Peyton’s Dozen: The Odds on Who Will Land Manning

Ever since the Colts landed the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, there has been speculation about if and where Peyton Manning would play again.  Yesterday, something I could’ve never imagined a year ago happened when the Colts decided to go into rebuilding mode and forgo paying Manning the bonus that was due to him today thus making him a free agent for the first time in his career.   And this is not just any free agent.  Peyton Manning has become the most coveted free agent in NFL history as the franchise he has been the face of for 14 years moves forward without him.   We are now aware that no Colts player will ever again wear #18 but the question is of course: which team will have a new #18 on their roster next season?

Multiple sources have mentioned that around 12 teams have been in contact with Manning’s representation and we know who some of those teams are, who some aren’t, and which teams remain a mystery.   We know that the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs have contacted Manning’s representation.  We know that the Dallas Cowboys are not interested and neither are, clearly, the Indianapolis Colts.   It is also safe to assume that the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers.  I’m also fairly confident that the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens, and Chicago Bears will not go after Manning.  I also like to believe, that though there has been speculation, that the Texans will work to extend Schaub and develop Yates as opposed to cutting Schaub to bring in Manning.  So I do not believe the Texans are part of the twelve (but if they create the cap space and release Schaub they become a frontrunner).  However we can’t rule anyone out.   In my opinion, outside of a few, select teams that have elite NFL QBs, any team that does not at least ask itself the Peyton Manning question is doing themselves a great disservice.

So using what we know and what we don’t know I’ve broken down who I believe to be Manning’s dozen and their respective odds of landing the future Hall of Famer in descending order.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars

ODDS – 1:100

The Jacksonville Jaguars would love to sign their former rival for the next three years and develop the young Blaine Gabbert behind him.  I have no doubts about that.  It’s clear however that Peyton wants to win now because he only has somewhere between three and five years to win another ring.   The Jaguars definitely have the cap room and it could be attractive for Manning to play in Florida but the Jaguars have no personnel to put around Manning where he believes he could win right away.  A few years ago when the Vikings signed Brett Favre a lot of people referred to that team as a “ferrari without a driver” and I believe that’s exactly what Peyton is looking for.   The Jaguars can offer the contract but not much else.

11. Cleveland Browns

ODDS – 1:50

I give the Browns slightly higher odds than the Jaguars of landing Manning.   Once again this is a team in disarray but once that can afford Manning.  The reason I give them any kind of odds is because the Browns could potentially land one of Peyton’s former receivers in free agency (Garcon or Wayne), they have a stout and young offensive line and they have the draft picks to add playmakers to their roster now.  This is an AFC team in a smaller market which many say that Manning would prefer but I just do not see this happening.

10. Buffalo Bills

ODDS – 3:100

The Buffalo Bills are an interesting prospect.  This would put Peyton in the AFC in a small market with a passionate fan base and he would get the chance to play Tom Brady twice a year.  However, the Bills have made a huge commitment to Ryan Fitzpatrick.  This is a team that could make the playoffs with consistent quarterback play but I do not see the Bills making this happen nor do I see Manning wanting to play 7 home games a year in Buffalo and 1 every season in Toronto after 14 years of playing his home games in a dome.  They have the cap room, they have some playmakers, but I am pretty confident we will not see Manning in Buffalo.

9. Tennessee Titans

ODDS – 1:20

If the Titans have already called, I’m certain that Peyton Manning has listened.  He considers Tennessee a second home having played his college ball there.  He can look at Tennessee and see playmakers like Chris Johnson, Jared Cook,  and Kenny Britt.   They have a very athletic offensive line that Peyton would love.  This is a team that has some definite potential but once again I just do not see it.  Matt Hasselbeck had a really good year last year and I believe that the Titans are happy to play him another year and then move forward with Jake Locker who showed a lot of promise as a rookie.  I also do not know what Peyton’s feelings would be on playing the Colts twice a year after his ceremonious exit from the Colts but either way, I give the Titans a 5% chance but not much more than that.

8. New York Jets

ODDS – 1:19

The New York Jets have been linked to Peyton Manning for months and this is a team that is definitely talented and made it to back to back AFC Championships in spite of subpar quarterback play.  Manning is familiar with the Rex Ryan defense and would surely love to have that on his side.  He would play the Patriots twice a year and he would get to share a stadium with his brother.  He would have playmakers all around him but at the same time, there are a lot of issues with the New York Jets locker room.  New York is a large market and it’s his brother’s territory.   I personally think the Jets would be a great fit but I don’t see Peyton going to such an unstable situation or imposing on his brother’s turf.   Another big factor here is that the Jets would have to make some major moves to be able to even afford Manning.  They can’t afford him, it’s unstable, and I just don’t see it.

7. Washington Redskins

ODDS – 1:13

Alright, now we’re into the teams that I actually think have a shot.  A lot of people have the Redskins as an odds-on favorite to land Peyton Manning.  They like to cite that great offensive line the Redskins have and the presence of Roy Helu, Santana Moss, Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, and Jabar Gaffney.  It’s clear though that Washington will have to add a true #2 wide receiver to attract Peyton.  Washington does have the necessary cap room and they have an owner in Dan Snyder who loves to spend money.  However, Peyton’s preference is the AFC and I really don’t think he wants to play Eli twice a year.   Washington loves to bring in five star free agents and has the cap room to reunite Manning and Wayne as well as a high enough draft pick to bring in some young playmakers immediately.  While I believe the Redskins will be one of the most aggressive suitors for Manning but I don’t believe Peyton will bite.   This is a team that definitely has everything necessary to attract Manning with the largest drawbacks being the fact that they are a large market NFC team that would play the Giants twice a year.  Many don’t believe that Manning is interested in playing for Washington but on paper they have a pretty solid chance.

