1. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers has one of the best arsenals of weapons in the league and the Packers figure to be in the top 3 in offense once again. Their defense looks to return to 2010 form, though losing quality ILB Desmond Bishop for the season could hurt. The secondary needs to rebound though I’m not sure they did enough to reinforce the talent in their defensive backfield. The Packers will need to find consistency and production in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but they look like a good bet to win the NFC North once again and it would be hard to bet against them in January.
2. New England Patriots - If Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots are all but guaranteed to have a top 5 offense. Adding Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney to an already dangerous passing attack should worry the rest of the AFC field. The Pats might also see more explosiveness from the RB position with 2nd year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen replacing the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ultimately though, the Patriots will only go as far as their defense takes them. Adding Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower looks like it will pay dividends but can their secondary improve from last year’s nightmarish season? If New England can get a good season from a few of their younger DB’s (Ras-I Dowling, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Tavon Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard), they will be nearly unstoppable.
3. Houston Texans - The Texans have an excellent offense and an excellent defense. Man for man, they might have the best 22 starters in the league. However, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have durability questions and the team’s depth isn’t great. Furthermore, I don’t trust coach Gary Kubiak to win in the playoffs. The Texans should put together an excellent regular season if they can avoid injuries to their top players, but they will need to prove that they can take the next step in the post-season.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers – It seems as if many fans and experts are discounting the Steelers a bit this year and it’s tough to see why. Their defense is still loaded with talent and young players like Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward figure to play bigger roles in 2012. The offense underachieved last year for a number of reasons but the O-line should be improved and the WR corps is still amongst the game’s best if Mike Wallace reports. Even without Wallace, there is enough talent for the Steelers to put up a lot of points if they can do a better job of keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and healthy. The Steelers are still one of the most talented and best coached teams in football and seem poised for another good year.
5. New York Giants – It’s tough to know what to make of the Giants. 2012 could see a return of the mediocre and underachieving regular-season team that they’ve been for most of Tom Coughlin’s tenure or perhaps the 2011 Super Bowl champion team of December – February will be on display for a full 16 games. If their key front 7 players are healthy, the Giants have enough talent to repeat as Champions. The big questions for New York are their CB’s, OL and running game without Brandon Jacobs. Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t established himself as a consistent threat and I’m not a fan of 1st rounder David Wilson or backup D.J. Ware. The OL was a big problem last year and hasn’t improved much on paper though, as we saw, they can win with what they have.
6. New Orleans Saints - The Saints would be higher up in these rankings were it not for the suspension of Sean Payton. New Orleans has an incredibly talented roster, elite QB and enough young talent to think that they could improve in many of their weak spots. However, taking Sean Payton off the sideline is a huge loss. He might be the 2nd most valuable coach in the league behind Bill Belichick and it’s tough to see the Saints hoisting the Lombardi without him. Still, the Saints should be playoff-bound and Drew Brees is capable of putting the team on his back if needed. With the Super Bowl being played in New Orleans this year, it would be quite a story for the Payton-less Saints to win it all on their home turf.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Projecting the 49ers at this point in the pre-season comes down to one thing: do you think Alex Smith can repeat his 2011 season? Smith will never live up to his #1 overall status, but there’s plenty of reasons to think that he can continue to be a top third type QB under coach Jim Harbaugh who was superb at hiding Smith’s weaknesses and setting him up for success. The defense is loaded with depth and top-end talent and should remain an elite unit. Throw in a terrible division and the 49ers should be headed back to the post-season and double-digit wins.
8. Baltimore Ravens – The good news for the Ravens is that they were one or two plays away from the Super Bowl last year. The bad news is that it’s tough to see how they’ve improved enough to get themselves to the next level. Losing Terrell Suggs for the season is a huge blow and Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are at the very end of the line. As well coached as the Ravens’ D has been, a step back would not be surprising. Unfortunately for Baltimore, they probably cannot withstand a step back from the defense as their offense is simply not good enough to carry the team. Between the timid and overly conservative game plans of the coaching staff and the inconsistencies of QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens offense will be an average unit once again. Ray Rice is good enough to keep the unit from being bad, but the team will not be able to win (or even make the playoffs) without the defense playing up to the lofty standards set by the franchise over the last decade.
9. Detroit Lions – If the Lions can keep themselves out of trouble and avoid taking tons of stupid penalties, they could be a serious contender in the NFC in 2012. Of the teams in my top 10 rankings, the Lions are the team I could see as most likely to flop. Matthew Stafford is clearly an elite QB when healthy – but his ability to stay healthy needs to be proven. The defense has to improve from their 23rd overall ranking (points allowed) if the Lions are to challenge the Packers for the NFC North. While the Lions have some fairly big holes on their roster, an elite QB and disruptive pass rush can take you a long way.
10. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have underperformed for awhile and it’s tough to avoid feeling that with a better coaching staff, they could be a consistent double-digit win team. Their DB corps which killed them at times last year has received a big boost in 1st rounder Morris Claiborne and prized free agent Brandon Carr. They still lack a pass-rusher to take attention away from DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant’s problems (both off-field and on) could really affect the offense given the lack of depth at WR. The OL – a perpetual problem in Big D – still looks shaky on paper. Still, the Cowboys have a lot of talent, a top QB and promising young players at a number of positions. The ‘Boys have a brutal opening stretch on their schedule, opening in New York against the Giants and then heading to Seattle before facing Tampa Bay and Chicago at home. After their week 5 bye, they head to Baltimore. If they’re still afloat after week 6, I like their chances for a return to post-season play and a potential Super Bowl run.
11. Atlanta Falcons – After last year, I’m highly skeptical of both coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan’s ability to win a championship. Smith looked out of his league last year with overly conservative gameplans and a bad feel for when to take chances in his playcalling. The Falcons have a ton of talent with which to work, but seem to lack the killer instinct that great teams tend to have. In many ways, they are reminiscent of the Marty Schottenheimer Chiefs teams of the mid/late 1990’s (or even his Chargers teams of the mid 2000’s). The Falcons should be a contender next year and a top regular season team, but probably not a team headed for a deep playoff run.
12. Chicago Bears – Though I’m not a fan of big contracts for RB’s, re-signing Matt Forte was a must for a team lacking consistency on offense. Adding Brandon Marshall was very smart and will give Jay Cutler a solid, if inconsistent at times, target. Drafting Alshon Jeffery could turn into a major coup though I’m skeptical of Shea McClellin’s ability to have an impact in a 4-3 – assuming he can stay concussion free. While the Bears offense should be better than in recent years, their defense is getting old and still has holes in a number of key places. The offensive line has been bad far more often than good in the last few seasons but little was done to upgrade that unit. With Green Bay still an elite team and Detroit on the rise, the Bears could face an uphill battle to return to the playoffs.
13. Cincinnati Bengals – On paper, the Bengals have a pretty stacked roster. Certainly, they’ve added a ton of big name college players over the last few years. Yet, it’s still tough to pencil them into a playoff spot. One big reason is their division,, another is the growing pains that accompany many young QB’s. Andy Dalton was adequate last year, but his 80.4 QB Rating was worse than Kevin Kolb’s and only slightly better than Mark Sanchez and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding reliable, though mediocre, BenJarvus Green-Ellis could help take pressure off Dalton, though Green-Ellis isn’t a huge upgrade over Cedric Benson. If the Bengals haul of young prospects can step up, or they can find another big-time weapon on offense to complement A.J. Green, Cincinnati could be a big surprise next year.
14. Denver Broncos – The similarities between the Broncos and late 2000’s Colts are numerous: exceptional pass rushers, weak in the trenches, shaky secondaries with some upside, mediocre running backs and a team which will rely heavily upon the right arm of Peyton Manning. If Manning stays healthy, the Broncos should win the AFC West and could win 10-12 games. However, the Colts don’t have a Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne (let alone all 3 in their prime simultaneously) and it remains to be seen how effective Manning can be playing outdoors every week. We’ve seen him have success in bad weather and with mediocre supporting casts, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he is very much the Manning of old. However, like the Manning-era Colts, the team will collapse without him and it’s not a sure thing that his neck will hold up.
15. Philadelphia Eagles - The problems with basing an offense around Michael Vick were quite apparent last year: he simply isn’t very good at times and he can’t stay healthy enough to be at his best for more than a few games. Rookie Nick Foles will probably be called upon at some point in 2012 when Vick inevitably gets hurt or benched. There’s a good amount of talent on the Eagles roster and they could contend for the NFC East title, but they will need a lot of luck with Vick’s health and performance. The Eagles’ placing in the middle of my rankings is a direct result of them most likely having to play a few games with Foles or Mike Kafka at QB and they’re probably not good enough to survive with those guys for more than a game or two.
16. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are right in the middle of my rankings for one reason: I could see them being very good or really terrible. More than any other team, it’s hard to get a feel for whether or not this is an 11-5 type team or 5-11. The QB situation is one big reason why: Matt Flynn is a total unknown and neither Russell Wilson or Tarvaris Jackson strike me as guys that can take a team to the playoffs. The skill position players are a bit overrated but are capable of great things at times. Marshawn Lynch can be a top back at times, and a non-factor at others. Sidney Rice is an excellent weapon when healthy – which has been rare. Seahawks fans seem to love the non-Rice receivers led by Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu but the front office seems to have a different opinion as they’ve seemingly auditioned or signed every washed up veteran imaginable. If Braylon Edwards or Terrell Owens makes the roster and can be a #1 or #2 guy, Flynn should be set up for success. The Seahawks D is steady and well-coached but their depth is questionable and might have overachieved last year. 1st rounder Bruce Irvin will be one of the most intriguing stories to watch this year.
