This Week in the NFL! (Plus 10 College Football Thoughts)

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Here’s 5 more observations from this last week:

 

1. The 2013 Patriots are not related to the 2012 Patriots

And with good reason. This is an organization that had developed a high-octane, mismatch offense built around two tight ends that required very unique players to cover them – Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski is a huge individual at 6’6″ 265 and he also runs quite fast for his position. This means that linebackers are often burned trying to keep up, while safeties are too small to challenge him in the air. Hernandez was smaller at 6’1″ 245, but miles faster and more elusive. They utilized him as a quintessential ‘joker’ player by lining him up in the backfield, split wide, in line to find mismatches for him. He ran like a wide receiver with the size of a tight end. In these two players, the Patriots operated a quick passing, quick reading offense that was very difficult for most defenses to stop, particularly in the regular season. Without that, they look lost. Part of it is the new young receivers Brady is working with, but to me it is more about their lack of tight end depth. Their offense has become more predictable, and defenses are beginning to key on the running game without any threat in the air. Gronkowski should be back this week or next, so we will see how much it changes their approach. They need to replace Hernandez next season, while also developing more of a passing game with their wide receivers.

2. Are the Lions just Calvin Johnson?

The surprise inactivity of Calvin this week resulted in a questionable offensive result for the Lions and looking at this team like a GM I think it’s time to wonder how they can take the next step. Calvin is one of very few players who I believe generates an offense around him. He provides space through rolled coverage and it’s within this space that Reggie Bush operates most effectively. When the Lions came out this off-season and signed Bush, they had an idea of what Calvin provided this offense. He provides 1 v 1 match-ups almost across the board. This meant that what the Lions needed most were players that could win those consistently to create problems for defenses doubling Calvin or shifting entire coverages his way. With Reggie, they achieved this perfectly.

Now, if I were the Lions general manager, I would begin to create an offensive identity around this concept, similarly to how the Patriots have crafted their offense by recognizing that defenses expect them to pass and have to account for Gronkowski (and formerly Aaron Hernandez) in some way when they do pass. My solution would be to identify a tight end that can create problems in the passing game.

Currently they have Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler at the top of the depth chart, but neither has claimed the kind of role I am talking about. The role that Gonzalez or Gates – in the traditional tight end mold – occupies as a safety blanket, pulling coverage down over the long-term and opening up deep passes where Calvin would be lethal. Creating that kind of triangle is almost impossible to cover. Look at the Falcons over the last few years with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez. Generally one of the three has a terrific day due to the other two (though this has diminished somewhat due to Gonzalez’s age and declining speed). Or a more relevant example might be the Chargers when their team employed LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates. Preventing the run game, the deep ball, and Gates’ chain moving aspects proved enormously difficult for opposing defenses.

The Lions seem to have two of those pieces in place and have been using Nate Burleson to excellent effect as the third, but Burleson is not young, nor is he a game changer like I imagine the Lions could find. They have a young tight end in Joseph Fauria (6’7″ 255) who has quickly become a menace in the red zone, but clearly is not polished as a route runner or blocker to see the field more. Maybe he is a long-term answer, or maybe this off-season is the time to look for another way to create more space within which Calvin and Bush can operate, but I know that currently Calvin is acting as two legs of that triangle, and this offense could explode with a legitimate third.

3. Boy are the Seahawks frustrating!

Seattle should be very concerned if they cannot get home field throughout the playoffs. This team seems unbeatable there and maybe its some mojo from their fan base or just adrenaline, but that same team is not present on the road. The good news is that they’ve already gathered up two wins on the road – Carolina and Houston – but lets examine those wins. Carolina they slithered by with a second half comeback, down 7-3 at halftime. Houston they were being soundly beaten 20-3 at half before their defense stood their ground and Schuab took over. Now they lose to a very good Colts team who dominated the 2nd half – holding the Seahawks to three field goals.

Their defense seems to lose their killer mentality away from home (though it still is generally good), but their offense seems completely different. They seem unable to finish drives and dominate. I think this team will get that home field for the first few games, but with New Orleans tearing up their schedule it seems hard for me to believe they’ll be able to secure the entire playoffs in Seattle. The best news is that they have very few hard games on the road – Arizona, St. Louis, Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York – and get a shot at the Saints week 13 (after their bye week) at home. If they can win that and the Saints drop another one along the way, Seattle could sneak their way home in January.

4. Are these Jets… for real?

Generally I have balked at the idea that this Jet team is good. I figured that their defense would keep them in games and they might eek out a couple wins against some worse teams. Just like they did week 1 in Tampa. Sure they kept it close against New England, but they didn’t have their weapons yet. And Buffalo is a little hot and cold so that win could’ve happened too. Then the Titans thrashed them, and I thought “Here’s the Jets I expected”, but they follow that up by going into Atlanta and winning a game against a desperate team. Furthermore, Geno looks good. He’s poised, he’s calm. He’s got a little swagger on him when he comes in late needing a drive to win. Now Sanchez pulled this act on us before, and it’s about long-term success, but maybe they found the right guy finally. They have massive holes all over their offense, but Rex has this defense fighting tooth and nail and so long as he can give Geno a shot to win it late, this team has a chance. They face a very, very tough set of four games coming up with Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati, and New Orleans before their bye. If Geno continues to take care of the ball and they can get a couple of wins in that stretch this team could have playoff potential with an easier end of the year set.

5. I’m thinking Pryor is actually pretty good

When Oakland installed Pryor I thought that it was the best choice this year because anyone watching Oakland’s offensive line knew that it was awful in pass protection. Pryor’s escape abilities allow that offense to function, but its been better than that. He looks incredibly poised as a passer, still scatter shot at times, but still confident in his arm and abilities. This team has no wins without him, and two with him. Hopefully they don’t pull the plug on this experiment and instead begin to accumulate talent around him.

 

My College Football Thoughts:

1. I think Zach Mettenberger is an NFL quarterback thanks to Cam Cameron and will likely be taken – at the latest – in the 2nd round.

2. I think Jadaveon Clowney has some bad people advising his decisions.

3. I also think Clowney is starting to scare me as a prospect. Some of the reports of his work ethic would give me serious pause if I’m thinking about drafting him.

4. I think ACC might be better than the Big 10. Clemson and Florida State certainly are better than any Big 10 school.

5. I think Lane Kiffin reached head coach far too early in his career. He’ll get a job as a coordinator or position coach, but it might take him awhile to humble himself to that again.

6. I think Kenny Guiton is probably hurting Braxton Miller’s draft stock. He looks like a much more polished passer with less experience.

7. I think a lot of people are sleeping on Miami this year. Very good football team, though how far the offense can take them is a major question.

8. I think Baylor and Oregon should be required to play every year and that the game should replace a Sunday Night Football game only because it would be prolific. Just look at the ratings of the Denver / Dallas game this week and tell me people don’t want to watch that kind of game every week.

9. I think Mac Brown’s days in Texas are done but it has been a great run. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery.

