With the 2018 scouting combine kicking off this week, NFL Nation reporters take a closer look at the positions of need for all 32 teams and which players will be closely evaluated.
Click the link after each team to view the full post.
There were signs Ryan Tannehill could be on the rise when Miami extended him in 2015, but last season’s knee injury cast doubt on his long-term future with the Dolphins. It would be wise for the Dolphins to explore their options in the draft to potentially upgrade from Tannehill over the long haul. Read more.
The Patriots need a strong off-the-line linebacker. On offense, there will be some intrigue as to whether the team can find “the next Jimmy Garoppolo” at quarterback, that is a high-upside developmental prospect. Read more.
Let’s make it easy and list the positions that don’t need to be addressed: free safety and strong safety (Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams, respectively). The Jets are open for business everywhere else, which tells you why they won only five games last season. Read more.
Baltimore has to upgrade the supporting cast for quarterback Joe Flacco and improve the NFL’s No. 27 offense. The Ravens desperately need to draft a wide receiver because their top two (Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin) could be gone and Breshad Perriman has been a bust. Read more.
The Bengals must make their offensive line their first priority after allowing 80 sacks in two seasons. The Bengals don’t have much stability at that position with center Russell Bodine potentially becoming a free agent and their two tackles remaining big question marks. Read more.
The Browns will focus on quarterbacks, obviously, but they also need to be sure about two other players they will consider drafting: running back Saquon Barkley and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. This draft is too important to miss on any opportunity. Read more.
This process starts with inside linebacker, where the Steelers were depleted last season after a severe spinal injury to Ryan Shazier and a shoulder injury to backup Tyler Matakevich. The Steelers will have options here and should capitalize on them. Read more.
The Texans’ biggest offseason need right now is to upgrade their offensive line. The group gave up 252 total pressures, the second-most allowed by a team in any of the previous 12 seasons. Read more.
Pass-rusher or running back first? Will the Colts surprise everybody and go with an offensive lineman in the first round? That’s just the start for the Colts, who also need to add depth at receiver behind T.Y. Hilton because Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken are headed to free agency. Read more.
Interior offensive line and tight end should be the Jaguars’ top two priorities at the combine. The Jaguars finished the regular season as the NFL’s top rushing team (141.4 yards per game), but their production dropped off significantly over the final six games. Read more.
The Titans’ pass-rush pipeline is barren as 2016 second-round pick Kevin Dodd is looking like a bust and 32-year-old Erik Walden is a pending free agent. Depending on what happens with pending free agent Avery Williamson, inside linebacker could be a big need, too. Read more.
After a 5-11 finish, it’s clear the Broncos need plenty of things, but a solution at quarterback certainly leads the way. Read more.
With one of the league’s worst run defenses last season, the Chargers need to add more athletic bodies who can make an impact defensively in the run game. That means players who can create havoc up front and rangy athletes at the second level of the defense who can cover and tackle. Read more.
The Cowboys need linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, safety and tight end help either in major or minor ways. It is always worth remembering a draft is not just about the current year but the future. Read more.
New general manager Dave Gettleman has made it a priority to rebuild the offensive line — his “hog mollies” as he likes to say. The Giants can use guards and tackles. Maybe even a center. They won’t discriminate. If you’re an offensive lineman, you’re in play. Read more.
The Eagles need to bolster their linebacker corps. Besides lacking depth, there are question marks around each of the 2017 starters: Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and has had difficulty staying healthy, Nigel Bradham is a pending free agent, and Mychal Kendricks has requested to be traded in the past. Read more.
The Bears’ top offensive need is at wide receiver, as the team had only one receiver crack the 50-catch mark in 2017 — Kendall Wright (59), who is an unrestricted free agent. The Bears are still holding out hope that former first-round pick Kevin White will pan out, but White has played in only five regular-season games since the Bears drafted him No. 7 overall in 2015. Read more.
The Lions are set at some positions, including receiver and quarterback. But don’t be surprised if this draft ends up heavy on linemen. Read more.
When Dom Capers took over in 2009, then-GM Ted Thompson finagled his way into a pair of first-round picks and turned them into nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews. They became cornerstones of a defense that won the Super Bowl. Mike Pettine needs that kind of talent influx as he implements his defensive system. Read more.