6. Arizona Cardinals

ODDS – 1:8

Everyone that follows Can of Corn on Twitter knows that for months I have been lobbying for Peyton Manning to team up with Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona.  This is a team that went .500 last season in spite of Kolb’s terrible play under center.   Manning has mentioned he would love to play on natural grass again but he does appreciate the advantages of a dome.  Good news – Arizona is the only place that can offer both.   Manning has never played with a wide receiver as talented as Larry Fitzgerald and if the Cardinals can re-sign Early Doucet or bring in another wideout (especially Wayne) then this could be a real possibility.  Combine that with tight end Todd Heap and Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams in the backfield and this becomes a very attractive offense.  Manning and Whisenhunt have long had a mutual respect and admiration for one another and so this relationship could definitely work.

The problem is that right now the Cardinals are projected to have, at most, $10.2 M in cap room.   Even if they release Levi Brown and free up $16M , move forward without Kolb and free up the necessary cap room, the Cardinals are left with an even more questionable offensive line.  I love this fit for Manning and like the idea of him throwing to Fitzgerald.  I think the Cardinals will be major players and they are a team that can compete right away with Manning but at the end of the day – I really don’t see Arizona being able to do what’s necessary to attract Manning.   If the Cardinals had the cap room to afford Manning, they would be in the top 3 without a doubt.  There’s a strong mutual interest here between Manning and the Cardinals.  Now it comes down to money.

5. San Francisco 49ers

ODDS – 2:9

What NFL fan does not want to see Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne keep playing together?  The 49ers offer the opportunity to do that.  This is a team that has the cap room necessary to sign Peyton Manning and then also tighten up their WR corps and with a deep WR draft could use their first round draft pick on a rookie wideout or exchange that pick for Mike Wallace.  This is a team that was a few muffed punts from going to the Super Bowl last season and if they were to bring in receivers they could easily attract Peyton there and on the flip side, the presence of Peyton Manning would attract free agent receivers.  This is a dynamic team and Peyton would only be required to put up 20 – 24 points a game with that stout defense.  Jim Harbaugh says he believes in Alex Smith and is trying to extend him but you have to believe the 49ers have at least reached out to Manning and that he would be interested in heading to the West Coast.  Both the 49ers and Peyton are well aware of what each could accomplish together and I think this will be a very attractive option.   I just do not know how hard Harbaugh will pursue this one.  Thus far the 49ers have denied interest in Manning but it’s hard to believe that giving Alex Smith a three year $27M contract is that much better of an option than giving Manning a 3 year $42M deal.

4. Denver Broncos

ODDS – 2:7

If John Elway really wants to move on from “Tebowmania” this is the only possible escape.  If Elway really wants a quarterback that reminds him of himself, then there’s nobody better.  After all, a number one overall draft pick by the Colts going on to lead the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl is not unheard of.   The Broncos have some great young receivers on offense with Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Royals, and Eric Decker and the necessary cap room to sign Manning.  They are a playoff team with the necessary cap room to sign Manning and this is something that could really happen.  The Broncos have reached out to Manning’s people and with the Broncos being the reigning champion of a wide-open division I think they are an attractive option to Manning.

3. Seattle Seahawks

ODDS – 1:3

I really do not know why more people aren’t talking about the possibility of Manning landing in Seattle.   This is a team that could be very good with a great quarterback.  Manning would have a dynamic receiving corps with Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Mike Williams, and Golden Tate as well as Jon Carlson and Zach Miller at tight end.  The Seahawks just recently extended running back Marshawn Lynch after a career year.  This is a team with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and with Manning could challenge the 49ers right away.  The Seahawks are considered a frontrunner to land Mario Williams but they could instead direct their focus to Manning especially considering their draft position would allow them a chance to land Melvin Ingram or another top tier rookie outside linebacker or defensive end.   There are some question marks on the offensive line but given the division they play in and the amount of playmakers, Seattle has to be considered a serious contender to land Peyton Manning.

2. Miami Dolphins

ODDS – 2:5

We’ve heard it all, the Dolphins have the cap room to sign Manning and bring in another wide receiver.  Reggie Wayne wants to play in Miami and this could give Manning a 1-2 punch of Wayne and Brandon Marshall with Davone Bess in the slot.  Reggie Bush just had the best year of his career and is one of the best pass-catching backs in the game.  Peyton Manning has a home in Miami and the team has an owner that wants a star to latch his team onto.  This is a warm weather AFC team that would give Peyton the chance to play in the stadium where he twice appeared in a Super Bowl.   The Dolphins seem to be a really attractive option for Manning but the biggest question has to be the offensive line.  Outside of Jake Long, this offensive line is suspect.  Of course the 9th overall draft pick could allow the Dolphins to draft Iowa’s Riley Reiff or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin who could bolster this line immediately.  I think that Miami has a lot of attractive options.  I think Manning’s admiration of and friendship with Dan Marino plays a role.  While Miami has a great combination of playmakers, salary cap, and overall fit, there’s one team that has an even better combination of these things.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

ODDS – 3:7

There are a lot of commentators who have begun to mention the Kansas City Chiefs as an underdog or a dark horse candidate to land Manning.  The Seahawks are a dark horse, the Titans and Jets are underdogs, the Chiefs should be considered the favorite.   Anyone who has the Chiefs ranked lower than two is only kidding themselves.   There are a number of factors that make the Chiefs the odds-on favorite to land Manning in spite of the fact that they are “committed to Matt Cassel”.

The Chiefs have been projected to have as much as $50M in cap room next season which would be the 2nd highest in the NFL so they definitely have the financial flexibility to sign Peyton Manning and then to bring in anotherfree agent such as Carl Nicks or Jeff Saturday to solidify their offensive line.  The Chiefs have the necessary weapons on the offensive side of the ball with running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki, and receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jonathan Baldwin.  Then there’s always the threat of the very dynamic Dexter McCluster who can play in the backfield or line up in the slot.   They have a good young defense as well with playmakers like Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey, Derrick Johnson, and Eric Berry.    Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel are both extremely familiar with Peyton Manning and with the restructuring of the coaching staff, this is a team that would be very open to letting Peyton Manning bring in his own offense.  This is a talented AFC team in a small market with a very passionate fan base and distinct home field advantage.   They play in the most wide-open division in the NFL.  This is a team that came within a game of the playoffs despite multiple injuries and inconsistent QB play.   Joe Montana finished his career in KC and got his team to the AFC Championship maybe Peyton can do one better.  If Manning really wants to be on an AFC team and become the first QB to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl win, this is a team that definitely fits that mold and can actually afford him.

