Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Preseason Superlatives: Biggest Question Marks

It may not seem like it, but the launch of the 2015-16 NFL season is approaching fast. We are less than a month away from the start of preseason and many teams have already reported for training camp. The offseason is officially over, and here are a few things I will be looking at as we build momentum into september and through the regular season.

Odell Beckham Jr. – The Catch

5. Sophomore Wideouts
Having an impact in the NFL as a rookie is a challenge in itself, but carrying that success into the following year can be even more challenging. You have another year under your belt, but so does everyone else and your opposition has an extra season worth of film to study, which especially comes into play at the receiver position. Guys like Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, and Mike Evans all exceded expectations last year, but are all prime candidates to have a sophomore slump this year. Evans and Watkins will both have changes at quarterback, and maybe not for the better. Benjamin reportedly showed up to Carolina's minicamp overweight - something you normally hear about linemen later in the year. Beckham is in the most stable position of the group, but may have flown to close to the sun and has to approach the new season dealing with newfound fame, higher expectations, and silly stories like this.

Other members of their draft class to watch include first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Once billed as a once-in-a-generation talent, but was hurt in training camp and didn't play a single snap all year.

Also, Johnny Manziel was the youngest player to win the Heisman in college, but had to check into rehab in the offseason. Makes better tabloid headlines than it does for a start to an NFL career.
4. Rookie Quarterbacks
Marcus Mariota
Jamies Winston
After choosing rookies from last year, talking about rookies from this year might be lazy on my part. However, it is incredibly rare to have two Heisman winning quarterbacks selected with consecutive picks. Throughout their career, they will be successes and failures will be measured against each other's. With that in mind, why not start now? Both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be on teams who have talent on offense and should be improved on defense and will be in about as good a position to succeed as you can expect out of teams that had the first two picks in the draft.

3. Jimmy Graham in Seattle
Jimmy Graham
Graham was once an all-pro tight end and arguably the most feared pass catcher in the NFL. Last year, unfortunately, was a different story. Supposedly hampered by injury, his numbers were down by about one third from the previous year across the board. All of that in the Saints offense with Drew Brees as his quarterback. Now he is in Seattle, and it is yet to be seen whether his talent can translate to a very different offense. There are arguments both ways. Russell Wilson is better at extending the play, giving Graham more time get open, who is already a huge mismatch for most defenders. Also, the Seahawks are a run-first offense, which will help to get even more favorable match ups. However, in New Orleans he had more talent to support him and one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL.

Ultimately, I think it works out, but if it doesn't he will just be a number on the list of big name receiving options that Seattle has missed on after Deion Branch, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Percy Harvin.

2. Cowboys Defensive Front
Randy Gregory
The Cowboys had a surprisingly good season last year. Behind the best offensive line in the league, a breakout star in DeMarco Murray, and a now seasoned Dez Bryant, the franchise once known as "America's team" was only one controversial call away from the NFC Championship.

In contrast, this year their big question marks come on defense. On the line, they lose Henry Melton, and bring in troubled Greg Hardy as a free agent. In Carolina, Hardy was emerging a disruptive force, but had a ten game suspension related to domestic violence reduced to four games to be served this season. Rookie Randy Gregory, touted as the best pure pass rusher in the draft and was once considered a definite top 5 pick, slid all the way to the bottom of the second round after it was revealed he had some off-field issues as well. Position coach Rod Marinelli might be the best in the business and can get the most out of just about anyone, but Hardy and Gregory will have to stay out of their own way first.

At linebacker, Sean Lee has been stellar - when he can stay on the field. His career has been maligned with injury after injury. After tearing his right ACL in college, his season finished in training camp after tearing his left ACL last year. Players with just one tear have been affected for the remainder of their careers. Talent aside, it's tough for anyone to come back from that, including Lee. If he plays, he will line up next to Rolando McClain, who is also talented, but I continue to question announcing his retirement twice in only four seasons as a pro.

L to R: Chip Kelly, LeSean McCoy

1. Everything About The Philadelphia Eagles
What in the world is Chip Kelly doing? If you have payed attention to the NFL offseason even a little bit, you have probably asked yourself the same thing. A year after losing Desean Jackson to division rival Washington, the Eagles traded pro-bowler LeSean McCoy for Linebacker Kiko Alonso straight up, let Jeremy Maclin leave in free agency without a fight, and traded their starting quarterback for Sam Bradford, who never lived up to his draft status and is coming off two knee surgeries. You have to wonder at what is going on in that front office. The injury history of Bradford and new tailback Ryan Matthews alone is enough to make me hesitant. Some might point out that Demarco Murray had a great year last year, but I would counter that that was only one year behind the league's best offensive line in Dallas.

