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Archive for October, 2008

Travis Beckum Remains A 1st Round Talent Despite Injury-Plagued Senior Season

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Wisconsin TE Travis Beckum had successful surgery Saturday (10/25) to repair a broken left fibula suffered against Illinois.  I had Beckum rated as the best senior tight end in the nation and my opinion has not changed due to this injury.  The Badgers’ top offensive weapon had a terrific junior year (75 receptions for 982 yards (13 per) and 6 touchdowns) and much was expected of him this year.  His senior year pretty much was a washout (23 catches, 264 yards, 11.5 per) due to a hamstring injury early in the season and now the broken leg.

Beckum is expected to make a complete recovery and is scheduled to begin training again in late January.  He will miss the Senior Bowl, but may be able to participate in the Scouting Combine.  I like Beckum’s game very much.  He catches the ball extremely well and is like a big wide receiver with his athleticism. PFDI rated Wisconsin’s 3rd all-time leading receiver as a 1st round draft choice prior to this season.

How will the injury effect his draft stock?  It should not matter much if he is able to run well at the Combine or later at a private workout.  Virginia TE Heath Miller slipped a little to the end of the 1st round in the 2005 NFL Draft when he was unable to run prior to the draft due to surgery to repair a hernia.  This just provided the Steelers with excellent value when Miller dropped to them.  If Travis Beckum slides down draft boards due to this injury it will provide a fortunate team with an outstanding pass catching tight end in a draft slot (late 1st or 2nd round) that represents value.

Florida State CB Tony Carter Is Undersized, But Still A Quality Corner

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

CB Tony Carter is rising on our draft board due to his steady, smart play.  The draft is all about trying to find players who will outperform their draft position and be worth every penny.  The Florida State corner has a small frame and is undersized at five foot nine and maybe 170 pounds.  This will undoubtedly drop his draft stock.

Every player selected in the mid-to-late rounds has flaws or perceived weaknesses.  The trick is to correctly evaluate which players bring something to the table that will enable them to be productive, despite being small or a step slow.

Carter is a favorite among Florida State coaches because he is a durable, productive player. He has missed only 2 games in his college career to date and has played extensively as a four-year starter.  Carter has a problematic shoulder that pops out of socket.  He has learned to play through this and will drop his shoulder and upend receivers on occasion.

The Seminoles’ most reliable cornerback has quick feet, solid instincts and a knack for taking interceptions all the way back (3 touchdowns).  In addition, he can return punts and will not hesitate to quickly head upfield.  He reminds me of former NFL wide receiver, Kelvin Martin, as a punt returner. Martin was only 165 pounds, yet played ten years of pro ball as a back-up receiver and punt returner.  I can see Tony Carter carving out a niche for himself as a back-up cornerback and contributing on special teams in the NFL.

Giants’ Defense Lacks High Draft Picks, But Not Stinginess

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

The Giants passed their biggest test of the season with a 21-14 win at Pittsburgh.  The defense led the way again with 5 sacks, 4 interceptions and limiting the Steelers to only twelve 1st downs (Pittsburgh was only 1 for 10 on 3rd down conversions).

New York’s rock-solid defense consists mostly of mid-to-late draft choices and non-splashy free agents.  The Giants starting defensive unit features only two late 1st round selections (DE Mathias Kiwanuka, pick #32 in 2006 and CB Aaron Ross, pick #20 in 2007).

The team found a star in 2005 3rd round pick, DE Justin Tuck (see our Past Forecasts section for our pre-draft evaluation on Tuck).  In addition, DT Barry Cofield (4th round, 2006), CB Corey Webster (2nd round, 2005), SS James Butler (undrafted free agent, 2005) and FS Michael Johnson (7th round, 2007) have all made solid contributions.  Rookie reserve linebacker, Bryan Kehl (4th round), chipped in on Sunday with his first interception after James Butler dislodged the ball with a jarring hit on a Pittsburgh receiver.

The Giants ability to keep hitting on their draft choices is the reason why they have absorbed the retirement of DE Michael Strahan and the season ending knee surgery to Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora.  Kiwanuka was the star of the game against Pittsburgh with 3 sacks and a forced fumble.  The former Boston College star was the last pick of the 1st round in 2006.  In comparison, John McCargo (Buffalo) and Bobby Carpenter (Dallas) are two prominent front seven defenders taken ahead of Kiwanuka in 2006 who have contributed very little to their teams.  Big Blue’s skill on draft day also enables them to be very selective as to which veteran players they choose to resign.  The team decided to let former 5th round draft choice (2004), S Gibril Wilson, leave via free agency.  Wilson had developed into a good player, but the Giants thought he was replaceable.  New York drafted Wilson’s heir apparent in this year’s draft (Kenny Phillips, 1st round, pick #31).  Phillips picked off his first pass this weekend and is earning a reputation as a ferocious hitter.

