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Sunday football notes

Grading drafts in the AFC East

The tops picks for the Bills (E.J. Manuel, left), Dolphins (Dion Jordan, center), and Jets (Dee Milliner) could bring their teams a step closer to the perennial division champion Patriots.Associated Press

In these parts, the Patriots’ draft class — a.k.a. Rutgers North — has already been evaluated and dissected.

The other three teams in the AFC East made their selections with the hope of ending New England’s divisional domination. So how did they do? Two AFC scouts gave their grades on the drafts of Buffalo, Miami, and the Jets.


Both scouts thought it was a bit of a reach for the Bills to take Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel 16th overall, even after they traded out of the eighth spot with St. Louis. They feel Manuel may not be ready to handle the pressure of starting right away.


“They could have traded back again and still gotten him,” the first scout said. “That was somewhat surprising. I understand it, but you put a lot of pressure on him because everyone thinks he’s the guy, but no one was ‘the guy’ at quarterback in this draft.”

He added that the three top quarterbacks in the draft — Manuel, Geno Smith, and Matt Barkley — all had issues, and maybe the Bills felt Manuel, with the strongest arm of the three, will fare best in the cold.

The second scout had a harsher assessment.

“On our board, he has all the tools, tall, strong arm, but upstairs he’s very limited . . . they can’t overload him. As a new coach [Doug Marrone], you’re asking this guy to run your team,” he said.

Both felt Buffalo’s pick of receiver Robert Woods in the second round was very good. “For him to fall to the second round, that’s good value and he’s going to be a really productive player . . . I rarely saw him drop a ball on film,” the first scout said.

They also feel inside linebacker Kiko Alonso will be a starter, and that Alonso fell to the middle of the second round because of off-field issues, which also hurt the stock of safety Duke Williams (fourth round).


The first scout gave the Bills’ draft a C grade, the second a B to B-minus.


Neither scout was all that impressed with the Dolphins’ first pick, defensive end Dion Jordan. Miami moved up from 12th overall to third to get Jordan, who the team believes is the next Jason Taylor.

“Nope,” the second scout said of the Taylor comparison. “He has a basketball build, tall, long, fast, all that stuff you’re looking for before the ball is snapped . . . But he likes to run outside, he has no counter move, no strength, you can run at him . . . He’s a great athlete in shorts, but he’s a one-trick pony.”

“This was a head-scratcher for me,” the first scout said. “Are they doing this based on need or were they afraid he wouldn’t be there because of the relationship with [new Eagles coach] Chip Kelly [who coached Jordan at Oregon]? He’s skinny, he has to add some weight. He’s more of a ‘potential’ pick.”

Both scouts liked second-round pick Jamar Taylor, a cornerback, though he’s a little raw and they want to see how he does against better competition after playing at Boise State.

Both thought offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, taken 77th overall, can be a solid player.

Fourth-round tight end Dion Sims will “be their big, blocking tight end; [Dustin] Keller will be the route guy, so he’s going to play,” the second scout said.


The first scout sees Sims as “a better version of [the Steelers’] Matt Spaeth,” a run-blocking tight end.

Taking all nine picks into account, both scouts gave the Dolphins a B-minus/C-plus grade.


The Jets took defensive players with their first two picks — cornerback Dee Milliner at 9 and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson at 13.

Both scouts liked the Milliner pick, saying he was the best corner in the draft. But the first scout wondered if New York letting it be known it really liked receiver Tavon Austin led to the Rams jumping in front of them to take Austin.

They differed a bit on Richardson.

“That was kind of surprising with [Sharrif] Floyd still on the board, Star [Lotulelei] on the board that you’d take Richardson. He’s a junior college [transfer] and I’m kind of leery of those guys, the one-year wonders,” the first scout said. “I would have wanted Floyd instead.”

“Richardson was probably the second-best tackle in the draft, behind Floyd,” the second scout said. “Star is stronger, Sheldon is more of an athletic defensive tackle; he’s athletic, he’s rangy, he has burst — he’s going to be fine.”

