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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Houston Texans: Half-Season (Sort of) Review

If you’re a Texans fan, you have to be thrilled with a 6-1 record at the midway point in the season. Most analysts, including myself, had them at 5-2 when we looked at the schedule before the season started. With an away game at Denver, and home tilts against the Ravens and Packers, it was easy to think Houston would at least have another loss by now.
While I’m not surprised at the 6-1 record, it’s the way they’ve done it that has impressed me. Of their six wins, five have been blowouts (yes, I include the Broncos game because they were totally dominating Denver until the replacement refs started to assert their influence). Of course, naysayers will point to the near-comeback by Peyton Manning in only his third game in a new offense, the Packers’ game, beating a depleted Ravens squad, and say that Houston hasn’t beaten anyone. However, all you have to do is go back to the glory days of the 49ers in the 80’s, Packers in the 90’s, and Patriots in the 00’s, and you will see that they played in weak divisions with few marquee games during the season.
Let’s take a look at the mid-season grades by position:
Quarterback: B+

While Matt Schaub is not putting up some of the gaudy numbers we’ve seen in the past, he has been exactly what this offense needs – a smart, efficient signal caller. A 10 to 4 interception ratio is all they need with this running game and defense.
Running Backs: B+

Yes, Arian Foster is leading the league in rushing, but I feel as though he’s missing some of the cutbacks that have become a staple of his game. It seems as though there are three or four times a game that he misses wide open holes created by the line on the backside.
Unfortunately, Ben Tate and Justin Forsett are incomplete at this point because of Foster’s high carries total. With both having higher yards-per-carry averages they need to get on the field more.
Wide Receivers: C

Maybe I’m being hard on them, but I just don’t see anything special from this group, and that includes Andre Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the growing “Andre Johnson’s finished” crowd, but I do think that Gary Kubiak limiting his snaps is affecting his rhythm and feel for the game.
Maybe he just had a couple of bad years, but Kevin Walter is putting together a much better season than he’s had in the last two. He’s still an above average run blocker, but has been much more effective getting open this year.
Keyshawn Martin has been inconsistent, dropping several passes. Now that he’s healthy, I see Lestar Jean getting more snaps as the third receiver.
Tight Ends: A

I know it sounds strange, but this has been the best position group on the offense. Owen Daniels is now fully-recovered from his knee injury two years ago, and has become Schaub’s most trusted option. In addition, his run blocking has improved tremendously as his career has gone on. While he doesn’t get much time, Garrett Graham is proving to be a reliable receiver, very good in the run game, and may have the catch of the year with that tip job to himself against Baltimore.
Sorry, but I include James Casey in this group, because he’s simply not a fullback with the way the Texans use him. I still think he could be a bigger weapon in this offense, but it’s hard to argue with the results of the gameplans by Rick Dennison and Kubiak.
Offensive Line: C+

While they’ve done a very good job in pass protection, the run blocking hasn’t been anywhere near as effective in the past three years. Of course, this is the mix that I would prefer, considering that the primary goal this season has to be to keep Schaub healthy. Make no mistake, his health is the key to the success of this team.
Duane Brown continues to impress and is definitely the best left tackle in football. Wade Smith and Chris Myers have been very steady, with the latter looking much stronger than in the past (if you question that, just look at how he pushed Terrence Cody (340 pounds) of the Ravens five yards off the ball on several occasions.
The right side is a problem, and while I think it will get better as the year goes on, I think Rick Smith will be in the market for a right tackle this offseason. Rashad Butler is injury-prone and Derek Newton has had problems in both the run and pass game. Ben Jones has been a pleasant surprise and his improvement will keep Antoine Caldwell on the bench.
Defensive Line: B+

I’m sure this grade will surprise some people with the play of Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt in particular, but the nose tackle and run defense up the middle has been atrocious. We haven’t seen this issue in full effect yet because the Texans have scored early and often and forced teams to pass. On running plays between the guards, you can see Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell being manhandled by bigger guards. The game against the Bears in week 10 should tell us a bit more.
J.J. Watt has been incredible, and by far, the best player on the team. He might be the best player in the league right now. If it continues, he’ll run away with Defensive Player of the Year, and might garner some votes in the MVP race. His football IQ is off the charts, which is amazing for a second-year player, and is on display when he bats down passes. Most young pass rushers are too eager, and simply go for the sack on every play. The patience he exhibits in getting separation and extending for throws shows a maturity well beyond his years.
Linebackers: B-

