Aug 29, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo watches the action during the second half against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jerod Mayo one of FLM’s 5 under-the-radar HC candidates

As the NFL hiring cycle kicks into high gear, not every outstanding head coaching candidate is a household name.

But New England Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is not a secret in NFL circles.

As a Patriots linebacker, Mayo approached the game with speed, toughness and intelligence as he delivered punishing tackles for coach Bill Belichick.

Known for haunting darkened film rooms, Mayo immediately earned the respect of a veteran Patriots team and was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008.

He became an All-Pro linebacker and a Patriots’ all-decade selection before retiring after eight seasons because of injuries.

Now Mayo, 35, is emerging as a rising star in NFL coaching circles. Many predict a fast rise from his current job to ultimately becoming a head coach.

“Jerod is a strong leader of men,” one NFL source said. “He’s incredibly smart with outstanding emotional intelligence and knowledge. I wouldn’t bet against him becoming a head coach very soon and being very successful. Jerod is a high-character person capable of energizing a franchise.”

Finishing his third season of coaching after retiring in 2016 and working in the financial sector and as a media analyst, Mayo could follow a similar fast track that another former Patriots linebacker, Mike Vrabel, traveled from Houston Texans defensive coordinator and linebackers coach to head coach of the Tennessee Titans.

“I think Mayo will be an unbelievable head coach because he learned from the best coach (Belichick) to ever coach and he ran a defense as a rookie that has so many levels of complexity to it,” said former Patriots and Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “It’s just a matter of time when his number will be called.”

As a player, Mayo became known for his prodigious and unusual work ethic. He rarely took a day off, showing up in Foxborough at the team facility for extra workouts and film sessions on his own, even when coaches weren’t at Gillette Stadium.

“While it was quite spectacular what Jerod did as a player, I think he’d be a great head coach,” former Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer said. “When he was hired as an assistant, I told my wife: ‘He’s going to either be a coordinator or a head coach in three years.’ The impact that guy has, it’s really hard to describe.

“He has learned from the best and can put his own style and stamp on it. If he does anything close to what he’s done as a man and a player and an assistant coach and can translate that into being a head coach, that would be phenomenal. Nothing Jerod does would surprise me.”

Here are four other coaches who could emerge as head-coaching candidates this year or in the future:

Indianapolis Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone

A former Patriots safety and special teams standout, Ventrone just finished his fourth season running the Colts’ special teams. Known for his high-energy style and leadership qualities, Ventrone is already on the radar of several NFL franchises as someone on their short list of future head coaching candidates.

Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett

Hackett flies a bit below the radar because Packers coach Matt LaFleur is directly involved in running the offense. However, Hackett is instrumental in operating the offense headlined by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player. Hackett isn’t exactly being ignored. He’s a known commodity to NFL decision-makers and the Jacksonville Jaguars officially requested an interview for their vacancy.

New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham

Graham declined an interview request last offseason with the New York Jets as they hired another defensive strategist in Robert Saleh. Graham did a solid job for a Giants defense that performed at a high level despite the team’s overall record in 2021. A member of the Belichick coaching tree, he is known for his defensive expertise and strong leadership style.

Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady

The Frank Reich coaching tree is a pipeline that won’t be ignored after the success of Nick Sirianni with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Indianapolis offense didn’t miss a beat in 2021 as Brady directed a heavyweight rushing attack built around Jonathan Taylor. Brady is a three-time CFL Grey Cup champion with the coaching chops and plan to succeed.

–By Aaron Wilson, Field Level Media

Sep 30, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

For rookie QBs, struggle is real

No wobbly pass, stare-down interception, busted assignment or coughed-up fumble underscores the sad state of the NFL’s underwhelming rookie quarterback class more than these ugly statistics.

Between towering Jacksonville Jaguars starter Trevor Lawrence, New York Jets signal caller Zach Wilson and New England Patriots quarterback and Cam Newton replacement Mac Jones, they’ve combined for a 1-8 record, 17 interceptions and only nine touchdown passes.

The highest rated rookie quarterback is Texans third-round draft pick Davis Mills, who’s off to a respectable start in one start and two games played with an 80.9 rating ahead of Jones’ 79.1, Wilson’s 51.6 and the Chicago Bears’ Justin Fields’ 39.9 mark.

Lawrence bumped his rating to 66.4 with a better showing Thursday night at Cincinnati.

