Breaking down the Bracket

WRITTEN BY: RODNEY SCEARCE

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I’ve taken my time, I’ve analyzed my picks, and I’d like to assure you that I’m confident with my selections.

But, I’m not.

This is by far one of the toughest brackets I’ve ever had to deal with.  There are so many wild cards in play this tournament season.  Here’s a few to keep in mind:

1.)    More mid-majors (and dangerous ones, too) – I’m counting eight (nine, if you want to include the Bonnies) that are all easily capable of winning one game.  A couple of them will surely make the Sweet 16.  Unfortunately, there are so many this year that we see last year’s Cinderella (VCU) set to take on one of the mid-majors most likely to make some noise, Wichita St.  That’s disappointing because both of them could have made a run.  The other six to be careful of when filling out your bracket: St. Louis, Long Beach State, Murray State, Creighton, Ohio, and Belmont.

2.)    UCONN – Which team are we going to see out there?  They’re extremely talented.  The have all the athleticism and size to take on anyone, but they so often this year have played like goofs and made their team look like a joke.  Calhoun is back and they seem to have a chip on their shoulder.  Watch out for them in the second round against Kentucky, they may just break everyone’s bracket.

3.)    Henson’s wrist – I’m a Tar Heel fan and I’d like to say they are going all the way, but if Henson’s wrist limits him, my guys won’t make it out of the Sweet 16.  If something amazing happens and they do, Kansas will destroy them in the Elite 8.  Yes, Henson’s wrist on his non-shooting hand is that big of a deal.

4.)    Fab Melo – This guy just doesn’t get it.  He can’t keep his grades up (“up” is a deceiving word here) and has now effectively ruined his team’s chances of a run.  With Melo now ineligible, when does Syracuse lose?  I think they still cruise in to the Sweet 16, but Vandy takes them easily.  The first team with an effective inside game will beat them.  Hell, we may even have our first 16-seed take down a #1.  I highly doubt it, but I’ve seen Asheville play and they are no joke.  Still, at the same time, I feel bad for Melo.  Syracuse is a really good school and it’s probably much more difficult for him to keep up his grades there than it would be at most other schools.  I bet he now wishes he had taken that signing bonus at Kentucky.  If Calipari can get DeMarcus Cousins through eligibility, he can do it for anyone.

I’ll run through each of my brackets.  With the wild cards in-play and all of the uncertainty, I folded and went with my gut opinions.

South

As much as I’d love to write down UCONN for my Sweet 16, I can’t convince myself to gamble against Kentucky so early.  Unfortunately for Indiana, they aren’t playing in the state of Indiana and quite frankly, they stink anywhere else – I’ve got Wichita State matching up against UK in the Sweet 16.  This one is no problem for Kentucky and they cruise to the Elite Eight.  The bottom half of the bracket is much less competitive.  Baylor and Duke, no doubt about it.  I’ve got Baylor taking Duke because no one on Duke will be able to defend Perry Jones III.  Unfortunately for Baylor, Kentucky can defend Jones and Kentucky will subsequently represent the South in New Orleans.

West

I don’t care who wins between Memphis and St. Louis because at the end of the day, neither beat Sparty.  I keep hearing about New Mexico making a run.  I just can’t convince myself that they will beat both Long Beach and Louisville.  I’ve got Louisville making the Sweet 16.  Murray State is good, but one win against St. Mary’s didn’t do it for me – Marquette tramples them.  Florida wants to welcome Missouri in to the SEC in a potential Round of 32 matchup.  Not happening – Missouri works them and Bradley Beal chucks up the deuces to Gainesville because he’s headed to the NBA.  Missouri over Marquette and Michigan State easily beats Louisville.  The Missouri and Michigan State matchup will be a tough one to call.  In one bracket I’ve got Missouri and another I’ve got Michigan State.  If I had to bet, I’d go with Draymond Green and Coach Izzo.

East

Syracuse makes it to the Sweet 16 because Kansas State isn’t big enough to take advantage of no Fab Melo.  Wisconsin will try to slow down Vandy and turn it in to another drawn-out boring game, but it won’t happen.  Vandy wins this one, no problem.  Unfortunately for Florida State, they don’t get to play UNC and Duke each game so even if you have them making it to the Sweet 16, they won’t beat Ohio State.  Ohio State will take on Vandy in the Elite Eight because a Melo-less Syracuse can’t compete with them.  Ohio State wins this game.  It’ll be tough, and Vanderbilt could pull it out, but I still like the Buckeyes.

Midwest

I like UNC to beat Creighton and take on the Wolverines in the Sweet 16.  NC State will roll over the Aztecs, but hit a wall against the Hoyas as Georgetown moves on.  Kansas will not have a problem against St. Mary’s or Purdue and I’ll still take the Jayhawks over the Hoyas as they move on to the Elite Eight.  UNC will beat Michigan because Michigan can’t run with them, end of story.  The UNC/Kansas winner will rest solely on Henson’s wrist.  If he’s healthy, the Heels will match up just fine against the Jayhawks in this rematch from the Final Four in 2008.  Roy Williams will get his vengeance and the Heels will march on down to New Orleans.