10. I really think I’m glad that we’re to conference play. I have a hard time saying that these cupcake games should stop because the major programs end up funding the minor ones through those games, but they’re generally pitiful to watch. Alabama 45 Georgia State 3, Oregon 66 Nicholls St 3, Oklahoma 34 LA-Monroe 0, Tennessee 45 Austin Peay 0, Missouri 58 Murray St 14, Wisconsin 45 Massachusetts 0. Sure you get the occasional Appalachian St win, or this years Eastern Washington 49, (25) Oregon State 46, but 1 every couple of years does not make it watchable. Conference play is watchable.

Quarterpost Observations of the NFL

A couple of observations of the NFL at this quarter season mark. Most teams have played four games and we’re starting to get a sense of who these teams are (or aren’t)

1. Anyone who picked Seattle vs Denver for their pres-season Superbowl looks smart thus far

These teams are better than everyone else, and they are in vastly different ways. Peyton Manning is putting on a clinic for the NFL on high-octane offense production. He dropped 50 on Philadelphia with 26 minutes of possession. That means the Eagles had 33 minutes. Lets think about that. Here’s the Eagles TOP for the previous 3 weeks: 20, 19, 27. Other than the Redskins game, where the Redskins offense was so inept for the majority of it that the Eagles kept getting the ball, they’re almost averaging a 2-1 TOP differential. Peyton flipped that on them and, more importantly, did it in a way that didn’t destroy his defense’s legs. He’s the best quarterback in history and he’s here to show you why one more time.

Meanwhile the Seahawk’s don’t look pretty on offense, but this defense is very legit. No one has a secondary like them. They can physically play with any receiver group, and they still don’t have a full complement of pass rushers. 5 sacks against Schuab on Sunday, to go with 2 interceptions (one for the equalizing touchdown). They were down 20-3 (apparently with a 2% chance to win at one point) and came back on the road. They’re nearly unbeatable at home and if the NFC has to go through them there then look out. I’d feel more comfortable being Seattle at home in the playoffs than Denver where Peyton has shown a history of struggles in outdoor, late season situations.

2. Running is not dead in the NFL

If you think the age of the running back is dead in the NFL, rethink that philosophy. I had a friend tell me a little more than a year ago that he believed there would be a resurgence in the importance of running backs in the NFL. I kind of thought he was crazy, being a Vikings fan and in the midst of Adrian Peterson’s 2000 yard season, but here we are, four weeks into a new season, and the importance of a running game is so preposterously evident that it’s hard not to at least agree with his assessment. Look at the Giants and Steelers. Two teams who have thrived on strong run games and deep passing. Take out their rushing attack and these teams are hopelessly lost. Eli is an MVP quarterback with any form of a rushing attack, but without it he looks lost. Ben Roethlisberger’s is a scrambling magician, but when teams can just key up on the pass and stay disciplined on the back he looks like a petrified animal trying to elude captors. And it’s not just these teams (but they are the most salient examples).

New England has 14 rookies on their starting roster, and I a good chunk of them are receivers, but they continue to win because they show the ability to take the ball out of Brady’s hands and put it into Steven Ridley’s. Anyone looking at that game plan would have to scratch their heads, but Brady has shown a tremendous ability to operate out of play action. They use the run game to actually make defense back off of Tom Brady…. a hall of fame quarterback with multiple Superbowl rings and passing records! We could go down a list of teams that can and can’t run, and I think it’s a direct correlation to success in this NFL. The days of one guy carrying the rock 30 times are done, but the NFL requires a rushing attack in order for a team to be really successful.

3. The AFC is down this year

Sure the Broncos are juggernauts, but look past them and it’s hard to see any real challengers to that claim. Sure the Patriots are 4-0 and the assumption is that they’ll be better as the season goes, but with Wilfork, the premiere 3-4 nose tackle in the NFL, down for the season, its hard to figure them holding Peyton back when it comes to it.

Kansas City has probably the best hope against Denver, but while Alex Smith has been efficient and careful, he is also too careful. He doesn’t take many shots down field and eventually a defense is going to start forcing him to take some of those chances while playing for the 4th quarter. They may win those games, but with Peyton putting up 35 a game it’ll be hard for the Chiefs to keep up with him playing a conservative game like that.

The Colts and Titans are both solid teams, with serious long-term questions. Locker is now down and on IRDR (Injured Reserve – Designated for Return), which means that they’ll be winning defensive games for the foreseeable future (unless Fitzpatrick is back to his $50 million form). The Colts have a progressing offense, but are still inconsistent. They’re better, but again think of them against Peyton Manning and it’s hard to imagine them being able to withstand that assault.

The AFC North is…. woof.

So its Broncos or bust thus far… of course subject to change. I’d give the Colts and Chiefs best odds at rising up to rival them, but if Peyton continues to run like this, I can’t see them stopping short of NYC.

4. The Jaguars look worse than the 08 Lions

At times, it seems to me that the Jaguars are playing a different sport than the rest of the NFL. I like Gus Bradley and I think he’s a great hire for that team, but this is a horrendous start. They’re averaging less than 10 points a game. Yes the Buccaneers are only slightly above that at 11 PPG, but 31 points in 4 games is … ugly. Justin Blackmon is back this week, so that might help, but defensively they’re even worse than that. They’ve given up 129 points which is more than every team except the Broncos have scored and third worst in the league (Eagles and Giants ahead by a little). They’re Tanking for Teddy, or whoever is the best player available, but this team needs a massive infusion of talent across the board. I can’t honestly see too many people who should remain on this team through this year.

5. Biggest Surprise: 1-3 Atlanta Falcons

Look they’ve had a hard schedule thus far. At New Orleans, vs Rams, At Miami and vs New England, but this team is far too talented to be 1-3 right now and it starts from the running game (another team without a strong one underachieving! It all ties together!). Their leading rusher is Jacquizz Rodgers with 134 yards. They’re averaging 82 a game, which doesn’t look terrible, but there is just a woeful lack of presence there thus far which is keeping teams back against the pass. Matt Ryan has had a very nice start thus far, but has been unable to really take his shots and put up some big points. I would also say their offensive line is under performing thus far.

6. Pleasant Surprise: 2-2 Cleveland Browns

There are a couple of teams I didn’t think would have as good of a start (Kansas City, Miami, Tennessee) but the way Cleveland has finally started to capitalize on a solid defense wins this prize. I liked the staff hires in the off-season. Norv Turner is an excellent offensive mind and Horton is my kind of aggressive on defense. I will also admit that I felt the Trent Richardson trade was a little reckless, but with the running back position (not running game) devalued, they should be able to find a solid running back later than the 1st round (they have 1 2nd and 2 3rd round picks next year as well). They’ve also managed to secure two draft picks to make a play for a quarterback if Hoyer doesn’t continue to impress. That being said, he’s impressing. He’s playing like there’s nothing to lose, and there really isn’t. I’m not sure he’s the long-term answer, but he might make them less desperate to move up and could get a slightly better value down the road. He could also be the real deal. Too soon to tell, but the Browns being somewhat relevant is good for this league. They’ve been at the bottom for far too long.