Smith was the Jets’ second-round pick, and both men questioned the mental toughness of the former West Virginia quarterback.

“I don’t know how he’ll deal with criticism . . . so it may not be an ideal fit,” the first scout said. “He’s more of a deep ball, rhythm thrower; if you make him move in the pocket, he’s not as effective.”


The second scout believes Mark Sanchez will remain the starter because Smith won’t be ready to step up.

“Geno might have to be an understudy. If Sanchez wasn’t there, they’d make [David] Garrard the starter, make Geno sit and learn for at least a year,” he said. “He didn’t come from a pro offense, he doesn’t know pro terminology. From what I heard, the work ethic is good, he studies tape . . . leadership-wise, that just wasn’t his thing.

“The best thing he can do is listen to Garrard, who is more experienced and knows the position.”

Both scouts believe guard Brian Winters (third round) will be a starter before long. “He’s a nasty, physical, old-school lineman,” the first scout said. “He’s just country strong.”

The first scout gave the Jets a C, while the second believes they scored a B-plus.

The first scout said the AFC East as a whole had a weak draft.


Is the league ready, or not?

NBA center Jason Collins received an overwhelming amount of support after revealing in a Sports Illustrated story that he is gay.

But is the NFL ready for a player to come out?

“I think that theoretically it’s ready,” former Patriots cornerback Artrell Hawkins said. “But I think it depends — it depends on the situation, it depends on the organization, it depends on the player.”

The reality, as noted by both Hawkins and former Patriots linebacker Chad Brown, is that there are gay players in the NFL, and in many cases, teams know their sexual orientation. Each said he played with at least one teammate that he knew to be gay and there was no brushback.


The next step is for an NFL player to make that announcement, as Collins did.

“If that player is ready to deal with the public scrutiny of it, the team’s locker room should be able to handle it,” Brown said. “Anyone that’s spent any time in a locker room, razzing a guy is part of locker room culture. Will he get joked on? Probably so. But you’re not part of the team unless you get joked on.”

Brown, who works in the media in Denver, said timing would be a key element as well.

“If a player decides to come out, you would definitely want to coordinate the timing of it with the coaching staff, the framing of the message with PR staff, because it’s going to be viewed with such scrutiny, and covered by so many forms of media for a while,” Brown said. “The quality of the message becomes even more important.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has said he would welcome a gay player, and reiterated that Thursday.

“We’re about winning, and if someone can come in here and help us win, I don’t care what ethnic background, what racial background, what gender preference they have,” he said. “If they can help us win and they’re about team, then I’ll be happy to have them here.”

Kraft’s comment cuts to the heart of the matter: the NFL is a business of winning.

One current player said he isn’t sure how it would be received if a teammate came out but “bottom line, everyone wants to win football games.”

Hawkins, now a radio personality, agrees wholeheartedly.

“Heck yeah, it would be a lot easier” if a superstar NFL player were the first, he said. “[People might say] ‘it’s an abomination, but this guy throws for 5,000 yards, 55 touchdowns — he’s OK in my book.’

“It’s all about wins. If he’s productive, if we need him, we can’t be without him, I don’t care what he does in his personal time, as long as he’s there Sunday at 1 p.m.”

On Friday, ESPN.com ran an article about Vince Lombardi being welcoming and supportive of gay players. In 1969, his only year coaching the Redskins and the year before his death, Lombardi worked with at least five gay men — three players and two executives.

Harold Lombardi, the brother of the legendary coach, was gay, and partners with the same man for more than 40 years.

Vince Lombardi’s daughter Susan said her father was discriminated against as a dark-skinned Italian-American, and raised his family to be accepting of all people, no matter their background or orientation.


Appealing addition

It came as something of a surprise March 15 when news came that Danny Woodhead had signed a free agent contract with San Diego and would not be staying with the Patriots.

Woodhead handled the third-down back role previously held by Kevin Faulk. In 2012, including the postseason, he played 456 snaps, with 80 carries for 312 yards and four touchdowns, plus 41 receptions for 458 yards and three touchdowns (22 of his catches went for first downs).

