combined knowledge from A weekend in Indy

BY BEN STANDIG | MARCH 5, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — From buzz surrounding free agent wide receivers to the running back class to the Washington Redskins quarterback swap, here’s your look at all angles from the 2018 NFL Combine. The Sports Capitol was on the scene at the Indiana Convention Center Thursday and Friday.

HELP WANTED AT WIDE RECEIVER
Proof that the NFL Combine is not just about measuring prospects: The Redskins inquired about Dolphins wide receiver and $16 million man for 2018 Jarvis Landry this week per a league source close to the situation. Washington has a clear need at receiver opposite the developing Josh Doctson. That is true even if they retain free agent Ryan Grant.

NFL.com reported Saturday that Landry, considered the top free agent in the weak 2018 class, told the Dolphins he would sign the franchise tag that will pay him $16 million in 2018. However, a trade remains the likely path, per sources. Miami, coming off its second 6-10 season in three years, simply wanted to ensure it would receive viable compensation for the player who led the NFL in receptions last season with a franchise-record 112 and had nine touchdowns. Unlike the Redskins with Kirk Cousins, the Dolphins have limited downside with this tag-and-trade approach.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Miami offered a contract averaging $13 million per season. Landry’s camp views the four-year, $58 million — $32 million guaranteed in first two years – Green Bay gave Davante Adams as the bar.

The use of the non-exclusive tag allows for Landry’s reps to negotiate with other teams. Adding a player who set the NFL record for receptions in a receiver’s first four years sounds appealing.

Landry’s value remains somewhat controversial. He played slot for Miami and only finished with 987 yards (8.8 yards per catch). Those who praise the three-time Pro Bowler note the 5-foot-11 receiver’s competitive nature – and that Jay Cutler was his quarterback last season. Landry averaged over 12 yards per grab in 2016 with Ryan Tannehill when the Dolphins reached the postseason. The nine receiving touchdowns tied for fourth in the league last season.

One faction believes pigeonholing Landry as just a slot receiver is unfair. Whether the Redskins believe he can move outside is crucial considering Crowder’s presence. Adding Landry would also take care of the punt return need or at least provide Gruden with another option should they let the fumbling Crowder focus solely on receiver duties.

The projected price tag may ultimately drop the Redskins from consideration. Voices at the Combine did not consider Washington a lead contender for Landry. The lack of free agent options even viewed as potential No. 1 options or mere difference-makers may have them think twice before bailing.

Sammy Watkins offers high-end talent, but lacks the matching production. Washington is, per league source, monitoring the free agent momentum for Seattle’s Paul Richardson, an underrated route-runner with impressive speed. Richardson’s basic stats (44-703-6) last season were depressed in part because of the haphazard passing game in Seattle.

The Steelers reveal little in their plan for disgruntled Martavis Bryant, but the sense is they are in no rush to trade away the deep threat unless blown away. It’s also clear why moving Bryant this offseason makes sense. There have been no contract talks between the two sides. At this point, Bryant is a lock to walk when his contract expires in 2019, per sources. Based on football abilities, Bryant is worth more than a fourth-round pick, though his 2017 performance lacked a bevy of highlights. For now, a fourth is the apparent line for teams in part because of the risk. Bryant missed the 2016 season for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

RALLY ROUND RUNNING BACKS
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley may end up the No. 1 pick in the draft. He also may be the sole running back selected among the top 20-25 picks. There could be 10 selected in the next 20-30 picks. Buzz in Indianapolis has Washington among the teams poised for an RB addition on Day 2.

The Redskins had a formal meeting with USC’s Ronald Jones, a rather popular prospect in Indianapolis. His 20 formal interviews were, according to a source, the most for any player at the 2018 Combine. The electric back rushed for 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns with the Trojans last season. NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock ranks Jones third among the running back class and DraftAnalyzer.com’s Tony Pauline singled out Jones as a great fit with the Redskins.

Jones ran his 40 at the Combine, but suffered a hamstring strain early in the run and finished with a non-representative 4.66. The 5-foot-11 burner gets another chance to run at USC’s pro day March 21. At the start in Washington there would an overlap in skill set with Chris Thompson. Jones, a mere pup at 20, needs more strength before taking on three-down duty. The Jamaal Charles comparisons hold up, but Charles often didn’t when overworked. Jones avoided injuries with the Trojans, The running ability impresses at any size.

Georgia’s Sony Michel and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny offer better fits as rookies. More than one person in Indianapolis joked that Michel running a blah 4.54 40-yard dash is great news for teams picking in the middle of round two like Washington. Penny, a 220-pounder who led the nation in rushing last season, ran a 4.46 40-time.

THE QUARTERBACK EXCHANGE
There were conversations galore about Cousins at the Combine especially when other parties learn you cover the Redskins. If odds on the quarterback’s destination were based on the chatter in Indianapolis, Minnesota checks in at say 2-1 followed by the field.

There was no consensus as to whether the Redskins were better of with Alex Smith instead of Cousins.

There are concerns with Smith in Washington’s system unless Jay Gruden includes a steadier diet of run-pass options and the team drastically improves its ground game. The Redskins ranked 30th in yards per carry (3.6) last season. The Chiefs finished first (4.7).

Kansas City used that run-pass balance effectively to take advantage of Smith’s strengths. He turned in his the first 4,000-yard season of his career and led the NFL with a 104.7 QB-rating.

The Redskins simply moving on from Cousins and the lingering contract talk with a veteran of Smith’s stature remains the most positive aspect of the maneuver. DeAngelo Hall said as much to The Sports Capitol last month. Several others in Indianapolis agreed.