The best rationale I've heard for this tinkering is that Chip Kelly believes he can rely on his scheme to find success on offense, but is looking for players who are inherently talented and have good instincts on defense. When you look at how promising Alonso was in Buffalo, the addition of Byron Maxwell from Seattle's "Legion of Boom," the emergence of Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin as a pass rushing duo, and how much praise Kelly received for his offensive schemes in college as well as in the pros, then the logic is a little easier to follow.

Still, this the biggest experiment the NFL has seen in the last decade. I get a strong feeling that there is no middle ground. This will work out wonderfully down to every detail, or end in complete disaster. Godspeed Chip.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Postseason Predictions and Thoughts

The regular season has just ended and some teams are still reeling from it. For instance, I tried to write this article once already, but I had to stop to let myself recover from the news of Lovie Smith being fired. Regardless, the postseason is just gearing up. Now that I've righted the ship, for the most part, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the upcoming playoffs.


1. Atlanta Falcons
I really don't think they're going to make it.  They are a tough team with the best record, but that was bolstered by a powder puff record. They'll make someone earn their trip to the conference championship and the first round bye puts them in spitting distance of the big dance, but I don't think they have enough in the end.

2. San Francisco 49ers
I really don't expect to see them in the championship game. They're only one game away right now and I think they can beat anyone at any time, but it looks like they have to play the Seahawks. More on that later.

3. Green Bay Packers
I think they beat the Vikings in the first round. Then, I think they match up terrifically against Atlanta and then they have a clear path through to the super bowl.

4. Washington Redskins
Everyone loves the RGIII story and I think he will terrorize the NFC East for years, but it'll be a while before he makes a playoff run. Making the playoffs is already a huge win for the Redskins, everything from here on out is just gravy.

5. Seattle Sehawks
If any secret has been revealed about winning the Super Bowl over the past few years, its all about who is hot at the right time and no one is hotter than the Seattle Seahawks right now. No one wants to play them, and they have the weapons and chemistry to make it happen. We already saw that the Niners couldn't handle them, and I don't think the Packers can handle them either (don't get me started on the 'Fail Mary'). They are my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

6. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is the best player in the NFL. However, that's all the Vikes got. Their defense is good, but it isn't good enough to carry them and they have no offense outside of "#AllDay2k." I think the sooner they are eliminated, the better. This season took two to three years off of Peterson's career.


1. Denver Broncos
They are the most complete team in the NFL. There is no real weakness on the team and you have to account for every position. I think they make it to the Super Bowl. My only concern is that Peyton has had a rough time pulling it out in big games, especially against the Patriots.

2. New England Patriots
Can we just skip the entire AFC playoffs and get to Patriots Broncos? The Brady-Peyton rivalry is renewed and I am excited about it.

3. Houston Texans
They're a tough team with a good defense and enough playmakers on offense to win. You cannot sleep on them, but I don't think they have enough to win against the best teams in the conference. Actually, I don't think they can make it out of the first round.

4. Baltimore Ravens
Like the Texans, they have the pieces, but not the chemistry. Especially with their offensive woes and a questionable Ray Lewis, I don't think they're even a lock to beat the Colts in the first round.

5. Indianapolis Colts
The have the best story in the NFL, but I don't know if they have enough to make it last. They will always chance with Andrew Luck, buy he is still a rookie and, like the  Redskins, just being here is a big deal.

6. Cincinnati  Bengals
My dark horse in the AFC. Their defense is spectacularly underrated, especially their defensive line. The Andy Dalton to AJ Green connection is something to be feared and I don't know if there is an answer for it. They're on the upswing and the Texans are on the down. I think they make it out of the first round and give the Broncos a run for their money, but ultimately fall short.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My 2012 NFC Pro Bowl Ballot

We are quickly approaching the halfway point of season, and that happens to coincide with the opening of Pro Bowl balloting.  As we look forward to everyone's favorite, meaningless football contest, I wanted to share my ballot with you. I solemnly swear to vote honestly, and only vote for the Bears when they deserve it.



Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers

The Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the league, and they have ridden Ryan's golden arm most of the way there. The emergence of Julio Jones has helped, but so has not relying too much and Michael Turner, and Matty Ice has stepped up accordingly. If he keeps it up, I would be surprised if he doesn't get some MVP talk.

Eli is really easy to make fun of (like really easy). We all guffawed at him being considered among the elite. The Giants have been the most underrated team in the NFL, despite winning it all twice in four years. Now, everyone's favorite little brother is showing up in a big way.