Aside from figuring out who the quarterback will be in 2018, the Vikings’ other biggest need this offseason is to add pieces to the offensive line. The unit struggled to protect Case Keenum in the playoffs and has a number of question marks. Read more.
The Falcons likely will prioritize the offensive and defensive lines because coach Dan Quinn always emphasizes winning the line of scrimmage first. Read more.
The easy choice is wide receiver. The Panthers traded No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo last season and promoted Devin Funchess into that role. Funchess, who was dealing with a shoulder injury late in the season, never proved worthy of the promotion. Read more.
The biggest needs are defensive end (since last year’s standout starter, Alex Okafor, is a free agent and coming back from a torn Achilles), a pass-catching tight end and an athletic outside linebacker. Read more.
Look for the Buccaneers to make upgrades on defense, with both their pass rush and their back end. Read more.
The Cardinals don’t have a projected starter at quarterback on the roster and might address the position in free agency, but the draft might be where Arizona finds a long-term answer. Read more.
The Rams did a fine job fixing the offense last offseason, and now it’s time to focus on the defense. Cornerback stands out as their most glaring need. Read more.
Top needs are edge-rusher, cornerback and interior offensive line. The Niners also could use a game-breaker at receiver or running back, but with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in place, those positions aren’t as pressing. Read more.
The Seahawks have varying degrees of need or potential need at as many position groups as they have areas that are currently solidified. Such is life for a team with 16 unrestricted free agents and uncertainty with several other starters. Read more.
Miami Dolphins tight ends Mike Gesicki, Cethan Carter, Adam Shaheen go on COVID-19 reserve list
They were put on the list as close contacts, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Sunday, after Dolphins co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach George Godsey, who has been vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 and was sent home.
Co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville will run the Dolphins’ offense in Godsey’s absence.
The Dolphins have had four training camp practices and were off Sunday.
Miami has four other tight ends in camp.
Gesicki’s 703 yards receiving in 2020 ranked fourth among NFL tight ends and were the second most in a season by a Dolphins tight end.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers to hold Olympics watch party in support of hurdler Anna Cockrell, sister of CB Ross Cockrell
TAMPA, Fla. — The Detroit Lions aren’t the only team holding Olympic track and field watch parties this training camp. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will also hold one at 7:55 a.m. Monday morning — just moments before taking the practice field — to watch Anna Cockrell, sister of cornerback Ross Cockrell, compete in Semifinal 3 of the women’s 400-meter hurdles.
Cockrell, who was a key reserve on the Bucs’ Super Bowl winning team last year, is elated his younger sibling gets a chance to live out her dream, even if he can’t be there to witness it.
“She’s worked hard her entire life for this, and I’m just super excited for her,” Cockrell said. “She’s an absolute animal on the track. I have a ton of respect for what she does.”
The four-time All-American at Southern Cal won NCAA track titles in June in the 100- and 400-meter hurdles. She then turned in the performance of her life at the Olympic Trials, catapulting herself from fifth place in the final turn to reach third place — the final spot on the Olympic team — and finished with a personal best time of 53.70 seconds.
Then on Friday, she put up a 55.37 in Heat 1 behind Colombia’s Melissa Gonzalez (55.32), the wife of Lions backup quarterback David Blough, and Ukraine’s Viktoriya Tkachuk, (54.80).
“One of the things I say to Anna is – she’s a five-star, she was a five-star recruit coming out of high school,” Cockrell said. “So I just tell her, ‘Be a five-star. Just breathe and do it. … Just breath, do it and let your light shine.'”
The Cockrell siblings have been able to talk on the phone and trade text messages since she’s been in Tokyo. On Saturday night, they exchanged grumblings over the weather. Japan’s sweltering heat wave and stifling humidity caught the young sibling off-guard, while the older Cockrell had just donned pads for the first time in a Tampa Bay training camp.
“We have good conversations about it, how to deal with performing at a high level,” Cockrell, who joined the Bucs as a free agent midway through last season, said. “Being the older brother, I just love giving her as much advice as I can. I’m learning to listen more. It’s one of the things I know I gotta work on with her. We just have good conversations. At the same time, we respect what each other [does] and when we need to give each other that space, we give each other that space.”