My predictions for the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, & National Championship

Final Four

Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State, and North Carolina will make up my Final Four.  From these 4, I believe we’ll see a rematch from the December 3rd game in Lexington – the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the North Carolina Tar Heels.  Kentucky is more talented and by all accounts, they should win.  However, I will NEVER pick Kentucky over the Tar Heels.  EVER.  I say the Heels get their revenge from the one-point loss at Rupp and cut down the nets for their 3rd time in 8 seasons.  You can discount this as me being a homer, but let’s be honest, the Heels have a real shot and I’m not making any drastic predictions.  However, I’ll go back to my wild cards – if Henson’s wrist is not 100%, UNC will be lucky to even make the Final Four and you may see the Wildcats get Calipari his first championship (only to be taken away a few years later following another NCAA investigation).  – Sorry, had to say it.

Enjoy the tournament.

Comment below with your Final 4 picks and remember to click here and  join Can of Corn’s FREE NCAA Bracket Challenge There will be a prize for the winner!

Rodney Scearce is the Public Relations Coordinator for a major professional sports team.  He earned his bachelor’s from the University of North Carolina and received a Master’s in Business Administration and Master’s in Sport Business Management from the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida.  Having grown up in the Research Triangle, Rodney was born into a basketball culture.  He grew up a fan of the Charlotte Hornets but his passion is college basketball.  He was in the heart of North Carolina for the golden years of Dean Smith and Coach K.  He understands the Tobacco Road rivalry and considers his own involvement a badge of honor.  Though he strongly dislikes Duke, his respect for the program and the rivalry is second to none.  Rodney is a diehard fan of the Chicago Cubs and the Carolina Panthers, but will tell you that his expertise lie within college basketball and everything involved with it.   You can follow Rodney on Twitter @rscearce.

The Know-It-All’s Fantasy Prep

 

 

Week 1 Weekend Player Updates

Kyle Stafford – @Kstafford32

Week One is solid proof why we lust for football. So many storylines, So many unpredictable’s. Let us take a look at the impact Week 1 had on our Fantasy Football Leagues and Teams.

Digging for Gold:

Let’s start out and keep this in perspective. It’s just one week. Say that again, It’s just one week. Remember to think big picture. In looking at the possible Free Agents there are several gems that shined, and a couple options that might be worth taking over an injured player.

Quarterback:

Ryan Fitzpatrick, BUF- The Chiefs defense made Fitzpatrick look like a Pro Bowler. He ranked in the top 20 in 2010 out of all fantasy players. I would not expect 4 TDs and a pass rating of 133.0 every game, but he was very efficient spreading the ball around. Five Buffalo receivers had 5 or more targets verse an above average KC secondary.

Cam Newton ties record with 422 pass yards by a rookie

Cam Newton, CAR- 422 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int, & 110.4 passer rating are off the charts for not just a rookie, but any quarterback would love to have their name next to that stat line. I would try very hard not to get caught up in the hype though. The Panthers were handed the NFL’s toughest schedule this year. Newton will face off against the Packers, Bears, & Saints over the next 4 weeks. I was impressed with his play, as were many. Newton was going up against a weak Arizona secondary that was starting a rookie who they targeted one on one with Steve Smith all game.

Running Back:

Ben Tate, HOU- The scouts seem to have got it right. A healthy Tate carried the ball 16 times for 116 yards and one touchdown. Tate does have several obstacles in his way. If Arian Foster gets back healthy, then that limits Tate’s chance at getting carries. Derrick Ward also looked good on Sunday and was a former 1,000 rusher with the Giants. Health concerns also follow Tate who was banged up in Sunday’s game. I would say Tate at least belongs on your bench, if not in your flex spot.

Cadillac Williams, STL- To no surprise to me, Steven Jackson is injured. Strained Quad, questionable for Week 2 vs. Giants and will probably linger throughout the season. In enters Cadillac Williams, who rushed for 91 yards and was productive in the passing game (6 catches, 49 yards, 10 targets). Williams has a well documented history of injuries, but when healthy he is a top fantasy performer. Would be a great flex start against a Giants Defense who gave up 70+ yards and a touchdown to Tim Hightower.

Wide Receivers:

Doug Baldwin, SEA- The former Stanford receiver signed as a rookie free agent with Seattle as a kick returner. On Sunday, he was Tarvaris Jackson’s go-to receiver with 4 catches, 83 yards, 1 Touchdown, and 6 Targets. At 5 10, Baldwin may be hard to spot on the field but his speed and elusiveness stood out against the 49ers. Worth a look on your bench as you are dropping Danny Amendola this week.

Doug Baldwin looks to be the option in Seattle until Sidney Rice comes back

Jerome Simpson, CIN- In 2010, Simpson shined at the end of the season with back to back 120+ yard games. Even though he did not put up major stats (4 catches, 44 yards) he was targeted 9 times. As this young Bengal team develops, Simpson’s targets may turn into more catches.

Roy Williams, CHI- The former 1st round pick looked very efficient on Sunday. Four targets, Four catches. He is a big receiver that doesn’t mind going over the middle. He has the opportunity in a Mike Martz pass heavy offense to shine. Look back in Denver when Cutler had a big and tall wideout named Brandon Marshall.