Cousins typically responded to media questions in Washington with politically safe answers intended to reveal little about his true feelings or intentions. That is normal for that Q&A setting. Yet, Cousins carried the same demeanor into the locker room. Some with and around the team told The Sports Capitol that even though they generally like him, they are not convinced they know the real Cousins even after his time in Washington.

From the football perspective, most agree that Cousins to Minnesota or any of the obvious QB-needy teams would help. The level of help is the question. Cousins makes aggressive throws, “but often needed to be coaxed into those throws by coaches,” per one source.

Another noted the rate in which his throws put receivers in harm’s way. Terrelle Pryor proved underdeveloped at receiver during his first and likely lone season in Washington. Per one source, he lost some gumption going after passes in traffic because balls were high or behind him. Similar thoughts existed during Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson’s final season in Washington, though those two remained aggressive.

There is one aspect of the QB swap all agreed on: The Redskins were wise to move on from yet another offseason of tag talk. From there, we’ll see.

FOOTBALL UNIVERSE TROLLS REDSKINS REPORTER, PART I
Waiting for the outbound flight, I took a random seat in the waiting area outside the gate. The person in the next seat was a scout-in-training. He placed an open notebook filled with scouting reports from the 2012 NFL Draft on top of his carry-on bag. That prospect guidebook was open to this guy:

NOT STRAIGHT LINE
The Redskins offensive line seemingly spent more time on the injury report than on the field last season. Their two starting tackles are recovering from off-season surgeries. Yet the biggest question marks remain inside at left guard and center. Starters Shawn Lauvao and Spencer Long are free agents.

Teams hold informal meetings with dozens of prospects. Only a few receive a formal sit down. The Redskins held a formal meeting in Indianapolis with Ohio State center Billy Price, per source. Most draft projections pegged Price to be selected in the first round. The partially torn pectoral muscle suffered last week during the bench press surely lowers his Day 1 upside, but any slide isn’t likely steep. His projected recovery time puts him back on the field when training camps open.

The larger point here with the Redskins is less about whether they land the two-time All-American, but more about whether they target a center or guard early in the draft.

Second-year center Chase Roullier played well after taking over when Long landed on injured reserve. Gruden this week said Roullier could also see work at left guard as needed. Other unprompted mentions included the uncertainty with Lauvao plus Arie Kouandjio and Tony Bergstrom as left guard depth.

Gruden never mentioned Long. The longer Long gets closer to free agency the more the Redskins appear willing to let him test it. Washington already invested big money into Trent Williams and Morgan Moses. Brandon Scherff’s original four-year deal ends this coming season. That’s more spending on deck. The Redskins may let Long test his value before adding to their offensive line tab.

If Roullier takes over at one spot, Washington could seek guard help early in the draft. That’s a position of strength in this draft with three prospects – Quenton Nelson, Isaiah Wynn, Will Hernandez – potentially landing in round one. Iowa’s James Daniels likely joins Price as centers drafted within the first 50 picks. Washington also holds the 44th selection.

The Redskins’ line core moves the needle and, when healthy, piles.

“The good thing is I’m a big firm believer in offensive line play – and we obviously got blown up last year with the injuries,” Gruden said in Indianapolis. “But I think if – if – everybody is healthy, we have a very good offensive line.”

MOORE DID PLENTY
Maryland wide receiver, D.J. Moore told The Sports Capitol he met with the Redskins in Indianapolis. Washington’s impression of the 6-foot receiver from that session surely went up a level after Moore crushed the workouts. The projected second-round pick ran a 4.42 40-time. Overall, he tested among the 97th percentile of NFL players.

Scouts, coaches and analysts are rather universal in their stance that tape rules more than performances at the so-called “Underwear Olympics.” Yet when you like the player, more confirmation of potential goodness doesn’t hurt. Moore’s name came up often as a player of note outside the projected top options. After this performance, expect Moore’s status closer to those other top names.

DRAFTING A QB STILL POSSIBLE
The Redskins are out of the quarterback game early in the draft, but that doesn’t mean drafting one is off the table. Both of Washington’s current quarterbacks are over 30 years old. Colt McCoy’s contract ends in 2019. Nate Sudfeld no longer works there.

Washington met twice with Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson in Indianapolis, The Sports Capitol learned. The 6-foot-3 passer finished his two-year stint at Memphis with 70 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions, a 63.1 completion percentage and nearly 8,000 passing yards. College stats often require a conversion rate of sorts depending on scheme or conference so let’s downplay those gaudy numbers, though limited turnovers at any level is appealing.

One other appeal with Ferguson for Redskins: He brings a good arm and mobile dynamic that are similar to Smith. Teams often get themselves in trouble by having backups that require a playbook rewrite. Ferguson finished with a 3.8 GPA at Memphis. His meticulous nature showed through at the Combine by circling back with reps to make sure he knew the proper pronunciation of names before entering meetings.

Other offensive line prospects meeting with the Redskins at the Combine include a pair of tackles: Projected third-round pick Jamarco Jones (Ohio State) and Rick Leonard (Florida State). Leonard, a Western Maryland native, grew up a Redskins fan.

FOOTBALL UNIVERSE TROLLS REDSKINS REPORTER, PART II
Friday night I ventured into the brisk Indiana night, then headed to a downtown restaurant that serves as one of the meeting places for all at the Combine. By all I mean agents, coaches, media, ownership and other football notables. Therefore the possibilities of whom one might see first, rather high. The first person I recognized as I walked into the establishment on this night, Norv Turner, obviously.

Photos by Ben Standig for The Sports Capitol
Photo of Landry from Wikimedia Commons

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