The 2012 season picture is not as clear as 2011 was but I think I can make some sense out of it. Last season I correctly foresaw the Patriots losing the Super Bowl after beating the Ravens. I correctly predicted the NFL MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the Executive of the Year. I correctly predicted 8 out of 12 playoff teams including the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans. As I look into the crystal ball I see some divisions with a clear cut winner and many situations like the AFC West last year where the division will be highly contested top to bottom. I see a team with a 12 year playoff drought finally getting back in and I see a future Hall of Famer winning his first playoff game of his career. I will include below my regular season rankings, playoff projections, and the worst five teams in the NFL this season. Overall, I think we’re going to see a lot of interesting things this season and so without much further ado, let me tell you what to expect.
I’m gonna cut straight to the chase, this is the Pro Bowl team I would have selected this year.
* denotes someone who did not make the Pro Bowl
** denotes someone who I have made a Pro Bowl Starter who originally was not a starter
Tom Brady, New England
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati*
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Running Back –
Arian Foster, Houston**
Ray Rice, Baltimore
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville
Vonta Leach, Baltimore
Wide Receiver –
Wes Welker, New England
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh
A.J. Green, Cincinnati
Brandon Marshall, Miami
Tight End –
Rob Gronkowski, New England
Aaron Hernandez, New England*
Joe Thomas, Cleveland
Duane Brown, Houston*
Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati*
Logan Mankins, New England
Brian Waters, New England
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
Nick Mangold, New York Jets**
Chris Myers, Houston*
Defensive End –
Andre Carter, New England
Elvis Dumervil, Denver**
Robert Mathis, Indianapolis
Vince Wilfork, New England
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati*
Richard Seymour, Oakland
Outside Linebacker –
Von Miller, Denver
Tamba Hali, Kansas City**
Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
Brian Cushing, Houston*
Derrick Johnson, Kansas City
Johnathan Joseph, Houston**
Champ Bailey, Denver
Darelle Revis, New York Jets
You are either one of two people at the moment. You are sitting high and mighty at 3-0/2-1 or you are in a state of panic and disbelief at 0-3/1-2. I have been in both situations in the past. It can be easy for the team at the top to get complacent about their place in the standings and not work their team hard enough. You can also reach a level of discouragement being the guy at the bottom and want to just stop working your team. The Fantasy Season is about 25% of the way thru. Don’t give up and don’t get complacent. There is a hard lesson I am learning in my Fantasy Baseball League at the moment, It’s not how you start, It’s how you finish……..
Ending Week 3, injuries continue to be the trend. There are still players in the Free Agent Pool that can help, but in some cases you can’t fix a stab wound with a band aid…example Jamaal Charles owners.
Matt Hasselbeck, TEN– Hasselbeck has put up very consistent fantasy numbers this season. He is averaging 300 yards a game and has two games of 20 or more fantasy points scored. You could see a drop in production with the news of Kenny Britt tearing his ACL and landing on the IR. Hasselbeck faces Cleveland, Indy, and Cincy over the next 5 games.
The Jets are turning into a passing team with Sanchez under center
Mark Sanchez, NYJ– Sanchez is quietly having a solid start to the fantasy year. He has passed for over 330 yards twice, has thrown for 2 touchdowns in every game, and has a QB rating of 90.0 for the year. The only big negative for Sanchez is Interceptions. If he can cut down on the turnovers I can see him as a valuable start if the matchup is favorable.
Steve Slaton, MIA– It is still a mystery what happened to this former fantasy 1st round talent. Now that he was claimed by the Dolphins, he is worth a look. Slaton seems to have overcome his injury problems, but was the low man in a crowded Houston backfield. With Reggie Bush as an hourly injury concern, Slaton could pick up some valuable carries and targets behind rookie Daniel Thomas. Remember he once rushed for 1,282 yards, 9 Touchdowns with only 268 attempts. He also caught 50 balls that year.
Roy Helu could overtake the starting spot in Washington
Roy Helu, WAS- In a Mike Shanahan backfield, you never know who will emerge. Helu seems to be splitting carries with Tim Hightower, but it is a matter of how many touches he gets. He is a nice handcuff for Hightower owners, and could emerge as the #1 option.
David Nelson, BUF- It’s time to drink the Kool Aid in Buffalo. Nelson has been a consistent target. If Buffalo could find him in the endzone more then he would be a top fantasy sleeper pick. He has had back to back 80+ yard performances, scoring 24 fantasy points in week 2.
With Kenny Britt on Injured Reserve, Nate Washington will be the #1 Wideout
Nate Washington, TEN– With Kenny Brit out for the year, Washington takes over the #1 Wideout spot. Titans have proven that they are not afraid to throw the ball, so Washington should receive an above average amount of targets. He has favorable matchups 3 of the next 5 games, and blasted Denver for 8 receptions, 92 yards, and a touchdown.
Antonio Brown, PIT- Last week I had Brown on my list for players that were on the decline. In Week 3 I noticed a trend. If you look at Brown’s targets, they have increased every week. He has 22 totals targets this year, more than Hines Ward at 18. He has also clearly out-performed Emmanuel Sanders the past 2 weeks. I am not a fan of Pittsburgh Wideouts, but Brown is worth keeping an eye on.
Todd Heap, ARI– He has passed Jeff King as Kevin Kolb’s favorite Tightend. The Cardinals offense looked horrible Sunday, but Heap was able to grab 6 balls for 61 yards. He is not going to put up huge numbers. If you are looking for some low consistency to get you by, Heap is worth the look.
Brandon Pettigrew, DET– Finally broke out for 11 receptions and 112 receiving yards. As Stafford continues to grow this year, I see this connection becoming stronger.
The Ups & Downs:
Three weeks of football has displayed to us some valuable trends that show us a lot about how players are developing.
Players on the Rise:
Matt Schaub QB, HOU: After a disappointing week 1, Schaub has improved the last two weeks. He posted 373 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Saints on Sunday. As long as Andre Johnson is running routes for the Texans, Schaub will always have the chance to score big.
