Senior Bowl Practice Notes: Thursday

Senior Bowl Practice Notes

Things were starting to wind down at the Senior Bowl today, so not a ton of action. Players were just in shorts and there’s only so much you can learn from a practice without pads. So here’s a few notes on the day:

- Ohio WR Taylor Price is plummeting down by draft board. He dropped two easy passes today and a third one that was more difficult but catchable.

- Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon has been auditioning for the role of the next Ray Lewis. He’s easily the most vocal player on the field. Coaches love vocal leaders, but I’m not sure the Senior Bowl is really the place for trash talking. Teams would much rather see a quite player taking in all the coaching. I’m not sure it will have any impact on his stock, but its worth taking note of for any teams interesting in bringing him aboard in the late 1st or early 2nd round.

- Pittsburgh TE/FB/WR Dorin Dickerson lined up at receiver today and looked surprisingly good. As I mentioned in my notes yesterday I have him listed as a fullback (really more of an H-back), but it seems like teams are more interested in spreading him out wide and using him as a receiver. The only drawback to that is he really doesn’t have the height to be red zone target as most tight ends are used these days. I could see him being used in a way similar to how the Colts use Dallas Clark.

- Utah OL Zane Beadles has taken snaps at tackle, guard and center. He hasn’t blown me away but the fact that he’s being moved around will increase his stock. Versatility is key for any lineman who isn’t viewed as a potential franchise left tackle.

- A lot of scouts have been impressed with Boise State CB Kyle Wilson this week. I’m not quite as excited though. I certainly don’t think he’s done anything to hurt his stock, but I just don’t think he’s physical enough to earn a spot in the 1st round as some have suggested. He did a nice job covering Mardy Gilyard on a number of plays today, but that’s a favorable matchup. I want to see him matched up with someone like Riley Cooper in the game on Saturday and see how he does.

- I continue to be unimpressed with UMass OL Vladimir Ducasse. His size is intriguing but he has a ton of work to do. He plays too upright, and I can’t help but think he looks disinterested. I just haven’t seen a mean streak in him which is necessary to excel in the NFL.

- In one 7-on-7 drill Michigan DE Brandon Graham blew past Ducasse. It was clear that Ducasse simply didn’t have the quick first step out of his stance necessary to slow down an elite speed rusher like Graham. As for Graham, he is starting to look like a 1st-round lock. I love his potential as an elite pass rusher. He could have a Brian Orakpo-like rookie year if he lands in the right defensive scheme.

- Oklahoma CB Perrish Cox continues to have a huge week. He picked of a couple passes yesterday and nearly had another today in 11-on-11 drills off of former teammate Zac Robinson. He has the speed to stick with receivers and the quickness and awareness to make plays on the ball.

- On the flip side, Alabama CB Javier Arenas continues to be unimpressive. I don’t see him as anything more than a nickel corner in the NFL. He’s really struggled when lined up on the outside against bigger receivers, namely Riley Cooper.

- Zac Robinson further improved his stock today. He looked very crisp in 11-on-11 drills. He looks very comfortable standing in the pocket and going through his reads. I was initially surprised he got invited, but he’s exceed expectations this week.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Senior Bowl Practice Notes: Wednesday

Not surprisingly the third day of practice wasn’t all that eventful. As usual, we’ve got a pretty good idea as to what everyone is capable of at this point in time.

Perhaps the biggest winner of the day, in my mind, was Mike Iupati. Yesterday he split time between tackle and guard and he really disappointed at tackle. Today, playing mostly guard, he was dominant once again. At this point in time I’m willing to give him a solid 1st-round grade as a guard. Its disappointing that it doesn’t look like he can play tackle, but he should be an elite guard at the next level.

Another winner was Oregon State QB Sean Canfield. He’s a tough quarterback to judge, but I came away impressed overall. In drills, he looks very mediocre. His arm strength is average at best and he doesn’t always throw the prettiest ball. Once thrown into game situations, however, he steps it up another level. In 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills he looked very good, consistently hitting receivers in stride. He also looked very god throwing the ball on the run. He ran a number of bootlegs and hit Clemson WR Jacoby Ford a couple times.

Sticking with the quarterbacks, Dan LeFevour has made a strong case to be considered the top quarterback at the Senior Bowl. He’s exceeded my expectations and I’ll be adjusting my quarterback rankings soon as a result. At Central Michigan he rarely threw the ball downfield, which made me skeptical about his ability to play at the next level. You’d never know he played in a gimmick offense based on his performance this week though. He has a strong arm and made a number of great deep passes today including a beautiful pass which he dropped over the shoulder of Jacoby Ford.

Speaking of Ford, he had a terrific day. I really expected him to step up as an elite speed receiver this week but he’s been much more than that. In fact, his lack of speed has been a bit disappointing but he looks like the complete package. He runs great routes and I love the way he adjust to the ball while its in the air. He could end up coming off the board as high as the 2nd round.

