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Do Tony Pauline's rumors ever lead to reality: A deep dive into his history of pre-draft reports
Seaside Joe 1149: Pauline's Ridder Rumor should be his final stand
Get out the sweet bread, because I’m about to make a compliment sandwich.
Tony Pauline and the website ProFootballNetwork have been useful NFL draft resources for a few years now. Pauline’s work goes back to the late-90s and he joined PFN in 2019 as a draft analyst. I have no insight into his character or his ethics in journalism, and I am definitely not setting out to write a hit piece or to trash his writing for PFN, of which I am a fan.
I will only address his track record of pre-draft quarterback rumors and that means that there is no judgment here of Pauline as a person, or even as a journalist. I will instead use the same scoring system that the NFL uses: You get something right, you get a point. You get something wrong, you get a point scored against you.
On Tuesday night, Tony Pauline reported a rumor about the Seattle Seahawks and a quarterback in this draft. I will not address the prospect until the end of the article because I don’t want readers to fall for the oldest trick in the rumor mill book: Get fans to argue about the player or the content of the rumor so that they’ll forget about verifying the validity of the rumor itself.
I’m tired of rumors. I’m over it! Aren’t we all a little sick and tired of having to go through the emotional and mental anguish of being fed false or untrue information? I’m not going as far as to call rumors “lies”, because I don’t want to imply or have people infer that every journalist is outright lying about having “sources” for the purpose of attention.
It could be just as true that rumors end up being false for at least these three reasons:
The source intentionally gave bad information
The reporter purposefully takes the rumor out of context or overstates the status of the source in order to create something that sounds like a valid rumor when it could be an off-hand comment or pure speculation
Something changes between the time of the rumor and the event
But it shouldn’t matter that much why so many rumors end up being bullshit. The only thing that matters is that the vast majority of them are bullshit. They spread on social media, permeate our NFL circles, disrupt the conversation and create unnecessary chaos, and mislead the public for the sole purpose of giving attention to the rumor spreader or sometimes the subject of the rumor.
The two sides that rarely benefit from rumors: the players and the fans.
How bad is it that the atmosphere is clouded with rumors that go nowhere and that in the NFL it’s always raining? It’s essentially the same as YouTube’s influencer generation that has since become the universe’s poster case of how some people will do anything on the internet, sometimes including lying and manipulating their own fans, for the purpose of personal follower growth and financial gain.
It’s time for us to start separating the people who BREAK NEWS (Adam Schefter, Ian Rapoport, Mike Garofolo, Jay Glazer, as examples) from the people who SHARE RUMORS (Jordan Schultz) and to really understand the difference between the two cases because unfortunately, as we all know, there’s a been a problem with “reality” in the age of the internet.
There are two realities of life: The one that you personally experience and the one that we all must share as a society.
There is no known governing body that is watching and keeping record of all that is happening on Earth. Unless it’s a massive Truman Show situation, humans are responsible for keeping track of reality as we know it. That’s why I think lying is the worst thing a person can do: When you fuck with our shared reality, that causes confusion in my personal reality.
To do that for personal profit is the lowest of the low.
I don’t think every time someone tweets out a rumor that they heard that the person is lying. I would say that’s actually quite rare. But often, maybe, someone is lying to them. Or often, maybe, someone is engaging in quid pro quo. “Put this out there and our line of communication will remain open.”
All I ask is: Where is the accountability?
If there was a real leak out of the Seahawks on Tuesday evening, I want to know who Pete Carroll is going to fire on Wednesday morning. In fact, how come we never hear of teams addressing leaks? How come the breaking news (like Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams being traded) is so rarely preceded by a rumor? Even after many months of speculation of a Russell Wilson trade, much of which was only sparked by things that Wilson himself would do in the media, the news and the trade partner came as a total surprise.
Including to everyone who seemingly had sources in either the Seahawks or Broncos or both.
When will we get accountability?
The least we can do is keep a record.
Tony Pauline reported on Tuesday that the Saints have contacted the Seahawks about trading up into the top-10 for a wide receiver and in his mock, he has Seattle drafting Trevor Penning in the middle of the first round. He also has the Seahawks trading back into the first round for a quarterback. As outlined by Rob Staton of SeahawksDraftBlog, this was more of a “statement” than a rumor:
This was quite a firm report from Pauline. He didn’t qualify it with any doubt or base-covering. It was delivered almost statement-like — presumably because he’s hearing this from numerous sources.