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

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2012 NFL Mock Rough Draft

I think everybody knows what this so I do not see the need for a lot of build-up.  Now that we are officially in the offseason and the draft order has been set, I can look into the future and see how I believe the NFL Draft will play out at this time.  This is my rough draft, the sports landscape can change and so I will likely adjust what I see happening as the draft nears.  There are always injuries, trades, and free agent moves that could affect these things but as the NFL Landscape stands now, this is how I believe the draft will play out.  Unlike most mock drafts, I plan to also give you the 2nd round of the draft as well (with minimal commentary on those picks for the sake of article length).  This will give every NFL fan a chance, unless your team is the ultra-foolish Raiders that don’t have a pick until Round 5, to see at least one pick that your team will make in this year’s draft.

*While I understand teams have multiple needs I identified (in most cases) what I saw as the 3-4 biggest needs for each team.  Also note that when I say a team is in need of a position I could be referring to depth at a position and not a starter – with a lot of teams this is the case at positions like running back and quarterback.

THE 1ST ROUND

It has become pretty obvious to me that Peyton Manning will not be with the Colts next season (unless he retires and is a member of the coaching staff) and I believe that he will eventually land with either the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, or San Francisco 49ers.  That being said, the Colts find themselves in good fortune.  In the 1980′s they had the #1 overall pick to be able to take John Elway, in the 90′s it was the can’t-miss Peyton Manning #1 overall and now in the 2010′s the Colts will take Andrew Luck, the best rookie QB prospect that we have probably seen since Manning.  Since I do not see the Colts dealing this pick or maintaining Manning when they have the chance to take Andrew Luck here – this is what I see happening with this pick.

There are a lot of people who see the Rams trading this pick, which would not be a bad move considering the number of needs this team has.  There are some who have the Rams taking WR Justin Blackmon but in my humble opinion, he is a receiver, that while talented, is not worthy of being selected in a Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitzgerald-type position.  I believe that Jeff Fisher understands that his new team is about two major pieces – Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson.  He understands he needs to create wider running lanes for Jackson and protect Sam Bradford.  Kalil is an OT that like Jake Long and Joe Thomas is can’t-miss and with Andrew Luck off the board, ANY team that passes on Kalil (regardless of need) is foolish.  The addition of Kalil and placing him at Left Tackle could make the Rams woeful offensive line a very formidable unit.

TRADE ALERT! The Washington Redskins have already made it clear that they will find a quarterback for the team this season.  It’s clear that Beck and Grossman are not the answer.  I do not believe the Redskins have a shot at Manning nor do I believe they will be very active in the Matt Flynn sweepstakes which means taking the 2nd best QB in the draft before he falls to the Browns at #4 overall.  The Vikings have 3 or 4 players they are interested but with Kalil off the board will be looking to trade down within the top 10.  So when the Redskins offer a 1st, 2nd, and 4th to move up 3 spots to take RG3, the Vikings will not hesitate to pull the trigger.

The Browns are in a very good draft position given their needs.  They know Andrew Luck and Matt Kalil are not options but know that out of Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon, and Robert Griffin III – at least one of these three players will be waiting for them.  While the smartest pick for the Browns here would probably be Morris Claiborne, the Browns will not hesitate to take the best WR in the class.  The Browns have never had a true #1 receiver since the departure of Braylon Edwards and really need someone for Colt McCoy to throw to to see what they have in the kid.  The Browns really were hoping to get A.J. Green out of last year’s draft and this year will be excited when the best WR in the draft falls to them.

For the 2nd year in a row, a cornerback out of LSU that might be the best overall athlete in the draft, will go #5 overall.  Tampa Bay is a team desperately in need of some help in their secondary and Claiborne is an unbelievable prospect who can step in for the Bucs and start from Day 1.  With Justin Blackmon off the board, this becomes a very easy decision for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Last season the Minnesota Vikings lost 13 games, 9 of these were by a margin of less then 7.  They led at halftime in each of their first 4 losses.  This is a team that is very talented but has a few gaping voids in their roster.  The Vikings have one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the NFL with Christian Ponder and Joe Webb.  The key to the Vikings now is to protect their young quarterback (whichever one they choose).  There are no worthwhile wide receivers here (plus the wide receiver position is one of the deepest in the draft and free agency)  and with this being a deep cornerback draft, the Vikings will make the pick here they may have made anyway with the #3 overall pick.  Reiff is a tough, physical tackle who should fill the void left by Bryant McKinnie quite nicely.

There seems to be a few trends in the NFL Draft and I would swear that every year the Jacksonville Jaguars use a top 10 draft pick on a defensive end.  This year shouldn’t be any different.  While the Jaguars have obvious needs at wide receiver and cornerback, this is a deep draft for both positions and the Jaguars could easily find #1 caliber at both of these positions in the 2nd round.  However, they have a chance to get an elite pass rusher here in Coples and won’t pass on that chance.   The Jaguars will cross their fingers, hope the 3rd time really is the charm and take Coples.

The Panthers have a very young and talented roster that could use some depth at many positions.  The Panthers really could use some help on their defensive line but with Dre Kirkpatrick still on the board will not pass on the opportunity to take the cornerback out of Alabama.  While there are character concerns with Kirkpatrick, Rivera will be excited to get a big corner opposite Chris Gamble who can not only tackle well but should match up well with the big time receiving targets that the Saints and Falcons have.

