I nailed nine of thirty two picks in my 2011 mock draft, ten if you count the fact that I had Julio Jones going sixth overall, just not to the Falcons. The draft shook out basically the way I expected it and there weren’t too many surprises, but with the amount of NFL draft coverage nowadays, that’s not unexpected. Here are some thoughts I have from the draft.
Patriots: Very strange draft from them. I felt certain they would address their need for pass-rush help in a draft that was heavy on the position, but the soundly ignored it. They didn’t take a defensive lineman until the sixth round, and even then it was a relative unknown end from Central Arkansas. After striking gold with undersized cornerback McCourty last year, they grabbed a similar guy in Ras-I Dowling. They took a pair of running back to add to their backfield committee and grabbed the draft’s most enigmatic individual in Ryan Mallett. They did also trade one of their two first round picks and are set up with a pair of first round picks and a pair of second round picks in 2012, providing their is a draft. But their draft strategy for 2011 was odd. They don’t seem leaps and bounds better on either side of the ball than they were last season. Their biggest need was pass rush and they did not address that. Regardless, the Patriots will remain one of the AFC’s elite teams
Falcons: Coming off a season where they earned the top overall seed in the NFC, Atlanta traded away a lot of draft picks to get the guys that they wanted. And surprisingly, they wanted offensive playmakers. They moved all the way up to sixth overall to grab Alabama wideout Julio Jones and they moved up again later in the draft to select Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers. Undoubtedly, Matt Ryan now has plenty of weapons at his disposal after relying perhaps too heavily on Roddy White, but scoring wasn’t what kept them from winning a playoff game—an inability to even remotely slow down Aaron Rodgers was. Akeem Dent should provide some push on the defense, but they didn’t get the bookend to John Abraham they needed, or the shutdown corner that they lacked. The offense will be more explosive than last season, but the defense still needs work. With a division winner’s schedule, the Falcons might be looking at a step backwards rather than forwards in 2011.
Lions: After years of complete futility, the Lions have started to build a legitimate NFL football team. Solid first-round selections like Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have re-energized a stagnant offense, and most recent first-rounders Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley give the Lions what amounts to a brick-wall defense. I loved both their second round selections of Titus Young and Mikel LeShoure as well. Jahvid Best flashed brilliance in his rookie season, but also missed some time and was reluctant to run downhill. LeShoure will do nothing but run downhill and Young gives Stafford another outside weapon to deflect some attention from Megatron. The Lions saw a four game improvement from 2009 to 2010, which would have been five if not for a terrible rule that disallowed Calvin Johnson’s Week 1 game winning touchdown catch. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they approach another four game improvment from last year to this year.
Jets: The Jets, like many teams in the 2011 draft needed defensive line help and they certainly took the proper steps to address that. Without a second round selection, the Jets took Temple DT Muhammed Wilkerson in the first round and Hampton DT Kenrick Ellis in the third round, adding nearly 700 pounds to their aging defensive line unit. Both players should be able to slide into the rotation and contribute right away to Rex Ryan’s system. They added another running back to their already crowded backfield with their fourth round selection of Bilal Powell. They probably waited too long to address their need at WR, taking Jeremy Kerley in the fifth round and Scotty McKnight in the seventh. That they failed to take a cornerback surprised me somewhat as Rex Ryan’s blitzing defense is predicated on excellent corner play. The Jets must be hopeful of their chances at re-signing Antonio Cromartie. Kerley’s special teams ability probably is a safety net for if (when) the Jets lose all-purpose Brad Smith to free agency.
Buccaneers: I really liked what Tampa Bay did coming off a surprisingly impressive season. Like their division rivals, they needed to address their pass rush situation and did twofold. They made Iowa end Adrian Clayborn their first selection and then took Da’Quan Bowers when he fell all the way to 51st overall. A serious consideration to go number one overall just four months ago, Bowers stock fell because of medical concerns about his knee. An elite talent if healthy, Bowers is worth the risk the Bucs are taking on him. Washington linebacker Mason Foster was a solid third-round pick for Tampa Bay and all of a sudden, a rather unspectacular defense has turned mighty impressive.
Titans: After parting ways with Vince Young, Tennessee definitely needed a quarterback and was in fantastic position to take the one of their choosing at number eight overall. With every quarterback except Newton still available, the Titans chose Locker, the guy I predicted they would take. There were question marks with each signal caller in this year’s draft, and Locker to the Titans seemed like a bit of a reach. His biggest knock was his inaccuracy, something Vince Young often struggled with as well. Locker is a well-built quarterback with physical tools to succeed, but his decision making will need to improve to make this all work out in Nashville. Second round pick Akeem Ayers was a great pick and should help solidifying a less-than-imposing linebacker corps.
For the second consecutive season, the Jets were ousted from the playoffs in the AFC Championship game. For a franchise mired in mediocrity and disappointment for so long, their current two year run has been whole-heartedly rewarding for fans, but ultimately still somewhat disappointing.
With labor issues still at hand between players and owners and a lot of pending free agents, the Jets have a lot of work to do this offseason. But for once, they’ve got an excellent foundation to build on. Say what you will about Rex Ryan’s antics and motivation methods, but the man is an excellent football coach. He’s won four road playoff games in his first two seasons as a head coach, and has done it with a rookie and subsequently second-year quarterback in Mark Sanchez. There are not many coaches I’d rather have right now than Rex Ryan.
The Jets are also set long-term at quarterback, the league’s most important position. Sanchez has had some struggles in his first two seasons, but in six playoff games (all on the road) he has a 9:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s a good quarterback that has continued to develop throughout his time in the league.
As good as the defense was the past two years, I think it is clear that needs to be the path the Jets take in the draft. The desperately need a pass rusher, and they should take the best one available when their first round draft selection comes along. They need to find a guy who will be what they thought Vernon Gholston would be. The Jets needed pass rush help in 2008 and Gholston was the best available in a class very weak on pass rush. The 2011 draft should be deeper in pass rushers, so the Jets may see a player they value fall to them at 28.
But before I get into the Jets draft needs, here’s a recap of their key impending free agents.
