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What NFL teams are looking for from Sam Darnold at USC Trojans pro day



One of the best pro days ever was Jamarcus Russell‘s. One of the worst? Peyton Manning‘s.

Yet USC quarterback Sam Darnold‘s pro day matters — at least, it does to NFL teams. Sure, pro days are just a sliver of the evaluation process for NFL draft prospects. But they aren’t completely useless, and we’re talking about a potential No. 1 pick here — a potential No. 1 pick with competition. It magnifies things a little more. Yes, scouts and front-office personnel have watched mountains of tape, talked to people who know the prospects they have their eyes on and sometimes even met with the prospects, either at the combine or on in-person visits. And quarterbacks? If a team is eyeing a quarterback in Round 1, it has done its homework.

When Darnold chose not to throw at the combine earlier this month, it didn’t raise any flags, but it made this pro day matter a little more. He was the only quarterback among the potential first-round picks who didn’t throw. Did he not want to compete? Was he tweaking his mechanics?

Darnold has enough tape to show teams. He threw 57 touchdown passes to 22 interceptions and completed 64.9 percent of his passes across 24 starts. There were no red flags in any of his athletic testing at the combine (hand size was a question going in, but he measured right around average for quarterbacks). What did he really have to prove throwing to receivers he has never met? He has shown enough promise to be in the running to be the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft. And he was always planning to throw at his pro day, which is Wednesday.

A pro day setting is perfect for quarterbacks: It’s comfortable, it’s scripted, and QBs get to use the same receivers they’ve played with for years. No quarterback should ever have a poor pro day. But that adds at least an ounce of pressure.

So what am I looking for from my No. 2-ranked quarterback at his pro day? Here are three things:

Show cleaner mechanics.

If there’s a question about Darnold, it’s his delivery, which is more of a windup than the other top quarterbacks’. He has a quick release, but NFL coaches are going to want him to shorten that delivery. A windup, or elongated delivery, could matter for two reasons. One is delivery speed. That seems to be a lesser concern here. Darnold anticipates well and gets the ball out pretty quick. That said, a windup can expose the ball to pass-rushers — think of a ball behind your shoulder, where it can be swatted, as opposed to next to your head — and for a guy who has had turnover issues, that can stick out.

About those turnovers: Darnold had an issue there in 2017 — his 22 turnovers were tied for most in the FBS — but I actually think a lot of that was footwork. Several of his 13 interceptions were because of poor footwork, and some of his sacks were the result of his not properly setting his feet and climbing the pocket. Scouts will take a close look at Darnold’s footwork and mechanics on Wednesday to see if he’s moving in the right direction.

Make all the throws — from every situation.

Deep outs to the opposite hash. Fades. Corners. Get under center. Show three-, five- and seven-step drops. (If it’s raining, even better). Scouts are watching every throw and the footwork that goes into those throws. In a perfect world, no balls would hit the ground against air. Now, Darnold can’t help his receivers dropping the ball, but ball placement matters. Is he giving his receivers a chance to make a play on every throw?

Be a leader.

How does he interact with teammates? Is he screaming at a receiver who drops a pass? Is he respectful to his coaches and to the people in attendance? All that stuff matters to scouts. And they’re watching every interaction. The front office that drafts Darnold should have no questions about him when the pro day is over.

Pro days are really about confirming what the tape shows. Darnold has some fantastic tape, mixed with rocky moments from 2017.

All of the top quarterbacks in this class have flaws. That’s why there’s no consensus on who’s going No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns. But Darnold is squarely in the mix. What he does Wednesday should help confirm what we’ve talked about since he burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2016: He has a chance to be special.

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Washington Football Team puts top O-lineman Brandon Scherff on IR with knee injury



The Washington Football Team placed guard Brandon Scherff on injured reserve Monday after he suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Scherff has a sprained right MCL and is expected to miss three to five weeks, a source told ESPN, confirming an NFL Network report.

Players must miss a minimum of three weeks when placed on IR under rules instituted for the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Coach Ron Rivera had said on his Zoom presser Monday that they had received good news about Scherff, but that he would still miss time.

Wes Schweitzer will replace Scherff, as he did Sunday. Schweitzer has made 36 career starts.

Scherff is playing this season on a franchise tender after being tagged by the team, for which he has played his entire career since being drafted fifth overall in 2015. The three-time Pro Bowl selection has missed time for injury each of the previous two seasons.

Washington promoted Cam Sims from its practice squad Tuesday in a corresponding move.