With the first week of pre-season in the books, it’s time for the first Power Rankings of the year. Here’s the bottom half of the league as I see it currently, though these rankings are sure to change as August rolls into September. At this point of the league year it’s tough to find much separation between the 20-25 middle-road teams. Other than the truly elite and truly awful teams, pre-season rankings really amount to how much the author likes each team’s young players, coach and QB. With that said, here is the bottom half of the league from my point of view:
17. Kansas City Chiefs – Put a top QB on the Chiefs and they are arguably an elite team. Their defense was fairly stout down the stretch last season and responded well to new coach Romeo Crennel. There is a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, assuming Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry can return to form after missing last year with injuries. Unlike AFC West rivals Oakland and San Diego, Kansas City seems more likely to exceed expectations than to disappoint. If Brian Daboll can get a good season from Cassel (questionable given the track records of both Daboll and Cassel), the Chiefs could see double-digit wins and a division championship. Even if Cassel struggles, they might be able to squeak out 9 or 10 wins if their running game can perform to 2010 levels.
18. Tennessee Titans – The Titans, like the Bills, Chiefs and a few other teams, have a lot of nice pieces but it’s hard to project them to have a ton of success – though history tells us that one or more of the middle tier teams will put it all together and make a good run. Like those other teams, I can’t put them any higher than the middle of the pack due to their QB situation. Jake Locker is the future and probably a better bet than Matt Hasselbeck to lead the team to postseason glory but can he perform at the NFL level? The talent surrounding him is intriguing though it’s easy to be down on both Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt. Their defense has a good amount of talent despite not having many household names and the Titans could be well-balanced enough to make a run at their division if Locker can step up.
19. Buffalo Bills - Their front 7 is certainly talented, despite the horrendous contract given to Mark Anderson. The rest of the team is still lacking high-end talent and they are still led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey. I don’t think 2012 will be the breakout year that Bills fans are hoping for, though 2nd place in the AFC East and an outside shot at the playoffs could be a possibility.
20. San Diego Chargers – With just about any other coach, the Chargers would have been higher up in my rankings. I just cannot take a Norv Turner coached team seriously. Especially a Norv Turner coached team with its worst talent level in a number of years. The Chargers are razor thin at a number of positions on both sides of the ball and are relying heavily on Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates to stay healthy. The defense will need the plethora of recent high draft picks (Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, Corey Luiget, Marcus Gilchrist et al) to step up for the Chargers to make a strong playoff run.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs should be better in 2012 if only because their coaching situation looks to be more stable (if not dramatically improved). It’s no secret that Raheem Morris was in over his head last year and that contributed to the team’s under-performance. They have a ton of young talent – on paper – and signing Vincent Jackson will help their offense quite a bit. Certainly, their skill positions look promising and the OL is solid enough to win. The real questions in Tampa Bay are: can Josh Freeman ever take the next step in his development and can Greg Schiano get his young talent to fulfill their promise?
22. Carolina Panthers – The Panthers offense again be a strong unit, though it’s likely the league will be better prepared for Cam Newton and the Carolina rushing attack. The OL has some question marks and the depth at WR can’t sustain a loss of Steve Smith (nor a decline in his production). That said, they should score a lot of points and be near the top of the league in yards. However, the defense – bad last year – hasn’t been improved enough to make the Panthers legitimate contenders. Adding Luke Kuechly is a nice start to rebuilding the team’s front 7 but there are still too many holes on D. The interior DL and CB spots are thin at best and the team will have to win a lot of shootouts to avoid a losing record.
23. Oakland Raiders – Carson Palmer is the epitome of a league-average QB. The Raiders are the epitome of a league average team talent-wise. Why are they so low in my power rankings? Simply put, I don’t see a lot of places for the Raiders to get unexpected production and chances are good that either Palmer implodes or Darren McFadden gets derailed by his seemingly yearly injury. They’re an 8-8 team (maybe 9-7 given their division) if everything goes right, but the guys they are relying upon have such troubling track records that it’s more likely than not that they underachieve relative to their talent level.
