2010 NFL Draft

A look at why Dez Bryant’s stock has fallen

We’ve been hearing all winter and spring about how Dez Bryant‘s character concerns are going cause him to fall on draft day.

In fact, the rumors have become so rampant that some are saying it has been blown out of proportion by teams lower in the draft trying to cause him to fall. Bryant’s defenders point to the fact that he’s never been in trouble with the law, and that his issues are far smaller than those of players who enter the draft with criminal backgrounds.

NCAA Football: Pacific Life Holiday Bowl DEC 30In a sense, they’re right. There’s no reason to believe that Bryant will do anything to get himself suspended in the NFL. He’s never been in legal trouble and there have been no indications that he’s even the type of person who puts himself in situations where bad things tend to happen (i.e. at a night club at 3am).

However, Bryant’s character flaws may actually be more concerning than anyone with a checkered past.

Teams are concerned with Bryant’s work ethic. In college he had a tendency to show up late for everything – meetings, practice and even games. That alone raises a huge red flag.

In the NFL players with off-field character concerns typically get second, third and fourth chances because it rarely impacts their play on the field. Take Terrell Owens for example. He presents a significant off-field risk to any team he plays for, however, his work ethic is so impressive that teams are willing to take a chance. No matter what he does or says away from the field, teams can count on him to be in top physical condition in order to perform on game day.

That cannot be said for a player like Bryant. Teams are genuinely worried that he will have a difficult learning curve in the NFL because of his lack of work ethic. Wide receivers rarely make a significant impact in the NFL before their 3rd year in the league. Its perhaps the slowest developing position in the game. Factor in Bryant’s work ethic and you could be looking at an even longer time frame before he develops into the elite receiver that he has the potential to become.

The NFL has a “win-now” attitude. Most coaches and general managers don’t have the job security to look three years down the road. For this reason, fewer receivers are being selected high in the draft.

This mind set could cause Bryant to fall on draft day. It could also lead to him being selected by one of the few organizations that does provide job security to its decision makers such as the Steelers or Patriots.

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

How does the Holmes trade shake up the draft?

With Santonio Holmes on his way out of Pittsburgh, suddenly the draft intentions of the Steelers and Jets are becoming a little more clear.

Prior to the trade most mock drafts had the Jets taking either Golden Tate or Demaryius Thomas. Both of those options now seem like longshots. With Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and Holmes, the Jets have enough players fighting for the ball already.

With receiver off their list of needs, the Jets likely turn their attention to the defensive side of the ball. Given the depth of hybrid defensive end/linebackers in this year’s draft, its likely that someone falls to the the Jets. Jason Pierre-Paul, Brandon Graham, Sergio Kindle and Jerry Hughes could all be options.

Clemson v Georgia Tech

Could Thomas now be a target of the Steelers?

Its also possible that they’ll consider Terrence Cody. Both Kris Jenkins (30) and Sione Pouha (31) are getting up there in age, and the Jets may want to build for the future at nose tackle.

As for the Steelers, wide receiver now becomes an option in the 1st round. I previously had them selecting Dez Bryant in earlier versions of my mock draft, but stated that it was simply a luxury pick. Now, it would become more of a need-based selection. Three of the Steelers top four receivers – Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antwaan Randle El and Arnez Battle are over 30. Three of them are also 6’0″ or shorter.

The need for a big receiver has never been greater, and Roethlisberger has been calling for one for years. Limas Sweed has failed to pan out, and it may be time for the Steelers to try again. Bryant and Demaryius Thomas are both options in the 1st round.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Jets, Steelers 1 Comment

How high could Mike Iupati go?

We haven’t seen an offensive guard go in the top 20 picks since the Seahawks selected Steve Hutchinson 17th overall in 2001. That could change this year with Mike Iupati.

2010 NFL Combine - Day OneIupati’s size (6’5″, 331 lbs) makes him look like a prototypical mauler. He’s big, physical and plays with a nasty demeanor. He has all the attributes to be a truly dominant run blocker. But what makes him stand out, much like Hutchinson, is his surprising athleticism for an interior lineman.

Many highly-touted guards in recent years, Vince Manuwai and Deuce Lutui for example, end up falling on draft day and failing to play at an elite level in the NFL due to their lack of athleticism. While both Manuwai and Lutui flash the ability to dominate as run blockers, they’re aren’t the complete package.

On the flip side, others such as Ben Grubbs, excel as pass blockers but struggle in the running game. They have the quick feet and strong lower body to hold up against faster pass rushers and bull rushers. However, they lack the brute strength to knock guys backwards on the line of scrimmage.