Let me first say that Rodgers has earned his ticket to Hawaii. He's a really good quarterback, and I'm not just saying that (I did vote him to the Pro-Bowl, didn't I?). However, there's a reason I'm not as high on him as Eli or Matty Ice. First, his numbers, though impressive, are inflated by the Packers' lack of a running game. Their five options on offense are receivers and their most effective running plays are gimmick, college style tosses to Randall Cobb or quarterback scrambles. Second, he is maddeningly inconsistent. Ten of his twenty five touchdowns have come against two teams. Then, he is stifled by the  Bears and the Seahawks (don't get me started on that drama), gets outgunned by a rookie, and only throws for 182 yards against Jacksonville's defense. None of these points holds enough wait to downgrade him, but it's enough to make me cautious. Clearly, I have strong opinions about this.

Runners up: RGIII, Drew Brees


Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin

AP is a no-brainer. He's one of the most natural talents in the league.  The Vikings offense is mediocre and relies on him too much, but that allows him to put up monster numbers and he gets all the credit for their surprising start. Lynch is one of my favorite players to watch. He is as explosive as anyone else, and it almost always takes two or more guys to take him down. There is no skill player in the league that plays with as much hustle, even though he could get by on raw talent alone. Martin has been a revelation In Tampa, and his monster of a game against Oakland only solidifies his spot here.

Runners up: Frank Gore, Ahmad Bradshaw, Alfred Morris

Wide Receivers

Julio Jones, Victor Cruz, Brandon Marshall, James Jones

Julio did well last year, but not well enough to justify what the Falcons gave up for him. Now, however, I think I'm starting to get it. I've been a dissenter of Julio since he was in college, but he's been shutting me up this season.

It's still hard for me to believe that Cruz is this good, but last year's Cinderella is proving to be one of the more natural talents in the league.

Marshall leads the conference in receiving and is tied for second in TDs. Scary thing is that he would have more if he had an accurate quarterback.

Rounding out the trifecta of Quarterback receiver tandems on this ballot, Jones has stepped in for the injured Greg Jennings and the aging Donald Driver quite nicely. He's always had the physical ability, but was plagued by inconsistency for years. Looks like he's gotten his act together.

Runners up: Vincent Jackson, Danny Amendola, Jordy Nelson, Roddy White


Delanie Walker
Most of the candidates are not actually fullbacks on this list. Most are H-backs, tight ends or goal line halfbacks, a la Mike Tolbert or John Kuhn. I almost picked Seattle's Micahel Robinson just to pick an actual fullback, but Walker is the best player on the list with the most production and has lived in the shadow of Vernon Davis for too long.

Runners up: Michael Robinson

Tight End

Tony Gonzalez, Vernon Davis
Gonzo has been good for a long time, but there is really no competition for the top spot this year. 459 yards and 4 TDs are in the top three for each category. No one else comes close.

Jason Witten has more yards and Kyle Rudolph has more TDs, but Davis had the better overall production. The Niners also count a lot on his blocking in their run based attack.

Runners up: Jason Witten, Kyle Rudolph


Joe Staley, William Beaty, Anthony Davis
San Francisco has relied on their running game and power offense to a fault this season, but that's not Joe Staley's fault.  

There's a lot pressure that comes with being the left tackle on the line that allows the fewest sacks in the NFL, and Beaty has lived up to it.

Anthony Davis is just a powerful lineman who dominates the point of attack.

Runners up: Jerman Bushrod


Mike Iupati, James Carpenter, Chilo Rachal
Again, the blocking has been there for San Francisco, but their skill players are having trouble doing anything with it.

Pete Carroll might have reached for Carpenter in the draft, but now we see why. He's a big ol' mauler who has opened holes for Marshawn Lynch all year.

There have been issues for the Bears on the O-line this year too, but Rachal has been a bright spot. He plays with a mean streak and drives guys into the ground.


David Baas, Todd McClure
A hard position to pick, but the Giants have allowed the fewest number of sacks and Baas is the brains of the operation.

McClure is a grinder who has fought to earn his spot in Atlanta.


Defensive End

Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Chris Clemons
The Bears' defense has been a force this season, with seven TDs in eight games. That all starts with the defensive line and the Bears' line starts with Julius Peppers. He is the best end at playing the run and the pass.

Jared Allen has the best motor in the league: he never lets up. He's a force to be reckoned with that dominates every game and is just influential in the locker room.

Clemons is one of the best things to emerge from the Pete Carroll era in Seattle. Has better production than JPP this year.

Runners up: Jason Pierre-Paul, Calais Campbell, Justin Smith

Defensive Tackle

Henry Melton, Brandon Mebane,  Ndamakong Suh
As the biggest beneficiary of Peppers' presence, no DT in the conference has more sacks. He's been a disruptive presence in the middle of the line and sparked the Bears' sack party.