Philbin has already said that he plans to convert the Dolphins to a 4-3 defense which makes a defensive lineman the popular choice here and while there are doubts about a number of positions the best option here for the Dolphins is to take Jonathan Martin out of Stanford and give themselves one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.  While there will be 4 teams in play for Green Bay’s Matt Flynn (Jets, Dolphins, Browns, and Seahawks) I think the Dolphins will be the winner of those sweepstakes and with Reggie Bush coming off the best year of his career the best thing the Dolphins will be able to do for Flynn and Bush is protect them.  Martin represents a good value pick for the Dolphins at 9 and could be the difference maker in their offense.

The Buffalo Bills have some interesting plans for 2012.  They plan to go back to a 4-3 defense, but with their personnel there is also a lot of potential for the Bills to throw some 3-4 looks out there.  The Bills have a huge need for someone who can rush the passer.  While Upshaw was mostly a linebacker at Alabama, he does have experience at the defensive end position and has a knack for finding the ball in the backfield.  He would be a great and necessary addition to what has the potential to be a very potent Buffalo defense.

The future is very bright for the Kansas City Chiefs as they boast one of the youngest, most talented rosters in the NFL.  With injuries to 5 of their top 6 players last season, the Chiefs still managed to fall just one game shy of making the playoffs for the second consecutive year.  There have been many who have cried for a new quarterback in Kansas City but the right pick for KC in the first round is clearly some help on the offensive or defensive line.  With Kalil, Reiff, and Martin off the board, Devon Still out of Penn State makes the most sense for the Chiefs.  I believe that Still is not only the most NFL ready defensive lineman in the draft, but he also the best all-around defensive lineman in the draft and should be taken ahead of the highly touted Michael Brockers.  Still also is the best player on the board to plug up the middle of the line in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense.

The biggest need the Seattle Seahawks have is quarterback.  Tarvaris Jackson does not appear to be the answer and I know that the answer is definitely not Charlie Whitehurst.  However, the Seahawks are not going to find the solution to their problem here.  The second biggest need the Seahawks have is a pass rusher and while Upshaw and Coples figure to go higher, I believe Melvin Ingram is the best defensive end in the draft.  Carroll needs a player who can get to the quarterback and Ingram is not only a great defensive end but an athlete who is flexible enough to excel at the outside linebacker position.  Plan on seeing Seattle take Ingram with this pick.

WAIT JUST A SECOND – Alabama Running Back Trent Richardson is still on the board?

Every year on the first night of the draft there are the big stories in regards to “the reach” and “the slide”.  This year the slide will be Trent Richardson.  Richardson is the best running back prospect I’ve seen since Darren McFadden but McFadden’s draft is the reason that Richardson will slip.  McFadden is a good running back but keep in mind he was taken #4 overall in 2008.  Then keep in mind that Chris Johnson and Rashard Mendenhall were taken #24 and #25 overall respectively in the same draft.  Matt Forte and Ray Rice were #44 and #55 overall.  Arian Foster went undrafted in 2009.  The running back position has been highly devalued.  Many experts have him going to Cleveland or Tampa but I expect him to slide based on the devaluation and the fact that the top half of the draft has much more pressing needs than running back.

In the eyes of many, the Arizona Cardinals are a step back from where they were a year ago.  They needed a quarterback and broke up the best pair of young cornerbacks in the league when they sent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to Philadelphia in exchange for Kevin Kolb.  So far that appears to have been a very bad move.  The answer to the Cardinals quarterback problem is not here but North Alabama’s Janorris Jenkins could give the Cardinals a highly touted corner opposite Patrick Peterson.  It’s not every day that you see a Division II player go in the first round but keep in mind that there are character issues with Jenkins that landed him at N. Alabama in the 1st place.  Either way, this kid can flat out play and would complement Peterson nicely.

In Dallas the mindset still exists that anything short of a Super Bowl is a failure, in spite of the fact that Dallas has only won one playoff game this century.   The Cowboys made the right pick with OT Tyron Smith last season and if they are smart will take DeCastro this year to give their super powered offense one of the best young offensive lines in the league.  They clearly need some help in their secondary but this is a deep draft for cornerbacks and there is no one on the board worthy of this pick.  It may not be a flashy pick but DeCastro is the right pick for the Cowboys.

If DeSean Jackson does leave via free agency, wide receiver becomes a top need for this team but with the Eagles still having Jeremy Maclin, I still believe their middle linebacker situation is much more dire (plus the wide receiver position can be addressed in the 2nd round where the team has 2 picks or via free agency).  Casey Matthews was not the answer for the Eagles last season.  Luke Kuechly is by far the best middle linebacker in this year’s draft.  Kuechly has great instincts, is a phenomenal open field tackler, and could be the solution to a number of Philadelphia’s defensive woes.

Rex Ryan loves his pass rushers and at this point in the draft there’s none better on the board than Nick Perry.  Perry is a natural pass rusher who could probably use some bulking up but nonetheless he could be a great asset to that Jets’ defense.  The Jets could also take Mark Barron here but I see Rex Ryan really liking what Perry has to offer him.

And the slide of Trent Richardson has finally stopped! The Bengals were excited to turn a quarterback that wasn’t even playing into a 1st and 2nd round pick but now they get to convert their pick from the Palmer deal this year into the best running back in the draft and a great athletic talent.  Combining Trent Richardson with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green could give the Bengals their own version of “The Triplets” going forward and allows the Bengals an impressive start to this year’s draft.

The Chargers secondary was a big concern for them in a much-improved AFC West.  Phillip Rivers is no longer the only quarterback in this division and while the team has bigger needs, an opportunity to take the best safety in the draft is one that San Diego will not pass on.  Barron is strong, quick, and has great instincts. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowl safety going forward for the Chargers.

A few years ago the Bears gave up two first round picks to bring in Jay Cutler but since they got themselves a quarterback they’ve had no one for Cutler to throw the ball to.  The Bears will not hesitate to take a wide receiver with their first round pick and I believe the Bears will choose Michael Floyd over Alshon Jeffrey.