Tight Ends:

Jermaine Gresham, CIN-  If Andy Daulton comes back from his wrist injury, Gresham is his safety blanket. Eight balls came his way against the Browns, with Gresham hauling in 6 catches and a touchdown. In an offense that is going to rely heavy on the run this year, Gresham will be a nice sure handed option in the passing game.

Fred Davis, WAS- Rex Grossman almost made my list for FA Quarterback, but then I remembered his years with the Bears and I got my head straight. Grossman did show us that he prefers Fred Davis over Chris Cooley. Davis had 6 targets with over 100 yards receiving. Grossman has always relied on his TE over the years, so it is worth watching how this connection develops.

 

The Ups & Downs:

With teams still trying to scramble and implement their playbooks post lockout, there where many players that stepped up and also plenty that took a giant leap back.

 

Players on the Rise:

Jay Cutler QB, CHI: With already a year under Mad Martz, Cutler is figuring it out. Did a great job of distributing the ball around. The Falcons Defense may have came into the season a bit overrated but this was a matchup of the #1 and #2 seeds from last year. Cutler carved them up with 312 yards and 2 TDs. Cutler may have 30 TDs this season, but the only concern is will he have 30 Ints to go along with it?

 

Mike Thomas WR, JAC: The 5 foot 8 inch Thomas is the top target in Jacksonville. With 11 targets thrown his way, we can only hope Luke McCown can turn into a decent quarterback. He has big play ability deep, and can also find success in the open field.

 

Anquan Boldin WR, BAL: Boldin is finally healthy and it showed. Four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. With Derrick Mason gone, Flacco has Boldin as his main option. You just hope Baltimore doesn’t abandon the pass game like they have done in the past.

Boldin is the main target in Baltimore

 

Javid Best RB, DET: If Javid Best is on your bench, move him up now. This second year back is a threat on the ground and in the passing game. If Stafford and him stay healthy, this connection has very high potential. Best had 110+ total yards and had the ball 25 times. Health and the curse that he is a Lion are his only downfalls.  

 

Players on the Down:

 

Chris Johnson RB, TEN: The Titans could have used a little help on Sunday from their recent  investment, but Johnson performed like he was still holding out. 49 totals yards was all Johnson could come up with. With his huge payday behind him and stuck on a mediocre team, Johnson has little to play for. While many fantasy owners are all in on Johnson, I have been very skeptical since his holdout. A quick look at recent history, I would say the Larry Johnson effect is on in Tennessee.

 

Donovan McNabb QB, MIN: McNabb should have considered retirement after his last season with the Eagles. This once top Quarterback could only produce 39 yards with a pass rating of 47.9. This not only effects the production from the talented Viking receiving core, but the Vikings are going to have to rely on Adrian Peterson even more. Unless McNabb can find some of his old magic, the Vikings are likely to end up at the bottom of the NFC North.

McNabb looks to be leading the Vikings to the bottom on the NFC

 

Rashard Mendenhall RB, PIT: Mendenhall had a disappointing outing against Baltimore again. Just like the last time Mendenhall faced the Ravens, he couldn’t rush for more than 45 yards and produced zero touchdowns. I would not push the panic button yet on Mendenhall, but the Steelers also like his backup Mewelde Moore.

 

Vincent Jackson WR, SD: Two Catches for 31 yards is not what you expect from an elite fantasy wide receiver.  Jackson looked uninterested and sloppy on Sunday. Luckily for the Chargers, Philip Rivers found Gates and Floyd for 21 total targets. Jackson is capable to putting up huge numbers, but holdouts and contract distractions have been his biggest highlight over the last 12 months.  

 

Buy or Sell:

You should always be looking to buy low off other team’s rosters and sell high on your roster. Just don’t get trade happy. The goal is to upgrade your current position.

Buy Low:

Newton stole the show Sunday, but Kolb got the win

Michael Turner RB, ATL-        Put up a quiet 100 yards on Sunday

Plaxico Burress WR, NYJ-        Looked like the Plax of old against the Cowboys

Mike Thomas WR, JAC-          Most owners don’t realize his potential because he plays in Jacksonville

Ryan Mathews RB, SD-           Had 118 totals yards on Sunday, and Tolbert’s health is in question

Fred Jackson RB, BUF-            The Curtis Martin of this era, give him his due

Kevin Kolb QB,ARI-                  Another 300+ yard game. Consistent and nice weapons.

 

Sell High:

Chris Johnson RB, TEN-           I would get value for him now, before your season is over

Joseph Addai RB, IND-            The Colts probably have the worst overall team in the league, get what you can out of Addai

Frank Gore RB, SF-                  Even though the 49ers won Sunday, the offensive line looked horrible. I don’t see much for the aging Gore.

Reggie Wayne WR, IND-        Curtis Painter is one Kerry Collins injury away from being the starting QB. This would be devastating for Wayne owners. Sell Now!

Cam Newton QB, Car-            His stock will never be higher in 2011, claim him off waivers and trade him.