24. Indianapolis Colts – The Colts could be downright awful in 2012. However, their first pre-season game showed enough to think that there is also a chance that Indianapolis could be respectable this year. Forget the Andrew Luck hype and the over-the-top gushing over his first preseason game against an inept St. Louis team. What piqued my interest was the way Chuck Pagano had his defense playing. While the Rams’ OL is putrid, the key players on the Colts’ D look to have adapted to the new 3-4 look and even Jerry Hughes showed some potential as a pure rush linebacker. The young talent on offense is there and a good QB – which Luck seems poised to be right from the start – can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Luck’s biggest challenge will be surviving with a very questionable OL in front of him.
25. Arizona Cardinals – The NFL is a passing league and it’s tough to think of a team with a worse QB situation. Neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb seem like good enough passers to keep the Cardinals offense moving and the team’s running game simply isn’t able to compensate for their lack of a quality signal caller. Their defense, both young and promising, should help them stay in games and could keep them from a truly terrible season. Outside of a soft 4 game stretch from weeks 4-7, the Cardinals have a tough schedule. It would be surprising if they won more than 7 games and they have the potential to end up drafting top 5 in 2013.
26. New York Jets – The Jets seem like a team destined for collapse. Their defense has little depth outside of their DE spot and the offense is a mess. They fancy themselves a “ground and pound” offense but Shonn Greene is both mediocre and too soft for the style of offense Rex Ryan likes to employ. The QB situation has been much discussed, but neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow are good enough to win in the NFL without the defense carrying the team. If the Jets D stays healthy and Stephen Hill can hit the ground running, the Jets can probably hover around .500. But they are one or two injuries away from a 4-12 type of season.
27. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill looked good in his first pre-season action, but it’s hard to find a team with less talent on offense than Miami. Their WR’s, TE’s and RB’s are all in the bottom third of the league and probably in the bottom 5 at each position. Conversely, their defense is pretty solid and their schedule is somewhat favorable. 8-8 is probably their absolute upside if their defense can steal some games for them.
28. Cleveland Browns – I’m a bit more bullish on Brandon Weeden than many (though his first pre-season game didn’t really do much to inspire) but I’m not at all sold on the rest of the Browns talent on offense. Trent Richardson should help but the rest of the talent on offense is below average. Greg Little was a drop machine last year and supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon is unlikely to make a big impact early on. The defense has lost Chris Gocong from an already-thin LB grouping and Joe Haden is facing a 4 game suspension. It looks like another tough year in Cleveland.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - Blaine Gabbert has a lot to prove this year after a horrific 2011 season. He has some decent pieces to work with on offense but a shaky OL which wasn’t improved enough in the offseason. The Jaguars D put up decent numbers last year but it is tough to see them repeating a top 10 year on that side of the ball given their tougher schedule and lack of top-end talent. 38th overall pick Andre Branch looks promising and the Jaguars have enough pieces to surprise some people if Gabbert can find his footing as a starting QB in the NFL. Mike Mularkey was a questionable choice as a coach and might not get too many years to turn around the franchise.
30. Washington Redskins - Robert Griffin III will give the Redskins something to watch every week, but the rest of the team needs more talent before the Redskins are ready to compete in the NFC East. They have enough decent players on both sides of the ball to think that they could exceed expectations with some luck. However, a rookie QB with a limited supporting cast can only do so much – especially against one of the league’s toughest schedules. The Redskins probably won’t play as poorly as their final record might suggest.
31. Minnesota Vikings - Barring a phenomenal year from Christian Ponder, it is hard to see how the Vikings can win more than 6 games. While Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson are amongst the game’s best players, the supporting cast is decidedly sub-par. They are riddled with holes on both sides of the ball and unlike many other bad teams from 2011, Minnesota didn’t do much to improve their roster. Matt Kalil should help solidify their line but it’s unlikely that the rest of their draft picks will be enough to get Minnesota out of the division’s cellar.
32. St. Louis Rams – Jeff Fisher will get his guys to play hard and compete, but there is still a significant lack of talent on the roster. The OLB and S spots are in bad shape and the team’s OL is amongst the worst in the league. There are a number of promising young players, but the Rams will lose a lot of games in 2012. They look like a team which will start to build some momentum late in the year as young players start to develop and find their footing in Fisher’s scheme.
With all 32 back in camp, much attention will be paid to the rookie class of 2012 and their ability to contribute this year. One position where rookies can immediately step in and make an impact is the RB spot. While rookies tend to get worked in slowly at many positions – QB, WR, LB to name a few – rookie RB’s are often thrust into starting spots or given big part-time roles. Here are the top 25 all time heaviest workloads by percentage of their team’s rushing offense for rookie RB’s:
Since 1970, 54 RB’s have had 50% or more of their team’s rushing attempts, though only 4 (Edgerrin James, LaDanian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin and Eric Dickerson) had more than 75%.