The Titans have committed to Jake Locker as their quarterback of the future and Matt Hasselbeck is clearly the QB of the present.  While there are a number of needs for this team, the most glaring one is the interior offensive line.  For the Titans this will mean a choice between Glenn and Peter Konz, the center out of Wisconsin.  Glenn is a very strong guard who also has experience on the edge of the offensive line.  He is believed to be maybe the safest offensive line pick on the board aside from Kalil and should fit the Titans scheme nicely.

A year ago, the Bengals were worried about their offense but after taking Andy Dalton and A.J. Green last year and already getting Trent Richardson in this draft, the Bengals can turn their focus back to defense.  They would’ve loved to see Cordy Glenn still on the board here but with him gone, Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback is a pretty obvious choice.  The Bengals could use some help in their secondary and Nate Clements is getting up there in years.  Dennard is a physical cover corner who can help some in his rookie year as they develop him behind Clements and makes sense for this young Bengals team.

The Browns had the opportunity to take Julio Jones last season and their reward was Justin Blackmon this season and now the chance to take the second best running back in the draft in Lamar Miller.  Lamar Miller is a running back that has big run potential and can catch passes out of the backfield.  With all the questions surrounding Peyton Hillis and the lack of production from Montario Hardesty, this pick makes perfect sense for the Browns and represents a good value for Cleveland.

The past few years the Lions have drafted really well and found good value in the draft but have neglected to address their offensive line issues.  Jeff Backus has had a great career but he’s getting older and in order for the Lions to continue to compete they are going to need a young left tackle.   There are a number of picks that make sense here for the Lions but with Mike Adams sitting here and the depth at other positions, the Lions will probably act and grab Adams here.

The Steelers have a lot of needs along their offensive and defensive lines because they are getting much older along the lines.  With Dontari Poe, a nose tackle who would fit Dick LeBeau’s scheme perfectly just sitting here, the Steelers will not hesitate to draft him, especially with Mike Adams off the board.   Poe would be an obvious heir apparent to Casey Hampton and a much more physical presence at that who can plug up the middle of the line.

The Broncos have a number of needs that are bigger than wide receiver but they are going to see Alshon Jeffrey as someone that could be great opposite Demaryius Thomas.  Jeffrey is a big, physical receiver who took a step back in his final year at South Carolina but he attacks the ball and could be a big help for Tim Tebow and help alleviate some of the coverages that Thomas can expect to see after a breakout year.  Jeffrey is the type of receiver who can go up for a jump ball in the endzone over several defenders and will come down with it.  This isn’t necessarily the best pick for Denver but it’s a good one and one I believe they will make.

The Texans are really in need of a wide receiver to place opposite of Andre Johnson.  This is a team that is poised to make a Super Bowl run and with Matt Schaub, I believe they were far and away the best team in the AFC but they need another target besides Johnson.  Kendall Wright is a smaller, speedier receiver that was overlooked because of the season that Justin Blackmon had in the Big 12, he has breakaway speed very reminiscent of Percy Harvin of the Vikings.  He would provide the perfect complement to Andre Johnson.

The Patriots really need some help with their pass rush and must get younger along the defensive line.  Michael Brockers is a top-10 caliber talent that will likely fall to the Patriots at 27 and Bellichick will not hesitate to take the young defensive lineman.  Brockers is a very versatile athlete that could potentially be a defensive end or outside linebacker but as a defensive tackle he is a force to be reckoned with on the interior and could spell trouble for the run games of the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills.

The Green Bay Packers defense was absolutely abysmal last season and had the lowest sack rate in the NFL.  Few realized this because of how explosive the offense was.  The Packers could not create any pressure on opposing passers without sending blitzers which forced the offense to have to put up 30 + a game to win.  Mercilus is a linebacker that lives up to his name.  While he played defensive end in college, many see him being an outside linebacker in the NFL.  He’s an explosive player who knows how to get to the quarterback and that could serve the Packers very well in trying to re-vamp this defense.

Ray Lewis is not getting any younger.  At some point, the Ravens have to think about Lewis’s heir to the most sacred position in Baltimore Ravens history.  He is a perfect replacement to be mentored by Ray Lewis.  He is explosive, a proven leader, and has a bit of a mean streak.  To some he’s a dirty player but there’s no doubt he is an aggressive competitor who has a natural awareness of where the ball is.  This pick would be a slam dunk for Baltimore.

Anyone who watched the NFC Championship knows that receiving corps for the 49ers is very weak.  The team only converted one third down and Alex Smith didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until the 4th quarter.  The 49ers were hoping Wright or Jeffrey would fall to them here but with both off the board they will grab the speedy receiver out of Rutgers.

The Patriots would like to find a young wide receiver or a young safety here to help out their team but they could definitely use some help on the pass rush and would be excited to get AndreBranch.   Branch is an absolute beast.  He’s around 6-5, 260 lbs and is pure athlete.  He is a pure pass rusher who can find the quarterback but while he’s ready for the NFL now, it seems that he has potential to grow into an even greater player.

Last year the Giants overspent on David Baas to alleviate their center woes and while the Giants won the Super Bowl, they could really use some help along the interior line.  The Giants are going to be excited to see a strong, athletic center like Peter Konz available to them at the 32nd pick and won’t hesitate to grab him here.

THE 2ND ROUND

The Colts have a gaping need in their secondary, especially when their division now has the likes of Matt Schaub, Jake Locker/Matt Hasselbeck, and Blaine Gabbert. Minnifield is a 1st round caliber player that the Colts can’t pass up here.

The Rams were probably thinking wide receiver with this pick but with Zach Brown somehow still on the board and the ability to grab a solid receiver early in the 3rd round, they won’t hesitate to make this pick.

The Vikings definitely need to upgrade their cornerback position.  Antoine Winfield is getting old, Cedric Griffin is injury prone, and Chris Cook’s future is uncertain. Gilmore is a great value at #35 overall.

