Ryan McCrystal

Brandon Graham is not the next LaMarr Woodley

I’m a big fan of Michigan’s Brandon Graham but I’ve heard too many people compare him to LaMarr Woodley, and its just not a fair comparison. Just because they both played defensive end at Michigan, doesn’t mean they’ll have similar NFL careers.

Apparently I’m not alone. The man who drafted Woodley, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, weighed in on the subject today at the combine:

LaMarr had a little linebacker in his background. As a junior at Michigan some of their defensive sets had him playing on his feet. It was not so much of a stretch as it was for guys that played down exclusively.

Colbert hits the nail on the head. Woodley was already prepared to play linebacker in a 3-4 system because he already had experience in those defensive sets. Woodley was at Michigan at the same time as Alan Branch, who Ron English and Lloyd Carr used frequently as a nose tackle, allowing them to essentially run a 3-4 defense on occasion.

Western Michigan v MichiganGraham, however, has never lined up without his hand on the ground. He is strictly a pass-rushing defensive end which means he’ll have a lot to learn if he’s drafted by a team such as Miami, San Francisco or New England.

The other difference is their athleticism. Woodley was an elite athlete coming out of college. His 38 inch vertical leap and 4.74 forty-yard dash at his pro day demonstrated his explosive athleticism, which further made teams comfortable viewing him as a 3-4 linebacker. We’ll see how Graham tests, but I don’t anticipate him demonstrating the same type of athleticm.

Now I have to admit I missed the boat on Woodley. I gave him a 3rd-round grade, behind Jarvis Moss, among others, who entered the draft with a similar skill set.

I am likely going to give Graham a 1st-round grade when I hand out my first round of grades after the combine. But that does not mean I anticipate Graham reaching Woodley’s level of success, at least not immediately. Graham enters the draft with a more physical style of play than Woodley and a more polished pass rush repertoire, but he lacks the athleticism and awareness to impact the game the way Woodley does for the Steelers. That may come with time, but the comparisons of the two as prospects are off base.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Who will start at ILB for the Giants in 2010?

There’s no question what the Giants biggest need is this offseason. By parting ways with Antonio Pierce, the Giants opened up a gaping hole at inside linebacker.

New York Giants v Washington Redskins

Will Jonathan Goff be starting for the Giants in 2010?

The in-house option as Pierce’s replacement would be 2008 5th-round pick Jonathan Goff. After Pierce went down with a season ending neck injury this past season, the Giants moved Goff into the starting lineup and shortly thereafter the defense went down the drain.

Now I’m not blaming Goff for the 85 points the Giants gave up in the final two weeks of the season, but he certainly didn’t help matters. He’s an adequate run defender, but really struggles in coverage. Unfortunately, the Giants rely heavily on their inside linebackers in coverage, rarely using them as pass rushers.

Assuming Tom Coughlin isn’t satisfied moving forward with Goff as the starter, who could the Giants bring in as a replacement? Here’s a few ideas:

5. DeMeco Ryans
Ryans is a restricted free agent, so he’s a long shot, but he’s worth mentioning. Some may argue he’s the top available linebacker in this year’s free agent class. Odds are the Texans will tender him the rate which would require a 1st and 3rd round draft pick should he sign elsewhere, a price which would be too steep for the Giants.

4. Rolando McClain
If he falls in the draft the Giants would waste no time snatching him up. However, that’s never going to happen. If the Giants want him they’ll have to trade up. Should he fall past the Chiefs at the 5th pick, the Giants should get on the phone and see what it would take to trade up.

3. Sean Weatherspoon
If the Giants choose not to trade up for McClain, Weatherspoon would be the only reasonable option with the 15th pick. It would be a reach, but he’s capable of playing in the Giants defensive scheme. Weatherspoon excels in coverage, making him an excellent fit for the Giants.

