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NFL Week 16 winners and losers, plus picks for Dolphins-Saints and breaking down the playoff picture

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Welcome to the Monday edition of the Pick Six newsletter!

This isn’t just any Monday and that’s because it’s the FINAL Monday of 2021. To celebrate that fact, we’re going to list 2,021 reasons that this is the best NFL season of all-time. Just kidding. I don’t have to time to write that and you don’t have time to read that, so we’re going to do what we normally do around here on Mondays: We’re going to hand out some grades, name some winners and losers, and make some picks for tonight’s game. 

Also, as the resident Bengals homer at CBSSports.com, there’s a 2021% chance I’ll be mentioning the Bengals at some point in this newsletter, so read on at your own risk. 

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As always, here’s your weekly reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the Pick Six newsletter. To get your friends to sign up, all you have to do is click here and then share this link with them. Getting your friends signed up is a great way to help them start 2022 off on the right foot. 

1. Today’s show: Week 16 winners and losers, plus full recap

 

It’s Monday, which can only mean one thing: I stayed up until 3 a.m. last night recording a podcast with Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson that touched on everything you need to know about Week 16, and let me just say, it’s probably for the best that you listen. Not only did we cover all 12 games from Sunday, but we also tried to make sense of the playoff picture and I have to admit, talking about the AFC playoffs nearly broke my brain. 

One thing we do every week is hand out our winners and losers from Sunday’s action. For this week’s winners, Wilson and Brinson went to the NFC East while I picked the one person you would expect a Bengals homer to pick. 

Ryan Wilson

  • Winner: Eagles. They have quietly snuck into the playoff race, and they actually have exactly what you need to win in the postseason: An unstoppable running game and a strong defense. 
  • Loser: Chargers. It doesn’t matter who the coach is or who the quarterback is or what city they’re located in — the Chargers always find a way to Charger things up at the worst possible time, and they Charger’d things up Sunday by letting the Texans hang 40-plus on them. It was the worst loss of the day and it could end up costing the Chargers a playoff spot. 

Will Brinson

  • Winner: Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott. For roughly a month now, everyone thought the Cowboys were in a slump, but there’s a good chance that no one thinks that now after they dropped a 50-burger on Washington. 
  • Loser: Bill Belichick. It’s not often Belichick ends up in the losers section, but he made the cut this week after a disastrous game that knocked the Patriots out of first place in the AFC East. Making things worse is that the Patriots didn’t force a single punt against the Bills, marking the first time in Belichick’s head coaching career that the other team didn’t punt a single time.

John Breech

  • Winner: Joe Burrow. The Bengals QB got called out by Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale last week, and all he did was respond by throwing for 525 yards, which is the fourth-most in NFL history for a single-game. Burrow also now has the Bengals one win away from an AFC North title and if they win that, I might have to take a week off to celebrate. 
  • Loser: Trevor Lawrence. In a showdown between the top two picks from the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence’s team lost,  and a big reason was because he had a brain fart in the final seconds when he spiked the ball on the Jets‘ goal line to stop the clock. The issue is that the clock didn’t need to be stopped, and his decision left the Jags with just one play to score at the end of the game. The Jags then failed from the one-yard line, which allowed No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson to come away with the head-to-head win. And unfortunately for Lawerence, he can’t blame this one on Urban Meyer. 

Not only did we list our winners and losers, but we also recapped every game from Sunday. To listen to today’s episode — and to subscribe to the best daily NFL podcast out there — be sure to click here. You can also WATCH today’s episode on YouTube by clicking here.

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2. Week 16 grades: Raiders get a ‘B+’ for season-saving win

Every week I team up with six of my colleagues here at CBSSports.com to hand out grades, and this week, the Raiders got a ‘B+’ for beating the Broncos in a must-win game. 