Mebane is a huge runstopper in the middle. His three sacks don't hurt either.

Yeah, Suh is a thug and bully, but he is also one heck of a football player.

Runners up: Linval Joseph, Dwan Edwards

Outside Linebacker

Clay Matthews, Lance Briggs, DeMarcus Ware
A massive presence that has to be accounted for, and still sheds double teams to make plays. As much as I hate him, he's too good to ignore.

Briggs is a pure playmaker that has lead the Bears to best rush defense in the league. He has two interceptions returned for TDs and two forced fumbles. His influence is felt in every aspect of the game. He is everywhere.

Ware is one of the best penetrating defensive players in the game. He is famous for rushing the passer, but he is also an incredible runstopper.

Runners up: Chad Greenway, Aldon Smith

Inside Linebacker

Daryl Washington, Patrick Willis
Has eights sacks in as many games this season. Only JJ Watt and Clay Mathews have more, but they play on the outside. I don't remember an inside backer, especially in a 3-4, having more sacks than most edge rushers in the league. Not to mention he's also second in the NFL in solo tackles. Right now his numbers are good enough for an entire season.

Willis does it all. He flows sideline to sideline, stops the run, covers well and the only reason his production has dropped is because offensive coordinators are learning to steer clear.

Runners up: Sean Weatherspoon, James Laurinatis, Luke Kuechly, Navarro Bowman, 


Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Richard Sherman
For years, I've been saying that Charles Tillman is the most underrated player in the NFL. He had a monster game against the Titans, but his play against the Lions was perhaps more impressive. He shut down Megatron (including a vicious goal line rejection) and caused two fumbles. He's a monster, and the most legitimate defensive back candidate for defensive player of the year. 

The Bears lead the league in turnovers and that all starts with Jennings.  I can rant and rave about Tillman for days, but the other Bears corner leads the league with six interceptions and caused four others off of passes that he tipped.

Sherman is absolutely huge for his position. At 6-3, I wouldn't be surprised to see him play safety or linebacker. He uses that size to defend the run as well as anyone else and still has three picks halfway through the season.

Runners up: Cortland Finnegan, Patrick Peterson

Strong Safety

Adrian Wilson
The heart and soul of the Arizona defense that lead the Cardinals to a surprising 4-0 start. They've dropped off considerably since, but I put that on  quarterback play and questionable coaching decisions. Wilson is still a defensive stalwart that should always be in contention for a trip to Hawaii.

Runners up: Kam Chancellor, Major Wright

Free Safety

Ronde Barber
I've always loved safeties who play like corners, and Barber played corner in the NFL for 14 years. Where he was starting to look old and worn down on the outside, he appears reborn before our very eyes playing deep. Maybe they should have switched him sooner.

Runners up: Earl Thomas, Thomas DeCoud, Dashon Goldson


Gregg Zuerlin
Has a tremendous leg, as he proved in his season long 60 yard field goal. Pretty accurate for a rookie too. No one else has come out and earned it as much as he has.

Runners up: Blair Walsh


Thomas Morstead
Longest single punt of the season and longest average punt in the NFC is usually enough to get you to Hawaii.

Runners up: Andy Lee


Randall Cobb
Another surprise for the Packers in the wake of Gregg Jennings. If not for James Jones and Jordy Nelson, Cobb might make it as a receiver. However, he also has the best return average and a couple TDs as well.

Runners up: Leon Washington, Devin Hester

Special Teamer

Kroy Bierman
I appreciate that the NFL wants to include special teams players, as they are an integral part of the game. However, when not every team even has a candidate and the list is made up of guys like Larry Dean and John Wendling (?), I start to question it's value. Regardless, the Falcons success on the field is owed, in part, to their great field position.

Runners up: Blake Costanzo

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mock Draft

1. Indianapolis Colts
Pick: Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Andrew Luck
It's a no-brainer. Almost everyone agrees that this guy is the prospect, and maybe even player, of the decade.  Because of his size, strength, throwing ability, leadership, and plain likability, he has been projected as the number one pick since last season (back when the Peyton Manning took the Colts to the playoffs).  Oh, and now everyone is surprised by his overall athleticism; next, we're going to find out that his skeletal structure is actually a mixture of adamantium, mythril and dragon hide. I'm not even going to pretend like I don't think he is going to be a good player, but with so much hype around him, there is really nowhere to go but down and there is massive potential for him to be a bust. Really, anything short of making the pro-bowl his first year, winning several MVPs, and bringing his team many, many championships would be considered a disappointment.