Antonio Cromartie, CB
Cromartie ultimately cost the Jets their second round pick, but solidified the Jets secondary as expected. Playing across from a healthy Darrelle Revis, the Jets defensive backs were beyond solid all year and their frustration of MVP Tom Brady in the divisional round of the playoffs was perhaps their brightest moment. The Jets should definitely look into keeping Cromartie, but only if the price is reasonable. He’ll probably be looking for big money coming off a very impressive year, and another team may very well give it to him. But if the price is right, Cromartie absolutely has a place in New York next season.
Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, WR
The Jets’ top two wide receivers hit the market this year and the Jets should look to bring back both but there may only be room in the budget for one. If that’s the case, then Holmes is the clear choice to return. Edwards really cleaned up his act in New York and will be rewarded accordingly, but if the Jets can only keep one of them, Holmes is the superior talent.
David Harris, LB
Harris will definitely be back. The Jets have made it very clear that they will pay Harris, and they’d be foolish not to. He’s developed into a very good linebacker and is a clubhouse leader. They wanted to extend him last year along with Revis, Mangold and Ferguson, but didn’t have the money. They’ll have it this year.
Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson
Both veterans played an integral role in winning 13 games this season, but both are aging and expensive. Taylor might be back, but at a lower salary. Tomlinson also may return, but if he does it should be in a more limited capacity. Shonn Greene is a better option at this point and should collect a lion’s share of the carries next season for the Jets run game.
Shaun Ellis, DE
Ellis has been with the Jets for as long as I can remember and is still a very productive player. The Jets defensive line is questionable going into next season with Kris Jenkins a complete unknown and Trevor Pryce mulling retirement. Ellis would help solidify the line and deserves a new deal.
Brad Smith, WR/QB/KR
Smith has been indispensable for the Jets as an everything man the past four years and keeping him would enable the Jets to continue the use of their very effective Wildcat formation as well as solidify their kick return unit. But I would think that the Jets chances of keeping Smith decrease dramatically under two circumstances – a team is willing to guarantee starter-level money to Smith that would be hard for the Jets to match, or if a team is willing to take a chance on Smith as a QB.
We’re down to four teams left standing in the NFL playoffs. Both conference championship games will feature the second seeded team against the sixth seeded team. After the AFC featured division rival matchups last week, the NFC gets one for its’ conference championship. Green Bay and Chicago split two games in the regular season, with each team winning low-scoring and close games at home. The AFC championship game gets a rematch from Week 15 when the Jets won for the first time ever in Pittsburgh 22-17.
JETS VS PACKERS
This is the matchup I’d personally want to watch the most. Not only because I am a Jets fan, but because after seeing the way Rex Ryan fleeced Tom Brady, I would love to see what kind of defensive schemes he comes up with to deal with Aaron Rodgers and all those Green Bay receivers. The Jets were shut out at home when they played Green Bay on Halloween, but the held Rodgers out of the end zone and to his lowest passing total of the season. With the Jets offense together and clicking, this could be a very exciting Super Bowl.
PACKERS VS STEELERS
This is probably the best matchup that we could still see in the Super Bowl. A high-octane offense that is firing on all cylinders against a brutally tough defense. What Pittsburgh does best is stop the run, but the Packers don’t necessarily need a running game to win. They’ve won seven games this year when their leading rusher gained less than 60 yards on the ground. Aaron Rodgers is good enough and mobile enough that he can march the Packers up and down the field without a viable run option. I think the Jets secondary is better equipped to handle the Packers tremendous receiving corp and that’s why the Packers should be rooting to see Big Ben in the Super Bowl.
BEARS VS JETS
Another regular season re-match under this scenario. The Bears won a shootout at home, but I seriously doubt that Rex Ryan allows that to happen twice in a season, especially with extra time to prepare. Chances are also good that Matt Forte doesn’t rush for 100 yards again, as Rex Ryan defenses have allowed that to happen only twice in the past two years. I’d expect a Bears-Jets Super Bowl to be significantly more defensive than their first meeting was.
STEELERS VS BEARS
A Pittsburgh-Chicago Super Bowl would be an intense and hard-hitting affair between two teams that would be more comfortable on a frozen tundra than in Jerry Jones’ phenomenal palace. Still while past sense would tell us to expect run-heavy approaches by both teams, recent transpiring would tell us to watch for a whole lot of Big Ben and Jay Cutler. Both QBs have big arms and a lot of targets.
JETS 28, PATRIOTS 21
The Jets did most of the talking leading up to the weekend finale and then brought all the talk to a stop and punched the NFL’s best team in the gut. Repeatedly. Apart from a brutal play-calling sequence and a missed chip-shot field goal in the first quarter, the Jets played nearly flawless football and executed their gameplan to perfection. The got significant pressure without having to overload blitz and played blanket coverage all night long on every Patriot receiver. The Jets front seven delivered four of the Jets five sacks and hit Brady again and again. They had the surefire MVP flustered, scared and making mistakes. Brady would scan through his progressions and nothing would be there. Nothing. The Jets ended Tom Brady’s 360 pass streak without an interception and constantly forced him to check down and throw the ball away or into the turf.
Even with Randy Moss earlier this season, the Patriots never really possessed a true deep threat that could effectively stretch the field. However, because of Tom Brady’s accuracy and the Patriot’s route-running, the offense exploded after Moss was traded. The offense was built upon underneath routes and the after-the-catch ability of guys like Deion Branch, Wes Welker and the young tight ends. The Jets took all of that away with superb coverage and open-field tackling. The limited the Patriots big plays and flustered Brady into a decidedly un-MVP type of performance. Of Tom Brady’s 45 pass attempts, only two went for more than 20 yards. Three, if you count David Harris’ 58-yard interception return. The Jets effectively shut down the running game, holding New England running backs to 89 yards on 23 carries (3.86 yards per carry), allowing them to focus on stifling Brady. The Jets defense said Brady looked scared, but I’d probably label it indecisive and confused. He was hit exponentially more times than he is used to and things that typically open up in that offense were slammed shut for him.
