Sunday, September 10, 2017

2017 NFL Preview: Same As It Ever Wasn't?

The 2017 season has arrived.  It is a time honored tradition that I post that I halfheartedly try to make a futile projection for the final results of the entire season.  Here's how it turned out: 

AFC North:
Pit    12-4
Cin    9-7
Bal    7-9
Cle    5-11

Who will be the kings of the north!?  Part of me wants to predict Pittsburgh to have a rough season, but that’s probably just out of spite and all jinx/reverse-jinx rules require me to predict a sterling 12-4 record.  Biases aside, their defense is a mix of solid veterans and young players coming into their own.  They might be ready to make a leap.  Offensively, they could be the class of the league as everyone’s dream of witnessing all of their firepower on the field at the same time might finally come true.  But for how long? 

The BENG-GALLLLS:  The preseason was a mixed bag for the Orange Asian Tigers.  I think they’ll be streaky on both sides of the ball and they’ll hover right around .500 plus or minus a game.  As expected, the offensive line is going to take its lumps.  They cut Eric Winston which means either he hit a wall skill-level-wise or they have confidence in the young talent.  Regardless, the depth at OT looks a little scary.  They’ve cycled new talent in at linebacker and I think it is going to take some time to gel.  Burfict remains Burfict: a talented player that can’t control himself and is going to get legislated out of the league.  In the end, they lose the tiebreaker to Tennessee and miss out on the playoffs.  Don’t panic though Mr. Brown.  Just give Marvin Lewis one more year to see this through.  I don’t know if he can do it, but I think 2018 will be the peak potential for this core roster construction and Lewis's continuity probably stands a better chance of making a run than a new coaching regime. 

Baltimore has endured one downer headline after another this offseason.  I don’t expect it to totally weigh them down.  It never does, but looking at their offensive talent I just can't figure out how it adds up to a playoff team.  

Cleveland decided to take an alternative approach to their front office two years back and it appears to be working.  As Roethlisberger becomes increasingly disinterested in football and Joe Flacco begins to deal with a bulky back, this division might be primed to be flipped on its head sometime soon.  But not yet. 

AFC South:
Hou    10-6
Ten    9-7
Jac    7-9
Ind    2-14

Much like Pittsburgh’s offense, the tantalizing vision of a Clowney/Watt-studded defensive unit might actually come to fruition this season.  But for how long?  I say the defense propels the team to wins as the offense does just enough to retain the AFC South crown.

AFC East:
NE     13-3
Mia   7-9
Buf    6-10
NYJ    4-12

New England’s reign continues.  Salty Jay Cutler keeps Miami at least playoff relevant only to fall short down the stretch.  Buffalo is rebuilding but not quite as far along in dismantling their team as New York.  Josh McCown spitefully stays healthy long enough to nudge the Jets up the 2018 draft board a few slots. 

AFC West:
KC     11-5
Oak   10-6
Den    8-8
LAC    7-9

KC surprises a little bit here.  Alex Smith does just enough to muffle jeers urging his replacement.  We’ll get a look at Maholmes next year.  Oakland’s defense isn’t quite good enough to earn them a playoff bye, but hopefully they at least get a shot at taking their QB into the postseason this year. Denver’s run defense should bounce back a little, but the offense still won’t quite be good enough.  The Chargers have an interesting roster, but they once again appear snake-bitten. 

NFC North:
GB     12-4
Min    10-6
Det    7-9
Chi    4-12

Remember the narrative at this time last year about Aaron Rodgers maybe not being a good quarterback anymore?  It’s hard to pick anyone other than Green Bay here.  If Minnesota’s defense stays healthy, they should hang around enough to at least force the Packers to play out the season.  Detroit’s defense appears to be light on star talent and most of their better players are banged up heading into the season.  Chicago was scrappy last year, but it didn’t show up in their win total.  Their quarterbacks will struggle enough to prevent seeing much of an improvement this year. 

