The league made headlines on Saturday when the four of the top five selections from the 2017 NFL Draft class would not be brought back for their fifth-year options.

Considered some of the premier prospects, Mitchell Trubisky, Solomon Thomas, Leonard Fournette, and Corey Davis will all be fighting for new deals. 

If you ever ask a scout what’s the hardest part of their job, they’ll undoubtedly have their options. Some will be based on positions, while others believe the transition from facing collegiate contenders to franchises ready for Super Bowls will hire.

There’s an easy answer, though — all of it. It’s all something that even the best of the rest can tell you it is near impossible to determine who will hit and who is dead on arrival.

The one sign that can point you in the right direction, however, would be time for the fifth-year options. This happens after the third season, where teams decide if they’ll continue to invest in talent for another two seasons or elect to part ways next year. 

A week following the NFL Draft, players will now know where they stand with their current clubs, whether they will sign a new deal, gain their fifth-year options, or if they will be moved on. 

The year’s No.1 pick Myles Garrett might have anger concerns, but the production was worthy of sticking around. In three years since leaving College Station, the Pro Bowl defensive has finished back-to-back seasons with 10-plus sacks, while also improving as one of the top pass rushers in the league. And if not for an eight-game suspension last season, perhaps Garrett would have finished year three as the nation’s sack leader.

Chicago will take the most heat this time around following the infamous one-pick trade up. Ryan Pace sent the 49ers a pair of thirds and fourth-round selection to move up and select Trubisky. The 2019 season seemed to have the second-year player looking like the right move with a playoff appearance and 24 touchdown season, along with a Pro Bowl nod. The following year proved smoke and mirrors continue to play a factor in the progression of a player.

The former No.2 pick finished 2019 ranked 28th in Total QBR (39.4), tied for 27th in touchdown passes (17), 21st in passing yards (3,138), 32nd in yards gained per pass attempt (6.1) and 28th in traditional quarterback rating (83.0). To add insult to injury, the Bears said Nick Foles for a fourth-round pick as “insurance” for their quarterback sideshow in the Windy City.

“We’ve increased competition at a critical position and we talked to both players, and the way we view this is it’s an open competition,” Pace said last month. “And credit to both those guys for embracing it.”

For San Francisco fans laughing at the Trubisky non-fifth-year option turmoil, let’s check in on how you did, shall we? Thomas, a defensive-tweener, never was able to find the right position at the next level. Scout viewed him as a defensive end, but a majority of his success at Stanford came from in the trenches. Thomas has tallied 6.5 sacks in three years and started three games last season.

With the addition of Dee Ford and the drafting of Nick Bosa, Thomas is on the outside of the tackle’s eye this season — mainly the bench. In the middle, Arik Armstead received a five-year, $85 million deal while John Lynch also added Javon Kinlaw into the equation with the 14th selection this April.

As for the other three picks? Fred Warner is a quality starter, but Dante Pettis is a depth receiver while Adrian Colbert is off the roster.

Running backs tend to not matter in the NFL anymore when it comes to contracts. Even after his most productive year, in which he totaled 1,152 rushing yards and 1,674 yards from scrimmage, Fournette will hit the market. The former No.4 pick led the team with 76 receptions but amassed six total touchdowns on the year.

Rumors began to spiral that the Jaguars were willing to trade Fournette for the right price this offseason and not exercise his fifth-year option. Plus, the chemistry in Duval County hasn’t been the best since Tom Coughlin reached to select him three years ago.

Davis might be the most stringent evaluation of the top five players. The talent is there for the former Western Michigan receiver who tallied over 5,000 yards and 52 touchdowns in four years. That production has never transpired to the NFL as he’s has finished with six scores and never surpassed the 900-yard receiving mark.

With the emergence of AJ Brown last season, Davis will likely be the No.2 option heading into the Music City this season. It shouldn’t be shocking either since the former No.5 pick has missed time due to injuries in all three seasons. Much like Jack Conklin, who the team declined his fifth-year option last season, perhaps a midseason evaluation could be the best case for Davis to return to Nashville for 2021.

People will focus on the top five every season because they were early selections and should, in theory, be given those fifth-year options. When looking at the 2017 class as a whole, scouts could be happy with their overall analysis. Both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, who were selected 10th and 12th respectively, were opted in for their fifth-year options and should have mega-deals headed their way before the start of next season.

