Browns Interested in Joe Haden

brownsBrowns beat writer Terry Pluto claims that Joe Haden is “very attractive” to the Browns, and could be their target with the 7th-overall selection in the draft. I can’t say this comes as a surprise to anyone, considering he’s the consensus pick for the Browns in most mock drafts, but I do feel the need to point out that Pluto doesn’t site any sources and it is extremely early for teams to be zeroing in on one or two prospects unless you’re the Rams or Lions.

Vanderbilt v FloridaRegardless of the credibility of Pluto’s report, Joe Haden would appear to be an option for the Browns. Eric Wright has one starting cornerback slots wrapped up, but the other side is wide open. Brandon McDonald has seen much of the playing time over the past two seasons but was benched this past year in favor of converted safety Mike Adams.

Considering that Eric Mangini selected Darrelle Revis in the 1st round in 2007, it would stand to reason that he may push for Haden. But it remains to be seen how much impact Mangini will have on the Browns offseason transactions.

Haden may be the cream of the crop among this year’s cornerbacks, but the fact remains he’s a risky selection in the top 10. Since 2000, only seven cornerbacks have been selected among the first 10 picks. And I have to wonder if any of their teams feel as though they got enough value out of that selection.

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The reason for the lack of success from teams draft cornerbacks in the top 10 is the fact that a cornerback is what I refer to as a “secondary position”. What I mean by this is that a cornerback can only be as good as the players around him. Take the greatest cornerback of all time and put him on a team without a pass rush and he’ll struggle because he can only stay with his man for so long. No matter how good the cornerback is, if those around him don’t do their jobs he will have a minimal impact on the game.

An example of a “primary position” would be an offensive tackle. An elite tackle is capable of having a perfect game regardless of the performance of those around him. He has a set assignment on each play and he is capable of completing that task independent of anyone else on the field. These are the players that are typically worth high draft picks because they can succeed in a loosing environment – unlike the “secondary” players who need others to perform their task first in order to be successful.

Applying this to the Browns situation, Joe Haden can only be so effective while playing behind a front seven that doesn’t generate a consistent pass rush. The Browns front seven improved dramatically throughout the season, but there are still holes to fill. The value might not be there for them at No. 7 but, if they can trade down, a 3-4 linebacker such as Brandon Graham or Jason Pierre-Paul may actually be a better fit for their needs and a safer pick for a team in need of a complete overhaul on defense.

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

Could Dez Bryant Land in Jacksonville?

jaguarsTo the surprise of no one the Jaguars are planning to release future Hall-of-Famer Torry Holt on Monday.

The loss of Holt creates a opening at receiver for the Jaguars – a position which, surprisingly, was a  strength in 2009. Holt and Mike Sims-Walker were one of the more effective duos on the league and helped the Jaguars make a brief push for the playoffs.

Mike Thomas, who started four games as a rookie in 2009, is a candidate to replace Holt in the starting lineup. However, Thomas is only 5’8″ and won’t be able to fully fill the shoes Holt leaves behind. Troy Williamson and Jarett Dillard, both of whom are coming off injuries, should also be in the mix.

While the Jaguars could fill the hole from within, its a position worth considering in the draft. There’s a strong possibility that Dez Bryant will be on the board at No. 11, which would pose an interesting dilemma for the Jags.NCAA Football: Pacific Life Holiday Bowl DEC 30

The consensus opinion right now is that the Jaguars need to address the defensive line in the draft. They ranked dead-last in the NFL in sacks this past season, and upgrading their pass rush is a must this offseason. However, starting defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves just completed their second year in the league. Is it too early to give up on them?

While adding a defensive lineman such as Derrick Morgan, Brandon Graham or Carlos Dunlap may make sense, its possible that the Jaguars would prefer to give Harvey and Groves another chance rather than spend another high pick on the position. At this point, their attention could simply turn to the best available player which could very well be Dez Bryant.

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

Mock Draft Explanation: Tyson Alualu to the Colts

coltsEvery year there are two or three players chosen in the 1st-round that don’t have a consensus 1st-round grade. Typically these players are selected by championship-caliber teams that have only one or two holes to fill and choose to do so through the draft.

This year, the Colts are one of those teams that could reach for a player to fill a specific need. Their most glaring needs are left tackle and defensive tackle. Given Peyton Manning’s sixth-sense for when to release the football, the Colts yielded a league-low 13 sacks that past season. For that reason, the Colts will likely try to get by with Charlie Johnson and/or Tony Ugoh at left tackle for another season and address the defensive line in the draft.

