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Golden era for QBs, with great stories around NFL

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Golden era for QBs, with great stories around NFL

NEW YORK (AP) The two kids from Northern California burst from NFL afterthought to championship contender in eerily similar fashion a decade apart.

Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick, each playing in a conference title game this weekend, are bookends to a fortuitous moment in quarterback history. On one side are the likes of Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, still scintillating in their mid-30s.

On the other are Kaepernick, a second-year player, and the brilliant class of rookies with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson leading their teams to the playoffs.

Young, old and in between, the current crop of NFL quarterbacks is not only deep but dynamic and diverse.

``We're in a little bit of a boom right now. We're flowing a little bit, especially young players,'' Hall of Famer Steve Young said last week. ``If those guys continue to develop, we'll have a period of time here, kind of a Camelot of quarterbacking.''

The depth of the position shows in the other two guys joining the Patriots' Brady and the 49ers' Kaepernick in the conference championship games. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco were first-round draft picks in 2008, and for all their successes, they're probably low on the list when fans think of the most dominant NFL quarterbacks.

Yet here they are a win away from the Super Bowl after leading stirring comebacks that answered many doubts about each.

Quarterback has long been the glamour position of all of sports, but it seems even a bit more glamorous right now. Rule changes favor a wide-open passing game, which makes a superior quarterback more valuable. Colleges and high schools run more sophisticated offenses, and the best athletes gravitate to quarterback then develop into polished passers who happen to be able to scramble.

``I can't remember - even though this is a quarterback-driven league - as many remarkable and compelling stories on the quarterback side as you're seeing this year,'' CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said.

There was that brief stretch less than 15 years ago when Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson won Super Bowls, and it seemed perhaps championship teams didn't need a star at the position. Since then, here's the roll call of victorious quarterbacks: Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, both Manning brothers, Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

Twenty-five of the 46 Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks, but now it's five of the last six. In the half-dozen years before that, four were non-QBs, including two defensive players.

``It ebbs and flows, no question. There's some dark times where you have two or three guys that can truly do it,'' said Young, Kaepernick's forerunner as a dual-threat San Francisco QB and now an ESPN analyst.

Jimmy Johnson, who won two Super Bowls with future Hall of Famer Troy Aikman as his quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, was talking to Bill Belichick last summer about the recent shift. Belichick has won three championships with Brady, but even as of a few years ago, both coaches believed a title was possible behind a strong defense and running game.

Not anymore, they agreed.

``Now, the only thing that matters is if you get a great quarterback,'' said Johnson, now a Fox commentator.

Of this year's playoff teams, the only one without great stability at quarterback was Minnesota. And the Vikings had a guy named Adrian Peterson.

The bottom of the standings is full of clubs with uncertainty at the position: from the Chiefs and Jaguars to the Eagles, Cardinals and Jets.

This year, 20 quarterbacks started every regular-season game, nearly two-thirds of the league. That's by far the most since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, according to STATS, four more than the previous high.

That record partly reflects a lack of injuries, in which all those rules protecting the QB may be a factor - along with, of course, sheer luck. But it also reflects how few teams benched their quarterbacks. Most clubs are quite happy with their current situation.

For all the quarterback intrigue in the playoffs, consider the big names who didn't qualify for the postseason: Brees, Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Cam Newton. And then there's Tim Tebow, who may never start again as an NFL QB but is still one of the most recognizable and polarizing athletes in all of sports.

This quarterback Camelot is about more than the deep field of effective starters. The playoffs oozed with stars popular not just for their performances but their personalities and pizazz.

``I marvel at how prepared these guys are - not only on the field, but the exposure they get off it,'' said Aikman, who will call the NFC title game for Fox. ``Whether it's through social networks or different platforms, they are given the opportunity to talk to the press and are much more well-rounded and prepared for all that comes with the scrutiny of the position than ever before.

``If you're on Park Avenue in New York (at league headquarters), you're pretty happy with the new representatives that will be the ambassadors for the league for the years to come.''

The quarterbacks in the postseason undoubtedly fascinate fans, but they do so in different ways.

``All with incredibly different kinds of stories, all with incredibly different ways of getting to the playoffs,'' said McManus, whose network airs next month's Super Bowl.

Nielsen/E-Poll calculates an ``N-Score'' to measure the endorsement potential of athletes. Peyton Manning has the top score of current QBs, but other players come out ahead in specific categories in the surveys.

In this high school yearbook of NFL quarterbacks, Brees is voted most appealing. Rodgers is the most confident, Newton the most dynamic, Griffin the most talented. Luck is considered the most intelligent and Brady the most attractive.