NFC South:

Atl    9-7
TB    8-8
Car    8-8
No    7-9
This is one of the few divisions where you could make a case for just about any finishing order from top to bottom.  Atlanta’s roster probably warrants an 11 or 12-win season, but I docked them a few wins for the Super Bowl hangover effect.  Tampa Bay feels like the trendy "their free agent signings make so much  sense, they are going to take the next step" team that annually never quite pans out.  I think it will be one more year before they turn the corner.  Carolina’s defense should be good and everyone loves the idea of Christian McCaffrey in their offense.  I’m skeptical they’re going to get enough out of Cam Newton this year to break .500.  He’ll rebound next year, but he’ll struggle with consistency as he attempts to finish his recovery from shoulder surgery while playing the first half of the season.  With Jeff Fisher out of the league, Sean Peyton is the new 7-9 bull $%!^ coach.  Is this the last year for the Brees/Peyton era in N.O.?  Is this the sunset of Adrian Peterson’s career?  There might be intrigue in New Orleans even if they don’t have a good year. 

NFC East
N.Y.    9-7
Phi    9-7
Dal    9-7
Was    7-9
Another toss up division.  New York has the best defense, Dallas has the best offense, and Philadelphia is somewhere in between.  Kirk Cousins isn’t the real deal, but he’s good enough to sniff 8-8. 

NFC West
Sea    12-4
Ari     9-7
LAR    6-10   
S.F.    4-12

Seattle did just enough to fix their O-line to run away with this division.  Their defense could be the best in the league.  Something feels off with Arizona this year.  They had too much turnover on defense and their offense seems stale.  A resurgent Tyrann Mathieu and one last hurrah for Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald propel them to 9 wins, but they fall short of the playoffs.  The Rams improve on their 2016 record with added talent on offense and Wade Phillips taking over their defense. Kyle Shanahan takes over in San Francisco and manages to double their win total.     

The Playoffs:

Green Bay and Seattle play in week 1 of the season and they appear on a collision course for the NFC title game.  Minnesota ousts N.Y. while Atlanta fends off the upstart Eagles.  The 1 and 2 seeds take care of business in round 3, and the Seahawks defense proves to be too much for the Packers to make a return trip to the Super Bowl (not in real life.  Just in my world of make-believe predictions).

Tennessee makes it to the dance but exits early at the hands of Kansas City.  Oakland gets a rematch in Houston.  With Derek Car at the helm, the Raiders come out on top this time around.  Oakland continues it’s revenge tour, avenging the tuck rule game in New England.  Kansas City upsets Pittsburgh to set up an AFC West showdown in the AFC championship.  Wait a minute, I picked K.C. to go to the Super Bowl last year too.  It turns out I was one year early. 

Might as well run back my entire 2016 take: Seattle bludgeons Kansas City in the Super Bowl 42-27. 

Mark it all down in ink.  That’s all for now.  Enjoy week 1!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Camp Stories: Uh-Oh-Line

The 2017 season is upon us!  Training camps have kicked off throughout the league. Buzz is building.  The media machines are revving up.  And I've begun my annual tradition of opening up my laptop at the end of the day and nervously skimming through the day's casualties to see if there are any Bengals on the list of gut wrenching training camp injuries.  So far Cincy has mostly dodged the carnage, but keep your fingers crossed. Here's my take on what I've seen and heard so far.

As predicted, the offensive line has been one of the most talked about Bengals story lines leading up to the preseason. From the media's perspective, the position group was below average last year and lost its two best players in free agency.  They aren't wrong,  but the second part of the discussion strays into how the Bengals decided to ignore there offensive line needs before spiraling into obligatory shots at Mike Brown being too cheap to resign veteran players.  Okay.  Here's where I have to suit up with my orange and black sword and shield and fend off some shoddy analysis fraught with Bengals stereotypes.

Let's start with the first part.  The Bengals have a plan and they are executing it.  Sure, they would have preferred to sign Andrew Whitworth to one more contract to give Cedric Ogbuehi more time, but let's not pretend signing a 35 year old offensive lineman to a three year contract is a no-brainer.

Transitioning to Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher at OT was always the plan.  Analysts have concluded that the two young OT's are busts.  They didn't jump in and start on day one so they must be terrible. writer Geoff Hobson spins a different tale:
Ogbuehi was injured for his first year and a half on the team and missed his first two training camps. He is more comfortable on the left side than the right where they tried to play him last year.  He will be fine.  Fisher will be fine.  Everything is going to be okay.

What's the real answer?  Probably somewhere in between.  On the right side, most analysts didn't catch Fisher playing well at RT down the stretch last season.  I think they're in better shape there than anyone outside of Cincinnati realizes.  Even if Fisher stumbles, Eric Winston and Andre Smith are reasonable safety nets.