Every so often a player like Steve Hutchinson or Mike Iupati comes along who appears to be able to put it all together.

At this point, the latest I could envision Iupati going would be at No. 23 to the Packers. They’ve re-signed Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton, but still need to upgrade the interior line. Iupati would provide a drastic upgrade over Daryn Colledge/Jason Spitz/T.J. Lang at left guard.

The Bengals are another strong possibility. They’ve let their best lineman from 2009, Bobbie Williams, test the free agent waters. This has opened up a gaping hole on the line, which would currently be filled by Nate Livings, who has bounced on and off the practice squad for much of his career.

Perhaps the most likely land spot is Pittsburgh, which needs an upgrade over Trai Essex. The Steelers are transitioning back into more of a power-running team with Rashard Mendenhall as the starter now, and a powerful run blocker like Iupati is needed.

Here’s a few other options:

13/17. 49ers – Guard isn’t a glaring need, but he would certainly be an upgrade over David Baas.

15. Giants – Their offensive line is getting up their in age and Jerry Reese strongly believes it taking the best available player.

14. Seahawks – Rob Sims may be traded, which would open up an immediate starting spot for Iupati.

11. Broncos – They have other needs, but if they view Iupati as the best available player he would provide their offensive line some much needed stability.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, 49ers, Bengals, Broncos, Giants, Packers, Seahawks, Steelers 1 Comment

Does Roethlisberger’s situation alter Steelers draft plans?

Ben Roethlisberger is 28 years old and already owns two Super Bowl rings. The Steelers shouldn’t be in the market for a new quarterback. But are they?

Its far too early to tell whether or not Roethlisberger will spend time in jail, get suspended or if the Steelers have just grown tired of his off-field antics. But there are enough question marks out there to make us wonder if the Steelers may start to generate a backup plan.

Roethlisberger’s defenders will say that there’s no proof that he’s done anything wrong, and they’re 100 percent correct. However, there’s also no denying that he’s an idiot for even putting himself into these situations. Essentially its become a Pacman Jones situation on a somewhat lesser scale. Like Pacman, Roethlisberger now has a target on his back. The public’s perception of him will influence how he’s treated and how his actions will be viewed from this point forward. For or unfair, that’s the life of a high-profile athlete.

As for how this impacts his future in Pittsburgh, its tough to say. The Rooney family likes to win, but they also run an organization that holds their employees to a higher standard than many others (cough, Bengals, cough). Its within the realm of possibility that they’ll look to move Roethlisberger in the near future depending on how his legal troubles play out.

As of today, the only other quarterback on the Steelers roster is 2008 5th-round pick Dennis Dixon. He’s started just one game in his career (2009 at Baltimore) so its tough to judge his future, but he was less than impressive in that outing. I think its fairly safe to assume that the Steelers don’t envision him as a potential replacement for Big Ben.

Texas v Texas A&M

Could McCoy be headed to Pittsburgh?

With a solid group of quarterbacks in the 2010 draft class, the Steelers would be wise to bring one aboard. It would be shocking to see them take one in the 1st or 2nd round, but by the time the 3rd round rolls around they may consider selecting someone to be groomed as Roethlisberger’s potential replacement.

In our latest mock draft, we have the Steelers selecting Colt McCoy in the 3rd round. It looks like an ideal pairing for both parties. The Steelers need someone who’s capable of starting as a rookie if Roethlisberger misses any time, for legal or injury reasons. McCoy is polished enough to handle playing as a rookie. However, he would benefit from spending the majority of his time on the bench early in his career learning from a veteran such as Roethlisberger.

Other options could include Jarrett Brown, Tony Pike and Dan LeFevour – all of whom should be on the board for the Steelers to chose from in the 3rd round.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Steelers 13 Comments

Rising Stock: Thaddeus Gibson

Some of the most sought after players on draft day are 3-4 outside linebackers. Teams routinely reach for players who project well in that scheme due to the fact that there are only so many athletes out there with the size/speed combination to excel at a high level in the NFL.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl Texas vs Ohio State JAN 5Players such as Larry English (Chargers ’09), Bobby Carpenter (Cowboys ’06) and Jason Babin (Texans ’04) are often drafted in the 1st round based purely on potential, despite limited experience at the position. As a result, the players frequently fail to live up to their 1st-round status.