One of the keys to predicting who a team may reach for is understanding the personnel they need to run their defensive or offensive scheme. While the Colts have become a more physical defense this past year than in the Tony Dungy era, they still value athleticism over pure size. In other words, you likely won’t see Terrence Cody in Colts uniform in 2010.

In my latest mock draft I have the Colts selecting Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. While he likely won’t receive a 1st-round grade from many teams, he would be an excellent fit as a three-technique tackle in the Colts defense. What Alualu excels at is getting into the backfield and blowing up plays before they even develop.

CFB: UCLA vs CAL OCT 25From a pass-rushing perspective, Alualu would be a huge upgrade over the Colts current interior linemen. Alualu accumulated 7.5 sacks as a senior. The Colts interior linemen combined for just 5 sacks this past season.

Current Colts DT Daniel Muir operates primarily in the one-technique for the Colts. In other words, its his job to take on two blockers and open up lanes for the linebackers. Placing Alualu next to him could create a dangerous package, forcing opponents to decide who deserves more attention – Alualu or Dwight Freeney.

Its the ability to force teams into lose-lose situations like this that creates dominant defenses. Each player deserves the attention of more than one offensive lineman, and each player can consistently make plays in the backfield when faced with a one-on-one assignment.

Ultimately its too early to know if the Colts have an interest in Alualu, or anyone else for that matter. Their attention is likely focused elsewhere this week. But when the time comes, don’t be surprised to hear Alualu’s named linked the Colts in the pre-draft process.

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

Jack Del Rio Questions David Garrard

jaguarsAnother day, another questionable comment from the Jaguars organization.

Yesterday on the Jim Rome show (brought to our attention by the folks as ProFootballTalk), Rome asked Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio if David Garrard is a “Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.” Del Rio responded:

Well that’s a, uh, good question.  I think I would say a quarterback like can be that with a great supporting cast.  You know, I don’t know.  When you look at teams that have won multiple championships, I think they’ve had elite quarterbacks.

That’s not exactly the ringing endorsement you want to hear from your coach when there are already rumors flying around that your franchise may want to bring in a new quarterback in the draft.

Not that contracts mean anything in this league, but Garrard is signed through 2014. How exactly does one go from signing your quarterback to a six-year, $60M contract in 2008, to potentially moving in a different direction in 2010?

Obviously Tim Tebow would be the popular choice to replace Garrard. Well, among those not named Uche, that is. But realistically, what are the Jaguars options?

The one option that may fall into their lap is Jimmy Clausen. While he’s widely considered to have top-10 talent, concerns about his maturity level could cause him to fall. If he’s on the board when the Jaguars are on the clock at No. 11, they should give him some serious consideration.

Another option would be wait to the 3rd round (the don’t own a 2nd-round pick) and grab one of the slew of quarterbacks that are graded in that range. Anyone from Colt McCoy to Tony Pike to Dan LeFevour could be an option there. With any of those guys, the ideal scenario would be let them sit for at least a year under Garrard before taking over.

One other name that may fit nicely in Jacksonville is West Virginia Jarrett Brown. He’ll likely still be on the board when they’re on the clock at No. 74, and he fits the mold of the type of quarterback Jacksonville has liked in the past. Like Garrard and Jaguars legend Mark Brunell, Brown is a mobile quarterback that can buy time with his feel and occasionally take off and pick some yards on his own.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Jaguars 7 Comments

Tebow Not Wanted in Jacksonville?

jaguarsApparently not everyone in Jacksonville loves Tim Tebow.

According to ProFootballTalk, Jaguars offensive lineman Uche Nwaneri posted the following comments on the team’s message board:

“5. He cant throw. PERIOD.

4. He cant read any coverage other than probably cover 2 or man cov. PERIOD (the only cov. in college lol).

3. the QB wildcat WILL NOT WORK IN THIS LEAGUE. PERIOD.

2. He doesnt know how to take a snap from center, nor is he even comfortable enough to.

1. HE CANT THROW. and thats really something you either have or not, never seen a qb who couldnt ever throw, just all of a sudden be able to throw just because hes now in the NFL.”

Now I’m not the biggest Tebow fan out there, but I feel like I have to defend him to an extent. So lets go through Nwaneri’s points:

5. uche_nwaneriI completely disagree with this one. If there’s anything Tebow can do, its throw the ball. He has a great arm and I’m confident his accuracy can improve with the help of an NFL coaching staff. Much of his accuracy and timing issues come from his motion, which can certainly be fixed if he’s willing to work at it.