Overall, the linebackers have been a solid unit. Sure, the sack totals for Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed are disappointing, but they’re doing a great job against the run and are still forcing the quarterback to get rid of the ball before he’d like. I look for Whitney Mercilus to get more playing time as the season progresses. He’s really come on recently and was a big factor in the pass rush against the Ravens.
On the interior, the loss of Brian Cushing can be seen on a regular basis. There’s nobody on the roster that can replace his athleticism, instincts, and knowledge of Wade Phillip’s scheme. Of course, there are few players in the entire league that could play the position better than he can. However, Tim Dobbins is doing an admirable job, and I think we’ll see him take more and more snaps away from Bradie James in nickel and dime packages. James just isn’t the player he used to be.
It will be interesting to see where Darryl Sharpton fits in if he’s able to come back from his preseason injury. He’s much more athletic than Dobbins or James, but he can be a real liability in the running game.
Secondary: A
Outside of the hiccup against the Packers, this group has been fantastic. On the back end, there may not be a better safety tandem in the league than Danieal Manning and Glover Quin. While Manning is a playmaker that always seems to be in the right place at the right time on pass plays, Quin is a much better player than I ever thought he’d be. Wade Phillips has done a magnificent job in utilizing him, whether in coverage or in blitz packages.
As for the cornerbacks, Jonathan Joseph is certainly not as good as he was last year, when I graded him as the second-best cornerback in the league, but he’s still in the top ten. The groin injury is bothering him, and his play has dropped off in the past few weeks.
On the other hand, if you hear anyone speak poorly of Kareem Jackson this year, you have my permission to smack them in the face. His turnaround in the last two years is a credit to secondary coach Vance Joseph, but even more so, to Jackson himself. In playing a position that requires the utmost confidence, his ability to put the “ugly times” behind him is beyond commendable. What I’m most impressed with is his improved technique which has allowed him to overcome his lack of top end speed.
Lastly, Brice McCain has turned into an above-average nickel corner. His work against slot receivers has been pretty good, and it will be interesting to see the matchup between him and Wes Welker in week 14.
Special Teams: D+
To call the Texans teams “not very special” is an understatement, to say the least. They rank in the high 20s in both coverage units, and the same in both kickoff and punt returns. For the most part, I think it points to too many young players and a lack of depth. I’m not sure if you can correct it at midseason, so Houston will simply have to grin and bear it for the time being. In my opinion, I think using Danieal Manning for kickoff returns would provide a huge advantage in that area. He’s been terrific in the past, and I understand the injury factor, but if it’s as important as Kubiak says it is, it’s the only way to resolve it.
As for the kickers, Shayne Graham couldn’t be much better than he’s been. He’s only missed one kick and it was over 50 yards. He ranks fourth in scoring, and has been an upgrade over both a Kris Brown and Neil Rackers. The pickup of Donny Jones was a solid one and he has not disappointed. While he’s in the middle of the pack in both average and net, he does a good job placing punts inside the 20 and has put the defense in great position with kicks killed inside the 10.
Coaching: B+
For the most part, play-calling on both sides of the ball has been excellent, especially Wade Phillips. His ability to make the right call in most situations is uncanny, and Houstonians should be extremely happy that he decided to come home in the twilight of his coaching career.
Where the coaching staff slips a little is in the adjustments and mental breakdown areas. Both can be summed up perfectly in the Green Bay and New York Jets games. Nothing worked against the Packers, and the Texans simply kept trying the same old, same old to get back in it. Then, costly penalties gave the Packers new sets of downs on two of their touchdown drives. The nail in the proverbial coffin came on a total secondary breakdown where Green Bay tight end, Tom Crabtree, ran down the field untouched, with nobody within 20 yards of him. I could have thrown the touchdown pass that put them up 35-17.
Against the Jets, the only thing that kept New York in the game was the Texans themselves. Even though the offense controlled the ball for over 35 minutes and outgained the Jets by almost 100 yards (169 to 69 in rushing), they needed a last minute stop by the defense to prevail. The reasons: Schaub having his worst game of the year, special teams gaffes, and seven penalties (all seemingly coming a the absolute wrong time).
These are correctable issues that need to be resolved soon or the Texans will find it hard to beat the better teams in the postseason, especially if they end up in the Super Bowl. More than likely, they will play a superior team from the NFC, and surviving these kinds of mistakes will be difficult.
For those of you who think that I might be attributing too much of this to the coaching staff, just remember Kubiak’s signature line when it comes to mental errors: it’s on him.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The 2012 NFL Season: It's Going to be a Super Season for the Packers