The same could be said at the cornerback positions as New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore, Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey, and Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White are expected to remain with their franchises long-term after receiving their fifth-year options in March. Other players, like New York’s Jamal Adams, New Orleans’ Ryan Ramczyk, and Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey are regarded at the top of their positions, leading to contract extensions now or in the coming year.

Then again, even the middle of the pack players could become liabilities despite their outlook. John Ross will be best known for his record-setting 40-time instead of his days in the Bengals. Haason Reddick was a draft day riser thanks to the Senior Bowl, but now is nothing more than a backup with the Cardinals. Garrett Bolles and Jarrad Davis are starters, but neither has made a consistent impact for the Broncos or Lions, respectively.

For now, 18 players from the 2017 first-round will be using their fifth-year options, with Colts’ Malik Hooker being the final player on open. Eighteen players from Day 1 would be considered a win in most draft hauls are the talent early has made their mark in the NFL.

Unfortunately, the top five players usually set the tone for the class as a whole. Take a look at the class before – all five selections becoming Pro Bowl talent and three players already on their second deals.

It’s impossible to tell internally if a player will transition to the next level. The talent could be there, but the production will need to live up to the selection. When looking back at 2017, people will speak highly of the class as a whole.

The start, however, could be one of the biggest misses in recent memory as four of five picks are not staying on with their franchise under a fifth-year option deal. Better luck next time, scouts.

– – –

Well Two Minute Warning fans, welcome to pure offseason blandness. With the NFL Draft in the books and the season still months away (for now), the dead period of the league’s season is underway. Now comes the waiting game where fans will go stir-crazy. 

Have you ever watched paint dry? It’s the same feeling.

There won’t be much happening around the league after this weekend as teams sit and wait for their schedules to appear. For now, let’s look back at the moves around the NFL before we get out of here and go about our week, shall we? 

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Dalton to Dallas

Unless the only reason you’re watching football is because of Joe Burrow, the writing was on the wall for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. The nine-year veteran, who finished second in starts with the organization, was released earlier this week with the Athens native expected to become the face of the franchise after being the No.1 pick. 

Dalton’s win-loss record won’t merit his production as the Bengals’ starter since entering the league in 2011. A 70-61-1 record won’t sound like a high-end starter, but 31,594 passing yards, 204 touchdowns, and five-consecutive playoff appearances should be enough to do the trick. This is why it could be strange to see Dalton, a player who still could start in the NFL, signs with a team that already has a competent starter.

The Dallas Cowboys announced that the 32-year-old would sign a one-year deal worth up to $7 million on Saturday evening. The Katy, Texas native is set to back up Dak Prescott for the start of the decade if the four-year veteran agrees to sign his franchise tender. The main reasoning for the signing lies with Dalton himself, who elected to return closer to home. 

The former Bengal was instrumental in transforming TCU’s roster into a contender in the late 2000’s, going 34-3 as a starter. In his final two seasons, the Horned Frogs would go undefeated in the regular season, culminating in a 2011 Rose Bowl victory over Russell Wilson’s Wisconsin Badgers.

The Cowboys will now have insurance for Prescott should he fail to sign his offer. Plus, the backup position in the NFL is a dire need for a contending roster to remain in the running should something happen to the original starter – i.e., Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee. 

While both New England and Jacksonville were enticing, there’s nothing like returning home. Perhaps it’s time to start looking at Drake as physic. He called this move. 

Cam calling? 

The attention in the league will now turn to Cam Newton with Dalton off the market. In less than five years from being named the league MVP, the former Carolina Panthers quarterback is still on the market. 

Now the question will be for long? 

Despite the rumors linking Newton to the Patriots, they’re just that. As of now, Bill Belichick seems content with running with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham for the 2020 season. The same could be said for Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville, who recently gained support from head coach Doug Marrone after a productive rookie campaign. 

With the draft done, where does Newton fit? Teams like Miami and Los Angeles added quarterbacks fo the future, while other organizations seem content with the gunslingers in place. According to The Athletic’s Joe Person, the “Cam countdown” could continue well into the season as Newton would rather wait for an injury than sign as a backup. 

