2011 NFL Offseason Grades – AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS

NFL DRAFT:

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”.

 

 

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Paul Posluszny, LB (Bills); Dawan Landry, S (Ravens); Jason Spitz, G (Packers); Clint Session, LB (Colts)

KEY LOSSES: Justin Smiley, G; Derrick Harvey, DE; Vince Manuwai, G; Justin Durant, LB; Clint Ingram, LB; Adam Podlesh, P; Trent Edwards, QB

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.

 

 

TENNESSEE TITANS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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2011 NFL Offseason Grades – AFC North

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Lee Evans, WR (Bills); Bernard Pollard, S/OLB (Texans); Vonta Leach, FB (Texans); Marshall Yanda, G (Ravens); Chris Carr, CB (Ravens)

KEY LOSSES: Derrick Mason, WR; Willis McGahee, RB; Le’Ron McClain, FB; Todd Heap, TE; Kelly Gregg, DT; Fabian Washington, DB; Josh Wilson, DB; Dawan Landry, S

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.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

KEY ADDITIONS: Nate Clements, CB (49ers); Manny Lawson, LB (49ers); Thomas Howard, LB (Raiders); Cedric Benson, RB (Bengals); Brian Leonard, RB (Bengals)

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.


CLEVELAND BROWNS

NFL DRAFT

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.

 

 

 

 

FREE AGENCY

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!