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Pre-Season Power Rankings: Part 2

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

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Replacing Marino: The Dolphins Never-Ending Search For A QB

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

With Matt Flynn signing in Seattle, Robert Griffin III headed to Washington and Peyton Manning seemingly not interested, the Dolphins for the 13th season in a row are left wondering who their next franchise QB will be. In the 12 seasons since Marino retired, the Dolphins have struggled to find a merely average QB, let alone a true cornerstone player. They’ve trotted out a seemingly endless string of veteran retreads (Chad Pennington, Gus Frerotte), has-beens (Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green) and never were’s (Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese). A whopping 16 different QB’s have started for Miami since their Hall of Famer departed after the 1999 season. Take a look at the numbers:

Player GS Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate
Chad Pennington 20 373 552 67.6% 4085 20 9 94.5
Matt Moore 12 210 347 60.5% 2497 16 9 87.1
Daunte Culpepper 4 81 134 60.4% 929 2 3 77.0
Jay Fiedler 59 936 1603 58.4% 11040 66 63 76.8
Chad Henne 31 646 1065 60.7% 7114 31 37 75.7
Trent Green 5 85 141 60.3% 987 5 7 72.6
Cleo Lemon 8 211 377 56.0% 2185 8 7 72.2
Gus Frerotte 15 257 494 52.0% 2996 18 13 71.9
Ray Lucas 6 94 163 57.7% 1090 4 6 70.8
Brian Griese 5 74 130 56.9% 813 5 6 69.2
Sage Rosenfels 2 54 109 49.5% 776 6 6 68.4
Joey Harrington 11 223 388 57.5% 2236 12 15 68.2
Tyler Thigpen 1 37 70 52.9% 518 3 4 67.4
John Beck 4 60 107 56.1% 559 1 3 62.0
A.J. Feeley 8 191 356 53.7% 1893 11 15 61.7
Damon Huard 1 39 63 61.9% 318 1 3 60.2

Looking at it another way, take a look at the Dolphins team QB Rating in the last 12 seasons, compared to league average:

Only Chad Pennington in 2008 was significantly above average. Matt Moore, to his credit, did a pretty decent job last year – posting a QB Rating of 84.9, a little better than the 82.5 league average. To that end, Moore was statistically better than Michael Vick, Cam Newton Joe Flacco, Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler. The issue for the Dolphins is that Moore at his best doesn’t seem like the type of guy who can take a team deep in the playoffs without a great defense behind him. Of course it’s possible that he is a late bloomer and could continue to improve, but if you’re Miami, do you really want to put your future in the hands of Matt Moore? Probably not.

That said, Moore’s success in 2011 is a good reason to avoid Matt Flynn who is no sure bet to be any better than Moore and is only 10 months younger. That Flynn’s former offensive coordinator and current Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wasn’t willing to make a big play for Flynn (and it seems that Miami’s interest in him was tepid) says a lot about the Dolphins valuation of Moore vs. Flynn. While Flynn might end up the better player, it’s tough to blame Miami for not seeing him as a guy worth $19-24M.

Where the Dolphins do deserve some criticism though is not addressing the QB spot in the draft. They’ve wasted 2nd round picks on Pat White (2009), Chad Henne (2008) and John Beck (2007) and took a late round flier on Josh Heupel (6th round, 2001) but have otherwise ignored the position since Marino left.

Looking ahead, the Dolphins will have to decide whether or not they want to invest a high draft pick in a rookie QB. Ryan Tannehill is raw but has high upside and the Dolphins could easily sit him behind the reasonably competent Moore for a year. However, will Tannehill still be around when the Dolphins are on the clock? It seems likely, but there are still more teams in need of a QB than quality veterans available so it wouldn’t be a shock if someone jumps Miami to take Tannehill or perhaps the Browns pull the trigger at #4. The other option would be Brandon Weeden, but at soon-to-be 29 years old, is he really worth a high investment for a team with a mediocre 28 year old QB at the helm? Certainly not in the 1st round but will Weeden last until Miami’s 2nd round pick? What about 2nd tier guys like Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles or Brock Osweiler? Again, it’s tough to project any of those guys as a long term answer or even a better solution than Moore.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, unless Moore totally bombs they will not be in position for Matt Barkley next year so they might have to get aggressive with how they address the position. Either they will have to secure Tannehill (trading up if necessary) or they will have to be prepared to go hard for Barkley (or another franchise QB type) next year. Of course, if the Dolphins go with Moore + Cousins (or another 2nd/3rd tier QB) they will just be reliving the pattern of the last few years which has gotten them nowhere. At some point they have to make a splash at the position because they won’t hoist the Lombardi trophy without an upgrade from the Matt Moore’s of the world

Goodbye 2011 Season. Combine Here We Come.