Washington travels to Cleveland to face the Browns on Sunday.

ESPN’s John Keim contributed to this report.

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Source — Denver Broncos to sign QB Blake Bortles after Drew Lock injury



The Denver Broncos are signing quarterback Blake Bortles to a one-year deal, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Tuesday.

He will join the team after passing COVID-19 protocols, a source told ESPN.

Broncos starting quarterback Drew Lock suffered a severe strain of the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder on Sunday and will miss three to five weeks.

Jeff Driskel took over after Lock left Sunday’s game in the first quarter. He wound up playing 64 of the offense’s 77 snaps in the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing 18 of 34 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Bortles spent five seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2014-2018, playing in 75 games and throwing for 17,646 yards with 103 touchdowns and 75 interceptions. He threw only two passes in three games during the 2019 season with the Los Angeles Rams.

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Browns duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt punishing NFL defenses – Cleveland Browns Blog



BEREA, Ohio — To cap off the Cleveland Browns‘ opening drive Thursday, Nick Chubb bounced off two Cincinnati Bengals defenders before carrying a third into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown.

In the second quarter, it was Kareem Hunt‘s turn. On a key third-and-4, Hunt barreled through an arm tackle for the first down. Then, he finished off the possession with a touchdown grab from Baker Mayfield.

The Browns have big names attached to their passing attack, most notably Mayfield and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who each shined in the Browns’ 35-30 victory over the Bengals. Yet through the first two weeks of the season, Chubb and Hunt — and their prowess for running through tackles — are proving to be the backbone of the Cleveland attack.

“We ask them to make some dirty runs,” coach Kevin Stefanski said of his two runners. “If there’s a guy unblocked or there’s an arm hanging out there, they’ve got to run through it. When (the blocking) is perfect these guys can make some big-time plays. But even when it’s not perfect, I feel confident in their abilities to gain yards on dirty runs.”

The duo, which combined for 210 yards rushing against the Bengals, is achieving that as well as any backs in the league. Chubb, in fact, tops the NFL with 116 yards after contact, and Hunt is tied for second with the Dallas CowboysEzekiel Elliott with 99 yards. Hunt, however, is leading the NFL averaging 4.3 yards per rush after contact. Chubb is third with 3.6 yards per, which trails only Hunt and the Tampa Bay BuccaneersLeonard Fournette (4.0 yards).

Though the sample size is small, those would be the highest averages after contact since at least 2009, when ESPN Stats & Information began tracking the data. In 2010, LeGarrette Blount averaged 2.94 yards after contact; Adrian Peterson posted the next-best average with 2.93 yards in 2012.

In turn, 23% of Cleveland’s rushes this season have gone for at least 10 yards, by far the highest rate in the league. The Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers are tied for second in rate of such runs at 18%.

“Those guys are really special,” Mayfield said Thursday of Chubb and Hunt. “The offensive line played great. Those were some big holes, and those guys were not going down by just one single guy.”

A revamped offensive line certainly has been part of Cleveland’s early but enviable success running the ball. The Browns are fifth in run block win rate, a new metric ESPN utilizes to measure run-blocking success. That includes Austin Hooper, who ranks fifth among tight ends in run block win rate. Fullback Andy Janovich, who had a monster kick-out block on Chubb’s opening-drive touchdown run, has brought physicality to the Cleveland ground game, as well.

But the ability of Chubb and Hunt to break tackles is what stands to elevate the Browns’ rushing attack from good to potentially elite, and sustain drives in critical moments. Hunt is fourth league-wide with 10 rushing conversions on third down. Chubb is tied for fifth with nine third-down conversion runs.

“We both have some special talents,” Hunt said, “and we both can do some great things with the ball in our hands.”

That might not be changing in Cleveland any time soon, either.

Before the opener, Hunt, 25, signed a two-year extension worth $13.25 million, including $8.5 million guaranteed. That puts him under contract with the Browns for the next three seasons. Chubb, 24, will be extension-eligible, as well, after this season, though he still has another year left on his rookie deal.

Given how seamlessly Chubb and Hunt have operated together, the Browns figure to still be just as incentivized to extend Chubb, even with Hunt on such a reasonable deal for a running back. After Thursday’s win, Chubb actually clamored for Hunt to be more involved in the game plan early, underscoring their chemistry off the field.

“You see what he can do,” Chubb said. “He’s a great back.”

The Browns boast two of them. Special talents, who break through tackles and reel off dirty runs. Giving Cleveland a backfield tandem primed to be the envy of the entire league.

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