7. Offensive line play is down…. but why?

I’m not sure I have a good explanation for this, but it seems to me that offensive line play is down thus far. This also ties into the lack of prominent run games. It could be a result of the lack of physical practices in the off-season, or maybe that today’s players are focusing on their pass protection, but it’s hard to point to a really good offensive line this year. The Texans are struggling because they have not be able to run the ball as effectively. The Vikings / Adrian Peterson are struggling (if you can call it struggling for All Day) due to poor blocking. Flacco just threw 5 interceptions – a career high – because he was being hit all day. Eli Manning has been hit all season and is turning the ball over like a machine. Go down the list and you see a wealth of poor offensive line performances.

I think San Francisco should have the best line, but they seemed unable to get going until this week, and maybe that is because they finally recommitted to a rushing attack. The Bears are improved, but show periods in which they revert to previous seasons. The Lions and Broncos seem to force defenses into limited blitz situations because they have so many weapons to cover.

Like I said, I’m not sure I have an answer here, but something about offensive lines and running games strikes me as off thus far.

8. Three teams we’ll find out a lot about in this next stretch of four games

Indianapolis Colts: Next 4 – Seattle, San Diego, Denver, Bye, (Houston)

I like the Colts and I think this is a playoff team, but if they’re really in it to win it, these next few games will be a good indicator. They’ve already knocked off the 49ers, and they’ll get the undefeated Seahawks next. At home they have a very good chance to win. They also get the Broncos at home, in Peyton’s return. The emotions will be running high and they are one of the few candidates to compete with the Broncos down the road.

Cincinnati Bengals: New England, Buffalo, Detroit, New York Jets

The Bengals dropped one to Cleveland and suddenly look stagnant on offense. The Patriots game plan better than any team in the league, and how they defend the Bengals will be very telling (I’m guessing rolling coverage on Green with some extra attention to the run game). Buffalo is an up and coming team that already knocked off their division foes. Detroit will test their defense and Rex Ryan will bring a high pressure defensive scheme in. 2-2 is reasonable in this stretch, but any worse could be trouble down the road, particularly with two games against Baltimore, and another against Cleveland still to come.

Dallas Cowboys: Denver, Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit

The Cowboys have slipped under the national radar recently, along with the rest of the NFC East (except for the Giants who are being talked about for all the wrong reasons). The next four games will be a good indicator if they are the class of this division or not. Washington and Philadelphia should be wins for this team, so 2-2 is a good expectation, with hopes to get a third at Detroit. It would also help to have a good showing against the Broncos, but I wouldn’t hold out hope for any team right now.

9. This Josh Freeman thing is getting ridiculous

How have they not cut him yet? If you’re an NFL GM whose not on the Buccaneers, why would you send them anything? Let me count the reasons. Firstly, the Bucs continue to show he has no value to this team by de-activating him on game day. Add in that Freeman has a career completion percentage of 58.2. It has been going down since 2011, when he was at his peak at 62.8. Last year was 54.8 and this year was 45.7. Finally remember that upon being benched, he began to pout. He refused to talk to the media, and I would not be surprised to learn that much of information leaking is coming from his camp. Oh and the odds of Freeman dropping his cap number for another team is very slim.

That being said, Schiano is looking very much like a tyrannical dictator. Kiffin was recently fired, shortly after everyone learned he was unaware of a players only meeting. Tampa Bay had a players only meeting to discuss issues with Schiano, presumably. Both of those stories show major rifts between players and staff. Whether or not Schiano is a good coach is hard to tell, and I think he reminds me of Bill Belichick time in Cleveland. You need to earn your stripes before you can command the disciplinary respect to do some of the moves Belichick does. Schiano is trying to just waltz in and have that respect without earning it.

Both parties need to walk away from this situation. Keep Freeman is useless to the team, useless to Schiano’s reputation with the remaining team, and has to be causing distractions for the rest of the team. Cut him.

10. Power Rankings

  1. Denver Broncos – As if there was another choice here?
  2. New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees and Sean Payton are clicking, and Rob Ryan has turned the defense around
  3. Seattle Seahawks – They’re not as flashy as 1 and 2, but this defense can hang with anyone and Wilson continues to do what he has to in order to win games.
  4. Kansas City Chiefs – Another good defensive team, but they have to start expanding their offense beyond 20 yards.
  5. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck has been managing this team, but I would like him to start leading this team. Richardson needs to make an immediate impact.
  6. San Francisco 49ers – They’re better than they showed during those two weeks, and once they start running again it should open up areas for Kaepernick.
  7. Detroit Lions – Their defense still needs some work, but this offense is dangerous and difficult to defend.
  8. New England Patriots -  How much more can they lose? Wilfork is the defensive linchpin and is going to vastly change how that defense operates. They’ll be better once Gronk and Amendola return… if both can stay healthy.
  9. Chicago Bears - The defense is still solid, and the offense looks under control. If Alshon Jeffery can start taking some coverage away from Marshall they will be tough to defend.
  10. Tennessee Titans – How they handle the weeks before Locker get back will be critical, but the defense is good. Chris Johnson needs to step up.
  11. Atlanta Falcons – They can’t run and their defense isn’t ready to carry this team but they have too much talent for their record right now.
  12. San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers is looking like Rivers of old, but they seem to let up late.
  13. Miami Dolphins – Their defense looks good, but their offense is still inconsistent. For Mike Wallace to make an impact their running game needs to step up.
  14. Baltimore Ravens – The defense is improving quickly, but their offense is in trouble. They cannot run, and their pass protection has been suspect.
  15. Houston Texans – Schuab is on thin, thin ice if they drop under .500. J.J. Watt needs someone else to help him on defense.
  16. Green Bay Packers – Their defense is dreadful outside of Clay Mathews and he is not making a significant impact. They do still have Aaron Rodgers, so there’s always hope for a quick turnaround.
  17. Cincinnati Bengals – Better than they showed this week, but continue to have these kinds of games, just like division foes Baltimore.
  18. Buffalo Bills – EJ Manuel looks good, poised. He needs to start making more plays in the passing game, but the defense looks good enough for them to hang around.
  19. Dallas Cowboys – The talent is all there, but like every year they seem to lose focus.
  20. Washington Redskins - RG3 is getting healthy which should worry NFC East teams.
  21. Cleveland Browns - Hoyer is off to a good start, and with this defense he should be able to keep them close.
  22. Carolina Panthers - The Running game has improved, but Newton still needs more work. Their secondary is a mess, but the pass rush is good.
  23. Minnesota Vikings - If anyone could throw the ball it would be a different matter. Adrian rushes for 80 yards against 8 man fronts routinely. Scary good.
  24. Arizona Cardinals - Overachieving a bit.
  25. St. Louis Rams - Underachieving a lot.
  26. New York Jets - Defense has kept them in games, but NFL looks like it has figured Geno Smith out. Rushing attack needs to continue to carry load.
  27. Oakland Raiders - Terrelle Pryor might be good enough, but it really is up to him now. Run DMC just cannot stay healthy.
  28. Philadelphia Eagles - I had a feeling the defense wouldn’t be very good, but Chip Kelly is exasperating the problem by running a ton of plays that don’t result in immediate points.
  29. New York Giants - They can’t run and they can’t block and their defense isn’t as good as it used to be.
  30. Pittsburgh Steelers - See Giants, New York
  31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This is by far the ugliest / craziest situation I’ve seen in the NFL in a long time… like since Lane Kiffin was publicly called out by Al Davis kind of ugly / crazy
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars - Maybe the best team for England because they might not recognize that what they’re doing on offense isn’t really football right now.