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

The 2011 NFL season is just about in the books. There are a few loose ends to be tied up – the Giants parade, a few coaching/assistant vacancies, retirements, etc, – but for all intents and purposes we are ready to kick off the 2012 offseason. For many of us (especially those of us reading an NFL-draft themed website) the offseason is nearly (equally?) as exciting as the regular season. The first stop is the NFL Scouting Combine in just over two weeks. While some of us will be watching each and every drill and keeping our eyes and ears open for draft-related rumblings, others will just pay attention to the big daily headlines. Here are some things to watch:

1. The top of the DL class. Unlike in some recent years, there is no consensus Top 5 pick DL on the board. There are two guys – LSU’s Michael Brockers and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples – who have very high upside but question marks. Brockers, a redshirt sophomore, is thought to have elite upside but is very raw. Coples is a bit of an enigma, flashing top-end skills at times and disappearing at other times. In a draft class short on 5-techniques, and a league shifting more and more to 3-4 base schemes, both Coples and Brockers could draw a lot of interest early. It’s possible 4-3 teams take an interest in both guys, Brockers is probably atop the list of 3-techniques in the draft and Coples could play DE in some 4-3 schemes. After those guys, Devon Still, Dontari Poe, and others are looking to jump into the top half of the 1st round.

2. The WR class in general. If there’s a position which has a lot of moving and shaking in terms of draft stock at the combine, it’s the receivers. Can Alshon Jeffery run well and prove some of his naysayers wrong about his athleticism and speed? Can Michael Floyd interview well and show better-than-expected fluidity in drills? Is Kendall Wright really as impressive athletically as a lot of people are starting to think? Moving beyond the top tier of receivers, the Combine could help shape the 2nd tier of WR’s. This draft is loaded with speedy, dynamic playmakers: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, T.Y. Hilton to name a few. Not to mention some bigger guys who could boost their stock with good 40 times: Juron Criner, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu. This is a class which will be very deep in WR prospects and a superlative Combine showing can theoretically make a WR a lot of money. Conversely, with so many good prospects, a bad combine could cause a WR to slip a lot.

3. The “other” QB’s: Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden. Like with the WR’s, there is a bit of a muddle after the first tier of WR’s. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are obviously the #1 and #2 guys. After that, there isn’t much of a consensus on anyone. Seeing how some of these guys do in drills and how they interview will probably cause one or two to shoot up the board and possibly one or two to slide into Day 3 territory.

4. Smaller school guys. Guys like Appalachian State WR Brian Quick, Midwestern State OT Amini Silatolu, Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green, Cal Poly DB Asa Jackson and Montana DB Trumaine Johnson are among the lesser known prospects (to many) who the casual draft follower or college football fan might not know about. There are usually one or two such players who see a boost in their stock by performing well in the drills or interview process.

5. Character or injury guys. How does Ryan Broyles’ knee check out? Is Alshon Jeffery’s work ethic bad or just a myth? This portion of the process goes largely unseen until the draft itself when you hear cryptic comments from a so-called expert about how “from what I understand, Player X didn’t do well in the interviews” or “Player Y apparently has some drug issues in his past” or “Player Z’s injury is more worrisome than many thought”. However, as we have seen in the case of Aaron Hernandez (drugs) or Rob Gronkowski (spinal injury), sometimes these red flags can be too highly considered on draft day. We all remember the hoopla about Cam Newton’s comments (“I’m an entertainer and an icon”). Many labeled him a diva or character risk based on those comments and his issues at Auburn. Luckily, Carolina was smart enough to trust their own interview process and make him their franchise QB.

6. Position conversion projects. With the increase of 3-4 teams in the NFL, but no real increase in college, there are more and more teams looking to convert college DT’s to 5-techniques and college DE’s to OLBs. In many cases, teams project these conversions with very little tape to go on. The drills at the combine (and pro days) can go a long way. Guys like Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson, Andre Branch and the like will need to show well in LB drills to be considered by 3-4 clubs. Some DB drills could also help scouts identify CB’s who could flip to safety (especially important in this weak safety class).

All in all, it should be an interesting kickoff to a 6 month offseason.