I wouldn’t be a fan of this. At all.
Again, I’ll address the quarterback at the end because I don’t want us to fall for the trick of debating the content instead of the context. Tony Pauline has never put out any report about the Seahawks in the draft that would make you believe that of all the people in the world, he’s the one that a front office executive decided to risk their job for by leaking the biggest secret in the entire organization.
He may have gotten some information in 2015 that Seattle was extremely high on Terry Poole. That’s it. The Seahawks have made over 100 picks under Pete and John.
But here’s what he’s said about the quarterbacks in the last half-decade of drafts. One point for Tony when his sources are right, one point against him when the rumors lead to nothing.
On the eve of last year’s draft, when there had never been so much attention on the third pick in the history of the event, the world wanted to know the answer to the biggest secret of all: Who did the 49ers trade up for? Was it Mac Jones, Justin Fields, or Trey Lance? If there was insider info on the 49ers, Bears, Patriots, or Broncos, they didn’t feed the right info to Pauline as his mock on the eve of the draft went:
Mac Jones to 49ers, Justin Fields to Broncos, Trey Lance to Patriots
Nobody gets any points for picking Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson as the top-two picks, as that was a given.
Now, Pauline isn’t responsible for his mock draft picks, only his direct reports. He was, however, really wrong about the Mac Jones pick, but he did say Trey Lance was still in the running, as we all had heard. He did report that “people around the league tell me it’s their gut feeling Jones is the 49ers pick.” Pauline also wrote this about the Broncos, who chose Patrick Surtain II when Fields was still on the board:
“The Broncos view Justin Fields as a faster, more athletic version of Dak Prescott.”
Reality 1, Pauline 0
On the Patriots’ QB search: “The Patriots want to come away with a quarterback, whether it’s a trade up for Trey Lance/Justin Fields or a trade down for Davis Mills.”
This report does a few things, which includes ignoring Mac Jones (who was admittedly off Pauline’s board) and suggesting that Davis Mills could be a first round pick.
Reality 2, Pauline 0
More pre-draft reports by Pauline in 2021: Washington is considering a trade up into the top-8 if a QB they like falls, Dolphins look to trade down from 6, Steelers want Najee Harris in R1 and Spencer Brown in R2, Bears desperate for a QB, the Panthers have Patrick Surtain atop their board if Penei Sewell is gone, Vikings would like Christian Darrisaw, Dee Eskridge a top target of Packers, Saints, and Bears, Landon Dickerson could fall to day 3, Jags will address C on day 2, Jets high on 2 RBs, including Michael Carter, Panthers have a trade down “near completion” or they will draft Rashawn Slater
I won’t judge every report here, but a few that stand out are the Bears being desperate for a QB, Washington looking to trade up for a QB, the Vikings wanting Christian Darrisaw, the Jets’ interest in Michael Carter, Carolina’s deal in place to trade down, and Dee Eskridge’s hot market that did not include the Seahawks. I give Pauline three out of six.
Reality 5, Pauline 3
In 2020, the Joe Burrow pick was all but finalized by January. Pauline did push the idea that the Dolphins were not interested in Justin Herbert. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald broke that the Dolphins were more interested in Tua Tagovailoa, but Pauline wrote that sources kept telling him that Tua would fall out of the top-20.
Reality 6, Pauline 3
Pauline reported that the Dolphins were also very interested in Jordan Love, potentially even trading up from 18, if they didn’t select a QB at pick five. In his final mock, Pauline expected the Giants to take Tristan Wirfs, the Dolphins to take Andrew Thomas, the Raiders to select Tua (said Tua was the top QB in the draft over Burrow and Herbert, if not for injury), and Miami to select Love. His Seahawks pick? CB Jaylon Johnson at 27. I don’t fault anybody for incorrect mock draft picks, but if we’re asking “Does there appear to be insider info at play here?” what would you say?