5 Predictions for the NFL Week 2

1. Tampa Bay will implode on Sunday

Good news Rex Ryan! There’s another circus to compete with… whatever is going on in New York these days. Reports coming out of Tampa Bay are getting crazy. From a players only meeting to discuss concerns about the coach…. and or concerns about Josh Freeman…. either winning or not winning the Captain’s C… or lack of leadership? There’s so many choices in that story to follow. I think the one thing that is clear is that Tampa is unraveling. I think Greg Schiano is following friend Bill Belichick’s lead to a T. Tampa looks like it might end up as his Cleveland gig unless he finds a way to unify this group. Once again a Belichick protege tries to secure absolute power without the respect to do so and it looks like it’s starting to backfire.

Edit: As I started writing this, PFT reporting Josh Freeman wants a trade via Jason La Canfora of CBS

2. Big Game for the Rams

I won’t say they’re going to win this week, because I have a hard time seeing Atlanta go 0-2, but the St. Louis Rams are a much improved team with a much improved defense, and the Falcons line has struggled of late. Robert Quinn turned in a couple of sacks against the Cardinals and if Atlanta cannot keep Matt Ryan up, this could get interesting in a hurry. Don’t sleep on the Rams defense because I think it is a very underrated group. Still it’ll be up to Sam Bradford to finally take the steps we’ve been waiting for and get a signature win.

3. Can we see the real Titans / Texans this week?

I called the Titans game last week, but didn’t see the egg of a first half that the Texans laid before the Chargers. It’s hard to gauge these two teams right now. The Steelers look bad… real bad, so the Titans win might be a major fluke. They didn’t run effectively, they didn’t pass well, and they abused a very poor offensive line. The Texans continued their hot and cold selves, but I think it says more about the Chargers that they couldn’t finish that game off as bad as Texans were playing. This will be an interesting game to see where both teams really lie. Are the Titans legit? Should we be concerned about the Texans offense again? We’ll see.

4. Unwatchable: Jacksonville vs Oakland

We’ll not completely because Pryor will put a couple highlight reel plays up for Sportscenter, but if Jacksonville is as bad as they looked last week…. woof. I can think of a bunch of more interesting things to do than this game. Chad Henne will start but expect a very healthy dose of MJD today, and the Raiders will continue to “protect” Pryor, which basically means he’ll run in circles like a backyard football game before finding a target. Will not be pretty and we won’t learn much about either team from this game.

5. 49ers vs Seahawks: Must Watch

Do not, I repeat, do not expect a high scoring Bama vs Texas A&M game here. These teams have gotten very familiar with each other in a hurry and both feature some scary good defenses. Seattle has a bit of a pass rush worry, and hasn’t played against Kaepernick as much as they have Jim Harbaugh, but this is the NFL’s best rivalry right now because these are two of the top five NFL teams. I see this being a 24-20 kind of game that features some goal line stands and punts deep to give a lot of long fields. Be wary fantasy owners, you have been warned!

5 Observations from the NFL Week 1

1. RG3 is not ready and should not be out there

Look, this isn’t about best option right now, because he’s undoubtedly better than Rex Grossman and Pat White. This is about long-term health of a potentially prolific quarterback. Spend thirty seconds watching Griffin throw and you can tell he is not ready to go. He comes up limping every throw, he cannot move in the pocket, and most importantly he is either unable or unwilling to drive his throws. If he’s not there why push him early and risk a devastating injury, or career ending one.

2. Questions about the Bengals and Texans linger

Two of the most talented teams in the AFC continue to be snubbed for Superbowl favorites because they can’t seem dominate. The Bengals have maybe the most complete roster in the NFL, and yet games like Chicago keep occurring and as they do everyone goes “yeah they’re good, but I can’t see them taking on the big boys”. Same holds true for the Texans who have gone from knocking on the door, to just win a playoff game, to Superbowl favorites, to the ‘I’m sure they’ll get there, but they can’t other playoff teams’. Watching both games, their lack of consistency within a game is maddening almost. I’m not buying San Diego because they should have obliterated the Texans last night, but instead struggled to finish them off. The Bears have potential to be an upset, but the Bengals lack of run game at all is very concerning for a grind it out offense.

3. The Broncos…. and everyone else

Sure this is a bit of an overreaction to a Week 1 thrashing of the Superbowl champs, but the AFC looks to be clearly a Broncos and everyone. Without Von Miller and Champ Bailey, the Broncos handled the Ravens offense, which should scare a lot of teams in the NFL. Offensively, Peyton was ruthless and efficient. His arm still looks weak to me and a lot of his throws fluttered in the air, but he puts the ball in perfect spots consistently. The Patriots continue to attempt to survive a plethora of injuries and look to be without Amendola, Gronkowski, Vereen, and maybe Sudfeld this Thursday and you have to wonder how Brady can keep this unit running like the well oiled machine it’s been in the past. The Colts and Texans are good, but still have questions. The AFC North looks incredibly weak after one week of play. The Ravens defense needs to gel and their lack of offensive weapons is evident. The Bengals are complete but have to finally start producing like they’re capable of. The Steelers second best lineman took out their best for the season. Like I said, its Broncos… and everyone else.

4. Kaepernick, Wilson, and Luck still look good

I don’t recommend holding your breath for these three to hit their sophomore slumps. Kaepernick tortured the Green Bay Packers, consciously avoiding running while manipulating the pocket and firing down field. The Packers played zone and he tore it apart consistently with new BFF Anquan Boldin for 400+ yards. Wilson was less prolific scoring, but put up big numbers and, maybe more importantly in a game like Seattle v Carolina, kept the ball out of the Panthers’ hands. Luck meanwhile continues to dominate the 4th quarter. He’s quickly moving into the Tom Brady and Eli Manning tier of comeback kings. If I had to take one right now, it’d be Kaepernick, but that would be a really, really tough decision.