The left side is a little less settled.  Ogbuehi will have more growing pains than Andy Dalton's blind side would care to experience for at least the first half of this year.  Reading articles, even the perpetually optimistic Hobson sounds a little nervous about Ogbuehi's performance in camp so far.  Reportedly he looked okay early on but as the defense has started to go less vanilla the last few days, the O-line has crumbled headlined by a wide-open freeway to Dalton around the left side of the line.  Either Carl Lawson is going to vault from fourth round draft pick to instant all-pro or Ogbuehi is going to struggle out of the gate.  Unfortunately, I'm leaning towards the latter.  Worse yet, they don't really have a great alternative.  More than likely if they have to pull the plug on Ogbuehi, Fisher will slide over to the left side, and Smith/Winston will hold down the right side, but who knows if that will even work.  For a position group that thrives on continuity, it is unsettling to hear about O-line coach Paul Alexander shuffling players around constantly the first few days of camp because he's trying to find out his best five guys.

Despite all of that, to conclude that Ogbuehi has already peaked as a professional and there is no hope of development is a little short-sighted.  It looks iffy right now, but the jury is still out.  If he still hasn't progressed into a more reliable blocker mid way through next season, go ahead start throwing dirt on him.  For now, let's wait and see.

Then there's right guard where the consensus is once again predictably annoying.

Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left last year.  Now Whitworth and Zeitler.  They don't want to pay the price to compete.  They're too cheap.

Enough!  It's revisionist history blended with unfair double standards.  Somehow teams like Green Bay and New England manage the salary cap brilliantly, but Cincinnati should just resign every player on their roster like New Orleans who routinely gets picked apart for their irresponsible contracts.

That Bill Belichick, he always gets out a year early on a player rather than a year late.

Mike Brown does it and he's a penny pincher.

The Bengals trust their evaluations and they build through the draft.  That's their plan and they execute it with precise discipline.  When they hit big on a pick they pay up.  They routinely let good but not great players walk not because they are cheap but because it's bad strategy to overpay for role players.  Instead of handcuffing themselves to short term gambles they cycle through younger players on the roster and have more flexibility to plug holes as they open up

Letting Sanu go was the right move.  They targeted Jones and offered him comparable money to Detroit, but Jones wanted a shot at a WR1 role in an offense.  Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, the Bengals have stepped up to pay their stars.  They've given some second contracts to mid-tier players (Giovani Bernard, Shawn Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick) but Zeitler elevated himself above that status.  When it came down to adding him to their core talents they decided to save the cap space for players that are harder to replace (Tyler Eifert anyone?).  Make no mistake, they'll miss Zeitler this year.  They'll try to plug the hole with Trey Hopkins or Smith, but more than likely whoever wins the job will be just a placeholder.  This roster isn't set up to contend in 2017.  They made a push in 2015, but Andy Dalton got hurt and the whole thing went up in smoke into the Cincinnati air with an Adam Jones sucker punch.  Sure, they could have pushed all of their chips to the center of the table and loaded up the roster with a bunch of dead money to make a more serious run, but they realized their defense wasn't good enough and when Jones left the offense didn't quite have enough firepower.  Instead of chasing a miracle card on the river they opted to stick with what they're good at: Take a step back, retool through the draft, and push for a wider window of opportunity in the future when they have better cards.  Kenny Rogers would be proud.  

This roster is primed for 2018-2020.   The mistake a lot of people make is analyzing draft picks for impact on the upcoming season.

Oh no! John Ross isn't ready for contact yet!  They're counting on him this year!

Some rookies might flash as role players but even the good ones can't be counted on for significant contributions for 2 to 4 years after they are picked.  Skill position players, defensive lineman, OT's, they take longer to develop.  Guards, LB's, you can find higher level talent in the late day 1 to day 2 range of the draft and they can play at a high level sooner.  Cincy added their CB's, WR's, and defensive lineman the last couple of years and they'll be ready when they need them.

No Wait, that's not what they're really doing they're just being cheap.

Because somehow a team that has finished top ten in total player salary spending three of the last four years is cheap (the one year they weren't in the top ten they were 20th, but only $4 million behind the 4th highest spending team).