2. Brandon Spikes/Daryl Washington/Pat Angerer/Sean Lee
If the Giants don’t land a linebacker in the 1st round, they’ll have to strongly consider landing one in the 2nd or 3rd. There are a number of options, but the Giants would certainly be disappointed if it came to this. None of these options would immediately jump Goff on the depth chart, but would be given the opportunity to compete for a job.

1. Karlos Dansby
Dansby will be one of the most sought after free agents on the market this year now that the Cardinals have chosen not to place the franchise tag on him. He is an elite coverage linebacker, making him the perfect fit for the Giants. They’ll have to out-bid a number of teams for his services, including the Dolphins and multiple others, but he would be worth the hefty price tag.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Free Agency, Giants Comments Off

Addressing the Seahawks RB situation

In March 2008 the Seahawks signed former Cowboys running back Julius Jones to a a four-year $11.8M contract. It seemed like an excessive contract for a running back who’s production had fallen steadily since an impressive rookie year in 2004.

Now two years later the Seahawks are left with a tough decision, but it doesn’t involve Jones. Despite Jim Mora’s inexplicable allegiance to Jones last season, when he finally went down with an injury Justin Forsett stepped up in a big way.

Seattle Seahawks v St. Louis RamsForsett is undersized (5’9″, 190 lbs) but is as explosive as any running back in the league. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season, which ranked him 4th in the league among players with at least 100 carries.

But he isn’t just a change-of-pace back. Forsett averaged 3.2 yards after contact per attempt. Compare that to a similar running back in terms of stature, Reggie Bush, who averaged just 2.1. He may be small, but he’s well built and could handle an increased workload in 2010. The combo of Forsett and Jones (with the roles reversed from last year) could prove to be a formidable duo.

The Seahawks new regime is playing their cards close to the vest so far this offseason, but its possible they aren’t sold on either Forsett or Jones. Many mock drafts have predicted they may target C.J. Spiller in the 1st round, but he doesn’t look like a good fit in Seattle.

Assuming the Seahawks don’t plan on trading Forsett, its tough to imagine Spiller and Forsett in the same backfield. They have a similar skill set and are both undersized. It would leave the Seahawks with two home run threats, but no one to pick up the tough yards.

If the Seahawks are set on taking a running back in the 1st round Jonathan Dwyer should be the pick. Unlike Spiller he’s a powerful downhill runner – the perfect compliment to Forsett.

Considering the Seahawks other glaring needs (offensive tackle, safety, receiver, etc), the smart move may actually be to wait for the 2nd or 3rd round. Ryan Mathews could be available in the 2nd round, while Toby Gerhart or Montario Hardesy could be options in the 3rd. All three have the ability to serve as the “thunder” to Forsett’s “lightening” without forcing the Seahawks to reach on a running back who will be forced to split carries with Forsett and possibly Jones as well.

(polls)

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Seahawks Comments Off

Where will Julius Peppers play in 2010?

The Panthers have decided not to place the franchise tag on Julius Peppers, which likely means his time in Carolina is over.

Its an interesting decision for the Panthers. As a team they totaled just 31 sacks this past season, 10.5 of which came from Peppers. In an era where teams are paying big money for elite pass rushers such as Peppers and Jared Allen, it makes you wonder what they think of Peppers off the field. Rumors have swirled that his work ethic and desire to succeed are lacking, and this decision certainly gives teams reason to look further into those claims.

So with that in mind, where could Peppers land this offseason. Here are the top five most likely destinations:

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers5. Jaguars
The Jaguars have to make a tough decision this offseason regarding 2008 1st and 2nd round picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves. Both struggled immensely this past season and the Jags ranked dead last in the NFL with just 14 sacks. Popular opinion right now is that the Jaguars will target a defensive end in the draft, but adding a veteran like Peppers would be a much safer route to take.

4. Falcons
The Falcons may hesitate to add another aging lineman to pair with John Abraham, but their pass rush is in need of an upgrade. 2007 1st-round pick Jamaal Anderson has struggled to live up to expectations and the Falcons may be ready to move on. If the Falcons want to make a splash this offseason, stealing Peppers from a division rival would certainly be one way to make that happen.

