Sean Weatherspoon

Training Camp Preview: Falcons

Biggest Question Mark: Michael Turner
Burner Turner is a superstar, but only when healthy. He had just one rushing attempt after Week 12 last season (a seven-yard run against the Jets). Even early in the season Turner appeared to be playing below his typical dominant level. Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood are capable backups, but the Falcons would obviously much rather have their star running back at full strength.

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 29:  Michael Turner #33 of the Atlanta Falcons   lay on the field after being injured against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers  at  Georgia Dome on November 29, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by  Kevin  C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Falcons need Turner to stay upright in 2010

Position Battle to Watch: Defensive End
Jamaal Anderson is barely fighting off the bust label as he enters his fourth season in the league. In an effort to maximize his contributions he’s bulked up and is expected to play a Justin Tuck-like role, rotating between tackle and end. That leaves a hole opposite John Abraham at defensive end when Anderson isn’t lined up in that position. The candidates – Kroy Biermann, Chauncey David and Lawrence Sidbury – aren’t exactly exciting, but they’ll need someone to step up as a pass rusher.

Impact Rookie: Sean Weatherspoon
Weatherspoon is likely the only rookie who will see significant playing time in Atlanta. The starting strong-side linebacker position is his from day one, and the Falcons will be expecting immediate production. It shouldn’t be hard for him to out-perform former start Stephen Nicholas. The most noticeable upgrade will be in his coverage ability, where Nicholas was clearly lacking.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Falcons 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: Falcons

This was a very solid but unspectacular draft for the Falcons.

I like the selection of Sean Weatherspoon a lot. He fills a need and should start immediately at strong-side linebacker. He’s a perfect fit in Atlanta and should enter the season as an early candidate for defensive rookie of the year.

Personally, I think Corey Peters is overrated. But I know many people felt differently, so I can’t criticize the selection too much. However, I really don’t see defensive tackle as a need for the Falcons. 2009 1st-round pick Peria Jerry is back and healthy and Jonathan Babineaux has developed into one of the more underrated interior linemen in the league.

I like the selections of Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley. Their interior offensive line was a weakness in 2010 and both players should be given an opportunity to win a starting job. Even if they don’t win a job, they’ll still provide some much needed depth at the position.

Dominique Franks fell much further than I expected. Although the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson, cornerback was still a need and Franks will have an opportunity to win some immediate playing time. He’s a long shot for the starting job, but don’t count him out.

I really like Kerry Meier. He’s a possession receiver with reliable hands and was tremendously productive at Kansas this past season. He’s still learning the position after switching over from quarterback and he has the potential to be a steal.

Shann Schillinger is a developmental prospect. He’ll probably compete with Matt Giordano for the backup job at free safety.

I like the Falcons draft, but they only got one immediate impact player. Additionally, their mid and late round picks were primarily spent on players with limited upside. Most of their picks can fill backup roles, but few have the potential to develop into future starters. This wasn’t a poor draft, but they definitely could have done more with the picks they had.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2010, Falcons 2 Comments

Making sense of the Giants draft plans

The hardest teams to figure out each offseason are the teams that underachieved the previous year. This year the Giants certainly fall into that category.

Coughlin announced as Giants head coach

Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese are in a tough position in this year's draft

As GM Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin try to sort out which players are permanently on the decline and which players are due for a bounce-back season in 2010, we’re left with nothing but pure guesses as to their draft strategy.

The one obvious need for the Giants is at inside linebacker. The release of Antonio Pierce opened up a gaping hole. If its filled from within, 2008 5th-round pick Jonathan Goff would be the one. However, Goff has been unimpressive in limited playing time so far. He started the final three games of 2009 for the injured Pierce which just so happened to coincide with the worst display of defense in recent Giants history.

In a perfect world Rolando McClain would fall to the Giants at No. 15. Its a scenario that looks more likely now that the Dolphins have signed Karlos Dansby, but the Chiefs, Browns and 49ers all remain potential landing spots for McClain before the Giants are on the clock.

