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Lessons from Jim Harbaugh's Chargers playing days: 'He's ready for the fight'



Lessons from Jim Harbaugh's Chargers playing days: 'He's ready for the fight'

Ryan Leaf needed an ally.

The No. 2 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft was coming off a disastrous rookie season for the San Diego Chargers. Two touchdowns to 15 interceptions in 10 games. Eight fumbles and 22 sacks.

The young quarterback completed 45.3 percent of his passes and was benched multiple times. He alienated teammates and verbally accosted a reporter in the locker room. He recently described himself as acting “poorly … as a professional.”

The Chargers fired head coach Kevin Gilbride in October and finished the season 5-11. Leaf characterized the “mentality” of most in the organization at that time as, “If (Leaf) gets hit by a car on the way to work today, we’d be OK.”

That offseason, he was desperate for someone who viewed him differently, who focused on his potential and not his transgressions.


That someone became Jim Harbaugh.

“Everybody else was just like, ‘Screw this kid. I don’t want anything to do with him,’” Leaf recently told The Athletic. “(Harbaugh) wasn’t that guy, ever. He was always there to try to help.”

In two seasons playing quarterback for the Chargers, Harbaugh went 6-11 as a starter, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. San Diego went 1-15 in 2000. Harbaugh’s final NFL pass attempt came in a Week 11 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium.

Up until three weeks ago, this two-year stretch of Harbaugh’s legendary football life was a relative afterthought. But after Harbaugh was introduced as Los Angeles Chargers head coach on Feb. 1 at SoFi Stadium, this unceremonious end to a 14-year playing career now has revitalized meaning.



Home Depot, ‘Ted Lasso’ and an RV: What we learned at Jim Harbaugh’s Chargers introduction

To start the news conference, the Chargers played a hype video on two screens sandwiching each side of the podium. Included were several highlights of Harbaugh in a Chargers uniform. He sat in the front row, the giddy emotion evident on his face, smiling from ear to ear as reflections of the highlights danced on his glasses.

“All of these old memories are flooding back,” Harbaugh said after taking the stage moments later.

His connection to the team, the lighting bolt logo, Southern California, the Spanos family — it all stemmed from these two seasons. In the record books, the stint exists as a 9-24 record. But in the stories from the people who lived it, those two years were so much more — the burgeoning saplings of Harbaugh’s coaching style, raucous golf cart races at training camp, passion-fueled fights with teammates and an unwavering authenticity that resonates with teammates and coaches to this day.

“He beats to his own drum,” said former Chargers running back Terrell Fletcher, “and he likes the music he plays.”


Jim Harbaugh’s two seasons with the Chargers were a relative footnote to a solid NFL playing career until he was hired as their new head coach. (Keith Birmingham / MediaNews Group / Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

The Chargers hired Mike Riley as their new head coach after the 1998 season. Riley knew he needed a veteran presence in the quarterbacks room both as an aid and a contingency plan for Leaf. So on March 22, 1999, the Chargers traded a fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Harbaugh, then 35 years old.

“What a great choice that was,” Riley said.

Harbaugh was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 1987. In 1995, “Captain Comeback” led the Indianapolis Colts to the AFC Championship Game, beating the Chargers on his way there and making the Pro Bowl after the season. He had thrown for more than 22,000 yards by the time he joined San Diego

Riley was sitting in his office at the Chargers facility one offseason day when he glanced out the window to see rookies on the field going through a workout with the strength and conditioning staff, including lifting and carrying logs.

“You know how the weight coaches are,” Riley said with a chuckle.


As Riley looked onto the field, one player caught his eye, a lone veteran in the group of newbies.

“That’s just Jim,” Riley said. “Jim wasn’t normal.”

This is what Harbaugh brought to the Chargers when he arrived in San Diego in the spring of 1999: “He had an awareness of who he was on a team and what that would mean to the others,” Riley said.

The plan was for Harbaugh to back up Leaf. The previous year, the only other quarterback on the roster had been Craig Whelihan, a 27-year-old who was a sixth-round pick in 1995 and had seven career starts — all losses — to his name.

“We wanted to get a guy that would be not only a mentor type but would be a viable guy if something happened,” Riley said.


Minutes into the opening practice of training camp, Leaf tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder. The contingency became reality. Harbaugh was the Chargers’ starting quarterback.