More pre-draft reports: Browns will definitely select Ezra Cleveland, Jaylon Johnson could be a first round pick with four teams interested, including Seahawks (Bears not listed as interested), frontrunner for Giants is Derrick Brown, Giants like Andrew Thomas most out of tackles/want a C in round two (but Pauline ultimately mocked them choosing Wirfs), on Seahawks: no sense of Jordyn Brooks or the linebacker position in round one, Falcons want to trade up for C.J. Henderson, Jets really like Alex Highsmith, Titans linked to OT Isaiah Wilson and want to trade down, also linked Dolphins to Wilson and Josh Jones (not Austin Jackson), C Tyler Biadasz could fall from top-40 to fourth round for medical, Packers ‘very high’ on Denzel Mims and could make him a first round pick, “Everyone I’ve spoken with tells me the Raiders want to come out of the first round with A.J. Terrell”, said league-wide “consensus” was the Cowboys will pick K’Lavon Chaisson, Broncos want Jerry Jeudy, Javon Kinlaw “interviewed poorly” and could fall to the end of round one
Jaylon Johnson ultimately went 50th. Ezra Cleveland was the 58th overall pick (Pauline had him going 16th) to the Vikings, as the Browns passed on him twice.
Pauline had Jordyn Brooks going 62nd overall to the Packers. “My history of Packers’ selections in the second round has been pretty solid in recent years,” he wrote of Brooks and Green Bay’s interest. Pauline also had Seahawks fans believing that Seattle was “already working to move down” even though Jake Heaps had been reporting that the team was expectant to stay at 27.
I believe his strongest reports out of this group would be Cleveland/Cleveland, Johnson as a 1st round pick, Tennessee’s connection to Wilson, the medicals on Tyler Biadasz, his “sources” out of Green Bay, Denver’s connection to Jeudy, and the read on the cornerback class. How I score that?
Reality 10, Pauline 6
Per the last two years, have we seen any validity to a connection between the Seahawks front office/intentions and Pauline’s sources? He didn’t sense Eskridge in 2021 and he expected Seattle to trade down/not pick Jordyn Brooks in 2020.
The 2019 had some QB mystery at the top of the first round: Would the Cardinals really select Kyler Murray and move on from Josh Rosen after one year? Where would Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins go? Any other first round quarterbacks?
Reality 10, Pauline 7
He also stood firm that Washington Football Team would trade for Rosen, who would be “the #1 QB in this year’s draft.”
Reality 11, Pauline 7
Most interestingly though—especially as it relates to spreading a rumor about trading up for a QB in the back end of the first round—he had the Patriots taking QB Will Grier at #32. “The Patriots have shown a ton of interest in Grier and could draft him as the first round closes out.” Grier went 100th overall to the Panthers.
Reality 12, Pauline 7
I couldn’t find much on Daniel Jones, other than saying he could shoot up draft boards with a good Senior Bowl. He had Dwayne Haskins as the top-ranked QB in the 2019 class and mentioned the Raiders and Giants (“Everything I’ve been told is that they really like Haskins and all of the components of his game.”) as landing spots.
Reality 13, Pauline 7
More pre-draft reports: Colts, Chiefs will push hard for Frank Clark trade with compensation coming as a second rounder+change, also said Jets would trade for Frank Clark, Falcons will either draft CB or DT in first round (ATL took two OL in round one), teams have multiple red flags on OT Jawaan Taylor, Clelin Ferrell could be a top-10 pick, said Jets would trade down and definitely draft an offensive lineman (they stood pat and picked Quinnen Williams), connected Bengals to WR KeeSean Johnson and Falcons to Sean Murphy-Bunting, Juan Thornhill is fastest riser, going as early as late-first and the second S off the board (63rd overall, sixth safety taken)
On Clark, Pauline said “You’re definitely looking at a second round pick” and named a few teams, but actually pushed the Jets and Colts harder than the Chiefs. Clark went to KC for a first and a second. Also on Seattle, Pauline said the team really likes Jaylon Ferguson. What if we just call this whole Seahawks evaluation a “push” for Pauline in 2019?
I think what stood out for him in 2019 was Taylor, Ferrell, the Jets, and Juan Thornhill’s ascent in the safety group…
Reality 15, Pauline 9
As for his “QB intel” over the last three years: Wrong on Grier, wrong on Haskins, didn’t know Giants plans, misread Rosen’s value, wrong on Tua, wrong on Love, misread quality of Herbert, wrong on Mac, wrong on Fields, wrong on Lance. The correct picks: Burrow, Lawrence, Wilson were all givens. But he was early on Kyler Murray and stood by it.
