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Road to the Draft: Brandon Weeden

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
6-foot-4, 221 pounds
Draft projection: second or third round

Lowdown: Weeden started the past two years for the Cowboys and completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 9,260 yards with 75 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. He has prototypical size. He will be 29 years old in October. Weeden got a late start on his college football career because he was the 71st overall pick in the 2002 Major League Baseball Draft. A right-handed pitcher, he was drafted by the Yankees, traded to the Dodgers then moved to the Royals. He eventually developed a torn labrum and tendinitis in the rotator cuff of his throwing shoulder, so after the 2006 season he went back to football and enrolled at Oklahoma State. He never needed surgery on the shoulder. In the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, he passed for 399 yards and produced four touchdowns in a 41-38 win over Andrew Luck and Stanford. He had a strong supporting cast and operated in an offense that relied on half-field reads. Nevertheless, his arm strength and size make him intriguing.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper: “Brandon Weeden to me would have been a guaranteed top 10 or 15 pick if he was 22 or 23. His numbers across the board – ranked teams, 70.7 percent (completions); red zone, 69 percent. On third down he was tremendous. His arm, his release, his accuracy, his intelligence, his leadership. He’s a heckuva quarterback.”

---Mark Gaughan

Anderson would lessen draft pressure

The Buffalo Bills could take most of the pass-rush pressure out of their draft plans if they add another free-agent defensive end. That's the possibility facing the Bills if they wind up signing free-agent Mark Anderson, who hit town tonight and is visiting with the Bills' coaches.

Anderson, who turns 29 in May, had 10 sacks for the Patriots in 2011 while playing 47 percent of the defensive snaps. He was a fifth-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears out of the University of Alabama in 2006 and had 12 sacks as a rookie. However, his sack totals dropped to 5, 1 and 3.5 the next three years. He had four sacks in 2010 while splitting the season between Chicago and Houston.

Anderson was a big bonus for the Patriots, who signed him to a one-year deal last August. He added 2.5 sacks in the playoffs. New England has interest in getting Anderson back. He has visited Baltimore, Tennessee and Miami so far this month. Tennessee may be out of the running for his services after signing free-agent Kamerion Wimbley to a big contract.

A deal with Anderson might give the Bills further flexibility in the NFL Draft, allowing them to look beyond pass-rushing prospects if one they do not love is not available when they pick in the early rounds.

---Mark Gaughan

 

 

Road to the Draft: Janoris Jenkins

Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
5-foot-10, 193 pounds
Draft projection: late first to second round

Lowdown: Which team will take a chance on this very talented player with off-the-field question marks? Jenkins has first-round talent. He was a three year starter, beginning with his true freshman season, at the University of Florida. As a junior in 2010, he held top NFL picks Julio Jones of Alabama and A.J. Green of Georgia to an average of 38 yards a game. But he was dismissed from the Gators’ program by first-year coach Will Muschamp after being arrested twice in four months. He was arrested three times overall while with the Gators. He transferred to Division II North Alabama and started all 14 games there, getting six interceptions. Jenkins’ scrapes with the law involved an arrest for involvement in a bar fight and two arrests for marijuana possession. He has four children, reportedly by three different women, ranging in age from three years to 4 months. Jenkins is a clear-cut first-round talent, based solely on his play. He ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Jenkins did not duck questions about his off-field problems at the combine. “It made me a stronger person, taught me how to fight through reality,” he said. “That I’ve got to separate myself from certain guys, certain people. To be successful at the next level I can’t do the things I used to do.”

And he said he has not smoked marijuana since his dismissal from Florida. “I’m done with it forever, man. I can’t do it. It’s something I can’t let myself do again.”

Said Mike Mayock of the NFL Network: “Janoris Jenkins is one of the ultimate boom-or-bust guys in this draft. … Every team is a little different. Some teams will look him in the eye and convince themselves the kid is really going to change a little bit. Other teams are going to say he's never going to change his spots. That's who he is. What happens is the more talented kids get more chances, and Jenkins is a pretty talented kid and somebody is going to buy into that.”

---Mark Gaughan

Manning & AFC East schedule

New England is the AFC East team that is most impacted by Peyton Manning's decision to play in Denver next season. The Patriots have to play the Broncos at home in 2012. On the surface, the AFC East gets a break this year on the schedule crossovers. The AFC East faces the AFC South and the NFC West (the weakest of the four NFC divisions).

The Patriots play Denver and Baltimore as their two foes based on last year's standing. Buffalo plays Cleveland on the road and Kansas City at home. The Jets play San Diego at home and Pittsburgh on the road. Miami plays Oakland at home and Cincinnati on the road. Of course, New England has been dealing with the more dificult schedule breakdown for a decade, and that hasn't stopped the Pats from winning eight of the last nine AFC East titles.

The AFC North benefitted from the easier crossovers in 2011, facing the NFC West and AFC South. Predictably, three AFC North teams made the playoffs. The AFC North has it tougher this year, facing the NFC East and AFC West.