2. Washington Redskins
Pick: Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Again, a no-brainer. Some analysts even say he's better than Luck.  Let me tell you now: he's not, but he is still a damn good athlete and brings a pro-ready arm and a Heisman trophy to the NFL.  The Redskins made a pretty big splash and gave a considerable number of picks to move up in the draft, and they wouldn't do that unless they had a specific player in mind and their primary need is quarterback.

Matt Kalil
3. Minnesota Vikings
Pick: Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
A beast of a man who protected the Matt Barkley's blindside at USC. He has everything you look for in a tackle and could be the next premier pass protector.  The only offensive lineman with as much hype is Stanford guard David DeCastro, who I think will actually be better. However, left tackle is a far more important position so Kalil gets the pick.

4. Cleveland Browns
Pick: Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Browns need a spark on offense.  They would love to get their hands on Griffin, but the Washington - St. Louis trade put a wrench in that. Michael Floyd is flying up draft boards, and I think they would actually take tailback Trent Richardson if the position wasn't slowly going extinct.  Still, Blackmon had the most natural ability of any offensive player in the draft.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pick: Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
If it weren't for Patrick Peterson last year, Claiborne might be the best defensive back prospect in years. However, I'm not so sure he is the top corner in the draft.  He makes plays and can shut down receiv
ers, but frame is a little too small. If I were a cruel man, I would also point out that he scored an impossibly low 4 on the Wonderlic, but Patrick Peterson only scored a 9 and look where he is now. My worry isn't so much that he won't be a good player, but that bigger corners, like Dre Kirkpatrick, or ones with more natural ability, like Janoris Jenkins, will be more productive. Don't be surprised if Tampa decides to defensive line instead.

6. St. Louis Rams
Pick: Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Like Claiborne, if it weren't for someone who played the same position at the same school, Richardson might be the best prospect at his position in years. Steven Jackson is one of the most underrated players in the league, but he has had pretty severe injury issues and the Rams need to solidify the position. Old-school coach Jeff Fisher could also go defensive line here, but he likes to pound the ball on offense and his team has spent several first round picks on the D-line already.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars
Pick: Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
This is probably my most deviant pick from other mock drafts, but this guy is opening eyes everywhere.  He was productive at Notre Dame, even though the entire team was shrouded in turmoil at the quarterback position.  He lit up the combine and his pro-day solidified his status as a top-pass catching athlete.  His big frame will make him a useful target in the red-zone and his speed will make him a threat in the open-field. Right now, what Blaine Gabbert needs more than anything is a reliable target, and that is exactly what Floyd will be.

Ryan Tannehill
8. Miami Dolphins
Pick: Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This is a reach at number eight, but have been actively pursuing a quarterback.  They were rejected by Peyton Manning, and stiff armed by Matt Flynn and couldn't even reel in Alex Smith.  They could probably trade down and get him later, but it seems like they need to draft someone this high just to get a decent QB on the roster.  Besides, if Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder can be top 15 picks, then so can Tannehill.

9. Carolina Panthers
Pick: Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Solid guy who can play the run as well as the pass.  Quinton Coples would be a good pick too from the University of the other Carolina, but his length and athletic ability are overshadowed by how raw he is. Ingram is a more of a sure thing.

10. Buffalo Bills
Pick: Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Bills got off to a hot start last season, but their play fell off with the deterioration of the offensive line.  The defense became pretty suspect at the same time, and they could just as easily take someone to bolster their defensive front. I wouldn't be surprised if they selected a more balanced Riley Reiff, but Martin is a solid pass protector and that is what the offensive minded Chan Gailey is really looking for.

11. Kansas City Chiefs
Pick: Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Whichever one the Bills take, the Chiefs will take the other. Their team was decimated by injuries early on, and they got off to a horrible start, but solid play on the line will free up their stockpile of offensive talent keep defenders off them.

12. Seattle Seahawks
Pick: Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Quinton Coples
Coples is probably the most physically gifted defensive line prospect in the draft. He does need some more polish, but the Seahawks also need someone opposite Chris Clemons to pressure the quarterback. Pete Carroll loves his long, athletic, undervalued players, and Coples fits that perfectly.

13. Arizona Cardinals
Pick: Nick Perry (DE/OLB, USC)
Perry is a bit of a reach at 13, and the Cards won't hesitate to nab Coples if he slips past Seattle. Still, Perry is a solid pass rushing threat that could form a devastating 1-2 punch with Sam Acho, who had a quiet 7 sacks last season as a part time starter. Arizona's defense was surprisingly stingy last season, and with their solid secondary, they could actually be pretty fearsome.

14. Dallas Cowboys
Pick: Fletcher Cox (DE/DT, Mississippi State)
Cox is another slightly less polished but athletically appealing lineman that could play anywhere in their 3-4 front.  He'll be best as a 5-technique, where he can penetrate and make plays on the ball in both the passing and running game.