The postponement of the Olympic Games due to the pandemic meant Anna would miss her senior year of competition at Southern Cal. Cockrell called it the “longest year of his sister’s life” but said it helped her rejuvenate physically and mentally.
In a tearful post-race interview at trials, she opened up about battling depression in 2019 and wanting to quit the sport, which she has since gone into greater detail about due to an increased focus on athlete mental health at the Olympics.
“She’s very talented,” Cockrell said. “She’s a very beautiful person, inside and out.”
“We’re just tremendously thankful. I think the whole family – all of us,” Cockrell said. ‘We thank God every day, every time we talk to each other. We just have – it’s hard to explain it – all these things happening at once.”
How the Falcons use Bill Walsh fellowship to emphasize coaching diversity
Tessa Grossman was about to get into her mother’s white Mazda on May 3 when a notification popped up on her cell phone. Home in California for a couple of weeks after the spring semester of grad school at Illinois State, she saw whom the email was from and started getting nervous before she even opened it.
Five days earlier, she completed a first interview with the Atlanta Falcons for a Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship during training camp. Her interviewers said they’d be in touch. This email from Sarah Hogan, Atlanta’s assistant director of coaching operations, could be good news. Or bad.
It was good. Atlanta wanted a second interview.
“I remember sitting down in the car and going, ‘Oh my god, the Falcons just emailed me for a second interview,'” Grossman said. “Basically, like, holy s—, this is crazy.”
She took a deep breath. She had to plan to impress one more time. The email said to pick an interview time and Marquice Williams, Atlanta’s special teams coordinator, would reach out with details.
What started as a cold email to Hogan on April 10 introducing herself and informing Hogan she had applied for the fellowship led to Grossman’s selection as one of eight finalists for four internship spots in a program designed to increase the number of NFL minority coaches.
Processes differ from team to team, but all across the country calls and emails like this occurred for candidates for the introduction to the NFL through participation in training camps or offseason workouts.
It’s a competitive gig — often, like Grossman, potential fellows have full-time or graduate assistant jobs in college or high school. Venessa Hutchinson, who helps run the program for the NFL, said approximately 1,000 people applied this year.
Most years, the NFL has full participation. In Atlanta, this meant a comprehensive interview process run by Hogan and Williams, which whittled the Falcons’ in-house database of 50 applicants to the four they selected: Grossman (strength and conditioning), Erick Capetillo (tight ends/running backs), Darryl Jackson (special teams) and Cliff Matthews (outside linebackers), a former Falcons player.
“The Falcons have been a team that has always been at the forefront,” Hutchinson said. “Even when the old regime was there, they were bringing in female coaches and things like that, a lot earlier than a lot of the other clubs.
“They were always trying to be more progressive.”
In one of her first conversations after head coach Arthur Smith was hired by the Falcons this offseason, Hogan brought up the Bill Walsh program. She had been instrumental in its implementation under former coach Dan Quinn and wanted to continue.
She’d represented the Falcons at league meetings about the fellowship. She had plans. Smith agreed. The process became hers.
Then she met with special team coordinator Williams, who received his NFL start with Bill Walsh fellowships in Chicago and Detroit. Hogan happened to have her database of potential candidates open. Williams asked about it. They discussed his experiences and how it helped his coaching growth.
“Right after that conversation [I told him] that, ‘Hey, I talked to Coach [Smith] and I’m spearheading this thing. I’d love for me and you to do it together,'” Hogan said. “He was all for it. It made it so much better.”
In years past, Hogan had worked with a member of the scouting department. Now, she’d be working with an assistant coach. She also implemented changes. Hogan had suggestions from her prior experience running the program. Williams had ideas from his own Bill Walsh experience.
Together they streamlined the process of name collection and took candidate suggestions from their coaching staff. They scoured the NFL database and did their own research. If someone — like Grossman — reached out cold and showed initiative beyond clicking the Falcons box on the NFL application, they received consideration.
Due to the timing of the program with FBS training camps and wanting fellows to receive the full experience, they decided they wanted one high school coach, one small-college coach, an Ivy League coach and a fourth wild-card spot. They wanted a woman to fill at least one role. Each candidate was logged into Hogan’s tabbed-out, color-coded database containing information for this year and future seasons.