The Browns will be in on the Matt Flynn sweepstakes but won’t get him and they need someone to compete with Colt McCoy.  They saw the top WR in the draft and a young 2nd round QB from Texas pay dividends for their cross-state rivals last season.  They are hoping for the same success with their picks.

Morris Claiborne solidified the secondary.  Now Hightower, a 1st round caliber talent will give them the middle linebacker presence they sorely need.

The Vikings were fortunate to net the Redskins 1st and 2nd round pick in the move up for RG3. Criner is a big target with speed who should complement Harvin and that pair of tight ends Minnesota has nicely.

The Jaguars are in desperate need of somebody for Blaine Gabbert to throw the ball to and Toon is the best receiver left on the board at this point.

Most believe that Fletcher Cox could go in the top 15 but I think he slides to the Panthers here and they won’t hesitate to strengthen their front four.

Bruce Irvin can play as a defensive end in Philbin’s new 4-3 scheme or as an Outside Linebacker in a 3-4 and would be a great pick-up for Miami.

Having taken Upshaw the Bills have other needs in the 2nd round but Curry is too good for them to pass on and gives the Bills a very nice pair of defensive ends if they choose to use Upshaw that way.

The depth at offensive tackle is unreal.  The Chiefs need to solidify a questionable offensive line and a physical tackle like Zebrie Sanders is a perfect find in the 2nd round.

There are questions surrounding whether or not Marshawn Lynch will be back.  The fall of Richardson allows David Wilson to fall to the 2nd round where Seattle will be most fortunate to draft him.

The Eagles were supposed to be a dream team but they were more of a dream and less of a team.  Jerel Worthy is a perfect fit for Philly’s defense.

The Cowboys could really use some help in their secondary and Hosley is the man for the job.

2nd round quarterback when they have an established starter?  Here the Eagles go again…

Attention Mark Sanchez, you are officially on the hot seat.

The Patriots have to find a solution to their strong safety need, Harrison Smith makes perfect sense.

Phillip Rivers needs to be better protected and to find a tackle like Osemele (who will likely play guard) at the 50th pick is a steal.

The Bears need help in their secondary and on the O-Line but Thompson is one of the best defensive tackles available and could really help the Bears put pressure on Rodgers and Stafford.

The Titans continue the rebuilding of their interior offensive line by following up the selection of the 2nd best guard in the draft with the 2nd best center.

The Bengals are doing it again – finding exceptional value in the 1st and 2nd rounds. They now have a receiver with much promise to pair with A.J. Green.

The Falcons have the greatest tight end of all-time on their roster but Tony G. is getting up there in years and the best tight end on the board gives them a perfect opportunity to develop Gonzalez’s heir.

Cliff Avril had a big year but is going to demand a huge contract.  The Lions need somebody to pair up with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Chandler Jones is the best DE left on the board.

The Steelers are getting old along the offensive line and Andrew Datko appears to be the perfect fit for Pittsburgh here.

For now the Broncos are invested in Tim Tebow and want to give him more options on offense.  The 2nd best tight end in the draft with their 2nd round pick does not seem to be a bad way to go.

Wade Phillips’ defense was a force to be reckoned with last season but they are in need of a big nose tackle who can plug up the middle.  Ta’amu is going to be that man for Houston.

Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are both unrestricted free agents which could leave the Saints vaunted receiving corps quite depleted.  Jarius Wright is a fast physical receiver who could play Week 1 for NOLA.

Ted Thompson has been successful because he takes the best player available regardless of position. Looks like LaMichael James will still be wearing Green and Yellow for at least a little while longer.

The Ravens had a great offensive line this year but All-Pro Jeff Birk is likely retiring meaning Baltimore must find a centerpiece for their offensive line NOW.

The 49ers have some needs along the interior of their offensive line and Zeiter is a good value at 62 overall.

Whether or not Wes Welker returns (which I believe he will), the Patriots are still in need of receivers that don’t drop the ball. The speedster from Arkansas is a bit of a reach but a good fit for Bellichick’s offense.

The Giants are a great team without a true #1 running back.  Brandon Jacobs is on the decline and a team as complete as the Giants need a better #1 option than Bradshaw.  New York will be excited to find Martin waiting for them here.

QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? SNIDE REMARKS?
Let me hear ’em!

Courtesy of Devan Dignan+

2011 NFL Offseason Grades – AFC East

Sorry for the delay, without further ado, here are my offseason grades for the AFC East.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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)

KEY LOSSES: Braylon Edwards, WR; Shaun Ellis, DE; Jason Taylor, DE; Brad Smith, KR/WR/QB

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.

 

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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)

KEY LOSSES: Ronnie Brown, RB; Tyler Thigpen, QB; Channing Crowder, LB

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.

 

 

BUFFALO BILLS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Nick Barnett, LB (Packers); Drayton Florence, CB (Bills); Brad Smith, WR/KR/QB (Jets), Tyler Thigpen, QB (Dolphins)

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!

Waiting on that Gold Jacket

All 7 Members of this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class are deserving but it still feels like somebody's missing.

Every year when a Hall of Fame class is named or inducted in any sport, just as much time is spent talking about those who did not get in as much as it is those who did.   The longer that a potential Hall of Famer is snubbed, the more the event becomes about them than those actually getting inducted.   Baseball’s Hall of Fame induction is never complete every year without some mention of Roger Maris not being enshrined in Cooperstown.  This weekend marks the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton.  Unlike most years, I can honestly look at this class top to bottom and say that every single person in this year’s class is deserving which is not always the case.   Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe, Chris Hanburger, Les Richter, and Richard Dent all had Hall of Fame caliber careers.  My only real complaint about those who make up this year’s class is that Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films,  is being inducted.

My complaint is not that Sabol is finding a home in Canton, it’s that Ed Sabol should’ve been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago!  His ideas about preserving sporting events on film and using that as a marketing tool changed sports forever. It came as a shock to me that he was being inducted because, to be completely frank, I thought he had already been enshrined.