He debuted for the Chargers on Sept. 19, 1999 — in Week 2, the team had a bye on opening weekend — throwing for 159 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He suffered an elbow injury in the first quarter of the third game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs. Veteran Erik Kramer, signed on the eve of training camp after being cut by the Bears, replaced Harbaugh and helped the Chargers overcome a 14-point deficit to win 21-14.

Kramer started the next two games, wins over the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks (despite four interceptions from Kramer), while Harbaugh nursed the elbow and two cracked ribs. The Chargers were 4-1, with a defense led by linebacker Junior Seau and safety Rodney Harrison emerging as one of the better units in the league.

“We didn’t have a good defense,” said Fletcher. “We had a great defense.”

Harbaugh suited up against the Green Bay Packers in Week 7, but Kramer got a third consecutive start. He threw three interceptions in three quarters and was benched in favor of Harbaugh, who threw three picks of his own in the fourth. The Chargers lost, 31-3.


On the fourth play of a 34-0 loss to the Chiefs the following week, Kramer threw his 10th interception of the season. He fumbled on the next offensive series, the final snap of his NFL career. Harbaugh entered and went on to start the last nine games of the season. Kramer was forced to medically retire midseason because of a neck injury. He recalled waking up in the middle of the night unable to move in the days after the Kansas City game.

After replacing an injured Erik Kramer during a 34-0 loss to the Chiefs, Jim Harbaugh started the final nine games of the 1999 season. (Dave Kaup / AFP via Getty Images)

The Chargers lost six straight games to fall to 4-7. After Week 2, San Diego failed to score more than 21 points in nine straight games. Frustrations mounted among members of a defense that would finish the 1999 season allowing the fewest yards per play in the league.

“We were a little overmatched offensively,” Kramer said. “We didn’t have quite the talent.”

Tensions boiled over in Week 10 during a 28-9 loss at the Oakland Raiders, the fifth of six consecutive defeats. And Harbaugh was at the center of the flare-up.

The Chargers punted on all five of their first-half possessions to open the game, and safety Mike Dumas was waiting on the sideline to greet the offense after each failed drive.


“At first it was kind of encouraging. ‘Come on, offense. Let’s get it going,’” offensive tackle Vaughn Parker said. “But at a certain point in time, you’ve heard it, and it’s like, ‘We get it. We know we’re struggling. Give us a break.’”

The Chargers trailed 21-3 in the fourth quarter when Harbaugh threw an incompletion on a fourth-and-10.

“Mike said something,” Riley recalled. “Jim took offense to it.”

Dumas and Harbaugh got into a jawing match on the sideline. Television cameras picked up the spat.

“It’s really embarrassing us as a team,” Seau said at the time. “We don’t like to see any of our players and family members having a conversation like that in front of millions of people. It doesn’t need to be like that. We don’t need to expose our dirty laundry out there on the street.”


Offensive players, though, saw Harbaugh going to bat for them.

“You appreciate that, especially as an offensive line,” Parker said. “You still wanted to give a great effort for someone who was in it like you were.”

The Chargers lost, 28-9. Riley said he was jogging 20 yards behind Harbaugh and Dumas, who were continuing to yell at each other as they made their way across the field from the visitor’s bench to the Oakland Coliseum locker rooms after the game.

“They held themselves off until they got underneath the stadium and the seats before they actually went at it,” Riley said.

Fletcher pointed out that the fracas was a “football fight, not a real right.” But, he concedes, it is not often the starting quarterback is grabbing facemasks or throwing uppercuts. “That’s one thing that makes it unique,” Fletcher said, “he stuck up for himself.”


“Jim was not going to back down to anything,” Riley said. “That’s kind of his M.O. He’s ready for the fight, whatever it is.”

Harbaugh threw for 677 yards over the next two games. Three weeks after the Oakland loss, the Chargers ended their skid with a 23-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, with Harbaugh completing a season-high 69.6 percent of his passes.

“He is a mad-man competitor,” Parker said.

The Chargers won four of their final five games. The only loss came in Week 15 to the Dolphins. On the final drive, Harbaugh completed six passes to move the offense into field goal range. Kicker John Carney missed from 36 yards. San Diego lost 12-9, finishing one game back of Miami for the final wild-card spot.