Manning carved up the Eagles for 4 touchdowns Sunday
Eli Manning QB, NYG: Against a stacked Eagle Secondary, Manning threw for 250+ yards and 4 TD’s. He was mediocre the previous 2 weeks, but he is starting to move on without Steve Smith.
Ryan Mathews RB, SD: Mike Tolbert is not stealing Mathews spotlight as of late. The second year back is finding his was into the endzone and racking up plenty of yards in the process. Mathews has all the tools to do his best LT impersonation in San Diego, but has Norv Turner finally put his trust in him?
Wes Welker WR, NE: Count them up… 20 targets in one game! Wow… some #1 Wideouts have that many for the season so far. The Welker-Brady connection continues to thrive in New England and the sure handed Welker is putting up “off the chart” numbers. 16 catches/216 yards/2 touchdowns on Sunday. He is by far the top Receiver option in Fake Football at the moment.
Players on the Down:
Santonio Holmes WR, NYJ: He has been decent at best. Bothered by a sore quad in week 2, and too many forced balls his way have given Holmes a slow start to the season. He has the talent to bounce back, but currently Plaxico Burress is showing him up.
Santonio Holmes has not lived up to his potential this year
Steven Jackson RB, STL: The Rams have overloaded Jackson with carries since he was drafted and it is catching up to him. When he is 100%, he is easily one of the Elite Backs in the game, but with a lingering quad injury and a poor team around him, there is not much hope for this star.
DeAngelo Williams RB, CAR: Carolina was thought to be a run centered team in preseason. The emergence of Cam Newton has changed that. With less carries and Jonathan Stewart being the favored back, Williams should be stored away on your bench until fate turns in his favor.
Reggie Bush RB, MIA: With no Drew Bress throwing him the ball and no Sean Payton drawing up plays for him, Bush has looked below average at best in Miami. Rookie Daniel Thomas has taken over the #1 spot, and newly acquired Steve Slaton could also steal the show from Bush. High Powered Passing attacks is what appeals to his skill set and Miami just doesn’t have it.
Sam Bradford QB, STL: The trend of Spread Offense Quarterbacks coming out of the college is normally not good. Bradford seems to be following that trend this season. Granted, his team around him has not improved, but his costly mistakes are what have made him a Non-Fantasy Option.
Buy or Sell:
You should always be looking to buy low off another team’s rosters and sell high on your roster. Just don’t get trade happy. The goal is to upgrade your current position.
Josh Freeman QB, TB- Freeman has a favorable schedule, and has shown improvement
Jimmy Graham TE, NO- Is becoming the option Shockey never could fill
Phillip Rivers QB, SD- Stock is down a little, a chance to buy low. He will produce
Reshard Mendenhall RB, PIT- Has had a slow start, but will come around
Darren Sproles RB, NO- Top 7 RB, value will never be higher
Is Mike Vick worth the injury risk for your team?
Steve Smith WR, CAR- Rookie QB, and tough schedule ahead
Antonio Gates TE, SD- 2nd season of foot problems, cannot stay on the field
Robert Meachem WR, NO- Colston is on his way back, sell him before his targets disappear
Mike Vick QB, PHI- When he is good, he is elite… BUT can’t stay healthy. See if you can get good value in return
THE GOLDEN RULE:
Fantasy Sports is all about Perseverance. When you are down you have to work 10x harder than the rest of the league to get to the top…..and when you are at the top you have to work 20x harder or someone might catch you by surprise.
2011 NFL Draft Picks: Corey Liuget, DT (1-18); Marcus Gilchrist, CB (2-50); Jonas Mouton, OLB (2-61); Vincent Brown, WR (3-82); Shareece Wright, CB (3-89); Jordan Todman, RB (6-183); Stephen Schilling, G (6-201); Andrew Gachkar, OLB (7-234)
I really like the Liuget pick for this Chargers defense
A lot of people did not talk about the Chargers draft but personally, I thought they had one of the better drafts. They had five picks in the first three rounds and did a great job with them. Liuget had a great career at Illinois. He is a large, athletic tackle who gets off the ball quick and has great instincts for finding the ball. He can made an immediate impact for this team. The Chargers addressed secondary issues but getting a solid pair of corners in Gilchrist and Wright. I really like the additions of Vincent Brown (who I think will have a pretty good rookie campaign given Rivers’ ability to distribute the ball) and with uncertainty at running back, sixth round pick Jordan Todman could get a chance to get some touches early on. The only negative in their draft is that they failed to address their need for an offensive tackle.
KEY ADDITIONS: Vincent Jackson, WR (Chargers); Malcolm Floyd, WR (Chargers); Takeo Spikes, LB (49ers); Bob Sanders, S (Colts); Jeromey Clary, OT (Chargers); Antwan Barnes, LB (Chargers); Jacques Cesaire, DE (Chargers); Scott Mruczkowski, C (Chargers); Travis LaBoy, LB (49ers); Randy McMichael, TE (Chargers); Eric Weddle, S (Chargers); Billy Volek, QB (Chargers)
Keeping Vincent Jackson happy was the Chargers' #1 priority this offseason
Great teams keep their best players. The fact that San Diego was able to make it through their free agency period and somehow keep both Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd is a huge win for that team. The departure of Darren Sproles hurts that offense but it was pretty inevitable. It’s hard to believe that in the last four years this team has allowed L.T., Michael Turner, and now Darren Sproles to just walk.