Another player I was impressed with today was Pittsburgh TE Dorin Dickerson. I have him listed as a FB right now because I didn’t think he had the size to play tight end, but he’s proved me wrong this week. He is undersized, and it shows in his blocking, but he’s looked very good as a receiver. He even stretched the field a few times, hauling in a deep pass from Tony Pike at one point.

One of the players I was most excited to see this week was Miami TE Jimmy Graham. He went to Miami to play basketball but joined the football team this past season. He has elite size (6’8″) but is very, very raw. He’s looked good at times and definitely deserves a shot at the next level. At one point he tossed Florida State LB Dakota Watson to the ground and later hauled in a deep pass from Tim Tebow that was down near his knees.

A few other quick notes:
- Ohio WR Taylor Price looked shaky today, dropping a very easy pass from LeFevour at one point. I expected him to be one of the lesser-known prospects that stepped up but it hasn’t happened.

- Penn State DT Jared Odrick has been consistently getting into the backfield all week. Today he blew through the line of scrimmage and stuff a draw play in the backfield in 11-on-11 drills. He’s slightly undersized but incredibly athletic for an interior lineman. He would be a great fit for the Colts.

- Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson has been better than expected. He throws a very nice deep ball.

- South Carolina LB Eric Norwood has excelled as a pass rusher. He used a nice swim move to get into the backfield today.

- Kentucky CB Trevard Lindley had a rough day. Mississippi WR Shay Hodge blew past his press coverage in 1-on-1s and Lindley fell down trying to catch up. He’s got a lot of work to do to recover the rest of the week.

- I’m really starting to like Florida WR Riley Cooper. He never really got a chance to star in Florida’s offense because they value speed over size, but he’s looked great this week. He’s got great hands and he knows how to use his body to his advantage.

- Alabama CB Javier Arenas has been shaky. The worst part of his day came when Riley Cooper easily used his size to brush past Arenas and shield him from making a play on the ball. I really think Arenas’ lack of size will limit his ability to make an impact in the NFL.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Darryl Clark Interview

DraftAce’s Mike Band caught up with Penn State QB Darryl Clark at the East/West Shrine Game last week…

How’s your experience going this week throughout the practice? darrylclark

It was a bit rough at the very beginning. I was a late add-on so I was a little bit behind, trying to play a little bit of catch up. The first couple of days were a bit rough trying to get the timing down but I picked it up towards the end of the week. I didn’t know how many reps I was going to get before this football game, so I just told myself just make sure you make the best out of it, every play, and every throw you make.

Some people consider you as one of those athletic quarterbacks. Do you feel that you could make the transition like Michael Robinson did to another position in the NFL?

If I have to, yes but I would rather play quarterback. That’s my main position and that’s would I want to play at the next level. That depends on what they think. If they need me to play another position then that is what I would do.

What do you think is your best attribute as a quarterback?

Just to be able to make all the throws when needed and when no one’s open, you have to take off, and I can make a couple guys miss. I’m well coachable and I’m definitely a work-in-progress so we’ll see what happens in the next month.

Where would you rather play on Saturday: Penn State white out, or the victory last season against Ohio State in the Horseshoe?

Hmm. that’s a tough one, because that game last year really meant something, it really meant a whole lot, but I got to be at home at the white out. There’s nothing ever like that. You have 110,000 strong wearing white. All you see is white all over the place. You can look up into the stands and you got the place rockin’ when things are going well. It’s an unbelievable experience, so I would probably have to say that one. It’s always good to win on the road, but when you have all those people behind you at home, at Beaver, primetime, there’s nothing else like it.

If you could throw to any wide receiver in this game right now, who would it be?

Oh wow. I thought Blair White did a good job for Michigan State, and obviously the wide receiver from Bowling Green he stepped up big. It would probably be those two. Those two were consistent throughout the week. They just made plays.

What was it like playing for Joe Paterno in a prestigious and traditional program like that?

It was unreal. Jay Paterno, my quarterback coach, and the rest of the coaching staff made such an impact on my life since 2005 when I first stepped on campus. Coach Jay was definitely a guy that backed me 100% when things didn’t happen right for me and he said remain patient and when your time comes to take advantage of your responsibilities and opportunities. With Joe, obviously there was a quarterback controversy with me and Pat Devlin and it was a very tight run but he felt I was the best out of us. When times were bad and I wasn’t playing well, he didn’t yank me right away so that goes to show you the faith he had in me. It has been great. He has definitely prepared me for life as well as football and he always harps on the little things. We have a quote in the quarterback room: “take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” As you get older, you really start to understand what he means by that. It has been great. I enjoyed every year, all five years of it.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Senior Bowl Practice Notes: Tuesday

It was an eventful day at the Senior Bowl. A number of players made statements – both good and bad – about their draft stock.

What stood out most to me were the struggles of two small school offensive linemen. Both Mike Iupati and Vladimir Ducasse struggled throughout the day.