Here’s a look at the grades from two notable games that were played Sunday:

Raiders 17-13 over Broncos (Click here for full recap)

  • Broncos takeaway: With their season on the line, the Broncos offense fell flat on its a face. It couldn’t run the ball (18 yards), it couldn’t throw the ball (140 yards) and it couldn’t convert on third down (1-of-10). The Broncos’ rushing total was tied for the third-lowest in franchise history. The only reason this game didn’t turn into a blowout is because Denver’s defense constantly came up with big plays. It forced three turnovers, including a Bradley Chubb interception just before halftime that set up a TD. Unfortunately for the Broncos, the loss means that their season is all but over. Grade: D
  • Raiders takeaway: With their season on the line, the Raiders came out and played arguably their best defensive game of the year. Not only did they harass Drew Lock to the tune of two sacks, but they also limited the Broncos to just 18 yards on the ground. Overall, the Raiders surrendered just 158 yards, marking just the third time this century that they’ve held an opponent under 160 yards. On offense, the Raiders let Josh Jacobs do all the dirty work. The running back carried the ball 27 times for 129 yards, with 58 of those yards coming on a TD drive to start the second half. With the win, the Raiders are now in the thick of the AFC playoff race. Grade: B+

Packers 24-22 over Browns (Click here for full recap)

  • Browns takeaway: It’s fitting that this game was played on Christmas because Baker Mayfield gave the Packers plenty of gifts. If you don’t count Mayfield’s performance, you could probably make the argument that the Browns deserved a ‘B+’ or even an ‘A-‘ for their effort in Green Bay, but Mayfield dragged their grade down with a disastrous four-interception showing. Mayfield’s four picks led to 21 points for the Packers and that was essentially the difference in the game. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski also wasn’t great. For some reason, he kept airing it out on offense even though he had a rushing attack that averaged 8.76 yards per carry (219 yards on 25 carries). Most of that came from Nick Chubb, who rushed for 126 yards on just 17 carries on a day where he totaled 184 yards. The Browns defense held the Packers to just three points in the second half, but Mayfield and the offense couldn’t take advantage. Grade: B-
  • Packers takeaway: After missing a week due to COVID, Mayfield returned as the Browns starting QB on Saturday and no one was more happy about it than the Packers defense. Every time the Browns tried to throw the ball in this game, something disastrous would happen and that was mostly thanks to a defense that sacked Mayfield five times while also picking him off four times, including two from Rasul Douglas. Those four interceptions led to 21 points for Green Bay. It was a good thing the Packers were able to stop Cleveland through the air, because they definitely couldn’t stop the Browns on the ground. As for the offense, Aaron Rodgers now holds the franchise record for most touchdown passes (445) after throwing three against the Browns. Two of those scores went to Davante Adams, who finished with 10 catches for 114 yards, but probably could have added to that total if not for two uncharacteristic drops. Grade: B-

As for the other 24 grades we handed out over the weekend, you can check those out by clicking here

3. 13 crazy facts from Week 16

CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 26: Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws the ball during the first quarter in the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Every Sunday night, I get an email from our research department here at CBS Sports, and every Sunday, that email always includes some amazingly wild facts about the games that were just played. 

With that in mind, here are 13 crazy facts about Week 16: 