However, like anyone, I find it necessary at Hall of Fame induction time to talk about some of the people not in the Hall of Fame who deserve to be in the hope that if we talk about them enough, like the thirteen years of talk about Bert Blyleven prior to his induction in Baseball’s Hall of Fame this year, these great players will finally get the recognition they deserve.

So below I give you my top 11 Pro Football Hall of Fame Snubs.   Why 11?  Well first off, everyone does a top 10  and I have never been one to do something just because everyone else does (my mom would be proud  that her “If all your friends jumped off a cliff….” logic rubbed off on me).  Secondly, because while the common adage is “less is more”, as you can tell from my previous writings, I am  a proud member of the “more is more” camp.  Third of all, for a variety of reasons, 11 is my favorite number.  I started with a list of 25 guys and after much thought, was able to get it down to 11.  So without further ado from 11 to 1, my top 11 Pro Football Hall of Fame snubs.

11.  Steve Tasker, Wide Receiver/Special Teamer – Houston Oilers (1985 – 1986),  Buffalo Bills (1986 – 1997)

Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy once called Steve Tasker, “the most important man on the Bills roster.”  On a roster that included greats like Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas that should mean something.   Many are going to be shocked that I have put a a Special Teamer on this list but in my mind, Steve Tasker is, without a doubt, the greatest special teams player of all time.    He had an ability to cover kicks/punts, block kicks/punts, and make plays on the Special Teams side of the ball.  He was so good at what he did, that while he was a capable receiver, Marv Levy rarely used him on offense because he didn’t want to risk injury to Tasker or do anything to that could prevent him from giving 100% to special teams.  Bill Parcells admitted that he had to game plan around Tasker.  There are many who believe that special teams players like coverage guys, kickers, and punters don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but many coaches would tell you that “special teams is one-third of the game”.  My question is, if this is the case – why doesn’t Canton reflect that?

10.  Ray Guy, Punter – Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1973 – 1986)

Most would concur that Ray Guy is the best punter that the NFL has ever seen.   He is so good in fact that the collegiate award for the best punter is named after Ray Guy.   People usually don’t realize how important it is to have a good punter, until your team has an awful one.  Punters dictate field position throughout the course of a game.  In Guy’s 14 year career, he was named to six straight Pro Bowls, was an All Pro three times, and was named the punter on the 1970’s All-Decade Team and the NFL 75th anniversary team.  He is remembered as a key part of a Raiders team that won three Super Bowls.  He is remembered for being able to not only punt the ball far (average of 42.4 yards over career and had five punts over 60 yards in the 1981 season) but for having a high hang time.  His hang time on his punts was so high that the officials once tested a ball he had punted for helium.   He had 210 career punts inside the 20 yard line, never had a punt returned for a touchdown, and finished his career with a streak of 619 unblocked punts.

Like Steve Tasker and Gary Anderson (maybe the greatest kicker of all-time who just missed my list), Ray Guy is often overlooked because he was a specialist.  While many of his teammates would tell you that he won them games because of how he was able to control field position, many believe that special teamers don’t belong in Canton.   I find it hard to understand why the 29th best quarterback in NFL history is deserving of enshrinement but the best special teams player and punter in NFL history are not.  This exclusion is American professional sports’ version of the Caste System.

9.  Andre Reed, Wide Receiver – Buffalo Bills (1985 – 1999), Washington Redskins (2000)

Of my top five wide receivers of all time that are eligible for enshrinement, three of them still find themselves on the outside looking in.  Many make fun of the Bills inability to win a Super Bowl after winning four straight AFC Championships in the early 1990s but that does not detract from the fact that the Buffalo Bills were a great team.  As a Minnesota Vikings fan (the other 0 – 4 Super Bowl franchise) I have always sympathized with the Bills’ streak of bad luck.  Andre Reed was a big part of that success.   He finished his career with 951 career receptions (8th all time), 13, 198 receiving yards (9th all time), and 87 touchdown receptions (11th all time).   He is third all time in Super Bowl receiving yards and second all time in Super Bowl receptions.  To understand the difference maker that Reed was, you only need to watch the highlights of the Bills/Oilers 1993 playoff game comeback victory where Reed finished with 136 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns.  One thing that I always appreciated about Andre Reed was that he just went out and played ball.   Unlike many receivers today and of the 90s, he did not self promote, he just let his body of work on the field do the talking.

8.  Kenny Stabler, Quarterback – Oakland Raiders (1968 – 1979), Houston Oilers (1980 – 1981), New Orleans Saints (1982 – 1984)

Kenny “The Snake” Stabler found ways to win.  That more than anything sets him apart from many quarterbacks out there.  The ability that Stabler had to bring his team from the jaws of defeat to late comeback victories allowed him to lead the Oakland Raiders past the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl win (Super Bowl XI) in franchise history.  Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw remarked that, “When we were behind in the fourth quarter, with our backs to our end zone, no matter how he had played up to that point, we could look in his eyes and you knew, you knew, he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling.”  I am continuously dumbfounded that Stabler has been overlooked for enshrinement.  He is the only member of the 1970’s All-Pro team not enshrined and he broke Johnny Unitas’s record for fastest quarterback to reach 100 wins (only Tom Brady and Joe Montana reached 100 wins fasters than Stabler).   He was the 1974 MVP, a 4 time Pro Bowler, and twice led the league in passing touchdowns.   Stabler is one of the all time great quarterbacks and is in my mind, the most worthy Hall of Fame eligible quarterback of enshrinement.

7.  Charles Haley, Defensive End/Linebacker – San Francisco 49ers (1986 – 1991, 1998 – 1999), Dallas Cowboys (1992 – 1996)

The main reason that Charles Haley is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is because his off-field troubles have distracted from his on-field accomplishments – particularly a physical confrontation with Steve Young that led to Haley being traded to Dallas.   Charles Haley is the only player in NFL history to be a member of five Super Bowl winning teams (2 with the 49ers, 3 with the Cowboys).   Haley was a ferocious defensive player known for his hard work and unmatched ability to rush the pass.   Haley finished his NFL career with 100.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 9 fumble recoveries.  He was an All-Pro player twice and named to the NFC Pro-Bowl team five times.