3. Packers
If Peppers is prepared to make the transition to outside linebacker, Green Bay would be an ideal landing place. They’re likely parting ways with Aaron Kampman who struggled to transition from down-lineman to outside lineback in Dom Capers new 3-4 defense. Pepers may also have size to play defensive end in a 3-4 defense, but that would really be a waste of his pass-rush ability.

2. Patriots
The Patriots reportedly have a strong interest in Peppers. They desperately need to upgrade their pass rush, so the interest makes sense. However, I’m not sure he’s a great fit. Peppers appears to be a little oversized to stand up and play outside linebacker in the Patriots 3-4 scheme. I’m not sure he’s athletic enough to handle the coverage responsibilities that come with playing linebacker which he hasn’t encountered in Carolina.

1. Bears
This looks like the perfect match for both sides. The Bears have a veteran defense and they’re clearly taking a “win now” approach over the past few offseasons. Adewale Ogunleye is an unrestricted free agent and the Bears should jump at the chance replace him with Peppers.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Bears, Falcons, Free Agency, Jaguars, Packers, Panthers, Patriots 1 Comment

Should the Texans franchise Dunta Robinson?

The Texans used their franchise tag on cornerback Dunta Robinson last season but have elected not to go that route this year. Robinson hasn’t exactly gotten along with the Texans’ front offense in recent years, meaning this likely spells the end of the road for him in Houston.

Its possible the Texans are just fed up with Robinson’s antics. But putting that aside, from a football standpoint, did they make the right call?

At first glance, Robinson took a major step backwards in 2009. ProFootballFocus gave him an overall rating of -11.7 this past season, ranking him 98th out of 107 cornerbacks. Upon closer examination, however, Robinson may still have what it takes to be an elite cornerback.

Through the first eight weeks of the season, Robinson was terrible. He was thrown at 34 times and allowed 22 receptions for 309 yards – an average of 9.09 yards per attempt, which would have ranked 95th in the NFL this season.

Houston Texans v Baltimore RavensOver the next eight games, however, Robinson stepped it up allowing just 5.94 yards per attempt – a rate which would have ranked him 18th over the course of the season.

So who’s the real Dunta Robinson?

In reality, he’s probably somewhere in between. But his 2nd half performance certainly indicates that he’s capable of playing at an elite level. The issue with spending money on Robinson is that you just don’t know what you’re going to get. On a winning team, he may be motivated to play up to his potential. But as soon as things take a turn for the worse, he may pack it in. At this point you have to wonder if Robinson’s second-half performance was motivated by the fact that he could hit the open market this offseason.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Free Agency, Texans 2 Comments

Addressing the Jason Pierre-Paul/Bucs rumors

Recent reports have linked the Bucs the to South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Unless the Bucs trade down this would be an Al Davis-like draft blunder. But don’t worry Bucs fans, its not going to happen. Let me debunk this rumor…

The rumor apparently started with Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft. Presumably he heard from a member of the Bucs organization that they were very high on Pierre-Paul and decided to go out on a limb and make the prediction. Since his mock draft was released, other writers have come forward reporting similar whispers from the Bucs front office.

I certainly don’t dispute that some are hearing reports from the Bucs that they like Pierre-Paul. But it doesn’t mean they’re interested in him with the 3rd pick. Here’s why:

1. No one in anyone’s front office tells the truth at this time of year. You have to take every rumor you hear with a grain of salt and try to find the motivation behind it. If the Bucs are leaking their interest in Pierre-Paul to the media, they must believe they have something to gain by it. However, in this case its hard to see why the Bucs would spread this rumor. Its doubtful that a team would try to trade into the top three for a guy with one year of experience at the D-I level, which brings me to my next point…

2. At this point in the draft process, the real decisions makers have no idea who they want to draft. The coaches and GM’s have spent the season focused on their NFL roster, not on scouting. They’ve spent the last month getting acclimated to the current pool of draft-eligible players in preparation for the combine and pro days. That means that if anyone in the Bucs front office is enamored with Pierre-Paul it is likely the scouts, who just so happen to be the ones most likely blabbing to the media about it.