This was an especially intriguing—and misguided—draft for quarterbacks, as four names were being bandied about for the first round and Lamar Jackson was lurking.
Pauline reported on April 3 that the “Browns would pick Sam Darnold” and stuck with that through the draft. He then had the Jets taking Baker Mayfield and Cleveland using their other top-five pick on Bradley Chubb, not Denzel Ward. He mentioned that the Browns could also take Josh Allen, which means that the Giants would take Darnold, which leaves Mayfield to the Jets (who they “seem to want”) and someone trading up for Rosen. He said “all signs point to Mayfield” with the Jets. (Strange: Not only is his pre-PFN website DraftAnalyst.com now defunct, but the DraftAnalyst twitter account was suspended for some reason.) The SNY.tv Jets site took Pauline off of Jets coverage in 2018 by recommendation of the Jets themselves:
You may think that because Mayfield went to the Browns, there’s nothing that New York could have done about that, but let’s be clear: Pauline called a “done deal”. He wasn’t speculating, he said that the Jets were going to get Baker Mayfield:
Reality 16, Tony 7
I’m not going to judge him for most of the rest, but he was fairly adamant about predicting Cleveland and New York’s affection for the wrong QBs. “Dorsey was leaning towards Josh Allen. The word I’m getting is that “Josh Allen’s just not worth the first pick in the draft.”
“I think they see Sam Darnold as a safer pick.” “People expect the Jets to draft Mayfield, but there’s still a chance that they’ll pick Josh Rosen. I think it’s very likely that Mayfield heads to New York and I think that would be a mistake over Josh Rosen.”
Reality 17, Tony 7
More pre-draft reports: Packers are willing to trade up for Denzel Ward or Derwin James, Dolphins met extensively with QB Alex McGough just before draft, Cowboys targeting Vita Vea, Leighton Vander Esch, DJ Moore (in that order), Packers are “likely” to draft CB Josh Jackson or S Minkah Fitzpatrick in first round, 49ers “covet” Tremaine Edmunds at nine, 49ers have a “lot of interest” in TE Dalton Schultz, Steelers showing “heavy interest” in Vander Esch, if Dolphins don’t move up for a QB “sources tell me they want Roquan Smith” and Vander Esch would be a consideration (Miami picked Minkah), Vea to Washington is the “worst kept secret in the league”, “Rosen falls out of the top-10 and lands with the Dolphins”, Bills are “desperate to move up for a QB…they could move up to 2, I don’t know if that’s going to happen..the Cardinals would like to move up for a QB”, said Lamar would go “15-18” in the first round, said it was possible Mason Rudolph could go in round one, maybe to the Jaguars, Derrius Guice would be second RB off the board and late round one (Guice was sixth RB, late round two), called Rashaad Penny “probably a second round pick” and emphasized on a podcast that rumors of him going in the late first round would probably be incorrect, Panthers scouting S Jessie Bates “hard”, Giants and Bills “likely have a blueprint in place for a trade”
The major reports here that define Pauline’s 2018 pre-draft reports would be the Packers’ interest in defensive backs (not named Jaire Alexander), who the Cowboys were interested in, Josh Jackson’s draft value (he was a mid-second round pick), Miami’s intentions, Vea to Washington, Bills wanting to trade up for a QB, and the running back class, and Cleveland’s intentions to draft Bradley Chubb over Ward. I would score it Reality 6, Pauline 2.
Reality 23, Pauline 9
He didn’t have any inside information on what the Seahawks would do.
Reality 24, Pauline 9
And just as an aside, would Pauline want to have me verify his reports or double-check his work? I think he would as he’s done this to others in the past:
The 2017 draft had Mitchell Trubisky ranked ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson for most, with plenty of questions over where each of them would fall. Pauline said that he was “not a big fan of the quarterback crop” in 2017. He said Watson might not be a first round pick and that two teams he surveyed said he wasn’t in their top-32. He noted Chargers did “due diligence” on Trubisky.