5. The NFC North is going to be a blast to watch this year.

While they’re 2-2 right now, this might be the most talented, evenly placed division in football. We’ll start at the bottom with the Vikings, who can never be counted out because Adrian Peterson is still Purple Jesus. They didn’t run well against the Lions Sunday, but I that offensive line is still too talented to expect that week to week. Their passing game and defense are the bigger question marks. The Lions meanwhile look prolific on offense. Reggie Bush is going back in time to his USC days and we’re all remembering when we though he was going to be the greatest back to hit the NFL ever. If they can stay out of their own way, they will be around til the end. The Bears meanwhile featured a precise passing game and a notable lack of turnovers. Their defense also doesn’t appear to have lost too much ground with Urlacher gone. Can Cutler remain consistent is the big question. He still had 1 pick, and in a close game a turnover could be the difference. The Packers still look to be the cream of the crop, but questions remain about how well this defense can handle elite quarterback play. Outside of Mathews, there doesn’t seem to be another pass rusher, and their secondary could use help.

5 Predictions for NFL Week 1

1. Don’t sleep on Buffalo vs New England

Whenever talking heads say “I’m not going to say it’ll happen but what for x to happen” I get annoyed, but I’m going to do that right now… it’s my blog, not yours! I won’t say Buffalo will win, because I’ve long learned not to underestimate the Patriots with Brady and Belichick, but I think there’s a chance Buffalo can sneak out a win here. Brady is still working on chemistry with his new receivers, and the Pats defense still consists of Vince Wilfork and not much else. They’re sound, but not the old stalwart defense that Brady won a couple Superbowls with. Meanwhile Buffalo has a lot of unknowns to deal with, an underrated defense (though play-making safety Jarius Byrd is not playing), and an electrifying running back (when healthy and he is today at least). Spiller is a game-breaker and Marrone is going to get him his touches.

2. Jacksonville will not look nearly as incompetent as they have in recent years

My favorite coaching hire last season was Gus Bradley to Jacksonville, and, if his pre-season offense is any indicator, this is a group that will improve exponentially from last year. This up-tempo offense looks like a good fit for Gabbert (though I think they’re on the new quarterback train this coming off-season), and their defense will benefit from Bradley’s innovative concepts. I won’t take them over KC this week because I think the Chiefs are an elite team this year with Reid and Alex Smith settling the only weakness this team had, but I will expect the Jags to win several games most won’t this year.

3. Tennessee beats Pittsburgh

I won’t be wishy-washy on this one, I’m taking the Titans in Pittsburgh. I love the way the Titans have approached this off-season. Their line is menacing and the Steelers vaunted run defense is not ready for this group… hell no one may be ready for them. Levitre and Warmack road grading? I’m not blocking that! Meanwhile, the coaching staff has been working Locker out of play-action and boot-legs and he looks better. He’s still got a shotgun for an arm (in that he’s inaccurate not that he’s strong though he has a good arm too), but it should allow for some shots down field. I think their defense is good enough and the Steelers have no run game right now. Sets up for a surprise win I think.

4. My favorite game of the week is Washington Vs Philadelphia

I’m taking the Redskins, but only because I’ve seen the Eagles defense play and I don’t think its good. This is going to be a great display of innovation on offense I think. The Eagles will be winding up the speed, while the Redskins are going to be a balanced nightmare. I’m very interested to see how Vick operates this offense and who will be the big targets for him, while I want to see RG3 make strides as a thrower. Most intriguing will be how Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan handle this up-tempo in their pursuit of the quarterback.

5. How is Atlanta-New Orleans on at 1pm?

Giants vs NY is a great game, I get that. Same with Phi and Wash. I don’t know, I just want this game to be prime time. This rivalry is like what Baltimore-Pittsburgh was a few years back. It’s constantly thrilling, but with points this time! Matt Ryan needs to finally step into the light of the elite quarterbacks. Now that will happen in the post-season but if you can take a win in New Orleans week 1, wow! Big stuff. Meanwhile, the Saints have that feeling of the 2007 Patriots. ‘We got hammered by the league so now we’re going to win every game’ sort of feeling. Sean Peyton is back and he is the greatest play caller in the league right now (Jim Harbaugh is number two if you’re curious), and Drew Brees is in perfect synch with this system. If Rob Ryan can find a pass rush, this team is scary good. This game is must see. No excuses, watch like a champion today!

5 Notes from College Weekend September 7

1. Teddy Bridgewater is your 1st overall Pick next April (or is it May now?)

This guy is incredibly polished as a passer already. He shows incredible guts to take a shot while delivering down field. Eastern Kentucky isn’t the biggest bully on the playground, I understand, but they made it a point to blitz Bridgewater early and often and he stood in there and fired to the tune of 23-32 for 397 yards and 4 TDs.. oh and 0 interceptions. That kind of poise is tough to find. Yes he needs to keep this up against the big guns on the schedule… like… um… well… Templ…. okay well maybe there aren’t any big guns on the schedule. At Kentucky next week is probably the biggest name, as well as a couple of sleeper Florida teams (FIU and USF). Okay Louisville is probably running the table…so when he plays ‘Bama we’ll really see!

2. Pick the biggest lame duck coach: Rex Ryan, Lane Kiffin, Mac Brown

Mac Brown is the only one who might survive a bad season, but frankly if he does it’ll be a minor miracle. His Texas squad has under-preformed massively since the departure of Colt McCoy and it cannot be because of recruiting. If anything they are drowning in too much talent, but so is every Florida team and the Gators, Miami and FSU all look good this year. Ash was the 6th rated quarterback of his recruiting class according to rivals. McCoy was 24th (but the brother of a successful one). Brown’s inability to develop a progression and under performing in the high expectations of Austin looks likely to run him out.

Meanwhile, Kiffin has refused to pick from two very mediocre quarterbacks and I think most coaches would tell you that while you can have a lengthy battle for a job, but if you don’t settle on one it wears down and causes both to tighten up instead of play, which is exactly what I think we’re seeing with USC. Here’s some numbers for you:

Cody Kessler: 8-13 41 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT (returned for a TD)
Max Wittek: 3-8 13 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT (returned for game winning FG)

Sure, I wouldn’t want to pick between those two, but you have to. Personally I believe this reluctance is because Kiffin wants Wittek but Wittek is not capable of doing the job right now. Kessler looks petrified of making a mistake (though both do) and with Marquis Lee on the outside there should be better numbers here. These two didn’t complete a pass beyond 8 yards (other than the pick 6) and are quickly running Lane Kiffin out-of-town… but don’t worry he’ll probably land a job coaching the New England Patriots because that’s just how he seems to roll.

3. Cam Cameron (and I cannot believe I’m saying this) has fixed the long dormant LSU offense

Remember all the days of sweating and stressing and cursing and bemoaning close games involved with LSU? They appear to be gone. Cameron’s arrival has given this offense rhythm and precision that I would not have thought capable of an offense run by him (having studied him extensively at Baltimore). Zach Mettenberg has become ruthlessly efficient behind a multi-headed running back group and that should scare a lot of SEC teams. LSU has always thrived on defense and if they can finally put points up it’s going to make for some very interesting games late season at Georgia, Bama, Florida, and Texas A&M. It’s a tough road, but they could also spoil a lot of hopes.