 

THE GOLDEN RULE:

Do not panic, it’s only Week One……. Unless your roster is Peyton Manning, Arian Foster, Steven Jackson, Danny Amedola, and Tony Moeaki…. Then by all means…. panic

 

Questions? Comments? Follow Me on Twitter @Kstafford32

2011 Offseason Grades – NFC East

Without further ado, offseason grades for the NFC East

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Danny Watkins, G (1-23); Jaiquawn Jarrett, S (2-54); Curtis Marsh, CB (3-90); Casey Matthews, ILB (4-116); Alex Henery, K (4-120); Dion Lewis, RB (5-149); Julian Vandervelde, C (5-161); Jason Kelce, C (6-191); Brian Rolle, OLB (7-237); Greg Lloyd, ILB (7-237); Stanley Havili, FB (7-240)

 

If Casey is half as good as his brother Clay, he will be remembered as an absolute steal in the 4th round.

Philadelphia had 11 picks in this year’s drafts and when I look at how they used it I see it as “honest”.  The Eagles were aware of their weaknesses and drafted position by position to tighten things up.  A lot of people considered Watkins a reach in the first round, but Andy Reid believes he can be a Week 1 starter.  Watkins has good strength and is an adequate pass blocker and run blocker.  The one thing I always noticed when he played at Baylor is he is a “play to the whistle” type player so I think he’ll fit in fine in Philly.  Jarrett was a good pick up to help solidify the safety position and Curtis Martin seemed like an obvious choice for a team that, at the time, was weak at cornerback position.  Making Alex Henery the first kicker off the board made it pretty obvious that Akers was on his way out (which surprised me).  They doubled up on centers late with Vandervelde and Kelce clearly acknowledging their need there.  Philly did a good job of drafting in positions of need, I just don’t know how many of these players will have an impact. I love the Casey Matthews pick.  He was a great player at Oregon and comes from a great line of impact players who were underappreciated in the draft.  If Casey is half as good as his brother Clay (who is a leader on the Packers’ defense) then he was an absolute steal in the 4th round.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (Raiders); Ronnie Brown, RB (Dolphins); Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB (Cardinals); Cullen Jenkins, DT (Packers); Vince Young, QB (Titans); Steve Smith, WR (Giants); Jason Babin, DE (Titans); Ryan Harris, OT (Broncos); Akeem Jordan, LB (Eagles); Evan Mathis, G (Bengals); Jarrad Page, S (Patriots); Derek Landri, DT (Panthers); Anthony Hargrove, DL (Saints)

KEY LOSSES: Kevin Kolb, QB; Quintin Mikell, S; Brodrick Bunkley, DT; Leonard Weaver, FB; Ernie Sims, LB; Max Jean-Gilles, G; Dimitri Patterson, CB; Stewart Bradley, LB

Nnamdi Asomugha was the obvious prize of free agency but I'm a big fan of the addition of Ryan Harris to this Eagles' line

A lot has been said and just how unbelievable the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason has been.  I have not seen this much hoopla about a team’s free agency since the 2007 Patriots when they brought in Moss, Stallworth, Welker, and Thomas, among others.  Last season the cornerback position was a glaring weakness for the Philadelphia Eagles but they shored up that position through free agency and trade by bringing in 2 of the top 10 cornerbacks in the league.  Mikell was a gigantic loss for the Eagles at the safety position but Page should make for a good replacement and I really do believe it would behoove the Eagles to, at this point, move Asante Samuel to the safety position.  Steve Smith was a nice risk to take given Maclin’s mystery illness.  I love the addition of Babin and Jenkins.  I really believe that they will benefit from Trent Cole in the same way Kevin Smith and Ray Edwards were able to benefit by the addition of Jared Allen.  Vince Young was a great pick up if for no other reason, then to do with him what they did with Kolb and McNabb – flip him on the trade market for higher value.  The most unsung of this group but maybe the Eagles’ best pick up was Ryan Harris at tackle who should solidify that offensive line for the Eagles but there still remain some questions at center.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Ryan Kerrigan, DE (1-16); Jarvis Jenkins, DT (2-41); Leonard Hankerson, WR (3-79); Roy Helu, RB (4-105); Dejon Gomes, S (5-146); Niles Paul, WR (5-155); Evan Royster, RB (6-177); Aldrick Robinson, WR (6-178); Brandyn Thompson, CB (7-213); Maurice Hurt, G (7-217); Markus White, DE (7-224); Christopher Neild, DT (7-253)

While I am not a fan of the Cornhuskers, I'm a big believer in what Roy Helu, Jr. can accomplish in the NFL

Mike Shanahan has a reputation as someone who can develop quarterbacks but where does this come from?  He inherited a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway and has not had a strong QB ever since.  That being said, QB is the most obvious weakness for the Redskins and I feel that they made a huge mistake in trading down when they could have drafted, who I believe to be, the best quarterback in the draft in Blaine Gabbert.  Any time you get the opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback, you need to take it and I feel like this is a mistake that will haunt Washington fans for years. However, the Redskins did get great value in trading down and Kerrigan and Jenkins should do wonders for their front four.  The pick that Redskins fans should be excited about is landing Nebraska running back Roy Helu in the 4th round.  This kid is a strong running back who in college could easily break tackles and can accelerate in the gaps.  I really think that Helu has a bright future as a number one running back in the NFL.