Reality 25, Pauline 9
But after those big names, Pauline also suggested that Davis Webb would be off the board by the middle of round two, that the Jets, Saints, Chargers, and Cardinals were all interested, and ultimately he said that the Browns would target Webb with the first pick in the second round. Cleveland selected C/G Austin Corbett and Webb went 87th to the Giants.
Reality 26, Pauline 9
He said Trubisky would go first among the QBs and that his feeling was that the Browns might trade up from 12 to get him. If not, Webb would be the target. Instead, Cleveland picked Deshone Kizer in round two, a surprise.
Relevant insider info for the 2017 QB class would’ve suggested the Bears’ monumental interest in Trubisky (they traded up and gave significant value to the 49ers to move one spot for him), the Chiefs’ desire to get Mahomes (they traded up 17 spots), and the Texans’ need to come away with Watson (they also traded up), but we didn’t hear anything relevant about the QB class prior to 2017 either. Just like 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Reality 27, Pauline 9
More pre-draft reports: Gareon Conley would probably be the first CB selected, no reports that Christian McCaffrey would be a top-8 pick, Ravens like Cam Robinson, Takkarist McKinley in round one (Baltimore picked Marlon Humphrey over both), Packers are “gearing up to select T.J. Watt”, Cam Robinson “may be” first OT off the board (Robinson fell to round two), named 11 teams to workout Kareem Hunt (none were Chiefs), Pats, Cards, Saints showing “big interest” in S Marcus Maye, linked Corey Davis to the Titans but at pick 18 and no sooner, Seahawks were close to trading for DE Yannick Ngakoue before or during the draft, reported that the 49ers were “seriously considering” Leonard Fournette at pick two and would give up on Carlos Hyde, disagreement in Cleveland F.O. about Myles Garrett or a QB
To Staton, Pauline mentioned that the Seahawks could target outside pass rush in round one (they traded down, selected Malik McDowell), Jonathan Allen is a top-10 pick, Garret Bolles is falling to day two. Allen went 17th, Bolles went 20th.
The reports that stand out would be Conley (third CB selected), Ravens’ interest, Packers and Watt, the OT class valuation, the WR valuation, Ngakoue speculation (he wasn’t traded at all in 2017), and San Fran’s RB room shake-up. The 49ers did part with Hyde, but only selected Joe Williams in round four. I’m going 6-0 with a push for the Niners.
Reality 33, Pauline 9
There really wasn’t anything to speculate with the QBs in 2016. Eventually, the Rams traded up to one and the Eagles traded up to two, everyone knew it would be for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, in some order. But Pauline’s “scoop” that year was that the Jets were the team most likely to trade up for a QB and that they were offering pass rusher Muhammad Wilkerson as part of the compensation. When that didn’t work out, he said that they could look to move up for Paxton Lynch. The Jets instead picked QB Christian Hackenberg in round two and Wilkerson stayed with the team all year.
Reality 34, Pauline 9
Pauline did report on day two that Wisconsin QB Joel Stave could sneak into the third round, which was something he pointed out he’d be saying since the Shrine game. In fact, Stave was not drafted at all.
Reality 35, Pauline 9
More pre-draft notes: Said that Jalen Ramsey was atop the Cowboys draft board and is “number one with the organization” (passed on Ramsey for Ezekiel Elliott), Jets offered a trade package including Muhammad Wilkerson to get the #1 pick from the Titans, 49ers interested in RB Ryan Mathews, 49ers “desperately covet” DeForest Buckner, there’s a “very good chance” the Titans will pick WR Braxton Miller in round two, “several GMs” told Pauline that the Browns could draft Laremy Tunsil and trade Joe Thomas, Giants show “strong interest” in picking WR Laquon Treadwell at 10, Falcons looking at Kevin Dodd, Shaq Lawson, and Keanu Neal in round one, Eagles/Niners/Jets want number one pick, Bears are “seriously considering” Jarran Reed at pick 11, Washington would like to trade down and pick S Karl Joseph, Cowboys covet trade up for DE Emmanuel Ogbah in round two, despite “everyone” else saying Vikings would go WR Pauline said they are not locked there and could take Robert Nkemdiche (Vikings picked Treadwell), said his conversations around the league led him to believe (2 days before the draft) the top-eight order would be Goff, Wentz, Buckner, Ramsey, Myles Jack, Tunsil, Ronnie Stanley, and Joey Bosa—two out of eight ain’t bad
The major reports here were on Ramsey, Jets’ QB interest, Buckner-49ers, Browns-Tunsil, Reed’s rising draft stock (remember he went in the middle of round two), Washington-Joseph, Cowboys day two interests, and this misguided order of picks 3-8. I’ll give him Buckner, even though he didn’t stick with that following other conversations around the league.