As heralded as this group was during the preseason, their performance has been ugly nearing the quarter-pole of the regular season.

Fields’ first NFL start last Sunday was a disaster: 6 for 20 for 68 yards, and sacked nine times for 67 lost yards. The Bears had one net yard of passing offense in the 26-6 defeat to the Cleveland Browns.

Traditionally, rookie quarterbacks struggle. Justin Herbert’s rookie debut last season with the Los Angeles Chargers was the exception, not the rule.
Peyton Manning was intercepted 11 times in his first four NFL starts.

Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys.

John Elway was awful as a rookie with the Denver Broncos.

There are far more Dwayne Haskins, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Jared Goff and Sam Darnold type of beginnings.

No one has approached Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck’s level as rookies.

This has been a house of horrors start for the rookies this year, and it isn’t even close to Halloween.

The rebuilding Jets have been decimated by injuries on offense.

Jaguars coach Urban Meyer is a former college football coaching legend who’s still learning on the job in the NFL. He staged a forced quarterback competition with Gardner Minshew before finally trading Minshew to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jones split time with Newton during the preseason before the team jettisoned the former NFL MVP.

Jones has been solid at times while playing in a somewhat conservative offense.

Fields hasn’t been named the starter even though veteran Andy Dalton has a knee injury.

Lawrence, Wilson, Fields and Jones combined on Sunday to pass for 717 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 53.2 passer rating.

Lawrence and Wilson are tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions.

Jones was intercepted three times on Sunday. He’s led the offense to two touchdowns in 20 possessions when not playing the Jets.

Meanwhile, Mills, while basically uncelebrated, had a solid performance against the Carolina Panthers as he completed 18 of 28 passes for 168 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 95.5 passer rating.

Whether the early struggles derail promising careers remains undetermined.

Past failure doesn’t always prevent future success, but a competent offensive line and a sound game plan sure does help.

The notion that all rookie quarterbacks need to sit has been disproven over the years, but talent isn’t enough.

Asking Lawrence to carry the Jaguars or Wilson to get by without any pass protection isn’t a realistic or sustainable plan and it can stunt their development and damage their health.

As for San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance, his team has been smart about his adjustment to the NFL.

He’s played only seven snaps as the backup to Jimmy Garoppolo.

Kyle Shanahan is bringing along Lance slowly, which appears to be a very wise move.

–By Aaron Wilson, Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (14) returns to the locker room following warmups before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Wilson: 5 bold predictions for 2021

Be bold, be bullish, be all-in when it comes to ultra-big, ultra-athletic and ultra-skilled Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf.

Metcalf is an extremely reliable breakout candidate and my prediction for huge NFL numbers in his third NFL season.

Here’s why:

At a sculpted 6-foot-4, 235 pounds with 4.33 speed in the 40-yard dash, Metcalf has freakish size and speed and knows how to use his superior traits to full advantage.

He had at least 100 yards or one touchdown in 10 of 16 games last season, finishing with 83 receptions for 1,303 yards (seventh in the NFL) and 10 touchdowns. He was targeted at least four times every game.

In two NFL seasons, he has 141 career catches for 2,203 yards and 17 touchdowns.

In his third NFL season, look for even greater production from Metcalf. He could emerge as the top wide receiver in the game.

Russell Wilson has built a strong chemistry with Metcalf and will make it a point to throw him the football frequently. That conclusion doesn’t require sources. It’s just a matter of fact and practicality.

The game is slowing down for Metcalf and he’s gained greater knowledge of the Seahawks’ offense and excellent timing with how Wilson likes to play.

As they say, “Let Russ cook.” How about, “Let Russ and Metcalf collaborate as co-chefs to cook a delicious meal of touchdowns.”

The Seahawks hired Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator, which could help Metcalf maximize his talents. Look at how much production the Los Angeles Rams, Waldron’s old team, have had at wide receiver and the diversity of their schemes under Sean McVay.

There could be extra pockets for Metcalf to operate.

Metcalf should also benefit from the presence of rookie D’Wayne Eskridge, who’s capable of being an effective weapon in the slot and as an outside receiver.

Metcalf lined up in the slot 16.6 percent of the time last season. That number could increase under Waldron’s direction. Plus, Metcalf has upgraded his route-running skills.