 

 

 

FREE AGENTS

KEY ADDITIONS:Barry Cofield, DT (Giants); Josh Wilson, CB (Ravens); Stephen Bowen, DE (Cowboys); Santana Moss, WR (Redskins); Chris Chester, C (Ravens); Jamal Brown, OT (Redskins); Jabar Gaffney, WR (Broncos); Tim Hightower, RB (Cardinals), Donte’ Stallworth, WR (Ravens); Kellen Clemens, QB (Jets)

KEY LOSSES: Albert Haynesworth, DT; Donovan McNabb, QB; Carlos Rogers, CB; Casey Rabach, C; Maake Kemoeatu, DT; Phillip Daniels, DE; Jeremy Jarmon, DT; Vonnie Holiday, DE

Given their draft, trading defensive end Vonnie Holliday for Tim Hightower was a move that could pay dividends for Mike Shanahan

Mike Shanahan got younger in the front four completely rebuilding it this offseason.  He addressed this need with the first two rounds of the draft and then went out in free agency and signed Barry Cofield, and Stephen Bowen who is one of the better young defensive ends in the league.  Re-signing Santana Moss was a necessity and the addition of Stallworth and Gaffney bolsters that receiving corps.  Chris Chester was a really solid pick-up as well to help strengthen a weak offensive line.  I will continue to say that I feel like the McNabb trade was a bad decision for Washington because after passing on Gabbert and trading Donovan, the Redskins are without a QB.  I do like the Tim Hightower trade quite a bit for Washington and between Hightower, Helu, and Torain, Shanahan should find a tandem that he can work with in his famous “running system”.


NEW YORK GIANTS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Prince Amukamara, CB (1-19); Marvin Austin, DT (2-52); Jerrel Jernigan, WR (3-83); James Brewer,  OT (4-117); Greg Jones, ILB (6-185); Tyler Sash, S (6-198); Jacquian Williams, LB (6-202); Da’Rel Scott, RB (7-221)

 

The Giants had to be excited to find a cornerback like Amukamara available to them at pick 19

From a value standpoint, the New York Giants had an excellent draft.  I really did not think that Amukamara would fall past the Detroit Lions at 13 but he fell to the Giants and they were wise to take him.  Marvin Austin should help out that defensive line of theirs.  He fell because he lacks consistency but he has the talent to be an elite defensive tackle.  The two late picks of the Giants that I really like for them is James Brewer in the 4th round who has the skills to be a servicable tackle and could help out their O-Line but I feel that they did not do enough to address their aging offensive line.  Tyler Sash was a good risk to take in the seventh round.  He was a standout safety at the University of Iowa and was a cornerstone of a great defense.  In college he was an aggressive player who was a great tackler and had an ability to get his hands on the ball.  He has some parts of his game he needs to tighten up to play at the pro level but has the potential to do well in that Giants defense.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Mathias Kiwanuka, DE (Giants); Ahmad Bradshaw, RB (Giants); Ben Patrick, TE (Cardinals); Stacy Andrews, OL (Seahawks); Kevin Boothe, G (Giants); David Baas, C (49ers)

KEY LOSSES: Rocky Bernard, DT; Shaun O’Hara, C; Rich Seubert, G; Shawn Andrews, G; Steve Smith, WR

Re-signing Ahmad Bradshaw was the Giants' no. 1 priority going into the offseason

New York was so cash-strapped going into this season that they really couldn’t do much in free agency.  They were able to re-sign their top two priorities in Ahmad Bradshaw and Mathias Kiwanuka.  The Giants already had offensive line issues and now have lost Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, and Shawn Andrews.  I do believe that David Baas is an upgrade for them over the aging O’Hara and I like the addition of Stacy Andrews but I feel this line has a long ways to go.  I do see the Steve Smith loss really hurting this team because, if nothing else, he took pressure off of Hakeem Nicks.  Overall the Giants were able to replace what they lost which still leaves the Giants looking pretty average in a much improved NFC.

DALLAS COWBOYS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS: Tyron Smith, OT (1-9); Bruce Carter, OLB (2-40); DeMarco Murray, RB (3-71); David Arkin, G (4-110); Josh Thomas, CB (5-143); Dwayne Harris, WR (6-176); Shaun Chapas, FB (7-220); Bill Nagy, C (7-252)

 

Some say Smith was taken too early but if he plays well, you can never take a Pro Bowl OT too high

A lot of people criticized Dallas for not trading out of their pick to try and get more value at the offensive tackle position but the Cowboys got the man they wanted in Tyron Smith and 9th overall and I believe he was a perfect pick for the Cowboys.  I believed that the Cowboys needed to fix their offensive line issues and so the fact that they waited until the 4th round to continue to do that was confusing.  The Cowboys also should have addressed the cornerback position earlier.  Given the departure of Marion Barber, the DeMarco Murray pick makes sense in the 3rd round.  The best value pick here was Dwayne Harris who is a small, speedy receiver with great hands that should do nicely in the slot for the Cowboys offense and provide a great target for Tony Romo.