The Chargers held training camp at UC San Diego during the years Harbaugh played for the team, complete with players sleeping in dorms and two-a-day practices. “Pads both times,” Fletcher said.


The field was far enough away from the dorms that the team gave players golf carts to shuttle there and back. “They were gas carts,” Parker said. “You could pop the regulator (off) and just make it so much more fast than they anticipated.” Parker remembers a “huge straightaway” on the drive from the dorms to the field.

Compulsively competitive people? Uncapped golf carts? Huge straightaway? Exhausted players craving a reprieve from the dog days of camp?

“We raced the golf carts,” Fletcher confirmed. And who was the ringleader? Fletcher pauses for a second when asked. “It might have been Jim,” he says with a laugh.

Harbaugh, months away from his 37th birthday, was pushing the carts to the limit.

“We had all kinds of things — wrecks and guys falling off,” Fletcher said. “You’d have four people in the cart, two people on the back, the cart’s scratching the ground almost because it’s almost a ton of weight on the carts.”


“Everyone was just ripping,” Parker said.

When teammates think back to 2000, these are the front-of-mind moments. Harbaugh’s levity was among the few positives in a horrific season when the Chargers did not win a game until after Thanksgiving.

Leaf had rehabbed from shoulder surgery and entered training camp in a competition with Harbaugh for the starting job. He completed his first nine pass attempts in a preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 18, finishing the first half with 167 yards and a touchdown.

Not long after, he claimed the starting job. And after the decision was made, Leaf said, Harbaugh was “accepting” and “just nurturing.”

“He all of a sudden became the mentor,” Leaf said. “He became the coach in that quarterback room.”


The Chargers lost the first two games of the season by four combined points, but Leaf threw five picks and lost a fumble and was benched for a Week 3 game against the Chiefs in favor of Moses Moreno. Moreno suffered a throwing-shoulder injury in the third quarter of an eventual 42-10 loss to the Chiefs.

Harbaugh saw his first action of the season the next game against Seattle after Leaf fumbled and threw an interception in the first half. Harbaugh started the next five games, but Leaf got the nod for the final six, including a Week 13 win over the Chiefs, the Chargers’ lone victory of the season.

“It challenged everything (Harbaugh) believes in,” then-quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson said of the 2000 season. “It challenged the way he believes in how you should handle coaches, how you should handle players, everything. Jim Harbaugh has probably never gone 1-15 in anything.”

“A year that’s etched in my memory,” Parker said.

Amid the losing, though, Harbaugh was still making the type of connections that would come to define him as a coach.


Despite the on-field struggles, Jim Harbaugh was planting the seeds of what would make him a successful NFL and college head coach. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

Leaf looked forward to Tuesdays. On the players’ off day, Leaf, Harbaugh and Moreno would play a round of golf. Each week, one quarterback rotated picking the course. Part of the selection process was identifying a course that fit one’s golf game. But Harbaugh was working on a deeper level.

“He always found a really interesting way to corroborate the golf course with kind of a message,” Leaf said.

One Tuesday, Harbaugh picked the course at Coronado to build a theme around the military.

“Everything he did had a coach feeling to it,” Leaf said. “There was always a bigger message that was being sent in everything he did, from the clothes he’s wearing to the golf course he picked for us to play at so he could share stories along the way.”

Don’t be mistaken, though: Harbaugh was vicious during these rounds. Sure, he was coaching — on these days more about life than football. He was also competing.


“They were brutal,” Leaf said. “He suffered no fools, and there was no quarter given. If it was a two-footer to win the hole, he was making you putt it out.”

Still, Harbaugh, in his way, found a way to connect with a man who had lost his connection to virtually everything else in his football life. Leaf said he invited four members of the Chargers organization to his wedding. One was Harbaugh.

“Those two years … he ended up being my best friend,” Leaf said.

It was an unlikely pairing.

“Ryan Leaf and Jim Harbaugh were oil and water,” Johnson said. “Ryan was something that Jim couldn’t understand. ‘How can you be this talented and not be more like me?’”


Johnson remembers one time in the quarterbacks room in 2000, Harbaugh turned to Leaf and said, “Look, Ryan, you’re a poor excuse of a pro athlete. Do your job and make sure you take care of the things you need to take care of to make sure you’re a pro.”

“That’s who Jim was,” Johnson said. “He was not going to allow you to be anything less than what you were supposed to be.”

