Ryan Mathews

NFL Rookie Rankings – Week 1

OFFENSE
1.
Sam Bradford, Rams
The Rams asked Bradford to carry the team in his first professional game and he did just that. Bradford 32 of 55 passes for 253 yards in a near upset of the Cardinals. He did throw three interceptions (one on a hail mary) but it was an impressive debut nonetheless.

2. Jordan Shipley, Bengals
Shipley led all rookie receivers with 82 yards on five catches Sunday. All five of his receptions went for first downs, including a 51-yard reception. After seeing Shipley’s performance, its easy to see why the Bengals didn’t feel the need to keep Antonio Bryant around.

3. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
The Cowboys fed it to Bryant early and often as he caught eight balls for 56 yards. He was primarily used on short passes, as the Cowboys looked to him to make plays after the catch. Four of his receptions went for first downs, with a long of 15 yards.

4. Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers
Pouncey gave the Steelers an immediate upgrade at center, replacing Jeff Hartings. The Steelers were back to the power-running game that they’re known for, with Rashard Mendenhall averaging over five yards per carry.

5. Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Mathews didn’t set the world on fire, but he was solid in his debut against Kansas City. He racked up 75 yards on 19 carries, a modest 3.9 yards per attempt.  He also lost a fumble which led to a Chiefs touchdown.

DEFENSE
1. Koa Misi, Dolphins
Misi stepped into the Dolphins starting lineup and was all over the field against the Bills. He recorded one sack, and was consistently getting pressure on Trent Edwards. With production like this, the ‘Phins won’t miss Jason Taylor or Joey Porter.

2. Brandon Graham, Eagles
Graham made an immediate impact for the Eagles pass rush, consistently getting into the backfield and pressuring Aaron Rodgers. He didn’t record a sack, but his efforts did not go unnoticed.

3. Rolando McClain, Raiders
McClain fully lived up to expectations in his first game with the Raiders. He looked like a veteran, showing the impressive instincts that made him a star at Alabama. With McClain in the middle, the Raiders should be much improved.

4. T.J. Ward, Browns
Not much went right for the Browns on Sunday, but Ward already looks like an upgrade at strong safety over last year’s primary starter Abe Elam. He did a nice job in coverage against Kellen Winslow, and was consistently stepping up to help out against the run.

5. Eric Berry, Chiefs
Berry was quietly effective against the Chargers, helping the Chiefs pull off the upset. He didn’t come up with any big plays but was consistently in the right position, providing support for the Chiefs corners. It’s only a matter of time before he comes up with some game-changing interceptions.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Bengals, Browns, Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles, Raiders, Rams, Steelers Comments Off

Early NFL Rookie of the Year Predictions

It may only be May, but it’s never too early to look ahead. By glancing through some projected depth charts we’ve come up with an early rookie of the year prediction. We’ll track each player’s progress and update our rankings on a weekly basis throughout the season.

OFFENSE
1. Ryan Mathews, Chargers

Offensive Rookie of the Year typically goes to a running back, and often to a player on a good team. Mathews may not be the most talented of this year’s rookies, but he is in the best position to succeed. He’s the feature back in San Diego and should cruise to 1,200 yards and 10+ touchdowns.

2. Ben Tate, Texans
Tate will have to beat out Steve Slaton for the starting job, but he certainly will enter training camp with an excellent shot to be the Texans’ feature back. Unlike Slaton, Tate has the size to carry the load and put up impressive numbers throughout the year.

3. Golden Tate, Seahawks
Tate will likely be used as an all-purpose receiver in Seattle much like Percy Harvin was used in Minnesota last year. He isn’t their No. 1 target, but they’ll find ways to get him the ball.

4. C.J. Spiller, Bills
While Spiller was the top-rated running back on most draft boards, he didn’t land in a great situation in terms of finding immediate playing time. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson still deserve to get their fair share of the carries (assuming they’re still around) which will limit Spillers ability to put up ROY-type numbers.