Iupati look fairly good when lined up at guard, dominating Purdue DT Mike Neal and Louisiana Tech DT D’Anthony Smith in one-on-one drills. But when he moved out to tackle he really struggled. At one point Cal DT Tyson Alualu bull rushed Iupati and knocked him on his back. Then later in the day in a battle of small-school prospects Arkansas State DE Alex Carrington tossed Iupati to the ground effortlessly. Iupati remains the top guard on my draft board, but he no longer looks like a 1st-round pick in my mind.

Ducasse also struggled and did far more damage to his stock than Iupati. Ducasse didn’t enter with the same hype, but there were those that felt he had a chance to sneak into the 1st round with a strong performance. He certainly has the size for the position, but he’s got a lot of work to do to catch up to the guys who have been playing in the FBS. Ducasse lined up at both guard and tackle and struggled in both positions. His footwork was poor at both positions and he played too upright. Michigan DE Brandon Graham took advantage and breezed past him with minimal effort. After today’s performance he’ll have to work hard to earn even an early 3rd-round grade.

Speaking of Brandon Graham… wow. He looked very impressive today. I don’t think I saw a single lineman get the better of him. There were times when they fought to a stalemate, but Graham was never the loser. He looked great against Ducasse but really stood out against Utah OT Zane Beadles. On consecutive reps he used a simple speed rush and then a spin move to easily get past Beadles. He made a strong case to receive a 1st-round grade.

Another note on Graham, according to Will Spencer of DraftBreakdown.com he was particularly excited to speak to the Ravens. Here are two of Will’s tweets on it… 1st tweet, 2nd tweet.

Alex Carrington was another lineman that looked very good. I already mentioned that he dominated Mike Iupati, but he looked good throughout the day. He’s tall and very athletic and appears to have excellent upper body strength. Its still early – we’ve really only seen him excel in pass rush drills – but he could earn a 2nd-round grade.

A few other quick notes:
- Rutgers CB Devin McCourty struggled when in press coverage today. He just doesn’t seem to have the quick feet or the strength to play near the line of scrimmage. Though he does have the speed to make up mistakes. He also got his hands on a number of passes, showing good leaping ability.

- Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard looked very good. In possibly the best matchup of North squad receivers and corners he burned Cal CB Syd’Quan Thompson.

- Speaking of Thompson, he looked good throughout the day. I am very impressed with his physical play. His physical nature will help ease team’s concerns about his lack of size.

- I was impressed with Clemson WR Jacoby Ford throughout the season, but he didn’t stand out at all today. I really expected him to burn some of these cornerbacks with his sprinter’s speed but it just didn’t happen. Although I will say he has very good hands and adjusts to the ball well. He made a great catch on a pass that was tipped by Devin McCourty.

- Ohio State S Kurt Coleman struggled in pass coverage. His stock definitely has taken a blow this week.

- Virginia S/CB Chris Cook has great size and plays very physical when lined up at cornerback, but I was concerned he wouldn’t have the speed for the position. So far, however, it hasn’t been an issue.

- Notre Dame C Eric Olsen had a terrible day. I felt bad for him watching him get pushed around time after time. He simply couldn’t stop anyone’s bull rush. He weighed in at 310 pounds, so he isn’t undersized. He just doesn’t have the strength to compete.

- Fresno State RB Lonyae Miller looked very poor in blocking drills. He’s a big, physical running back and someone with his size needs to be able to block to earn a roster spot at the next level.

- Oregon RB LeGarrett Blount also had issues blocking. Although from watching his feeble attempts it looked as though he hadn’t even been taught how before. When someone looks that bad, sometimes its not such a bad thing cause it gives you hope that it can easily be fixed with some simple coaching.

- Unfortunately I didn’t catch the South squad practice so no Tebow updates today. I’ll have full reports on both squads tomorrow.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Rolando McClain to the Chiefs Makes Sense

I’ve had Rolando McClain headed to the Chiefs in my mock draft for a few weeks now. And I don’t plan on changing it until I hear some information that will lead me in a new direction. I’m aware that I’m in the minority in this prediction (although Mike Band is now on board) so I figured I would take the time to further explain the reasoning behind my prediction.

The first reason is that linebacker is an obvious need. Yes, I know the offensive line needs some work as well, but there’s no reason to believe the Chiefs are ready to throw in the towel with Branden Albert and Ryan O’Callaghan. Albert, a 2008 1st-round pick, is still young and it is far too early to call him a bust. O’Callaghan may never be an elite lineman, but he’s a favorite of Scott Pioli who brought him over from New England. Russell Okung would be an upgrade, but I don’t believe the Chiefs view the tackle position as a glaring need that must be addressed in the 1st round.

The linebacker position, however, is in a state of crisis in Kansas City. Corey Mays and Demorrio Williams were the primary starters at inside linebacker, backed up by former 1st-round pick Derrick Johnson.