I really like the additions of Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy to the Chargers linebacking corps. But the biggest move that San Diego could have made on the defensive side was locking up their own Eric Weddle and pairing him with the Colts’ Bob Sanders. The question with Sanders is always if he can stay healthy but if he can, this defense could be a force to be reckoned with.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
2011 NFL DRAFT PICKS: Johnathan Baldwin, WR (1-26); Rodney Hudson, C (2-55); Justin Houston, DE (3-70); Allen Bailey, DE (3-86); Jalil Brown, CB (4-118); Ricky Stanzi, QB (5-135); Gabe Miller, OLB (5-140); Jerrell Powe, DT (6-199); Shane Bannon, FB (7-223)
Baldwin is a large receiver with great initial burst, but still very, very raw
Last season right after the draft I gave the Kansas City Chiefs the highest draft grade after somehow grabbing Eric Berry, Javier Arenas, Dexter McCluster, and Tony Moeaki all in the same draft. This year I’m not as big on Kansas City’s draft but I do believe that Scott Pioli knows exactly what he is doing. This is the guy who used his Mr. Irrelevant pick to grab Ryan Succop a couple years back, who I believe to be one of the best kickers in the league. The Chiefs grabbed Baldwin in the first round who I thought was a bit of a reach but it was clear that the Chiefs needed immediate help at wide receiver and Baldwin is a big receiver with good hands who has great initial burst off the ball. He is very raw and will take some development. I still believe that taking an offensive lineman here and grabbing someone like Torrey Smith, Titus Young, or Randall Cobb in the second round would have been the better move. Hudson was a perfect second round pick and I cannot believe that Justin Houston fell to them in the third round. I definitely thought he was an early second round talent. I like the addition of Ricky Stanzi to back up Cassel in the fifth round who was a very underrated college quarterback. I am mostly intrigued by Jerrell Powe who is a very raw, but could be a very effective run stopper for the Chiefs. The last time Pioli had the 199th overall pick (with which Powe was selected) he selected Tom Brady in New England so he is clearly a guy that knows how to find value late in a draft.
KEY ADDITIONS: Tamba Hali, DE (Chiefs); Steve Breaston, WR (Cardinals); Kelly Gregg, NT (Ravens) Brandon Siler, LB (Chargers); Wallace Gilberry, DE (Chiefs); Le’Ron McClain, FB (Ravens)
KEY LOSSES: Brian Waters, G; Ron Edwards, DT
Steve Breaston makes a lot of sense for this Chiefs team given his familiarty with coach Todd Haley and his skill set.
The Chiefs made the biggest move they could have in free agency – they locked up Tamba Hali long term. He’s not a big name but he is an elite pass rusher. Chiefs fans have to be glad after seeing elite talent like Jared Allen and Tony Gonzalez leave the past few years that the Chiefs could lock up one of their own. They then turned around and re-signed Gilberry to bookend with Hali while Houston develops. Kelly Gregg is aging but he’s definitely a solid nose tackle pick-up for the Chiefs. The ideal pick-up would have been Aubrayo Franklin from the 49ers but Gregg is a good consolation prize. The one addition I love is Steve Breaston. Last year the Chiefs had Bowe and Moeaki at tight end and then nobody else to catch the ball. Now with McCluster having another season to catch out of the backfield and the addition of Baldwin and now a speedy receiver like Breaston who had 1,000 yard seasons under current Chiefs coach Todd Haely in Arizona, Kansas City has put together a solid little receiving corps.
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Von Miller, LB (1-2); Rahim Moore, S (2-45); Orlando Franklin, G (2-46); Nate Irving, ILB (3-67); Quinton Carter, S (4-108); Julius Thomas, TE (4-129); Mike Mohamed, ILB (6-189); Virgil Green, TE (7-204); Jeremy Beal, DE (7-247)
Barring injury, Von Miller will be the defensive, and perhaps the overall, rookie of the year
If you had to ask me who was the best player in the draft – it would be a toss-up between Von Miller and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson. I really feel like Von Miller could make an immediate impact for the Broncos and he was the player that made the most sense for Denver. Denver’s biggest needs in this draft were on the defensive side of the ball and this was their primary focus. Denver was able to take the first safety off the board in the second round and if Nate Irving can avoid injury, could be a steal in the third round. The one thing that is lacking in this draft for Denver is they did not really address the concerns along their defensive line.
KEY ADDITIONS: Ty Warren, DT (Patriots); Brodrick Bunkley, DT (Eagles); Jeremy Jarmon, DT (Redskins); Derrick Harvey, DE (Jaguars); Marcus Thomas, DT (Broncos); Daniel Fells, TE (Rams); Willis McGahee, RB (Ravens); John Fox, Head Coach (Panthers Head Coach)
KEY LOSSES: Jabar Gaffney, WR, Daniel Graham, TE; Ronald Fields, NT; Renaldo Hill, S; Ryan Harris, OT
New Broncos head coach John Fox, has his work cut out for him in Denver
Surprisingly, Denver did not have a lot of cap room to work with going into free agency. The Broncos started off by immediately addressing defensive line issues with the addition of Ty Warren, Brodrick Bunkley, Derrick Harvey, and the re-signing of Marcus Thomas. I love the trade of Jabar Gaffney for Jeremy Jarmon as he fits John Fox’s scheme in Denver perfectly. Derrick Harvey has never lived up to his draft hype BUT he is definitely a risk worth taking and if there is one thing John Fox knows it’s defensive ends. I also really like the addition of Daniel Fells though the Broncos really did put a huge emphasis on tight ends in their offseason. I think McGahee was a risk worth taking in their backfield to pair with Knowshon Moreno. Of course what is going to be really interesting is to see how new head coach John Fox (great hire) deals with trying to implement his system with a mixture of Shanahan and McDaniels guys.
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Stefen Wisniewski, C (2-48); Demarcus VanDyke (3-81); Joseph Barksdale, OT (3-92); Chimdi Chekwa, CB (4-113); Taiwan Jones, RB (4-125); Denarius Moore, WR (5-148); Richard Gordon, TE (6-181); David Ausberry, WR (7-241)
Anyone who knows the Raiders could see the Wisniewski pick coming from a mile away
I saw the Wisniewski pick coming from a mile away. He satisfied a need on the Raiders’ offensive line and given that his uncle Steve is a Raiders assistant coach and legendary lineman – it was clear that Wisniewski was Al Davis’ guy. Van Dyke was a necessary pick-up given the later departure of Nnamdi Asomugha. Of course, the Van Dyke pick was pretty obvious given that he was the fastest guy in the draft and everyone knows how Al Davis loves his speed guys. They waited awhile in the draft to address their wide receiver and outside linebacker positions but I think getting Denarius Moore out of Tennessee in the 5th round represents great value. Like any Raiders draft, a lot of head scratching moves here and a hard draft to gauge at this moment in time.