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  • Joe Burrow’s big day. The Bengals QB threw for 525 yards, which is the fourth-most in NFL history trailing only Norm Van Brocklin (554), Matt Schaub (527) and Warren Moon (527). Burrow also set the NFL record for most passing yards against one team in a single season. Burrow threw for a total of 941 yards against the Ravens, which broke a record previously held by Joe Montana and Dan Marino, who both threw for 874 against an opponent (Montana’s record came against the Falcons while Marino’s came against the Jets). 
  • Josh Johnson pulls off a rarity. With a TD pass against the Bengals, the Ravens QB became the first player to throw a TD pass for multiple teams in the same season since 2015 when Brandon Weeden (Cowboys/Texans) and Ryan Mallett (Texans/Ravens) both did the same thing. 
  • Bills break Belichick. The Bills had zero punts against the Patriots, making them the first team ever to not to punt a single time against a team coached by Bill Belichick. This only applies to games where Belichick was the head coach, and his streak of forcing every opponent to punt at least once had lasted for 474 games, according to ESPN.com
  • Patriots get dominated. With their win, the Bills became the first team to win at New England in consecutive seasons in 15 years. The last team to pull that off was Peyton Manning’s Colts, who did it in 2005 and 2006. More impressively, though, the Bills’ 12-point win made them the first team to win by double-digits in consecutive seasons at New England since the Broncos did it in 1995 and 1996. 
  • Cowboys’ Diggs gets another pick. Trevon Diggs picked up his 11th interception Sunday, which was impressive for two reasons. For one, it tied the franchise record. Also, Diggs now has the most interceptions that any player has had in any season since 1981. 
  • Dak Prescott makes history. The Cowboys QB threw four touchdown passes against Washington, which is notable because of who caught them. With Ezekiel Elliott, Dalton Schultz, Terence Steele and Amari Cooper catching the passes, that made Dak the first QB in NFL history to throw a TD pass to a running back, receiver, tight end, and offensive lineman in the same game. The Cowboys’ blowout was so big that we actually have 10 crazy facts from that game alone and you can check them out by clicking here
  • Offensive linemen go wild. Speaking of linemen scoring touchdowns, Terence Steele wasn’t the only one to get one on Sunday. Lane Johnson (Eagles), Will Richardson (Jaguars), Conor McDermott (Jets) also scored. The four touchdowns were the most total scores by offensive linemen in a single week since at least 1950, according to ESPN
  • Seahawks‘ collapse continues. With their loss to the Bears, the Seahawks became the first team this season to lose multiple games where they led by double-digits in the fourth quarter. Seattle led the Bears, 24-14, in the final period before Chicago mounted a furious comeback for a 25-24 win. They also blew a double-digit lead to the Titans earlier this season. 
  • Antonio Brown makes NFL history. The Buccaneers receiver caught 10 passes for 101 yards against the Panthers, which is notable because it means that Brown has now caught at least 10 passes in an NFL-record 23 games. Previously, Brown was tied with Andre Johnson with 22 games of 10 catches or more, but the Buccaneers receiver broke the tie Sunday. 
  • Steelers in epic offensive slump. The Steelers got shutout by the Chiefs in the first half Sunday, which means they have now gone five straight games without scoring a touchdown in the first half. That streak is the team’s longest in more than 80 years. The last time they were this bad in the first half came in 1940 when they went six straight games without scoring a touchdown in the first two quarters. 
  • Vikings drama continues. The Vikings played another one-score game Sunday, which means they now have 14 for the season. That ties the 1994 Giants and 2015 Ravens for the most in NFL history. With one more close game, they’ll have the record to themselves.  
  • Zach Wilson makes Jets history. The rookie QB had a 52-yard TD run against the Jaguars, which was the longest TD run by a QB in Jets history and the longest TD run by any NFL QB since 2015. 
  • Matt LaFleur in a league of his own. With a win over the Browns on Saturday, LaFleur became the first coach in NFL history win at least 12 games in each of his first three seasons. LaFleur also tied George Seifert for the most total wins (38) by a coach over his first three seasons. 

4. NFL playoff picture heading into Monday night

It took 16 weeks, but the NFL playoff picture is finally starting to clear up. Well, at least in the NFC, where five of the seven playoff spots have been clinched. In the AFC, things are still total chaos. For one, there has only been one playoff spot clinched so far. Also, there are 13 teams still alive in the AFC playoff race.  

Here’s a look at the top seven teams from each conference:

AFC
1. Chiefs (11-4)*
2. Titans (10-5)
3. Bengals (9-6)
4. Bills (9-6)
5. Colts (9-6)
6. Patriots (9-6)
7. Ravens (8-7) 

Not only did the Chiefs clinch a playoff spot over the weekend, but they also clinched the AFC West, which means they’ll definitely be hosting at least one playoff game this year. They’re also in the driver’s seat for clinching the top seed, which would give them a first-round bye. Of course, the most intriguing part of the AFC playoff picture is the wild-card race. Although the Ravens are currently slotted into the seventh spot, that will change if the Dolphins win tonight. A win by Miami would knock Baltimore out and the Dolphins would move up to seventh. 

NFC 
1. Packers (12-3)*
2. Cowboys (11-4)*
3. Rams (11-4)*
4. Buccaneers (11-4)*
5. Cardinals (10-5)*
6. 49ers (8-7) 
7. Eagles (8-7)

With just two weeks to play in the season, there’s not much drama left in the NFC playoff race. The Saints could actually add some drama to the race with a win over the Dolphins on Monday night, but it won’t move them into the top-seven. However, a win by New Orleans would have one odd effect on the playoff picture: The Eagles would move up to sixth and the 49ers would drop to seventh. Although the 49ers have a head-to-head win over Philly, a Saints win would create a three-way tie, and the Eagles have the best conference record among the three teams.  