Is there anything better than the excitement felt when the NFL season is upon us? Sure, the birth of a child, your wedding day, and realizing the cop who pulled you over doing 70 in a 50 mile per hour zone isn't going to show at your court date come to mind. But, they all pale in comparison to the joy that bubbles up from the thought of watching the perfect execution of the zone stretch, destroying your friends in fantasy football, and Faith Hill in that tight leather outfit singing the theme to Sunday Night Football. Ahhhh, life is good again.
 
I can't remember an offseason as tumultuous as this past one. Between the "Bounty Scandel" (which I promise not to bring up again),Peyton Manning signing with Denver and being replaced by the most pro-ready quarterback I've ever seen in Indianapolis, the lockout of the NFL referees, and everyone still wondering how the 15-1 Packers were one and done in the playoffs, it's been pretty interesting to say the least. I'm just glad the labor dispute was resolved last offseason or we might be watching the public execution of Roger Goodell on Wednesday, instead of the Giants and Cowboys square off in the 2012 opener.
 
I'm always amazed at how, even when I do well with team records and playoff prognostications, the word "suck" does not even come close to describing my predictions for the season awards. Two years ago, I correctly predicted the Packers beating the Steelers in the Super Bowl, but I tabbed Mike Singletary to win Coach of the Year. Granted, I was only one year off on the head man for the 49ers winning the award, but Singletary's performance led me to wear a bag over my head for six months. Anyway, I'll still throw this worthless opinion of who I see is the best of the best. I think the MVP will go to Aaron Rodgers again, with Tom Brady taking home the Offensive Player of the Year. The defensive equivalent will go to Patrick Willis. The Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year willl go to Andrew Luck and Luke Kuechly, respectively. For Coach of the Year, I like Tom Coughlin. The Giants will win the division, but in a season with great coaching performances, I think he gets it as a "lifetime achievement award" kind of thing.
 
As for the rest of how the season plays out, take a look below and feel free to let me know what you think. Please try to keep the profanity to a minimum.
 
WLWL
AFC EastNFC East
New England133New York Giants124
Buffalo97Philadelphia115
New York Jets79Dallas88
Miami214Washington511
AFC NorthNFC North
Pittsburgh115Green Bay133
Baltimore115Chicago115
Cincinnati88Detroit106
Cleveland313Minnesota313
AFC SouthNFC South
Houston115New Orleans106
Tennessee97Atlanta106
Jacksonville412Carolina88
Indianapolis412Tampa Bay412
AFC WestNFC West
Kansas City115San Francisco115
Denver106Seattle88
San Diego97Arizona412
Oakland412St. Louis214


Wild Card Round

Houston over Denver
Baltimore over Kansas City


New Orleans over Chicago
Philadelphia over San Francisco


Divisional Round

New England over Baltimore
Houston over Pittsburgh


Green Bay over New Orleans
New York Giants over Philadelphia


Conference Championships

New England over Houston
Green Bay over New York Giants


Super Bowl

Green Bay over New England

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

8/28/12 "What's the Score" Appearance

I know it's been too long, and I'll be posting my season predictions here very soon. In the meantime, check out my recent appearance on "What's the Score" with Bogdan Pasat...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Blog, Part II

Welcome to the 2012 NFL Draft Blog everyone. Make sure to send me a question on Twitter @DoctorFootball, and I'll answer it here. Or, you can simply enter it below.


The last two picks are for my third (Martin) and second (Wilson) ranked running backs. Both of them are very good additions. Martin is a three-down back who will probably replace Blount when Schiano gets tired of dealing with him. Wilson will be the perfect complement to Bradshaw and will eventually take over as the lead back. Personally, I think he has all the tools to be a premier back in this league.