The Jets offense was sporadic on Sunday afternoon, alternating brutal series with beautiful ones. Tomlinson looked fresh for a second straight week and averaged 4.3 yards per carry and made an acrobatic catch on a pass behind him and over his head which he took in for a 7 yard score to get the Jets on the board. Shonn Greene averaged 4.5 yards on his 17 carries and is running hard and downhill for a second consecutive postseason. Running a more traditional offense with their Wildcat option inactive with a groin injury, the Jets moved the ball when they needed to and in a very satisfying turn of events, cashed in five red zone opportunities with four touchdowns. They didn’t turn the ball over and although they held the ball for 10 minutes less than the Patriots, it was the Jets who always seemed calm and in control.
They played smart, hard and disciplined. They racked up only 3 penalties (35 yards) and converted 6 of 13 third down attempts and held New England to 5 of 18 on third and fourth down tries. They knocked off the 14-2 number one overall seed in the playoffs in their own house where the Patriots were 8-0 this year.
1. David Harris’ interception and 58-yard return
After the Jets punted on their first possession, Brady led the Patriots deep into Jets territory. On 1st-and-10 from the 28, Brady overthrew his running back coming out of the backfield and David Harris became the first person to intercept Brady since Week 5 and returned it inside the Patriots 15. The Jets offense ended up going backwards and Nick Folk missed a gimme field-goal, but the interception changed the tone of the game, showing that the Patriots were not going to walk all over the Jets two games in a row.
2. Braylon Edwards’ 37-yard reception
Trailing 3-0 with 12 minutes left in the half, and facing 3rd-and-6 around midfield, Mark Sanchez’s usually clean pocket collapsed and two Patriots got in his face. Sanchez avoided both pass-rushers and rolled out to his left. He saw Braylon Edwards and pointed towards the sideline before lobbing a throw over the NE defender and into Edwards’ hands for a 37 yard gain and a huge first down. Two plays later, Sanchez hit Tomlinson on a swing pass for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
3. New England botches a fake punt
On 4th-and-4 from their own 38, New England tried a direct snap to safety Pat Chung, who muffed it and by the time he recovered it, his lanes had closed and the Jets had taken over in New England territory with just over a minute left in the half. With the Patriots due to get the ball to start the second half, and the Jets moving the ball somewhat sporadically, the decision was a strange one.
4. Braylon Edwards (and two NE defenders) score a 15-yard TD
After LT gained 22 yards on two carries, Edwards pulled in a pass around the seven yard line and dragged two defenders into the end zone for a touchdown just before halftime which gave the Jets a 14-3 lead going into the break. They capitalized on the Patriots special teams gaffe and gave themselves some breathing room.
5. Calvin Pace strip-sacks Brady
Pace’s strip sack set the Patriots back into a third-and-forever type of play and forced another punt after yet another short possession.
6. Jerricho Cotchery’s 58-yard catch and scamper
One play after New England drew within 14-11 with a touchdown and two-point conversion, Jerricho Cotchery took a short pass and raced 58 yards deep into New England territory to take back some of the momentum the Patriots turned with their score. Cotchery is not one of the Jets flashy offseason additions, but has been their consistent veteran that does everything that’s asked of him and does it perfectly and 100%.
7. Santonio Holmes tapdance touchdown
Facing third and four on the New England 7, Mark Sanchez threw a pass up and out of the back left corner of the end zone. But Santonio Holmes went up and his toes came down in the endzone with a TD catch eerily reminiscent of his Super Bowl MVP catch a couple of years ago. A bullet throw from Mark Sanchez just stuck to his hands and both feet came down in bounds and the Jets had a 21-11 lead and seemingly all of the momentum.
8. Fourth down stop
After the Holmes touchdown, the Patriots marched down the field, eating clock and churning out first downs. They seemed to lack the urgency a team down two scores in the fourth quarter usually has. They found themselves facing a 52-yard field goal attempt or a fourth-and-13. They went for it and Brady threw slightly behind Branch who couldn’t pull in the pass and the Jets got the ball back on downs.
9. Antonio Cromartie & Shonn Greene put the game away (temporarily)
After the Patriots had managed a field goal to pull to within 21-14, Antonio Cromartie returned an onside-kick attempt to the New England 23 and Shonn Green took it to the house two plays later to give the Jets a 28-14 lead, but also gave the Pats one last chance. A first down would have ended the game as the Patriots were out of timeouts, but the score gave them the ball back for another shot at a miracle.
10. Eric Smith covers it up
Sure enough, the Patriots marched down the field and scored to make it a one possession game again and lined up for their second on-side kick in two minutes. This one bounced right into the hands of safety Eric Smith who fell on it and the Patriots season was over when Mark Sanchez took a knee on the ensuing play.
RAVENS (13-4) AT STEELERS (12-4)
Both AFC playoff games this weekend are the third meeting between bitter division rivals. As good as Jets/Pats has been of late, Baltimore/Pittsburgh has been better. Seven of the last eight games between these teams have been decided by 7 points or less and this year’s playoff installment shouldn’t be much difference. The Ravens manhandled an upstart Kansas City team in the wild card matchup, while the Steelers are coming off a bye and welcoming back a healthy and rested Troy Polamalu. The teams split their regular season games, but the Steelers won the game in which they had Ben Roethlisberger. I like both teams a lot, but trust Big Ben more to extend plays and make big throws than Joe Flacco.
Steelers 27, Ravens 24
PACKERS (11-6) AT FALCONS (13-3)
The Packers and Falcons have already played once this year in Atlanta while both teams were mostly healthy. And the Falcons won. But in the rematch I like Green Bay. The Falcons winning formula all year was to play 60 full minutes of smart, disciplined football and catch a few breaks. They followed that plan perfectly in their matchup against Green Bay in November and pulled off a last-minute victory. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they can count on a goal-line fumble and 344 passing yards accounting for just one solitary touchdown the second time around. The Packers are a better offensive a defensive team than the Falcons, but the Falcons have stayed far more healthier this season. Nobody is playing better than Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will ride his arm to the NFC Championship game and perhaps further.