Perhaps a sign of the weakness of the 2011 crop of rookies, or the league-wide shift to RB rotations, only 9 2011 rookies had more than 10% of their team’s total rushing attmepts:
Chances are, 2012 rookie Trent Richardson will easily surpass 2011 rookie leader DeMarco Murray’s 40.2% of Dallas’ rushes. The other early picks, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Isaiah Pead and LaMichael James all figure to be in rotational or situational roles and none are good bets to top the 50% mark barring injury to their team’s other RB’s.
The 1980’s produced a number of good QB’s, many of which were found in the opening round of the draft. The 10 drafts from 1980-1989 produced 2 of the best QB’s in the history of the game – Dan Marino (27th overall, 1983, Miami Dolphins) and John Elway (1st overall, 1983, Baltimore Colts), as well as two guys who have strong arguments for being in the top 10-15 all time: Jim Kelly (14th overall, 1983, Buffalo Bills) and Troy Aikman (1st overall, 1989, Dallas Cowboys). These 4 combined for a record of 490-305-1, with 29 Pro Bowl Appearances and 13 trips to the Super Bowl. The other 14 QB’s drafted in the 1980’s weren’t nearly as successful, though Ken O’Brien (24th overall, 1983, New York Jets), Vinny Testaverde (1st overall, 1987, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Jim Everett (3rd overall, 1986, Houston Oilers) had their share of success over careers of varying length.
As with any series of drafters, there were plenty of duds to go along with the Canton bound signal callers. Kelly Stouffer (6th overall, 1987, St. Louis Cardinals) was perhaps the biggest huge flop. While 1987 was one of the weaker 1st rounds in history, nothing can put a good spin on Stouffer’s level of failure. First he held out and forced his way out of St. Louis, then was traded to the Seattle Seahawks and then (after one brief moment of glory in his first ever NFL game) played about as poorly as any QB can in the NFL. His career ended with a 5-11 record, 7 TD, 19 INT and a QB Rating of 54.5. Stouffer’s ineptness was rivaled or, perhaps, surpassed by that of Chuck Long (1986, 12th overall, Detroit Lions), Art Schlichter (1982, 4th overall, Baltimore Colts), Todd Blackledge (7th overall, 1983, Kansas City Chiefs) and Rich Campbell (6th overall, Green Bay Packers, 1981).
However, those guys were mostly remembered either for their huge success or huge failure on the biggest possible stage. While Ken O’Brien and Jim Everett might not be familiar names for younger NFL fans, chances are anyone who followed football in the 1980’s and early 1990’s remembers them as guys who were (at the time) regarded as decent-to-good (though inconsistent) starting QB’s who you never really wanted calling signals for your team despite their moderate success (see: Pennington, Chad for a more modern example). While O’Brien and Everett (best remembered for blowing up in an interview with Jim Rome on TV) are somewhat memorable players, even in a “you had to be there” way, the following guys you might not remember at all unless they played for your team (from most to least memorable):
Jim Harbaugh (26th overall, 1987, Chicago Bears) – Harbaugh might be a guy you know, or have heard of (depending on when you started following football). After all, he played 14 seasons and was a starter for 10 of those years. However, his pedestrian numbers and career mediocrity might have led you to forget that he was a fairly hyped 1st round pick once upon a time ago. His brilliant season in 1995 with the Indianapolis Colts (coming just inches away from a trip to a Super Bowl) was one of the top passing seasons of that decade. However, the rest of his career was totally forgettable. Only 3 times in his career did he lead his team to a winning record in his starts (1990,1991,1995).
Jim McMahon (26th overall, 1982, Chicago Bears) – The guy whom Harbaugh was drafted to replace, Jim McMahon is probably best remembered for his sweatband and babysitting the offense that played alongside one of the greatest defenses in modern football history. Like Harbaugh, McMahon played for a deceptively long time – all the way until 1996. He appeared in 120 games in a 15 year, 6 team career. However, he only played in more than 10 games in 5 seasons. Injuries, mental mistakes and bouts of wildness made McMahon a guy who always found himself a starting job but never holding it for a full season. In 15 years, his highest single season passing total was just 2392 yards (his Super Bowl winning 1985 season). His longevity and the success of the Bears’ defense in the mid 80’s saved McMahon from total irrelevancy.
Chris Miller (13th overall, 1987, Atlanta Falcons) – He had a brief period of success in the Falcons 1991 playoff run and his injury shortened 1992 season (in which he was leading the league in QB rating before getting hurt). Other than that, Chris Miller is one of the most forgettable QB’s of the late 1980’s/early 90’s. He played for 10 years, started 92 games but won only 34. A career 54.6 completion % and 74.9 rating.
