Dexter McCluster disappoints in the 40

Diminutive Ole Miss running back/receiver Dexter McCluster ran an extremely disappointing 4.58 forty-yard dash today. According to Daniel Jeremiah of the MoveTheSticks.com no one had him clocked at faster than a 4.57.

40 times rarely hurt a player significantly, but for a guy who measured in a 5’9″, 172 pounds, this is a huge blow to his stock.

2010 NFL Combine - Day TwoSome skeptics argue that the 40-yard dash is irrelevant because football players rarely run 40 yards in a straight line. But if there’s one position where it definitely does matter its return specialists. Part of the intrigue to McCluster is his potential as a kick/punt returner, potentially in the mold of a Darren Sproles. But few, if any, elite return specialists were timed below 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

To be fair, there’s no question that McCluster plays faster than his timed speed. His 40 time was comparable to Toby Gerhart, but no one would argue that Gerhart has the same game-speed as McCluster.

It will be interesting to see how McCluster rebounds at his pro day on March 23. A sub-4.5 time would certainly ease the concerns about his speed, but its difficult to imagine a drastic improvement. Even if he does show a improve, he’ll then have to answer question about why he wasn’t prepared for the combine.

Following his impressive performance in the Cotton Bowl, I had been saying that McCluster deserved to be a 2nd round pick. He was rated at No. 60 on our pre-combine big board.

Its safe to say we’ll be dropping him to a 3rd round grade after his performance at the combine.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft 2 Comments

A closer look at Bruce Campbell

Well by now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the next great left tackle, Bruce Campbell. Fresh off his 4.85 forty-yard dash and 38 reps on the bench press, some have gone so far as to say he’s the most impressive physical specimen they’ve ever seen.

2010 NFL Combine - Day OneWe all thought Tim Tebow was going to be the most divisive prospect in this year’s draft, but it looks like that title may go to Campbell. At this point scouts either love him or hate. Depending on who you talk to he’s either the next Orlando Pace or the next Trezelle Jenkins.

In reality he’s probably somewhere in between, but I have to bet I’d lean towards Jenkins.

The issue I have with Campbell really isn’t with Campbell himself. Its with the media that heaps on the praise for meaningless workout numbers and with the team that will inevitably draft him far too high. Nothing in Campbell’s collegiate career says that he should be a 1st round pick. Despite the athleticism, he was a below-average left tackle at Maryland this past season. He struggles with basic assignments, he rarely finishes off his blocks and he’ll occasionally completely whiff on an attempt.

That said, there’s no denying his natural ability. His size and athleticism make him an ideal candidate to play left tackle in the pros. If he is placed in the right situation where he can sit and learn from NFL coaches and veterans he could certainly develop into one of the better linemen in the game. The problem is, Campbell will likely be selected in the 1st round where he’ll be expected to start from day one. Unlike quarterbacks and receivers, the expectation is that offensive tackles should transition seamlessly to the pros, as recent draftees Joe Thomas, Jake Long and Ryan Clady have done.

When players are thrown into the mix from day one, they either sink or swim. There’s no middle ground. A polished collegiate lineman can often learn more by playing than from watching, its just the nature of the position. But those with basic fundamental flaws like Campbell only have those issues reinforced by attempting to keep up with the pace of the NFL game.

A fair comparison to make here is with Tim Tebow. Like Tebow, Campbell has incredible physical tools. But he has some bad habits, not unlike Tebow’s throwing motion. If Tebow were thrown into a starting role from day one it would be next to impossible to fix the throwing motion while trying to survive on the field every Sunday. Breaking bad habits often requires taking a step backwards before taking two steps forward, and its difficult to force yourself to do that when you’re learning from in-game situations.

Campbell’s flaws aren’t as cut and dry as Tebow’s throwing motion but the same concept applies. He’s developed bad habits which he was capable of playing with in college because of his dominant size and strength. The average collegiate lineman can’t compete with an athlete of Campbell’s stature, regardless of his fundamentals. If forced into NFL action too early, however, he’ll continue those habits of not finishing off blocks, allowing defenders to get into his chest and using poor footwork.

Campbell needs to be taken aside and told to re-learn the position starting with the basic fundamentals. Ideally, a team could select Campbell in the 3rd round and develop him over the course of a few seasons. As a 1st-round pick, however, Campbell will be put in difficult situations far too early. NFL teams want to win now, and most head coaches don’t have the job stability to look three years down the road.

Its a sad reality, but teams are so focused on winning now that players like Campbell often aren’t given a fair opportunity to succeed.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Dolphins meet with Golden Tate

According to the Miami Herald the Dolphins met with Golden Tate on Friday evening. Its highly unlikely that Bill Parcells would consider selecting Tate, or any receiver, with the 12th pick. But even if he fell to the 2nd round I’m not sure he’s a great fit for the Dolphins.

CFB: Notre Dame vs Pitt NOV 1What the Dolphins need is a true No. 1 receiver – a Larry Fitzgerald/Andre Johnson type. Even if Tate reaches his full potentially he’ll never be that type of player. He’s too small to be an elite red zone threat and not fast enough to stretch the field with consistensy.

Tate is essentially a slower version of Percy Harvin – a guy that can line up anywhere on the field and has a sense for finding ways to get open. Unlike most true No. 1 receivers, he does his damage after the ball is already in his hands, at which point he becomes a running back.

