here’s what else is going on this week:
- The best edge-rushers for 2018
- Baker Mayfield’s off-field troubles
- Sam Darnold’s do-it-all arm
- Shade of the Week
The Scout’s Report
—Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has reached a plea deal following an arrest for multiple misdemeanor charges in Arkansas this past February, per The Oklahoman. Mayfield, who was stopped by police before attempting to flee and eventually tackled into a wall by an officer, will also serve 35 hours of community service and attend university alcohol education as part of his punishment from the Sooners.
—USC quarterback Sam Darnold has a pretty good arm on and off the field. Check out his ability to accurately throw while on the water, but more importantly, look at the hands from his buddy! Impressive effort.
—Myles Garrett was injured during Cleveland Browns minicamp, and everyone in The Land was holding their breath before getting good news. Garrett suffered a sprained foot, and per Pro Football Talk, he’ll be ready for training camp.
—ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Oakland Raiders are close to signing a new deal with quarterback Derek Carr. $25 million a year has been thrown around, which would reset the quarterback market and make him the highest-paid player in the league.
—Midsummer free-agent signings you might have missed: Eric Decker to the Tennessee Titans and David Harris to the New England Patriots. Both are solid moves that improve the talent base for both teams but also upgrade two very important position groups.
—Teddy Bridgewater has been a forgotten man outside of Minnesota, but B/R’s Brad Gagnon recently named him one of the offseason’s winners. Bridgewater was active at minicamp and had teammates talking about him like he’d never been injured.
—Shade of the Week: The New England Patriots trailed the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 before pulling off the largest comeback in Super Bowl history to win their fifth title. That comeback will never be forgotten now that the Patriots’ Super Bowl rings feature 283 diamonds.
5 Names to Know
This week we’re going to get away from highlighting upcoming rookies and focus on a few second-year players ready to take the next step.
5. Eli Apple, Cornerback (New York Giants)
Eli Apple was solid in his rookie season, especially in the second half of the year as he adjusted to play in the NFL. In year two, look for him to really develop into a reliable and dependable starting cornerback. Apple has the size and speed to be very good; he just needed time to develop his instincts and timing. Those are in place now, and Apple has the pass rush in front of him to help out.
4. Chris Jones, Defensive Lineman (Kansas City Chiefs)
If you talk to anyone with the Kansas City Chiefs about Chris Jones, they expect a huge step forward this season. The freakish defensive lineman had first-round talent last year but slipped to the top of Round 2. He’ll play like a first-rounder this season and could be the foundation of the Kansas City defensive line.
3. Maliek Collins, Defensive Lineman (Dallas Cowboys)
The Cowboys need a pass-rusher, and a healthy Maliek Collins can be a very good 3-technique. Coming out of Nebraska, Collins had to work on his conditioning and technique, but the glimpses seen in minicamp by scouting and coaching friends in Dallas seem to indicate he’s putting it all together on the field.
2. Kenneth Dixon, Running Back (Baltimore Ravens)
Kenneth Dixon will miss the first four games of the season due to suspension after playing in 12 games last year. It’s worth pointing out that the Ravens didn’t draft a running back in this year’s historically deep class. That has me confident the team likes Dixon—my No. 2 back from the 2016 class—as a key piece of the offense.
1. Braxton Miller, Wide Receiver (Houston Texans)
Braxton Miller didn’t make the impact I expected in 2016 after dealing with injury, but the Texans should find a way to use the explosive receiver, runner and return man. Miller and fellow second-year player Will Fuller have to step up to help either Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson.
5. It’s a balmy 95 degrees with 100 percent humidity in Missouri while I’m writing this, which has me feeling like sharing a hot take to end the article this week.
Jared Goff will have a better year than Carson Wentz.
Define “better year” however you want as long as we’re not talking about wins and losses (team stat), Goff will take the next step this season with an improved offensive line and a competent coaching staff around him. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Cooper Kupp lead the team’s receivers in catches.
I like Wentz a lot, but his slow release and trigger need to be improved before I’m ready to call out his sophomore season as an improved year. If that can be fixed, Wentz has a chance to become a top-10 quarterback this season. I’m betting on seeing more of the same from Wentz with Goff playing like the former No. 1 overall pick that he is.
4. Could Josh Rosen be the next Eli Manning? That’s the comparison Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network made in his first-look scouting report of the UCLA quarterback.
My early take for Rosen was a Matt Ryan-type quarterback, but there really isn’t that much difference from a talent or technique standpoint when looking at Rosen, Ryan and Manning. All three are tall, above-average-armed quarterbacks who stand tall in the pocket with classic release points. Rosen and Ryan are both slender quarterbacks, but even Manning isn’t considered a large player.
Rosen will be heavily scrutinized on and off the field in the next year, but remember that he’s only a true junior and could stay all four years.
3. Sign me up to watch this: Calvin Ridley wants to race The Freeze.
If you haven’t seen The Freeze, you can thank me later. The masked man has dominated Atlanta Braves fans during in-game races where the fan is given a head start before The Freeze takes off. It’s fascinating.
If Ridley has a head start, my money is on the Alabama wide receiver.
On a personal note, I’d like to race the Hot Dog Derby people at Kauffman Stadium.
2. The 2018 edge-rusher class could be scary good in terms of top-end talent and depth if all the key players stay healthy and live up to expectations.
LSU’s Arden Key is a top-10 pick on talent if he’s able to convince teams he’s committed to football after taking a brief leave of absence this spring. Harold Landry (Boston College), Josh Sweat (FSU) and Bradley Chubb (North Carolina State) all have an early Round 1 grade and could shoot up boards with big final seasons.
Looking at the next tier, Davin Bellamy (Georgia), Marquis Haynes (Ole Miss), Byron Cowart (Auburn) and Dorance Armstrong (Kansas) are all very fun prospects. Armstrong is the guy to watch this season as a potential Haason Reddick-like player.
1. Stick to Football Episode 10 is live! We talk to Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen about deciding to return to school, how dominant he is at golf and Madden and what he wants to fix about his game this season. We also answer your questions in #DraftonDraft and talk about why ketchup on a hot dog is wrong. For aspiring journalists, we also talk about how we each got our start in media.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.
Read more NFL news on BleacherReport.com
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