4. Can any college quarterbacks read multiple defensive coverages? Nwaneri himself said that its the only one used in college. In reality that’s not entirely true, but its fair to say the schemes will get much more difficult in the NFL. That said, how is Jimmy Clausen or Sam Bradford any better prepared to face a Rex Ryan defense than Tebow?

3. Uhh, Uche… there’s a team in your state that seems to have the wildcat working pretty well for them. Now maybe Tebow isn’t going to be a great wildcat quarterback, but to say that it wont work, period, isn’t a fair statement.

2. Plenty of college quarterbacks enter the league having taken the majority of their snaps from the shotgun. Sam Bradford, the No. 1 quarterback on many draft boards, played in a spread offense at Oklahoma. That alone isn’t a reason to downgrade a prospect. I have no question in Tebow’s ability to learn how to stick his hand under the center’s butt and take the ball.

1. Isn’t this the same as No. 5?

As I said, I don’t think Tebow will be a star. In fact, I have him as my 9th-rated quarterback just one slot ahead of Troy’s Levi Brown. But I also think its entirely unfair for Nwaneri to open up – on the team’s message board, no less – about his opinions on a college quarterback who could very well be his teammate in a couple months.

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

Mike Martz and his Impact on the Bears Draft

bearsCoordinators don’t often have a significant say on who their team drafts. But there are a select few that have the standing within their organization  to be heard on draft day. Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau are two that come to mind.

While there are certainly those that believe Mike Martz’s offensive genius is overrated, there is also little doubt that the Bears feel otherwise. He’s been hired to revive Jay Cutler’s career and, as a result, one would have to assume he’ll have a strong say in the offensive personnel decisions. And when it comes to the draft, that may be bad news for the Bears.

Here’s a look at Mike Martz’s offensive skill position draft selections since becoming the Rams offensive coordinator in 1999, when he presumably was high enough on the food chain to have the ear of Dick Vermeil, one of Martz’s most vocal supporters. Aside from the selections of Torry Holt, Steven Jackson and Calvin Johnson, the list reads like a who’s who of “who’s that?”

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Martz certainly deserves credit for going 3 for 4 with the 1st-round picks. The Trung Canidate blunder is easily excused by the selection of Holt, Jackson and Johnson. However, the lack of contributors from the 2nd round and beyond is startling. His most productive non-1st-round pick has been Kevin Curtis, and that’s not saying much.

New England Patriots v St. Louis RamsI also included tight ends in this list of “skill position” players, to demonstrate a potential issue somewhat unrelated to the draft. Mike Martz prefers his tight ends to be an extension of the offensive line, which is bad news for Greg Olsen. Given the Bears current group of receivers, Martz would be foolish not to utilize his skill set, but his track record indicates that he won’t. It will be interesting to see how the Bears handle this. Trading Olsen (they could probably get a 2nd-round pick in return) would be a wise move if Martz isn’t interested in making him a focal point of the offense.

Ultimately the Bears may be just fine in the draft. GM Jerry Angelo still has the final say on all personnel decisions, and he has a strong track record in the draft. But I have to believe Angelo will lean towards siding with Martz on any decisions involving offensive skill positions. He brought in arguably the league’s most high-profile offensive coordinator for a reason and his opinion will be valued. For the sake of Bears fans, however, we urge Angelo to handle the draft on his own.

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

Clinton Portis Returning to Washington?

redskinsIn an interview on ESPN’s First Take this morning Clinton Portis opened up about his “rough” 2009 season, and seemed to indicate that he expects to return to Washington in 2010. (see transcript here)

Given his injury-plagued and generally unproductive season, it would seem unlikely that Portis’ prophecy comes true. Oh, and then there’s the $6.34M he’s owed in 2010.

In reality, Mike Shanahan just isn’t going to keep the washed up running back who’s work ethic he has criticized and who he once traded away while in Denver. The more likely scenario will be for Shanahan to add a running back somewhere between the 2nd and 4th rounds of the draft.

ACC Championship  - Clemson v Georgia TechIn our latest mock draft we have the ‘Skins selecting Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer in the 2nd round.

Dwyer’s the type of downhill runner that Shanahan covets. His style is similar to former Broncos running backs Terrell Davis, Reuben Droughns, Selvin Young and even comparable to Portis. Other options in the 2nd or 3rd round may be Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty, Auburn’s Ben Tate, Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon or Stanford’s Toby Gerhart.

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

Do The Redskins Really Need a Quarterback?

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

redskinsNew Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has said he’s willing to give Jason Campbell a chance, but we all know Daniel Snyder will be pushing hard for either Jimmy Clausen or Sam Bradford in the draft. For all intents and purposes, Campbell’s career in Washington would appear to be over. But do the Redskins really need a new quarterback?