Packers 38, Falcons 20
SEAHAWKS (8-9) AT BEARS (12-4)
Nobody in the country truly believed that Seattle would miraculously upend the defending champs last week, but a smidgen of me isn’t too surprised that Seattle proved to be a tough environment for the Saints. This week, the worst NFC playoff team ever has to go on the road – where they were 2-6 this year but one of the wins was at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Bears however are far more developed offensively than they were when Seattle first came to call. Mike Martz has crafted the offense into a unit that plays to its strengths and I’m picking convincingly against the Seahawks for a second consecutive week.
Bears 31, Seahawks 14
JETS (12-5) AT PATRIOTS (14-2)
While comparisons to the 16-0 2007 Patriots are obviously unfounded, this is still a very talented New England club that embarrassed the Jets 45-3 on Monday Night Football just over a month ago. Sanchez has played poorly in Gillette Stadium, throwing seven picks in two games whereas Tom Brady is on an incredible 12 game run. The Patriots dominance has always been directly tied to turnover success, and I believe if the Jets can win that battle, they have a very good chance at pulling off a huge upset. Unfortunately, Tom Brady has completely stopped turning the ball over and has received superb protection since Pro Bowl lineman Logan Mankins returned from a holdout.
Patriots 27, Jets 21
SAINTS (11-5) AT SEAHAWKS (7-9)
Flying across the country to play the Seahawks in Seattle has always been fairly daunting, but this is a Seahawks team that lost at home this year by 16, 18 and 34 points to teams that finished 10-6 or better. The Saints may be the second best team in the NFC bracket and I don’t foresee the Seahawks giving them too much trouble. It’s a quarterback-driven league and Drew Brees brings his Super Bowl ring out west, Pete Carrol has to decide whether to start an injured Matt Hasselbeck or a timid Charlie Whitehurst who had trouble against a 7-9 Rams team last week.
Saints 28, Seahawks 13
JETS (11-5) AT COLTS (10-6)
A rematch of 2009’s AFC championship, but nothing is really the same. The Jets had a dominant defense and run game with little passing prowess last year, and now their defense and running game are less intimidating, but they’ve added more outside weapons and Mark Sanchez has shown improvement in ball security and decision making. They will still need to get pressure on Manning, something I think might be hard for the Jets to execute. Indianapolis still has Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, but are missing a lot of pieces that killed the Jets last year. Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon will be blanketed by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, so for the Colts to win, guys like Jacob Tamme and Blair White need to have big games. With Peyton Manning throwing to them, it’s distinctly possible.
Jets 23, Colts 21
RAVENS (12-4) AT CHIEFS (10-6)
The Ravens are a better team, but it’s hard not to like the Chiefs playing at home in January. Their only home loss this year came against the Raiders in Week 17, after Kansas City had already clinched the AFC West. Matt Cassel has been one of the league’s most improved players, and if he continues to take care of the ball and feed the running game, they’ve got a great chance. But the Ravens have played a much harder gauntlet than KC, and looked better doing it. If Baltimore can get Ray Rice heavily involved in both the running and passing games, they should open things up for Flacco when KC keys on stopping Rice.
Ravens 20, Chiefs 10
PACKERS (10-6) AT EAGLES (10-6)
If the NFL seeded playoff teams according to record, every Wild Card game would change location. That the Packers made it this far with no running game and devastating injuries along the way is a testament to how good Aaron Rodgers is. The Eagles feature one of the most exciting offenses in the league, but the defense is young, undisciplined and frankly, not very good. Mike Vick is going to have to outgun Rodgers and the Pack to win this game, and I think Green Bay does enough to limit him and his playmakers. While I’d love to see the Eagles win this week and next to set up a potential trip to Atlanta, I think the Packers offense will overwhelm and underwhelming Philadelphia defense.
Packers 34, Eagles 24
Lots of good games going on in college football this Thanksgiving weekend and a trio of duds for the NFL.
The Patriots and Jets, both 8-2, play the 2-8 Lions and Bengals respectively. The Saints (7-3) against the Cowboys (3-7) might end up being a better game than the records would lead you to believe, but I doubt the Saints have too much trouble with the Boys. I like the two AFC East powers and the defending champs to take care of business on Thanksgiving Day. Thankfully, the starts aligned just right to leave us with some great rivalry games and a lot of teams still fighting for postseason positions.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 26
#21 Arizona at #1 Oregon
The Ducks are two wins away from playing for the national championship, and Arizona is their toughest test left. Coming off a bye week, the Ducks should be plenty recovered from their 15-13 near loss against Cal. Arizona’s had a nice season, but with three losses in the Pac-10 already, the best they can hope for is to knock Oregon from the unbeatens. Oregon should roll. Oregon 45, Arizona 21
#2 Auburn at #11 Alabama
The defending national champion from the SEC plays host to the prospective national champion from the SEC. Amidst controversy surrounding their all-world quarterback, Auburn has just kept out-scoring everyone this year en route to an 11-0 record. Like Oregon, they are two wins away from playing in the national title game. But unlike the Ducks, both of their remaining games are going to be extremely challenging. Bama would love to knock off their in-state rivals and South Carolina will have a BCS bowl riding on their SEC Championship matchup against the Tigers/War Eagles. The gameplan against Auburn is easy enough to identify even if it’s monstrous to execute—slow down Cam Newton. I think Alabama slows him down enough to have a chance to win. Alabama 27, Auburn 23
#4 Boise State at #19 Nevada
A convincing win on the road against a good team will probably be enough to jump Boise over TCU in the BCS rankings, which would set them up for the title game should Oregon or Auburn lose. I still think Boise’s schedule is severely lacking and I still don’t believe they’d be undefeated in any of the four major conferences (SEC, Big 12, Pac-10, Big 10). But should one of the top two teams go down, Boise has done more to impress me than TCU has. Boise State 38, Nevada 20
Colorado at #15 Nebraska
Nebraska’s 9-6 loss to Texas A&M last week opened up a whole slew of Big 12 title game possibilities. Most directly, it prevented the Huskers from clinching the Big 12 North division. Nebraska and Missouri now have identical 5-2 Big 12 records, with the Huskers holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, having beaten Mizzou soundly in Lincoln earlier this season. With Missouri playing on Saturday, the Huskers could wrap up the Big 12 North before Missouri even suits up this weekend. If they lose, all the Tigers have to do is beat Kansas. Despite Colorado’s drastic improvement since Dan Hawkins was fired, Nebraska is too good to lose at home to such an inferior team. Nebraska 28, Colorado 24