Tony Eason (15th overall, 1983, New England Patriots) - The 1983 draft produced 3 of the very best QB’s ever (Elway, Marino and Kelly). Tony Eason was drafted one spot after Kelly and 12 before Marino (with Ken O’Brien in between). At first, he looked like he was going to follow in his class of 83’s footsteps. In his first year as a full time starter, 1984, he put up a very impressive 93.4 QB Rating. Only Marino and Joe Montana were better. Unfortunately, 1985 wasn’t kind to Eason – he put up a very poor 67.5 QBR despite leading the Patriots to the Super Bowl. His performance in the Super Bowl, even considering the quality of the Bears’ defense, was nothing short of appalling (so bad that he was benched early on in the game). He rebounded in 1986, going 10-4 as a starter with a QBR of 89.2 (4th best int he NFL). The Patriots era of bad luck, putrid play and sheer incompetence began in Eason’s lost 1987 season. Their franchise QB separated his shoulder, then suffered nerve damage in his elbow as a result of wearing his sling too tightly. He would go on to miss almost all of 1987 and 1988 and was traded to the Jets in 1989. He started just 10 games after his successful 1986 campaign.
Marc Wilson (15th overall, 1980, Oakland Raiders) - Even in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Oakland Raiders were known to be poor at their early round draft selections (Marcus Allen aside) on the occasions when they actually used them (even then, they liked to trade their 1st round picks away). Marc Wilson was drafted to be the long term replacement for the aging Ken Stabler. Seeing how you’ve probably forgotten (or never heard of) Wilson, it follows that he never became the franchise guy that Al Davis had hoped. Somehow, he managed to stick around with the Raiders for 8 years – far longer than most 1st round flops. He only started 8+ games in 4 seasons and in every one of those 4, he threw more INT’s than TD’s. He had a brief tour with the Patriots in 1989-1990, easy to forget given how terrible those teams were, before retiring in anonymity in 1991.
Mark Malone (28th overall, 1980, Pittsburgh Steelers) – If you watched ESPN for football coverage in the 1990’s, you might remember Malone. Otherwise, you might have forgotten all about him, even if you were a die hard football fan in the 1980’s. Like many mid-late 1st round QB flops, Malone kicked around the league for longer than he should have. Somehow, he ended up playing in 73 games over 9 seasons. His career 50.9 completion %, 60 TDs to 81 INT and 61.9 QBR
tell you everything you need to know about Malone if you had forgotten him like just about everyone outside of Pittsburgh.
Training camp is less than a month away and for the draft class of 2009, it’s now or never. The general wisdom is that draft picks get 3 years to establish themselves (though many picks get far less time, if they’re taken outside of the top 2 rounds or happen to get drafted by a team who doesn’t mind cutting high picks early). After 3 years, if a 1st or 2nd rounder hasn’t panned out, they become a training camp casualty. Sometimes a team can find a trade partner who is willing to take on a former high pick for the cost of a very low or conditional draft pick. Such was the case with 2009 4th overall pick Aaron Curry. The former “safest pick in the draft” was unloaded by Seattle after just 35 games and less than 3 full seasons.
Curry isn’t alone in being cast aside as an early 2009 draft pick. Here are some other high picks who have already been dumped:
11th overall – LB Aaron Maybin (Buffalo Bills)
36th overall – WR Brian Robiskie (Cleveland Browns)
37th overall – CB Alphonso Smith (Denver Broncos)
41st overall – CB Darius Butler (New England Patriots)
43rd overall – DE Everette Brown (Carolina Panthers)
44th overall – QB Pat White (Miami Dolphins)
48th overall – DB Darcel McBath (Denver Broncos)
52nd overall – LB David Veikune (Cleveland Browns)
63rd overall – LB Cody Brown (Arizona Cardinals)
64th overall – TE Richard Quinn (Denver Broncos)
11 of the top 64 players have already exited the league or changed teams, and chances are good that there will be at least 10 more guys in that category by the time 53 man rosters are set in early September. Here are some guys who could be joining the list:
2nd overall – OT Jason Smith (St. Louis Rams) – He hasn’t locked down a starting spot on either side of the line and has been inconsistent at best. It would be a mild surprise to see him let go, but Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have no connection to the drafting of Smith and might decide to move on.
12th overall – RB Knowshon Moreno (Denver Broncos) – The Broncos have already jettisoned 3 Top 64 picks from 2009 and Moreno should make 4. While he has some redeeming qualities, notably his above average blitz blocking, he has shown that he’s a total dud as a feature back. At best, he’s a 3rd down back and rotational guy and one would think his time in Denver is short.
16th overall – OLB Larry English (San Diego Chargers) - Drafted as a pass rushing specialist, he has just 7 sacks in 3 seasons. With the addition of 2012 first round pick Melvin Ingram, the Chargers are likely ready to move on from English barring a superb training camp.
