10 Best Offseason Moves (So Far)

10. Giants sign Antrel Rolle
Yes, the Giants overpaid for Rolle. The thought of him being the highest-paid safety in the league is comical. But the fact remains that he’s a significant upgrade over Michael Johnson and will give the Giants a very solid duo at safety between him and fellow Hurricane Kenny Phillips. The Giants are taking a “win now” approach and you have to give them credit for addressing a need with the best player on the market.

9. Falcons sign Dunta Robinson
The Falcons may have overpaid for a player who’s effort comes as goes throughout the season, but there’s no denying that Robinson has the talent to be an elite cornerback. Robinson will give you headaches, but ultimately when it matters most he’ll step up his game. He was playing at an elite level down the stretch this past season as Houston climbed back into the wild card race and he’ll do the same in Atlanta as they figure to be in the playoff hunt once again.

8. Patriots re-sign Vince Wilfork
Its not a sexy pick to have a player re-signing on this list, I know, but this is one of the most important moves nonetheless. Wilfork is the anchor of the Patriots defense. They’re in a mini rebuilding mode on that side of the ball this offseason and losing Wilfork would have set them back even further.

7. Chiefs sign Thomas Jones
If the Chiefs were expected to be a contender in 2010 this move would have ranked even higher. Jones isn’t capable of carrying the load throughout the season, but he can still be effective in spurts. Jones and Jamaal Charles give the Chiefs an impressive duo at running back which should allow them to control the ball and help open things up in the passing game for Matt Cassel.

6. Broncos sign Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan, Jarvis Green
None of these three players alone would have made the list, but collectively they’ve reshaped the Broncos defense. Williams will likely start at nose tackle with Green starting at one of the defensive end spots. Bannan can play nose tackle or end and may rotate between the two.

5. Cardinals trade for Kerry Rhodes
Rhodes fell out of favor with Rex Ryan in New York, but he is still a top-flight safety in this league. He’s just 27 and has plenty of good years ahead of him. Antrel Rolle was a fine starting free safety, but Rhodes is an upgrade and he comes at a cheaper price tag. It was a great trade any way you look at it from the Cardinals point of view.

4. Lions sign Kyle Vanden Bosch; trade for Corey Williams
Last offseason Jim Schwartz pledged to make the Lions bigger and stronger on defense. That’s proven to be easier said than done as the previous regime believed “smaller and faster” was the way to go. They struggled through the 2009 season, but Vanden Bosch and Williams gives their line two proven defenders who will likely team up with Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy.

3. Bears sign Julius Peppers
Peppers was the biggest name to change teams but I can’t put him at number one because I don’t know that he’s a significant upgrade in Chicago. The Bears had other needs (mainly receiver) which they could have spent the money on, but they do deserve credit for landing the biggest name on the market.

2. Dolphins sign Karlos Dansby
Dansby has quietly been one of the most productive linebackers in the league during his time in Arizona, despite not being surrounded by much talent. In Miami he could develop into a star. He’s an ideal fit for their defensive scheme which is similar to Arizona’s. He’ll be a difference maker from day one for the Dolphins.

1. Ravens trade for Anquan Boldin
The Ravens have needed to make a move like this for years. Boldin is an elite possession receiver and will instantly become Joe Flacco’s favorite weapon. If he can stay healthy, a 100-catch season isn’t an unreachable goal for 2010. The acquisition of Boldin makes the Ravens the team to beat in the AFC North for 2010.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Bears, Broncos, Cardinals, Chiefs, Cowboys, Dolphins, Falcons, Free Agency, Giants, Lions, Patriots 16 Comments

Making sense of the Broncos draft plans

Once we hit mid-March most team’s draft plans start to clear up. Certain needs are addressed through free agency which limits the number of options for each team in the draft. However, occasionally a team will bring in so many new free agents that it only clutters up the roster and makes their draft plans difficult to determine.

This year that team is the Broncos.

By no means am I insulting their offseason moves. Quite the opposite, actually. They’ve overhauled their defensive line with Jarvis Green, Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams, all of whom could start for them in 2010.

Cowboys Jenkins Breaks Up Pass for Broncos Marshall in DenverOn the offensive side, the Brandon Marshall situation is still looming over their heads, but its becoming increasingly unlikely that he’ll sign elsewhere. The rumors of him signing with the Seahawks have been overstated. Seattle would have to surrender the 6th overall pick, which simply isn’t going to happen. The only alternative may be for Marshall to re-sign with Denver and then be traded to Seattle for the 14th selection.