#14 Missouri vs. Kansas
The Border War has seen better matchups then this season is setting up, but that doesn’t mean excitement and intensity will be lacking. Depending on the outcome of the Nebraska game, Missouri could be playing for a spot in the Big 12 Championship and a chance at a BCS bowl appearance. Last time Mizzou was up for one of those, Kansas slid into the Orange Bowl, despite losing to Missouri in the Border War. Missouri 27, Kansas 13
#5 LSU at #12 Arkansas
I’m beyond the point of calling Les Miles lucky. Some of his coaching methods leave fans at a complete loss, but he’s done it and won so often that he has to be considered a good coach. His style is not always pretty and it’s certainly not entirely conventional, but it is successful and I expect him to leave Arkansas with another win. LSU 24, Arkansas 17
#13 Oklahoma at #9 Oklahoma State
While there are some convoluted tie-breakers that could come into play that in clude Texas A&M, for all intents and purposes, the winner of this game wins the Big 12 South. If the Cowboys win, they win the division outright, but if the Sooners win and Texas A&M loses, Oklahoma wins the division. If the Sooners and the Aggies both win, then it creates a three-way tie that would be broken by the highest ranked BCS team – which will most likely be Oklahoma. There’s a chance for Texas A&M, but really, it’s win and you’re in for this game. Oklahoma State 35, Oklahoma 31
#23 NC State at Maryland
Another win and you’re in game. If NC State wins, they clinch the ACC Atlantic division and secure themselves a spot in the ACC Championship. If they lose, Florida State goes. I’d expect Maryland to put up a good fight and a good game to break out. The ACC hasn’t been anywhere near as good as it’s been in seasons past, but there’s still some intrigue left. NC State 20, Maryland 16
Georgia Tech at Georgia
With neither team ranked, the annual matchup between in-state institutions has very little ramifications outside Athens and Atlanta. Georgia must win to become bowl-eligible and a win by Georgia Tech would give them wins against UGA in two of the past three years. Which, given recent history would qualify as a boon. Unfortunately, while both teams have struggled this season, UGA has done so in the SEC, while Tech has forged through a much more navigable ACC run. Georgia 44, Georgia Tech 24
Mizzou has recently turned out some high-caliber NFL players. There are currently thirteen former Tigers suiting up for NFL teams, including three players that were drafted in the first round since 2009.
From 2002 to 2005, Brad Smith started every game for Mizzou and set 68 different MU, Big 12 and NCAA game, season and career records. He was the first player to pass for 8,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards in career and the first player to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season twice in a career.
He was drafted by the New York Jets in the fourth round (103rd overall) in the 2006 NFL draft. Smith has since been used in several different situations. He’s taken snaps as a quarterback, running back, wide receiver and has become a standout on special teams. Smith has become one of the most versatile players in the NFL, having scored touchdowns on a kick return, caught a touchdown pass, rushed for a touchdown and thrown a touchdown pass. Smith has become the catalyst for the Jets Wildcat formation, causing matchup problems for defense due to his ability to run or throw the football.
Jeremy Maclin was another record-setting player at Mizzou, setting the NCAA mark for most all-purpose yards in a season as a freshman with 2,776 returning, rushing and receiving yards. He was named an All-American in both 2007 and 2008 and entered the draft as a top prospect.
He fell further than expected on draft day but was eventually drafted in the first round (19th overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles. He made his first start three weeks into his rookie season and scored his first two touchdowns a month later against the Buccaneers. At the end of his rookie season, he became the youngest player (21 years, 243 days) to score a touchdown in the playoffs when he turned a bubble screen into a 76-yard score. In 2010, Maclin has caught four touchdowns in four games and is establishing himself as a dangerous deep threat for whoever takes snaps for the Eagles.
Sean Weatherspoon was one of four true freshman to see game-action for Mizzou in 2006, as he saw playing time in all 13 games. He was named the starter in 2007, led the team in tackles with 130 and was named to the All Big-12 first team. The 155 tackles he would amass in 2008 were the second-most in Mizzou history and he would go on to be named the Alamo Bowl’s Defensive MVP. He returned for his senior season and tried unsuccessfully to persuade Jeremy Maclin to do the same.
Weatherspoon declared for the 2010 NFL draft (after graduating with me in 2009) and was selected in the first round (19th overall, just like Maclin) by the Atlanta Falcons. He won a starting job in training camp and recorded his first career sack in his second ever game, dropping Arizona’s Derek Anderson for a nine-yard loss. My favorite part of the sack is his Spoon Dance afterwards.
William Moore struggled with injuries throughout his career at Mizzou, but was tremendous when he was on the field. Despite the missed time, he finished his college career with 284 tackles, 11 interceptions, three sacks, and a school record four interception return touchdowns. As a junior, his 117 tackles and school record eight interceptions earned his All-American and All-Big 12 honors.
Moore was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons and made only two tackles while playing in just two games during his rookie season, missing most of it due to injury. He has earned a starting job in Week 2 for the Falcons in 2010 and has appeared in three games this season for the Dirty Birds, recording 12 tackles, two pass breakups and forcing a fumble. He recorded his first career interception against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 and added his second two weeks later against the San Francisco 49ers.
After a prolific career at Mizzou that returned the school to a national prominence, Chase Daniel went undrafted in the 2009 draft, but signed on with the Washington Redskins. He was cut a few weeks later and signed on with the New Orleans Saints. He bounced back and forth between the practice squad and the active roster, and was released and re-signed on two separate occasions. He never saw the field in 2009, but was a part of a Super Bowl season and was named the emergency quarterback for two games.
Daniel battled with Patrick Ramsey for the Saints backup quarterback job going into the 2010 season and won the right to back up MVP candidate Drew Brees. Daniel logged his first official NFL minutes this past Sunday in a win over the Carolina Panthers, serving as the holder for extra points. I expect that he’ll eventually see some game-action as a quarterback sometime this season during garbage time.