KEY ADDITIONS: Kamerion Wimbley, LB (Raiders); Michael Huff, S (Raiders); Khalif Barnes, OT (Raiders); Jarvis Moss, DE (Raiders); Samson Satele, C (Raiders); Stephon Heyer, OT (Redskins); Justin Smiley, G (Dolphins); Trent Edwards, QB (Jaguars), Hue Jackson, Head Coach (Raiders Offensive Coordinator)
KEY LOSSES: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB; Zach Miller, TE; Robert Gallery, G
Re-signing Michael Huff was a great move for Oakland but they were unable to bring back their top 2 free agents.
The Raiders did a good job of resigning their free agents, unfortunately they missed out on the three most important ones. This free agency period is definitely more about what they lost as opposed to what they brought back. They lost the best cornerback in the NFL with Asomugha, they lost a big part of their offensive line in Robert Gallery, and then Zach Miller who I consider a top 10 tight end and has been vastly underrated. Huff, Moss, and Wimbley all had strong years for a good Raiders defense but they have underperformed for most of their careers. I do like the hire of Hue Jackson and like bringing in Trent Edwards to back up Campbell; but the Raiders free agency definitely left a lot to be desired.
Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!
2011 DRAFT PICKS: J.J. Watt, DE (1-11); Brooks Reed, DE (2-42); Brandon Harris, CB (2-60); Rashad Michael, CB (4-127); Shiloh Keo, S (5-144); Taylor Yates, QB (5-152); Derek Newton, OT (7-214); Cheta Ozougwu, DE (7-254)
Selecting J.J. Watt in the first round was just the beginning of a defensive overhaul for the Texans.
Wade Phillips has to be excited about his new career on the other side of Texas after this draft. The Texans put a strong emphasis on improving a defense that has some strong players but definitely needs improvement. They started off with a great young pair of defensive ends. Watt is definitely going to be more of a containment end meanwhile on the other end, Reed should be spending a lot of time behind the offensive line. Keo and Michael could tighten up an ailing secondary. I love this draft for the Texans, I really thought they would target the WR position at some point in this draft but at the same time, I have a hard time looking at a single pick they made and thinking, “that was the wrong pick for them”.
KEY ADDITIONS: Johnathan Joseph, CB (Bengals); Danieal Manning, S (Bears); Mike Brisiel, G (Texans); Jacoby Jones, WR (Texans); Matt Leinart, QB (Texans)
KEY LOSSES: Vonta Leach, FB; Amobi Okoye, DT; Dan Orlovsky, QB; Bernard Pollard, S
While everyone was fighting for Asomugha, the Texans snuck in and grabbed the 2nd best cornerback in free agency
One thing is certain, the Houston Texans defense has been completely transformed in the offseason. First they did an overhaul in the draft and then they went out and brought in some playmakers. While everyone else was trying to land Asomugha, the Texans went out and signed the second best cornerback in free agency in Johnathan Joseph. They strengthened that secondary even further with the addition of Danieal Manning as the safety position. Bringing Jacoby Jones back was necessary and re-signing Matt Leinart was a big win for the Texans because he is one of the best back-ups in the NFL. The biggest loss was, by far, Vonta Leach who is probably the best run-blocking fullback in the league. Foster’s numbers could take a step back without Leach in that backfield.
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Anthony Costanzo, OT (1-22); Benjamin Injalana, OT (2-49); Drake Nevis, DT (3-87); Delone Carter, RB (4-119); Chris Rucker, CB (6-188)
Costanzo provides the big athletic tackle the Colts need to protect Manning's blind side
I can hardly remember a season when the Indianapolis Colts did not make the playoffs. The reason is they find value as good as any team in the AFC. Last season, Manning found himself constantly under pressure and Polian made the right move for the Colts in using his first two picks on offensive lineman. Costanzo is a strong tackle who should fill in on the left side nicely and could be protecting Peyton’s blind side for the rest of Manning’s career. Injalana is a lineman that could be plugged into either a tackle or guard position. Drake Nevis was a good find for this team in the third and Rucker was a nice pick-up in the 6th. The Colts probably did a better job of addressing all of their positional needs than any other team in this year’s draft.
KEY ADDITIONS: Peyton Manning, QB (Colts); Joseph Addai, RB (Colts); Melvin Bullitt, S (Colts); Jamaal Anderson, DE (Falcons); Antonio Johnson, DT (Colts); Eric Foster, DT (Colts); Ernie Sims, LB (Eagles); Tommie Harris, DT (Bears); Dan Orlovsky, QB (Texans)
KEY LOSSES: Clint Session, LB; Charlie Johnson, OT; Kelvin Hayden, CB; Daniel Muir, DT
The Colts made the biggest signing of the offseason by wrapping up their franchise quarterback.
The Colts did not have the free agent flurry that other Super Bowl contenders did but they did do what every team strives to do – keep their core guys. In doing so they made perhaps the biggest signing of the free agency period in re-signing Peyton Manning to ensure that he retires with the Colts. Charlie Johnson was a huge loss for a line that had it’s fair share of struggles last season but the Colts anticipated his departure when they drafted Costanzo. They also re-signed Joseph Addai who is a solid running back that fits well with what the Colts are doing. On the defensive side of the ball, many of these signings make a lot of sense because the Colts have always been more about speed on defense than anything. I would not be surprised to see them use Anderson more like a D-Tackle as opposed to a defensive end. Either way, I see Indy’s pass-rush and rushing defense being drastically improved from last year.
2011 DRAFT PICKS:Blaine Gabbert, QB (1-10); William Rackley, G (3-76); Cecil Shorts, WR (4-114); Chris Prosinski, S (4-121); Roderick Isaac, CB (5-147)
The Jaguars grabbed who I believe to be the best QB of the draft class with the 10th overall pick.