And now, we're hit with another reach. Don't get me wrong, A.J. Jenkins is a really good receiver, but that's pretty high. I have four other receivers ranked ahead of him, and I didn't hear anyone saying he'd be taken before the late second.



Wow, seeing Minnesota trading back into the first for Harrison Smith was questionable at best. I've never seen anything special about him - in my opinion, he's just a guy.



I'm not overly impressed with Nick Perry pick by the Pats. I still don't think he has the bend to transition to 3-4 outside linebacker.



Bengals did a nice job of addressing needs and getting picks. It might have been a little early for Zeitler, but not by much.



I take back what I said earlier, the Chargers and Texans now share the title of biggest steal in the draft. Mercilus at 26 is spectacular.



DeCastro for Steelers and Hightower for Pats are great selections. Pittsburgh needed offensive line help to keep Big Ben alive. I love Hightower - will work really well with Mayo in the middle.


At 23, Riley Reiff is a great example of value and need. Awesome pick by the Lions.



Well, one out of two ain't bad - Tennessee takes Kendall Wright and the Pats go with Chandler Jones.



Tennessee will take DeCastro and the Pats (after the trade) have to take a pass rusher (Mercilus, Curry, Perry).



Wow, Shea McClellin goes to the Bears - he really did shoot up draft boards. I thought he would go in the 26-31 range. Great pick, though. I really like what McClellin brings to the table - motor, natural pass rusher, high football IQ.



I thought the Chargers would go with Melvin Ingram - can't believe he lasted as long as he did. Chargers just got the steal of this draft.




I had the Bengals taking Dre Kirkpatrick at 21, but with Michael Floyd gone, I think they go Kirkpatrick here and Wright at 21.



Two of the next five picks with all of this talent slipping (Ingram, Mercilus, DeCastro, Reiff, Wright, etc.), not even the Bengals can screw this up...can they?



I'm really surprised on this - I thought Ingram was a lock for the Jets if he lasted that long.



The Jets have to take Ingram here. Rex Ryan loves him - thinks he's Adalius Thomas who he had a lot of succes with in Baltimore. Versatility is a premium for him.



Wow, Seahawks take Bruce Irvin. I had him rated in the second round at best. I like him, but he's got issues off the field and he can only rush the passer.



Still not convinced about Brockers - amazing talent, but looked to have a problem with motivation. Fisher can get it out of him, though.



Like the pick for Floyd and Chiefs more than one for Blackmon and Jacksonville. They didn't have to give up anything and they got a receiver that's only slightly less talented than Blackmon.



Wow, that was one uncomfortable hug between Roger Goodell and Fletcher Cox.

2012 NFL Draft Blog, Part I

Welcome to the 2012 NFL Draft Blog everyone. Make sure to send me a question on Twitter @DoctorFootball, and I'll answer it here. Or, you can simply enter it below.


Love the pick for Philadelphia. Even though he was slated to go in the top 10, I still think he was underrated.



My guess is it's Fletcher Cox for Philadelphia, Michael Floyd for Arizona, not sure about the Rams, and Melvin Ingram for Seattle.



Well, the Chiefs needed a nose tackle, and they got one - Dontari Poe. If you're a Chiefs fan, you hope he lives he plays up to his Combine numbers.



Still don't understand the uproar over Chandler Jones. I saw a tight athlete who made a lot of "clean-up" sacks.



Is it me, or does Stephon Gilmore not look happy to be going to Buffalo?



I really wasn't expecting Kuechly going to Carolina. To restate what I said in my rankings, I like him, but I don't think he's a top-10 pick. To justify that spot, he better be Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis.



Wow, Carolina and Buffalo have already made their picks - we might be done by 9:30.



With Cox probably going to Carolina and Buffalo, Kansas City, and Seattle not needing cornerbacks, Detroit may start thinking about moving up to snag Stephon Gilmore.



And now, Stephen Ross will get his quarterback. Welcome to Miami, Ryan Tannehill. I still question this pick because I think this is a helluva risk at this position. Teams in the top 10 can't take chances. These picks have to hit.



OK, this is going to have to slow down or I'm going to have to bust out the Mavis Beacon CD. By the way Beacon was the fastest typist in the world.



With the Bucs taking Mark Barron, Greg Schiano gets his quarterback for the secondary. They did a great job trading back and still getting their man.