Assuming he’s gone, they’ll be left with a difficult decision.

If they’re dead set on filling the hole at linebacker Sean Weatherspoon would be an option, but it would be a reach. He seems to have a consensus late-1st-round grade, but does have the ability to play inside in the 4-3 defense.

The alternative strategy would be to address another lesser area of need. Safety was an option (Earl Thomas, Taylor Mays) until they signed Antrel Rolle, which leaves strong-side linebacker as the only reasonable hole to attempt to fill. 2009 2nd-round pick Clint Sintim and 2008 4th-round pick Bryan Kehl are set to compete for the starting job as of now. But someone such as Sergio Kindle could be an option.

The final, and perhaps the most likely, option is to simply take the best available player. Given the strengths of this year’s draft class and Coughlin’s love for stockpiling players at the position, a defensive lineman would seem like a safe bet. Players such as Derrick Morgan, Dan Williams, Brian Price and Carlos Dunlap all look like reasonable options.

None of them would be guaranteed a starting job from day one, but the defensive line was filled with underachievers in 2009. Mathias Kiwanuka, Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty were all major disappointments and bounced in and out of the starting lineup throughout the season. Coughlin and Reese may view a selection of a young defensive lineman as a good way to push their current lineman to live up to expectations and provide insurance if they continue to falter.

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

Who will start at ILB for the Giants in 2010?

There’s no question what the Giants biggest need is this offseason. By parting ways with Antonio Pierce, the Giants opened up a gaping hole at inside linebacker.

New York Giants v Washington Redskins

Will Jonathan Goff be starting for the Giants in 2010?

The in-house option as Pierce’s replacement would be 2008 5th-round pick Jonathan Goff. After Pierce went down with a season ending neck injury this past season, the Giants moved Goff into the starting lineup and shortly thereafter the defense went down the drain.

Now I’m not blaming Goff for the 85 points the Giants gave up in the final two weeks of the season, but he certainly didn’t help matters. He’s an adequate run defender, but really struggles in coverage. Unfortunately, the Giants rely heavily on their inside linebackers in coverage, rarely using them as pass rushers.

Assuming Tom Coughlin isn’t satisfied moving forward with Goff as the starter, who could the Giants bring in as a replacement? Here’s a few ideas:

5. DeMeco Ryans
Ryans is a restricted free agent, so he’s a long shot, but he’s worth mentioning. Some may argue he’s the top available linebacker in this year’s free agent class. Odds are the Texans will tender him the rate which would require a 1st and 3rd round draft pick should he sign elsewhere, a price which would be too steep for the Giants.

4. Rolando McClain
If he falls in the draft the Giants would waste no time snatching him up. However, that’s never going to happen. If the Giants want him they’ll have to trade up. Should he fall past the Chiefs at the 5th pick, the Giants should get on the phone and see what it would take to trade up.

3. Sean Weatherspoon
If the Giants choose not to trade up for McClain, Weatherspoon would be the only reasonable option with the 15th pick. It would be a reach, but he’s capable of playing in the Giants defensive scheme. Weatherspoon excels in coverage, making him an excellent fit for the Giants.

2. Brandon Spikes/Daryl Washington/Pat Angerer/Sean Lee
If the Giants don’t land a linebacker in the 1st round, they’ll have to strongly consider landing one in the 2nd or 3rd. There are a number of options, but the Giants would certainly be disappointed if it came to this. None of these options would immediately jump Goff on the depth chart, but would be given the opportunity to compete for a job.

1. Karlos Dansby
Dansby will be one of the most sought after free agents on the market this year now that the Cardinals have chosen not to place the franchise tag on him. He is an elite coverage linebacker, making him the perfect fit for the Giants. They’ll have to out-bid a number of teams for his services, including the Dolphins and multiple others, but he would be worth the hefty price tag.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Free Agency, Giants Comments Off

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

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