You’ve already heard me say it about the Vikings, and you’ve heard it about the Panthers and now you’re going to hear it about the Jaguars. This draft’s grade is largely contingent on one thing – the success of the rookie quarterback the team selected. I personally believe that Blaine Gabbert was the best quarterback of this year’s draft class and I believe he will be a pro-bowler. He reminds me a lot of Ben Roethlisberger. However, I do believe that Blaine Gabbert is rather raw. Luckily the Jaguars have their quarterback of the present in David Garrard to play while Gabbert develops. The rest of the draft was rather mediocre. The real need the Jaguars needed to address was defensive end and for many the question will be – was it worth it to give up so much to land Gabbert or should they have stayed put and taken Adrian Claiborne? I believe the risk was worth taking in that they grabbed, who I believe to be, the best QB in the draft at the 10th spot making him the 3rd QB selected in the draft.
KEY ADDITIONS: Paul Posluszny, LB (Bills); Dawan Landry, S (Ravens); Jason Spitz, G (Packers); Clint Session, LB (Colts)
Posluszny is a natural leader and is a nice addition to an otherwise weak Jaguars defense
Last year the Jaguars linebacker corps was awful but with the addition of Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, Jacksonville is all of a sudden fairly strong at this position. Dawan Landry was a great pick-up for this team that was in desperate need of some help over the top. Jason Spitz was also a good pickup for the line. All in all, there were good pick-ups here but nothing great. I feel like Jacksonville lost more than they gained. I really expected Jacksonville to go after a defensive end (Charles Johnson or Ray Edwards anyone?), another cornerback, and a wide receiver in free agency but alas, they just didn’t pull it off.
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Jake Locker, QB (1-8); Akeem Ayers, OLB (2-39); Jurrell Casey, DT (3-77); Colin McCarthy, ILB (4-109); Jamie Harper, RB (4-130); Karl Klug, DE (5-142); Byron Stingily, OT (6-175); Zach Clayton, DT (7-212); Tommie Campbell, S (7-251)
Jake Locker has been most impressive in the preseason.
On draft night, I thought Jake Locker was a reach. I was certain that when Blaine Gabbert fell past San Francisco, he’d be going to the Titans. I thought Locker was a late 1st round pick at best, but so far into this preseason, Locker has been a very impressive rookie quarterback and I may be completely wrong about him. Like the Jaguars, this draft will be graded based on Locker’s progress. However, Titans fans should forgive the reach for Locker because the Titans then got a first round talent in the second round when they took Akeem Ayers. My only complaints about the Titans draft would be that they waited too long before drafting a defensive tackle and the team really needed to address the wide receiver position in the draft. I still think Locker was a reach but now with some time to develop behind Hasselbeck, I believe he could be the QB of the future for Tennessee.
KEY ADDITIONS: Matt Hasselbeck, QB (Seahawks); Barrett Ruud, LB (Buccaneers); Jacob Ford, DE (Titans); Shaun Smith, DT (Chiefs); Leroy Harris, G (Titans); Dave Ball, DE (Titans); Ahmard Hall, FB (Titans); Daniel Graham, TE (Broncos); Mike Munchak, Head Coach (Titans Offensive Line Coach)
KEY LOSSES: Vince Young, QB; Jason Babin, DE; Stephen Tulloch, LB; Tony Brown, DT
Hasselbeck was a strong signing, but does not make sense given the difference between his and Locker's styles.
I like Matt Hasselbeck and think he is a very good quarterback but I am baffled by the addition of him in Tennessee. With the exception that both Locker and he have lived in the same state the last four years, the two have nothing in common. I believe Hasselbeck’s skill set is closer to that of Christian Ponder. I do have to commend Tennessee for landing a top free agent QB but I still don’t think he was the right choice here. I like the addition of Daniel Graham as a blocking tight end opposite of Jarrod Page and I think that Barrett Ruud is the perfect signing to help a pretty young defense in Nashville. On the coaching side of things, it is strange to see the Titans without Jeff Fisher on the sidelines but I do believe that Munchak was a perfect fit for the Titans given his history with the team.
The only team in this division that I really feel took a significant step forward was the Houston Texans. The Colts stayed about the same as did the Jaguars and Titans. Years from now, this could be the draft that does, however, change the face of the AFC South as the Texans revamped their defense and the Titans and Jaguars believe they got their franchise quarterbacks. This will be an interesting year in the AFC South.
Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!
Sorry for the delay, without further ado, here are my offseason grades for the AFC East.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Nate Solder, OT (1-17); Ras-I Dowling, CB (2-33); Shane Vereen, RB (2-56); Stevan Ridley, RB (3-73); Ryan Mallett, QB (3-74); Marcus Cannon, OT (5-138); Lee Smith, TE (5-159); Markell Carter, DE (6-194); Malcolm Williams, CB (7-219)
Solder is a big, athletic tackle who can bolster the Patriot's line starting Week 1
I think the New England Patriots had a stronger draft than most people give them credit for. The glaring hole that I see in their draft is that they failed to address the wide receiver position and waited until the 3rd round to address their running back need. Nate Solder is a perfect fit for this line as he is a large athletic tackle that can be plugged in immediately. I really like what the Patriots did in the 3rd and 4th round as much as anyone. Stevan Ridley was a highly underrated running back in college who could be a strong addition to the backfield in another year or two. I also think Ryan Mallett can be a starting quarterback in this league and I feel like the Patriots will soon pull a “Cassell” or “Kolb” and be able to turn this 4th round draft pick into more draft picks. The best thing the Patriots did in this draft is set themselves up nicely seeing as they now have 2 first round and 2 second round picks in 2012.
KEY ADDITIONS: Logan Mankins, G (Patriots); Matt Light, OT (Patriots); BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB (Patriots); Albert Haynesworth, DT (Redskins), Chad Ochocinco, WR (Bengals), Shaun Ellis, DE (Jets)
KEY LOSSES: Marcus Stroud, DT; Tully Banta-Cain, LB; Ty Warren, DE; Nick Kaczur, OT; Alge Crumpler, TE
It's not unreasonable to think that Chad Ochocinco could hit double digits for receiving touchdowns in 2011.
