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Week 2 of the NFL preseason kicked off with a trio of interesting games that provided more developments in the three-way Jets quarterback race, Tom Brady’s debut and an injury to the reigning Super Bowl MVP. Thursday’s games also featured the second chapter in the Packers’ backup QB duel, Mason Rudolph’s first start and more injuries to the Redskins’ running back corps.

Here’s what we learned from Thursday’s games:

New England Patriots 37, Philadelphia Eagles 20

1. Tom Brady showed midseason form, leading the offense to 20 points in the first half while completing 19 of 26 passes for 172 yards, two touchdowns and a 116.2 passer rating. James White garnered the majority of the playing time at running back, with Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson and Eric Decker mixing in as complements to Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan at wide receiver. If there’s a problem area on the offensive line, it’s right tackle. Filling in for injured veteran Marcus Cannon, first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn was forced out of the game with a left ankle injury of his own.

On the other side of the ball, rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley stood out for the second consecutive week. The fifth-round pick has a chance to enter the season as a starter next to Dont’a Hightower.

2. Nick Foles’ 2018 preseason debut didn’t exactly go as scripted. The reigning Super Bowl MVP was knocked out of the game with a strained shoulder, sustained on a strip sack that went for a Patriots touchdown early in the second quarter. A rusty Foles took three sacks and showed scattershot accuracy in his 18 minutes of action. He’s expected to undergo further testing Friday on the shoulder. It will be interesting to see which quarterback is under center for next week’s regular-season audition versus the Browns.

– Chris Wesseling

Washington Redskins 15, New York Jets 13
3. The Jets not only have the league’s most captivating quarterback battle, but also quite the conundrum for Week 1. Sam Darnold entered Thursday night’s game with a tailwind of momentum, the future of the franchise riding a wave of optimism after a promising preseason debut. By the start of the fourth quarter, however, it had become harder and harder to ignore the fact that Teddy Bridgewater has outplayed him for two straight weeks. Meanwhile, incumbent starter Josh McCown has played just one series this preseason, leaving his role a mystery. There might not be a more impactful preseason bout than next week’s crosstown showdown between the Jets and Giants.

4. Slimmed-down running back Rob Kelley has a new lease on life after entering training camp in a fight for a roster spot. After losing rookie Derrius Guice to an ACL tear last week, the Redskins saw power back Samaje Perine go down with an ankle injury Thursday night. Meanwhile, Kelley has started both preseason games and was the focal point of the first-team offense versus the Jets, touching the ball eight times before exiting.

Don’t sleep on undrafted wide receiver Cam Sims, who led the team with 75 receiving yards in the preseason opener. Sims had an up-and-down performance Thursday night, but showed tantalizing playmaking ability at 6-foot-5.

– Chris Wesseling

Green Bay Packers 51, Pittsburgh Steelers 34
5. Mason Rudolph didn’t have to wait long for his welcome to the NFL moment against the Packers. The rookie quarterback threw a pick-six on his first passing attempt of the game — a pass Packers cornerback Tramon Williams probably saw coming even before it left Rudolph’s hand. Rudolph’s only response was a rueful grin as he helplessly watched Williams zip 25 yards to the end zone.

After a solid debut last week, reality hit hard for the former Oklahoma State standout. Rudolph struggled to find rhythm and was hampered by inconsistent offensive line play. Outside of a 19-yard pass to Justin Hunter, Rudolph’s 5 of 12 passing for 47 yards was mostly of the dink-and-dunk variety. He’s still a contender for the Steelers backup QB spot (Mike Tomlin gave Landry Jones the night off), but Pittsburgh probably wants to see a lot more from its third-round pick next week.
Joshua Dobbs had a better overall game than Rudolph against the Packers’ second- and third-level defense. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards, 2 TDs and an interception.

6. Packers linebacker Reggie Gilbert put in quite a performance in his bid for more playing time in 2018. The third-year linebacker, who spent most of last season on Green Bay’s practice squad before a late-season promotion, tried to do his best one-man wrecking crew impersonation. Gilbert terrorized Rudolph for 2.5 sacks and recorded three tackles. He’ll need similar stat lines in order to challenge for regular-season snaps, but he’s looking very good to retain his roster spot.

7. How about those Packers tight ends? We got a demitasse-sized taste of what the Aaron Rodgers-Jimmy Graham combination will look like on a 8-yard TD pass, but there were a slew of other encouraging performances. Lance Kendricks caught a pair of passes for 28 yards, Robert Tonyan had two catches for 15 yards and a TD and Marcedes Lewis made a 23-yard catch. NFC North defensive coordinators, you’ve been warned.

– Austin Knoblauch

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This story appears in the 2018 Body Issue. Subscribe to ESPN The Magazine today!

Behind the scenes at the Senior Bowl weigh-in, the moment of truth is at hand. It’s just after dawn on a Tuesday in late January, and already the massive South Exhibit Hall of the Mobile Convention Center in Alabama is packed with NFL personnel types, clipboards at the ready. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pageant-style stage, players are pacing around in the dark, in various stages of undress, when Titans scout Mike Boni pokes his head through the curtains to offer instructions about one of the most bizarre yet necessary events in sports.