(polls)

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Buccaneers Comments Off

Who will replace L.T. in San Diego?

The Chargers officially cut ties with LaDainian Tomlinson today, arguably the greatest player in team history. From a personal standpoint, it must have been a difficult decision for the Chargers to make. From a football standpoint, it couldn’t have been easier. At this point in his career L.T. wasn’t going to be anything more than an overpaid backup in San Diego.

So where do the Chargers go from here?

Washington Redskins v San Diego Chargers

Sproles is a blur on the field, but can he handle a starting role?

Restricted free agent Darren Sproles would be the in-house solution. He’s an electrifying back and a fan favorite. He shows flashes of greatness, but he’s also only 5’6″. No matter how talented he is, he has physical limitations which will prevent him from being effective over the course of the season. Even with just 93 carries in 2009, Sproles was held to 3.7 yards per attempt – not exactly a number that should have the Chargers excited about his prospects should the workload be doubled in 2010.

Another option would be to address the need in free agency. The top unrestricted free agents are Willie Parker and Chester Taylor, but they’re 29 and 30 respectively. It would seem like an odd move to cut ties with Tomlinson only to bring in another veteran on the decline.

That could leave the Chargers with the draft as their only option to fill their hole at running back. We’ve had C.J. Spiller headed to San Diego in our mock draft for a while now, but there are numerous other options. Spiller makes the most sense because of his versatility. The Chargers used Tomlinson extensively as a receiver, a role which Spiller could immediately fill. The downside is that he has a similar skill set to Sproles. With Spiller as the starter, it would undermine Sproles’ ability to be effective as a change-of-pace back.

Another option would be Jonathan Dwyer. He’s the top-rated running back on our board, but also could be gone by the time the Chargers are on the clock. As a strong, downhill runner Dwyer would make an excellent compliment to  Sproles. The downside, however,  is his lack of experience as a receiver. He comes from Paul Johnson’s triple-option at Georgia Tech and would need to learn an NFL offense. That may slow his ability to make an immediate impact and fill Tomlinson’s shoes in the passing game.

Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews is also an option. He has a similar skill set to Dwyer, which brings about the same positives and negatives. He may be a slight reach in the late 1st-round, but is the safest bet to still be on the board. The lack of quality unrestricted free agents puts the Chargers in a difficult position.

Its rare that a playoff team needs to fill such a key role in the draft, but that could be the position the Chargers are in this April. It will be very interesting to see how it unfolds. GM A.J. Smith must be kicking himself for letting Michael Turner walk two years ago…

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Chargers, Free Agency Comments Off

Should the Bucs trade up for Suh?

Rumors are swirling that the Rams and Bucs have discussed a trade that would involve a swap of their 1st-round picks, potentially with Josh Johnson heading to St. Louis.

For what its worth, the Rams have denied the rumors.

From the Rams standpoint, this would be a brilliant trade. The top two players on most draft boards are Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, but the Rams don’t really need a defensive tackle. 2007 1st and 5th round picks Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan have been a nice duo at tackle over the past few years. They aren’t Pro Bowlers, but its arguably the strongest position on the Rams defense.

Trading down would allow them to stockpile picks (which they desperately need) and potentially land their quarterback of the future, be it Johnson, Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen. Should they pass on a quarterback with the 3rd pick, Eric Berry would be an excellent addition to their secondary. Even Derrick Morgan would potentially make sense as a replacement for Leonard Little who is likely to sign elsewhere.

Big 12 Championship - Nebraska v TexasBut does it make sense for the Bucs?