Winners And Losers From Barkley’s Decision

December 23, 2011 1 comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

For weeks, even months, fans of teams in need of a franchise QB have been salivating over the number of options to pick from in round 1 of the 2012 draft. While Andrew Luck has been the consensus #1 pick in 2012 for nearly a full calender year – ever since he announced he would return to school – Matt Barkley had established himself as a top 10 pick. While Robert Griffin III had a phenomenal season, capped off by a Heisman trophy win, many still considered Barkley to be the 2nd best QB prospect on the board. Unfortunately for teams seeking a new signal-caller, Barkley is headed back to college. Here are the top winners and losers from today’s decision:

Winners:

Robert Griffin III
– Assuming the Heisman trophy winning QB declares (a matter still very much up in the air), he immediately becomes the unanimous #2 QB on the board. Barring a terrible performance at the combine, or teams getting cold feet if Griffin is a bit shorter than expected, Griffin stands to be a top 5 pick. There are even grumblings that he could leapfrog Andrew Luck atop the 2012 board. While that seems a bit extreme – at least right now – there is no doubt Griffin will hear his name called very early on Day 1.

Ryan Tannehill/Landry Jones/Nick Foles – The 2nd tier of QB prospects instantly become 1st round considerations if they weren’t before. The draft is very much a good example of the principles of supply and demand. Once Luck and Griffin are gone, teams will get antsy waiting around for the #3 QB to come off the board. It wouldn’t surprise me to see one of these guys go much earlier than many think. Tannehill or Jones might even sneak into the top 15.

Minnesota Vikings/St.Louis Rams – Whichever team holds the #2 pick in the draft immediately sees a big demand for their pick. Far more teams need a franchise QB than will be able to find one via the veteran free agent and trade market. Going into the draft, there figures to be at least 4 or 5 teams desperately in need of a long-term answer at QB. The only way to ensure you get a premier prospect (Griffin) is to leapfrog all the other QB-needy teams. One would think the price tag in any trade just went up.

Brian Hoyer/Matt Flynn – Young veteran QB’s buried behind superstars. Both Hoyer (restricted) and Flynn (unrestricted) will be free agents at the end of the year and both figure to be options for teams who will be unable to get Luck or Griffin. Flynn seems almost certain to leave the Packers and Hoyer could probably be pried free from New England for the right price. With one less young QB option available, these guys could see an increase in the demand for their services.

Kyle Orton – As sad as it might sound, Orton will most likely be the best “established” veteran QB available in free agency. It’s possible the Chiefs decide to keep him around, but they probably won’t be alone in bidding for Orton. He could provide a good 1 or 2 year stopgap for a team who doesn’t want to reach for a 2nd or 3rd tier guy in the draft.

Losers:

Seattle Seahawks – Beyond the Pete Carroll/USC connection, the Seahawks seemed like a pretty good landing spot for Barkley. Their offense would have been a good fit for him and they are arguably a franchise QB away from being a serious NFC West contender. Seattle has been winning too much lately to have been in position to draft Barkley, but they won’t even have the chance to trade up for him now. Furthermore, the increased demand for 2nd tier guys could put the Seahawks in a tough spot if they end up drafting in the middle of the 1st round. Do they reach for a QB? Do they wait til round 2 and take a lesser prospect and hope for the best? Tarvaris Jackson isn’t the answer and Pete Carroll needs to find a better QB if he wants to stick around for awhile

Washington Redskins – The Redskins have needed a QB since the days of Mark Rypien. They have missed on three 1st round QB’s since Rypien (Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell) and were in prime position to get either Griffin or Barkley. Now they will have to try to trade up to get get Griffin – not as good of a system fit as Barkley would have been- or settle for a 2nd rounder (or pass altogether).

Miami Dolphins – Pretty much the same story as Washington. The Dolphins aren’t too far away from being a contender but need a better QB than Matt Moore. Few teams have invested as little in the QB position as the Dolphins. Since 1990, the Dolphins have only drafted 7 QB’s. They waited too late to find an heir to Hall of Famer Dan Marino and have missed on questionable 2nd rounders John Beck, Chad Henne and Pat White. It’s tough to see the Dolphins being able to win the AFC East with their endless parade of journeymen and fringe starters.

Cleveland Browns
– Depending on whether or not Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmer believe in Colt McCoy, the Browns could have been a player for Barkley. With Griffin almost certainly off the board by the time the Browns are on the clock, McCoy probably survives another year as Cleveland’s starter.

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