Harbaugh was supposed to coach. That much was obvious during his playing days. He sat on the sidelines with the Carolina Panthers in 2001 before retiring and setting out on his next career the following season as the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach.

He won a Pioneer Football League title at the University of San Diego in 2005. Five years later, he led Stanford to its first 11-win season in program history and an Orange Bowl title. He took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season, and a nine-year run at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, culminated in a national championship in January.



Meek: Jim Harbaugh at Michigan could have ended badly. Instead, he delivered a parade.


“You want to be on Jim’s side,” Riley said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Passionate, principled, driven and authentically himself — that is the legacy Harbaugh left as a Chargers player.

Now he builds a new one.

(Top illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photos: Brian Cleary and Tom Hauck / Getty Images)

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Bernie Williams and his unique road from the World Series to New York Philharmonic



Bernie Williams and his unique road from the World Series to New York Philharmonic

For Bernie Williams, grabbing a bat was easy. He would pull out the same trusty 34 1/2-inch, 33-ounce Rawlings model for all occasions during his New York Yankees career, whether that was in spring training or the playoffs, whether he was facing a flamethrower or a knuckleballer.

Music, however, is different.

“Choosing a guitar is about the gig,’’ Williams said. “It’s about the sound that you want to create, and it’s about the music that you’re going to play. You need the right instrument with the right gig, and that varies with time.”

Such is what vexes the former outfielder as he prepares for a second big-league debut — this time in the arts. Williams for the first time will play guitar with the New York Philharmonic, at the Spring Gala on Wednesday, an epic milestone for a five-time All-Star and four-time World Series champion now deep into life’s second act.

So, which guitar? The acoustic steel string? The archtop? Williams said a few weeks ago that he might even choose to go electric “for that sort of Santana-like sound,” though he added it “might just be too over the top for that environment.”


Williams, who spent his entire career with the Yankees from 1991 to 2006, has rebranded himself as an accomplished musician, ordained with a Latin Grammy nomination and critical acclaim. Still, at age 55, the thought of stepping into the spotlight at another hallowed New York venue — think Yankee Stadium, but with better acoustics — gives Williams butterflies.

On Wednesday, he will play one selection, his 2009 piece “Moving Forward,” as newly arranged by jazz artist Jeff Tyzik. Famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel will be at the helm.

“I expect to be as nervous as I’ve ever been on any kind of stage,’’ Williams said “But I think it’s gonna be no different from playing a seventh game of the World Series, you know?”

To answer that last question: No, Mr. Williams, we don’t know. There is no one else in baseball history poised to compare the experience of baseball’s Fall Classic and the Philharmonic’s Spring Gala. No one else has played in “The House That Ruth Built” and in the concert hall Leonard Bernstein christened by conducting on opening night in 1962.

Williams’ distinction means much gnashing of teeth for the president and CEO of the New York Philharmonic. Gary Ginstling is an ardent Mets fan.


“This is a deeply difficult decision for me, I have to say,’’ Ginstling cracked during a phone interview. “I did scour the landscape for any retired Mets. But no one could hold a candle to Bernie Williams.”

Bernie Williams has performed the national anthem before baseball games since retiring. Here he is in 2021 at an Oakland Athletics-Minnesota Twins game. (Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

This experience is enough to give Williams flashbacks to his first big-league at-bat. The switch hitter was 22 years old when he stepped to the plate in the third inning at Yankee Stadium against left-handed junkballer Jeff Ballard on July 7, 1991. It was hardly a soaring opening note. The Baseball-Reference box score immortalized the moment this way: Groundout: 3B-1B (Weak 3B).

The outing got better. Williams drove in a run with the sacrifice fly in the fifth and brought home another run with an infield single in the ninth.

“I remember being really nervous,’’ Williams said of that debut. “I remember being in this place where there was a lot of uncertainty about my career and my own ability to stay in the big leagues. All I wanted to do was to get an opportunity to be able to show people what I can do.’’

A week later, Williams hit his first home run at Anaheim Stadium against the California Angels. He hit a fastball thrown by Chuck Finley over the left-center field wall. He kept rolling from there: a .297 batting average with 287 home runs and 147 stolen bases over 16 seasons.


Williams helped the Yankees win four World Series titles, including three in a row from 1998 to 2000. His 22 career postseason homers rank third all-time behind Manny Ramírez (29) and José Altuve (27).