4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Notre Dame needs to get off its high horse and join the Big 10, not the ACC

Anyone watching last nights finale in Michigan missed an excellent game and a perfect reason why so much of realignment sucks. Since we’re trapped in that world however, I will again stand on my soap box and say the Irish belong in the Big 10. Let’s rattle off some major rivalries that this would satisfy: Michigan, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Michigan State, and somewhat Northwestern, Penn State and if you really look deep, Nebraska. Are those more important than Stanford and USC? No, and I get that, but with the Big 10 you maintain so much more of that class of history and you can’t tell me the Big 10 wouldn’t be willing to allow Notre Dame to play at least one of those other big rivals a year. You could probably get at least a rotation of two every year. Is NBC a problem? Yes. Can Notre Dame continue to survive alone? Yes. Is their arrogance that they deserve their own everything annoying? You betcha, but last night was a game to remember and I’d like to keep those going. It’s what makes college football beautiful. History, not championships.

5. Miami’s win was the biggest of the weekend for any program

Al Golden has been… well not quietly but not loudly enough… lamenting the shadow of sanctions over his program for a long time. We’re several years in on what looked like an open and shut case for sanctions against Miami, and yet because of NCAA incompetence we’re still waiting for it. Will they have to wait 5 years for the statute to wear off before Miami can go out there and recruit? Johnny Manziel’s case is settled in almost a week and Miami’s is still going? You either have the evidence or you don’t. Meanwhile Golden continues to fight Florida and FSU telling those high-priced Florida recruits that Miami will be ineligible soon and knocking off Florida was a great way to keep the U alive in that battle. It wasn’t electric on offense, but it was good enough and on a big enough recruiting stage for this to echo for a while.

The Fallout of the Draft Free Fall

An interesting dynamic is taking place in New York.

No not the whole Tebow thing, we’ll deal with him when he has a team to deal with.

Instead we’re looking at the potential future quarterback, Geno Smith, who reportedly has fired his agent only a few days removed from the 2013 NFL Draft. PFT has a good recap, and similar opinion, of the story right here if you’d rather read their work as opposed to mine, but I thought it would be interesting to compare a couple of situations.

Undoubtedly many of you have seen the ESPN 30 for 30 “From Elway to Marino” concerning one of the greatest quarterback draft classes and the fall Marino took during the draft. I find Marino and Smith’s situations as exquisite parallels to each other.

Both considered top prospects in their class, Marino was actually expected to be the top quarterback going into his final year at Pittsburgh but had a down season despite winning more games. Smith put up particularly gaudy numbers his final year in what is considered a gimmicky offense at West Virginia.

Both players went to New York with the expectation of going high in the draft and found themselves waiting for quite some time. Geno Smith was not drafted until round 2 in fact.

Like Aaron Rodgers, everyone cites this as an opportunity to gain motivation against the league, a trait Marino says he didn’t think about, but it is hard to imagine a personality like his not taking his draft plummet personally.

What I find interesting is how Geno Smith has handled it. Thus far, I have not heard anything particularly negative about his work ethic, attitude, or personality (aside from that one war-monger scout who ripped Cam Newton and Geno Smith in such grotesquely personal ways), and yet his immediate reaction to this plummet gives me pause.

The night of the draft it was reported that Geno Smith had left the green room when Baltimore or Dallas was on the clock. Over the evening it was reported that Smith had decided to leave New York.

Now I understand those moves. He’s a kid in a very, very difficult situation. Obviously he expected to be drafted in the 1st round, likely he thought of himself as the first quarterback to be drafted in this draft. The last thing he wants to do is sit around potentially 25 more picks in the second round with cameras cutting to him before and after every ‘potential landing spot’ selects someone else.

What I don’t get is the agent firing. PFT speculates that he believed in himself so much that he refused to listen to his agent, whose job it is to adequately prepare him for where he will be drafted. The other option they outline, is that the agent did not do that job adequately.

This is a very damning situation to one of these two parties. Perhaps the agent and Smith were elaborately smoke screened through this whole process, in which case Geno Smith is quite right to fire his agent if he had been telling him that Smith was a top 15 pick, but for the agency responsible for determining that position they failed massively.

On the other hand, if they had been telling him that he was more likely to go late in the 1st at best, with the potential to slip into day two while Geno Smith continued to believe pundits, mock drafters (like myself), and friends who must have been telling him much higher, then this firing is very bad for his image.

It’s hard to know the truth, and both sides (so far) are handling it with class, not elaborating on the circumstances or reasons behind it. Only few individuals know the truth in this situation. His agents will know what they were telling him, and Geno will know what he was hearing from them. It is also likely that most teams know whether they were using him as a smokescreen (as likely Buffalo was to protect their interest in EJ Manuel). We likely won’t know for some time what the real situation is, but it is an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on.

Of note, the agency in question is Select Sports Group.

2013 NFL Mock Draft: The Mock Of Integrity

I’ve adopted a more Mike Mayock and Greg Cosell approach to mock drafts of late, not really starting to place players until much later. The number of changes people like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay do does not really help the process of guessing where players fit until all the rumors subside. In that respect, it’s more important to maintain a board of players perceived talent level and adjust it as information comes in.

I have done that this year and done more work for these prospects than perhaps in any past year, a fact that I am quite proud of, though by no means would I classify myself as a true talent evaluator due to lack of real coaches tape and knowledge of what NFL teams really covet. For those aspects, I treat myself as a GM, and the general media draft-niks as scouts reporting players to me. This gives me a sense of where to position players on a large board, as well as start to feel out who certain teams might prefer.

My hope is that this will result in a more meaningful mock. I have also speculated on trades. Some I feel strongly about, others are a result of players I believe teams covet.

I will also be doing a live twitter mock on Thursday. As each team comes to the clock, I will attempt to project their pick, or project a trade. I feel this may be a true mock in the sense that it will require a firm knowledge of the prospects as well as team needs and analysis of team abilities to maneuver. I am certain I will be wrong and look forwards to the surprises.

And without further ado, the NFLAm 2013 Mock

1. Kansas City Chiefs – Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

I am speculating that Brandon Albert and his agent are putting up much more of a private fuss than their public image about the potential move to LG or RT. He is a capable LT in the NFL if not elite. I believe Joeckel is an upgrade here, and that Albert will be shipped off to Miami. Joeckel is the pick over Fisher for me because Andy Reid is a passer first and Joeckel’s pass protection is phenomenal. Gruden told him that he could “block out the sun” if he wanted.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

While most people believe the Jaguars will select Eric Fisher here, I believe Gus Bradley is searching for a more physical, fast defense. He has said that Pete Carroll taught him that team speed is crucial, and has seen how drafting those types of players creates problems for opposing teams. Jordan is somewhat raw when it comes to rushing the quarterback, but may have the potential to match up with “Joker” type players such as Gronkowski. He is phenomenal in pass coverage for a linebacker.