 

 

 

 

 

FREE AGENTS

KEY ADDITIONS: Jason Garrett, Head Coach (Cowboys’ Offensive Coordinator); Doug Free, OT (Cowboys); Kyle Kosier, G (Cowboys); Marcus Spears, DE (Cowboys); Jason Hatcher, DE (Cowboys); Gerald Sensabaugh, S (Cowboys); Abram Elam, S (Browns)

KEY LOSSES: Marion Barber, RB; Roy Williams, WR; Leonard Davis, G; Marc Colombo, OT

The best offseason move the Cowboys made was removing the interim tag from Jason Garrett's title.

The Cowboys had a down year last year in a season where many had them pegged to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.   With Tony Romo healthy again and a new head coach, this is a team that hopes to bounce back in a serious way.  Jason Garrett was the only man for the job and as one of the hottest head coaching candidates available, the Cowboys were smart to hang on to him before he left to go elsewhere.  Then Garrett turned around and brought in one of the best defensive minds in the game in Rob Ryan to help that Cowboys defense regain old form. Like the Giants, the Cowboys were limited by their cap situation but that did not stop them from re-signing most of their important players.  Roy Williams was going to be gone regardless and the Cowboys are sold on the future of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice (along with DeMarco Murray) in that backfield.  Sensabaugh is a good safety but the addition of Elam at that position was a great move by Dallas.  The loss of Marc Colombo does hurt, but Tyron Smith should prove to be an upgrade at the position.


When I look at the landscape of the NFC East, it’s kind of a mixed bag.  A strong Philadelphia Eagles team drastically improved almost overnight.  The Redskins have gotten stronger at some positions and weaker at others.  The New York Giants look like a team that will once again, just miss a wildcard spot, and the Dallas Cowboys didn’t do much but they did fire their head coach and they do get their Pro Bowl quarterback back in the fold which should make a huge difference.  As always, this is going to be a fun division to watch. 

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ‘em!

2011 NFL Offseason Grades – NFC North

This season ESPN and NFL.com both made, what I consider to be, a mistake.  Like any sports media they issued grades for the free agency period post lockout but they did so while players like Braylon Edwards, Steve Smith, Malcolm Floyd, and Ronnie Brown were still on the free agent market.  Additionally they did not factor in any pre-lockout acquisitions or re-signings (though these were few) into the free agency grades.  Free agency grades also don’t take into account one of the most important free agent acquisitions of all – coaching hires.

The first offseason grades that we saw were in the hours following the NFL Draft for how well each team drafted.   While draft grades (as are free agency grades) are speculation based on how well the collective media think players will fare for a team years down the road, we as fans still enjoy having an “expert opinion” on how well our team drafted.

What is rarely done however, is a combination of the two grades where the entire offseason activity is graded.  A lot of teams we will see a team have a great free agency period and a poor NFL Draft or the other way around so in actually being patient enough to wait until all the big names were signed, I feel like I can do something that we don’t see enough of – grade an NFL team’s entire offseason.   I provide an idea of what my grades mean below:

A Range – Outstanding

B Range -  Good

C Range -  Some Good, Some Bad (a.k.a. Hard to Determine)

D Range – Pretty Bad

F Range – What the heck were you thinking?!?

Today I give you the NFC North, a division that many believe could be among the best in the NFL this season but what do the grades say?

GREEN BAY PACKERS

NFL DRAFT

2011 DRAFT PICKS – Derek Sherrod, OT (1-32), Randall Cobb, WR (2-64), Alex Green, RB (3-96), Davon House, CB (4-131), D.J. Williams, TE (5-141), Caleb Schlaunderaff, G (6-179), Rick Elmore, DE (6-197), Ryan Taylor, TE (7-128), Lawrence Guy, DT (7-233)

As a Vikings fan, the athleticism of Cobb and what he can do for that Packers offense, scares me.

After winning a Super Bowl with many of their best players on the sidelines, the Green Bay Packers clearly felt they needed to improve an already dynamic defense by using their first three picks on the offensive side of the ball.   The past couple of years, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Ray Edwards spent more time in the Packers backfield than Ryan Grant so finding a strong offensive tackle like Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod was an obvious choice with the 32nd overall pick.  While there are concerns about how agressive Sherrod will be there is no question about his desire to work and ability to run block which plugs a major hole for Mike McCarthy’s offense.   The two players I love in this draft for Green Bay are Hawaii’s Alex Green and Kentucky’s Randall Cobb.  Green Bay desperately needed to find a running back but really were not in a position to fill this hole before the third round.  Thompson has always been about getting the best player on the board and there is no reason to question his tactics.  I think Cobb will make an immediate impact as part of the Green Bay offense and was a great insurance policy for James Jones (who did re-sign after lockout) and opens the door for the departure of Jordy Nelson after this season.  With the emergence of wildcat -type schemes in the NFL, do not be surprised if the SEC quarterback is used in this role as well.   While I do like the Packer’s draft, I really thought they would try and find a pass rusher in the first three rounds but instead waited until late in the sixth round to select a defensive end.