Pioli and new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel want a linebacker to run the defense, much the way Tedy Bruschi did in New England. And the way McClain did for Nick Saban (a former defensive coordinator under Pioli’s tudor, Bill Belichick) at Alabama.

The second, and most important, reason for my prediction is that Scott Pioli has made his draft strategy very clear over the past few seasons. The top priority is ALWAYS to upgrade the front-seven, and only when that area is set will other positions be addressed. Additionally, he believes that offensive linemen essentially grow on trees, while quality defensive linemen and linebackers are harder to come by, thus making them a hot commodity early in the draft.

Pioli demonstrated this strategy last year by selecting defensive ends with each of his first two picks (Tyson Jackson, Alex Magee), and ignoring the need for an offensive lineman until the 5th round (Colin Brown).

But the trend goes back even further. Since becoming the Director of Player Personnel in New England in 2001, Pioli has been instrumental in the selection of four top-15 picks, all of which were spent on defensive ends and linebackers.

Pioli, who comes straight from the Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick player personnel school, has a long history of successful drafts to look back on. As NFL head coaches, Parcells and Belichick have made 16 top-15 selections. Only two of them have been offensive linemen. Belichick selected Steve Everitt with the 14th overall selection in 1993. Parcells selected Eric Moore 10th overall in 1988.

Seven of those 16 picks were, predictably, defensive linemen or linebackers.

Its only January. And there is certainly time for McClain’s stock to fall. But at this point in time, he looks like a legitimate top-10 pick and no matter what angle I look at it, he just seems like a slam dunk for the Chiefs.

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

Traveling to College, Common Side Effect: NFL Maturity

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” -Henry Bergson, French Philosopher & 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature

Clearly, Bergson had much grander thoughts in mind than to provide NFL teams with insight on whom they ought to select each year in the annual NFL Draft. But it would probably make a lot of sense for today’s NFL owners, general managers, and player personnel directors to delve a little more deeply into the point Bergson was trying to make over 80 years ago.

It’s actually pretty simple. To be successful in the NFL, even the most talented players must be humble, be willing to work hard and be eager to learn. But it appears they also need a high level of maturity-See 1999 draft toss up, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.

To find those special players, scouts must watch as much film as possible in order to evaluate a player’s true value. What better way to start than to watch the high school prospects of the U.S. Army All-American Game?

During the game, defensive end Ronald Powell from California committed to the University of Florida. He’s a 5-star recruit from Moreno Valley who recently referred to his family as his “backbone.” So I got to thinking, what would make a 5-star recruit who has some of the best football programs in his own backyard leave his friends, his family and admirers and travel more than 2000 miles away to play college football?

Powell could have many reasons for making this long journey. Maybe he liked the coaching staff; maybe he always wanted to play in The Swamp. But whatever his reasons were, he may not realize that he may have dramatically increased his chance of success in the NFL.

Huh?

Here are the facts: Of the 128 players selected in the first round since 2006, only 24 traveled at least two states away from their hometown to attend college as follows:

2009 - Matthew Stafford (Texas to Georgia), Knowshon Moreno (New Jersey to Georgia), Brian Cushing (New Jersey to Southern Cal), Percy Harvin (Virginia to Florida), Vontae Davis (Washington DC to Illinois)

2008 - Chris Long (California to Virginia), Derrick Harvey (Maryland to Florida), Keith Rivers (Florida to Southern Cal), Jerod Mayo (Virginia to Tennessee), Ryan Clady (Southern California to Boise State), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Florida to Tennessee State), Chris Johnson (Florida to East Carolina)

2007 - Lawrence Timmons (South Carolina to Florida State), Jarvis Moss (Texas to Florida), Leon Hall (California to Michigan), Dwayne Bowe (South Florida to Louisiana State), Greg Olsen (New Jersey to Miami)

2006 - D’Brickashaw Ferguson (New York to Virginia), Jay Cutler (Indiana to Vanderbilt), Haloti Ngata (Utah to Oregon), Kamerion Wimbley (Kansas to Florida State), Davin Joseph (Florida to Oklahoma), Santonio Holmes (Florida to Ohio State), Mathias Kiwanuka (Indiana to Boston College)

Here’s the interesting part. Only 2 of those 24 players have yet to live up to their pre-draft expectations in the NFL: Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss. That’s an astounding success rate of 92%!

In fact, in 2009, the five players listed have already cemented themselves as starting caliber players, despite having only one year of experience. Percy Harvin won the award for Offensive Rookie of the Year and Brian Cushing won the Defensive Award. Matt Stafford showed he can compete as a starting quarterback in the league and Knowshon Moreno ran for almost 1,000 yards as a rookie. Don’t disregard Vontae Davis, a starting cornerback for the Miami Dolphins.

And that was no fluke. In 2008, Jerod Mayo was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan Clady started every game at left tackle for two straight seasons and was elected to the 2010 Pro Bowl. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is also a Pro Bowl selection this season. Oh and I forgot to mention Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who rushed for over 2,000 yards and set NFL records in only his second season.