23rd overall – OT Michael Oher (Baltimore Ravens) – While he is the only 2009 1st rounder to have a Hollywood feature film made about him, Oher has been a big disappointment. At times he flashes the type of talent that made him a 1st round pick. At other times, he looks either disinterested or totally lost. It’s likely he will stick in Baltimore for another year, but he might not be around much longer than that.
24th overall – DT Peria Jerry (Atlanta Falcons) – 6 games started and just 2 sacks in 3 seasons with the Falcons, Jerry faces an uphill battle to make the Atlanta roster. New Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan hasn’t committed (publicly) to either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme, but a 3-4 would almost certainly seal Jerry’s fate in Atlanta. Regardless of scheme, it’s a good possibility that Jerry will be playing elsewhere in 2012.
39th overall – OT Eben Britton (Jacksonville Jaguars) – He’s been hurt a lot early in his career, plying in just 10 games over the last 2 years. When he’s on the field he isn’t anything special. The Jaguars don’t have a ton of depth at the position, so it’s possible that he could stick even with a poor camp. However, he will need to get healthy and show some progress if he wants to stick in the league.
40th overall – DT Ron Brace (New England Patriots) – Brace has been hurt off and on with a number of small injuries and has found himself in coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse at several different points (including being inactive for this year’s Super Bowl). When he’s on the field, he has shown flashes of being a quality 5-technique DE but his inconsistencies and lack of durability have led to him getting passed on the depth chart. Belichick doesn’t keep guys around who don’t produce, and has already pulled the plug on Darius Butler (taken one pick after Brace). It would be a mild surprise if Brace breaks camp with the Patriots.
45th overall – LB Clint Sintim (New York Giants) – Sintim is coming off a torn ACL and has yet to establish himself in New York’s LB corps. He was almost totally nonexistent his first two seasons before tearing his knee up last summer. Some Giants fans remain high on him, but like Britton and Brace, he will need to prove he is both healthy and taking a step forward in order to secure a roster spot.
50th overall – WR Mohamed Massaquoi (Cleveland Browns) -The best thing to happen to Mohammed Massaquoi’s young career is the Browns passing on a WR in the first (or a top WR in free agency) and waiting until the 4th round to address the position. The Cleveland WR depth chart is thin enough for the underwhelming Massaquoi to have plenty of reps and get a long look in camp. While he isn’t terrible, he’s also not lived up to his status as a mid 2nd round pick. He will probably hang on for another year in Cleveland, though he might not have survived this long with a different team.
There is little doubt that recently retired RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be a Hall of Famer – probably on the first ballot. Here’s a quick look at the numbers Tomlinson piled up in his outstanding 11 year career:
|All Time RB Rank|
Overall, a very impressive and Canton worthy resume. His 30 career fumbles is 10th best for RB’s with 1000+ carries and his 1% fumble rate is the 2nd best all time for a RB (Curtis Martin is #1) with 1500+ touches. His single-season TD record (31), set in 2006, is impressive. Though the record was set 4 times in the 7 season from 2000 and 2006 (Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander and Tomlinson), it seems unlikely that it will be topped for awhile. The league has moved so far away from “feature” backs that it is tough to imagine a RB getting enough touches to get 32+ TD’s in a single season. Of the backs in the league, dual threats like Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew or Matt Forte could make a run at the record, maybe Adrian Peterson if he recovers from knee surgery. But otherwise, it seems that Tomlinson will hold the record for the foreseeable future.
Similarly, Tomlinson’s place as 5th overall in NFL history in career rushing yards might not be challenged for awhile. Tomlinson ended his career with 13,684 rushing yards. The leading active rusher is the currently unemployed Thomas Jones with 10,591 yards (22nd all time). At 33 years old and nothing more than a part timer, if he even suits up in 2012, Jones won’t top Tomlinson. Behind Jones is Steven Jackson at 9,093 yards. At 28 years old, it’s possible for Jackson to end up in the top 5 all-time. To do that, Jackson would have to do something most late 20’s and early 30’s RB’s don’t – stay healthy and highly productive.
Tomlinson’s place in history is secure. There are few arguments to be made that he isn’t one of the top 10 RB’s in the Super Bowl era. However, how highly should we regard Tomlinson’s career? While he’s the best RB to come out of the 2000’s, it was an era with few feature backs and fewer guys who were capable of dominance. Compared to the other elite backs in the Super Bowl era, Tomlinson stacks up well – but his stats don’t exhibit the consistent dominance you’d expect from a guy whom some consider the greatest of all time
One way to measure a RB’s success is by using YPC+ – a measure of his yards per carry relative to the league average. After all, a 1200 yard season isn’t impressive if that RB averages 3.2 yards per carry in an era where the league average is 4.4 YPC. It’s easy for people to get a bit blinded by gaudy yardage stats without taking into account yards per carry. For example, Cedric Benson ran for 1,111 yards in 2010 – good for 13th best in the league. But his meager 3.5 YPC was 42nd out of 46 RB’s who had 100+ carries. Benson ended up with a YPC+ of just 83, or 17% worse than league average. From that point of view, his “good year” looks pretty bad.