Don't listen to the noise.  They'll rebound some this year, but only to the level of a fringe playoff team.  Don't panic.  Give Marvin Lewis one more chance. Watch out for 2018.  It's coming.  I can see it.  The window is opening back up.  They just need to have a little more patience with some injury luck and they'll be poised for a run.  Their time will come.  Just wait.

Friday, April 28, 2017

2017 Draft Day 2 Bengals Reaction

Ok!  What a day 2! A lot of talent went off the board in rounds 2 and 3.  It rivaled the players that went in the second half of the first round to be honest.  The day 3 talent drops off a little, but there is still plenty of good talent to be had. I don't know these guys as well, but I'll list a few names to look out for with that 9th pick in the fourth round. But first, here's my reaction to the Bengals day 2 picks.
I'm okay with the Joe Mixon pick.  I have a lot of thoughts on it.  It's a little too heavy for me to sum up on the fly.  I'll try to do that some time later.

The Jordan Willis pick was outstanding!  I would have loved it if they got him at 41, let alone picking up a talent like Mixon in the second (again, football only take here. I'll sort out my thoughts on the moral dilemma later) then waiting all the way to the third for Willis.

Top of round 4 big board:

Dorian Johnson G Pittsburgh
Would be the icing on the cake if they could land Johnson.  I'm not getting my hopes up.

Blair Brown LB Ohio
Undersized tackling machine

John Toth C Kentucky
They might be able to wait until later for Toth  

Eddie Jackson S Alabama
Great player everyone forgot about because he broke his leg.

Josh Reynolds WR Texas A&M
Marvin Jones clone?

Desmond King CB Iowa
Just a solid versatile player

Corn Elder CB Miami

Chad Hansen WR California

Tedric Thompson S Colorado

Jaleel Johnson DT Iowa
Hard-nosed player

Damontae Kazee CB San Diego State

Bucky Hodges TE Virginia Tech
Mostly a receiver. Not sure they have room for him, but never hurts to add more weapons.

There's other names that probably belong here, but I haven't studied up enough on the rest of the class to know how to sort them out.  That's all for now.  Enjoy day 3!

Round 1 Reaction, Round 2 preview

Pick 9 Reaction:

I’m okay with John Ross at 9.  He is a unique talent.  His speed will add an extra element to their offense.  He is a better receiver than most “fast guys”.  He’s not only a deep threat , but with his short area quickness he is dangerous in the red zone as well.  If the Bengals can keep Ross, Green, and Eifert healthy their red zone offense should be lethal. 

Here’s what I don’t like: 

I have a hard enough time watching slender players who are great.  Every time A.J. Green gets tackled I hold my breathe he isn’t going to get up broken in half.  Now I have to watch a 180 lb. guy with an illustrious injury history?  I might not survive the season. 

To me, taking a WR early closes off some of the their options later in the draft.  Some great WR’s are going to last into day 3 of the draft.  I’m not saying they won’t take another one, but they’ve lost some flexibility.  No one else runs a 4.21 40, but they could have gotten 80 or 90% of Ross 60 picks later. 

They passed on some REALLY good players to take Ross.  He will be a great complimentary player.  Marhson Lattimore, Malik Hooker, O.J. Howard, Haason Reddick: these are all guys with all-pro potential that have ceilings as the best players at their positions in the league.  I’m not sure if Ross has a shot to that level.  I’m not devastated, but man one of those guys would have been nice. 

Here’s a look at a Bengals-centric big board for round 2:

Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State   
If they want to add edge talent, he has starter potential. 

Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky
Could address one of their biggest needs. 

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State 
Electric talent.

Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt 
They need to find an LB at some point

Dan Feeney, OL, Indiana
Again, interior OL within the next two rounds is a big need.

Dorian Johnson, OL, Pittsburgh

Joe Mixon
He got in a verbal altercation a few years ago and he punched somebody.  I’m not condoning it, but haven’t the Bengals taken worse?  He is a risk, but man he’s really good.

Budda Baker, S, Washington
Small safety, but a playmaker that can play slot corner too.

Pat Elflein, C, Ohio State
Interior o-line again.

Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
Ultra athletic

Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston
Pour man’s Haason Reddick? 

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama 
Will he take kindly being moved to guard? 

Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado 
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida 
Kevin King, CB, Washington
Not sure who the best corner left is. 

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State 
Big talent, needs motivated.

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame 
Would they do this?  Probably not.

I’ve stripped the WR’s from the list:
Curtis Samuel, RB, Ohio State 
Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 Final Mock Draft!

1. Cleveland
Myles Garrett has been the consensus number 1 pick from the beginning.  Some people question Garrett’s production and whether he has the attitude to be an elite pass rusher.  When you watch him play his athleticism sticks out.  His burst off the snap is electric.
The pick: Myles Garrett, DE Texas A&M  

2. San Francisco
I think the recent buzz on SF considering a QB is them realizing their pick is more valuable if the teams below them think they might take a QB.  Solomon Thomas is the second best non QB player in this class.  He has the potential to anchor their defense for years to come.
The pick: Solomon Thomas, DE Stanford

3. Chicago
The Mike Glennon signing doesn’t guarantee they don’t go quarterback here, I have a hard time believing they don’t try to sure up their secondary.  Malik Hooker is raw, but makes plays on the ball in the air that not many people can make.  I was more impressed with his run defense than I was expecting.  He flew to the ball and attacked ball carriers more like what I expected from Jamal Adams based on the hype.  Hooker’s tackling technique could be improved. Laying a shoulder into guys to tackle them might not work as well in the pros.
The Pick Malik Hooker, S Ohio State 

4. Jacksonville
Not that any of these picks other than Garrett are sure things, but trying to predict this pick is particularly dicey.  When in doubt, go with the best players available.  Injury concerns, inexperience, and their own depth chart scare them off Marshon Lattimore.  The next best guy is O.J. Howard.  Howard is the rare college TE prospect with the athleticism to cause matchup problems and the physicality to block.
The Pick O.J. Howard, TE Alabama

5. Tennessee
That makes it easy on Tennessee.  Marshon Lattimore has hamstring concerns, but he moves different than everyone else.  Lattimore could eventually challenge for CB1 status. Not CB1 on the Titans.  CB1 in the league.
The Pick: Marshon Lattimore, CB Ohio State

6. N.Y. Jets
The Jets are the first team to take the QB plunge.  Wait until next year and try your luck again in a quarterback class that might or might not be better than this year? Or take now what they think is a clutch player with the will to win?  Deshaun Watson doesn’t have the same upside as the other guys in this class, but he has the guts and grit to face the pressure of N.Y.
The Pick: Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson

7. L.A. Chargers
The Jets drew first blood and now the teams that want a QB are on the phones.  L.A. can’t get an offer it likes.  They want to stay and take a tone setter for their defense.  When I heard about Jamal Adams I was expecting a good pass defender and an absolute missile on run defense.  I didn’t quite see that in the games I watched.  He seemed slow to the ball and he often got caught up in trash as he tried to come up in run support.  I would like to drop him down a little lower, but it sounds like his leadership skills are off the charts.  L.A.C won’t want to pass up a plug and play captain for their defense during turbulent times.
 The pick: Jamal Adams, S LSU

8. Carolina
A lot of people have an RB here.  I’m not buying it.  My next thought was speed at WR with John Ross.  I just can’t see Dave Gettleman doing that.  He likes to invest in the big “hog mollies” up front.  They seem fairly set at d-line.  They seem fairly NOT set at O-line.  Garrett Bolles looks like surest OT starter in this class.  All of the other first round type names either look like projects at OT or guard converts.  Bolles is good in pass protection and a beast against the run.
The pick: Garrett Bolles, OT Utah

Here it is!  My annual Bengals pick.  With the 9th pick in the NFL draft we have a trade!  The Bengals relationship with their old pal Hue Jackson comes in handy again.   Bengals trade the 9th pick and the 41st pick for the 12th pick and the 33rd pick.  It helps both teams.  The Browns take matters into their own hands and step up to take their guy.  Beyond QB, they don’t necessarily need specific players, they just need players. Dropping down 9 slots in the second doesn’t really hurt them.  Cincy on the other hand gets their pick of whatever talent falls out of the first round and a valuable trade chip if they decide to move back down.  Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about a fake trade that will never happen.

The Bengals could have rolled with Jonathan Allen here, but if you are looking for pass rush, I don’t know how much Allen actually upgrades what they already have.  They can presumably still get a player they like at 12 and they improve their position in the second round in the process.