3. Oakland Raiders – Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

The rumors that the only team not looking to move is Oakland say a lot about how much they like at least 3 players in this draft. My guess is they look at Floyd as a potential Warren Sapp or Geno Atkins. His pass rushing potential as a 3-technique is a perfect fit for Oakland.

4. Philadelphia Eagles – Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

While most mocks project Eric Fisher here if not at number 2, I believe Chip Kelly will continue to put size on his defense. While Andy Reid sought faster players for the Wide-9, Kelly wants bulk up front to allow his linebackers to move. He has spent a large portion of free agency working towards that goal. Lotulelei projects as both a 5-technique pass rushing end or a 0-tech. He has a little Vince Wilfork in him in that he can collapse the pocket from that position, and his jump is excellent. The question might be better focused on if he can stand up two blockers in the run game like Wilfork. If he can’t, he can make a living on the end.

5. Detroit Lions – Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

With several of their seasons derailed by Matt Stafford injuries, and a large void at LT in the wake of Jeff Backus’ retirement, the Lions have a large need at tackle. Fisher is very sound both run and pass, which will help them work more towards a balanced attack that does not have Stafford dropping back as much. As one draft-nik put it, “It’s the Matt Millen era all over if the Lions take anyone here besides LT or DB”

6. TRADE San Diego Chargers via Cleveland Browns – Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

The Chargers move up here to select Johnson, the last top flight left tackle in the first round. They know that Rivers needs time to throw and their line has been atrocious. Gaither, while talented, cannot stay healthy and gets complacent with big money deals. The Chargers, I project, send their 1st round pick (11th overall) and either their 3rd this year (76) or 4th (110) and a 4th next year( 1 and 3 or 1,4, and 4). Cleveland has shown a willingness to drop in the draft more recently to accumulate picks while finding decent talent. They’re in a perfect position here with a limited number of perceived elite tackles in the draft and several teams behind them desperate for one.

7. Arizona Cardinals – Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

The Cardinals are likely upset to lose Johnson, and could make the move up one slot to take him if they really like him, but I believe that Bruce Arians is comfortable with the talent they have currently, and can find value later at tackle. I know, however, that Arians likes to stretch the field, and that with a 5’9″ T.Y. Hilton he attacked the NFL last season. Tavon Austin is wildly more talented than Hilton with similar styles. Cosell called him “cartoonish” when watching him, and two seconds of watching him vs Clemson is enough to verify that remark.

8. Buffalo Bills – Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina

The loss of Andy Levitre to the Titans leaves a hole on their offensive line. Cooper has a higher upside, and some positional versatility. He could potentially play center or guard, though I believe guard is likely his best spot. Buffalo is a team that I believe could be interested in moving back into the first for a quarterback, either Ryan Nassib or Matt Barkley.

9. New York Jets – Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU

Rex Ryan has been long searching for a pass rusher for this team. I’m torn between Mingo and Jarvis Jones here because Mingo flashes burst and speed on a terrifying scale, while Jones is a much more polished pass rusher at this moment. Both have a very high ceiling. I’ve also heard reports that Rex Ryan loves both. Mingo for his raw talent and Jones because of his Suggs-like skills.

10. Tennessee Titans – Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

While the Titans have already signed Andy Levitre to bolster their run game, former offensive lineman and Titans coach Mike Munchak has to love watching Warmack dominate in the run game. They have Chris Johnson and signed Shonn Greene and giving both of them this mauler in the middle should bring this unit back to its 2,000 yard glory.

11. TRADE Atlanta Falcons via Cleveland Browns – Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

Here’s the thing. I’m confident this is a trade that could be done. These two have partnered big deals in the past, and in this scenario it would likely be the 30th this year, a 1st round pick next year and a fourth, or potentially the 30th, 60th, 127th and maybe a 2nd next year. (30, 127, 1st or 30, 60,127, 2nd). Either way, the Falcons have the horses to make a move of this caliber again, and the desperation to win now. Here’s the problem. I’m not sure who they would move up for. They have a huge hole at corner after losing Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, so Milliner is the most likely option after Kaepernick torched them. Likewise they lack an elite pass rusher, but I don’t see the name here for them to get. If they like Richardson (DT) or value Jones or Carradine as an end maybe they are the pick. There’s also a chance they’re looking at Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame as an heir to Tony Gonzalez and match-up nightmare. Many options.

12. Miami Dolphins – D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston

Mike Mayock and Greg Cosell both have Hayden rated as their best corner in this draft. He’s likely the most ready to start now as a man cover corner. Most people agree his near-death experience was a fluke, so the injury concerns should be minimal and the Dolphins have a pressing need at corner since losing Sean Smith and trading Vontae Davis. If they don’t move to secure Brandon Albert, I expect this pick is D.J. Fluker out of Alabama.

13. New York Jets via Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

While the Jets would love to address some of their offensive woes at this point, passing up on Vaccaro would be crazy. Rex Ryan will see glimmers of Ed Reed with tackling ability and his versatility will also intrigue Ryan. Offense will have to wait as Rex builds a defense to stop New England.

14. Carolina Panthers – Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

The Panthers have long been rumored to like Richardson’s pass rushing ability from the interior and at worst case should be able to snag Sylvester Williams if Richardson goes before this point. In either case, they need to get a big body on the inside in this draft.

15. New Orleans Saints – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Rob Ryan, on the other hand, will need a pass rusher for this new 34 scheme. Jones doesn’t test well, but on film he’s a terror and probably the most complete pass rusher in this draft. This is a steal for the Saints at 15.

16. St. Louis Rams – Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee

This is the first time I’ve moved Hunter ahead of Patterson, but the buzz seems to follow that line. While Patterson, with the ball in his hands, is a menace, Hunter is the more polished receiver right now, with incredible upside. He could potentially be a number 1 type guy which Bradford desperately needs.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Pittsburgh needs a big press corner who can compete for the ball in the air. With Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz scheme generating a lot of errant passes, Rhodes should thrive going up and attacking the ball. His man coverage skills are a little lacking, but that shouldn’t hurt his stock in Pittsburgh.

18. Dallas Cowboys – Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

The Cowboys need to transition to a 43 front and will need someone who can collapse the pocket from a 3-technique. Williams is a big man, but very light on his feet. He has shown flashes of ability to collapse the pocket and his burst through the hole to disrupt plays in the backfield will appeal to Monte Kiffin.

19. New York Giants – Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU

I’m less high on Ansah than most due to his lack of serious production. The potential is there and if there is one team that can coach up a defensive end it’s the New York Giants. Ansah is considered a boom or bust type player, but the Giants have enough of a rotation to allow him to develop while utilizing his skills in ideal situations.