There’s no question that Campbell isn’t a franchise quarterback. He isn’t on the level of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning and never will be. But the stats seam to indicate that Campbell can be a winning quarterback in this league.

Using the stats at ProFootballFocus I tried to go beyond the box score to examine just how effective Campbell was in 2009, independent of those around him.

NFL Bucs Defensive End Gaines Adams 1983-2010 dies at 26 - Heart FailureThe first thing I looked at was how much Campbell was hurt by his offensive line. Once Chris Samuels went down with a potential career-ending injury in Week 5, the Redskins suddenly had one of the worst offensive lines in the game. Levi Jones was picked up midseason to play left tackle, but was just a shell of his former self. The result was a battered and bruised quarterback.

Campbell was sacked 42 times, tied for the third most in the league. But that doesn’t really tell us how much his linemen impacted his stats. To do this, I looked up which quarterbacks where hit while throwing most often and which ones had the most balls batted down or tipped at the line of scrimmage – the two stats that best quantify the offensive line’s impact on the quarterback’s stats. As expected, Campbell ranked near the top in each category.

jasoncampbell_hit
It wasn’t just the offensive line that gave Campbell trouble though. His receiver’s didn’t help much either. If you remove the times Campbell threw the ball away or spiked the ball, he made 483 pass attempts this past season. 30 of those, or 6.2 percent, were dropped. It isn’t a horrendous percentage, but still high enough to rank him 18th among quarterbacks that took at least 25 percent of their teams snaps.Washington Redskins v Arizona Cardinals

To expand upon this, I added the drops to the balls thrown away and spiked and removed them from his pass attempts. I then divided his completions by this new pass attempts number to find his “true completion percentage”.

The top 10 in this category reads like a who’s who of the game’s top quarterbacks… plus Jason Campbell.

jasoncampbell_truecomppct

I would be remiss if I didn’t also throw some blame in the direction of the coaching staff. Over the first 13 games of the season, Campbell threw the ball on 58.4 percent of his snaps – a high, but not out of the ordinary percentage. Over the final three weeks – during which he averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt, down from 7.4 through the first 13 weeks – Campbell threw the ball 69.4 percent of the time. With an offensive line as porous as the Redskins, that’s an inexcusable percentage for their coaches to call. Quite simply, they put Campbell in a position to fail.

After looking at these stats I see no reason why Jason Campbell couldn’t eventually be a successful quarterback in the NFL. Rather than rebuild with a rookie quarterback, the smarter move may actually be to draft a player such as Russell Okung and attempt to acquire a proven receiver such as Anquan Boldin in the offseason. That said, it sounds as though the end of this book has already been written. Too many bridges have been burnt for Campbell to revive his career in Washington.

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

Combine Invitations Officially Released

combineThe 2010 NFL Combine invitations have been handed out. When over 200 players are invited, they’re never going to miss any big names. But, as always, a few names do appear to be missing from the list. Here’s a few snubs that caught my eye:

Freddie Barnes – WR – Bowling Green

Easily the worst of the snubs. He doesn’t have impressive measurables, but the guy can play. He’ll be a 4th or 5th round pick.

Bill Stull – QB – Pittsburgh
After a truly awful junior year Stull rebounded and was arguably the best quarterback in the Big East last season. He deserves a serious look in the late rounds.

Jonathan Crompton – QB – Tennessee
Like Stull, Crompton came out of nowhere and was impressive late in the season. He has the size and arm strength, so if it really did click for him this past season he’s a legitimate prospect.

Matt Nichols – QB – Eastern Washington
I always like to see FCS players get invited to the combine because its their chance to shine in front of a large audience. We already know what to expect from the big school guys. He has the size, and put up great numbers (33 TD, 6 Int) this season.

LaMarcus Coker – RB – Hampton
Coker was kicked out of Tennessee for failing multiple drug tests, but looked good during his time at Hampton. His athleticism, plus his experience on special teams could land him a spot in the late rounds.

Jeffrey Fitzgerald – DE – Kansas State
Fitzgerald isn’t a great athlete, but he has elite size and strength for the position. He may be a candidate to switch inside to defensive tackle. Could also play end in a 3-4.

Deji Karim – RB – Southern Illinois
Only 5’9″, but has good speed and is well built. Would have benefited from showing off his strength in person and dispelling the belief that he’s too small.

Danny Batten – DE – South Dakota State
Highly productive FCS player that should be a mid-to-late round selection. He has the athleticism to play linebacker in a 3-4 system.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft 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