Its true, they need a defensive tackle. However, there is a decent chance that either McCoy or Suh will fall to them anyway. The Rams are likely to  consider selecting a quarterback 1st overall, meaning one of the top two tackles could be on the board at No. 3.

Considering the overwhelming lack of talent on the Bucs roster, its hard to understand why they would part with extra picks just to land Suh. The Bucs would likely have to part with their 2nd-round pick as well, if not more, to move up. For a team starving for talent, a draft that potentially brings in Eric Berry and Brandon LaFell would seem to be a much faster route to turning things around than only landing Suh.

The added bonus for passing on this trade would be the potential to trade down on draft day. If the Rams pass on Bradford and Clausen, the Bucs will be on the clock at No. 3 one slot ahead of Washington, who is likely to select a quarterback. If a team like the Bills or Seahawks have their heart set on one of the top two quarterbacks, the 3rd pick will be the ideal slot to trade into. This would allow the Bucs to land a player such as Joe Haden and acquire additional picks.

No matter what angle I look at this trade it seems like a losing situation for the Bucs. Suh is an elite talent, but a defensive tackle doesn’t turn around a franchise on his own. The Bucs have too many holes to fill to risk their entire draft on one player.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Buccaneers, Rams Comments Off

10 Players Who Should Put on a Show at the Combine

10. Taylor Mays S USCCFB: Notre Dame vs USC NOV 29 Mays will put on a show, we know that for certain, but will anyone care? We know he’s fast. We know he’s strong. We know he can jump out of the gym. Expectations for Mays’ performance are so high that will be almost impossible to live up to the hype. Even if he does, there are enough skeptics out there that it may not help his stock. Unless Al Davis grabs him in the top 10 that is…

9. Jared Odrick DT Penn State For an interior lineman, Odrick is a chiseled athlete. Unlike most tackles, Odrick isn’t carrying around too much excess weight; he’s 300 pounds of muscle. He should be one of the faster interior linemen in Indy and should also show off some impressive strength. His blend of strength and athleticism make him a perfect fit at defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.

8. Everson Griffen DE USC Griffen is overshadowed by the elite athletes at the defensive end position (Pierre-Paul, Dunlap, Morgan, etc) but he’s no stiff. At 6’3″ and roughly 280 pounds, Griffen could open some eyes if he runs in the 4.6 range in the 40. It’s tough to call anyone from USC “underrated” but Griffen may be just that. He’s more athletic that he gets credit for, and should prove that at the combine.

7. Mike Iupati OG Idaho Iupati may not be the most athletic player in Indy, but his brute strength is sure to catch the eye of scouts. He’s already solidified his place in the 1st round, but his performance on the bench press may further improve his stock. Teams that are looking for a power run blocker will keep a close eye on him all week.

Ole Misss Dexter McCluster in the AT&T Cotton Bowl6. Dexter McCluster RB/WR Mississippi
All eyes will be on McCluster when he lines up for the 40-yard dash. He’s expected to run in the 4.3 range, and it could crack the 4.2 barrier. He’ll likely do some drills as a receiver and a running back, giving him ample opportunities to impress teams with his versatility.

5. Aaron Hernandez TE Florida
Hernandez doesn’t have the height of an elite tight end (he’s only 6’2″) but he may be the most athletic player at the position to enter the draft since Vernon Davis. He has the skills of an over-sized receiver and should be one of the standouts at Indy – especially if Jermaine Gresham and Rob Gronkowski are unable to work out.

4. Austen Lane DE Murray State
A little-known defensive end from Murray State could be the star of the combine. At 6’6″, 267 pounds he clearly has the size to take his game to the next level. What scouts want to see, however, is how he stacks up athletically with the premiere prospects. With an impressive performance, he could skyrocket up the draft boards.