Under Waldron, the Seahawks are expected to increase their tempo with quick passing game strategies.

Metcalf is also an imposing red-zone target, where he scored five times last season.

And Metcalf has the requisite attitude for the job.

“Hungry,” he said. “Still hungry. Be better than last year, that’s always the goal.”

Here are four more bold predictions for the 2021 season:

Chiefs win it all

Yes, Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the talent to repeat. And they looked good in a dramatic season-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Here’s saying they won’t repeat. And it’s not because of any obvious deficiencies with the Buccaneers.

The Kansas City Chiefs are just that good.

Between a fully healthy Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and an upgraded offensive line led by Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown, the Chiefs are primed to win a Super Bowl rematch over the Buccaneers.

Bills are in the mix

The Buffalo Bills are a sleeper Super Bowl candidate around the league.

The emergence of strong-armed mobile quarterback Josh Allen makes them a legitimate contender.

The addition of Stefon Diggs last season and general manager Brandon Beane’s steady roster moves to improve a loaded defense makes the Bills Mafia extremely happy.

This team is on the cusp of accomplishing big things.

Browns take over AFC North

The way the Baltimore Ravens’ running back situation has been decimated by injuries — including the losses of J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill for the season — could prevent them from remaining ahead of the pack in the division.

Lamar Jackson is a dynamic presence, but can only do so much given the injury situation in the backfield.

The Cleveland Browns are poised to ascend.

A two-running back system with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, a playmaking quarterback in Baker Mayfield, the return of Odell Beckham Jr. from an ACL injury and a defense that has Myles Garrett makes the Browns the heavy favorite in this division.

Colts take a step back

It’s hard to believe in Carson Wentz resurrecting his career with the Indianapolis Colts.

Wentz’s confidence and mechanics were shot in Philadelphia. Even having Frank Reich around to coach him up again won’t be enough to get Wentz back to where he began his career.

Look for the Tennessee Titans to rule the AFC South because of powerhouse running back Derrick Henry, the addition of Julio Jones and the play-action skills of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The defense, led by Jeffery Simmons, is improving.

–Field Level Media

Nov 29, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) carries the ball against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Thomas, Saints approach boiling point

Will Thomas’ delay of ankle surgery until June, poor communication with the Saints during his convalescence and his frustration at recently being called out by coach Sean Payton ultimately lead to a bitter divorce?

That seems like a relatively unlikely scenario considering the star wide receiver’s skills and track record. Although the Jacksonville Jaguars and college coach Urban Meyer is a logical potential landing spot and the Saints have a need at corner that could be filled with Jaguars corner C.J. Henderson, there’s been no credible report of a deal heating up.

Just because the two are at odds doesn’t mean this relationship can’t be repaired.

Plus, there are major salary-cap reasons why it wouldn’t be prudent to move on from Thomas.

While the Saints would carry $8.9 million in dead money this year if they trade Thomas, they would have an astronomical $22.7 million in dead money in 2022.
When healthy, Thomas is a relative bargain as he’s due $64.75 million over the next four years.

At some point, it’s logical to think that Thomas will cool down, stop saying on social media that the Saints are trying to damage his reputation, clear the air with team officials, get healthy and get back to catching touchdowns.

This doesn’t seem like an irreparable situation, but it does bear watching.

Given that the Saints lack proven, impact wide receivers outside of Thomas, they’re better off working behind the scenes to find common ground with the former Ohio State star.

–‘Encouraging’ news in Indy
As grim as the Indianapolis Colts’ medical situation looked a week ago, things are starting to look up.

Colts quarterback Carson Wentz, who underwent foot surgery recently to repair a broken bone, isn’t wearing a walking boot and isn’t limping.

The Colts feel good enough about Wentz’s medical outlook that they haven’t moved to add a veteran quarterback such as the Chicago Bears’ Nick Foles, who won a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles with Indianapolis coach Frank Reich calling the plays.

While Wentz’s rehab is “very encouraging,” according to Reich, the Colts are giving rookie Sam Ehlinger, a sixth-round draft pick from the University of Texas, an extended audition. Jacob Eason hasn’t proven that he should necessarily rank ahead of Ehlinger on the depth chart while Wentz recovers. So, the competition continues while the Colts cross their fingers that Wentz will be back in time for the start of the regular season.