I thought the Giants would really miss Strahan and Umenyiora and the defense would take a step back.  That has not been the case and if Kiwanuka keeps his play up, then New York has to be considered the favorite to come out of the NFC.

49ers’ 2005 NFL Draft Class Helped Sink Mike Nolan

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

The 49ers’ weak 2005 NFL Draft class played a large role in the firing of head coach Mike Nolan.  Some years are better than others for a team to have the 1st pick in the entire draft.  Unfortunately for San Francisco the 2005 draft did not have a super-talented quarterback or a superior defensive lineman available.

San Francisco’s 2005 draft class was as follows:

Round 1 (pick #1) QB Alex Smith- a bust who likely will be released after this season
Round 2 (pick #33) G David Baas- primarily a reserve
Round 3 (pick #65) RB Frank Gore- a quality starter and an excellent draft choice
Round 3 (pick #94) OT Adam Snyder- a decent starter at guard
Round 5 (pick #137) DT Ronald Fields- solid reserve defensive tackle
Round 5 (pick #174) WR Rasheed Marshall- released
Round 6 (pick #205) CB Derrick Johnson- released
Round 7 (pick #215) DB Daven Holly- released
Round 7 (pick #223) WR Marcus Maxwell- released
Round 7 (pick #248) OT Patrick Estes- released
Round 7 (pick #249) TE Billy Bajeme- reserve blocking tight end

The 49ers had 11 draft choices and came away with only one quality starter (Frank Gore).  They blew the first pick on Smith and their high 2nd rounder (Baas) has not done much.  The Super Bowl champion New York Giants were in a similar draft situation in 2004 and chose QB Eli Manning (round 1) and in round 2 selected outstanding offensive guard, Chris Snee.  You can see what a huge difference it makes when you select the right players on draft day.  San Francisco committed the double draft-day sin of not only striking out with premium picks, but also failing to find any late round bargains.

It is a coach-killer to select a quarterback with a high 1st round pick and have that player be a bust.  San Francisco never did recover from missing on so many players who should have formed the nucleus of their team as 4th year players.

Remember The Titans

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The Tennessee Titans are the NFL’s only undefeated team (6-0) and they are doing it the old-fashioned way.  The Titans pound teams with a dominant defense, a terrific running game and just enough timely passing.  You also have to give a lot of credit to head coach, Jeff Fisher.  The tough and rugged Titans are an extension of their coach. His long tenure in Tennessee provides the Titans with stability and focus that not many organizations have in today’s game.

It is always interesting to see the strategic decisions that teams make during the NFL Draft.  Many thought Tennessee would select a wide receiver in the 1st round of this year’s draft.  It did make sense, but the Titans threw a curve ball and selected RB Chris Johnson with the 24th pick.  The Titans were criticized for taking Johnson too high and it was the 3rd straight year that Tennessee spent a high draft choice (Lendale White and Chris Henry were selected in 2006 and 2007) on running backs.  The Titans stuck to their convictions that they were committed to being a running team and Johnson was too explosive to pass up.  It did not matter that they already had two big backs because Johnson’s skill-set was so different than White’s or Henry’s. They also correctly believed that Johnson could help their pass offense out with his receiving skills out of the backfield and in the slot.

Sometimes all it takes is hitting a home run with a draft choice to take a franchise to another level.  Chris Johnson leads the AFC in rushing with 549 yards and averages over 5 yards per carry.  He has put the big play into the Titans ground attack that they did not have last year.  Johnson and Atlanta quarterback, Matt Ryan, have had the biggest rookie impacts this year.

The NFL is very much a copycat league.  Tennessee is serving notice that in this day and age of throwing the ball all over the field that teams should never forget that they will win a lot of games if they can run the ball, stuff the run, protect their quarterback and limit turnovers.

Cowboys Coaching Staff Under The Gun To Right The Ship

Monday, October 20th, 2008

The beleaguered look on Wade Phillips and defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart’s, face during the 34-14 whipping the Rams put on Dallas said it all.  Dallas is in for a struggle to just make the playoffs this year despite having a very talented roster.  Many (myself included) thought Dallas was a Super Bowl contender prior to the season and instead they are a team in disarray.

Dallas does not play fundamentally sound football.  They are getting beat upfront (offensively and defensively) and commit more penalties and turnovers than the opposing team and routinely lose the field position battle due to poor special teams play.