Ziggy Hood is perhaps the forgotten first-round pick from Mizzou, taken 32nd overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2009 NFL draft. Hood enjoyed a successful collegiate career before entering the NFL, where he has become a rotational defensive lineman. He recorded his first career sack and his first career fumble recovery against Baltimore in December of 2009.
Justin Gage was drafted in the 5th round of the 2003 NFL draft by the Bears and has enjoyed some solid seasons with the Tennessee Titans, leading them in receiving yards in 2007. Chase Coffman was drafted in the 3rd round by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. He spent most of the year injured and was released and re-signed to the practice squad. Martin Rucker was drafted in the fourth round by the Cleveland Browns in 2008 but was released nearly a year later without ever seeing the field. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 and was promoted to the active roster on December 15. After he was released, he signed with the Dallas Cowboys and is currently on their practice squad.
Atiyyah Ellison (3rd round, Carolina) and CJ Mosley (6th round, Minnesota) were both drafted in 2005 and have spent their NFL careers bouncing around from team to team. Mosley is currently a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars while Ellison remains unsigned. Offensive lineman Colin Brown was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft by Kansas City.
Justin Smith was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and is the longest tenured Mizzou Tiger in the NFL. Smith holds the Mizzou record for most sacks in a season (11) and most tackles for loss in a season (24). In 1998, he became the first true freshman since 1986 to start every game for Missouri and was named as an All-American in 2000.
Since becoming a starter in his rookie season, Smith has missed only four games in the NFL. He recorded 8.5 sacks in his rookie season, setting a Bengals rookie-record. In 2008 he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers that included an $11 million signing bonus. Of the Mizzou Tigers drafted within the past ten years, Smith has enjoyed the most success—including a 2010 Pro Bowl appearance.
BRAD SMITH’S FIRST CAREER TOUCHDOWN PASS
SEAN WEATHERSPOON’S FIRST CAREER SACK
JEREMY MACLIN SCORES TWO TOUCHDOWNS
As I sat and watched the NFL draft, I was reminded why the whole production has become so intolerable. I love the drama of which player goes where, who’s going to drop and which teams are going to trade up or down. But the so-called analysis part of the coverage is absolute garbage. The featured five-man broadcast team that ESPN decided to employ for the 2010 draft consisted of Mel Kiper Jr, Jon Gruden, Steve Young, Tom Jackson and Chris Berman.
Let’s quickly review the qualifications of each man.
Jon Gruden – He landed his first head coaching job at the age of 35 with the Raiders and went 40-28 over four seasons with them and went to the playoffs three times. He moved on to Tampa Bay and became the youngest coach at the time to win a Super Bowl. He went on to lead the Bucs to a 57-55 record over seven seasons with three playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl title.
Steve Young – A two-time NFL MVP, Steve Young also was named the Super Bowl MVP in 1994. He is a highly decorated football legend that spent the majority of his career with the 49ers. But while he was a great player, he has no experience in a football front office, which means he’s not overly learned in the art of assembling a winning football team.
Tom Jackson – He enjoyed a 14-year career with the Denver Broncos and was a three-time Pro-Bowl selection and a two-time All-Pro selection. Like Young however, Jackson has no front office experience, and although he makes for a passable game commentator, he’s prone to babbling and rarely adds any insight on draft day.
Chris Berman – He is nothing but a self-indulged broadcaster. Some people find him charming and amusing, but in reality, he’s nothing but a nonsensical parrot. You quickly tire of his phonetic anecdotes and he masks his lack of football knowledge with a lot of literary fluff.
Mel Kiper Jr – Since 1984, Kiper has been covering the NFL draft and the prospects that are involved. You’d think because of his profession and the longevity he’s enjoyed that he’d be good at it. He most certainly is not. Kiper has been widely criticized by front office football officials due to his lack of football experience at any level, professional or amateur. He’s little more than a hairsprayed blowhard who absolutely loves hearing himself speak.
One out of five commentators is qualified to analyze what’s going on during the draft. One of the five have ever been involved in the process of selecting amateur players for a professional football team.
In light of this, I thought it would be fun to go back and check out some of the ESPN chats that Mel Kiper Jr hosted leading up to the drafts and see if I could identify all four of the Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Methods that have enabled him to make a living based off one weekend a year.
Mark (Indy): Mel, any clue as to where the Colts go in Round 1? Any chance of Jerry Hughes there?
Mel: I think right now, maybe not. For my final projection, I think I’ll have him off the board. Odrick might be there. Price. I could see them going DT. A sleeper could be Linval Joseph from East Carolina.
Here, we see Kiper employ Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #1 – The List. He loves to use these methods to cover his many shortcomings when it comes to reporting. Pay attention because we’ll cover them all before we’re done.
In this case, when he has no idea what he’s talking about, his solution is simply to name names. He don’t even have to use them in a complete sentence, and if he forgets the first name, he’ll just throw the guy’s last name in the middle somewhere.
And with the 31st pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Colts selected Jerry Hughes, Texas Christian.
Bill (Buffalo): If Clausen drops, do you see any team trading up from the second round into the mid-late first round to draft him?
Mel: He’s not dropping. I thought maybe after the Redskins traded for McNabb, that would hurt him. But the question is, do the Redskins still look at a QB? That’s the big question. Do they still have interest at number four? McNabb won’t have them drafting number four. He’ll have them at worst 8-8. This might be their best chance in a while to get an elite QB.
First off, let me draw your attention to the use of Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #2 – The Talk-Around. Not once in his response does he even come close to addressing the question.
Question: If Clausen slips does anyone trade up from the second round to the late first to get him?
Answer: The Redskins are at worst an 8-8 team with McNabb, so do they want two high-priced quarterbacks?
What the heck?
Secondly, Jimmy Clausen has done nothing to warrant anyone tabbing him as an “elite” quarterback. And the Redskins just jumped at the chance not more than a month ago to get an elite quarterback when they traded for Donovan McNabb. McNabb is an elite quarterback and still has several good years left in him. There’s no reason for Washington to even look Clausen’s way, and they didn’t, choosing instead to select an offensive lineman to protect McNabb.