Meanwhile, All-Pro offensive guard Quenton Nelson is considered to be on a fast track in his recovery from foot surgery. If the Colts get both Wentz and Nelson back on the field sooner than originally expected, that could go a long way toward challenging the Tennessee Titans for the AFC South division title.

–Seahawks move on from Aldon Smith
The Seattle Seahawks cut ties with trouble-prone pass rusher Aldon Smith.

They really didn’t have a choice considering that Smith was arrested in April on a second-degree battery charge in Louisiana and his extensive history of legal problems and alcohol issues.

Because the 31-year-old is so talented, NFL teams have given him multiple changes.

As much as the Seahawks wanted to see Smith resurrect his career with them after missing four years with NFL suspensions and had him live in a sober living home, things didn’t work out.

It’s a troubling sign to see Seattle move on from Smith considering how their organization believes firmly in giving players second changes.

His legal issues aren’t resolved. He’s facing an arraignment Aug. 24 in New Orleans for allegedly choking a man until he was unconscious. Smith’s $1.1 million contract only contained $137,500 guaranteed, so this wasn’t an expensive endeavor for the Seahawks.

As for Smith, it’s reasonable to wonder if he has squandered his last NFL opportunity.

–David Irving seeks second chance
David Irving knows exactly what he’s capable of.

Irving is a stellar athlete with the skills and athleticism to torment quarterbacks.

One of the most gifted pass rushers not currently playing for an NFL team, Irving remains a free agent.

And the former Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle is convinced he can be a compelling comeback story.

The 6-foot-8, 275-pound pass rusher is training diligently at Phase 1 Sports in Las Vegas under the tutelage of Mike Waters, owner and founder of the workout facility, and trainer Trippe Hale. Irving’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as he’s drawing interest from multiple NFL teams.

When healthy and eligible to play, Irving, 27, has proven that he’s a dynamic player capable of producing big games. Irving emphasized that he’s remaining patient and taking a humble and hungry approach toward the game.

“I want to show people who David Irving really is,” Irving said in a telephone interview. “I’m a fighter. I want to dominate, and it’s a different mindset. I love the fact that I can be a three-technique at my size and get past two 350-pound guys double-teaming me who can squat twice as much as me and I make the play. That’s what I live for.

“The workouts have been going great. Everything I’m learning, kung fu, Jiu jitsu, boxing, all of my great training at Phase 1. That’s all helping with my movement and everything that you do on a football field. I’m the leanest I’ve been since I was 19 years old and I’m feeling explosive and I’m ready for anything that comes by way. I’m ready to play and I can’t wait to play football again.”

Released by the Raiders in May, Irving emphasized that he is eligible to be immediately signed by teams after being reinstated by the NFL last October. Following his reinstatement, he was signed to Las Vegas’ practice squad and subsequently promoted to the active roster within a week of joining the Raiders. Irving’s past violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy has triggered suspensions and hindered his availability.

“I’ve done the necessary work,” said Irving, who was indefinitely suspended in 2019 by the NFL before his reinstatement last year. “I’m compliant with all of the NFL’s policies.”

Daniel Moskowitz, Irving’s attorney who successfully represented the NFL player in the reinstatement process, affirmed that Irving is in good standing.

“Obviously, the NFL programs are confidential, so I can’t get into any specifics, but I can say that David is in the best standing he’s been in since he was a rookie with the league’s programs,” Moskowitz said. “The sky is the limit. This year, David should be able to hit the ground running. That’s of great importance to his success. I think the biggest thing is when you’ve gone through past situations like David you’re weighed down by peripheral stressors. He has remedied them. From an emotional and physical standpoint, I really think he’s in the best place he’s been in years.”

A former NFC Defensive Player of the Year for his performance against the Green Bay Packers in 2016 when he forced three fumbles, recovered one with one sack and a pass deflection in 19 defensive snaps, Irving said a major motivating force in his life is his eight-year-old daughter, Zoe.

“She’s my why,” said Irving, who played collegiately at Iowa State. “I want to be able to set my daughter up so she can have options I never had in life. Growing up in Compton, we didn’t have money for school. It was either get a scholarship or go to the Marines like my dad. Being 6-foot-8 helped and I took this route. I keep leveling up. I don’t want to put my daughter in that situation. I want my daughter to be able to choose her future. My why has changed over the years as I’ve matured.”

–By Aaron Wilson, Field Level Media