Well, the Cowboys have the best corner and the third best player in the draft. This will help their awful pass defense immensely.



Cowboys trading up for Cox or Claiborne?



Love the pick by the Vikings. In order to find out if a quarterback is "the guy", you have to protect him.



And now it appears that the Jags are trading up for Blackmon...interesting because I'm not sure Blackmon is good enough to make a move like that. Value for receivers is in the 15 to 40 range.



Well, I guessed right - it appears the Vikings have selected Matt Kalil.



Now we find out which was the smokescreen over the past couple of days for the Vikings...Kalil or Claiborne.



The Browns select Trent Richardson - great choice. I'm don't know if Colt McCoy is the answer, but they'll never know if they don't give him some weapons. And even if they decide he's not the answer, they'll have the supporting cast for the next guy.



The Redskins select Robert Griffin III - man, the shockers just keep coming. Let me guess, the Browns are going to select Trent Richardson.

Can't state this enough - both Washington and Indianapolis are getting great quarterbacks. It doesn't matter who went first or second, they're both going to be Pro Bowl players.



And the Indianapolis Colts are now on the clock. I wonder who they'll pick...

The Colts select Andrew Luck - wow, who saw that coming? Seriously, the Colts could not have asked for a better situation when parting with a franchise quarterback. Luck is the best NFL-prepared quarterback I've ever seen. The previous one...Peyton Manning.

Doctor Football's 2012 NFL Mock Draft

While I intend for this to be the final version of the mock draft, make sure to check back before Thursday night to see if any changes have been made. Also, check out my draft day blog at http://jimmyneil.blogspot.com/


Well, once again it's time for the annual flogging that's known as the the mock draft. I love doing them, but the second that a general manager has a different opinion about who the eighth best player in the draft is, I find myself cursing at the television. Yep, it's always that six to eight range that totally blasts my mock to smithereens.

Just so you know, I try to blend a combination of everything into my choices - my own evaluations, team needs, and rumors that I've heard and feel confident in. I do not factor in trades.
This year could be really hectic with all of the misinformation and teams trying to trade out of their positions. The good news is that I should get at least two right...

1. Indianapolis: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
This just makes sense. The Colts get the only quarterback I know of that's more prepared coming into the NFL than Peyton Manning was in 1998.

2. Washington: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Mike Shanahan finally gets the play caller he needs to run his offense. With his mobility, arm strength, and accuracy, he's the ultimate weapon for the West Coast system.

3. Minnesota: Matt Kalil, OT, USC
The temptation to take Morris Claiborne to deal with the passing offenses in their division is outweighed by the need to protect their first round quarterback, Christian Ponder. Also, don't be surprised if Buffalo trades up to take Kalil here.

4. Cleveland: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
I'm hearing they're considering Morris Claiborne here, but I just can't see them passing on the best, and safest, player in this draft. Richardson immediately takes some of the pressure off of Colt McCoy.

5. Tampa Bay: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
This could not have worked out better for Greg Schiano in his first draft. He satisfies his team's biggest need with their first pick with a player who can make an immediate impact.

6. St. Louis: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi St.
I know that Sam Bradford will be upset that they pass on Justin Blackmon, but this is a deep wide receiver draft, and they get the best player at another position of need.

7. Jacksonville: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St.
The Jaguars are desperately trying to trade down, but I'm not sure they'll have any takers without one of those top five sliding. However, getting the best receiver in the draft to help Blaine Gabbert isn't a bad consolation prize.

8. Miami: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The front office can deny it all they want, but their owner is going to "help" them make this pick. It's way too high for Tannehill, but the Dolphins are looking for someone to rejuvenate the franchise.

9. Carolina: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
They're really hoping that Fletcher Cox falls to them, but after he's gone, they're happy to get a great player in another area of need.

10. Buffalo: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
The Bills need offensive line help, especially at left tackle, in the worst way, and they may fill that need by shocking the draft and moving up to three to take Kalil. If they stay, they'll take Kuechly to aid in their change to the 4-3 defense.

11. Kansas City: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
They need interior line help on both sides of the ball, and DeCastro is the answer with no defensive tackle worth the 11th overall pick available.