As he speaks, the players try not to stare at the shiny metal carpenter’s square in Boni’s right hand. But they know that this simple tool Boni picked up for $6.99 at an Ace Hardware has measured the height of every NFL prospect since 2012 — and, unlike the players, it never lies. To be fair, yes, Boni has turned the carpenter’s square on himself. “Six-two,” he blurts proudly. But then, before the words have even left his mouth, Boni holds up a finger to wait, catching even himself in the kind of ubiquitous fib that this event was meant to combat. OK, well, he’s not exactly 6-foot-2, he confesses. He’s “six oh one seven,” scout-speak for 6-foot-1, which amounts to a difference of about half the thickness of your phone.

Boni is a stickler. And when it comes to extracting the truth from elite athletes about their height and weight, well, you have to be.

In the hyper-data era of sports, we are hurtling toward absolute precision and mathematical certainty, where we can gleefully quantify grand mysteries such as a third-string fullback’s fourth-quarter red zone yards after contact in temperatures above and below 55 degrees. Yet it is something of a delightful, rebellious quirk that the first critical bit of data we learn about elite athletes — their height and weight — is still, more often than not, a complete and utter fabrication.

“The secret little sin in sports nobody ever talks about,” says the legit 6-4 Rebecca Lobo, a 2017 inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame and an ESPN analyst. “In sports, intimidation can be just as important as truth. If a little lie gives you that little extra mental edge, then it’s worth it. That’s the reason for all the fibbing — it works.”

Lying, after all, is a highly effective, innate part of the human condition that comes as easily, and almost as often, as breathing. And exaggerating our stature, one of the most common fibs of all, has been practically programmed into our brains by millions of years of evolution and sociology that reinforce the notion that taller, larger people are superior. That programming is exponentially more powerful in sports, where athletes often stretch the truth to fight back against ridiculous notions of ideal body prototypes, which exclude, say, NFL quarterbacks under 6 feet or diminutive hockey wingers.

Take Martin St. Louis, a right winger who retired in 2015 after 16 seasons and 391 goals and is a lock for the Hockey (and heightening) Hall of Fame.

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Starting at Vermont and throughout his NHL career, St. Louis says he would get officially measured at 5-7 every year at his team physical. And every year before the season opener, he’d glance at the game program and see himself listed at 5-9. “I don’t know if it was me seeing myself as being bigger than my actual number or if, at the time, in a big man’s game, I just had a better chance at making it as a 5-9 player than at 5-7 1/2,” he says. “Everyone’s trying to get an edge, and sometimes it’s with the tape measure. It’s a game of inches, right?”

It’s hard to judge athletes too harshly for heightening when their deceits are often encouraged and magnified by what sociologists call an ecology of enablers — parents, coaches, recruiters, trainers, agents, media — who benefit just as much from the tall tales. Which means almost every single person in sports is either lying about his or her height or lying about the lying. “It’s very peculiar and pathological,” says David Smith, a philosophy professor at the University of New England and the author of Why We Lie. “In sports it becomes an arms race where if everyone’s exaggerating, you kind of have to do it too just to keep up.”

Indeed, fibbing about height and weight is such a common, widespread and time-honored tradition in sports that it barely even registers as deception anymore. Most people dismiss it like a harmless embellishment on a résumé, a vestige of a simpler, less calculated time in sports. “Everybody in the world thinks they’re taller than they are,” Boni says. “So even with all that [advanced analytics and data], I don’t think we’ll get to the point where athletes will ever start telling the full truth, because this is a human nature thing more than a football thing.”

Elite athletes, and football players in particular, have turned manipulating their anthropometrics into an art form. Behind the stage at the Senior Bowl, empty gallon jugs of water are everywhere, guzzled by players trying to inflate their weight and perhaps their draft status. Several players are also doing last-second neck and back exercises because, according to Senior Bowl lore, that’s how Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson managed to taffy-stretch himself above 5-10 at this event in 2012. Boni and his fellow scouts are pretty sure they’ve seen it all: weights “hidden” in spandex shorts; orthotics in socks; even artificially enhanced man buns. And despite all his instructions and warnings, the first two players step onstage wearing flip-flops. “Come on, guys,” Boni says with a sigh. Later he adds, “Flip-flops … that was a new one, even for me.”

Boni has developed an intricate routine to safeguard every measurement. Players must place their heels together and their feet in a V, which makes it difficult to rise up on the toes or boost themselves off the wall. While talking guys through the process with the calm tone of a yoga instructor, Boni manipulates their head and chin into position. They fight him on this because it feels counterintuitive, but a level chin actually raises the crown of your head. And that’s where Boni places his trusty carpenter’s square. He pushes it like a lever back toward the chart on the wall and as soon as it goes flush, Boni barks out the player’s official height down to an eighth of an inch. For example, even though No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield is listed in the Oklahoma football program (and on NFL.com) as 6-1, his true height is 6003, or 6-0.

Each time Boni speaks, the sea of scouts nods in cultish unison to inscribe the data or breathlessly whisper it into tiny hand-held devices. Players, though, rarely like what they hear. Boni says 99 percent end up shorter than their program height. A few years ago, a wide receiver from the SEC was infuriated with Boni after he was informed he wasn’t actually 6-5 but instead barely 6-3. After guaranteeing everyone he’d hit 72 inches back in 2014, Johnny Manziel looked physically ill when Boni announced him at 5116 (5-11¾). “And he was not happy about it,” Boni says. “I always hear guys say, ‘Wait, but I’ve been 6-3 my whole life.’ Well, you might have been listed in media guides as 6-3 your whole life, but in the real world, sorry, you’re 6-1.”

