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

Corey Chavous is an embarrassment to all draftniks

If you watched andy of the Senior Bowl coverage on the NFL Network you may be familiar with Corey Chavous’ site DraftNasty.com. I checked out the site when I first learned of it and quickly dismissed it as a feeble attempt of a former NFL player to become a draftnik. The site is poorly put together and ridiculous rankings such as Joe Haden as the 4th-ranked cornerback and Jermaine Gresham as the 7th-rated tight end cause him to lose all credibility.

But just in case you actually thought he had some shred of credibility based on the fact that he played in the NFL, I present to you his mock draft.

A few of the highlights:
1. Neither Jimmy Clausen, nor Sam Bradford are in the 1st round

2. Ryan Mathews goes 7th overall to the Browns

3. Amari Spievey is the 2nd cornerback selected, behind Patrick Robinson

I hate to drive traffic to his site by even providing the links. But mock drafts like these, especially by those such as Corey Chavous who have the ability to reach a significant audience, infuriate me. Its insulting to the fans and it hurts the credibility of everyone in the business. Those who see these clearly impossible mock drafts quickly become cynical towards all draftniks. I hear it all the time: how can you predict the draft months in advance? True, its difficult, but not nearly as hard some make it appear.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft 6 Comments

Bears Lining up Workouts Already

We usually don’t hear about teams bringing players in for workouts until after the combine, but the Bears are already setting their schedules.

The Bears have already lined up a workout with TCU OT Nic Richmond and South Dakota State DE Danny Batten. Both players appeared in the Texas vs The Nation all-star game and neither were invited to the combine.

Batten is the more highly regarded of the two and could come off the board as high as the 5th round. He’s an odd choice for the Bears, however. He doesn’t quite have the athleticism to play outside linebacker in their 4-3 defense, but is undersized for a down lineman.

As for Richmond, he has elite size (6’7″, 307) but lacks athleticism will be limited to right tackle in the pros which is the kiss of death for an offensive lineman’s draft stock. The least-coveted prospects are offensive lineman that are only capable of playing one position. It would be moderately surprising to hear his name called in April’s draft.

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

Demaryius Thomas Will Miss Combine

Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will miss the combine after suffering a broken foot while training on Wednesday. His agent, Todd France, told SI.com:

There are no longterm effects from the injury and Demaryius will be 100 percent by the time OTA’s begin. If surgery hastens the healing process, that is something we will consider.

Virginia Tech v Georgia TechIt could prove to be a devestating blow to Thomas’ draft stock. Having played in Paul Johnson’s triple-option the past two seasons, no one really knows how Thomas will fair in a pro-style offense. Getting a chance to step out onto the field and run routes in front of scouts could have eased much of the concern surrounding his ability to transition to the NFL.

Additionally, teams won’t have the ability to see Thomas run before the draft. As a big receiver (6’2″, 230 lbs) his 40-yard dash would have been one of the more anticipated events of the combine. Thomas likely would have run somewhere between 4.55 and 4.65, but on the off chance that he ran in the 4.4 range, his stock would have skyrocketed.

Its now tough to imagine Thomas coming off the board in the 1st round, as some expected he may. He could fall to the late 2nd round, at which point he could end up being one of the great steals of this year’s draft.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off