15. Philadelphia Eagles
Pick: Luke Kuechly (ILB, Boston College)
As the Eagles unit continues to gel as a team, their main need remains at linebacker.  The addition of Demecco Ryans means they really could go anywhere with this pick, but I think that Kuechly would still make them better.

16. New York Jets
Pick: Mark Barron (SS, Alabama)
Rex Ryan loves his linebackers, and I could easily see him take Courtney Upshaw instead, but the Jets have a bigger need at safety.  They signed Laron Landry, but only because his health issues scared off everyone else and it's only a one year deal. Best case scenario, they can pair them together and shore up the back end of the defense.

17. Cincinnati Bengals
Pick: David DeCastro (G, Stanford)
If Trent Richardson falls this far, which could happen if he gets out of the top ten, then he'll go here.  Otherwise, DeCastro might be the best O-line player in the draft and only falls this far because of this position. They can a productive back later, and DeCastro helps them protect Dalton and opens lanes for whoever is toting the rock for them.

18. San Diego Chargers
Pick: Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama)
Their defensive front has been an issue for years.  Last year, all they did was add an aging Takeo Spikes and an underwhelming rotational guy in Travis LaBoy.  It seems like nothing they do works, but maybe if they actually do something this year, they can get better.

19. Chicago Bears
Pick: Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Dre Kirkpatrick
As a fan, I would love to see Floyd or DeCastro fall here, but it's fairly unlikely in either case.  Uneducated fans keep calling for help on the O-line, but they played well towards the end of the season last year and they will be getting two first round picks in Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi back from injury this year.  Floyd would make an incredible pair with Brandon Marshall, but the biggest weakness on the team is the secondary.  Even though Charles Tillman made his first pro-bowl (apparently, people actually read this), mostly because of how he shutdown Megatron, there is little depth behind him.  Rookie GM Phil Emery has placed a premium on physically large players, and that is what Kirkpatrick brings to the game.

20. Tennessee Titans
Pick: Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
A one year wonder, Mercilus is a pass rushing phenom who will add some spark to the colorless Tennessee defense.  He could give them back what Jason Babin and Albert Haynesworth took with them when they left. Kendall Wright isn't out of the quastion, but they really need to shore up the defense to compete in their division.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Pick: Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Jenkins could be a top 15 pick, but teams are put off by his off-the field issues. Namely, paying child support for four different children by four different women in addition to several marijuana related charges that led to his dismissal from the University of Florida.  Still, he has the most natural ability of any defensive back in the draft and the Bengals, who clearly have no value in a moral compass, are in need a of a corner.

22. Cleveland Browns
Pick: Cordy Glenn (G, Georgia)
They still have quarterback issues, and in a league that wasn't desperate for quarterbacks, Tannehill could end up here, but that's pretty farfetched at this point.  After taking a dynamic receiver earlier, and no eligible passer in sight, I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to trade down. However, if they don't do that, then they are probably going to make sure that whoever is passing the ball for them will remain upright.

23. Detroit Lions
Pick: Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
The Lions love their defensive linemen, and they could very well take Michael Brockers here, but they need to address other positions at some point. Their secondary is still lacking and Gilmore's measureables are off the charts. He needs some polish, but he could be an impressive cover guy at the next level.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pick: Dont'a Hightower (ILB, Alabama)
They lose James Farrior this year who was the leader of their ferocious front seven.  As a youth revolution sweeps across their defense, it's time to pair a youngster with Laurence Timmons, and few are better than Hightower.  They might choose Wright, but they already have three receivers with a similar skill set.

25. Denver Broncos
Michael Brockers
Pick: Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
This guy could go in the top 20, so he's kind of a steal here and the Broncos need to replace Broderick Bunkley.  The D wasn't bad, especially with thepass rushing combo of Von Miller and Elvis Dumerville.  Brockers should help them with the run, but he can rush the passer too.

26. Houston Texans
Pick: Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
They need someone to take pressure off of Andre Johnson and Wright is a dynamic athlete that can do just that. His long speed isn't so great, but his lateral quickness can get him open and helps him move the ball after the catch.  I wouldn't be surprised if he was taken earlier, so look for them to take the raw Stephen Hill instead.

27. New England
Pick: Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Albert Haynesworth was never going to work out, and Andre Carter is too old to make much of an impact. Still is a big body who will bring a presence to the front and help contain offenses.  He's exactly what New England needs for their defense.

28. Green Bay Packers
Pick: Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
His measurables look like a top ten tackle, but his tape says second or third round talent.  They have some holes on the D-line and Poe could spell BJ Raji at the very least.