This year, on the 56-man Senior Bowl North roster alone, 70 percent of the players are caught stretching the truth by more than half an inch in height or more than 5 pounds in weight. Almost 40 percent have lied by an inch or more in height and 10 pounds or more in weight. The fudging in Mobile is consistent with the sleight of hand going on across the sports landscape. In 2012, college hoops blog Run the Floor analyzed the data at the predraft Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and found that of the 62 players measured, 76 percent were at least an inch shorter than they claimed. Brett Brungardt, the founder of Seattle-based Basic Athletic Measurement, which collects anthropometrics for the NBA’s prospects and 16 other sports, says the heightening in basketball is so rampant that as soon as he sets up his equipment, “players literally run out of the gym.”

Not even the tallest, richest athletes on earth are immune to the universal desire to feel bigger. In 2016, The Wall Street Journal helped expose just how laughable the program heights can be in the NBA. Really, just pick a name of any “big” man in the league. Kevin Love? Dwight Howard? They’re both 2 inches shorter than they claim. In 2015, current Rockets forward Tarik Black was officially 6-11. The next season, he mysteriously shrank to 6-9. A college strength and conditioning coach for 25 years, Brungardt was so frustrated in 2008 by the lack of standard measurements in sports that he quit his job at the University of Washington to start BAM. One of his favorite players at UW was future NBA All-Star Nate Robinson, listed at 5-9. “On his very best day, if we stretched Nate and hung him upside down and put him in space gravity, he might have been 5-7 — maybe,” Brungardt says. (Robinson’s agent didn’t respond to a request for comment.) “Nate was one of the all-time greatest all-around athletes. So much heart and ability. But man, he still wanted to be 5-9 in that program so bad for some reason.”

Dallas guard J.J. Barea, who admits to being 5-10 on a good day, has to occasionally stop himself from giggling when he’s announced before games as being 6 feet “because me and about 20,000 other people in the arena knew that was a lie,” he told the Journal. The paper also uncovered the fact that 6-11 NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant is actually lying in reverse, shortening himself to 6-9 because he wants to be perceived as a small forward, not a power forward. It’s a trick he said he learned from Kevin Garnett.

In perhaps the truest statement ever spoken about lying in sports, Durant admitted that when he’s in basketball circles, he tells everyone he’s 6-9.

And when he’s talking to women?

“I’m 7 feet,” he says.
Baker Mayfield’s program listing might be a tad inflated, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the top overall pick. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Sports anthropometrics judge men by the unrealistic body standards we normally impose on women. Nancy Blaker, a professor in New Zealand who studies the connection between physical size and social status, has proved that men are far more likely than women to exaggerate their stature, mainly because the benefits of being perceived as bigger are typically greater for men. That seems to hold true in athletics as well. Rather than lie, short female athletes tend to just stand tall. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, the shootout hero of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey team, puts it this way: “I am what I am, and adding an inch or 10 pounds isn’t going to make me more or less of an opponent.”

There’s still plenty of fibbing going on in women’s sports, though, if you know where to look. Former Mississippi State guard Morgan William, the star of the 2017 Final Four who ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak with a game-winning shot over 5-11 Gabby Williams, is still listed at 5-5. But when ESPN’s Holly Rowe, who is 5-3, recently pressed William on her height, she included this genius, ironclad disclaimer for William: Not what it says in the program, not what you think in your dreams, but what the number says in black and white on the chart when you go to the doctor’s office. “OK, yeah, I’m 5-foot-3,” William relented. “And a half!” Rowe and Lobo are also pretty sure that two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker and a handful of other players are taller than their program heights. (Parker, when asked via text whether she was taller than 6-4, did not respond.) “The truth is important,” Lobo says, “but pretty much everyone knows the first measurement an athlete gives you is a lie. The number in the program seems to reflect the version of themselves that athletes wished they were.”

In 2012, before the WTA did away with publishing tennis players’ weights in their tour bios, Ben Rothenberg, in a piece for Slate, realized that at 6-2 and 130 pounds, Maria Sharapova would almost have the BMI of a Barbie Doll. “This is all probably because of your standard stereotype about women wanting to be smaller,” says Olympic hockey team captain Meghan Duggan. “Which I don’t necessarily agree with. Powerful, strong female athletes are incredible role models.”

Duggan admits to rounding up less than half an inch to her listed height of 5-10 simply because “those double digits just look nicer.” She is a part of a grand old tradition of heightening in hockey. In the NHL, rule changes have turned the game’s emphasis from power and size to speed and agility, creating even less incentive to lie. Yet so many people doubt Patrick Kane’s listed height of 5-11 that Google autocorrects inquiries on this subject directly to: How tall is Patrick Kane really. Setting up for a photo op at the White House in 2016, Sidney Crosby tried to join the “tall line” before a teammate told him to head “a couple of rows that way, Sid.” Crosby slumped away mumbling his program height. “I’m 5-11, boys, I’m 5-11.” Alex Ovechkin still claims to be the same size (6-3) as his countryman Evgeni Malkin even though he regularly ends up staring directly into Malkin’s chin when they meet on the ice. Last fall, when informed that the Capitals had listed him at 239 pounds in their training camp roster, Ovi chuckled and said “239? 259.” The Caps responded by doubling down and listing him as 235 in the media guide — a number that really should be adjusted to 279.5 to account for Ovi’s newest appendage, the Stanley Cup.