5. Jimmy Clausen, Panthers
If Clausen beats out Matt Moore he’ll be in an excellent position to succeed as a rookie. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams will carry the load on offense, limiting the amount of work Clausen needs to do.

DEFENSE
1. Eric Berry, Chiefs
The Chiefs defense won’t be very good, meaning plenty of chances for Berry to show off his skills. He’ll clearly stand out as the best player in their secondary from day one, and should be the DROY favorite.

2. Derrick Morgan, Titans
Morgan will start from day one on an already respectable defense in Tennessee. He’s surrounded with enough talent that should allow him to rack up 7+ sacks this year.

3. Earl Thomas, Seahawks
Thomas will start immediately for the Seahawks and should be an instant-impact player. He’s a ball hawk, which means he should have no problem putting up the gaudy interception numbers that will catch the eye of ROY voters.

4. Brandon Graham, Eagles
Graham likely won’t start in Philadelphia, but he’ll be used as a situational pass rusher. He’s one dimensional, but he’ll put up the numbers necessary to get noticed as a rookie.

5. Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons
Weatherspoon is one of the few defensive rookies who has been handed a starting job. He likely won’t put up the numbers to in the award, but he’ll be in the discussion simply based on having the most opportunities to show off his talents.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Bills, Chargers, Chiefs, Eagles, Falcons, Panthers, Seahawks, Texans, Titans 2 Comments

2010 Draft Grades: Chargers

Considering they only had five picks, its hard to imagine the draft going any better for the Chargers.

I definitely think they reached for Ryan Mathews, but I wholeheartedly support the decision to move up and draft him. They have every reason to believe they can be a Super Bowl contender in 2010, and they need a running back like Mathews to make it happen. He was the only running back in this year’s draft class that projected as an immediate starter in their offense. Even C.J. Spiller wouldn’t have been a good fit because he’s too similar to backup Darren Sproles. They overpaid for him, but it was a move they simply had to make.

In the 3rd round they got great value for Donald Butler. Linebacker wasn’t a glaring hole, but Stephen Cooper is nothing special. In fact, he probably should have already lost his job to Kevin Burnett. Butler has an excellent chance to see significant playing time this season.

I was surprised by the selection of Darrell Stuckey because safety isn’t much of  a need. Eric Weddle has the starting free safety job locked up. Stuckey could probably play strong safety, but I don’t see him as a potential starter at that position. He’ll likely be nothing more than a backup and special teams contributor.

I was shocked that the Chargers didn’t address their need for a nose tackle within the first four rounds, but they got an absolute steal in Cam Thomas. He was never terribly productive at North Carolina, but I believe he just wasn’t a good fit for their defensive scheme. He’s a prototypical nose tackle, however, and has a shot to earn the starting job this season.

I don’t have a problem with the Chargers taking a developmental prospect at quarterback, but I’m not sure Jonathan Crompton would have been my first choice. Yes, he was great down the stretch this year. But he was absolutely terrible for his first year and a half as a starter. Essentially if Tennessee had any other option to replace him at quarterback, he wouldn’t have gotten a sniff from the NFL. That said, he has NFL size and a NFL arm and he’s in a position in San Diego where he won’t have to see the field anytime soon. Its a good place to sit and learn.

Dedrick Epps will add to their depth at tight end and probably play some special teams. He’s nothing special, but he’ll be given an opportunity to compete with Kris Wilson for the backup tight end job.

Overall, I love what the Chargers did in this draft. They filled their biggest hole with the one player in the draft capable of making an immediate impact in their offense. They then followed that up by landing Butler and Thomas, who at the very least will provide quality competition in training camp for the incumbent starters at their positions. This is what a draft should look like for a team that is already in contention for a championship.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Chargers, Draft Grades - 2010 Comments Off

Addressing the Seahawks RB situation

In March 2008 the Seahawks signed former Cowboys running back Julius Jones to a a four-year $11.8M contract. It seemed like an excessive contract for a running back who’s production had fallen steadily since an impressive rookie year in 2004.

