Kelly Kleine continues to be a trailblazer for women in sports…
By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)
Kelly Kleine is not just the highest-ranked woman in NFL scouting, but one of the most powerful women of all time in the entire league. She continues to climb the ranks through hard work and perseverance and has been a revolution for women in a male-dominated profession. Her accomplishments to this point are remarkable and she’s just getting started. Let’s take a look at her impressive journey to the top.
Kelly Kleine: A Rise to Power
While attending the University of Minnesota, she was hired as an intern for the Minnesota Vikings public relations department in 2012. The following year in 2013 she became a scouting intern and was promoted to a full-time staff member as a scouting assistant in 2014. It did not take long for Kleine to climb the ranks. In 2015 she was promoted yet again, this time to be the Vikings scouting coordinator where she would oversee all scouting operations. She was highly trusted by the organization, serving as the link between the executive front office and all of their scouting units.
The highest title she received with the Vikings was the manager of player personnel. Her decade of hard work earned her yet another promotion, but this time it would be with a new team. The Denver Broncos hired her this offseason to be the executive director of football operations and a special advisor to the general manager. This hiring would make her the highest-ranking woman in NFL scouting history.
Before hiring Kelly Kleine, the Broncos first hired a brand new general manager to run the team. After spending fifteen years with the Vikings organization in several different positions, George Paton would get his first opportunity to be a GM when he was hired by the Broncos this offseason. When a team hires a new GM, it usually means more staff changes are going to follow. A new person in charge, like Paton, gets the opportunity to tweak things in a way of their choice for the potential betterment of the organization. After all, a desire for change is the whole reason a team would hire a new GM in the first place.
Now calling the shots in Denver, it did not take long for Paton to contact Kleine about joining the staff. They worked together for nearly a decade in Minnesota, so he was well aware of the talent and value that she could bring to a team. He hired her to a very high position and will rely on her abilities heavily to assist in major team operations.
Only Getting Started
This is not the finish line for Kelly Kleine, but rather just another starting point. She will have a wide variety of responsibilities in her new role with the Broncos, including overseeing several different departments and operations. Her performance will open the possibility of advancing even higher in the ranks if she is successful. There is no reason to believe she won’t, andit is likely that she will make positive headlines again in the near future. This is another big step in the right direction for women in sports. A revolution is happening, and Kelly Kleine is one of the leaders of the pack.
Which surprise franchises have a legit shot at winning the Super Bowl?
by Michael Obermuller
The NFL Draft came and went like a hurricane once again, with winners and losers grades flying in from every analyst in America. According to aggregate rankings, some of this year’s draft champions were teams like the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins. Do any of these franchises actually have a shot at the Super Bowl though?
The short answer is yes. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers flipped the script in a single offseason, going from 7-9 to parade yachting through Tampa’s harbor. I know they signed the greatest quarterback the game has ever seen, but we’ve seen the NFL pull championship 180’s more often than any other sports league, and we could definitely see another dark horse Lombardi winner in February of 2022.
Based on both the NFL Draft and NFL Free Agency, here are four teams that could make the jump to SB Champs in what is now less than one calendar year away.
Now I know this one seems like a cop-out, because the Browns were pretty darn good last season, but they’re still not even favorites to win their division according to most oddsmakers right now. On FanDuel Sportsbook, Cleveland has +1700 odds to win the big game, behind the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens at +1400. To me, the Browns might have had the top draft in football, and that’s after having a solid free agency and an 11-5 record in 2020.
General manager Andrew Berry made a splash just before the draft when he signed edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney. He had already bolstered the secondary in March, bringing in safety John Johnson III and corner Troy Hill(both formerly of the Los Angeles Rams), not to mention DT Malik Jackson and LB Anthony Walker elsewhere on the defense. This unit held Cleveland back in 2020, with a fluid consistency on the other side of the ball. After the signings they made, and the sleeper potential of draft picks like CB Greg Newsome II and LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah(who never should have fallen out of the first round), it might be their strength just one year later.