The list goes on.

This is not to say that a player who stayed within their home state will not succeed at the pro level, but it is true that the percentages of success will be much lower. Of the 32 first round picks in each draft, generally half will end up being “busts” in the NFL. That translates into a mere 50% average success rate.

There are many factors that could affect the success rate of these athletes and there are many other considerations that an NFL team has to evaluate in making their selection. But if you can choose a player who played away from home in college versus one who stayed home, all other things being equal, you should go with the player who left his mama’s home cooking behind.

Bergson had it right. Being “on your own” and making your way in a new environment leads to maturity. And based on the stats above, maturity appears to lead to increasing the odds of NFL success, especially if you are can already bench press 400 lbs, run a 4.4 40-yard dash or can throw a football 60 yards.

Practical application of this pattern you ask?  Well, it seems to me that if you’re a NFL team and your picking in the first round, you’re now on the clock and it’s a toss-up between two players that you think can both help your team immediately, you might be best served to keep in mind that the player who left the comforts of ‘home’ to try and make a name for himself at the college level, is probably better prepared to do the same when he gets to the NFL.

Maybe there’s something to it; maybe not. But stats don’t lie.

Here is a list of the 2010 first round worthy players according to Scouts Inc. who left their comforts of home to play college football:

Will they follow this pattern? Only time will tell.

Download a PDF of this article

By Mike Band

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

State of the Franchise: Buffalo Bills

The Bills hired former Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey today in one of the least inspiring coaching hires of the past decade. Gailey was widely considered a failure in his two years Dallas, and has only been back in the NFL for two seasons (as the Chiefs offensive coordinator) since spending six years at Georgia Tech.

While its a confusing hire, the Bills appeared to simply run out of options. Aside from the Raiders, there may not be another franchise with more question marks than the Bills. Its going to be a busy offseason for new GM Buddy Nix if he expects his team to improve upon a 6-10 record this past season.

Lets take a look at the roster and what decisions lie ahead this offseason:

Quarterback
While they Bills have some young arms, the quarterback of the future likely isn’t on the current roster. Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm all saw action in 2009, but none of them stepped up and made a strong case to return as the starter in 2010. Edwards and Brohm are young enough to bring back and give another look. Fitzpatrick is a serviceable backup, but he’s already with his third organization and there simply isn’t much hope for him suddenly developing into a quality starter.

Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen are both options for the Bills in the 1st round. If either of them are on the board, I would expect the Bills to pull the trigger. However, given the fact that they could be gone, don’t be shocked if the Bills go after a veteran free agent such as Jason Campbell or try to pull of a trade for someone like Derek Anderson.

Running Back
The Bills don’t exactly have a stellar backfield, but the position is one of their stronger areas. Fred Jackson stepped up while Marshawn Lynch was suspended and ended up as the team’s primary option throughout the season. Both Jackson and Lynch are under contract for another three years, but don’t be surprised if the Bills part ways with the much maligned Lynch. He was suspended for three games to start the season after getting arrested on a misdemeanor gun charge and upon returning his effort was noticeably lacking.

Wide Receiver
The T.O. experiment wasn’t a complete disaster, but I wouldn’t expect him back in Buffalo. The money he’ll demand simply won’t match his output or his impact on a team destined for another 6-10 season.

If Owens is gone the Bills need to bring in a replacement, preferably a big receiver to compliment Lee Evans. James Hardy has the size, but just hasn’t panned out in his first two years. Its probably too early to give up on him, but the new regime has no allegiances to Hardy and his future with the team could be in doubt.

Josh Reed is also a free agent and likely won’t return. Unless the Bills are excited about the trio of Evans, Hardy and Roscoe Parrish, I would expect to see them bring in at least one new face at the position. If they’re looking to make a splash, Brandon Marshall and Anquan Boldin would both be excellent fits.

Tight End
2009 4th-round pick Shawn Nelson will be given every opportunity to prove himself. He’s an elite athlete that could certainly become a security blanket for a new young quarterback should the Bills go that route. All signs point to him as the starter with Derek Fine and/or Derek Schouman likely returning as his backups.

Offensive Line
This is the area that needs the most work. Demetrius Bell and Jonathan Scott split time at left tackle and neither found much success. Bell is still a work in progress, and may yet end up being a quality starter, but he’s was in over his head this year. ProFootballFocus.com graded him as the 74th most effective offensive tackle in the game out of a total of 77 qualifying players. Russell Okung could be an option in the 1st round and would be an instant upgrade at left tackle.

At right tackle Kirk Chambers, a career backup, was given his first chance to start. He’s an adequate backup, but just lacks the strength to hold up over the course of an entire game. A new right tackle should be high on the Bills wish list this offseason.

At guard the Bills started two rookies, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. Both struggled at times, but showed some promise. They should both be back in starting roles in 2010 and the position could certainly grow into an area of strength.