This year, however, the draft is filled with ‘tweeners and teams may still find great value at the position later in the draft. One player which could draw significant attention in the 2nd or 3rd round is Ohio State’s Thaddeus Gibson.

Gibson, who played defensive end with the Buckeyes, was impressive at the combine and further helped his stock on Ohio State’s Pro Day on Friday.

He was timed somewhere in the 4.5 range in the 40-yard dash, but take that with a grain of salt – OSU’s turf is notorious for churning out some ridiculous times. Even so, his 4.72 at the combine was more than enough to convince teams that he has the athleticism to play standing up at the next level.

Regardless of the legitimacy of the time, a 4.5 from a man who weighs in at 243 pounds is sure to catch the eye of NFL decision makers.

Among those decision makers watching Gibson in person were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. The Steelers are known for addressing needs before they develop, and may be in the market for an outside linebacker to backup and eventually replace 31-year-old James Harrison.

As previously mentioned, its a deep class, so its hard to imagine Gibson coming off the board any earlier than the mid 2nd round. However, he’s certainly made an impression and should have solidified his place within the top 75 picks today.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Steelers Comments Off

Where will Brian Westbrook land?

The Eagles announced that they will part ways with veteran running back Brian Westbrook earlier this week. The move doesn’t come as a surprise, but it should make teams extremely hesitant to acquire the 30-year-old running back.

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins

Whoever signs Westbrook should be prepared for this scene to repeat itself

LeSean McCoy will be the feature back in Philly, but the Eagles lack a reliable backup. Behind McCoy on the current depth chart are Eldra Buckley, Dwayne Wright and Martell Mallett. The fact that the Eagles are willing to part with a veteran like Westbrook means they obviously don’t believe he can stay healthy and produce over the course of a season.

Westbrook’s career may very well be over, but because of his past success, there will undoubtedly be some teams that pick up the phone and give him a call. So where might Westbrook land? Assuming he’s healthy, here are some options:

5. Rams
The Rams probably aren’t Westbrook’s first choice, but given the serious concerns about his health he may not be sought after by the serious contenders. The Rams would like to limit Steven Jackson’s carries, but they don’t currently have an adequate backup. Westbrook’s ability as a blocker and receiver would make him a perfect fit.

4. 49ers
The 49ers are in the market for a change-of-pace back to pair with Frank Gore. They’re more likely to address this need in the draft, but Westbrook could be brought in for his veteran leadership on a team that’s trying to take the next step towards the playoffs.

3. Packers
The Packers are a legitimate title contender, which would be appealing to Westbrook. From the Packers standpoint, they would love to add a backup to share the load with Ryan Grant who has been workhorse over the past two seasons.

2. Steelers
Westbrook is a similar player to Willie Parker who is an unrestricted free agent and appears unlikely to return. The Steelers may decide this would be too much of a lateral move, but a healthy Westbrook would be the perfect compliment to Rashard Mendenhall.

1. Vikings
The Vikings may take themselves out of the running by re-signing Chester Taylor, but if Taylor departs Westbrook would be the perfect replacement. Brad Childress is familiar with Westbrook from his days in Philadelphia, which would give both of them a comfort level from day one. Westbrook’s ability as a receiver would make him the perfect compliment to Adrian Peterson.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 49ers, Eagles, Free Agency, Packers, Rams, Steelers, Vikings Comments Off

Franchise Tags Start Today

Starting today teams can place franchise tags on players up until February 25. Any player receiving the franchise tag must be paid the average of the five highest-paid players at his position, or 120% of the player’s previous year’s salary (whichever is greater). Any player given the franchise tag may not negotiate with any other team.

As an alternative to the franchise tag, teams may use a transition tag. The transition tag carries the value of the average of the top 10 salaries at his position, but it allows the player to negotiate with other teams. If a transition player agrees to a contract with another team his original team has the right match he offer.

Given the incredibly small pool of unrestricted free agents due to the lack of a renewal of the collective bargaining agreement, there likely won’t be many franchise tags handed out. But here’s a few of our best guesses as to who may receive the tag:

2010franchisetagsJulius Peppers, Panthers – Peppers is already among the highest paid at his position, so the 120% increase applies in his situation. He would earn somewhere in the range $20 next season if the Panthers placed the franchise tag on him. A possible scenario would be for the Panthers to place the tag on Peppers and then trade him to a team where Peppers would then sign a long-term deal.

Vince Wilfork, Patriots - Wilfork won’t be happy if the Patriots place the franchise tag on him, but it may be coming anyway. Their defense took a significant step backwards this past season, and losing Wilfork would set them back even further. If they do place the tag on Wilfork, don’t be shocked if it sparks a lengthy holdout.