TRADE: Cleveland via  CINCINNATI 
The Browns go with Mitchell Trubisky here.  There’s no guarantees if they try to hold out for someone better and cheaper. They’ve constructed a formidable offensive line.  It’s not a bad idea to show some urgency here.
The pick: Mitchell Trubisky, QB North Carolina

10. Buffalo
I don’t know if this pick is going to be Buffalo or not, but someone is going to step into this slot intoxicated with some Mahomes fever.  Will Mahomes polish into a fine diamond or crumble like a lump of coal?  This is a good move.  The potential is too high to worry about price.  Bring him in, tighten up some of his footwork/habits, and reap the rewards.
The pick: Patrick Mahomes, QB Texas Tech

11. New Orleans
The Saints are desperate to upgrade their defense and they stumble into one of the more pro-ready prospects in the class.  Most mock drafts have Allen going higher.  Decent value for the Saints.
The pick: Jonathan Allen, DE Alabama

12. CINCINNATI via Cleveland      
The Bengals missed on Allen, but maybe they can kill two birds with one stone.  Haason Reddick is a college DE that projects as a LB in the pros.  He’s athletic enough to play linebacker, but big enough to rush from the edge.  If the Bengals are going to try to improve the pass rush with their first pick.  This is their best bet.
The pick: Haason Reddick, LB Temple

13. Arizona (Buffalo??)
Call this a tentative trade.  Somebody snags Corey Davis in this slot.  He’s the top WR in this class.  I tried letting him slide down the board a little, but it just didn’t feel right.  Davis hasn’t worked out in the pre-draft process due to injury, but his play proved enough.  If you are ranking the potential for players in this class to make all-pro, I think it would be a mistake not to consider Davis in the top 10 and he has a decent floor as well.
The pick: Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan

14. Philadelphia
The Eagles add another weapon to their free agency hull of targets they added.  Christian McCaffrey has been compared to Brian Westbrook.  He’s a perfect outlet option for Carson Wentz and he’s good enough as a runner to use all 3 downs without limiting the offense.  As long as he stops trying to imitate Le’Veon Bell’s magician-like hesitation moves, he will be a nice addition.
The pick: Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford

15.  Indianapolis
Indy used free agency to bandage up their defense a little bit to give themselves some flexibility here and I think they are going to use every bit of it.  O-line would make more sense if they like the guys left on the board.  This is going to be a little bit of a splash: Dalvin Cook goes to Indy with Leonard Fournette still on the board.  Some have Cook falling for durability and off-field concerns. From what I watched, I have Cook as the best RB in this class.  To me, Cook and Joe Mixon forced the issue a little more on their runs.  They were creators.  McCaffrey and Fournette are more opportunists than creators.  If a defense makes a mistake or leaves a small opening they will make you pay.  Cook and Mixon have a little more ability to make something out of nothing.
The Pick: Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State    

16. Baltimore
The Ravens inject a little talent back in their O-line with a small school OT/G prospect.  I’ve seen Forrest Lamp projected all over the board, but most seem to agree he is solid prospect with a low floor.
The pick: Forrest Lamp, G Western Kentucky

17. Washington
Joe Mixon’s off the field incidents have been well documented.  I don’t want to minimize what he did, but he’s an elite offensive prospect in this class.  People keep saying if teams haven’t taken him off their board, why does it matter what round they pick him? It’s about investment and whether you think he is a risk to relapse.  Washington’s owner insists on keeping a racial slur as his mascot.  I don’t think he cares about the moral/PR side of it.  Does the talent outweigh the risk?  Washington votes yes.
The pick: Joe Mixon, RB Oklahoma

18. Tennessee 
There has been all kinds of smoke around Reuben Foster.  I considered dropping him down further, but I think 15 to 20 is about the range he’ll end up landing.
The pick: Reuben Foster, LB Alabama

19. Tampa Bay
Leonard Founette’s wait finally ends!  Some will take this as knock on Fournette. But I think he’s really good, and placing him in the first round as a RB is an indication of that.  He can punish defenses for their mistakes while simultaneously wearing them down.  Some criticize his receiving abilities.  I liked what I saw from him catching the ball.  He’ll be just fine.  Fournette falls and Tampa rejoices.
The pick:   Leonard Fournette, RB LSU