29. Baltimore Ravens
Pick: Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
A solid, intelligent center who can anchor their line as a rookie.

30. San Francisco 49ers
Pick: Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
His measurements are incredible. They did sign Mario Manningham, but they still need someone who can really stretch the defense and take some pressure off of Vernon Davis and Frank Gore.

Lamar Miller
31. New England Patriots
Pick: Shea McClellin (OLB, Boise State)
If there is anything I know about the Patriots, it's that they are going to make some trades. There is no way that they will choose players with both of their first round picks.  However, if they do, they're going to add to their defensive front, which was what held them back in the playoffs and the Super Bowl itself.

32. New York Giants
Pick: Lamar Miller (HB, Miami)
This might be a little bit of a reach in the first round, but they could use someone to replace Brandon Jacobs and spell Ahmad Bradshaw.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brothers of the Midway

When I heard the news that Brandon Marshall was a Bear, I was giddy as a child.  Really, I still am.  The Bears now have their first franchise quarterback ever, and their first premier receiver ever at the same time.

The best part? We got him for basically nothing.  Rookie GM Phil Emery basically bamboozled his way into getting one of the top 5 receivers in the game on his roster. Here's how I imagine Emery and Miami GM Jeff Ireland's conversation going (via text of course):

Emery: Hey Jeff, what do you want for Brandon Marshall?

Ireland: Ya. Got some pringles?

Emery: Yeah. And Two third rounders.

Ireland: Oh ... uh... yeah sure, I'll take those.

Crazy like a fox, that Emery is.  I could go on for hours, but please, just watch this interview with Cutler and Marshall together. Try not to tear up at the 3:08 mark.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Most Notorious

So I'm a few days late on this, but March 9 was the 15 year anniversary of the death of the Notorious B.I.G. In honor of the late Biggie Smalls, I have decided to dedicate a post to him. I almost went with my favorite notorious players or incidents, which seemed fitting in the wake of the bounty program in New Orleans, but I felt it would be more true to the nature of this blog to just pick my favorite big men.

10. Michael Oher
In this case, it's really easy to pick the story over the player. If I'm being honest, that's really what got him on the list, but it's also what is keeping him from getting any higher. I did enjoy the movie right down to the punny title and everyone likes a good cinderella story, but now all I can think of when I here his name is Sandra Bullocks pretending to know what she is talking about while explaining why Oher chose 'Ole Miss over a Nick Saban coached LSU team.

9. Bob Lilly
Perhaps the most underrated player in the history of the league. I almost didn't put him here because he wasn't actually that big. At 260 pounds, he would probably play linebacker nowadays. However, what he lacked in girth he made up for in sheer will (and height, at 6'5"). He struck fear into the hearts of men 50 lbs. heavier than him while playing at an interior position.  He was a major player in the Cowboys' Doomsday Defense and their first couple of Super Bowl appearances. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.

8. William 'The Fridge' Perry
The first Bear makes the list at number eight.  Perry was, and still is, a fan favorite in Chicago. So, then why hasn't the sheer weight of my bias gotten him higher? Well, from the creation of his wildly popular persona, he has been little more than a publicity stunt. He was really the result of Mike Ditka's ego. The coach of the Giants gave the ball to a defensive lineman on the goal line, so an offended Ditka exacted his revenge on the G-men, and then the rest of the league in the same way. Ditka was so pleased with his experiment, that it ended up costing Walter Payton, the workhorse player who not only carried the Bears, but really defined them as a team, a shot at scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Come to think of it, Perry wasn't even that good of a tackle. Well, kudos to him for making the list.

7. Domata Peko
I would be lying if I said his place on here had nothing to do with his hair. In fact, it really has everything to do it.  I mean, he's a good player and all, but he looks like Gotenks. He's probably the best defender the Bengals have, but if he ever cut those beautiful golden locks he would drop so far off this list he would get his G.E.D.

6. Haloti Ngata
Ok, if Lilly is the most underrated player ever, then Ngata is the most underrated player today. He plays on the same team as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terell Suggs, so I understand why he doesn't get a lot of attention, but even Terrance Cody gets more love.  Not that Lewis and co. are bad by any means, but they are getting old, and the only reason they make as many plays as they do is because Ngata commands so many double teams.

5.'Mean' Joe Green
One of the greatest players ever on one of the greatest teams ever. Even today, he has more talent in his personality than most players have lost in their whole career.  He is the poster boy for mean defensive players and really shaped the game into what it is today.  Everyone knows about the coke commercial, but just ask him if he's in the zone.

