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Former NFL players plan to launch Freedom Football League



Another professional football league — the Freedom Football League — has been created by former NFL players, including Ricky Williams, Terrell Owens and Simeon Rice, with the intention of “reimagining, rethinking, reinventing and reforming” the game, it was announced Thursday.

Williams, appearing on ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Thursday, said there are 50 former players among the approximately 100 stakeholders. Other early founders include former NFL players Byron Chamberlain, Jeff Garcia and Dexter Jackson.

“The purpose of this league … is about community and the development of players,” Williams told OTL. “… In thinking about creating this league, I wanted to create a league that I could have stayed in and been comfortable and really thrived.

“The NFL started a long time ago, and since then a lot of things have changed. And we want to create a league that’s ready for that change and invite some more of it.”

The FFL said the league would initially have 10 teams — with plans to expand into additional locations — and games would take place during the spring and summer.

The league did not say when it would begin play, though it did say the first 10 teams would be the San Diego Warriors, Oklahoma City Power, Portland Progress, Texas Revolution, Ohio Players, Florida Strong, Birmingham Kings, St. Louis Independence, Connecticut Underground and Oakland Panthers.

The FFL said in a statement that its mission is “to attract football players at their highest level of athletic ability, including those defecting from the NFL, graduating college or high school or playing in international or alternative professional football leagues.”

The league said it would be financed through a combination of private funding and public offerings in 2019, meaning fans would be “true owners and legally-committed business partners.”

As for players, the FFL said it would ensure they would receive “permanent and reliable holistic health and wellness support on and off the field.” In addition, the league said it would encourage athletes to address societal challenges and other “hot button” issues.

“We’re trying to develop young men,” Williams said on OTL. “You can’t take away their voice and expect them to develop. … When I grew up watching football, I really wanted to be like Jim Brown, not because of what he did on a field, but because he could take that platform and have a voice.

“And so, when I got to the NFL, expecting that to be the case, anytime a big social issue came up, we were told, ‘Be quiet. … It’s a distraction.’ And so, really, [we’re] changing the conversation.”

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Stingy Titans latest proof the safety position is back in vogue – Tennessee Titans Blog



NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For years the safety position has been an afterthought for some NFL franchises when building a defense. Not in Tennessee, where safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro are the focal points of a defense that is tied for the NFL lead in points allowed.

On Sunday, the Titans shut down rookie sensation Saquon Barkley (14 carries for 31 yards) and shut out the Giants after New York had rolled up 70 points in wins against the Bears and Redskins over the previous two weeks.

“You can see when you have that guy in your defense, it’s a big deal.”

Tennessee’s Kenny Vaccaro on the importance of the safety position

In an era when offenses are exploding and pass-rushers and cornerbacks typically draw the biggest contracts among defenders, Tennessee is holding teams to 18.1 points per game with a traditional free safety/strong safety combo leading the way.

Free safety Byard was an All-Pro in 2017 with eight interceptions and has three more this season. Strong safety Vaccaro brings a physical presence. Between them they have 118 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions for a team that has played five games against offenses ranked among the top 11 in scoring this season.

Old-school tandem

ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, a former safety, says the Titans are one of the few NFL teams that have an actual free safety and strong safety.

“The marriage of those two guys is an easy one to make based off of where they each excel on the field,” he said. “In watching games, Kevin Byard is a ball hawk. He’s more of a middle field, rangy, quarterback-read type of player. Kenny Vaccaro is your thumper. A guy you keep closer to the line and a good run-stopper.”

Before facing Byard in Week 13, Jets coach Todd Bowles credited Byard for rarely being out of position and consistently generating turnovers.

Former Titans safety Michael Griffin, who coached the Titans safeties during training camp, agrees with Bowles: “It’s rare when you see safeties that can do it all,” Griffin said. “A guy like Kevin Byard can cover the slot and he is a physical tackler. He does all of the things you wish in a safety. He’s a lot like Earl Thomas.”

While Byard is the field general in the secondary, Vaccaro is the tone-setter. The physicality he brings shows up when he takes on much bigger offensive linemen in the running game. He loves to deliver big hits on running backs and wide receivers in the screen game as well.

“I think physicality is something you either have or you don’t,” Vaccaro said. “You can’t fake toughness. Some guys are like that, and some guys aren’t.”

He was signed during training camp after starter Johnathan Cyprien suffered a torn ACL and was placed on injured reserve. Cyprien feels Vaccaro’s play gives future opponents an idea of what to expect on game day.

“Kenny is a physical player, and he puts that on tape,” Cyprien said. “What you put on tape is a message to the next team you’re going to play.”

Clark commended Vaccaro for evolving into a well-rounded pro, because coming out of Texas he was known more for his coverage skills than his toughness.

Loaded 2013 class

Vaccaro was the first safety selected in a 2013 draft class stacked at the position. A look at the career path of those safeties demonstrates the volatility in how teams value the position.

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As season’s end nears, no surprise by league’s top rookie – NFL Nation



We’re almost to the end of the regular season, with multiple teams jockeying for playoff position. Many of those teams will rely on rookies in major roles. That includes the Los Angeles Chargers and top rookie Derwin James.