3. Chad Jones S LSU
In any other year we’d be talking about Jones as the premiere athlete at the safety position. He’s overshadowed by Taylor Mays, but don’t sleep on Jones. He is every bit as physically gifted as Mays and many believe he may be a better all-round football player. If he matches Mays’ workout numbers, Jones could make a run at being the second safety off the board.

2. Jared Veldheer OT Hillsdale
Teams are always looking for a sleeper to step up and show he has the athleticism to play left tackle in the pros. This year Jared Veldheer could be the beneficiary of the NFL’s obsession with left tackles. Much like Sebastian Vollmer climbed from unknown to 2nd-round pick in 2009, Veldheer could do the same with an impressive workout this week.

1. Jason Pierre-Paul DE South Florida
Last year at this time Pierre-Paul hadn’t even set foot on a D-I football field. Now he’s a potential top-10 pick. He’s as raw as the come, but has the pure athleticism to make scouts drool. He should easily rank among the top defensive linemen in every drill at the combine.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft 4 Comments

Saints should target linebacker in draft

Between now and the NFL Draft, we will run a series of articles analyzing each team’s needs using stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com

Considering they’re the defending Super Bowl champs, the Saints have a surprising number of holes to fill. The one I’d like to focus on, however, is their need for a linebacker.

Unfortunately for the Saints, they could use not one, but two, new starting outside linebackers. The deficiencies of starters Scott Shanle (weak-side) and Scott Fujita (strong-side) were masked by the stellar play of the Saints defense line, but both are below-average NFL starters.

The first issue the Saints need to address at linebacker is their coverage. Due to the nature of their 4-3 defense, weak-side linebacker Scott Shanle is the one primarily dropping into zone coverage or manning up against tight ends. Unfortunately for the Saints, there are few linebackers in the league who more more ill-suited for this role than Shanle.

Given the fact that they’re typically covering much shorter routes, linebackers allow a fairly high percentage of catches when they drop into coverage. Shanle’s numbers, however, are well above average. Among linebackers who were targeted at least 20 times, Shanle’s 82.2 catch percentage allowed ranked as the 6th highest in the league. In a division which features Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow, he is a major liability.

As for the Saints pass rush, it doesn’t get much better. Among their linebackers, Fujita is the one relied upon most in this area. Fujita was on the field for 309 pass plays in 2009 (playoffs included) and was used as a pass rusher roughly half the time (153 plays).

Of those 153 plays, Fujita recorded just one sack. He did, however, hit the quarterback seven times and record a nine pressures. In total, that’s 17 impact plays out of 153 pass rush situations – a rate of 11.1 percent. Among the 51 linebackers with at least 100 pass rush attempts, Fujita’s 11.1 “impact percentage” ranked right in the middle of the pack at 26th.

While Fujita, who is an unrestricted free agent, was the Saints primary pass rusher at linebacker in terms of percentage of plays, Shanle was actually used more often. Shanle rushed the quarterback 173 times out of the 690 pass plays in which he was on the field. In those 173 plays Shanle recorded zero sacks, zero hits and just eight pressures – that’s an astoundingly low 4.6 “impact percentage” which ranked him dead last among linebackers with 100 attempts.

Super Bowl XLIV

Shanle (58) tries to bring down Dallas Clark in the Super Bowl

Its a wonder the Saints even made the playoffs with a performance from their outside linebackers such as this. In the tables provided, Shanle and Jarret Johnson (Ravens) are the only ones from playoff teams.

Its widely assumed that the Saints will target a linebacker with the 32nd pick in the 1st round. Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon would be the ideal fit for their 4-3 defense. Penn State’s Navorro Bowman is another option.

Both Bowman and Weatherspoon would be good fits at weak-side linebacker as a replacement for Shanle. However, if Scott Fujita does not re-sign, the strong-side position could actually be the greater need. Journeyman Troy Evans is Fujita’s backup and is not suited for a starting role.

Obviously the Saints have proven they can win with a below-average corps of linebackers. But if they’re going to repeat, they would be well served to upgrade the unit.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Saints 4 Comments