The Brownies have been improving ever since Baker Mayfield took over at quarterback, and now this team is built to win it all. Top offensive line, ferocious pass rush, youthful secondary, blistering run game… oh, and star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. set to return from injury. Cleveland somehow faces a third-place schedule with a first-place roster, and I expect them to dominate.
A lot of people had the Denver Broncos as dark horses in 2020, but I promise you that I was not one of them. Even before the Courtland Sutton and Von Miller injuries (both healthy again), I thought Denver was a few missing pieces away from contention, but they may have solved a large chunk of that puzzle this offseason. They rank 11th on the aggregate draft boards, but I actually thought they deserved a higher grade. GM George Paton did a ton of things I liked this Spring, and it all started in the secondary with signings Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby. It continued in the draft.
The tweet above doesn’t even include seventh round pick Kary Vincent Jr., who I thought was one of the top value picks of the entire draft. The LSU cornerback’s rank seemed to fall after he opted out in 2020, but he was very productive the season before when the Tigers won the College Football Playoff. The Broncos needed a deep secondary that could keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, and this one can. Factor in Miller and Bradley Chubb finally pairing together off the edge, and this defense could have championship pedigree under Vic Fangio. The offense should be no slouch either, with a plethora of young weapons and the one tricky question being at quarterback (Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater set to compete).
P.S. Denver is currently the front-runner to trade for Aaron Rodgers… and that would only boost their +2400 Super Bowl odds.
The Dallas Cowboys may not have had the best draft grades in their entirety, but I thought they made a couple of very key selections early on, like middle linebacker Micah Parsons. After trading back for a couple of extra picks, the Boys drafted the top LB in the draft. Parsons is not only talented, he’s a leader with the ceiling of a Bobby Wagner type captain. They also filled their cornerback need in the second round (after missing out on Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II), drafting Kelvin Joseph out of Kentucky (a solid prospect with elite speed), and UCLA defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa is another intriguing prospect nabbed in the third.
Jerry Jones and Dallas went defense, defense, and more defense this draft after dishing out $240 million to Dak Prescott this offseason, and I loved the commitment here by Jones and company. This offense was spectacular before Prescott’s injury, averaging 32.6 points per game (PPG) during the five games he started. Dak plus a healthy offensive line should put the Cowboys back near the top of the league in efficiency, but this defense was in desperate need of reinforcements, allowing the fifth most PPG last season. When you consider how many injuries the franchise suffered in 2020, plus the improvements they’ve made this Spring, they are an easy 2021 dark horse in my eyes at +2800 odds.
I’m surprising myself with this one as I’ve been one of the biggest Matt Nagy-Ryan Pace haters the past few seasons, and most Bears fans would probably agree with me after the way this franchise has been run. That could all change with one draft decision, however, the trade-up for dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields. Now you are either a Fields believer or you aren’t — and I am — ranking the Ohio State product as my QB1 in 2021 (yes, that’s including Trevor Lawrence). As expected, NFL GM’s disagreed with us Fields supporters drafting Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance over him. To be fair, I like Wilson and Lawrence and think both could be successful, Lance I’m less sure about it.
Having the game-ready Fields as the Chicago QB1 instead of Andy Dalton makes all the difference in the world when evaluating this roster’s chances, but it wasn’t just the addition of Fields that changed my entire perspective on the Bears. Pace was drafting like his life depended on it (only because it totally did), and I have to admit that he struck gold under pressure. Left tackle Teven Jenkins was a steal in the second (a first round talent that will start after the release of Charles Leno). Then guard prospect Larry Borom and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. were also some picks with some major potential to be had.