20. TRADE San Francisco via Chicago Bears – Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International

The 49ers have made it known they’re looking to move up for a specific player. While I think they’d like Vaccaro, they may not be able to swing that. Cyprien is a good second option. They were torched in the playoffs by Ryan and Flacco and are definitely looking to improve their secondary. They’ll send the 31st pick and the 95th pick to make this jump, or if the Bears are a little greedy, the 76th pick.

21. Cincinnati Bengals -D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

The Bengals would really like Vaccaro or Cyprien to fall, but the 49ers are aggressive and snag him before they can get to him. Instead they’ll look to replace Andre Smith with Fluker, who has more versatility and potential than Andre Smith, and if they do resign him, can slide inside to make this physical group even stronger.

22. St. Louis Rams – Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

While the Rams would like a big DT or S to fall to them, snagging a very versatile linebacker here is a solid consolation prize. Ogletree is a converted safety, so his reaction time to the point of attack is lacking, but he makes up for it in speed and burst. He also can cover most any tight end which is a position that is increasingly causing match up issues in the NFL.

23. Minnesota Vikings – Keenan Allen, WR, California

The Vikings signed Greg Jennings, but he is a stop-gap solution with the injury bug. Keenan Allen has drawn Reggie Wayne comparisons and could develop that type of chemistry with Christian Ponder. He runs good routes with solid hands, both benefits for a young quarterback.

24. Indianapolis Colts – Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

I think Chuck Pagano will see some Haloti Ngata in Williams with his position versatility and brute strength. He can rush from a 5-technique or play a 0, both of which are needs for the Colts.

25. Minnesota Vikings – Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame

This is a reach for me personally, but I will defer to the buzz about Te’o not slipping out of the first. Rick Spielman like’s his Golden Domers and selects another one to fill a big hole at inside linebacker here.

26. Green Bay Packers – Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

When the Bears moved down, Eifert was put back in play. Not wanting to face him twice a year, and knowing Jermichael Finely is on the ropes with them, they’ll snag Eifert to give Aaron Rodgers another vertical weapon.

27. Houston Texans – Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

The Texans need to help Andre Johnson, and an explosive Patterson will make sure defenses cannot key on Andre alone. Bubble screens and slants will pull coverage up, allowing Johnson to work deep.

28. Denver Broncos – Cornellius Carradine, Florida State

Carradine is the better of the two defensive ends from Florida State in my opinion. He drew the double teams and showed more consistent pressure than Werner, who is another very raw athlete. The Broncos would also like to continue to support Von Miller with a threat from the opposite side.

29. TRADE Buffalo Bills via New England Patriots – Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse

Buffalo sends New England either a 1st next year (which the Patriots have been known to find ways to get) or their second, a 3rd, and maybe a 6th this year (1 (2014) or 42 & 73 & 167). The Patriots are looking to accumulate picks in this draft, which makes them more likely for me to accept a little less this year than usual. With the flat talent level, I think two mid round picks might appeal to them. Buffalo meanwhile snags their quarterback and a top guard to protect him.

30. Cleveland Browns via Atlanta Falcons – Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

The Falcons already sent this pick to the Browns who have managed to work their way down the draft again, securing several picks and getting a quarterback more suited Norv Turner’s style.

31. Chicago Bears – Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State

If the Bears wish to continue to run their Tampa 2 style defense, they need to replace Urlacher’s drop back speed. Enter Brown who is one of the fastest linebackers in this draft and can even cover some receivers.

32.  TRADE Philadelphia Eagles via Baltimore Ravens – E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State

The Ravens continue their strategy of dropping out of the first round by swapping the 32nd pick for the 35th and the 100th pick. The Eagles snag a quarterback Chip Kelly has liked since high school and is a good fit for his offense. They get him at minimal cost for 5 years and can now shop Foles to a team that missed out on a quarterback.

2013 Draft Preview

Before posting my mock draft for this year, I thought it would be good to do a run down of the potential story lines that will develop out of this years drafts.

Quarterbacks

I cannot remember a draft so devoid of top talent at the quarterback position, and yet I also am suspecting that there will be a large number of them taken on Thursday, more than most would suspect.

Let’s break down my reasons.

Firstly, the new CBA provides all first round draft picks with potentially a 5 year contract which is not renegotiable. This means that any player taken in the first is good for 5 years “on the cheap”. Look at teams like San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, and the Colts. These are teams that can put money into resigning vets and free agent acquisitions because they know they don’t have a $100 million quarterback on their roster. Meanwhile, teams like Atlanta, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are struggling to work around the cap, strapped by big deals that will get even bigger down the road. Having 5 years of maneuverability could be very important for teams who think they’re only one signal caller away.

Secondly, there are no teams in the bottom half of the draft who are really looking for a quarterback, much less a developmental one. Houston and maybe New England come to mind, but Houston has very pressing needs and a limited window, while New England has already selected Ryan Mallett. This means that there will likely be teams willing to move back for equal talent at less of a price for high drafting teams looking to move back into the first. It’s a common draft practice that should be even easier this year with the flat talent level that is perceived by most draft-niks.

Essentially, I’m guessing between 3 and 5 quarterbacks will be selected in this first round. Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley, E.J. Manuel, Mike Glennon and maybe even a Landry Jones, if Bill Polian is to be believed, could wind up being called Thursday.

Falling Injuries

 I’ve been hearing reports of players potentially falling farther than expected due to injuries that have not been released to the public. Only NFL teams have access to the combine medical check and re-check, so it’s hard to speculate who those could be.

Jarvis Jones has the well documented spinal fusion, but it seems most teams are open to selecting him without reservation.

Star Lotulelei reportedly checked out, but the heart scare could be enough to scare teams off longer than his talent demands.

D.J. Hayden had a ‘freak’ injury that nearly killed him (and reportedly does kill 95% – 99% of individuals that would suffer it), and has had limited time to showcase his skills since. Teams might be worried about his ability to handle NFL level hits if something like this occurred in practice.

Darius Slay, it was reported this morning, tore his meniscus during his pro day. This could cause teams to hold off a little longer on him if they’re worried he won’t be able to start week 1.

Manti Te’o

How much explanation do you need here? Kiper and McShay have him going before 20, and not falling out of the first, while several other respected evaluators rate him as a mid to late 2nd prospect. I find it hard to see him falling that far, but also have no idea how the quarterbacks will finally play out. Maybe a big surge pushes him into the 2nd.

Who is the best Wideout?

There are about 5 first round talent level wide receivers in this class. I say first round because they are probably in part of the top 35 players in this class more than they are elite prospects, but it will be interesting to see how teams evaluate Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen. Throw a Quinton Patton in the mix and you could see 6.

The Death of the Running Back

It has been a long, long time since a draft occurred without a running back selected in the first round. This year could be such a year. Eddie Lacy is generally regarded as the top player at that position with Marcus Lattimore widely viewed as a potential sleeping pro bowl player, but the needs don’t quite line up. The Rams pick late and could use a replacement to Steven Jackson, while Green Bay and Cincinnati both would like a work horse like Lacy. With so many other players on the board perceived as more talented, it will be hard to say if Lacy will make the cut.

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