The Bengals have also been rumored to have interest, but appear to have turned their attention to Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant, both of whom come at a much cheaper price tag.

So which direction do the Broncos go in the draft?

I was all set to predict Dan Williams to the Broncos in my latest mock draft… and then they signed Justin Bannan… and then Jarvis Green… and then Jamal Williams. Clearly defensive line has been crossed off the list of needs.

Dez Bryant has been a common name linked to the Broncos in mock drafts, but it hinges on the trade of Marshall. Until he’s gone, I don’t think we can feel confident that the Broncos are leaning that direction. Even if Marshall is gone, it may not be a sure thing. Bryant’s stock is falling for his off-field concerns, and the Broncos may be hesitant to bring aboard another diva.

The secondary is another area that could be addressed. Last season the Broncos were so desperate for cornerbacks that they brought aboard the seemingly ageless Ty Law. If Joe Haden is on the board he would certainly be an option.

However, in my latest mock draft Haden comes off the board at No. 10 to the Jaguars, leaving the Broncos with a difficult decision. Since I’ve decided to hold off on the Dez Bryant prediction until Marshall is traded, I was left without an option that jumped out as an obvious choice.

I elected to go with Sergio Kindle who has the size and athleticism to make the transition from defensive end to linebacker in the Broncos 3-4 system. It isn’t a slam dunk by any means, but it fills a need at a decent value. Marrio Haggan started opposite Elvis Dumervil in 2009 and could certainly be upgraded. Kindle would represent a significant upgrade over Haggan as a pass rusher and should at least be able to match his production against the run.

The downside to selecting Kindle is that they already have a good amount of money tied up in linebackers in Dumervil, D.J. Williams and 2009 1st-round pick Robert Ayers.

As we get closer to the draft its possible that the Broncos draft plans clear up, but as of now they’re clear as mud. If things remain as they are now, the Broncos could be a prime candidate to make one of the more surprising selection of draft.

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

Browns release Derek Anderson

Its not everyday that 26-year old former Pro Bowl quarterbacks get released.Then again, its also not every day that 26-year old former Pro Bowl quarterbacks complete just under 45 percent of their passes.

Green Bay Packers v Cleveland BrownsDerek Anderson went from the biggest surprise of 2007 to the biggest disappointment of 2008 and 2009 and now finds himself without a job. It won’t be for long though, as a number of teams figure to give him the opportunity to compete for a starting job. Arizona would make the most sense, but Oakland, Buffalo and Carolina could also be interested.

The more interesting question, however, is: where do the Browns go from here? They acquired Seneca Wallace on Monday, so they still have two quarterbacks with starting experience and not a whole lot of confidence in either one.

Well, I should say they shouldn’t have confidence in either one. But the fact that Mike Holmgren was willing to trade Wallace, whom he coached in Seattle, may mean he’s already decided who he’s going to force Eric Mangini to start in 2010.

For whatever its worth, I’d stick with Brady Quinn. He’s only made 12 career starts. Is that really enough time to evaluate a former 1st-round pick? Quinn has the basic tools to succeed in the NFL, but he’s struggled with his decision making. Just a guess here, but maybe that’s because Eric Mangini hasn’t allowed him to start more than six consecutive games.

Give Quinn the keys to the offense for 2010 and see how he does. If he fails, you’re no worse off than you are now, but at least you know what you have. Then take Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett in the 2011 draft and rebuild from there.

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

Offseason moves shouldn’t change Lions draft plans

The Lions have been one of the more active teams so far this offseason, and are starting to look like they may be one of the most improved teams for 2010.

The signing of Kyle Vanden Bosch and the trade for Corey Williams have given their defensive line a significant upgrade already, and its called into question whether they will still target Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy with the 2nd pick.

Numerous mock drafts have started popping up with Russell Okung in the No. 2 slot, but I think its premature to assume that Jim Schwartz is content with his defensive line. Williams is certainly a quality starting defensive tackle. But is he really the type of player that makes you pass on the consensus top two available prospects in the draft?

Detroit Lions Minicamp

Hill stretches before a practice during his rookie year

Perhaps this is the better question, since Williams already has one starting spot locked up: is Sammie Lee Hill the type of player that makes you pass on the consensus top two available prospects in the draft?

Hill, a 2009 4th-round pick, started all but one game in which he played last season. He’s an intriguing player due to his massive size (6’4, 329) but he wasn’t exactly productive as rookie. ProFootballFocus rated him 83rd out of 87 qualifying defensive tackles in ’09. To be fair, he was a rookie from Stillman College trying to compete in the NFL, but the fact remains that he has a long way to go.