Geoff Hangartner, in his first year with the Bills, started all 16 games at center. He’s a very solid run blocker, but is better suited for a backup role because he simply lacks the ability to hold up in pass protection over the course of a game. Eric Wood, who played center at Louisville, could be moved back to his collegiate position.

Defensive Line
The Bills defensive line has been painfully mediocre for a number of years, but not bad enough to be overhauled. They were right near the middle of the pack with 32 sacks this season, 15 of which came from the combo of Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay.

The Bills did select Aaron Maybin in the 1st-round in 2009 but he failed to make an immediate impact. One can expect growing pains from a redshirt-sophomore making the jump to the NFL, but Maybin was a complete non-factor this season. Its far too early to throw in the towel, but there is definitely reason for concern.

At defensive tackle, Kyle Williams had a breakout season. He stepped up as a dominant run stuffer and even finished fourth on the team with four sacks. One of the starting jobs in 2010 certainly belongs to him, but the other is up for grabs. Marcus Stroud, who has been in decline since coming over from Jacksonville, took yet another step backward this season and his future with the team is in jeopardy. He still has three years remaining on a four-year, $28M contract and is a prime candidate to be a cap casualty this offseason.

Former 1st-round pick John McCargo has been a bust since day one. He isn’t going to step into Stroud’s starting role anytime soon. Spencer Johnson is a candidate to start, but he would be a short-term solution only.

Linebacker
At inside linebacker, Paul Posluszny has developed into one of the games top players at the position. His attitude and work ethic are a perfect fit for Buffalo and have endeared him to fans from day one. Along with Kyle Williams and Aaron Schobel, he is one of the three players from the Bills front-seven who should have a starting role guaranteed for 2010.

Since coming over from the Giants in 2008 Kawika Mitchell has struggled at strong-side linebacker. He is a great player to have around the locker room but he isn’t starter material. His coverage skills are above average, but he lacks the ability to step up and stuff the run, which is what the Bills really need from the strong-side linebacker position. 2009 1st-round pick Aaron Maybin, who played defensive end this year, could certainly be worth a look at linebacker.

On the weak side Keith Ellison once again struggled to live up to the expectations he set for himself as an overachieving backup in 2006 an 2007. Since taking over a full-time starting role in 2008 he has been exposed as a liability against the run. He’s a restricted free agent and the Bills could seek an upgrade at the position.

Even if the three starters return, the Bills need to add some depth at the position. This coudl certainly be an area addressed with multiple mid-round draft picks.

Cornerback
The Bills had one of the league’s worst units at cornerback this past season. However, 2008 1st-round pick Leodis McKelvin missed nearly the entire season with a fractured fibula. He’ll be back in 2010 and the Bills will look to him to take major strides to live up to his 1st-round status.

Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence (who replaced McKelvin in the starting lineup) also return. They should compete for the starting job opposite McKelvin along with Reggie Corner who started a handful of games this past season.

Despite their 2009 struggles, this unit should remain intact for the 2010 season. It isn’t a strong area for the Bills, but with so many other holes to fill the need for a cornerback will likely be ignored. Much of the issues with the secondary could be fixed by the return of McKelvin and an upgraded front-seven.

Safety
The Bills have some major decisions to make at safety for 2010. Jairus Byrd would have to figure prominently into their plans after an impressive rookie season. However, there’s a log jam at strong safety. Free agent Bryan Scott will likely not return, leaving Donte Whitner and George Wilson to compete for playing time. Whitner, a 2006 top-10 pick, has struggled to live up to expectations. Don’t be shocked if the Bills part ways with the underachiever this offseason opening the door for restricted free agent Wilson to step into a full-time starting role should he return.

Offseason Strategy
Given the uncertain state of the NFL, I wouldn’t expect the Bills to be major players this offseason. They’re far more likely to dump some expensive contracts (Stroud, Whitner, Lynch, etc) than bring in any more big names like T.O. They’re in the midst of a rebuilding process that should start with the offensive line and finding a franchise quarterback.

With their 1st-round pick the Bills need to target Russell Okung, Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen. Personally, I believe getting stuck with anyone outside of those three would be a failure. Some would argue that Anthony Davis and Bruce Campbell are worthy top-10 picks, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The Bills should also try to accumulate draft picks. This is a very deep draft class as a result of the slew of underclassmen that turned pro and rebuilding teams like the Bills need to use that to their advantage. If they can dump players like Lynch or Whitner for draft picks they should jump at the opportunity.

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

East/West Shrine Game Interviews

shrinegameMike Band is hanging out at the East/West Shrine Game practices this week. On Monday he got a chance to catch up with some of the prospects. Here’s what they had to say…

O’Brien Schofield, LB Wisconsin

How do you feel about the transition from defensive end to linebacker?
I came out here today to show that I can stand up and play on the outside. It’s been a great time showing my skills and that I can make that transition. I’m gonna show I’m a coverage linebacker.