12. Seattle: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
This one will come down to Ingram or Quentin Coples, but in the end, Pete Carroll goes with the guy he won't have to worry about motivating or living up to his potential.

13. Arizona: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
I think this is too early for Reiff, but the Cardinals need a left tackle by far more than any other need. They'll try to trade down, but there won't be any takers.

14. Dallas: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Barron is the guy they want, and if history's taught us anything, it's that what Jerry wants, he usually gets.

15. Philadelphia: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
The Eagles have needed bulk in the middle of their defense for a while, and Brockers fits that bill. Quentin Coples could also be a fit here.

16. New York Jets: Courtney Upshaw, DE, Alabama
To be honest, Rex Ryan will be crushed when Melvin Ingram goes to Seattle. He compared him to Adalius Thomas, who he coached in Baltimore. Instead, he gets a less flashy but solid defender who will be his best pass rusher from day one.

17. Cincinnati: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
By this point, the Bengals have been chewing their fingernails for the last four picks hoping that Floyd would fall into their lap. One need down, with another first round pick left to go.

18. San Diego: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
I know that Barron is a target, and they'll hope to get a deal done with Buffalo. But if they stay here, they'll have their pick of a few of the best 3-4 OLB propects in the draft.

19. Chicago: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
If you looked at my rankings article, you'll see that I'm nowhere near as impressed with Jones as others are, which is why I have him sliding to the Bears. Personally, I think this is still too high, but his name keeps popping up here.

20. Tennessee: Quentin Coples, DE, North Carolina
And Coples uncomfortable slide ends here. He falls because of a questionable motor, but his talents, and the Titans need for a pass rusher, make this a convenient choice.

21. Cincinnati: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
And once again, the Bengals' war room rejoices!!! Two picks, two needs taken care of, and two coordinators thrilled with their new toys.

22. Cleveland: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
While I don't have Wright listed as my third receiver, I know that most people do. So, I think the Browns go with the "safer" of the remaining first round wideouts in order to bolster their absolutely pathetic offense.

23. Detroit: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Martin Mayhew recently said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that he wouldn't be averse to taking a player who smoked pot. Thats one of the things that's hurt the Lions so far this offseason, but Adams would be a great fit for a team that needs to protect Matt Stafford.

24. Pittsburgh: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama 
It's funny, even if they didn't need him, they might take him just to get under the skin of the Ravens. Seriously, they need help inside with play-caller James Farrior running low on fumes. Also, offensive tackle Bobbie Massie could be in play here.

25. Denver: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
I've seen a lot of people linking Poe to the Steelers, but I don't see it. His game isn't really suited to play the nose, but he is the penetrator that John Fox needs. Jerel Worthy could be their other option.

26. Houston: Andre Branch, OLB, Clemson
I've seen picks all over the map for the Texans, who also need weapons on offense, and depth on the offensive line. But, since it's a deep receiver class and they don't need first round picks for the zone blocking scheme, they take someone who can put pressure on the quarterback.

27. New England: Nick Perry, OLB, USC
The Patriots have had interest in Perry for quite some time, and Belichick loves players that can move around and play in mutiple fronts. Perry is perfect for a 3-4 under look and can move around enough to play outside linbacker.

28. Green Bay Packers: Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise St.Clay Matthews sack total dropped to six last year after his monster year in 2010. The reason: there was nobody on the other side. McClellin is one of the most natural pass rushers in this draft. Now if he can only grow his hair really long.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Peter Konz, C, WisconsinWith Hightower gone to the Steelers, this is one of the easier picks in my mock. Matt Birk is entering his final year, and Konz is the perfect replacement. He'll play guard as a rookie and learn alongside on of the game's best.

30. San Francisco: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
It seems like we say that the 49ers need help at the receiver position every year. Hill is the kind of burner that will take the top off for Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis to work underneath.

31. New England: Vinny Curry, OLB, Marshall
They've been trying to find pass rushers for so long that they'll take two in the first round. Janoris Jenkins may also be an option here. He's a character risk, but Belichick's never let that stop him from taking a good player.

32. New York Giants: Bobbie Massie, OT, Mississippi
The Giants could go several different ways here, but I think they try to beef up an aging offensive line. Running backs Doug Martin of Boise St. and David Wilson of Virginia Tech could also fit here.