Williams and Hogan communicated regularly through email, text, phone calls and in-person meetings. Any time an idea came up, they fired off a note, working a handful of hours each week for about a month outside of interviews on the program.
Using their metrics, they narrowed down their database to 16 candidates who would receive 25-minute first interviews by phone. From there, they selected eight candidates to participate in Zoom interviews with Hogan and Williams. If he could, Smith would sit in. Otherwise, he’d watch recordings later.
“We wanted someone who is a total go-getter, who would do anything and everything,” Hogan said. “They would wash jerseys. They would pick up equipment. It had to be someone who was really enthusiastic about the whole program and the idea of it and learning.
“Someone who could take what we were teaching them and take it back to their current job. We weren’t necessarily looking for someone just to take the internship to put on their résumé to say that they did it.”
That was important to Hogan and Williams because of how they came up through the NFL.
Hogan grew up around football. Her formative years were spent in Merrick, New York, where her father, Greg Gigantino, was Hofstra’s defensive coordinator. The closest she came to playing or coaching was in eighth grade at Merrick Avenue Middle School, where she and her best friend considered trying out for football after their track season was moved to spring. But they decided not to.
In college at James Madison, she had no intention of working in football. Her father told her he helped land her a job in the football office. She didn’t think anything of it, just that she’d be going to help people they’d known over the years.
At the time, she didn’t know anything about football operations. She thought the only gig for women in sports was athletic training.
“And then I just kind of really liked doing it,” Hogan said.
Hogan interned with the Jets — the team held training camp at Hofstra — and changed her major to sports management and kinesiology. She went to grad school at Georgia State for sports administration and became the director of football operations at Northeastern and then Georgia State.
In 2015, she landed with the Falcons as the coordinator of scouting administration. Eight months later, Quinn made her the coordinator of head coach operations and she’s now essentially the deputy chief of staff assisting Smith and director of coaching operations Brian Griffin.
She works with various staff members to coordinate logistics and put everything together — from rookie travel to the Bill Walsh program.
“We just carry out the head coach’s wishes and make it easy for him to get his agenda and get the team ready to win games,” Hogan said. “That’s my bottom line.”
In working on the fellowship, she was also able to fulfill an objective she adopted from her father: taking interest in younger coaches and trying to match jobs with candidates. It’s what she wanted to do: make a difference behind the scenes, ever since she moved from college to the NFL.
Williams could relate. Had it not been for the Bill Walsh program, he might not be where he is now.
Williams was a defensive line coach at South Dakota in 2013 when he wrote 32 letters — one to each NFL head coach — and mailed them along with a copy of his résumé and his business card.
A Fresno, California, native and former defensive back at the University of Mary in North Dakota, he had few connections to the league. He’d spent time in small colleges — Winona State, Central Oklahoma before South Dakota — when he decided to apply for the fellowship program.
He figured the personal touch could stand out, perhaps catch the eye of application collectors. The extra effort worked. He landed with the Bears in 2013 and 2014 and then in 2015 with the Lions under Jim Caldwell.
Working with the Bears gave him his first exposure to special teams under coordinator Joe DeCamillis. With Caldwell he gained insight into almost everything.
“I learned more about different ways on teaching the values and different ways to practice on presenting certain topics,” Williams said. “Concepts and how to structure a practice, how to structure meetings. And Coach Caldwell did a great job of exposing us to the overall big picture of becoming a servant-leader.”
Before Williams’ Lions internship, Caldwell brought him for a two-hour interview. One hour was to interview as a linebackers coach and the other as a special teams coordinator. Williams thought it was for the internship, but Caldwell treated it like it was for a full-time job.
Essentially, his internship began during the interview, where Caldwell asked about Williams’ approach as a teacher and communicator, quizzed him about his personality, asked how he installed plays and ran practice. He inquired about special teams philosophy and how special teams complements offense and defense.
“That helped me and to this day I still use a lot of the tools that I learned from that interview and then the feedback I got from that interview,” Williams said. “When I interviewed with Coach Smith or whatever organization it may be, my base foundation came from that mock interview with Coach Caldwell.”