The New England Patriots did not make the big splashes that other teams did but what’s important is they made the necessary one. They were able to re-sign Mankins and Light so with the addition of Solder this is a solid offensive line going into next season. They were able to bring back BenJarvus Green-Ellis who was able to provide a ground attack for the Patriots last season. Most importantly, if Albert Haynesworth can return to Tennessee form the Patriots got him for a ridiculously good value and by pairing him with Vince Wilfork, the Patriots might have the tools necessary to shut down that dangerous running game of the New York Jets. In addition they were able to go and get Shaun Ellis from the Jets to give the Patriots a great defensive line. Chad Ochocinco was another great value trade who I think will have a great year in New England. Not a ridiculous year but his presence should also open up the field for Wes Welker and those young tight ends. I project a 9 – 10 touchdown, 1100 yard season for Ochocinco in this offense which makes this an excellent pick-up.
NEW YORK JETS
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE (1-30); Kenrick Ellis, DT (3-94); Bilal Powell, RB (4-126); Jeremy Kerley, WR (5-153); Greg McElroy, QB (7-208); Scotty McKnight, WR (7-227)
Greg McElroy has won everywhere he's been and provides an interesting developmental project for the Jets
Going into the draft, the New York Jets biggest concern had to be their defensive line – getting younger and more athletic at the position. They finally gave up on bust Vernon Gholston and the aging Jason Taylor will not be back. Additionally, they also lost Shaun Ellis to the rival Patriots. I feel like Wilkerson will be giving quarterbacks in the East nightmares for years. He is a tall, athletic, fast defensive end with great strength and instincts. Kenrick Ellis could be a great force upfront for the Jets. I do like the Greg McElroy pick in the 7th round. A lot of times, draft experts talk about intangibles which really means “we don’t know what else to call it but we like it” or someone being a winner. The difference between Super Bowl contenders like the Jets and teams like the Broncos – is the Jets took a quarterback who is a winner, but they grabbed him in the 7th round as opposed to trading up in the first. Overall this was a really good draft for the Jets without a lot of picks. The only downside is I feel like their linebacker corps could also use some help.
KEY ADDITIONS: Santonio Holmes, WR (Jets); Antonio Cromartie, CB (Jets); Mark Brunell, QB (Jets); Plaxico Burress, WR (Inactive); Nick Folk, K (Jets); Wayne Hunter, OT (Jets); David Harris, LB (Jets); Derrick Mason, WR (Ravens)
Re-signing Santonio Holmes was a priority for the Jets heading into the 2011 season.
The New York Jets did some excellent things in the free agency period. Braylon Edwards was a big loss but with his pending suspension, the Jets felt like Plaxico Burress was a better risk to take. Re-signing Santonio Holmes was a must and then the addition of the ageless wonder Derrick Mason gives the Jets a strong receiving corps. Bringing back Cromartie was necessary once they lost out on the Asomugha sweepstakes and since the kicker market was relatively weak, it was so important for the Jets to re-sign Nick Folk. The big losses for the Jets are Shaun Ellis who left for the rival Patriots but the Jets anticipated this loss in their draft. One really big loss for the Jets, that most don’t realize, was do-it-all Brad Smith. His long kick returns, and ability as a wild cat QB was a big part of the Jets success the last two seasons and he will be missed more than most Jets fans realize. Overall, the Jets did a great job in the offseason.
2011 DRAFT CLASS: Mike Pouncey, C (1-15); Daniel Thomas, RB (2-62); Edmund Gates, WR (4-11); Charles Clay, FB (6-174); Frank Kearse, DT (7-231); Jimmy Wilson (7-235)
Even though he played at Division II Abilene Christian, Gates has the speed, hands, and athleticism to be a successful slot receiver in the NFL.
For me, the Miami Dolphins draft was kind of a mixed bag. But overall there were a few things I really liked about the draft for the Dolphins. First off, I love the Mike Pouncey pick for him in the first round. While it has been a slow process, the Dolphins have been doing a good job of building their offensive line. They got their tackle in Jake Long a few years back and now they have the second most position in the line in a strong, athletic center in Pouncey. I really am a fan of Daniel Thomas and think he could be a great addition to that backfield. The fact that the first running back went off the board late in the first round makes almost any running back with starter potential, such as Thomas a good value. The player I love in this draft for the Miami Dolphins is Edmund Gates. Having watched several Abilene Christian games, I can tell you this about Gates – he’s got great awareness, excellent hands, and amazing athleticism. He is a raw talent but when he gets in space, watch out – he was one of the fastest players in this year’s draft. He is going to be compared to the Chicago Bears’ Johnny Knox (also from ACU) but I expect, with some development, that Gates will be better than Knox. Great value pick in the 4th round. I’m intrigued to watch him develop.
KEY ADDITIONS: Reggie Bush, RB (Saints); Kevin Burnett, LB (Chargers); Matt Moore, QB (Panthers); Tony McDaniel, DE (Dolphins); Marc Colombo, OT (Cowboys); Ronald Fields, DT (Broncos); Jason Taylor, DE (Jets)
The Reggie Bush trade should work out to be one of those rare trades that was a great move for both teams
I have not been big on Reggie Bush these past few years but I think this is a trade that makes sense. He is a pass catching running back and a great athlete and may be the heir apparent to the now departed original Wildcat, Ronnie Brown. He also gives the Dolphins a threat as an excellent punt returner. The addition of Marc Colombo gives the Dolphins a pretty good offensive line and I like the additions they made on defense with Fields and Burnett. Crowder will definitely be missed. Of course the biggest question for the Dolphins in my mind is who is going to play quarterback? I am not going to go as far as to say Chad Henne and Matt Moore are never going to be more than a number 2 but for a team that improved overall in the offseason, they actually took a step back at the quarterback position. It’s a sad state of affairs when losing Tyler Thigpen actually weakens your QB position. There were a number of serviceable starters available via trade and draft and I think the Dolphins should be calling Cincy around the clock to see what it would take to get Carson Palmer there. While I believe he is retired for good, this is one of a small handful of teams that should be calling Favre and it might not hurt them to give Randy Moss a call either.