Here are the Top 10 rushing yardage leaders since 1970 YPC+:
As you can see, Tomlinson’s 102 YPC+ is good for 7th best of this group. However, his longest streak of consecutive 100+ YPC seasons was 3 and he only had 2 115+ seasons. He also had the 2nd fewest 100+ YPC seasons (less than half of his seasons in the league). Now, his receiving ability and use out of the backfield gives him a dual-threat aspect that some other top RB’s didn’t have.
Here is that same group of RB’s by their career receiving averages:
Tomlinson leads the way with an average of 57 catches per year, though his 7.8 YPC is behind Payton, Allen and Sanders.
Lastly, here are the RB’s career offensive averages, rushes and receptions combined:
Only 3 RB’s since 1970 have produced more yards per touch than Tomlinson. As a pure rusher, I wouldn’t put Tomlinson in the top 5 of the modern era. However, as an overall RB, he is definitely one of the most productive and most talented that the league has ever seen.
The 2000 draft, like most years, was a bit of a mixed bag but overall a fairly weak class. The two best players, by far, were separated by 100 picks: 9th overall Brian Urlacher and 199th overall Tom Brady. There were a number of high quality players taken in between, including 3 Jets: Shaun Ellis (12th), John Abraham (13th), Julian Peterson (16th), Shaun Alexander (19th), Chad Clifton (44th), Laveraneus Coles (78th) and former All-Pros Adalius Thomas (186th) and Mike Brown (39th). There were also a number of notable (and high profile) flops, especially in the “no-man’s land” of the late 1st round: Sylvester Morris (21st), Chris McIntosh (22nd), Rashard Anderson (23rd) and R.Jay Soward (29th) were all out of the league by the end by the end of 2001 due to injuries or legal problems.
And, like all years, there were a handful of guys taken in the 1st round that you have either forgotten about, never known about or would be otherwise surprised to think of as 1st rounders. Here are a few:
Travis Taylor – WR – 10th overall – Baltimore Ravens
Even those of us who remember Taylor beyond just being vaguely familiar with the name would probably be surprised to learn that he played in 101 career games with 90 starts before washing out of the league in 2007. In no way was he worth a top 10 pick, but as far as 1st round picks go he is probably middle of the road in terms of production. His career best year was 2002 when he had 61 catches for 869 yards and 6 TD’s.
Ron Dayne – RB – 11th overall – New York Giants
Anyone who followed college football or the NFL draft in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s knows how hyped Dayne was. 5’10 and 250+ lbs, he was thought to be a real-life version of Tecmo Bowl’s Christian Okoye and ended up more like a poor man’s real life version of Christian Okoye. In Dayne’s 4 years with the Giants, he averaged a pitiful 3.5 yards per carry, despite getting ample opportunities to establish himself as the #1 guy in New York. He enjoyed a brief late-career resurgence in Houston in 2006-07 and has been mostly forgotten ever since. Despite going 11th overall, the 2000 running back class didn’t offer much after Dayne came off the board. Only Shaun Alexander and Mike Anderson were high quality players. Sammy Morris and Reuben Droughns stuck around awhile as HB/FB hybrids and carved out nice niches for themselves.
Erik Flowers – DE/LB – 26th overall – Buffalo Bills
I didn’t understand it at the time and I still don’t. Flowers had no business going in the top 50, let alone late 1st round. He played just 2 years with the Bills as a failed pass-rusher, bounced around for a few years and was out of the league after 2004.
Trung Canidate – RB – 31st overall – St. Louis Rams
The Rams have had a whole lot of forgettable 1st rounders and Canidate might be the worst of them all, In 3 highly forgettable years with the Rams, he rushed for 495 yards (441 of which came in his 2nd season). He was an Al Davis special – blazing fast but with no real football ability. Reportedly, the Rams had timed him running the 40 yard dash in the 4.2 – 4.3 range pre-draft and thought his speed would be impossible to contain on the (then) Astroturf of the Rams’ dome. Somehow, they swindled the Redskins into giving up a 4th round pick for Canidate. He looked like he might be on the path to realizing his potential, starting 10 games with the Redskins and racking up 600 yards with a respectable 4.2 YPC, However, a fairly severe foot injury and the 2004 acquisition of Clinton Portis ended Canidate’s time in Washington and he never got a chance elsewhere.