Their back stories sizzle. This season saw Manning return from neck surgery to lead the Broncos to the AFC's top seed and earn All-Pro honors. Brees was dealing with the fallout of the Saints' bounty scandal.

Unlike past rookie quarterbacks who reached the playoffs, Luck and Griffin were anything but caretakers riding a strong defense; both were vibrant leaders turning around franchises. And Wilson advanced deeper into the postseason than either of them.

Kaepernick is for the moment the best story of them all. The 2011 second-round draft pick opened the season as a backup to Alex Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC championship game last year. Kaepernick played so well after Smith was injured that coach Jim Harbaugh took the gamble to stick with him - just as Belichick did with Brady 11 years earlier.

Now Brady is the grizzled veteran, though fans won't get that expected matchup with his longtime rival, Manning, after Baltimore stunned Denver.

``They're not going to last forever,'' Young said of the old guard, ``but you've got a feeling that there's some guys around that we're in pretty good shape in the next generation. Right now, as we speak, there's compelling stories all over the playoffs at the quarterback spot, which is kind of fun.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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2018 NFL Mock Draft Ravens Roundup 6.0: The final countdown

2018 NFL Mock Draft Ravens Roundup 6.0: The final countdown

After months and months of talk and a lot of predictions, the 2018 NFL Draft is finally here.

On Thursday, Ozzie Newsome and Co. will enter the draft room prepared for battle. A lot of questions await them and most of them can not be answered until the ten minutes leading up to their pick. 

Even with the additions of Michael CrabtreeJohn Brown and Willie Snead, will the Ravens continue to add to their wide receiver corps? 

Will they trade down and scoop up a tight end or will they address the offensive line and snag Mike McGlinchey? 

All of our questions will be answered in no time, but for now, sit back and enjoy the wild ride that is the first-round of the NFL Draft. 

NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig (Link) Charley Casserly (Link

— Mike McGlinchey (OL)

With the exit of Ryan Jensen, the Ravens are now in need of an offensive lineman. 

At the combine, McGlinchey put up 24 reps on the bench press, had a 28.5 inch vertical and a 105 inch broad jump. 

"The offense lacks playmakers which is why wide receivers Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore work," Standing says. "Right tackle also in play. McGlinchey seems to have moved ahead of the other tackle prospects."

ESPN's Mel Kiper (Link) CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso (Link) Sporting News (Link) Rotoworld (Link

— Calvin Ridley (WR)

Ridley is one of the few wideouts in this draft projected to go in the first-round. While his combine performance didn't help his stock, running a 4.43 40-yard dash, recording a 31-inch vertical, a 110-inch broad jump and a 6.88-second 3-cone drill, many are still predicting he lands with the Ravens or somewhere in the first-round. 

"Ridley underwhelmed at the combine, but his college tape shows a player who’s nearly uncoverable," Kiper says. "I’m going to trust the tape in this case and still make him my top-ranked wideout (Maryland’s D.J. Moore is not far behind). Baltimore could also target an offensive tackle at pick No. 16."

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah (Link)

— Hayden Hurst (TE) 

The Ravens haven't addressed their need at tight end in free agency and the reason could be because they're holding out for the draft. 

QB Joe Flacco has a tendency to favor Ravens tight ends and Hayden Hurst out of South Carolina is being considered by many the top TE in this draft. 

The ex-minor league baseball pitcher, who walked on at South Carolina at 21-years old, is being compared to Dallas Clark. "His fearless play demeanor combined with size, strength and athleticism make him a well-rounded prospect with the versatility to line up all over the field," according to his draft profile

Jeremiah, who once was a scout for the Ravens, predicts they will be looking to draft back for Hurst.

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks (Link) 

— Lamar Jackson (QB) 

It was reported last week that Jackson would be making a visit to the Ravens' facility during the final week of pre-draft visits, and with Joe Flacco nearing the end of his contract, now could be the time to find his successor. Jackson provides support on the ground and in the air, but scouts are concerned about his accuarcy. 

"With Joe Flacco viewed as a potential salary cap casualty in 2019, the Ravens can secure their future QB by grabbing Jackson if he is available at No. 16," Brooks says. "Remember, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and assistant head coach Greg Roman have experience nurturing athletic quarterbacks into dynamic playmakers (see Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick), so the Ravens could be the perfect fit for the 2016 Heisman winner."