The Chargers gave him $3.5 million for two years, with $1 million guaranteed.

New Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, speaking to season ticket-holders on a conference call, talked about what made Woodhead so appealing.

“With Danny, he’s an exciting — hate to say exciting little player, because he probably hears that a lot, but he is — he’s an exciting little player,” Telesco said. “He’s short but he’s 200 pounds, so he’s strong, he’s put together. With the last team I worked for [the Colts], he used to kill us there. Not only running the ball but out of the backfield, making catches, running screens, draws, anything that got him out in space. He’s a dynamic runner in space.”

Starting with OTAs and training camp, new coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will see how Woodhead, 28, can be used and likely come up with packages and plays specifically for him.

“We’ll see how his role evolves, but we were looking to add playmakers on offense and he’s one of those guys that when the ball gets in his hands he’s got some magic to him so he’s going to be a fun player to watch during the season,” Telesco said.

A rookie in every sense

Ziggy Ansah and Margus Hunt received a lot of attention in the run-up to the draft because they became top NFL prospects in a matter of years. Neither played football before college, Ansah at Brigham Young and Hunt at Southern Methodist.

But Lawrence Okoye, who signed a rookie free agent deal with the 49ers, could not be more of a newcomer to the sport: He’s never played a single down at any level.

If his athletic past is any indication, however, it won’t be long until he’s getting snaps in San Francisco.

Now 6 feet 6 inches and 304 pounds, Okoye was a rugby player in his native Great Britain, but in September 2010 he decided to turn his attention to the discus.

Less than a year later he won the gold medal at the European Under-23 championships, and less than two years after first picking up the implement he set the national record, 68.24 meters (223 feet 10 inches).

He made it to the finals of the Summer Olympics last year, but placed 12th, which he thought was disappointing.

Earlier this year he announced that he wanted to play in the NFL. At the super regional combine in Dallas in April, he was clocked in 4.78 seconds in the 40-meter dash, had a 35-inch vertical, and broad jump of 10-5.

Several teams took notice, but Okoye signed with the 49ers, in part because defensive line coach Jim Tomsula had coached in NFL Europe and lived a stone’s throw from Okoye’s London home.

Okoye has already impressed his new coach, Jim Harbaugh.

“He’s just an Adonis. A great physical specimen of a man. I can think of some other adjectives. Our Creator created a beautiful man,” Harbaugh said.

Short yardage

New Jets GM John Idzik has begun making changes to the team’s scouting department: the contracts of assistant scouting director Michael Davis and area scout Joe Bommarito will not be renewed at the end of the month. Davis was responsible for the southeast, including ACC and SEC schools, as well as West Virginia, where second-round pick Geno Smith played. More changes are expected in the organization . . . 49ers rookie receiver Quinton Patton, taken in the fourth round out of Louisiana Tech, paid his own way from his native Tennessee to San Francisco and was in his rental car when he called to tell his new coaches he was on his way to the team facility. One problem? It was against NFL rules for him to report before the rookie minicamp that starts on Friday. Harbaugh loved the kid’s initiative though, saying, “That’s probably something I would have done.” . . . Merrimack College standout receiver and Hyannis native Isaiah Voegeli signed with the Eagles as an undrafted rookie. A Division 2 All-American last fall, Voegeli led the nation with 10.8 receptions and 150 yards per game. Warriors coach Dan Curran played for first-year Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly at the University of New Hampshire, and that connection could have helped Voegeli land with the Eagles. At least three other Massachusetts natives received invitations to rookie camps: Harvard’s John Collins (Hull/Roxbury Latin), Middlebury’s Ryan Moores (Manchester/Governor’s Academy), and Bentley’s Nick Halloran (Somerville/Buckingham, Browne & Nichols), all offensive linemen, received invitations from the Seahawks, Falcons, and Patriots, respectively. Framingham State defensive lineman James Muirhead (Middleboro) was invited to try out with the Rams.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.