In Montreal, the Canadiens’ website features a video quiz called “Who Knows You Best?” which pits teammates against one another. In an episode from 2014, winger Brendan Gallagher (listed at 5-9) asks teammate Alex Galchenyuk, “How tall am I?”

The first thing Galchenyuk clarifies? The golden rule when inquiring about an elite athlete’s height: “NHL.com or real life?”

Real life, Gallagher says.

“Five ten point four,” Galchenyuk guesses.

“Generous, but no, 5-8½,” Gallagher admits with a slight wince.
Alex Ovechkin had some fun with his training camp listing ahead of his Stanley Cup-winning campaign with the Capitals. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Halfway through the Senior Bowl weigh-in, the same kind of pained look unfurls across the face of Michigan linebacker Mike McCray. Listed at 6-4 his entire college career, McCray does a double take when Boni announces his actual height as barely 6-1. It’s the biggest fib by a linebacker anyone has heard since, well, since the year before, when Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers turned out to be 5-10, more than 2 inches shorter than the Wolverines claimed.

When asked to explain the discrepancies, Michigan spokesman David Ablauf concluded that the rest of the world must be off by 3 inches. “We use real measurements to determine these numbers coming from our medical and strength staffs,” Ablauf wrote in an email. “Also, we change heights and weights once a year in the fall to reflect changes made by lifting programs, nutritional adjustments and natural body changes for 18- to 22-year-old young men.”

McCray’s measurement inspires more than a few eye rolls in the audience, especially among those who have ever endured one of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s sermons about the importance of honesty. “You will have choices to make where a dishonest edge can be gained,” Harbaugh said during a 2015 commencement speech at Coronado High School in California. “And whatever gain is made will be undermined sometime down the road. As our dad told us flat out, never lie, it won’t be worth it.”

In sports, that might be the biggest lie of all.
When McCray first stepped on campus in Ann Arbor, he was simply told: “You’re 6-4.” “I’m not sure who decided I was 6-4,” he says, “but I can’t control what they put in the program.” McCray asked several times to have his height corrected, only to be told, “It is what it is.” Over time, though, he grew to enjoy being thought of as 6-4 and even convinced himself it was an acceptable embellishment because in his heart he knew he was taller than his dad, Mike McCray Sr., a linebacker and captain on the 1984 Ohio State team who was listed on the Buckeyes’ roster at 6-3. The only problem? Now an assistant high school principal in Ohio, Mike Sr. admits that he’s — wait for it — only 6-1 in real life. “When I have my cleats and helmet on and I’m feeling good, I do feel taller than I am,” Mike Jr. says after his first Senior Bowl practice. “What else can I say? I honestly don’t know what I’m going to say, but I’m sure teams will have questions about it.”

Less than five weeks later, a duly chastened McCray found out exactly how much the NFL worries about this kind of blatant heightening when he reported to the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Terrified that he had messed up his draft status, the first thing McCray did after checking in was look up his new official draft bio.

After a few anxious clicks, there it was, in big digits right at the top of the page, his new NFL-approved authentic height: 6-4.

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Draft picks represent hope for the future, and no one gets more attention from fans than the first-round picks. Now that teams have gotten a good look at their draft classes through rookie camp and OTAs, we can get an idea of how quickly first-rounders are adapting to the pro game. Who’s getting first-team reps? Who’s struggling? Our NFL Nation reporters share their first impressions of how first-rounders are doing, and whether they’re ahead of the rookie curve, right on track, or whether it’s too soon to tell.
No. 1: Cleveland Browns

QB Baker Mayfield. The Browns don’t want Mayfield to start this season and are giving Tyrod Taylor the starter’s reps. That’s as it should be given the plan, and given Mayfield has a long way to go in learning the NFL game, speed and fundamentals. Status: Too soon to tell. — Pat McManamon
No. 2: New York Giants

RB Saquon Barkley. He was the second overall pick and the consensus top player in the draft for a reason. There isn’t much Barkley can’t do. He’s picking up the offense quickly and really making his presence felt as a receiver at OTAs. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run crisp routes has been noticeable. Barkley is also handling the hype and attention with relative ease. It’s impressive. Status: Right on track. — Jordan Raanan
No. 3: New York Jets

QB Sam Darnold. It’s not a knock against Darnold, but it’s difficult to gauge a quarterback in noncontact practices in the spring. This much we do know: He can make all the throws, his grasp of the offense is improving on a daily basis, and he’s a good student in the classroom, according to teammates and coaches. Darnold’s big test will be in the preseason, when he’s expected to see significant action. Status: Too soon to tell. — Rich Cimini


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No. 4: Cleveland Browns

CB Denzel Ward. He is penciled in as an immediate starter at corner. That’s based on his man-coverage ability he displayed in college at Ohio State. Though Ward was slowed by a minor injury in rookie camp, he had a very strong practice in the second OTA session open to the media, with a couple of impressive red zone breakups. Status: Right on track. — Pat McManamon
No. 5: Denver Broncos