Donnie (Oklahoma): You mentioned you didn’t think Bradford would be a Ram, who do you think will end up with him?
Kiper: You have to think about teams that look at him as the guy. Seattle, Cleveland, Oakland, Buffalo, Washington. Any one of those teams.
Seriously, the Rams had passed an half a dozen franchise quarterbacks in the past few years and have just seen themselves get worse and worse. To be a good team in the NFL you need a guy behind center who can control a game. Marc Bulger wasn’t that guy and Kyle Boller certainly isn’t.
In a draft where everyone was looking to trade down, did Kiper really expect any of the teams he listed to put together the ridiculous package it would have taken to move up to one? Bradford has exceptional NFL tools and was far and away the best quarterback prospect in the draft. And a team with a serious need at that position was picking first.
Please note the use of Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #1 again. No explanation or insight, just a list of names.
Brian (Baton Rouge): Do you think the Saints will take a linebacker in the first round and if so, who?
Mel: If they want a LB in the first round they’ll probably look Sean Weatherspoon. If they don’t go there, then they could go for a DE.
Maybe he didn’t realize that the Saints won the Super Bowl and therefore held the 32nd overall pick. Sean Weatherspoon was never falling that far, there were too many teams that needed linebacker help that were picking in the mid-to-late first round. But I think Kiper may have had all of those teams selecting Jimmy Clausen. The Saints ended up not going with a linebacker in the first round. They also failed to take Mel’s advice about a DE and went with a cornerback.
Brad (Colorado): Were you higher on McFadden a few years ago than you are on Spiller now?
Mel: They’re about the same. McFadden was versatile, but Spiller is a dynamic pass receiving option and dynamic return man, punts and kicks. Spiller’s the best all-purpose back to come out since Reggie Bush. Bush has a Super Bowl ring. One of the reasons they did win was because of his versatility. I said all along that even when he wasn’t making plays, teams were focusing in on him. That’s what Spiller will do.
Please notice the italicized sentence. It’s Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #3 – the Random Fact Drop. He drops in this beauty about Bush having a Super Bowl ring, which has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, and regardless, isn’t an accurate reflection of Reggie Bush’s NFL performance. The Saints championship wasn’t won by Reggie Bush’s versatile abilities. But by telling you this, he’s diverted your attention from the fact that he doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about.
Benjamin (The Colony, TX):I’m seeing Trent Williams projected #6 overall. That would make three OU picks in the top-6! (assuming Bradford and McCoy go 1 and 3 as planned) When was the last time you can remember three picks from one school going so high in the draft? (at least top-10).
Mel: Two of the players from OU didn’t play at all – Gresham and Bradford. OU didn’t get what they thought they would this season. It’s amazing that they have all of these prospects. Williams, at 313 pounds ran a 4.81 at the combine. That’s amazing speed. You’re thinking about guys like TEs running in the 4.8s. 34.5 vertical. He needs to work harder in the weight room in the offseason. A number of the OTs did 30+ reps and he didn’t. You definitely want 25 or more and Williams only did 23. Anthony Davis did only 21.
Here’s a perfect example of the Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #4 – The Complete 180. He takes the question, completely ignores it and answers something different. In this case, the reader asks about the last time one school so dominated the top of the first round. The normal fan’s mind expects to hear about the recent classes to come out of schools like Miami and Florida State ten or fifteen years ago, or to a more recent extent, USC.
But Kiper mentions none of these. He just lists off combine numbers that ultimately aren’t all that important and that any interested fan probably already knows.
Those are the Four Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Methods that you should always be on the lookout for when the NFL draft starts hijacking all of the ESPN networks. Keep them tucked away in your mind, and you’ll eventually be able to sift through Kiper’s nonsensical babbling and realize that the only way to truly understand the draft, is to watch it unfold.
Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #1 – The List
Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #2 – The Talk Around
Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #3 – Random Fact Drop
Mel Kiper Topic Avoidance Method #4 – The Complete 180°
Here’s my shot at mock drafting the first round of the upcoming 2010 NFL Draft. I’d love to be able to throw up one of those first three round mock drafts, but I don’t have enough knowledge of all 32 NFL teams or the pool of draft eligible players to do that. I’ll leave that to the talking heads at ESPN who probably won’t do all that much better than me at this.
1. Rams – QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
The release of Marc Bulger most likely solidifies this pick for St. Louis. They’ve passed on a couple of franchise quarterbacks in recent drafts and it’s about time they get that taken care of. Bradford’s been more than impressive enough in all facets of the pre-draft experience for St. Louis to feel perfectly comfortable taking Bradford.
2. Lions – DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
Detroit could go offensive line here to help protect Matthew Stafford, but Suh is arguably the best player in the draft, making it hard for the Lions to justify picking anyone other than Suh. Suh slides in immediately and becomes a force in the motor city.
3. Buccaneers – DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
There’s been some chatter about Tampa Bay trading down to avoid having to pay Top 3 money, but I don’t see any teams being willing or forced to trade this far up to get a player they want.
4. Redskins – T Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
The McNabb deal eliminates Notre Dame signal caller Jimmy Clausen from being taken by Washington. I still believe McNabb has a lot left, but in order to get all that out of him, Mike Shanahan is going to have to protect their new toy. Okung is easily the best tackle in the draft, making him the pick for the Redskins.
5. Chiefs – S Eric Berry, Tennessee
KC has a lot of needs, and will therefore have a lot of options with this pick. I think ultimately they take Eric Berry, the impact safety out of Knoxville. He’ll give them a playmaker in the secondary, something they definitely could use.
6. Seahawks – T Bryan Buluga, Iowa
With two of the top fifteen selections, the Seahawks are in good position to deal one of them, or hold on to them and simply try and improve their team through the deep draft this year. The Charlie Whitehurst and Matt Hasselbeck competition isn’t going to be all that impressive, but it’ll be even less so without Buluga to help keep them upright.
7. Browns – CB Joe Haden, Florida
Cleveland would love to have Berry fall to them, but Haden is more than an adequate consolation prize. He’ll help out a secondary that struggled to shut down opponents passing games in 2009.