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5. Monday preview: Prepping you for Dolphins at Saints

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 05: Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins looks to make a pass play on the run against the New York Giants in the second quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on December 05, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

This is a huge game for both teams and that’s because the loser will see their playoff chances get flushed down the toilet. (The loser won’t technically be eliminated from the playoff race, but they’ll be in a deep hole that will likely be impossible to get out of.)

My good buddy Jared Dubin wrote our deep-dive preview for this game here at CBSSports.com, and here’s how he sees the game playing out:

  • Why the Dolphins can win: Since their wining streak started back in Week 9, the Dolphins have had one of the best defenses in the NFL, and tonight, that defense gets to go up against a third-string quarterback in Saints rookie Ian Book, who will be making his first-career start. If the Dolphins can force Book into making multiple big mistakes, there’s a good chance Miami will win. A big game by the Dolphins defense would almost assure them of a win and that’s because Miami’s magic number this year has been 17. The Dolphins are 6-0 this season when holding an opponent to 17 points or less. 
  • Why the Saints can win: For New Orleans, this game is likely going to come down to Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. With Ian Book making his first-career start, the Saints will need to take the game out of his hands by getting Kamara and Ingram involved early and often. If Kamara has a huge game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Saints pull off the upset. Also, the Saints will need their defense to keep this a low-scoring affair because it’s unlikely that New Orleans will be able to win a shootout with Book under center. 

You can get a full preview of the game from Dubin by clicking here. The Dolphins are currently favored by three points, and as you can see below, Dubin and I actually agree on who’s going to win the game, which kicks off at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

Dubin’s pick: Dolphins 17-13 over Saints.
My pick: Dolphins 23-20 over Saints.

If you’re thinking about betting on the game, Tyler Sullivan put together a full gambling preview. 

  • ONE PROP TYLER LIKES: Alvin Kamara OVER 24.5 receiving yards (-115): “With Ian Book under center, the Saints will look to get the ball out of the rookie’s hands quickly and into the arms of their best-skill position player. Kamara should see plenty of work in the passing game and has gone over this number in six of his 10 games played this season.”
  • ONE PROP I LIKE: Jason Sanders OVER 1.5 field goals (-120): Sanders is averaging 2.2 field goal attempts per game over the past five weeks, so there’s a good chance he’ll see enough attempts to hit the over. The Saints also have the best red-zone defensive percentage in the NFL this year — they’ve only given up a TD on 43.6% of possessions — so it won’t be surprising if they force the Dolphins to kick multiple field goals.  

You can check out Sullivan’s full gambling preview by clicking here.

6. Rapid-fire roundup

It was a busy weekend in the NFL and since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you: 

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  • Jags plan to interview Doug Pederson and Jim Caldwell. The Jaguars can start interviewing coaches Tuesday morning, and CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora has reported that the Jags are already planning to interview both Pederson and Caldwell. For more details on that story, be sure to click here
  • Raiders eyeing Todd Bowles. Like the Jaguars, the Raiders are also allowed to start the process of interviewing coaches Tuesday and according to La Canfora, one person they’re eyeing is Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. To check out more details on their interest, be sure to click here
  • Saints tried to lure Drew Brees out of retirement. With Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian on the COVID list, the Saints actually tried to lure Drew Brees out of retirement this week. They also apparently tried to land Philip Rivers, but both quarterbacks turned them down. For more on that situation, be sure to click here
  • Miles Sanders breaks a bone in his hand. The Eagles offense could take a huge hit this week and that’s because Sanders suffered a hand injury Sunday. According to NFL.com, the running back will undergo an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury. The loss of Sanders for any amount of time would be a tough break for the Eagles, who currently have the NFL’s top rushing offense. 
  • Colts’ COVID issues continues. The Colts were hit hard with COVID in the days leading up to Week 16, and those issues are now getting worse with S Jahleel Addae, CB T.J. Carrie, LB Malik Jefferson, RB Marlon Mack and OL Braden Smith all being placed on the COVID list Monday.





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Fantasy Football Rankings 2022: Sleepers from advanced model that nailed Damian Harris’ big season

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Dalton Schultz of the Dallas Cowboys made major strides last season, when he jumped to the No. 3 tight end in the Fantasy football rankings. With Dallas losing two of its top four wideouts this offseason, Schultz could potentially vault to the very top at his position as a major component in a high-octane offense. Thus, despite his gaudy 78-808-8 stat line from a year ago, Schultz could still be in the conversation as one of the 2022 Fantasy football sleepers.