The listless performance against the 1-4 Rams was embarrassing.  Wade Phillips was hired primarily due to his experience in running a 3-4 defense.  Dallas is 1-3 in its last 4 games and opponents are averaging 28 points per game during this stretch (better yet, stench).  The Dallas defense may be the most disappointing unit in the NFL.  I just do not see any innovation, intensity or attempt to shake things up on defense from Phillips or Brian Stewart.  The last two weeks the Cowboys have faced two quarterbacks (Kurt Warner and Mark Bulger) who you know if you hit them in the mouth, then turnovers will follow.  Does the coaching staff come up with a wrinkle or scheme to apply pressure?  They do not.  The pass rush is vanilla and too dependent upon DeMarcus Ware.  Greg Ellis has complained that he is too often in pass coverage and needs more opportunities to rush the passer.

If Jerry Jones needs an example of what a good defensive coordinator can bring to the table, then he has two excellent examples in his own division.  The Giants defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, last year wanted to get his top 4 pass rushers on the field on 3rd down passing situations.  It was unconventional, but he used 4 defensive ends in these situations and moved Justin Tuck around to wreak havoc.  How about Philadelphia’s, Jim Johnson, who after the Eagles did not pressure Tony Romo in a loss to Dallas decided to get aggressive.  He unleashed a variety of blitz packages that led to 9 sacks against the Steelers in an Eagle victory.

I also do not want to hear about injuries.  Terence Newman is hurt and that is why the secondary cannot cover.  How come the Redskins lose Shawn Springs, play with a banged-up Fred Smoot and they still stuff the Browns?  Tony Romo hurt his pinkie and did not play.  Some of the Cowboys greatest wins (1974 Thanksgiving win over Washington (Clint Longley in for Roger Staubach), 1994 Thanksgiving win over Green Bay (Jason Garrett in for Troy Aikman) have involved backup quarterbacks.  A good team finds ways to win despite injuries, which in the NFL are inevitable.

The reality is this coaching staff is not getting the job done.  Jerry Jones when pressed after the game about Wade Phillips job security gave the idiotic answer that he did not fire Jimmy Johnson after a 1-15 season!  He then explained that sometimes you fire a coach after they win a Super Bowl (especially if the owner is an egotistical publicity hound who believes he is a football genius)!!

I do not believe that Wade Phillips can turn around the team’s play and take them deep into the playoffs.  Tony Romo returning to the lineup will help (if his hand is healthy enough), but he does not block, rush the quarterback or cover receivers.  This weeks game against Tampa Bay (former Cowboy WR Antonio Bryant will be pumped for this one) is a MUST win game for Dallas.

Al Davis Needs To Pull A Jerry Jones To “Just Win Baby”

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys were coming off of three straight 5-11 seasons after the 2002 season.  Cowboys’ owner and GM, Jerry Jones, recognized his franchise needed help and he swallowed his pride and hired Bill Parcells to turn the team into a winner again.  Parcells was given control over personnel and the players knew that the coach had power and was not a Jerry Jones puppet (i.e. Dave Campo, Chan Gailey and Barry Switzer).

Al Davis is a NFL legend and deservedly so for all that he has accomplished.  The Oakland Raiders are a storied franchise because of Al Davis.  However, today the franchise is like a great boxer that stays around too long and is now getting knocked out by journeymen.  Oakland has averaged a miserable 4 wins per season over the past 5 years.  It is particularly a waste to see a very talented young quarterback (JaMarcus Russell) whose development has to be stunted by the instability in the organization and the revolving door of head coaches.  Parcells played a large role in developing Tony Romo into a productive starting quarterback.  Romo has a fraction of the natural talent that Russell possesses.

The smartest statement that Al Davis said in his press conference explaining the firing of Lane Kiffin was that the team must develop JaMarcus Russell.  The question is who is going to do this?  Tom Cable?  There is nothing in Tom Cable’s unimpressive coaching resume (4 straight losing seasons as head coach at Idaho and brief stints on the coaching staff at UCLA and the Falcons) that suggests he is the man to lead Russell or the Raiders to greatness.  Cable is Oakland’s version of Dave Campo.  Al Davis needs to check his ego at the door and sell the next head coach (when Cable is dismissed) of the Raiders that he will have real power.

Oakland has a nucleus of young talent (JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Zach Miller, Michael Bush, Nnambi Asomugha, Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard and DeAngelo Hall) to build around.  The Raiders head coaching position should not be considered a “bad” job.  Oakland has young talent, a passionate fan base and tradition.  It is up to Al Davis to pull a Jerry Jones and convince the next head coach that he will have major say-so and that Davis can take a step back.