The other issue with them selecting Okung is the fact that there may not be room for him in the starting lineup from day one. Schwartz has been extremely supportive of Jeff Backus (perhaps too supportive) and even endorsed him as a Pro Bowl candidate in 2009. At right tackle, 2008 1st-round pick Gosder Cherilus is starting to look like a bust but it would be prudent to give him a third year in a starting role before throwing in the towel.

To accommodate Okung the Lions would need to move either Backus or Cherilus (more likely Cherilus) to guard. In theory it actually sounds like a smart move, but you have to factor in how much money would then be invested in a mediocre offensive line featuring three former 1st-round selections. A rebuilding team like the Lions would be wise not to invest too much money in any one unit.

While the Lions are sure to explore the option of selecting Okung, ultimately I can’t envision them passing on Suh or McCoy. Jim Schwartz had pledged to build a bigger, stronger, more physical defense in the Detroit – a complete 180 from the previous regime’s defensive philosophy – and a change like that doesn’t happen with just one or two moves. Plugging in a player like Suh or McCoy would instantly give the Lions a defensive front seven that could compete within the NFC North.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Free Agency, Lions 1 Comment

Analyzing the Bears free agency moves

No matter what happens this season, you have to give the Bears credit for trying. Last season they went out and acquired what they believed to be a franchise quarterback. This season they grabbed the biggest name on the free agent market.

Carolina Panthers v San Diego ChargersThe Julius Peppers signing came as no surprise, and is clearly a smart move. The Bears pass rush has been good but not great in recent seasons and Peppers should put their defensive line over the top and make them one of the better units in the league.

With Peppers and Alex Brown teaming up the Bears now have an impressive combination at defensive end. Peppers excels as a pass rusher, while Brown rates as one of the games best run stoppers. Its a nice combination in a division that will require a balanced defense to compete with the Packers and Vikings.

I actually really like the signings of Brandon Manumaleuna and Chester Taylor. Neither one figures to make a significant impact, but they each fill specific needs which the Bears may not have been able to fill in the draft since they don’t own a draft pick until 3rd round.

The signing of Manumaleuna may spell the end of the road for Greg Olsen. Mike Martz refuses to use tight ends in the passing game, which essentially renders Olsen useless. He’ll more than likely be traded, which hopefully lands the Bears a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

Chester Taylor will backup Matt Forte, who struggled to carry the load in 2009. The only questionable part of the signing is that Taylor is most effective as a receiver, which also is a strong-suit of Forte’s game. Taylor’s impact figures to be less than it was in Minnesota, but nonetheless he’s a significant upgrade over Kevin Jones as Forte’s backup.

As far as the draft is concerned, these moves can allow the Bears to relax on draft day. Aside from receiver, they really don’t have a glaring need that needs to be addressed. They won’t be on the clock until the 75th pick, so Bears fans shouldn’t expect much, but they can now select the best available player without feeling the pressure to find an impact player at a spot where it can be difficult to find one.

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

Does the signing of Kampman change the Jaguars draft plans?

On Sunday the Jaguars signed former Packers DE/LB Aaron Kampman to address their need for a pass rusher. But is it enough?

Philadelphia Eagles v Green Bay PackersThe Jaguars managed just 14 sacks in 2010, easily the lowest total in the league. 2008 1st and 2nd round picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves struggled mightily in pass-rush situations and the Jaguars are clearly entertaining the idea of moving on.

It had been widely assumed that the Jaguars would consider Derrick Morgan with the 10th overall selection but the signing of Kampman puts that into doubt. Jack Del Rio has expressed hope that Derrick Harvey can still develop into a quality starter, which may mean the defensive line is set for 2010.

On paper, the Kampman signing looks like it may be enough. While Harvey has been considered a bust by some, he’s actually been well above average against the run. Adding a pass rusher like Kampman on the other side could actually give the Jaguars a very formidable pair of ends.

The other issue at play is how much money the Jaguars are willing to commit to their defensive line. If they drafted Morgan and kept Harvey they’d have two 1st-round picks and Kampman – that’s a lot of money tied up in one position.

Ultimately I don’t think the Jaguars can afford to draft Morgan. At this point another defensive end would qualify as a luxury pick and the Jaguars have too many holes to go that route. Players such as Dez Bryant and Joe Haden may be available and would fill positions of need.

As much as a like Morgan, taking him 10th overall would be an irresponsible move by GM Gene Smith.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Free Agency, Jaguars 4 Comments

With the 8th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft the Raiders select…

The scouting combine is now complete, which means one thing: Al Davis has his pick ready to go.