That summation has applied, at times, to his musical career, partly because it would be easy to dismiss Williams as just another retired jock with an expensive new hobby. But his lifelong musical journey is part of what appeals to the New York Philharmonic. The Spring Gala, to be performed at the David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, is a fundraiser for musical education. Ginstling wants the younger crowd to be inspired by Williams’ scholarly dedication to his craft.

Williams’ first instructor was his father. Bernabé Williams, an able seaman with the Merchant Marine, returned from Spain with a gift for his 7-year-old son. It was a guitar that his son never put down. The family then found a guitar teacher in its neighborhood in Puerto Rico, and by the time Bernie was 9 years old, he had performed on a local radio station with other star pupils.

“The guitar teacher had all the little kids that were taking lessons with him, the ones that were kind of like standouts,’’ Williams recalled. “He would give them an opportunity to play a song or two on that radio show. … It was such a great experience and kind of set the stage for everything that came after.”


Williams kept playing throughout his baseball career, especially so while grieving the loss of his father, who died of lung disease in 2001. The former batting champion then studied guitar and composition for a year at the State University of New York at Purchase in preparation for his first album, “Moving Forward.” That release strengthened his bona fides thanks to 14 solid tracks including collaborations with Bruce Springsteen, Jon Secada and Dave Koz.

Bernie Williams and musician Jon Secada performing during the Grammy SoundCheck on April 17, 2009, in New York City. (Joe Kohen / WireImage)

But eventually, Williams formalized his expertise. He enrolled in the prestigious Manhattan School of Music en route to a bachelor’s degree.

“I tell you what, none of the home runs that I hit in the postseason helped me there,” Williams said. “I had to really reinvent myself. And in a very strange way, I had to earn the admiration of the kids that I was playing with, because they were all virtuosos in their own instruments by the time they got to the Manhattan School of Music.

“I was the old guy in the back of the room. I was asking all the questions and asking that no one erase the blackboard until I was finished writing all the notes.”

Williams wasn’t chasing a diploma for the sake of the paper. The experience signified his graduation from ballplayer to artist.


“I think the school gave me a great perspective on the reasons why I wanted to be a musician and the responsibility that we have as music makers to make sure that we make this world a better place,” he said. “The joy and the power of music is just incredible thing to use for the good of the world.”

Therein lies the message of the Spring Gala and underscores why even a Mets fan like Ginstling embraces a Yankee in the house. The eclectic bill on Wednesday is designed to introduce new audiences to the philharmonic. Selections range from a suite from Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” to two pieces from rapper Common to an aria called “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5,” sung by the South Korean soprano Hera Hyesang Park.

“I think that’s what I’m so excited about,” Ginstling said. “We’re gonna get a ton of Bernie Williams fans in the house that night who probably will be hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time. It’ll be great for them to hear Bernie, but we want them to hear the orchestra play Strauss. And we want them to hear the orchestra play Nina Shekhar, this up-and-coming composer whose piece we’re playing.

“We’re hoping that they’ll get hooked not just by Bernie, but by all of this repertoire, and they’ll come back.”

Until then, Williams sometimes wakes up unexpectedly at 2:30 a.m. and reaches for his guitar. Still half-awake, he’ll strum until the notes sound just as they should before allowing himself to drift back to sleep.


“That’s the level of preparation you need for an event like this,” he said. “Because when the nerves come in, you want to still be in control and not freeze when the situation arises. The only antidote to that is being well-prepared.

“That’s true of doing anything that requires the spotlight and great expectations and great pressures.”

Williams hardly is the first ballplayer to make news with his music. As far back as 1964, a Yankees bus ride turned tense when Yogi Berra grew tired of hearing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as played on the harmonica by a utility infielder named Phil Linz.

But that was the “New York Phil harmonica.” The New York Philharmonic is a whole different ballgame.

“If anything,” Williams said, “baseball taught me to be able to perform under pressure, and this is definitely going put that to the test.”


(Top photo: Mychal Watts / Getty Images)

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Pacers' Tyrese Haliburton says racial slur hurled at younger brother during playoff game



Pacers' Tyrese Haliburton says racial slur hurled at younger brother during playoff game

Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton said on Tuesday a fan in Milwaukee directed a racial slur at his younger brother during the team’s playoff game against the Bucks.