20. Denver
The Broncos will keep their eyes on Foster if he slips, but instead they stay put and land a versatile TE prospect.  David Njoku’s has great athleticism and has the chance to develop into a great two-way TE which is becoming more and more valuable in the NFL.  Offensives around the league crave the scheme flexibility, and college football isn’t producing enough of these guys to quench their thirst.
The pick: David Njoku, TE Miami

21. Detroit
Derek Barnett is one of these prospects with great college production, but there’s no consensus on where he projects because it’s uncertain if his skills will translate to the NFL.  He reminds me of Shaq Lawson from last year.  Great college player, but probably a mediocre pro.  Barnett wins mostly when he rushes around the edge.  He only could get penetration on an inside move when the blocking scheme messed up. He bends well, but I don’t know if his speed will get him around the edge against better talent.
The pick: Derek Barnett

22. Miami
Marlon Humphrey provides Miami with an opportunity to get tougher at CB.  He’s young, big, and strong.  He needs some help on deep routes, but he is excellent in run support.
The pick: Marlon Humphrey, CB Alabama

23. N.Y. Giants
Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk would likely go higher if not for offseason surgery.  The league is starved for OT talent so I still think he’ll go round 1, but he has more question marks than I’d like with a first round pick.  Maybe he’s a guard?
The pick: Ryan Ramczyk, OT Wisconsin

24. Oakland
As long as the Raiders are owned by a Davis, I think they are obligated to take the fastest player available.  As the fastest player EVER, the Raiders have to go with John Ross right?  If he wasn’t an injury risk Ross would go higher.  He’s a better receiver than most ultra-fast guys.  He flashes small guy hands sometimes.  That’s not necessarily a reason to drop him, just something to keep in mind.
The pick: John Ross, WR Washington

25. Houston
Houston Has O-line needs at multiple positions.  Luckily this draft class has plenty of OT’s that probably should play guard in the NFL.  If you are a glass half full kind of person that means they are versatile!  Cam Robinson can plug a hole at guard or fill in at tackle in a pinch.
The pick: Cam Robinson, OT Alabama

26. Seattle
With the thin OT crop dried up, Seattle turns to CB.  Tre’davious White is an interesting prospect. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say anything bad about him yet he never really seemed to gain much momentum throughout the process. Gareon Conley would probably be in the mix here or earlier.  I’m not really sure what to make of the recent accusations against him.  I just dropped him out of the first round all together.
The pick: Tre’davious White, CB LSU

27. Kansas City
The Chiefs finally wave the white flag on the Alex Smith era.  He’ll still have the reins for a couple of years, but K.C. picks his heir apparent here.  Deshone Kizer has all of the tools to be great.  He has a low floor, but if anyone can get the most out of him it’s Andy Reid.  This could be Donovan McNabb 2.0.  Fittingly, McNabb’s tutor gets to teach Kizer too.
The pick: Deshone Kizer, QB Notre Dame 

28. Dallas
You’ll see a wide variety of opinions about Adoree Jackson.  Some love him.  Some think he’s strictly a return man.  He is electric with the ball in his hands.  Some think he should just play offense.  The answer is somewhere in between.  He is a decent corner and an elite return man.  Dallas will see the upside.
The pick: Adoree Jackson, CB USC

29. Green Bay
Green Bay could keep the CB run going here, but their offense seems a little too reliant on the health of Jordy Nelson. Mike Williams is expected to go higher, but I struggled to find a spot for him.  This might work out better for him anyway. What do you think Aaron Rodgers will do with a player that excels at contested catches?
The pick: Mike Williams, WR Clemson

30. Pittsburgh 
Pittsburgh jumps at the opportunity to draft a name that sounds like Polamalu.  They sprint to the podium for Obi Melifonwu because GM Kevin Colbert is that dumb.  Just kidding. I don’t really think that.  But Pittsburgh has targeted a specific type of athlete the last few years.  Melifonwu and his eye-popping combine numbers certainly qualify as their type.
The pick: Obi Melifonwu, S Connecticut

31. Atlanta
Atlanta didn’t have enough depth on their defensive line last year and it came back to bite them in their Super Bowl collapse.  Malik McDowell falls because of his personality and inconsistency, but he will look awfully nice as a penetrating DT next to space-eating free agency acquisition Dontari Poe.
The pick: Malik McDowell, DT Michigan State