This once-great defense still flaunts playmakers like Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Robert Quinn and Eddie Jackson. The defensive line should also get back 2020 opt-out Eddie Goldman alongside Akiem Hicks. So long as they get something out of corners Desmond Trufant and Jaylon Johnson, this is a formidable unit again in 2021. On the offensive side, the Bears managed to hold onto Allen Robinson, while adding interesting weapons like Damien Williams, Damiere Byrd and Marquise Goodwin for Fields to get the ball to. There are still problems to solve, but Chicago took a major leap in the Super Bowl odds after draft night in my opinion, yet they still sit at +4800 odds on FanDuel. I may just have to take that bet.
Who will Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, Lance and Jones play for in 2021?
by Michael Obermuller
The lead-up to the NFL Draft is a sports process like no other. The speculation, the intrigue, the misinformation and strategy used by different franchises and general managers. Considering the diverse crop of quarterback talent available in 2021, this offseason has been as wild as ever. I mean, just look at this curveball from Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer a few days before draft night.
Trevor Lawrence has been the consensus number one pick for what feels like years, and Jags owner Shad Khan has seemed pretty intent on marketing the rebirth of the franchise around the Clemson star, so why then is Meyer still choosing between three players at No. 1 overall?
It could just be due diligence from a first year NFL head coach, or maybe Lawrence to Jacksonville isn’t as much of a lock as most people thought. After all, there is certainly no reason to play mind-games with opposing GM’s when you’re the one picking first. Yet here we are left with this mysterious quote.
Don’t you worry though, I’ve seen through all the GM mumbo jumbo of the past few months and I’m confident in saying that I have figured out where each quarterback will end up — I think. Either way, I’ll give it a whirl, starting with the aforementioned Jaguars.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence(No. 1)
I know, after all that in the introduction, I’m still predicting T-Law to DUVAL? That’s right, because if Meyer wants to pull off the most shocking move in recent draft memory, he can do it without my blessing. There are a couple important things to note here though. One, Meyer is not considering Mac Jones or Trey Lance in the top spot. Could this have an influence on other franchises behind him? Urban was a premier college recruiter for a long time after all. Or perhaps he has yet to gain the respect of his fellow NFL peers, and his opinion means very little to them. Two, the former Ohio State HC and program director is likely passing on his former QB, Justin Fields. Meyer actually ranked the quarterbacks in a preseason show in June of 2020, with Lawrence first in his ranks and Fields second. His reasoning at the time was this;
The Jags could certainly throw a wrench in the entire draft by taking either Zach Wilson or Fields, which would probably send Lawrence to New York at No. 2, but it’s highly unlikely and I’m not buying it. Size, accuracy, speed, raw ability, intelligence, drive — Lawrence is the consensus number one for a reason. I’m not saying that he’s guaranteed to be the most successful NFL product, he’s not, but he is the safe bet for Jacksonville. For the sake of all our sanities, let’s move on and assume this sticks.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson(No. 2)
GM Joe Douglas and the New York Jets have traded 2018 first round pick Sam Darnold, so yes they are 100 percent taking a quarterback at two (for those who haven’t been paying attention). They have been linked to the BYU Cougars signal-caller more and more since Week 17, and I personally don’t see this changing on Thursday night. Wilson checks all the boxes for the Jets. He is an accurate passer and a competitive winner (albeit against lesser competition), known for his on-the-fly decision-making and pocket presence as well as an arm that throws just as far on the move as it does standing upright. Wilson has drawn recent comparisons to Patrick Mahomes for some of these intangible traits, but there’s a contingent of fans that still have doubts that scouts and GM’s are once again sleeping on in-your-face talent.
If Fields can translate his OSU skillset to the pros, it wouldn’t be the first time that the best and brightest NFL minds in the game are totally wrong. I mean he did run a 4.44 forty with a 70.2 completion percentage in 2020. For the record, as you’ll see throughout this article, Fields is my personal QB1 in this class, but that doesn’t mean he appeals to the teams picking in the top three.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones(No. 3)
Is the infamous “smokescreen tactic” being utilized by Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers? It’s quite possible, in fact Joe Douglas and the Jets could be using it too for all we know. If Fields truly is the quarterback with the most upside potential, it would make sense that every GM behind the Jaguars is trying to keep Meyer off their trail by talking up Wilson, Jones and Lance. At the same time, it seems even more likely that the NFL brass are once again scared off by an Ohio State product who has been labeled as a runner that struggles with his progressional reads. If Lawrence and Wilson do indeed go one-two, Fields should be the pick at three in my opinion, but he may not be according to reports.