Now two years later the Seahawks are left with a tough decision, but it doesn’t involve Jones. Despite Jim Mora’s inexplicable allegiance to Jones last season, when he finally went down with an injury Justin Forsett stepped up in a big way.

Seattle Seahawks v St. Louis RamsForsett is undersized (5’9″, 190 lbs) but is as explosive as any running back in the league. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season, which ranked him 4th in the league among players with at least 100 carries.

But he isn’t just a change-of-pace back. Forsett averaged 3.2 yards after contact per attempt. Compare that to a similar running back in terms of stature, Reggie Bush, who averaged just 2.1. He may be small, but he’s well built and could handle an increased workload in 2010. The combo of Forsett and Jones (with the roles reversed from last year) could prove to be a formidable duo.

The Seahawks new regime is playing their cards close to the vest so far this offseason, but its possible they aren’t sold on either Forsett or Jones. Many mock drafts have predicted they may target C.J. Spiller in the 1st round, but he doesn’t look like a good fit in Seattle.

Assuming the Seahawks don’t plan on trading Forsett, its tough to imagine Spiller and Forsett in the same backfield. They have a similar skill set and are both undersized. It would leave the Seahawks with two home run threats, but no one to pick up the tough yards.

If the Seahawks are set on taking a running back in the 1st round Jonathan Dwyer should be the pick. Unlike Spiller he’s a powerful downhill runner – the perfect compliment to Forsett.

Considering the Seahawks other glaring needs (offensive tackle, safety, receiver, etc), the smart move may actually be to wait for the 2nd or 3rd round. Ryan Mathews could be available in the 2nd round, while Toby Gerhart or Montario Hardesy could be options in the 3rd. All three have the ability to serve as the “thunder” to Forsett’s “lightening” without forcing the Seahawks to reach on a running back who will be forced to split carries with Forsett and possibly Jones as well.

(polls)

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

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

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

Texans Need a Power Running Back

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

texansSteve Slaton burst onto the scene late in 2008, rushing for 737 yards over the final seven games of the season. As a result the Texans, and numerous fantasy owners who drafted him in the 1st round, entered 2009 with lofty expectations.

The results were underwhelming. In 11 games prior to a season-ending neck injury, Slaton rushed for just 437 yards at a dismal rate of 3.3 yards per carry.

New Orleans Saints v Houston TexansThe reason behind the decline is fairly simple. Slaton just doesn’t have the body of an NFL running back. Year after year we see impressive late-season statistics posted by backups plugged into starting roles. Last year it was Slaton, this year it was Jerome Harrison Harrison and Jamal Charles. Occasionally these backups prove to be the real deal. But more often than not they simply capitalizing on being fresh from having not been worn down as the workhorse for the majority of the season and are playing with extra motivation to win the starting job for the following season.

In Slaton’s case, both factors could have played a role in his 2008 heroics. There’s no denying his ability as a big-play running back, but like others such as Reggie Bush and Leon Washinngton, he doesn’t have the strength to carry the load.

To demonstrate his inability to be a feature back, consider the stat “yards after contact” which is tracked by the guys at ProFootballFocus. Among running backs with at least 100 attempts, Slaton averaged the 4th-fewest yards after contact per attempt this season at just 2.12.

yardsaftercontact

From the view of an opposing defensive coordinator, these are the ideal running backs to face. Yes, Slaton could hurt you by breaking off a big run, but you don’t feel the need to stack the box in order to slow him down. As a result, Slaton’s inability to force defenses to game-plan for him allows defenses to focus their attention on Andre Johnson and their potent passing attack.

Down the stretch the Texans used the more physically imposing Arian Foster (6’1″, 217 lbs) as the feature back. He did an adequate job, but the Texas likely won’t feel comfortable handing him the starting job for 2010.

Given the limited number of running backs available in free agency, this is likely a position the Texans will need to address in the draft. In the 1st round Jonathan Dwyer and Ryan Mathews are both options, but would it would be considered a reach by many to select either one in the top 20. The safer route may be to select a player such as Anthony Dixon or Montario Hardesty in the 2nd or 3rd round to share the load with Slaton in 2010.

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