---Mark Gaughan

Bills re-sign WR Derek Hagan

The Bills added to their list of candidates for the starting flanker position today by re-signing free-agent Derek Hagan. He spent the last six weeks of last season on the Bills' roster and was active the last four games. He caught 13 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. Hagan is a talent who never has been able to put it all together in the NFL. He has good size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), and he was a third-round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins in 2006. But he was bounced out of Miami's revolving door early in the 2008 season. The coach who drafted him (Nick Saban) left after his rookie year. The Fish's '07 coach (Cam Cameron) lasted just one year. Tony Sparano took over in '08. Hagan caught 21 passes as a rookie and 29 for the 1-15 Dolphins in '07. After that he bounced from the Giants to Oakland to Buffalo.

Hagan gives the Bills 10 receivers on the roster, nine if you take away hybrid QB-WR-KR Brad Smith. He's in a group with Donald Jones, Marcus Easley, David Clowney, Naaman Roosevelt and Ruvell Martin bidding for time at the wideout spot opposite Stevie Johnson.

---Mark Gaughan

Poll: You make Peyton's call

You're Peyton Manning. It's time to make a decision. You have three teams in your sights - Denver, San Francisco and Tennessee. You'd rather not go to an NFC team, because you'd rather not compete against brother Eli for a Super Bowl berth and the top NFC teams (the Giants, Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans) all look tougher than the AFC competition. In Tennessee, you'd be going back to the state where you're so comfortable due to your college career, and you have a solid team with a great running back. In Denver, you have a legend for team president (John Elway), a strong defense, a good offensive line and a weak division. But San Francisco clearly is the best team of the three, with an elite defense and a great coaching staff. What do you do?

 

Road to the Draft: Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
6-foot-3, 221 pounds
Draft projection: First round

Lowdown: Tannehill is forcing NFL scouts to look deep, deep into their crystal balls. He has the physical tools and athleticism the NFL covets in an elite quarterback. However, he made only 19 starts as a college quarterback after spending his first 2 1-2 seasons at Texas A&M as a receiver. There is speculation he could be drafted as high as No. 4 to Cleveland or toward the later end of the first round. He will be a gamble wherever he is taken in the first round.

Tannehill was recruited to College Station, Texas, as a dual-threat passer with great running ability. He competed for the QB job as a red-shirt freshman under new coach Miek Sherman in 2008. He lost out in the fall behind Stephen McGee, who had previously run the option for Texas A&M, and Jerrod Johnson, a big, pocket passer. Tannehill agreed to switch to receiver and had success, catching 55 passes in 2008 and 46 in 2009. He stayed at receiver the first six games of the 2010 season, but with Johnson in struggling, Sherman handed the reins to Tannehill. In his first start, he passed for 449 yards in a 45-27 win over Texas Tech. He won his first five starts before losing in the Aggies’ bowl game to Louisiana State. As a senior in 2011, he passed for 3,744 yards with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He ran a version of the West Coast offense under Sherman, who was fired from Texas A&M in December. Sherman now is offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, who hold the No. 8 overall pick in the draft.

Smarts: Tannehill carried a 3.6 grade-point average in biology. He plans to be an orthopedic surgeon when he’s done with football. Tannheill’s career arc was the opposite of that of his father’s. His father, Tim, played for Texas Tech, and played his first two years at receiver before switching to quarterback his final season.

Mike Mayock of the NFL Network on Tannehill: “I can see all the attributes of a (Jake) Locker in Tannehill. He's a big, strong kid that can push the ball down the field. He's athletic. I like everything about him except for the fact that on tape, I think he stares his receivers down and waits for them to come up before he rips it. That's typical of a young quarterback without a lot of starts. I look at him and say, kind of like Jake Locker, he's going to take a little it of time. It's going to take a year or so. Nineteen starts is not a lot of starts for a college quarterback. I think he's as good or better than a (Christian) Ponder or a Locker a year ago.”

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper: “Tannehill is locked into the middle of the first round. There’s some questions about him in terms of how quickly he’ll be ready to play. … With Tannehill, it’s a lack of experience. The fact against Oklahoma, 50 percent completion percentage. Kansas State, 58.7. Texas 40.8, with three picks. Three picks against Oklahoma. Three picks against Oklahoma State. Against those four teams, those better teams, he struggled. Great in the red zone. Spectacular in the red zone, (completing) 64.5 percent, (with) 18 touchdowns and just one int. You like the potential, you like the talent. I’ve been doing this since ’79 and I don’t think there’s been anybody who has gone from another position to quarterback and been a first-round pick.”

---Mark Gaughan

 

Road to the Draft: Stephen Hill

Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
6-foot-4, 215 pounds
Draft projection: 30th to 45th overall

Lowdown: When the college season ended, a lot of draftniks were thinking Hill would be a third or fourth-round pick. He left college a year early, and he only caught 49 passes in three seasons for the Ramblin’ Wreck. He showed impressive big-play ability in 2011 by catching 28 passes for 820 yards – a 29.3-yard average.