Others like Kyle Pitts and Zach Ertz also have chances to be even more productive considering the skill position personnel losses of their respective teams. The tight end position isn’t very deep outside the likes of Travis Kelce and George Kittle, but there is value in the middle of the Fantasy football rankings 2022. Who should you keep an eye on before going on the clock? Before crafting your 2022 Fantasy football draft strategy, be sure to check out the 2022 Fantasy football cheat sheets from the proven computer model at SportsLine.

Last year, the model accurately predicted that Patriots running back Damian Harris would dramatically outperform his fifth-round Fantasy football ADP. The result: Harris became the early-down workhorse for New England and rushed for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns to finish as the No. 8 running back in all of Fantasy football. He finished ahead of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Josh Jacobs and Chris Carson, who were all coming off the board at least 20 picks earlier on average.

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The same model has a proven track record providing Fantasy football tips, also identifying A.J. Brown as another sleeper in 2020 and players like Julio Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster as Fantasy football busts last season. Additionally, it’s called past Fantasy football sleepers like Derrick Henry in 2019, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in 2018, and Davante Adams in 2017. Anybody who banked on players like those made a run at their league title.

The model is powered by the same people who generated projections for all three major Fantasy sites, and it beat human experts last season when there was a big difference in ranking. The projections update multiple times daily, so you’re always getting the best Fantasy football advice.

Now, SportsLine has simulated the entire NFL season 10,000 times and released its latest Fantasy football rankings 2022, along with plenty of sleepers, breakouts and busts. Head to SportsLine now to see them

Top 2022 Fantasy football sleepers

One of the 2022 Fantasy football sleepers the model is predicting: Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki. The former Penn State star has increased his catches and receiving yards every year and posted a 73-780-2 stat line last year. He’s finished as a top 11 Fantasy tight end each of the past three seasons and is playing on the franchise tag in 2022, so he has all the motivation needed for a career year.

Miami appointed Mike McDaniel as its new head coach and the former 49ers assistant was a big part of Kittle’s ascension into the league’s elite. He should utilize Gesicki similarly, as the athletic tight end will be a complement on intermediate routes to Tyreek Hill’s deep routes. Gesicki didn’t even finish among the top 10 tight ends in snaps last year, so there’s room for improvement, and SportsLine’s model pegs him as a top-10 player in its 2022 Fantasy football TE rankings.

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Another sleeper that SportsLine’s Fantasy football rankings 2022 have identified: Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Injuries aside, McCaffrey has been the top Fantasy football player over the last few seasons. He would be the clear No. 1 pick in Fantasy football drafts if owners could certify a clean bill of health for Carolina’s star.

However, he has become one of the Fantasy football sleepers 2022 based on his 2022 Fantasy football ADP, which is early in the third round. SportsLine’s model expects him to have a better season than James Conner and Aaron Jones, who are both being selected before him in most drafts. While there might be injury concerns surrounding McCaffrey, he is worth selecting as a sleeper pick.

How to find proven 2022 Fantasy football football rankings

SportsLine is also extremely high on a surprising quarterback you aren’t even thinking about being taken in the middle rounds of 2022 Fantasy football drafts. This quarterback is listed as a shocking top-five option ahead of superstars like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar JacksonYou can only see who it is, and the 2022 Fantasy football rankings for every player, at SportsLine.

So which 2022 Fantasy Football sleepers should you be targeting? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get 2022 Fantasy Football cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Damian Harris’ huge season, and find out.

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Aaron Rodgers has 4th best odds to win 3rd straight MVP | FIRST THINGS FIRST

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Aaron Rodgers is optimistic about this upcoming NFL season. In a recent Sports Illustrated profile, the Green Bay Packers quarterback expressed how happy he was to be in the locker room, that he’s a ‘kinder, gentler QB’ and that fun things are coming. Fox Bet odds show Rodgers tied at 4th for the MVP award, behind Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, and alongside Justin Herbert. Greg Jennings and Nick Wright decide how likely it is that Rodgers will three-peat his MVP win.