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Top Five Free and Strong Safeties

Even more than the cornerback class, the safeties this year, whether free or strong, are very disappointing. Outside of Mark Barron from Alabama, I certainly wouldn't put a second round grade on any of them, and I might not even place one in the third round. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Barron went in the first 10 picks of the draft and we didn't hear another go off the board until Saturday morning.

OK, enough of the negative...at least for now. Mark Barron is a "do-it-all" safety who can play in the box, cover in zone or man-to-man against tight ends and some slot receivers. He has great ball skills and a slightly below elite level burst to the football. He is an aggressive run defender who arrives at the ball carrier with an attitude. Many general managers wouldn't think of selecting a safety with a top ten pick, but I would beg them to reconsider when it comes to Barron.

Here are the rest of the strong safety rankings:

Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Mark Barron Alabama 6010 213
2 Harrison Smith Notre Dame 6017 213
3 George Iloka Boise St. 6035 225
4 Brandon Taylor LSU 5112 209
5 Antonio Allen South Carolina 6014 210

I'm sure some of you noticed that I have George Iloka listed with the strong safeties, and it's for a good reason...he will be an absolute liability in coverage. He is simply way too tight withe extremely poor change of direction, backpedal, and lateral movement skills. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if his new team bulked him up and moved him to linebacker.

As for the free safeties, they're an even more nondescript group. Markelle Martin is the best of the lot, and he'll probably be relegated to special teams duty unless injuries are involved. He plays way too high and stiff, so his movement skills are an issue. Then, on top of all that, he's very aggressive and finds himself often out of position. If you're a team in need of a free safety, this is not your year.

Here are the free safety rankings:

Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Markelle Martin Oklahoma St. 6010 207
2 Trumaine Johnson Montana 6017 204
3 Trent Robinson Michigan St. 5096 195
4 Brandon Hardin Oregon St. 6025 222
5 Aaron Henry Wisconsin 5116 208

2012 NFL Draft: Top Ten Cornerbacks

For several reasons, this is one of the weaker cornerback classes that I can remember. While the top two are really good, I'm not sure if any of the others would go in the first 50 picks in another draft. However, I think that five or six will go in that range and I think it's only because of need.
In my opinion, Morris Claiborne is the best corner coming out this year. The 2011 Thorpe Award winner has all of the tools: smooth feet, very good hip and ankle flexion, and tremendous ball skills. His transitions are seamless and his long arms (33.25 inches) help if he's in the trail position. My only concern is that he might not be able to play as aggressively as he did at LSU. In that regard, I see a lot of Asante Samuel in him, and as we all know, it's usually feast or famine with Samuel.
Next, Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina is a pretty close second. He's an aggressive corner that can play any coverage: man, off-man, zone, etc. He's got great size at just over six feet and 190 pounds. I know there are some people who feel he's better than Claiborne, but I just don't see it. The difference between the two is that Gilmore's footwork isn't quite as smooth, he's slightly tighter in the hips, and his ball skills are nowhere near Claiborne's.
They'll both go in the first 12 to 15 picks, and the teams that get them will be extremely lucky to lock one down.
Here are the rest of the rankings:
Rank Name School Height Weight
1 Morris Claiborne LSU 5110 188
2 Stephen Gilmore South Carolina 6004 190
3 D'Andre "Dre" Kirkpatrick  Alabama 6015 186
4 Janoris Jenkins Northern Alabama 5110 193
5 Josh Robinson Central Florida 5101 199
6 Alfonzo Dennard Nebraska 5111 188
7 Casey Hayward Vanderbilt 5113 192
8 Brandon Boykin Georgia 5090 182
9 Jayron Hosley Virginia Tech 5100 178
10 Rond'trique "Ron" Brooks LSU 5100 190

The real elephant in the room in this group is Janoris Jenkins. His off-the-field issues have been as publicized as his on-the-field inconsistent performances. When he's good, like he was at Florida and Northern Alabama, Jenkins was the best cover corner in college football. However, his play at the Senior Bowl practices were sub par and allowed the "other stuff" to start overshadowing his talent. You name the character issue, Jenkins has it on his resume: failed drug tests (one was at the Combine), arrests, four kids with multiple women. When you add it all up, you get a talented player in a free-fall out of the first round.