2011 DRAFT CLASS: Marcell Dareus, DT (1-3); Aaron Williams, CB (2-34); Kelvin Sheppard, LB (3-68); Da’Norris Searcy, S (4-100); Chris Hairston, OT (4-122); Johnny White, RB (5-133); Chris White, LB (6-169); Justin Rogers, CB (7-206); Michael Jasper, G (7-245)
Marcell Dareus is a strong, fast defensive lineman that could play either the nose tackle or defensive end position in Buffalo's 3-4 D
I don’t know if Buffalo really drafted the positions they needed but they drafted a lot of good players. A lot of good teams have been built on the basis of B.P.A. (Best Player Available) and when you are as bad as the Bills were last season, the focus really does need to be on getting as many good players as possible. While I will continue to argue that I believe Patrick Peterson was the best overall player in the draft, I believe Marcell Dareus was a perfect defensive pick for the Bills. The Bills run a 3-4 defense and as a pass-rusher, Dareus could easily be converted into a defensive end. I also love the Williams, Sheppard, and Searcy picks. This defense should be much improved this coming season. The biggest questions have to be though, why the Bills did not address their offensive line until day 3 or use a single pick on a wide receiver or tight end.
KEY LOSSES: Paul Posluszny, LB; Donte Whitner, S; Lee Evans, WR
Barnett, while not Posluszny, was as good of a replacement as the Bills were going to find.
One of these offseasons, Buffalo is going to have to make a splash if they ever hope to compete with the Jets and Patriots. Losing Paul Posluszny and Donte Whitner was significant. But the Bills re-signed the guy they needed to in Drayton Florence. Nick Barnett is a nice replacement for Posluszny and I could see this being a stout defense that now features the likes of Aaron Williams, Marcell Dareus, Shawne Merriman, Nick Barnett, and Jairus Byrd. I also like the Tyler Thigpen signing as he is a solid back-up quarterback and it was a good move to take Brad Smith away from the rival Jets. Gailey did some wildcat looks in Kansas City with Thigpen and in this offense he could find places for Thigpen and Smith. However, the offensive side of the ball needs plenty of work. The offensive line is non-existent and they traded away a highly underrated receiver in Lee Evans which I believe they will regret. But if this defense can hold teams to 10 points a game, the Bills might just have a shot.
Overall the AFC East had a pretty strong offseason. The New England Patriots definitely improved. The Bills and Dolphins should field a better team than last season and the New York Jets look about the same to me. As always this should be a very tough division and I expect great defense across the board from all four teams.
Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Cameron Heyward, DE (1-31); Marcus Gilbert, OT (2-63); Curtis Brown, CB (3-95); Cortez Allen, CB (4-128); Christopher Carter, OLB (5-162); Keith Williams, G (6-196); Baron Batch, RB (7-232)
Cameron Heyward is big strong defensive end that fits the Steel Curtain's great tradition
The Pittsburgh Steelers did the most important thing you can do in a draft, they covered the majority of their needs. Sure there weren’t a lot of big names here but I do like the Cameron Heyward pick a lot for Pittsburgh. He is a versatile player that can play either the end or tackle position in a four man front. He is a relentless pass rusher with a quick first step and the ability to stay low and get the advantage on an offensive line. Gilbert fills a hole on their O-line and should be able to step in and contribute immediately. I really like the Carter pick-up late. He is not the most explosive player but he is strong and is a great tackler and could develop into a good OLB against the run. The biggest flaw that I can find in the Steelers’ draft is they really needed to find a way to bolster their receiving corps and did not do so in this draft.
KEY ADDITIONS: Ike Taylor, CB (Steelers); Willie Colon, OT (Steelers); Jonathan Scott, OT (Steelers); Mewelde Moore, RB (Steelers); William Gay, CB (Steelers); Jerricho Cotchery, WR (Jets)
KEY LOSSES: Antwaan Randle El, WR; Flozell Adams, OT; Max Starks, OT
Re-signing Ike Taylor was a priority for the Steelers.
For the Steelers, free agency was largely about making sure they continue to have a great offensive line. Their line has been a big part of their three Super Bowl appearances in the last 7 years and with the Steelers, they seem to believe that Scott and Colon are preferrable to Adams and Starks. The Steelers did the most important thing that a team can in free agency which is re-sign your key guys. Additionally, the Steelers were in desperate need of a wide receiver if they plan to repeat as AFC Champions and were able to pick up Jerricho Cotchery this week who should fit into their offensive scheme perfectly.
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Jimmy Smith, CB (1-27); Torrey Smith, WR (2-58); Jah Reid, OT (3-85); Tandon Doss, WR (4-123), Chykie Brown, CB (5-164); Pernell McPhee, DE (6-165); Tyrod Taylor, WR (6-180); Anthony Allen, RB (7-225)
Like Percy Harvin & Randy Moss, Jimmy Smith looks to make other teams regret letting him slide
I feel like Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens find good value late in a draft better than anyone else. In the first round they got the shutdown corner they needed in Jimmy Smith. I feel that Jimmy Smith should not have fallen past the 15th pick but character issues (much like Percy Harvin a few years ago) caused him to slide and Baltimore gets a great value here. Torrey Smith is a wideout who has blazing speed and will be popular with the fans being a Maryland Terrapin and all. I am really curious to see the path that Tyrod Taylor’s career take as I am always intrigued by college quarterbacks who are drafted as wide receivers (Brad Smith, Joe Webb, Antwaan Randle El, Julian Edelman, etc.). Overall I really like this draft because the Ravens got the most bang for their buck and did feel some immediate needs. However they ignored their gaping need in the safety position which I see as this draft’s biggest failure.