The 30-year-old only played in two games last season due to foot injury along with a recurring shoulder injury. When healthy, Newton is one of the more dangerous players in the NFL. From 2011-18, the former No.1 has totaled at least 3,000 passing yards and 350 rushing yards per year.

Let’s just call it like it is – hold your breath and count. Don’t; it’s going to be a while before Newton is suiting up with a new franchise. 

Dear 2020, we have football 

The current pandemic is still in effect, heading into the fifth month of the year. That won’t stop Roger Goodell from putting a product on the field four months from now at the moment. 

According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, there is only a “minimal” chance the league is unable to play the upcoming season. The only thing holding back the league from going into full-swing is due to “adequate and efficient testing, both for football personnel and the fan bases. Those questions should be answered by August as teams are expected to open up for training camp and preseason. 

Goodell is setting the right tone by announcing the new schedule for 2020 sometime next week. The question left now will be if stands can be filled with fans. States like Texas are entering a phase where local businesses are expected to open in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey will remain closed until further notice. 

Perhaps the NFL will look into states that are opening to hold fans for a full 16-game season. They also could hold games with empty stadiums, but for now, the front office is hoping to look at “best-case scenario” situations. 

While the world is still at a standstill, football isn’t going away. Until otherwise, expect the 2020 season to kick off on time this September. 

Parting shots 

With the draft over and the season set, here are my early projections for awards come 2020: 

10. Best Draft – Baltimore Ravens: The rich got richer. Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison are a perfect duo at linebacker and are great value picks, as is Justin Madubuike on the line. J.K. Dobbins will be an ideal 1-2 combination with Mark Ingram, while Devin Duvernay and James Proche are perfect additions for Lamar Jackson. Good luck stopping Baltimore this decade. 

9. Worst Draft – Green Bay Packers: When Jordan Love was the best pick, that says it all. Even with a new face for the future, you need to draft weapons for both the Utah State quarterback and Aaron Rodgers. The team didn’t take a single receiver in a heavy wideout class.

What?

8. Most improved team – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adding Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will help, but the draft sealed their fate. Tristian Wirfs is a perfect right tackle, Antoine Winfield is a do-it-all safety while Tyler Johnson will shine as a larger slot. Look out NFC South for the Bucs.  

7. Took a step back – Los Angeles Rams: The Rams cut ties with Todd Gurley one year into his contract extension and lost talent at receiver and in the secondary. Instead of addressing line needs or linebacker, the team added Cam Akers and Van Jefferson early in the draft. With a shorter offseason, this could be a rebuilding year in L.A. for Sean McVay. 

6. Breakout Player – QB Drew Lock: Lock impressed for a second-round pick, going 4-1 as a starter. The team corrected their interior offensive line and added two more weapons in Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. If the Mizzou star can continue his development, Denver is going to be a sneaky playoff contender. 

5. Regressing Star – QB Teddy Bridgewater: Credit to Bridgewater for his 5-0 run in New Orleans, but Carolina’s draft focused on fixing the defense. Unless D.J. Moore, Ian Thomas, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel become overnight sensations, the former Saints star could struggle in the Queen City. 

4. Sleeper Rookie – WR Antonio Gadney-Golden: Perhaps the least impressive thing about Gadney-Golden is the fact he plays football. Besides being a juggler and 300-point boulder, the Liberty product has exceptional size and is an athletic freak. He could be the sleeper at wide receiver like teammate Terry McLaurin when the season comes to a close.

3. Overrated Rookie – CB Damon Arnette: I liked Arnette a ton, but as a top-20 pick, he’s going to have high expectations. Perhaps the rawest defensive back to come from Ohio State in recent years, this could be a rough season for the Raiders new corner in coverage.

2. Offensive Rookie of the Year – QB Joe Burrow: It’s obvious. Even if the offensive line struggle, Burrow will have A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and hopefully an improved John Ross in his arsenal. Expect him to take home the award.

1. Defensive Rookie of the Year – LB Isaiah Simmons: The Arizona Cardinals still addressed their offensive line needs and grabbed perhaps the best player in the draft. Simmons can do it all in coverage and against the run. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him lead rookies in tackles, pass deflections, and interceptions the way he’ll play in the desert. 

Cole Thompson is a lead NFL writer for PFN. You can follow him on Twitter @MrColeThompson and follow PFN @PFN365.