Karlos Dansby, Cardinals – The Cards have placed the franchise tag on Dansby for two straight years and would owe him roughly $12M should they place the tag on him again. Its a large figure, but the state of the Cardinals defense may necessitate the spending.

Casey Hampton, Steelers – Hampton is the unheralded anchor of the Steelers defense and they’re not about to let him get away. They’d love to negotiate a long-term deal, but they’ll hand him the franchise tag if necessary.

Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers – Franklin was one of the biggest breakout stars of the past two seasons, emerging as a dominant nose tackle in the 49ers 3-4 defense. He is a key reason for the success of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes and the Niners cannot let him get away. He’s got a lot of money coming his way one way or another this offseason.

Ryan Pickett, Packers – Pickett had a very solid season at nose tackle in the Packers new 3-4 defense. The decision to franchise Pickett may hinge on whether or not they see 2009 1st-round pick B.J. Raji as a defensive end or nose tackle. If Raji can take over, it would make Pickett expendable.

Gary Brackett, Colts – While Dwight Freeney gets all the attention in Indy, Brackett is arguably the true leader of the Colts defense. President Bill Polian has stated that re-signing Brackett is a priority. That may mean placing the franchise tag on him, and then negotiating a long-term deal if Brackett feels inclined to do so.

Richard Seymour, Raiders – It would be difficult to imagine Seymour re-signing with the Raiders willingly, so if they want him back the franchise tag may be their only option. Seymour could also be a prime candidate to be tagged and then traded.

Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders - In all likelihood Janikowski will re-sign for a long-term deal. But if they can’t come to an agreement, Al Davis isn’t about to let one of the game’s best kickers just walk away.

Shayne Graham, Bengals – The Bengals placed the franchise tag on Graham a year ago and may decide to do so again.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 49ers, Cardinals, Colts, Packers, Panthers, Patriots, Raiders, Steelers Comments Off

Fixing The Steelers Offensive Line

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

The most difficult teams to judge in the offseason are the teams that fell short of expectations. You are constantly faced with the issue of weighing this year versus last year, and trying to sort out who can bounce back and who is on the decline. Perhaps no team will have as many such questions to answer this offseason as the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The one question sure to arise in Pittsburgh ‘s front office is the issue of protecting Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was sacked 50 times this season, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most in the NFL. At first glace, the issue lies with the Steelers tackles. Max Starks ranked second in the league with nine sacks allowed and Willie Colon wasn’t far behind with six of his own.

A closer look, however, reveals that the Steelers interior line may actually be the problem.

Using the data supplied by ProFootballFocus.com, I analyzed the effectiveness of the Steelers offensive line in passing situations. The guys at ProFootballFocus track each offensive lineman’s sacks allowed, hits allowed and pressures allowed. To compare linemen, I added up these totals and divided by the number of passing plays each lineman was involved in to create a stat I labeled “pressure percentage.”

The results churn out a number of the usual suspects at the top of the list. However, you may be surprised at who’s number one. Among offensive tackles involved in at least 250 pass plays, Steelers right tackle Willie Colon led the way with an impressive pressure percentage of 2.5.

Max Starks ranked in the middle of the pack (18th among offensive tackles) with a 5.7 pressure percentage, ahead of such respected linemen as Michael Oher, Michael Roos, Marcus McNeill and Matt Light.

While the Steelers appear to be in good hands at tackle, guard is another story. Chris Kemoeatu ranked a respectable 22 nd amongst guards (3.5 pct) but Trai Essex (6.0 pct) ranked among the worst linemen in the game – regardless of position.

Ramon Foster, who split time with Essex , fell short of the 250 passing plays to qualify for my initial ranking. However, if you lower the qualifications to 150 pass plays Foster ranks as the 9 th worst lineman in the league with a 9.8 pressure percentage. In other words, once every 10 times Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, Foster’s man got to him – an incredibly high percentage for an interior lineman.

From the perspective of the NFL draft, this is an area the Steelers could address in the 1st round with their 18th overall selection. Mike Iupati is the consensus top-rated guard in this year’s draft class and would be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh . The Steelers value run blocking on the interior line, which has led them to such massive linemen as Kemoeatu (344 lbs), Essex (324 lbs) and Foster (325 lbs). In Iupati they can have their dominant run blocker, but also upgrade their pass protection.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Steelers 1 Comment