4. Olin Kreutz
More than anyone else on the list, Kreutz embodies everything an offensive lineman is supposed to be. He's tough, strong, quick on his feet, plays with a mean streak and is a good leader yet, he is soft spoken. At his prime, he was undoubtedly the best center in the NFL. I would also point out that he wore 57, which was also my number in high school. And he played for the Bears. I'm not biased.

3. Tommie Harris
He's a little undersized to play tackle, but that only worked to his advantage. Known as one of the best penetrating tackles in football, his size allowed him to get under a lot of linemen and allowed him some extra leverage.  Unfortunately, his career was plagued by injuries. When he was healthy, he was the best 3-technique in the league and had a motor that was second to none.  Not to mention his flamboyant personality, which made him easy to like. Also, a player with an incredible amount of class. When he was released from Chicago, instead of whining and complaining about how it wasn't fair, he paid out of his own pocket to publish an add in the Chicago Sun thanking the city for it's support. Nice touch Tommy.

2. Joe Thomas
There is something about watching Joe Thomas that brings a certain beauty to the playing lineman.  For a position that is so rough and so brutal, it's a wonder how he can make something so violent and brutal seem so graceful and elegant.  I don't know if it's his long frame and smooth steps or simply how dominant he is, but he brings something to the game that few can.  Not to mention that his highlight tape is my favorite highlight tape of any I have seen.

1. Logan Mankins
If Joe Thomas represents the beauty of the line, than Mankins really accentuates the essence of the position.  When I picture a lineman, Logan Mankins is the image that appears in my minds eye.  He is big, he is fast, he has a sick beard and he plays with a mean streak.  What I love the most about Mankins is the way he finishes his blocks.  He's also one of the best guards when pulling (ah?...aaaahhhh?)  There is something so beautifully violent about the way he levels linebackers that I cannot summon the words to describe it. Maybe Bill Belichick can do it better.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How Long Have I Been Asleep?

I know I know, I've been gone for a while.  I've been busy rummaging about ancient tomes of football knowledge and I have been too busy to do raise myself from my learnings.  The other day, I emerged from my chamber, took a nap and gorged myself on Del Taco only to discover that 2011-12 season was over(!).  Then I read up on some NFL news and was generally dismayed. I have some thoughts about that stuff. Prepare yourself for pontification!

1. No, Not Peyton!
Yeah, I know this was coming for a long time, but it still makes me sad.  The greatest player of my generation (yeah, I said it) is being cut as we speak and there is a significant chance he could retire before the season starts.  On the other hand, I've never really liked the Colts and I have found owner, Jim Irsay, to be less than pleasant. What is most upsetting is that, in a league where true loyalty is so scarce, Peyton deserved more then anyone else to end his career where he started and with the franchise that he built into a perennial contender basically by himself.

On the other hand, I am impossibly excited about Peyton's prospects for next season. The 49ers are rumored to be interested, and I don't see how they could not win a ring with Peyton manning the helm (see what I did?). The Texans are similar, but not as good. They would make for a better story line though, what with the division rivalry and all. I drool at the thought of Peyton playing in Kansas City with all their young explosive weapons. Can you imagine what it would look like to have Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin and Tony Moeaki all shifting in cadence with Peyton's audibles. There defense would still be lacking, but the offense would be so much fun. If I could have one wish, it would be that Peyton does not go to the quarterback graveyard that is Miami.

2. Really Gregg Williams? Really??
Seriously man? Setting up a bounty scheme intended to hurt opposing players by bribing players on your own team is so bad it's almost cliché.  It's one of those things that is so bad, it doesn't even cross you mind as something someone might actually do.  It's like tying up damsels and laying them on train tracks while curling your thing black mustache, or microwaving tin foil; you just know you're not supposed to do it.

Even though G-R-E doulbe guh Williams was the catalyst that catapulted the Saints from storybook cinderella to a full fledged contender, this is enough to shed whatever hero status he had and replace it with the stigma of the creepy stranger in an after school special.  With the results he got, it's hard for Saints fans to turn on him, and maybe they shouldn't necessarily be angry with him, but they should be happy he has left for St. Louis.

3. The Franchise Tag
This year, more than any other year in recent memory, teams have been getting a little too trigger happy with the franchise tag. When players that are so crucial to the success of a team like Drew Brees, Ray Rice, Desean Jackson and Matt Forte can't get a long-term contract, something has got to be wrong.  Teams and GMs need to wake up and pay their players.  It could be that the tag is calculated differently under the new CBA, or that teams are just using it as a patch so they can work out a deal later in the offseason (which is most likely the case with Brees), there is a point where you have to reward a man for making you filthy, filthy rich.

I understand it's usefulness and that it is here to stay, but the franchise tag might as well be done away with. Either pay them, or don't.