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: James Jones, WR (Packers); Mason Crosby, K  (Packers); John Kuhn, FB (Packers)

KEY LOSSES: Nick Barnett, LB;  Cullen Jenkins, DT; Mark Tauscher, OT; Jason Spitz, G

Aaron Rodgers lobbied for the Packers to bring back Jones, a favorite target of his.

The Packers could have looked across the NFL and seen the NFC powers (Eagles, Saints, Falcons) gathering arms and bolstering their rosters.  The difference between the Packers and these other teams though is that the Packers just won a Super Bowl.  They had very little cap room and did what they do best – kept their best guys and made few moves.  They brought back a solid kicker in Crosby (which teams with playoff experience know is important), a guy who can get in the endzone when he has to in John Kuhn, and were able to keep James Jones from signing with the rival Vikings which makes Green Bay loaded at wide receiver.   Additionally, the Packers will see a number of their stars back off the DL this season which makes another Super Bowl run very feasible.


DETROIT LIONS

NFL DRAFT

2011 NFL DRAFT PICKS – Nick Fairley, DT (1-13); Titus Young, WR (2-44); Mikel Leshoure, RB (2-57); Douglas Hogue, OLB (5-157); Johnny Culbreath, OT (7-209)

At 13th overall, Nick Fairley may have been the biggest steal of the 2011 Draft.

In one swoop, the Lions were able to get their hands on a top 5 talent in Nick Fairley and potentially establish the best defensive tackle tandem in the NFC North with Fairley and Suh.  That’s saying something considering that for many seasons, the North has boasted the Williams Wall who are historically speaking, the best run stopping tackle pair of all time.   And the Lions are going to have to be able to stop the run when their division has the likes of Matt Forte, Ryan Grant, and Adrian Peterson.  Additionally Titus Young provides another great young target for quarterback Matthew Stafford and Mikel Leshoure paired with 2nd year running back Jahvid Best could give Detroit a powerful 1-2 punch.   In Douglas Hogue, the Lions got a hard-hitting and speedy linebacker that could have gone a lot earlier.  Overall, with only a few picks, this was an excellent draft for the Detroit Lions.


 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Eric Wright, CB (Browns); Justin Durant, LB (Jaguars); Stephen Tulloch, LB (Titans); Chris Houston, CB (Lions); Drew Stanton, QB (Lions)

KEY LOSSES: Bryant Johnson, WR

Tulloch is a great fit for the Lions and was a great and unheralded move for Detroit.

Detroit gave themselves a solid defensive front four in the draft after taking Nick Fairley 13th overall.  The Lions focused their free agent signings on tightening up the rest of their defense.  The Lions should have a pretty solid rush defense (important against Chicago and Minnesota) with the addition of Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant.  Tulloch is a great tackler who, behind Suh and Fairley, keep Peterson and Forte from doing too much up the middle.   Eric Wright is a risk worth taking at the cornerback position as he has great upside and it was important for the Lions to get Houston back on board as well as bring back Stanton given Stafford’s injury history.  While there weren’t any “big names” signed, the Lions addressed their needs on the defensive side of the ball but there remain some major questions on the offensive line.

CHICAGO BEARS

NFL DRAFT

2011 NFL DRAFT PICKS: Gabe Carimi, OT (1-29); Stephen Paea, DT (2-53); Christopher Conte, S (3-93); Nathan Enderle, QB (5-160); J.T. Thomas, LB (6-195)

 

Gabe Carimi is a big, strong, athletic tackle who should be able to start for Chicago immediately.

If Nick Fairley wasn’t the best value pick in the first round, then Gabe Carimi might have been.  I really did not believe that Carimi would fall that late in the first round.  Regardless of what you might say about Big Ten football, the Big Ten produces two things better than anyone – offensive linemen and middle linebackers.  Carimi is no different – he is a big athletic, run blocking tackle who can start immediately.   I really like the Christopher Conte pick-up in the third round for the Bears.   Though he only started at Cal for his senior year, he made the most of it.  He has great size and is pretty fast which makes him a hard-hitting safety, he’ll be right at home in that Bears’ defense.  Enderle kind of confuses me because they have a very capable back-up in Caleb Hanie (as seen in the 2011 NFC Championship) but Enderle does have a big arm and some real upside.   I think they should have tried to use what few picks they had on a wide receiver or another offensive lineman.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Roy Williams, WR (Cowboys); Anthony Adams, DT (Bears); Chris Spencer, C (Seahawks);  Corey Graham, CB (Bears);  Amobi Okoye, DT (Texans); Brian Iwuh, LB (Bears); Matt Spaeth, TE (Steelers); Vernon Gholston, DE (Jets); Adam Podlesh, P (Jaguars); Marion Barber, RB (Cowboys)

KEY LOSSES: Greg Olsen, TE; Tommie Harris, DT; Olin Kreutz, C; Devin Aromashadu, WR

Roy Williams and Mike Martz have a history together so Williams makes sense for the Bears.