What did you measure during the weigh-in?
I measured in this morning at 6’2, 242. I was listed at 250 but I lost weight during the year.

How was today’s practice different than at Wisconsin?
The biggest thing I noticed was that these coaches are keeping it simple. They’re allowing everyone to understand the situation.

What’s your biggest asset when you step on the football field?
I will be able to cover well, man on man and stuff like that.

What scouts have showed interest in you the last few days?
I had interviews from Scouts from Carolina, Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, San Francisco, Washington, Atlanta and New England.

Most of the teams are 43 teams, how do you feel about that?
I’m likely gonna have to stand up and play strong side linebacker and I feel I can work in any scheme. But I would love to put my hand down and just get up and go.

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Freddie Barnes, WR Bowling Green

Where are you training to develop your skills?
I’ve been working with Tony Valeri from XPE in South Florida for my training. I’ve been there for two weeks. I didn’t get invited to the combine so I’m just getting ready for my pro day which is on April 18 th

What scouts have showed interest in you the last few days?
Scouts from the Falcons, Bears, Panthers, Bucs and Chiefs all have approached me.

150 catches in one season is a feat no one has ever accomplished. Who do you attribute to your success?
I thank God first and foremost because I’ve been injured for the majority of my first four years. Me and Tyler Sheehan have been together for three years now and we just have a great understanding of each other.

You’re not a blazing fast wideout, nor are you the tallest, what’s your biggest asset and what allows you to get so open so often?
I played quarterback all throughout high school and through my sophomore year at Bowling Green. That allowed me to develop a great knowledge for the game. I feel like I’m much better at going through reads because of it.

What has your experience been like here at this All-Star Game?
It’s been nice here in Orlando because for years it was always about the team and making the group better. Now scouts are getting to know me and hopefully I can show what I can do on the field.

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Greg Hardy, DE Ole Miss

How has the draft process been for you?
It’s fun to be out here. I’m certainly excited to be out in this great weather.

You missed some time with a wrist injury. Has that effected your play at all?
My wrist feels good, I’m not having too much of a problem with it, there aren’t any lingering effects and it’s for sure 100%.

Where are you training to develop your skills?
I’m currently training at Michael Johnson’s speed camp to work in preparation for the combine

How crazy does this whole process get and what kind of questions are you getting?
It’s been very repetitive, most of these scouts ask the same basic questions, but it’s still fun. You just gotta have a good attitude out here and good things will happen.

Where do you feel more comfortable, on the right or left side?
I’m more natural on the right, that’s where I’ve always played but I can also play on the left. But I do believe I have the versatility to stand up and play linebacker and do all that.

What did you measure during the weigh-in?
I weighed in at 279, I dropped 9 lbs since the start of the season.

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Patrick Simonds, WR Colgate

What do you expect to run in the 40 time?
If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. I’ve been running a 4.48, 4.49 which is pretty impressive at my size. I have the size and athleticism and I’m willing to work at it to get better.

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Darrell Stuckey, S Kansas

I read a recent KU article labeling you the ‘Tim Tebow’ of the Kansas defense. How do you feel about that?
I’m not as vocal as Tim is, but I do lead by example and I’m heard when I need to. But he’s a great guy and he’s made a great impact on the game.

Where are you training to develop your skills?
Right now I’ve been training for the combine and just reflecting what I want to do with the rest of my life.

How has Kansas prepared you for the next level?
Coach Bowen has done a fantastic job in preparing us throughout my career.

What did you measure during the weigh-in?
I measured in at 5’11, 207

Do you prefer strong or free safety?
I played both Free and strong throughout my career but I played strong as a senior because we didn’t have much else. I do feel comfortable at either position though.

Which wide receiver was the toughest you faced all season?
Jordan Shipley would probably be the guy, he’s the toughest receiver we faced all season, he’s versatile and strong yet he finds ways to get open.

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Seyi Aijrotutu, WR Fresno State

What did you measure during the weigh-in?
I measured in at 6’3, 211, not quite the 6’4 I was listed at. I’ve never even been 6’3!

What’s it like out there during practice and do you feel you’re prepared for the next level?
I feel like I have what it takes. It’s a mindset that you have to put yourself in. Everyone’s on the same skill level, same quickness out here. Everyone just makes plays. Luckily I didn’t drop a ball out here today so I’m feeling good.

Where are you training for the combine?
I’m training in West Lake, California

What are you expecting to run in the 40?
I think I can run a 4.5, that’s been my main focus just running 40′s after 40′s. 4.5 would be adequate for my size so I’m just working hard.

What would you like to take out of this week of practice?
I’m just looking forward to having fun. I just want to come out here and play and play well.

It looked like you and Verran Tucker were having some laughs out there. Is he your biggest competition out here?
Absolutely, I think Tucker and I are the top dogs out here and we’ve were going back and forth all day. He’s a Cal guy, I’m from Fresno State so the whole rivalry thing is making this fun.