6. Curtis Martin, Running Back – New England Patriots (1995 – 1997), New York Jets (1998 – 2006)

In his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility Curtis Martin was overlooked which I consider a shame.  He is one of the NFL’s all-time great running backs and perhaps, one of the game’s most underrated.  Martin is one of only two running backs all-time (Barry Sanders being the other) to start his career with 10 straight 1,000 yard seasons.   He is one of 16 players all-time to have scored 100 touchdowns (90 rushing, 10 receiving) and his 14, 101 yards rushing are 4th all-time.  Most impressive is that Martin sustained excellence over such a long period of time.  He fell short in his quest to become the first player in NFL history to have 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons when he missed 4 games of his 11th season to injury.  Regardless he still had 735 yards rushing that year.  In 2004, at age 31, Martin rushed for 1,697 yards and beat out Shaun Alexander by only 1 yard to become the oldest NFL rushing title winner ever.   Curtis Martin is a Hall of Fame running back that will one day will find himself in Canton but unfortunately for Martin and Jets fans everywhere, today is not that day.

5. Jim Marshall, Defensive End – Cleveland Browns (1960), Minnesota Vikings (1961 – 1979)

Jim Marshall is the true Iron Man of the NFL.  He finished his career with 282 consecutive games played and 270 consecutive starts.  Brett Favre broke both of these records as a member of Marshall’s old team,  Minnesota Vikings, but what player hasn’t had a record broken by Brett Favre?  Jim Marshall was a part of the famed “Purple People Eaters” defensive line (of which Alan Page and Carl Eller are both Hall of Famers)  and recovered 30 fumbles in his career, an NFL record.   The trade that brought him from Cleveland to Minnesota in the Vikings’ first year of existence is a big part of the reason the Vikings were able to rise so quickly into one of the NFL’s (and later NFC’s) top teams.  While many remember Jim Marshall most for his famous “Wrong Way Run” in which he recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards in the wrong direction for a touchdown (which resulted in a safety), he is one of the all-time great and resilient players and is deserving of a spot in Canton.

4. Tim Brown, Wide Receiver – Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1988 – 2003), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004)

Tim Brown is the second wide receiver to make this list.  I really thought that we would see more wide receivers make the Hall of Fame now that Jerry Rice, the consensus best wide receiver of all time, is now enshrined but it seems that wide receivers that played during the Rice era can hardly catch a break.  Brown is one of the best wideouts to ever play the game.  As a collegiate player, he became the first wide receiver to ever win the Heisman trophy and as a pro he became one of the most prolific receivers of all time.   As a member of the Raiders, he owns the franchise records for games played, receptions, receiving yards, and punt return yards.   He was just as dangerous as return man as he was a receiver and holds the record for being the oldest man to ever return a punt for a touchdown.  He was the third receiver to ever have 1,000 receptions.  He is second all-time in receiving yards, has 19,683 all-purpose yards, and finished his career with 105 touchdowns (100 of which were receiving TDs) which had him tied for 3rd all time when he retired.  He accomplished all of these things in spite of the fact that for most of his career he played with mediocre quarterbacks.

3. Willie Roaf, Offensive Tackle – New Orleans Saints (1993 – 2001), Kansas City Chiefs (2002 – 2005)

While special teams players clearly have the hardest hill to climb to enter Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, offensive linemen are not far behind.   What makes it even more difficult is that there are no real stats (other than pancakes) to really measure how good an offensive lineman really is.   Roaf started out his career with the New Orleans Saints.  He quickly became one of the NFL’s premier linemen because of his combination of size, speed, and strength.   In nine years with the Saints, he was named to 7 Pro Bowls.  After suffering an injury, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs where he was a Pro Bowler all 4 of his years in Kansas City.   Roaf was a member of both the 1990’s and 2000’s NFL All-Decade teams.

2. Jerry Kramer, Guard – Green Bay Packers (1958 – 1968)

Jerry Kramer was a key part of the Packers dynasty of the 1960’s.  With Kramer at right guard, the Green Bay Packers won five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls.  Kramer is best remembered for his block that allowed Bart Starr to dive into the endzone and beat the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl” but there was more to Kramer’s career than that one block.  His agility and strength made him the key component of Lombardi’s “Packer Sweep” that the Green Bay dynasty was built on.   Kramer is one of the all-time great guards.  He was an All-Pro five times and is the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame.

The difficulty with offensive linemen is without the stats it is hard to see on paper the caliber of a guard, tackle, or center.  However, all you need to do is watch old Packers highlights to realize that Jerry Kramer belongs in Canton.

1. Cris Carter, Wide Receiver – Philadelphia Eagles (1987 – 1989), Minnesota Vikings (1990 – 2001), Miami Dolphins (2002)

If you were to ask most people who the biggest Hall of Fame snub is they would either answer Jerry Kramer or Cris Carter.  Considering that one of these two is my favorite player of all time, it was pretty easy for me to choose a one and a two.  In the words of famed Eagles’ coach Buddy Ryan, “All he [Carter] does is catch touchdowns.”  Considered by many to have the best hands of any wide receiver ever, Carter is most likely the greatest possession receiver of all time.  He started his career with the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut after two seasons due to problems relating to drug and alcohol abuse.  The Minnesota Vikings decided to take a chance on a wide receiver that was trying to turn his life around, which has since become the team’s M.O. (Randy Moss and Percy Harvin), and that gamble paid dividends in his second season in purple.  Carter was an 8 time Pro-Bowler, 3 time All-Pro, and was the 2nd starting receiver on the 1990’s All-Decade Team behind Jerry Rice.  He was the 2nd receiver to ever pass the 1000 reception plateau and at the time of this retirement was 2nd all-time in receptions (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (130).   He finished his career with 13, 8999 receiving yards and holds the vast majority of the Vikings franchise records for wide receivers.

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