OLB Bradley Chubb. With his athleticism and work ethic, Chubb already has impressed the Broncos, who scuttled a planned draft-day trade to move down in the first round when Chubb was unexpectedly available to them at No. 5. As nose tackle Domata Peko, a 13-year veteran, put it: “He reminds me of Von [Miller] a lot. He’s quick, he’s strong and he can get to the passer. He’s disruptive and he’s willing to learn. He’s always talking to Von and asking, ‘Hey, what can I do?’ That’s good to see out of a rookie.” Status: Right on track. — Jeff Legwold
No. 6: Indianapolis Colts

G Quenton Nelson. It’s easy to understand why the Colts selected Nelson so high in the draft. His skill set has been pretty evident, as left tackle Anthony Castonzo said Nelson takes up a lot of “much-needed space” at guard for them along an offensive line that has routinely struggled over the years. Nelson has been working with the first unit at left guard so far during OTAs, but a full evaluation can’t be made of how well Nelson will protect Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett until the pads are put on. Status: Right on track. — Mike Wells


No. 7: Buffalo Bills

QB Josh Allen. Allen has practiced solely with the third-team offense through the first two weeks, so we’re still a ways from seeing how he performs with top receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Charles Clay among his targets. The eye-opening arm strength and ball velocity have been as advertised with Allen, but so has his questionable accuracy. In a two-minute drill to end Thursday’s practice, Allen missed a receiver on first down and later telegraphed an interception on third down. He got a second chance and was much sharper, moving down the field for a touchdown. Status: Too soon to tell. — Mike Rodak
No. 8: Chicago Bears

LB Roquan Smith. The Bears are mixing in Smith with the first team at OTAs. Barring a major setback, the rookie linebacker will open the regular season in Chicago’s starting lineup. It’s hard to gauge a linebacker’s true performance in noncontact drills, but Smith has flashed elite speed when asked to drop back into coverage in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Status: Right on track. — Jeff Dickerson
No. 9: San Francisco 49ers

OT Mike McGlinchey. The 49ers wasted no time plugging McGlinchey into the starting lineup at right tackle. He was already working with the first unit in the opening days of OTAs and it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon. McGlinchey held his own in the practice sessions open to media. While it can be particularly hard to judge offensive linemen without pads on, McGlinchey doesn’t look overwhelmed by the task, and he’s making it a point to learn from veteran Joe Staley. Barring injury, it would be a major surprise if McGlinchey isn’t starting in Week 1. Status: Right on track. — Nick Wagoner
No. 10: Arizona Cardinals

QB Josh Rosen. He may not play this season, but Rosen has impressed his teammates in the huddle with a maturity and command they weren’t expecting this early in the quarterback’s career. He has been impressing coaches with his intelligence. When Rosen joined the veterans after the draft, some of his teammates weren’t concerned that he would fall behind learning the offense because of his football IQ. However, with Sam Bradford penciled in as the starter (for as long as he’s healthy), Rosen will be waiting in the wings until he’s called upon. Status: Ahead of the curve. — Josh Weinfuss
No. 11: Miami Dolphins

S Minkah Fitzpatrick. He has made multiple interceptions in 11-on-11 work, according to reports, and Dolphins coaches have been impressed by his ability to align the defense, a trait that’s important for a safety and rare for a rookie in OTAs. “He’s already identifying the big picture,” assistant DBs coach Renaldo Hill told the Palm Beach Post. “Those are things some guys search for their entire career.” Status: Ahead of the curve. — ESPN.com
No. 12: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DL Vita Vea. It’s too soon to tell on Vea, which has nothing to do with his performance and is merely a function of his being a defensive lineman and not being able to put pads on until camp. Based on what head coach Dirk Koetter has seen, he thinks Vea is right on track. “His [347-pound] weight has definitely not affected him. He’s got an excellent motor and he’s a very strong human being. You can ask those guards that are playing against him. He’s got a [hump] move with that inside arm. I’ve seen him lift 300-pound men off the ground with one arm. It’s impressive, his strength.” Status: Too soon to tell. — Jenna Laine
No. 13: Washington Redskins

DL Da’Ron Payne. He looks to be in good shape and has been working as the No. 1 nose tackle, next to former college teammate Jonathan Allen. Safety D.J. Swearinger said he already has seen an impact from Payne, who has been difficult to move. That’s what the Redskins need along the front. Payne weighs around 310 pounds, but that weight is spread evenly as he looks thick all over. He hasn’t been noticeable rushing the passer, but his job most likely will be to push the pocket and not necessarily to record sacks. That part of his game remains to be seen. But there’s nothing at this point to suggest he’s not on the path the team had envisioned. Status: Right on track. — John Keim
No. 14: New Orleans Saints

DE Marcus Davenport. Linemen are hard to judge this time of year, when players aren’t in pads and there is no live contact yet. Plus, it will be tough to gauge Davenport’s progress for a while since he is making the big leap from small-school Texas-San Antonio (including a switch from a two-point stance to a three-point stance). But Davenport is getting some great opportunities with the first-string defense, while veterans Cameron Jordan and Alex Okafor have been recovering from injuries. And the rookie certainly looks the part at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. “Man, he’s big and he’s long,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who also called Davenport a “tremendous worker” who is “coming along really well.” Status: Right on track. — Mike Triplett