In 2016, Williams became the assistant special teams coach with the Chargers and in 2018 was moved to a defensive assistant role. Then he spent two seasons back in Detroit under Matt Patricia as the assistant special teams coach before Smith hired him as his coordinator this year.
It started with the fellowship.
“It was a platform to show who I am as an individual and show what I could bring to the table, but the bigger thing was it gave me the opportunity to learn the game of football,” Williams said. “That’s first and foremost.”
When Williams spoke with Grossman on May 5 to set up final interview parameters, he said half of the 20-minute final interview would be a presentation on anything she wanted. Drawing from a lesson learned from his interview with Caldwell, Williams wanted the candidates to teach him and Hogan something.
“They wanted you to install a play or something that I run in my offense,” Capetillo said. “And that was a little bit exciting, but also nerve-racking.”
Capetillo explained an inside run play his Las Vegas High team uses frequently with him as the head coach. Matthews, the defensive line coach at Reinhardt College, presented on the concepts of blocks defensive linemen might face and how to counter them.
Jackson, the special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach at Brown, did a brief introduction of himself followed by a replica of a directional punt coverage presentation he’d use at a meeting with his players.
Grossman, an Illinois State strength and conditioning graduate assistant, practiced her presentation six times the morning of her May 6 interview. She talked about the concept of cognitive restructuring and the importance of positive self-talk over negative self-talk.
While Capetillo, Matthews and Jackson had years of playing and coaching experience, Grossman had never held a full-time job. She graduated from Dartmouth a year ago, her senior softball season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. She used material from her final presentation for Motivation and Sports last semester — a presentation she got an A for — in her interview with Hogan and Williams.
The four candidates were Hogan and Williams’ first choices, and all four aced their final interviews.
The process worked. Hogan and Williams had their fellows. Williams and Hogan divided the calls to the candidates they chose not to hire — but encouraged them to stay in touch and to apply again next year — and the congratulatory calls.
There were reasons they chose to call the candidates they did: Capetillo was Williams’ college teammate. Matthews had been to Flowery Branch before and Hogan was his liaison when he’d come to watch film. Jackson coached with Hogan’s father. Only Grossman, who reached out to Hutchinson for preparation tips throughout the process, had been unknown to Hogan or Williams prior to the process.
Capetillo, 32, was at his high school’s track practice when Williams called. He stepped aside for a minute and had to contain his excitement. He’d applied for the program before, but this was the furthest he’d gotten in the process.
He already had spoken to his wife — they were high school sweethearts — about the possibility of being away from home for three weeks. His goal, his dream, has been to work for an NFL team. This would be the first step on his path.
After he got off the phone, he quickly called his wife and went back to coaching track to unsuspecting kids who had no idea what just happened to their coach.
Jackson, 52, applied only to the Falcons. His connection with Hogan and his brother living in the Atlanta area made the Falcons an attractive possibility. He’d been part of the internship program before — in 2007 with Jacksonville, 2003 with Detroit and 1999 with Philadelphia. He applied again not because he was looking for a way to the NFL, but to increase his knowledge base. He found out he got the job sitting in his office at Brown.
“It was time for me to branch back out,” Jackson said. “Re-network and learn at the highest level and have an opportunity to listen and work with coaches and players at that level.”
Matthews, 31, was in his suburban Georgia home working on his other passion: cooking. He was in the middle of making collard greens — one of his specialties — when Hogan called. Fancying himself a master chef, he kept cooking. When he hung up, he sat down, told his wife the news and called his head coach at Limestone to tell him.
Grossman, 23, had been told after the interview to expect a call from Thomas Stallworth, Atlanta’s head strength and conditioning coach. They spoke for an hour while Grossman, still on Pacific time, was in her bedroom. At the end, Stallworth let it slip the Falcons were offering her the fellowship — followed by a call five minutes later from Williams making it official.
“It was just really shock at first,” Grossman said. “The whole experience felt like a bit of a fairy tale to be honest.”
She had not expected this in her first attempt at applying, even though she interned with the Rams. Matthews and Capetillo had hoped for this since they entered coaching. For Jackson, it’s a way to keep learning. It’s an opportunity, a chance. All they need to do is look at Williams to understand where it could lead.
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