Reality 41, Pauline 10
Finally, Tony Pauline was asked by Rob Staton on the morning of the draft if he had any hunches for Seattle. Pauline said that Germain Ifedi is a “Seahawks type of lineman” and that turned out to be correct.
Reality 41, Pauline 11
It doesn’t sound like Pauline had any inside information here, only that he had a late first/early second round grade on Ifedi, which is around where Seattle was picking. The Seahawks were one of 10 teams (1/3rd of the league) who Pauline said was a match for Ifedi and Ifedi was routinely mocked to the Seahawks. ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia made the same observations about Ifedi and Seattle, one day prior to Pauline’s comment.
Reality 41, Pauline 10
Nobody gets a point for that one. If you want to go back to the Seahawks’ interest in Terry Poole in 2015, he had made the same sentiment known for Ty Sambrailo. Field Gulls’ Davis Hsu essentially laid out how anyone could make the same connection given that James Carpenter was a free agent and unsurprisingly not retained by Seattle.
That same year, Tony Pauline told Staton that the Seahawks “would love to grab WR Dorial Green-Beckham if he’s available at the 63rd selection, but they expect him to be off the board during the initial 15 picks of round two.” That thankfully came true, as DGB went 40th to the Titans and Seattle landed Tyler Lockett.
It’s very exciting to read rumors. It’s human nature to be tantalized by surprising news and I often find myself falling for/getting emotional about the possibilities that arise from rumors… but rumors aren’t news. They’re as good as fantasy and fairy tales. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with being fooled over and over and over again by these NFL fairy tales, maybe some people would rather be allowed to fantasize about unrealistic possibilities in the future because otherwise—very little interesting and surprising stuff actually happens day to day.
If it were not for rumors, the NFL’s 365 “news” cycle might only last for three or four weeks outside of the regular season.
But if you’re like me then you’re completely over the spreading of false information that leads nowhere because it sparks endless arguments that are moot and creates a fantasy future in our reality that clouds probabilities with miniscule possibilities. For who’s benefit? For the fans? No. For the players? No. For the teams? No.
In some cases, spreading false rumors through your agent or a team representative as quid pro quo might result in getting drafted higher or having a player fall into your laps past the expectation. But I can’t find any way that it benefits YOU: the readers, the fans, the clickers, and the spenders.
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You’re down by 31 points Tony, but I’ve got good news… a 32-point play. All you need is for the Seahawks to trade down, select OT Trevor Penning in the teens, then trade up and back into the first round for QB Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati. If that happens, then I hear that’s worth 32 points and you’ll be back on top of reality.
If it doesn’t happen, then it’s time for the fans to ask for accountability. Or at least, an explanation for why there’s even one ounce of value in these same reports that lead nowhere year after year.
Now, I can’t forget the last piece of sweet bread for my sandwich…
I know that it will be hard to escape publishing this piece without people saying that I’m declaring war against Tony Pauline or that I’m going negative when maybe people are just trying to enjoy the draft. I don’t see it that way. Pauline is a person doing a job that many people on Twitter strive to do and he’s been more successful at it than 99-percent of others likely because he works hard, researches a lot, and has made some good connections over the last 20 years.
But I don’t see myself as declaring war or even being negative: I’m looking at the record. That’s it. This is analysis as clear as analytics. I didn’t cherry pick. I didn’t ignore reports that came true. I laid everything out that I found and I will let the readers decide how they want to feel about the validity of rumors—Pauline or otherwise, because he’s not the only one, he’s just one who often gets cited as being the most reputable—moving forward.
I have nothing against Tony Pauline or PFN. I also have nothing against reality, even if it’s a little more boring than these fantasies.
Let me know your thoughts on rumors in the comments, but as a reminder, don’t fall for the bait of talking about Desmond Ridder and Trevor Penning instead of holding the “sources” accountable for what happens on Thursday.