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No. 15: Oakland Raiders

OT Kolton Miller. No doubt the Raiders selected Miller to be the heir apparent to Pro Bowler Donald Penn, who is rehabbing from Lisfranc surgery to his right foot. Miller has been sharing first-team reps protecting Derek Carr’s blind side with David Sharpe in team drills during OTAs. But until pads come on in training camp, it’s all a glorified scrimmage in pajamas, right? Still, coach Jon Gruden is impressed, even if he wants to see Miller get stronger, without losing any of his athleticism. “He’s one of the most athletic tackles that I’ve ever seen,” Gruden said. “I mean, ever seen … but remember, he’s an underclassman. All these draft picks have been on this tour, this rock ‘n’ roll tour. Get to go to all these facilities and eat all of these meals. So, we just want to get him in great shape. Get him stronger but maintain his flexibility and his athleticism.” Status: Too soon to tell. — Paul Gutierrez
No. 16: Buffalo Bills

LB Tremaine Edmunds. Unlike Allen, whom the Bills are taking along slowly, Buffalo has thrown Edmunds into the fire. He has taken first-team reps in OTAs at middle linebacker and is expected to lead defensive playcalling this season as a rookie. “Up to this point, he’s handled it extremely well, so [I] don’t really see any indication that that won’t continue,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Thursday. Status: Ahead of the curve. — Mike Rodak
No. 17: Los Angeles Chargers

S Derwin James. Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is taking things slow with James. The Florida State product has been working with the second unit at strong safety, giving him time to learn the defense. Bradley said the Chargers will take the rest of this offseason and training camp to figure out how best to use the talented defensive back. “For us, one of the top objectives in seeing these young guys is to see them play fast. See what they can do,” Bradley said. “Sometimes, you put them in different situations, and it slows them down. Right now, we just want to see, ‘Can they play fast? Can they understand the base principles of our defense?’ And then build from there.” Status: Right on track. — Eric D. Williams
No. 18: Green Bay Packers

CB Jaire Alexander. The Packers might not need him to start immediately on the outside — Kevin King, Tramon Williams and Davon House could occupy those two spots. But the slot position might be a perfect place for Alexander to start. He already has picked off Aaron Rodgers once — on a sideline pass intended for Geronimo Allison near the goal line in this past week’s OTA session. Said cornerbacks coach Jason Simmons: “I mean, it’s huge for that guy, let’s be honest. A guy coming from college, all those guys look up to Aaron. They have a great deal of respect for Aaron. We have a great deal of respect for Aaron in our room just trying to prepare them for him and all of the things that he can do and the way he’s able to manipulate a defense. Is it a confidence booster for him? Yes.” Status: Right on track. — Rob Demovsky
No. 19: Dallas Cowboys

LB Leighton Vander Esch. He is serving as the middle linebacker with the second-team defense at the moment behind Jaylon Smith, but that has nothing to do with how he has looked in OTAs. He has displayed the range necessary to cover, and he also has done a nice job dissecting the running game. The Cowboys view Vander Esch as a multilevel player with the ability to drop in coverage and attack the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys know they will need him to play a ton of snaps as a rookie and have liked what they have seen so far. Status: Right on track. — Todd Archer
No. 20: Detroit Lions

OL Frank Ragnow. The Lions have had just one open practice at this point, and Ragnow was right where it seemed like he would be — in the lineup. His position, though, was the surprise as the former Arkansas center has lined up at left guard. For offensive linemen in particular, it’s way too early to know how this might play out in 2018, but he’s getting the same treatment Detroit’s last two first-rounders did: Thrust him into the lineup from the start and see how he does. Status: Too soon to tell. — Michael Rothstein
No. 21: Cincinnati Bengals

C Billy Price. He is still limited due to offseason surgery for a torn pectoral muscle, so it’s difficult to assess his progress so far. However, Price has been able to get work in during OTAs by doing individual drills and half-speed and walk-through sessions. It looks like he’s progressing physically exactly as the Bengals hoped, with a targeted return to full speed at training camp. Status: Too soon to tell. — Katherine Terrell
No. 22: Tennessee Titans

LB Rashaan Evans. He has received a lot of special attention from head coach Mike Vrabel in position drills as the Titans try to integrate him into becoming a Year 1 impact player. Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees said they are pleased with the progress that Evans is making during his first month with the team. There has been more learning than splash plays early on, but Evans has showed off his versatility on several occasions. He’s being groomed to be a day one starter, and the team wants him to emerge as a leader even as a rookie. Status: Right on track. — Cameron Wolfe
No. 23: New England Patriots

OT Isaiah Wynn. He is not yet cleared to participate in practice following offseason shoulder surgery, so he worked on a separate field with other players coming back from injuries. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia previously said that he expects Wynn to be ready for the start of training camp in late July and is excited to work with him. Status: Too soon to tell. — Mike Reiss
No. 24: Carolina Panthers

WR D.J. Moore. He showed the versatility the Panthers were looking for in a rookie minicamp, lining up in every receiver position and even running a few jet sweeps, which surprised him. But exactly where he will fit in with this rebuilt receiving corps and how his timing is with quarterback Cam Newton remains to be seen. Status: Too soon to tell. — David Newton
No. 25: Baltimore Ravens