The Bears did a lot during free agency, I just don’t know how good it was.  The four biggest signings are probably the ones that Bears fans either dislike or don’t know about.  Roy Williams is a perfect fit for the Chicago Bears given that he fluorished in Mike Martz’s offense in Detroit  and I really believe that he will rebound this year and lead the Bears in receiving.  I like the addition of Adam Podlesh who is a good punter and should help that Bears defense play with some longer fields this year.  Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye were both great value signings.  While they are both first round draft busts, the Bears gave up next to nothing for them and if Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli can get one of them to even realize half of their potential – it was definitely a risk worth taking.

I hate the Chris Spencer move because even though Kreutz is in decline he is still a strong center and good locker room guy.  Spencer is unproven and the Bears may have been better off signing Kreutz for one to two years and looking for a center in next year’s draft.  Marion Barber does provide some competition for Chester Taylor and is an okay signing.   Spaeth was a good signing as well but is in no way a replacement for Greg Olsen.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

NFL DRAFT

2011 NFL DRAFT PICKS: Christian Ponder, QB (1-12); Kyle Rudolph, TE (2-43); Christian Ballard, DT (4-106); Brandon Burton, CB (5-139); DeMarcus Love, OT (6-168); Mistral Raymond, S (6-170); Brandon Fusco, C (6-172); Ross Homan, OLB (6-200); D’Aundre Reed, DE (7-215); Stephen Burton (7-236)

 

Years from now, the entire Vikings draft will be based on how good of a quarterback Christian Ponder turns out to be.

Whether or not Brett Favre will play in the NFL this year remains to be seen but it is rather clear that he will not be back with the Vikings.  In what many viewed as a rather weak quarterback class, the Vikings took the 4th quarterback off the board with the 12th overall pick in Florida State’s Christian Ponder.  Nobody has reached as hard as the Vikings did taking Ponder 12th overall since Santa Claus last tried to touch his toes.  Many consider Ponder the most “NFL ready” of the class but when Andy Dalton was taken in the 2nd round, it seems Minnesota could have gotten their guy later in the draft.   Many comparisons have been made between Ponder and Hassleback and if Christian Ponder is indeed Matt Hassleback in a couple of years – then this looks like a stroke of brilliance.  For now, it seems to be a reach.  For Vikings fans not only will Ponder be compared to Dalton and Ryan Mallett but he will also be compared to Prince Amukamura, Jimmy Smith, Gabe Carimi, Nick Fairley, Nate Solder, and Adrian Clayborn – all players who could have filled immediate needs for Minnesota.   The Vikings had a solid rest of the draft however in taking the best tight end in the draft in Kyle Rudolph and getting a steal with Christian Ballard in the 4th round.  He could be a great defensive tackle in another year or two.   I believe that Brandon Fusco will prove to one day be a steal and can be a great center in the league, a position the Vikings have struggled to fill since Matt Birk left for the Ravens.   And Stephen Burton was a risk worth taking in the 7th round.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Donovan McNabb, QB (Redskins); Michael Jenkins, WR (Falcons); Charlie Johnson, G (Colts); Remi Ayodele, DT (Saints); Ryan Longwell, K, (Vikings);  Devin Aromashadu, WR,  (Bears); Leslie Frazier, Head Coach (Vikings Defensive Coordinator)

KEY LOSSES: Bryant McKinnie, OT; Jimmy Kennedy, DT; Madieu Williams, S; Sidney Rice, WR; Tavaris Jackson, QB; Ben Leber, OLB; Ray Edwards, DE

Vikings fans hope to see the Philly edition of Donovan McNabb in purple this year, not the Redskins version.

Of course the big news out of Vikings free agency is getting Donovan McNabb for next to nothing.  This is a great pick-up by Minnesota as it provides them a quarterback who can help them win now while Ponder learns the ropes.   While Hasselback may have been the better fit given Ponder’s style, McNabb is a great pick up for a Minnesota team just two years removed from an NFC Championship berth.  The Vikings also got two very solid pick ups in Charlie Johnson from the Colts who now will be forced into the left tackle role and Michael Jenkins, a sure handed receiver who is familiar with new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.  The Vikings have seen three of their coordinators be hired away to coaching jobs in the last 15 years only to go on and win Super Bowls (Tony Dungy, Brian Billick, and Mike Tomlin) and were not about to let hot coaching prospect Leslie Frazier leave.  He has the respect of the locker room and this is a win for the Vikings.  Frazier also has brought in Mike Singletary to help the linebacker corps.  Ryan Longwell’s re-signing was a priority given that he is one of the league’s most accurate kickers and there wasn’t much available on the free agent market.

Minnesota’s biggest loss is without a doubt Sidney Rice, a young deep threat with leaping ability who was the best wide receiver available in free agency.  Overnight, Minnesota went from having a great receiving corps to a decent one at best.   Ray Edwards will be missed opposite Jared Allen as will Ben Leber.  Overall this is going to be a very different Vikings roster than was seen the past two years.

Overall, the NFC North has taken significant strides forward.  The Green Bay Packers have put themselves in a great position to become the first NFC team since, well, the Green Bay Packers to make back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and the Lions continue to build a promising young team.  The Bears have solidified their defense and brought in some help on offense while the Vikings have taken some risks that could pay off big or could leave them where they were last season.   Overall, I see the NFC North being a tough division that could once again send multiple teams to the playoffs.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?  Let me hear ‘em!