Haliburton said the incident occurred in Game 1 of the teams’ playoff series. The Pacers, the lower seed, started the series off at the Fiserv Forum.

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, #0, warms up before game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on April 21, 2024. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

“My little brother in the stands the other day was called an N-word,” he told reporters after Indiana’s 125-108 Game 2 win over Milwaukee. “It was important for us as a family to just address that. That was important for us to talk about because that didn’t sit right with anybody in our family. It’s just been important to have my family here right now, and my little brother’s handled that the right way”


The Bucks responded to Haliburton’s remarks.

“An arena guest services representative reported that during Sunday’s game a few guests were not sitting in their correct seats,” a team spokesman said. “The guest services representative asked the group to move one section over to their correct seats. 

Tyrese Haliburton shoots

Indiana Pacers’ Tyrese Haliburton reacts to his three pointer during the second half of Game 2 of the first round NBA playoff basketball series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)


“Then, one of the individuals in the group claimed to the representative that a person sitting in front of him had used a derogatory term toward him. The accused person denied the accusation. The group moved to their correct seats and no further incident was reported.

“We take our fan environment extremely seriously and are committed to providing a safe and secure experience.”

Tyrese Haliburton guards Patrick Beverley

Milwaukee Bucks’ Patrick Beverley, left, gets past Indiana Pacers’ Tyrese Haliburton during the first half of Game 1 of the NBA playoff basketball game on Sunday, April 21, 2024 in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The series is tied 1-1 after Tuesday night’s game. Game 3 is set for Indianapolis on Friday night.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Sam Farmer's final 2024 NFL mock draft: Quarterbacks 1-2-3 after big trade?



Sam Farmer's final 2024 NFL mock draft: Quarterbacks 1-2-3 after big trade?

This will be the first NFL draft held in the Motor City.

Fittingly, the first few teams will be looking for offensive engines.

Quarterbacks were selected No. 1 overall in seven of the last 10 drafts, and that figures to be the case again Thursday with the Chicago Bears likely to take former USC standout Caleb Williams.

And as was the case in 2021, quarterbacks could go 1-2-3.


This mock draft contemplates a trade near the top, with conjecture that the New England Patriots could swap the No. 3 pick for Minnesota’s two first-round selections at 11 and 23. Both teams are in the market for quarterbacks, so it’s perfectly reasonable that the Patriots might stay put.

Regardless, there is intrigue at the top of this year’s draft.

There’s also legacy. This field of prospects features several whose fathers played in the NFL, among them Marvin Harrison Jr. and Frank Gore Jr., Kris Jenkins, who likewise shares has father’s name, along with Brenden Rice (son of Jerry Rice), Joe Alt (John Alt), Luke McCaffrey (Ed McCaffrey) and Jonah Elliss (Luther Elliss).

Harrison is likely to be a top-five pick and the first non-quarterback off the board.

One way the first round could unfold:


1. CHICAGO: QB Caleb Williams, USC — The Bears are taking a quarterback. Barring a surprising head fake, they’re taking this Trojans star.

2. WASHINGTON: QB Jayden Daniels, Louisiana State — Heisman winner and dual-threat QB gives the Commanders a weapon with Lamar Jackson tendencies.

3. MINNESOTA (proposed trade with New England): QB Drake Maye, North Carolina — The Vikings might have to package their two first-round picks to get their QB.

North Carolina’s Drake Maye (10) could be the third quarterback selected in the NFL draft Thursday.

(Chris Seward / Associated Press)


4. ARIZONA: WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State — Cardinals want to find their next Larry Fitzgerald, so they grab a gift for Kyler Murray.

5. CHARGERS: T Joe Alt, Notre Dame — If Harrison were to slide to them, the Chargers would love it. Alt could move from left tackle in college to right tackle in the pros.

6. N.Y. GIANTS: QB J.J. McCarthy, Michigan — McCarthy could go earlier. Giants are looking to move on from Daniel Jones, who is coming off an ACL tear.

7. TENNESSEE: WR Malik Nabers, Louisiana State — DeAndre Hopkins is old, and Treylon Burks has trouble staying healthy. Quarterback Will Levis needs more help.


8. ATLANTA: OLB Dallas Turner, Alabama — Turner fits the Falcons’ change to a 3-4 defense and can both rush the passer and drop in coverage.