TE Hayden Hurst. Hurst has been the Ravens’ best pass-catching tight end in offseason practices. He has great hands and consistently gets separation with his speed. If Hurst keeps up this pace, he’ll make an immediate impact in Baltimore’s passing game. Status: Ahead of the curve. — Jamison Hensley
No. 26: Atlanta Falcons

WR Calvin Ridley. He impressed immediately with his natural ability, then showed his willingness to work hard and perfect his craft once the rookies joined the veterans for OTAs. Said QB Matt Ryan of Ridley, “What I’ve seen is excellent transition in and out of breaks, as good as anybody I’ve been around. He’s got very good hands. He’s smart. … You can tell he’s been well-coached.” Status: Right on track. — Vaughn McClure
No. 27: Seattle Seahawks

RB Rashaad Penny. Maybe the biggest hurdle Penny faces as he tries to pry the starting job from Chris Carson is getting up to speed in pass protection. The Seahawks have made no secret of the fact that Penny has a ways to go in that part of his game, and there’s only so much that can be gleaned about his progress right now since contact isn’t allowed during OTAs. Training camp will provide a better setting to gauge how ready Penny is to save Russell Wilson from blitzing defenders. For now, he’s working behind Carson, who’s still the most physically impressive of Seattle’s running backs. Status: Too soon to tell. — Brady Henderson
No. 28: Pittsburgh Steelers

S Terrell Edmunds. He looks athletic and hasn’t made many glaring mistakes, but the reps are fairly limited, with Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis entrenched as likely starters. The team likes that Edmunds is an active communicator on the back end and is willing to play multiple positions — safety or dime linebacker — when needed. Status: Right on track. — Jeremy Fowler
No. 29: Jacksonville Jaguars

DT Taven Bryan. It’s hard to truly evaluate offensive or defensive linemen without being in full pads and having full contact. That being said, Bryan’s quickness is evident and he asks a ton of questions in meeting rooms and of his teammates. Several times over the past two weeks he has spent some time off to the side during a drill with a veteran player. The Jaguars couldn’t ask for him to have a better attitude, but the real evaluation will come when pads go on in training camp. Status: Too soon to tell. — Mike DiRocco
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings

CB Mike Hughes. He has impressed Vikings coaches with his acceleration and quickness, two traits that will serve him well wherever he plays during his rookie season, particularly in the return game. The former UCF standout is working to get as comfortable returning punts as he is on kickoffs and should be able to contribute early on as a returner. Hughes also has been playing a lot of nickel corner with the second-team unit during OTAs. It’s too early to tell whether he’ll truly push Mackensie Alexander for the job in training camp, but Hughes’ work in the slot and at outside corner gives Minnesota versatility in its secondary and the benefit of having its top backup being a No. 1 pick. Status: Right on track. — Courtney Cronin


No. 31: New England Patriots

RB Sony Michel. Wearing No. 51, a temporary jersey until Bill Belichick gives clearance for all rookies to have permanent numbers, Michel took reps behind veterans James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee in the OTA that was open to reporters, and his work seemed to be solid. In particular, his footwork while working on a cone drill stood out as a bit unusual for a 215-pound rusher, as he is light on his feet. Status: Right on track. — Mike Reiss
No. 32: Baltimore Ravens

QB Lamar Jackson. The Ravens knew it was going to take time for Jackson to develop. Remember, Jackson is learning to play from under center and call plays with much more verbiage than his college days. His throws have been inconsistent, but he has been explosive when he scrambles in the open field. Status: Too soon to tell.– Jamison Hensley

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LOS ANGELES — Chargers tight end Hunter Henry tore an anterior cruciate ligament during practice, likely sidelining him for next season.
The team announced the injury on its Twitter account on Tuesday. It did not specify which knee or how the injury occurred.

Hunter, a second-round pick in 2016, had 45 receptions for 579 yards and four TDs last season for the Chargers, who finished 9-7. For his career, he has 81 catches for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Hunter was expected to see a bigger role after the team decided not to bring back longtime star Antonio Gates.
The Chargers also signed tight end Virgil Green as a free agent from Denver last month.

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LOS ANGELES — Cooper Kupp ran an underwhelming 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in March 2017, and Les Snead celebrated.

The Los Angeles Rams general manager figured Kupp’s time would cause him to slip behind a plethora of more physically gifted wide receivers in his class, which meant Snead could snatch him in the later rounds for what would eventually become one of the biggest steals from that year’s draft. Snead had already seen Kupp shine against elite college talent while playing actual football at the Senior Bowl, a showcase Rams decision makers and evaluators have leaned on heavily in recent years.

Scouting the Senior Bowl
A look at which teams selected the most players who took part in the Senior Bowl from 2017 to 2018.
Rams 9
Bills 9
Chargers 8
Giants 7
Packers 7
Vikings 7
Cowboys 7
Patriots 6
Buccaneers 6
From 2017 to 2018, the Rams drafted nine players who took part in the Senior Bowl, tied with the Buffalo Bills for the most in the NFL during that time. This includes the Rams’ top picks each year, tight end Gerald Everett in 2017 and offensive lineman Joe Noteboom in 2018. It also includes Kupp, fellow wide receiver Josh Reynolds, safety John Johnson, outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, defensive lineman Tanzel Smart, offensive lineman Jamil Demby and fullback Sam Rogers.
It’s hardly a coincidence.

Said Snead: “You get to see guys go compete against really good seniors in their class.”