Any of these corners have your number today?
No way. Hah, no but Brian Jackson and I had some fun out there. We train at the same place together so it’s been a good time.

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Dennis Pitta, TE BYU

How has your college experience prepared you for the road ahead?
I feel like I’m very well prepared, I’m much more mature in age than some of these guys and certainly my college experience has prepared me the right way.

What did you measure during the weigh-in?
I measured in at 6’4, 245.

What’s it like having Max Hall throw you passes out here?
It’s nice because it feels comfortable. It’s obviously going to be an adjustment when you have new quarterbacks throwing to you.

Where are you training for the combine?
I’ve been training at Velocity, it’s in Urbine, California.

What’s your biggest asset on the football field?
Just being able to catch the football. I’ve been the go-to guy at BYU and I feel like I can continue that role. I want to be the guy that a quarterback can count on when needed.

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Max Hall, QB BYU

So what do you think of former teammate Dennis Pitta?
He’s a great player. He was my main target for three years and we had a blast together.

If I’m an NFL GM, why should I draft you?
I can make all of the throws necessary and I know I can command and lead a huddle. I may be a little small but I can stand in the pocket and make the throws they ask of me.

Where are you training for the combine?
I’ve been training in Scottsdale, Arizona, just trying to get bigger and stronger while still improving my arm strength.

How has this week of practice helped you develop as a player?
Learning from these coaches is very helpful. These guys know what they’re talking about and they are certainly preparing me for the next step.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft Comments Off

Is James Harrison the Answer in Cleveland?

4th-year running back Jerome Harrison was talk of the fantasy football world over the final three weeks of the season as he rushed for over 500 yards. But is he the real-life answer to the Browns running back issues?

While his 286-yard performance against Kansas City will forever be remembered in Cleveland, the stats seem to indicate that the Browns would be better off going in a different direction in 2010.

If you remove Harrison’s outburst against the Chiefs, he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry this past season. Even in the final two weeks – two 100-yard performances – he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. The fantasy stats were nice, but in reality his performance this season was well below average (aside from one game, of course).

So where can the Browns go from here?

Well, whether its the right move or not, Harrison is likely to get a shot at the starting role in 2010. At the very least, he’ll probably be given the opportunity to compete with James Davis who missed nearly his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury.

It would not be a wise move to enter the season with two unproven running backs competing for a job, however, and Mike Holmgren is well aware of this. Rather than spend big money to bring in someone to start over Harrison and Davis, I would look for the Browns to sign a veteran to share the load. Current Texas running back Chris Brown would be the type of experienced backup they could be looking for.

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

Anquan Boldin Done in Arizona?

Get ready for the Anquan Boldin sweepstakes to begin as soon as the Cardinals bow out of the playoffs.

Boldin has missed time each of the past three seasons and the Cardinals offense hasn’t missed a beat without him. However, their lack of a need for Boldin has never been more apparent than on Sunday against the Packers.

Obviously Larry Fitzgerald is THE guy in Arizona. But Steve Breaston and Early Doucet are more than capable of filling the void should the Cards part ways with Boldin. Breaston (7 rec, 125 yds) and Doucet (6 rec, 77 yds) played key roles in the Cardinals picking apart a very solid Packers defense. Breaston would likely be the guy to step up as the primary replacement for Boldin, with Doucet taking over as the No. 3 guy. Both are capable of putting up big numbers in Arizona’s offense.

So where will Boldin end up? Here’s a few possibilities:

Bears – The Bears thought they solved their QB woes by acquiring Jay Cutler, but failed to address the receiving corps last offseason. There isn’t a receiver on the Bears roster worthy of be a starter in this league. Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, etc are No. 3 receivers at best. Boldin would give Cutler a legitimate No. 1 receiver to work with, much like Brandon Marshall who he worked well with in Denver.

Ravens - Joe Flacco has done an admirable job putting up impressive numbers in his 1st and 2nd year despite working with one of the league’s worst receiving corps. The Ravens have five receivers who are free agents this offseason, with only Justin Harper under contract for 2010. Expect some serious turnover in Baltimore this offseason.

Dolphins – The Dolphins are much like the Bears – they have a number of decent receivers but lack a true No. 1 or even a No. 2 receiver. This could be Boldin’s desired destination (he’s from Florida and went to Florida State) but Bill Parcells is unlikely to offer a 1st-round pick for a receiver, which will likely be the Cardinals asking price.

Bucs – The location factor could certainly play a role in Boldin’s desire to play for the Bucs. Additionally, Antonio Bryant (unrestricted) and Maurice Stovall (restricted) are both free agents this offseason.

Cowboys – OK, so they don’t need Boldin, but would it really shock you if Jerry Jones gave up his 1st-round pick for another receiver? Roy Williams has been a disappointment and even in Dallas, there has to be some doubt as to whether or not Miles Austin can match his 2009 season.

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