What the Dolphins need is someone who can get open on his own. They already have a guy to stretch the field (Ted Ginn), a possession receiver (Davone Bess) and a slot receiver (Brian Hartline). Now they need someone who can win the one-on-one matchups, especially in the red zone.

Tate can be a valuable asset for someone, but Miami just isn’t the right fit.

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

A closer look at Anthony Davis

I’ve noticed more and more mock drafts have Anthony Davis placed in the top 10 lately. I certainly don’t dispute that it could happen, team’s have made far worse top-10 picks in the past, but in my opinion Davis is far from a top-10 prospect.

The New York Post ran a revealing story on Davis today, essentially detailing all the reasons I wouldn’t touch him in the top 10.

CFB: Connecticut vs Rutgers OCT 18The first issue with Davis is his weight. As a freshman he weighed in at 366 pounds. He has since cut down his weight, but it wasn’t easy. In 2008 he was benched when he came to camp over his targeted weight of 315 pounds. Today at the combine he weighed in at 323 pounds – not grossly overweight, but enough to raise some concern. Anytime a player doesn’t show up at the combine in the best shape of his life it causes some concerns. This is biggest job interview of the player’s life, if he can’t get motivated to get in shape now, when will he?

Another issue with Davis is his maturity level. Its tied to his weight issues, but it goes deeper than that. In 2008 he was suspended for violating team rules and was benched again later in the season for missing a team meeting. Now obviously these incidents aren’t enough to drag a player’s stock down too far, but it certainly raises some red flags.

Perhaps the biggest issue I have with Anthony Davis is the fact that he frequently looks lazy on the field. Take a look at the clips put together by ProDraftParty.com and you’ll see how he rarely finishes off his blocks. His size and strength should make him capable of dominating the inferior linemen he was facing in the Big East, but he rarely did.

On film he appears to take a lazy approach far too often. He gets a decent initial pop, but then sits back and allows the defender to recover. He was frequently going up against guys 50-75 pounds lighter than him. Getting beat on the outside by a speed rusher is one thing, but there were multiple occasions when inferior linemen beat him on an inside pass rush.

Add it all together and you get a very talented prospect with number of question marks. Personally, I wouldn’t touch him with a top-10 pick and probably wouldn’t select him in the 1st round at all. That said, teams are always looking for left tackles and Davis has the rare physical tools which could allow him to excel at that position. Based on potential alone, there will likely be someone out there willing to look past his shortcomings and take him within the first 32 picks.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft 1 Comment

“Longshot” that Anderson and Quinn will be back in Cleveland

On Friday Mike Holmgren said what we’ve long assumed: that either Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn will be traded or released this offseason. When asked if they’ll both be on the roster this season he responded:

“I think it’s a longshot, but never say never. But I’ve gone on record saying I don’t like quarterback competitions. They did that last year. And that didn’t work all that great.”

Steelers Forces Cleveland Browns QB Anderson to Fumble in PittsburghThe odd man out is likely to be Derek Anderson. He’s due a $2M roster bonus on March 19, making it unlikely that the Browns will keep him around. Unfortunately for Holmgren and the Browns, the roster bonus means it will be extremely difficult to trade Anderson. Teams know that the Browns don’t want to pay his bonus, so if they want him they can pick him up after he is released by the Browns.

What further hurts the Browns is the number of available quarterbacks on the trade market. Jason Campbell and the Eagles three-headed quarterback monster all appear to be on the trading block and all are better options that Anderson.

Anderson has a big arm, but that’s about it. During his 2007 Pro Bowl season he benefited from playing behind a dominant offensive line and from the Pro Bowl-caliber play of Braylon Edwards. He could certainly be a serviceable starter again, but its unlikely that a team will acquire him with hopes of making him their long-term solution at the position.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Browns 1 Comment

Schefter guarantees Rams will take Sam Bradford

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made a bold prediction on Thursday that has NFL buzzing.

“I would like to record something here, on February 24th.  Two months from the draft.  And tell you who the number one pick is gonna be right now… When all is said and done, that the Rams’ number one pick on April 22nd, two months from now, will be Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford.  I’m willing to take all bets on that one right now.”

I’ve had Bradford going to the Rams in my mock draft for the past two weeks, and for most of the offseason for that matter. I told a friend the other day that I think there is a 90 percent chance that the Rams take Bradford, 9 percent chance its Ndamukong Suh, and 1 percent chance someone else.

Normally I don’t put any stock in what I hear from TV’s talking heads in terms of draft rumors at this time of the year. It is far too early to make any definitive statements on the draft. However, I’m inclined to believe Schefter has some reliable sources on this report for two reasons:

1. Schefter rarely goes out on a limb. He isn’t always right (no reporter is) but he seems to do a much better job than some of his counterparts at sorting out the crap he’s fed from front offices from the legitimate stories. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard him make a statement as bold as this, meaning he must have a pretty good reason to believe he’s right.

2. The Rams are the only team capable of making a decision this early. I would dismiss a rumor connecting any other player to any other team in February, but the Rams have the ability to make their selection whenever they want. I’m sure the Rams will wait until Bradford’s March 25th workout before truly settling on him, but it isn’t unreasonable to think that they’re strongly leaning his direction.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Rams 1 Comment

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

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