There’s something fishy about this developing story, because Jones and Lance couldn’t be more different as prospects. I can’t deny that Mac Jones makes sense as Shanahan’s favorite option. The Niners HC has highlighted his on-field and NFL-ready intelligence, citing that the Alabama product is the win-now choice for a team that was in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Jones is also the most similar to the quarterbacks that have flourished in Shanahan’s system in the past (Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo). Lance on the other hand makes me scratch my head. He’s from a small program that did not play against NFL-type talent, he’s not game-ready by most estimations, and he’s athletic rather than accurate or experienced. The fact that San Francisco is torn between these two, but not interested in the player that is pretty much the combination of both (Fields) is odd to say the least. For these reasons, I do think there’s a chance that the 49ers are under-selling Fields on purpose, but I’ll begrudgingly stick with Jones here anyway because of how well he fits the Shanahan mold.
4. TRADE — Denver Broncos: Trey Lance(No. 4)
Some have the Atlanta Falcons taking Lance at four, but in the end I think Arthur Smith’s new offense stands pat with the reliability of Matty Ice for a couple more seasons and trades down to reconstruct this roster from the inside out. That process may not start with an inexperienced QB, but it could begin with a haul of present and future draft picks. The next question is their trade partner, and although it has not been mentioned as much as a New England or Washington Football Team, the Denver Broncos are my under-the-radar candidate to make the jump from ninth to fourth. George Paton is taking over as GM for the Broncos, and he may try and make a splash in his first NFL Draft having the final say.
Everything about Paton’s thinking for his first draft screams Lance to me. It’s unexpected, out-of-the-box, and hopefully solves the problem that John Elway failed at for years in the same position — finding a franchise quarterback. Drew Lock has yet to display any qualities that separate him from the rest of the league, so I expect Paton to jump at the opportunity to bring in someone that can compete not only with Lock, but long-term with division rivals like Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Of course, the Broncos could also go with Fields here, but I’m sticking with my theme that this inexplicable stigma drops my QB1 down to QB5. I also like the fit for Lance in Denver. He played at North Dakota State, a similar climate, and his build and physicality as a runner bear some resemblance to Elway himself. Although I’m sure Broncos fans would also take his Josh Allen comp.
5. Detroit Lions: Justin Fields (No. 7)
So where oh where will Mr. Fields land? No he won’t fall out of the top 10, and I don’t expect the Cincinnati Bengals or Miami Dolphins to trade down either when they can grab the players they covet most (Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase by all reports) at five and six. That leaves the Detroit Lions, who could choose to trade down with the Patriots or the highest bidder, but honestly why would they? The Lions roster moves have signaled a total overhaul rebuild under the new regime of Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes, and they already have enough future draft capital from the Matthew Stafford trade where they don’t need more first round picks. They need a franchise quarterback. The wrinkle that you may point out is that they also received back Jared Goff and his contract in that same deal. Let’s be honest though, Goff is a placeholder in Detroit at best. At worst, he’s a cap casualty after 2022 (when cutting him would only cost $10 million). So why not accelerate the process if Justin Fields falls into your lap?
A player with as much potential as Fields could be a dream for Holmes at No. 7 in his first NFL Draft, and the young QB could even learn under Goff as a rookie before jumpining into the NFL head-first. He can truly do it all; whether it’s his accuracy as a passer or his agility as a runner, his escapability in the pocket or strong arm on the run, his competitiveness as an premier athlete or his confidence in primetime games. I’m not sure why every team is insistent on looking past Fields, and maybe it all is a smokescreen and he goes top three, but it just feels like the NFL scouts and decision-makers are talking themselves into passing on another superstar.