Las Vegas has been a football haven this week.
In addition to hosting Pro Bowl festivities, including a Skills Showdown that Justin Jefferson shined in, Vegas also hosted the 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl Thursday night.
The West team won the 97th annual college all-star game 25-24, and NFL.com's Bill Smith shared seven takeaways from the evening.
At the top of his list, Smith highlighted the performance of Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan, who was 10-of-13 passing for 91 yards and a touchdown in a little more than a quarter of work. Smith wrote:
He led the West offense right down the field on its opening drive, going 5-of-6 for 49 yards before the East was able to come up with a big goal-line stand. The West scored on its next possession, with Coan leading the way on a 56-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard TD pass to Oregon State tight end Teagan Quitoriano.
Next, Smith noted that "running backs made a big impact" and Virginia tight end Jelani Woods impressed with a touchdown catch from Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson. Smith's fourth takeaway was "Perry to the rescue."
Brown quarterback EJ Perry did his best to bring the East squad back after being named the team's QB practice player of the week. The Boston College transfer completed 13 of 18 passes for 241 yards and 3 TDs, as he was named the game's Offensive MVP after entering the game in the second half. [Perry] was able to hit a couple second-level passes and push the ball downfield, getting the East team get back in the game.
View photos of Vikings players from the first day of practice at the 2022 Pro Bowl in Las Vegas, Nev. on Feb 3.
Smith's final three takeaways spotlighted the comeback effort, Jackson State linebacker James Houston and Nebraska receiver Samori Toure.
Houston was another bright spot for the East as he had a big hit in the run game, stopping Ty Chandler for a loss. He was also able to put pressure on Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy in the fourth quarter. Houston is an intriguing prospect after transferring from Florida. He had 16.5 sacks last season for Head Coach Deion Sanders.
Toure caught two touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the East was able to get within a point. He used a nice spin move after making a catch for the first score, and the second came on an out-and-up with North Carolina CB Kyler McMichael in coverage. Toure impressed with his ability to create separation by using his athleticism all week in practice.
Justin Jefferson included among 'Non-QB MVP candidates'
As Super Bowl LVI fast-approaches, so does the anticipated NFL Honors ceremony, during which this season's NFL MVP will be named.
ESPN's Seth Walder wrote:
The NFL's MVP award is quite often the most valuable quarterback award. As maybe it should be, given that is the most important position. But the game is played by 21 non-quarterbacks on a given scrimmage play, and some of those players were awfully valuable themselves – even if they aren't true candidates for the actual MVP award. Aaron Donald, T.J. Watt and Jonathan Taylor had incredible seasons but likely won't ever get that national recognition.
Walder noted that the above players deserve their own award: the Non-QB MVP. He then casted his "10-player ballot for this hypothetical award."
Included on Walder's list was Jefferson, who landed at No. 6 overall.
For the second time in his two-season career, Jefferson is making this top-10 list, firmly establishing himself as one of the league's top-five wide receivers (at least). He ranked second among all players in receiving yards, second in EPA on completions and fifth in EPA on targets (interceptions excluded). He was a force on third down, leading the EPA numbers and ranking second in receptions over expectation (plus-6).
Walder's full list is as follows, from 1-10: Rams WR Cooper Kupp, Rams DT Aaron Donald, Steelers LB T.J. Watt, 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, Cowboys LB Micah Parsons, Jefferson, Packers WR Davante Adams, Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase, Colts RB Jonathan Taylor and Bills S Jordan Poyer.
It is a little bit of a leap of faith to have Poyer here instead of bigger names like Myles Garrett or Nick Bosa, particularly given we don't have as advanced safety metrics as we do for pass-rushers. But in what metrics we do have for safeties, Poyer was elite. In order for the Buffalo defense to produce like it did, it needed exceptional play from some of its players.
Robert Smith ranked 7th on list of NFL's 'best final seasons'
In the wake of Tom Brady retiring after an incredible 22-season NFL career, CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin posed the question: Where does Brady's final campaign rank among the "best final seasons" in NFL history?
Benjamin ranked 22 of the league's "best individual send-off seasons," and Brady came in fifth on his list. Vikings fans will recognize the seventh name in Benjamin's rankings: running back Robert Smith.
Smith played eight seasons (1993-2000) for the Vikings before stepping away from the game.
In his final season in purple, he racked up 1,521 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Benjamin wrote:
The former first-rounder exploded on his way out, totaling more rushing yards than NFL MVP Marshall Faulk en route to All-Pro honors and Offensive Player of the Year consideration before retiring at 28.
Smith was the only Vikings player on the list. Interestingly, however, No. 1 on Benjamin's list was former Eagles QB Norm Van Brocklin, who went on to be the first head coach in Vikings franchise history.
Van Brocklin played the 1960 season and in 1961 took the helm in Minnesota. He recorded 2,471 passing yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions with an 86.5 passer rating.
If you wanna go out, you wanna go out like Norm. Second in yards and TDs behind only Johnny Unitas, Van Brocklin set career highs in TDs and QB rating to win NFL MVP, lead the Eagles to a 10-2 finish – their best in 11 years – and captured the NFL Championship with a fourth-quarter comeback over Vince Lombardi's Packers. Before instantly transitioning to the sidelines as the Vikings head coach, "The Dutchman" was given full control of the Eagles offense and let it fly, retiring at 34 having just teased his peak as a gunslinger ahead of his time.