Bleacher Report (Link

— Mike Gesicki (TE) 

Gesicki is another tight end option for the Ravens. Standing tall at 6' 5", Gesicki ran a 4.54 40-yard dash and recorded a 41.5 vertical jump at the combine. He also ended his time at Penn State as their tight end leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. 

His draft profile describes him as a "pass-catcher who can get open and has the ball skills to win against linebackers and safeties." Scouts are also comparing him to the likes of Jimmy Graham. 

Land of 10 (Link

— Christian Kirk (WR)

Kirk provides another wide receiver option if Ridley is gone at 16, even though his draft profile has him projected in Rounds 2-3. 

The 5-10, 201-pound junior finished with 71 receptions, 919 yards and 10 touchdowns at Texas A&M.

At the combine, Kirk ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, recorded a 35.5 vertical jump and a 7.09 second 3-cone drill. 

His bottom line states, "Kirk is a well-built, mentally tough slot target whose game is built around pace more than explosiveness. His lack of speed and length make him less likely to impact games down the field, but his footwork, route tempo and hands should give him an opportunity to find catches underneath. Kirk's ability to help in the return game is a plus, but the difference between average and good as a receiver could depend on finding the right fit."

CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson (Link)

— D.J. Moore (WR)

As the draft has slowly approached, Maryland's D.J. Moore has risen in the rankings. 

Many pundits are ranking him narrowly behind Alabama's Calvin Ridley as the top WR in the draft. 

The 6'0"  junior ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, a 6.95 3-cone drill and recorded a 39.5 vertical jump. 

"Moore is bigger than former Terrapin wideout Stefon Diggs, but their playing style and athletic ability while at Maryland are similar," states his draft profile.

"Moore doesn't have the height and length teams look for outside and may become a full-time option from the slot. He clearly has the short-area quickness and talent after the catch to handle those duties, but his route-running needs to become more focused and fast to unlock his potential. Teams are high on Moore's potential and believe he has the talent and traits to become a good WR2 in the league."

Moore is being compared to the likes of Pierre Garçon. 

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Baltimore Ravens' 2018 regular season matchups, dates and times

Baltimore Ravens' 2018 regular season matchups, dates and times

We've known the Ravens' 2018 preseason and regular season opponents for some time now, but the NFL finally released their full schedule with exact dates and times.

As they do every year, the Ravens will be seeing the Bengals, Steelers and Browns twice. 

For the ninth consecutive year, Week 16 and 17 will be divisional games with playoff implications.

The Ravens will also be playing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame preseason game against the Chicago Bears in Canton, Ohio, bringing an extra preseason game to their schedule.

In the regular season, the birds will be flocking south to take on the Panthers, Falcons and Titans. They haven't seen the Panthers or Falcons since 2014 - both ending in wins - and came up just short against the Titans in their 23-20 loss last season.

The Ravens will only have to travel to the west coast once when they take on the Los Angeles Chargers, who they last saw in 2015 and earned a 29-26 win.

Not including AFC North rivals, the last time the Ravens saw their remaining five home opponents they came away with wins. Hopefully history will repeat itself.

Prime-time games, which the Ravens have two of, will kick off at earlier times than in the past. Monday Night Football will now start at 8:15 p.m. while Thursday and Sunday Night Football will start at 8:20 p.m.

Ravens 2018 Regular-Season Schedule:

Week 1: Sunday, 9/9 vs. Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 2: Thursday, 9/13 @ Bengals, 8:20 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, 9/23 vs. Broncos. 1:00 p.m.

Week 4: Sunday, 9/30 @ Steelers, 8:20 p.m.

Week 5: Sunday, 10/7 @ Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 6: Sunday 10/14 @ Titans, 4:25 p.m.

Week 7: Sunday, 10/21 vs. Saints, 4:05 p.m.

Week 8: Sunday 10/28 @ Panthers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 9: Sunday 11/4 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10:  BYE week

Week 11: Sunday 11/18 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Sunday 11/25 vs. Raiders, 1:00 p.m.

Week 13: Sunday 12/2 @ Falcons, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday 12/9 @ Chiefs, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sunday 12/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Saturday 12/22 or Sunday 12/23 @ Chargers, TBD

Week 17: Sunday 12/30 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m.


PRESEASON 

Hall of Fame Game: Thurs., 8/2, vs. Chicago Bears (Canton, OH), 8:00pm (NBC).

Week 1: Thurs., 8/9, vs. Los Angeles Rams

Week 2: Mon. 8/20,  at Indianapolis Colts (Monday Night Football, ESPN).

Week 3: at Miami Dolphins*

Week 4: Thurs., 8/30 at Washington Redskins

* - Game date and time not yet determined

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