Or at least he will whenever he gets around to reading the 40 times.

Its comical that an organization worth over three-quarters of a billion dollars could be run by such an incompetent individual. Yet every year Al Davis amazes us with his draft blunders.

He’s enamored by the biggest, strongest and fastest players with little regard for their actually ability on the football field. As a result, the scouting combine has essentially become a glorified tryout for the Raiders. The players who rate at the top of their position instantly shoot up Davis’ draft board. Which means that on March 3 we can already narrow down the Raiders potential targets in the 1st round to three names…

2010 NFL Combine - Day Three

Jason Pierre-Paul works out at the combine

3. Bruce Campbell
Watch Campbell at the combine, and he looks like a top-10 pick. Watch him on film, and he looks like a 4th-rounder. That can only mean one thing: Al Davis will love him. Its hard to imagine anyone selecting Campbell in the top seven, meaning he’s all but guaranteed to be on the board for Davis at No. 8. Couple Campbell’s combine performance with the fact that the Raiders are desperate for an upgrade over Mario Henderson at left tackle, and you have the perfect scenario for another Raiders draft debacle.

2. Jason Pierre-Paul
Unlike Campbell, I don’t think this pick would be an unmitigated disaster. The Raiders have done a nice job developing defensive talent in recent years, and Pierre-Paul may have the highest ceiling of any defensive lineman in this year’s draft. His size/speed combination is unmatched by any other defensive linemen in this year’s draft class and he would be an excellent compliment to Richard Seymour on Oakland’s defensive line. The downside to selecting JPP is that he is as raw as they come, with just one year of experience at the D-I level. But when has that ever stopped Al Davis?

1. Taylor Mays
I first matched Mays up with the Raiders in my first 2010 mock draft back in August. Knowing that the Raiders would be selecting in the top 10 and that Mays was sure to impress at the combine it seemed like a match made in heaven. The only thing that may discourage Davis from selecting Mays is the fact that he selected a similar player (in terms of raw physical ability) in the 2nd round last year in Michael Mitchell.

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

Losers from the Scouting Combine

2010 NFL Combine - Day Two

McCluster runs the 40-yard dash

Dexter McCluster – RB – Mississippi
Undersized running backs and receivers need to impress in the 40-yard dash to boost their draft stock and McCluster fell well below expectations. His 4.58 was roughly two tenths of a second slower than expected and certainly raises some concerns. A big part of his draft stock is his ability to contribute in the return game, which requires more straight-line speed than any other aspect of the game.

Dan LeFevour – QB – Central Michigan
LeFevour’s ego is no secret to those who have followed his college career, but it far exceeded expectations this weekend. Despite having a 2nd/3rd round grade at best, LeFevour opted not to throw in Indy, which angered more than a few scouts. It could be argued that he had the most to prove, as he would have been the most highly-touted prospect throwing at the combine. He blew an opportunity to move up the draft boards, and may have actually fallen down some boards without even picking up a football.

Dez Bryant – WR – Oklahoma State
Often times players hurt themselves more during the interview process at the combine than during the actual drills. Bryant would certainly fall into that category. He reportedly hasn’t impressed teams with his explanation for his suspension and has come across as very immature and not very intelligent. It doesn’t take a whole lot of brains to play wide receiver, so it shouldn’t end up impacting his stock drastically, but it could cause a couple teams to think twice.

Brandon Spikes – ILB – Florida
Spikes decided not to run in Indy, which didn’t come as a surprise considering he’s viewed as one of the slower linebackers in this year’s draft class. Even though it was expected, you hate to see a player back out for those reasons. It won’t kill his draft stock, but the decision certainly rubbed some teams the wrong way.

Rolando McClain – ILB – Alabama
McClain also elected not to work out in Indy, but his late scratch came as a surprise. His agent announced that McClain has been nursing a hamstring injury since the national championship game. The only problem with that excuse is that its the first time he’s mentioned it to anyone. Just recently he had stated that he was training in Florida, but made no mention of any injury. Whenever players make a last-minute decision to skip the combine it raises some concerns about their competitiveness. Sometimes its more the agent’s fault than the player’s, but the true competitors will get onto the field no matter what. Like Spikes, this won’t destroy his stock but it could certainly cause a few teams to knock him down a few spots on their draft board.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Winners from the Scouting Combine

2010 NFL Combine - Day Two

Golden Tate runs the 40-yard dash

Golden Tate – WR – Notre Dame
Tate’s place in the draft was pretty much set in the late 1st/early 2nd round prior to the combine. No one (including Tate, himself) was expecting anything special in the 40-yard dash. But Tate wowed scouts with an official time of 4.42, – 4th best among receivers. Some scouts even timed him under the 4.4 mark. Tate’s game isn’t really about straight-line speed, but the impressive time should solidify his place somewhere in the top 40 picks.