Then he had a stunning workout at the NFL Scouting Combine. Hill ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.36 seconds, tied for second fastest among all players. He had a 39.5-inch vertical jump. Hill led the nation in yards per catch last season, and he played in a run-oriented offense. He is a true deep threat who can strike fear into defenses.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock on Hill: “The tough thing with Stephen Hill is coming out of that option offense, he's hard to evaluate. We went through this with (Denver’s) Demaryius Thomas (last year). But he ran officially a 4.36. He broad-jumped 11-feet, 1. I forget his vertical, but it didn't matter, it was out of the gym. The point is his acceleration, his burst, his quickness. And even more important to me, OK, now you've shown me you're an athletic track star. When he got on the field and caught the football, he didn't double-catch balls. He made hands catches out in front of him. From a football perspective, every team in the league now has a lot of homework to do. He's a hard guy to figure out, just like Demaryius Thomas was, because you don't see real routes. All you see are verticals and crosses and play-action and jump balls. You've got to do your homework on this kid. And trust me, he's kind of pushed himself right up in the forefront of this wide receiver thing.”

---Mark Gaughan

Road to the Draft: Trumaine Johnson

Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana
6-foot-1, 204 pounds
Draft projection: third round

Lowdown: Johnson is the kind of big corner teams are looking for against today’s taller receivers. He’s an athlete with size. Is he fast enough to make the jump against top NFL wideouts? That's the question. He ran a slow 40-yard dash time of 4.61 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. Johnson is a California native who starred at quarterback in high school and then was recruited as a wide receiver by colleges. He had feelers from Arizona State, California and Southern Cal, but none made him a scholarship offer. He didn’t want to go to a junior college, so he picked Montana. On his second day of practice as a freshman, he was converted to cornerback, where he started for four years. He’s physical against the run to the outside and he shows toughness. As a sophomore he played six games with a broken ulna bone in his arm. Expect the team that drafts him to start him out at cornerback. If he can’t quite hold up, then he can move to free safety. Johnson said he is not related to the man of the same name who played receiver for the Buffalo Bills in the late 1980s. Johnson is the kind of cornerback the Bills could be looking for in the middle rounds - if they're satisfied his playing speed is good enough.

Johnson says he will play any position: “When I say anywhere on the field, I mean water boy, I mean receiver, cornerback, safety, lineman. Whatever you need me to do, I'm going to do it.”

---Mark Gaughan

 

Mario contract details

Mario Williams' record-breaking contract with the Buffalo Bills is about as spread out as you can get for a deal so large. That benefits both the Bills, who want the salary-cap hits to be relatively even, and Williams, who doesn't want the deal back-loaded to the point where he's sure to get released later on. In other words, it's not a phony-money deal, which the Bills don't do.

The deal is for six years and $96 million. It goes up to $100 million counting incentives. Here are the particulars, obtained by The News:

Williams got an initial signing bonus of $19 million. He gets a base salary this year of $5.9 million. In 2013, he gets an option bonus of $8 million, with a base salary of $6.5 million. In 2014, he gest a roster bonus of $10.6 million with a base salary of $1.9 million. In 2015, he gets a roster bonus of $1 million with a base salary of $12.1 million. In 2016, he gets a roster bonus of $2.5 million with a base salary of $11.5 million. In 2017, he gets a roster bonus of $3.5 million with a base salary of $11.4 million. He also has workout bonuses that amount to a total of $2.1 million over the first five years of the contract.

Williams gets $53 million over the first three years of the contract. Chicago's Julius Peppers was the previous highest paid defensive player in NFL history. His contract called for $40.5 million the first three years. So that's a significant upgrade for Williams.

The guarantees in a contract get a bit complicated. Money can be guaranteed against three events: injury (meaning the money is paid even if the player gets hurt), skill (meaning the player gets the money even if he gets cut because he's not good enough) and salary cap (meaning the player gets the money regardless of what cap problems the team encounters). The guarantee can count for any one or all of the three. In Williams' deal, the first $25 million is fully guaranteed. The next $25 million is guaranteed against injury only. Presuming he doesn't join a monastery in Tibet in the next year and he gets the $8 million option bonus, then $39.4 million will be guaranteed. The last $10.6 million guaranteed in 2014 is for injury only. Williams obviously is not going to get cut due to lack of skill. And the NFL is expected to see a big jump in the salary cap in two years when new television contracts kick in.

We should also mention a quote from Bills General Manager Buddy Nix about Jim Overdorf, Bills senior vice president of football administration, who was able to close the deal with Williams' agent. "Jim Overdorf I can’t tell you how much time he spent with Mario’s agents," Nix said. "Jim late at night and every day working on this thing, and he tried to make sure we got it done."

---Mark Gaughan

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