From game analysis and discussions with personnel evaluators, here’s a look at the top 10 rookies so far this season.

Top 10 (stats are Weeks 1-15 combined)

Stats: 93 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs

Previous ranking: 1

As the Chargers make a push for home-field advantage in the AFC — the team has won 10 of its past 11 games — James continues to be the most versatile option defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can move anywhere in the formation. Some opposing offensive coaches have tracked him at five different positions as they prepared to play the Chargers.

Stats: 146 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 INT

Previous ranking: 2

He was credited with 11 tackles, including one for loss, and knocked down passes in the Colts’ 23-0 win over the Dallas Cowboys — the first time the Cowboys had been shut out since 2003. The guy has sacked the quarterback once in every four times he has rushed, and he added a recovery of a blocked field goal to his résumé in the win over the Cowboys.

Stats: 51 tackles, 12 sacks, 2 FF

Previous ranking: 3

The Broncos have asked Chubb to hold the edge in the run game, and he has dropped into coverage from time to time as well. He has usually been assignment-sound in all he has been told to do, and he continues to impact things in the rush. He needs 2.5 sacks in the last two games to tie Jevon Kearse’s rookie record set in 1999.

4. QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 3,065 yards passing, 21 TDs, 11 INTs

Previous ranking: 4

The Browns are clinging to wafer-thin playoff chances with four wins in the past five games, including Saturday night, when the Broncos held Mayfield to 18-of-31 passing. But Mayfield went 4-of-4 for 39 yards and a touchdown on what turned out to be the game-winning drive early in the fourth quarter.

Stats: 1,155 yards rushing, 13 total TDs

Previous ranking: 5

Barkley was held to 31 yards rushing by the Titans this past Sunday — his second-lowest rushing total of the season — but his 170 yards rushing on just 14 carries in Week 14 were a season best.

Stats: 108 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT

Previous ranking: 9

Rare athleticism and savvy have been consistently on display in a Bears defense that locked down the Rams in Week 14 and is now among the league’s top four in scoring defense, total defense, sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions. Khalil Mack gets much of the attention, but Smith has had a huge role in Chicago’s run to the divisional title.

Stats: 117 tackles, 7 PD, 2 INTs

Previous ranking: 7

Vander Esch has already set the team’s record for tackles by a rookie, and the Cowboys will now try to work Sean Lee back into the lineup (Lee’s hamstring injury forced Vander Esch into a starting role). Lee played seven snaps against the Colts on Sunday — his first game since Nov. 5 — but Vander Esch has been key in the Cowboys’ push to win the NFC East.

Stats: 991 yards rushing, 10 total TDs

Previous ranking: 6

In back-to-back Broncos losses, Lindsay was held to 30 and 24 yards rushing, but the body of work remains top-shelf this season. He’s fifth in the league in rushing, and his 5.4 yards per carry average is second in the league among qualifying backs.

Stats: No sacks allowed in six games

Previous ranking: 10

Nelson continues to draw raves from personnel executives around the league for his ability to finish. He has had some flags — nine penalties this season — but his awareness in and out of double-teams to go with his power at the point of attack is a rare combination.

10. CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 48 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 INTs

Previous ranking: 8

Ward missed the past two games and most of a third with a concussion. Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said Monday that Ward remains in the league’s concussion protocol.

Close but not quite (totals are for 15 weeks)

49ers RT Mike McGlinchey (no holding penalties in 14 starts); Bengals S Jessie Bates (98 tackles, 3 INTs); Browns RB Nick Chubb (860 yards rushing, 5.2 yards per carry, 10 total TDs); Panthers CB Donte Jackson (62 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack); Texans S Justin Reid (75 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 TD); Packers CB Jaire Alexander (62 tackles, 1 INT, 11 PD); Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds (98 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 FF); 49ers LB Fred Warner (105 tackles, 1 FF); Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (56 catches, 699 yards, 8 TDs); Steelers S Terrell Edmunds (68 tackles, 4 PD); Giants DT B.J. Hill (45 tackles, 5 sacks); Titans LB Rashaan Evans (44 tackles, 2 TFL); Dolphins S Minkah Fitzpatrick (73 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD); Ravens T Orlando Brown Jr. (just three penalties); Titans LB Harold Landry (37 tackles, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks).

Kickers need love, too

Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson, who was waived by the Vikings after missing three kicks in Week 2, continues to make the most of his second act. Carlson missed his second field goal attempt with the Raiders — a 45-yard attempt that hit the right upright in a Week 9 loss to the San Francisco 49ers — but he hasn’t missed since. He was 3-of-3 this past Sunday.

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Devin Bush of Michigan Wolverines to miss Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, enter NFL draft



Michigan linebacker Devin Bush announced Wednesday that he will miss the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl because of a hip injury and is forgoing his senior season to enter April’s NFL draft.

Bush is ranked as the No. 8 prospect available for the draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and the No. 10 prospect by Todd McShay.

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