9. CHICAGO: T J.C. Latham, Alabama — The Bears need more help in the interior of their OL, but taking a tackle here affords them some flexibility.

10. N.Y. JETS: T Taliese Fuaga, Oregon State — Receiver is tempting here, but a reliable tackle probably would be even more helpful for the aging Aaron Rodgers.

11. NEW ENGLAND (proposed trade from Minnesota): DT Byron Murphy II, Texas — If the Patriots bail out of the No. 3 pick, they might decide to wait a bit on a QB.

Washington's Rome Odunze (1) catches a pass for a touchdown as Oregon State defensive back Jaden Robinson (4) pursues.

Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze could end up in Denver.

(Mark Ylen / Associated Press)


12. DENVER: WR Rome Odunze, Washington — Jerry Jeudy is gone and Courtland Sutton might not be around much longer. Time to restock at receiver.

13. LAS VEGAS: QB Michael Penix, Washington — A second wave of QBs is going to go, and the Raiders might need to start that wave instead of risking Penix being gone in second round.

14. NEW ORLEANS: TE Brock Bowers, Georgia — Bowers would be a good fit in Denver, too. He should go in this range and surely would make Derek Carr happy.

15. INDIANAPOLIS: CB Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo — Colts gave up a lot of explosive plays last season. Mitchell could help them cut down on those.


16. SEATTLE: OLB Chop Robinson, Penn State — Can never have too many talented edge rushers, and Robinson would be a good fit for new defensive coordinator Aden Durde.

17. JACKSONVILLE: CB Terrion Arnold, Alabama — Jaguars lost Darious Williams back to the Rams, so there’s a spot for Arnold to step into right away.

18. CINCINNATI: T Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Penn State — The Bengals are OK on the left side, but they are in need of an upgrade on the right. Fashanu can play either side.

19. RAMS: DE Jared Verse, Florida State — No one is going to step in and strike fear the way Aaron Donald did, but the Rams can still beef up their pass rush. Verse was a sack machine in college.

Florida State defensive lineman Jared Verse (5) follows a play against Syracuse.

Jared Verse (5) was a great pass rusher for Florida State and the Rams need help on the defensive line.

(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)


20. PITTSBURGH: T Troy Fatanu, Washington — Fatanu is capable of playing all over the offensive line, so maybe he starts at center and eventually moves to right tackle.

21. MIAMI: CB Nate Wiggins, Clemson — The Dolphins might take a defensive tackle here, but Wiggins is excellent value at a coveted spot if he slips this far.

22. PHILADELPHIA: OT Tyler Guyton, Oklahoma — Eagles select eventual replacement for five-time Pro Bowler Lane Johnson, who has been a rock at right tackle but is 33.

23. NEW ENGLAND (proposed trade from Minnesota): CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama — Foot injury might give teams a little trepidation, but McKinstry has the tools to be a shutdown corner in NFL.


24. DALLAS: T Amarius Mims, Georgia — The Cowboys need a center, too, but Mims will be the left tackle of the future for somebody. Why not Dallas?

25. GREEN BAY: T Jordan Morgan, Arizona — Packers have released David Bakhtiari, and they need to address their offensive line. Good place to start.

26. TAMPA BAY: C Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon — GM Jason Licht likes drafting offensive linemen, and the Buccaneers need to find a solid center once and for all.

27. ARIZONA: DE Laiatu Latu, UCLA — Cardinals need help all along their defensive front, and Latu could slide a bit because of his medical history.

28. BUFFALO: WR Brian Thomas Jr., Louisiana State — With no more Stefon Diggs, the Bills need another top-shelf target for Josh Allen. Thomas fills those requirements.


29. DETROIT: CB Cooper DeJean, Iowa — The Lions have had lots of injuries at corner. The versatile DeJean could help them there, and in the return game.

30. BALTIMORE: WR Ladd McConkey, Georgia — If they don’t take a corner, the Ravens might look for a receiver to pair with Zay Flowers.

31. SAN FRANCISCO: WR Xavier Legette, South Carolina — Tempting to pick up help on the defensive line, but the 49ers might look for an eventual Brandon Aiyuk replacement.

32. KANSAS CITY: WR Xavier Worthy, Texas — Could Worthy be the next Tyreek Hill? It didn’t hurt the prospect that he broke the combine record with a 4.21-second 40.

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