KEY ADDITIONS: Lee Evans, WR (Bills); Bernard Pollard, S/OLB (Texans); Vonta Leach, FB (Texans); Marshall Yanda, G (Ravens); Chris Carr, CB (Ravens)
In Lee Evans, the Ravens get a guy who can stretch the field for Joe Flacco
Before yesterday, I would’ve graded Baltimore’s free agency period and trades in the C+ range because while I do like their additions – I feel like the team lost a lot. However, I have them sitting higher because the 4th round pick for Lee Evans may be a better value trade than McNabb for a 6th round pick to Minnesota. Now I am not promising 23 touchdowns for Evans, I am just saying ask Bill Bellichick what happens when you give up a 4th round draft pick to get a talented receiver out of an unfavorable situation. I think that Evans is an upgrade over Derrick Mason and will pair nicely with Boldin and Smith. The upgrade of the receiving corps over the last two seasons should make this a career year for Joe Flacco. Leach is a bruiser of a fullback and an upgrade over McClain and re-signing Carr was necessary. I still feel they lost a lot though with the departure of Dawan Landry, Todd Heap, and Josh Wilson.
2011 DRAFT PICKS: A.J. Green, WR (1-4); Andy Dalton, QB (2-35); Dontay Moch, OLB (3-66); Clint Boling, G (4-101); Robert Sands, S (5-134); Ryan Whalen, WR (6-167); Korey Lindsey, CB (7-207); Jay Finley, RB (7-246)
A.J. Green has the tools to be an elite receiver in the NFL
I really liked Cincinnati’s approach to this draft. They had a lot of needs going in and as opposed to panicking – they simply adopted a B.P.A. (Best Player Available) approach and in doing so were able to fill many of their holes. They used the 4th overall pick to take the best wide receiver prospect I believe we have seen since Calvin Johnson. A.J. Green will be a star in this league. The Bengals foresaw the departure of Ochocinco and Palmer and used their first two picks to address that. Considering that 4 quarterbacks were drafted in the first 12 picks, I consider the Bengals finding someone as good as Andy Dalton in the 2nd round an absolute steal. If I had to declare a draft winner right now, it would be a toss up between Detroit, Cincinnati, and the next team I’m going to discuss. I love the Robert Sands pick in the 5th round – he is an intelligent player who plays aggressively. He has a great awareness about him and his long arms and great hands have me believing he could develop into quite the ballhawk. He reminds me of a larger Darren Sharper. I also think that Jay Finley was a great 7th round pick, he’s a running back who could be a solid number 2 in this league.
KEY LOSSES: Johnathan Joseph, CB; Chad Ochocinco, WR; Carson Palmer, QB; Antwan Odom, DE; Evan Mathis, G
Re-signing Benson was necessary if the Bengals were going to have any success this year
The biggest departure of free agency for the Bengals was not Chad Ochocinco or Carson Palmer . In my mind, it was Johnathan Joseph who many overlooked in free agency in light of the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes. Nate Clements was a good effort to replace Joseph but he is nowhere near as good. The Bengals anticipated Palmer’s retirement and the Ochocinco trade and in my opinion, upgraded at the wide receiver position when they drafted Green. Cedric Benson was necessary to bring back and I really like the Gradkowski pick-up. Gradkowski is a quarterback who has never gotten his due, similar to Jeff Garcia, but he does find ways to win games for bad teams and provides good competition for Dalton. I like the Thomas Howard signing as well but to me the retirement of Carson Palmer and departure of Johnathan Joseph severely set the Bengals back for this season.
2011 DRAFT PICKS: Phil Taylor, DT (1-21); Jabaal Sheard, DE (2-37); Greg Little, WR (2-59); Jordan Cameron, TE (4-102); Owen Marecic, FB (4-124); Buster Skrine, CB (5-137); Jason Pinkston, OT (5-150); Eric Hagg, S (7-248)
Phil Taylor was the best run-stopper available in this year's draft
You know what I have always admired about Mike Holmgren? He is a realist who knows what he wants. In my mind, when Cleveland landed the 6th overall pick there were only 3 players worth them taking with that high of a pick – Georgia WR A.J. Green (went 4th overall to Cincy), LSU CB Patrick Peterson (went 5th overall to Cleveland), and Missouri DE Aldon Smith (went with the 7th overall pick to San Fran). When Cleveland’s turn came up, Holmgren decided Aldon wasn’t the way to go with that pick and so instead of taking a player too high or one he had no interest in – he got Atlanta to pay him a king’s ransom so they could draft Julio Jones. Later on they were able to get the big run-stopping D Tackle they needed in Phil Taylor and with the Falcons’ 2nd round pick they got a big target who can stretch the field for McCoy in Greg Little. Overall I like this draft, not just because of who they grabbed this year but because of how it prepares them for future drafts to truly rebuild this team. Holmgren is very realistic about where the Browns are as a franchise and as someone who has 3 conference championships and one more Super Bowl ring than the entire Browns franchise, knows the personnel he needs to get them there.
KEY ADDITIONS: Pat Shurmur, Head Coach (Rams’ Offensive Coordinator); Jon Greco, G (Rams); Usama Young, S (Saints)
KEY LOSSES: Eric Wright, CB; Abram Elam, S
Pat Shurmur did a great job with Sam Bradford and now has Andy Dalton to develop.
When it came to the free agency period, the Browns did a couple of things right – they hired a great offensive mind as their new head coach in Pat Shurmur; they traded for Jon Greco, a strong offensive lineman who should solidify the right side of the line; and they signed Usama Young from the Saints who I believe upgrades their safety situation over the departed Abram Elam. When I look at Cleveland’s free agency period though, for me it will always be about what they did not do. They had the most cap room of any NFL team and did not even make a run at defensive end Ray Edwards, or wide receivers like James Jones, Malcolm Floyd, Michael Jenkins, or Mike Sims-Walker. There was no upgrade to their pass rush, no addition of difference-makers, and the Browns had more capacity to do that than anyone. In a short free agency period, the fact they could offer more money with less time to decide worked in their favor. As a result, I believe they were the biggest losers in free agency.
Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!