Dorin Dickerson – TE – Pittsburgh
There was no question as to who was the most athletic tight end working out this weekend as Dickerson posted the fastest 40 time, the highest vertical leap and the longest broad jump at his position. And he further helped his stock by putting up the bench press 24 times – 4th most among tight ends. While he’s clearly an elite athlete, the fact that he only weight in at 6’1″, 226 pounds may necessitate a most to fullback. Regardless, he should come off the board in the top 100 picks.

Bruce Campbell – OT – Maryland
As expected, Campbell proved to be the most impressive physical specimen of the offensive linemen. One scout even went so far as to say he has the most impressive body he had ever seen. The downside to Campbell’s performance is that he’s now been slapped with the “workout warrior” label, which carries more negative connotations than positive ones. His collegiate production doesn’t warrant 1st-round consideration, but his workouts will likely land him a spot among the top 32 picks.

Trent Williams – OT – Oklahoma
While Campbell was the most impressive physical specimen among the offensive linemen, Williams may have been the most pleasantly surprising prospect. He was just .03 seconds behind Campbell in the 40, and actually out-performed Campbell in the vertical leap and the 20-yard shuttle. Entering the combine some had speculated that he may not have the athleticism to play left tackle. His performance should ease those concerns.

Jason Pierre-Paul – DE – South Florida
Due to his one year of experience at the D-I level, Pierre-Paul’s combine performance carried a little more weight than it does for most prospects. Since there’s little tape out there on JPP, scouts were looking forward to seeing how he stacked up amongst the more experienced linemen. He lived up to the hype, and appeared to have the most impressive blend of size and speed out of the defensive ends.

Tony Washington – OT – Abilene Christian
Washington was measured at 6’6″ with an arm length of 35.5 inches. Arm length is an underrated physical attribute that plays a key role in a lineman’s ability to keep defenders from getting into his chest, and Washington was among a handful that measure in at longer than 35 inches. Physically, he looks the part of an NFL left tackle. He further helped his stock with solid performances on the bench press and in the three-come drill. He comes with some character concerns, but physically he appears to have what it takes to succeed at the next level.

Tim Tebow – QB – Florida
I discussed Tebow’s performance at length yesterday, but its worth mentioning again. Most scouts expected Tebow to perform well and he lived up to expectations. If he plays quarterback, his workout numbers won’t matter much. But his performance definitely showed that he has the athleticism to play another position should he chose to go that route sometime in the future.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Did Tim Tebow help himself at the combine?

I’ve tried not to talk too much about Tim Tebow this offseason. He probably won’t be drafted higher than the mid-2nd round and no prospect in that range deserves the attention that Tebow receives from the major media outlets. But I do feel the need to address his performance at the combine on Sunday.

2010 NFL Combine - Day TwoTebow elected not to throw in Indy, but I believe he still managed to  improve his stock.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Tebow is whether or not he could be used as wild-cat quarterback. His supporters point to his impressive athleticism. His detractors point to his mediocre speed.

While Tebow’s 4.72 40-yard dash wasn’t anything special, he showed off his athleticism in a number of other drills. I was most impressed by his 3-cone drill, which is actually a much better gauge of a player’s in-game speed and agility than the 40-yard dash. Tebow’s 6.66 time in the cones  was tops among quarterbacks by .3 seconds, and was the best time among quarterbacks dating back to 2000. For comparison sake, Jahvid Best, who led all running backs in the 3-cone drill, was timed a 6.75.

Tebow also impressed with a 38.5 vertical leap. While its not a drill that directly relates to his in-game performance, it does demonstrate his explosiveness. An impressive vertical usually translates to above average quickness, as Tebow demonstrated in his other drills.

While I’m still skeptical about Tebow’s future as a quarterback. I have to admit he just may find a role in the wild cat sooner rather than later. He has the size of a fullback, but his quickness and explosiveness is far more impressive than any of the NFL’s current short-yardage backs.

While Tebow still has hopes of playing quarterback, as well he should, after seeing him work out I definitely feel as though he has a future in the NFL at another position should he ever chose to go that route. Given his versatility, athleticism and intangibles, he should be a lock to come off the board in the top 100 picks regardless of how his new throwing motion looks at his pro day.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft 1 Comment