Penn State WR Deon Butler Is Flying Under The 2009 NFL Draft Radar

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Penn State wideout, Derrick Williams, receives the lion’s share (no pun intended) of media attention.  However, fellow wide receiver, Deon Butler, is a prospect worth keeping your eyes on.  Butler will drop on many NFL team draft boards because he is slight of build (5’ 10”, 170 lbs) and does not possess great (4.44 Forty) speed.  It is true that Butler does not have a body like Andre Johnson or Terrell Owens.  And he cannot fly down the field like recent receivers selected in the 1st round (Ted Ginn, Jr. and Robert Meachem come to mind).

Deon Butler possesses outstanding body control that enables him to reach out and snare sideline passes, while tiptoeing to keep his feet in-bounds on sideline passes.  He has reliable hands and is a crafty receiver that can spot the openings in a zone defense.  The Nittany Lion is one of the greatest receivers in Penn State history.  He may not have the physical attributes that leave NFL scouts drooling, but he has the skill-set to be a productive pro.  There have been many skinny receivers who weighed less than 190 pounds and did not have exceptional speed (Drew Pearson (not drafted), Donald Driver (7th round) and Keenan McCardell (12th round), among others) who were still very productive in the NFL.

Deon Butler will not be a high draft choice, but I am following his development closely.  He is a player who has the potential to outperform his draft status and provide real value to a team.

Kyle Orton-Led Bears Take Over 1st Place In The NFC North

Monday, October 6th, 2008

The surprising Chicago Bears (3-2) are in 1st place in the NFC North after 5 games.  The Chicago offense is better than many expected largely due to the play of QB Kyle Orton and rookie RB Matt Forte.  Orton beat out former starter and 2003 1st round pick, Rex Grossman, during the pre-season.  The former Purdue signal-caller has thrown 7 touchdown passes in the last 3 games.  He has also done a decent job of protecting the ball by giving up 4 interceptions in 5 games.  He has yet to have a negative touchdown to interception ratio in any game this season.

I scouted Kyle Orton prior to the 2005 NFL Draft (he was profiled on the Draft Preview DVD I produced) and liked his toughness and leadership skills.  Orton received a 3rd round rating (Chicago selected him in the 4th round) and I felt he could manage a game and be a winning starting quarterback with a solid team around him.  Orton cannot carry a team on his back, but if he has a running game and a stout defense then he can get the job done for his team.  Orton struggled his rookie year when he was forced into action due to injuries.  The time on the bench benefited him and he looks far more comfortable and decisive in the pocket.

Senior Quarterback Class Available In The 2009 NFL Draft Has More Questions Than Answers

Monday, October 6th, 2008

The senior class of quarterbacks available in the 2009 NFL Draft has not been impressive to date.  Cullen Harper of Clemson has a shoulder problem that is adversely affecting his play.  Hunter Cantwell of Louisville took over the starting job for Brian Brohm (Green Bay Packers 2008 2nd round selection), but has not been as accurate as expected.  Purdue’s Curtis Painter had an opportunity to standout against Penn State, but did not.   Tom Brandstater of Fresno State has been solid, but certainly has not made scouts sit up and take notice.

John Parker Wilson of Alabama is managing the game well, but it is the running game and defense that is powering the Crimson Tide.  Chase Daniel of Missouri is having a terrific year statistically, but the spread-option offense he operates has a lot to do with that.  Daniel is also 6 foot tall at most and will face serious scrutiny prior to the draft with regard to his physical tools.  Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell is another spread-option quarterback with inflated passing numbers that will not translate to the NFL.  I will be keeping a close eye on Rhett Bomar of Sam Houston State who has ability.

The senior class of quarterbacks available in the 2009 NFL Draft does not look strong. However, typically only 2 or 3 quarterback prospects wind up being long-term starters in the NFL.  The 2004 NFL Draft produced 4 quarterbacks (Eli Manning (rd 1), Philip Rivers (rd 1), Ben Roethlisberger (rd 1) and Matt Schaub (rd 3)) that are starting this season.  The 2003 NFL Draft produced only 1 starter (Carson Palmer (rd 1) that is playing in 2008.  Cowboys’ starter, Tony Romo, was not drafted that year.  The 2002 NFL Draft produced 2 quarterbacks (David Garrard (rd 4) and J.T. O’Sullivan (rd 6) that are starting this year.  The reality is probably only a couple of quarterbacks in the upcoming draft will develop into long-term starters.  The rest will be back-ups or shortly out of the pro game as they struggle to make an active roster.