8. Raiders – T Bruce Campbell, Maryland
Al Davis loves him some players that have impressive physical tools. JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey all fit that description and so does Campbell. He’s big and strong but is certainly a top 10 talent. And it’s about time Oakland started building a team from the foundation.
9. Bills – QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
If Buffalo doesn’t take Clausen here, he could be in for an epic freefall. But I think they’ll end up taking him. He’s a very good prospect and Trent Edwards isn’t the answer for Buffalo. Neither is Ryan Fitzpatrick. Or Brian Brohm. They’ll take Clausen.
10. Giants (TRADED FROM JAGUARS) – LB Rolando McClain
Here’s the draft’s first major move. The Giants desperately need inside linebacker help and McClain won’t be there for them if they sit pat at fifteen. And while there are other ILBs available, none of them are up there with McClain. They’ll trade their first and third round picks for Jacksonville’s one.
11. Broncos (from CHI) – WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
With Brandon Marshall signing his tender this may seem like a pointless selection, but I’m guessing he’ll be traded to Dallas for their first rounder, so they’ll need a replacement. Bryant has questions unlike most other prospects, but I think they’re a bit overstated and not enough for that many teams passing on him.
12. Dolphins – DT Dan Williams, Tennessee
The Dolphins could look at Bryant if Denver keeps it’s pick and goes defense, but he’s gone in this mock draft so they take Williams to plug up the middle of their 3-4 defense that at times, was quite porous last year.
13. 49ers – T Trent Williams, Oklahoma
With two of the first seventeen picks, San Francisco will have plenty of options available. I think they go safe and smart with the first one and take Williams, a very good tackle.
14. Seahawks (from DEN) – RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson
Seattle makes Spiller the first back off the board and fills a hole. They need some playmakers on offense and Spiller is a home run threat who is also a valuable asset in the return game.
15. Jaguars (TRADED FROM GIANTS) – S Earl Thomas, Texas
I think the Jaguars are targeting Thomas and he’ll be just as available at fifteen as he would at ten, so they’ll trade down and grab an extra third rounder in the process.
16. Titans – DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech
The Titans need an edge rusher and Morgan is one of the best. He needs a little coaching to translate his game to the NFL level, but there’s not many better choices to do that than Jeff Fisher.
17. 49ers (from CAR) – LB Sergio Kindle, Texas
With their second pick, San Francisco should go defense and add a guy that can play alongside Patrick Willis. Kindle is strong against the run and even better at getting after the quarterback, two things that San Francisco would benefit from.
18. Steelers – G Mike Iupati, Idaho
With an aging offensive line, some young blood couldn’t hurt. The Santonio Holmes trade could turn Pittsburgh’s attention to a wideout and with Big Ben’s legal shenanigans, they could target a potential replacement. But with no value QB picks here, they’ll grab Iupati and look to fill other need areas later in the draft.
19. Falcons – DE Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida
A linebacker like Sean Weatherspoon could be an attractive option for the Dirty Birds here, but with Pierre-Paul available and considering the potential impact he can have on a game, the Falcons will probably look his way.
20. Texans – CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State
Wilson has shot up everybody’s draft board with good pre-draft showings and the Texans are in need of a shut down corner, making them a great match for Wilson.
21. Bengals – S Taylor Mays, USC
The Bengals defense faded a little bit by the end of the season last year and part of it was the lack of a true impact playmaker in the secondary. Mays’ stock has been slipping on some draft boards, but he’ll fit in nicely with Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme.
22. Patriots – TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
The Patriots absolutely need a tight end. They’ve got none on their roster and Gresham is a very good tight end that can block, catch and run. The Jets have seen some success with Dustin Keller and the Pats can get a better version of him in Gresham.
23. Packers – LB Brandon Graham, Michigan
Graham can play as an OLB for Green Bay or put the hand down and play as an edge rusher. Either way, he’s a steal for the Packers and a huge addition to a defense that was great during the season but was then absolutely shredded by Kurt Warner and the Cardinals in the playoffs.
24. Eagles – LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
With extra picks following the McNabb deal, Philly will have ample opportunity to improve their defense, starting with Weatherspoon. He could play inside or outside for the Iggles, but will be an impact leader either way.
25. Ravens – C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
With Anquan Boldin aboard for Joe Flacco to throw to, they’ll need someone to anchor the line that protects them. Pouncey has an impressive resume, shredding some of the nations top collegiate defenses for several years.
26. Cardinals – T Anthony Davis, Rutgers
The defense could use some help too, but Davis can step in and offer more immediate help on the offensive line. He’s a big strong mauler who can open running lanes for the improving ground game and retooled passing game.
27. Broncos (TRADED FROM COWBOYS) – DE Jerry Hughes, TCU
Here’s the pick from Dallas that Denver gets in my proposed Brandon Marshall deal. After replacing Marshall with their initial first rounder, they’ll address the other side of the ball with Hughes, another player capable of lining up at linebacker or defensive end. Hughes had a strong senior season and impressed in the Fiesta Bowl.
28. Chargers – RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State
Darren Sproles is not an every down back and he’s more of a receiving threat when he’s in the game anyways. Mathews gives the Bolts an actual feature back and allows them to use Sproles more in the return game.
29. Jets – DT Jared Odrick, Penn State
The Jets have been the most active team this offseason so far, eliminating cornerback, wide receiver and running back as team needs through trades. That leaves them with the opportunity to focus on retooling an aging defensive line with Odrick, a guy that can plug the middle of their 3-4 defense.
30. Vikings – CB Kareem Jackson, Alabama
I’m banking on the fact that Brett Farve will be back just in time to take the opening snap in their first game and Brad Childress probably is too. Jackson will give the Vikings an excellent cover corner who can turn and run.
31. Colts – T Charles Brown, USC
Super Bowl teams typically don’t have many areas of need and Indy’s no different. Their defense is still really good and the offense is elite. Therefore they’re able to fortify the offensive line with a young project.
32. Saints – LB Daryl Washington, TCU
The Saints are in the same position as the Colts. There isn’t much wrong with Drew Brees and his offense, but the defense could use some touch ups, and Washington is a great fir for Sean Payton’s Super Bowl champs.