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2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the ACC’s top 10 prospects as Clemson defense loaded with talent

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The ACC fell short of placing a team in the College Football Playoff despite a strong season from Pittsburgh. The upcoming regular season represents a clean slate, and Clemson should feature one of the most talented defenses in college football. Although early days, CBS Sports took a gander at the best NFL Draft prospects in the tradition rich conference entering the 2022 campaign:

Davis does a great job of shooting gaps and creating chaos in the opponent’s backfield. He does a good job of stacking and shedding blockers to make an impact in the run game. 

The depth of Clemson’s defensive line allows the team to rotate players and keep everyone fresh. It has a lot of talent along the front seven. In addition to Myles Murphy, Trenton Simpson, Bryan Bresee and Davis, defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro, edge rusher Xavier Thomas and edge rusher K.J. Henry have NFL potential. Thomas, in particular, is poised to showcase his talent this season.

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The buzz surrounding Nelson began early in the process. He has great size for the position and long arms to dictate competition in the trenches. If the technique matches in 2022, there is an opportunity to rise significantly in an offensive tackle class that appears wide open. A wealth of talent at the position has flooded the NFL in recent years with Rashawn Slater, Tristan Wirfs, Penei Sewell and others chief among them.

8. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

Flowers has been on the NFL’s radar for a few years now. An injury to quarterback Phil Jurkovec impacted the receiver, as there were a lot of missed opportunities during which Flowers had slithered behind coverage. He ranked No. 23 in yards per reception (16.95) among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions in 2021. With a healthy Jurkovec, the Pittsburgh native will have a good chance to remind talent evaluators of his potential. 

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The nation’s No. 1 overall high school recruit in 2020 missed most of last season with a torn ACL. The talent is evident, but it is unknown what to reasonably expect from Bresee coming off the injury this season. The Maryland native carries his weight really well and is just a natural athlete. He does a good job of stacking blockers while peering into the backfield and has good top end speed.

Connecticut quarterbacks are having a bit of a moment as both Kentucky’s Will Levis and Van Dyke are considered potential early draft choices. The latter throws with touch and does not panic when pressured. However, there is at least one moment each game where he unnecessarily throws into coverage. Experience can resolve some of those frustrations. 

While his ability to make plays with his legs may fall short relative to other quarterback prospects, he is capable of making accurate throws off-platform. He ranked No. 11 in passer efficiency last season, according to TruMedia. Players above him include Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.

It could be easy to take Bergeron for granted because nothing he does is overwhelming, but he is consistent. Similar to Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, it just looks easy for the Quebec native at times. He plays with good leverage and balance and has an even-keeled style of play. Active eyes allow him to pick up stunts into his gap. 

Cornerback Garrett Garrett Williams is another prospect who has the talent to join this list by season’s end.

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4. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina

The NFL has shown a willingness of late to add wide receivers who are traditionally undersized: Wan’Dale Robinson, Tutu Atwell, Jahan Dotson, etc. Downs was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football a year ago, and that had a lot to do with his ability to create chances for himself. He does a good job of creating leverage with body mannerisms and precision into his breaks. Downs finished third in yards after the catch (757) last season, according to TruMedia, behind Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns (1,135) and Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba (791).

3. Tony Grimes, CB, North Carolina

Grimes has good size and great speed for the position. He profiles as an NFL man coverage cornerback, but the ball production has just not been there yet. With so much talent in that Tar Heels secondary, it should create more opportunities for the Virginia Beach native to compile statistics. If he puts it all together, there is a good chance that he is one of the first cornerbacks off the board next April. 

Grimes was one of the rare football reclassifications who moved from the 2021 recruiting class to 2020. As a result, he should be one of the younger cornerback prospects available.

Simpson is one of the most versatile defenders in this potential NFL Draft class. He is not Micah Parsons but could excel in a similar role allowing him to play in the box, rush the passer and cloud passing lanes. The Charlotte native finds himself around the ball often because of his quick key and trigger. First-year defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin has a lot to work with this season.

When comparing size, Murphy stacks up to last year’s No. 1 overall selection — Travon Walker. Murphy is a good athlete but is realistically not going to match Walker’s historic NFL Combine performance. Murphy does have more exposure to what would be considered a traditional edge rusher role than Walker at the same point in his career. The former shows active hands and an ability to turn speed to power. When attempting to identify the likely first-round selections in the preseason, Murphy jumps out.

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