In many ways, the Senior Bowl represents college football’s premier showcase. The game itself is valuable. But even more so are the three days of practice leading up to it, which offer scouts, coaches and executives an extended look at high-end prospects competing against one another. It proved exceedingly valuable to the Dallas Cowboys two years ago. Their staff was selected to coach the North team, and one of the quarterbacks on the opposite side was Dak Prescott — a fourth-round pick by the Cowboys who became the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Snead selected more Senior Bowl players in the last two drafts (nine) than he did in the previous five (eight).

One potential reason for is the Rams have recently leaned on more seasoned players to offset a roster that was the NFL’s youngest — and thus one of its rawest — for several years running. An even bigger reason, perhaps, stems from the reassurance that comes with watching players perform against elite competition on the field at the Senior Bowl. This is especially important for a Rams organization that needs to hit on what little draft capital it possesses.
Using the Jimmy Johnson Value Chart, the Rams’ draft capital from 2017 to 2018 ranks 1,388th among 1,413 based on two-year stretches since 1970, according to research from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.

The better they do with that, the longer their contending window will stay open.

The Senior Bowl has allowed the Rams to evaluate how small-school players match up against prospects from FBS programs they never face. Last year, they saw it with Kupp, who broke records against inferior competition while playing at Eastern Washington. This year, they saw it with Demby, who played at Maine and was actually able to spend time blocking Okoronkwo, from Oklahoma.

“You wouldn’t get to see that when you’re watching him play at Maine, and you get to see it at the Senior Bowl,” Snead said. “I do think it helps you go, ‘OK, some of the traits that he has will transfer to this league.’”

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INDIANAPOLIS — We’re just days away from general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur taking their bulldozers to the New York Giants’ offensive line. When they’re done it will barely resemble the unit that took the field to start last season.

The first move when free agency opens on March 14 could be signing Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell. It won’t be easy — there will be competition — and it won’t be cheap, but the feeling around the league is that it will happen.

“Gettleman loves Norwell,” according to one source.

Gettleman signed the All-Pro guard as an undrafted free agent in 2014 with the Carolina Panthers. Four years later, there is a growing sense they will be reunited. The belief is that offers to Norwell could be in the range of $13 million per year with total guarantees over $30 million, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the guard market.

It is further proof that guards don’t come cheap. Just last year the Cleveland Browns paid Kevin Zeitler $60 million over five years. That is $12 million per season.

Norwell should get more. The NFL’s salary cap is expected to increase another six percent this year. Zeitler’s $12 million last season will probably have to be closer to $13 million this year, and Norwell might even be considered a better player.

2018 NFL Free Agency
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These exorbitant numbers are normally reserved for left tackles. Only four offensive tackles average more than $12 million per season on their current deals. No right tackle averages $12 million.

Norwell is believed to be the best of the bunch at guard this offseason. He’s known as a mauling run blocker and solid pass-blocker. His 88.8 Pro Football grade was third among all guards.

“He’s really, really good,” according to one scout. “He even moves better than you’d think.”

Another personnel evaluator wasn’t quite as sold. He called Norwell “OK” but conceded he would be extremely well compensated as the best available option in a weak offensive line class.

Giants guard/tackle Justin Pugh may be the second-best option as a free agent guard.

This is where the NFL stands. Quality offensive linemen are hard to find. They’re even rarer on the free-agent market. And with interior rushers such as Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, Calais Campbell and Gerald McCoy consistently pummeling quarterbacks on the inside, quality guards can command major paydays.

That bodes well for Norwell and Pugh. It even means the next tier of players such as Tennessee’s Josh Kline, Indianapolis’ Jack Mewhort, Josh Sitton and the Giants’ D.J. Fluker should do well.

Guards are a valuable commodity these days, and the Giants are committed to finding upgrades this offseason. Gettleman seems intent on improving the interior of the Giants’ offensive line. He noted last week that the New Orleans Saints had a dominant guard tandem during their Super Bowl run several years back and again last year during their resurgence.

The Giants are hoping to replicate that approach. But with veterans John Jerry (known as a better pass-blocker than run blocker) and John Greco the only guards under contract, there is plenty of work to be done.

Improving the running game and offensive line is a priority for Gettleman this offseason. He appears set to start at the guard position, with Norwell the intended target at a hefty price.

“At the end of the day, if it’s keeping your quarterback upright and out of the hospital, there are a bunch of guys that are getting paid. They are getting paid,” Gettleman said last week. “If you think about it, they’re close to the quarterback and whatever.”

Price be damned. Is $12-$13 million too much for a guard?

“Listen, it’s the market. Is that car worth $150,000?” Gettleman asked rhetorically. “If somebody buys it, it’s worth it. You know what I mean? It’s no different.”
Whether Pugh fits into the mix as well remains more of a mystery. It would be difficult for the Giants to afford two high-priced guards. Pugh is more likely being viewed as a contingency plan if they don’t land Norwell or a right tackle option. Regardless, Pugh is expected to do well on the market. There will be plenty of interest, and there’s a good chance he will top $10 million per season.

He’s just not likely do as well as Norwell, who is 26 and coming off his best professional season at exactly the right time. He was named an All-Pro right before free agency in a year when his former boss is in a new job and looking for a player of his caliber at his position.

Consider it the perfect free-agent guard storm, one that should make him a very rich man wherever he lands.