32. New Orleans
There’s quite a bit of defensive talent for the Saints to go after here, but instead they can’t resist taking another toy for Drew Brees to play with.  Evan Engram probably won’t ever line up as an inline tight end, but he will be a matchup nightmare in the slot.
The pick: Evan Engram, TE Ole’ Miss.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bengals Shopping List: 2017

Less than a week until the draft!  What do the Bengals need?  It’s a harder question to answer than most years.  While the Bengals are in transition at multiple positions, they have a plan in place at just about every spot.  As fits with their organizational philosophy, younger players are slated for promotion into roster voids caused by free agency and roster cuts.  I’m not opposed to the strategy, but it makes ranking their biggest weaknesses murky. Basically, they need a player at every position.  Which player do they need the most?  Well, who is more likely to excel Cedric Ogbehoi at LT or Nick Vigil at outside linebacker?  It’s a dirty job, but here’s my crack at it. 

1. Center
Until they move on from Russel Bodine I’ll probably have this penciled in as the team’s weakest position.  He’s a liability in pass protection and the offense is never going to be able to function consistently if they keep allowing a pipeline of pressure up the middle.  It didn’t matter as much when they had high-end guard play next to Bodine, but now their guards consist of Clint Boling trying to bounce back from a down year and some combination of Andre Smith/T.J. Johnson trying to fill the void left by the departure of arguably their third best offensive player.  More than likely center will not be a priority in the first or second rounds of the draft, but keep an eye on names like Ethan Pocic, the unusually tall center from LSU and Jon Toth, the gritty center out of Kentucky, late in day 2 or early in day 3.       

2. Guard
As noted above, they are in transition at guard as well and it’s not clear if the current solutions on the roster are sturdy bandages capable of stopping the bleeding or flimsy Band-Aids destined to allow the Bengals offense to hemorrhage to death as they continuously allow opposing DT’s to sprint straight to the quarterback every passing down.  I like the idea of playing Andre Smith at guard, but I’m still a little skeptical it is going to pan out.  While this year’s OT draft class has been maligned, the interior OL crop is fairly strong and deep.  Forrest Lamp likely won’t fall to them in the second round, but they could look at guys like Dan Feeney (Indiana) and Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh) on day 2. 

3.   Linebacker
I’m lumping the whole linebacking corps together.  The Bengals couldn’t stop the short to intermediate passing game to save their life.  As a whole, they need to get more athletic in the middle of their unit.  Is promoting Nick Vigil the answer?  Will free agent Kevin Minter pan out?  Can Vontaze Burfict stay healthy?  I’m not confident enough about any of those answers for me to be comfortable with them standing pat with what they’ve got.  Vinnie Rey is a nice backup, but if you’re going to ask him to contribute beyond a fill-in role, you’re just treading water.  Haason Reddick (Temple) might be a player that is elevating onto their radar in the first round.  It will be interesting to see if they like Reuben Foster (Alabama) enough to take him at 9. 

4a. Cornerback
This one hurts.  They have dumped plenty of resources into filling this need, but it is unclear if any of their efforts are sufficient for the upcoming season.  Adam Jones seems hell-bent on scuttling what’s left of his career.  Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t shown signs that he’s any more than an average player.  Darqueze Denard has yet to develop into a significant contributor and William Jackson has yet to step on the field.  9 probably isn’t the spot to take a CB for them unless Marshon Lattimore falls due to injury concerns.  It’s a deep class though.  They will be able to find help here all the way into day 3.  

4b. Ofensive Tackle    
Same deal on this one.  They’ve allocated plenty of resources but it isn’t clear if it will pay off and it will likely be a disaster in 2017 if it doesn’t.  Pundits will hound all offseason about how the Bengals poor O-line play was the problem in 2016, they lost their two best guys in free agency, and consequently they will be challenging Cleveland for the cellar of the division in 2017.  I’m cautiously optimistic that narrative is ill-conceived, but not confident.   

5a. WR
Brandon Lafell is fine as a poor man’s version of Marvin Jones at WR2.  Tyler Boyd will be decent as a WR2/WR3 upgrade on Mohammed Sanu, but he has a fairly low ceiling.  If this offense is ever really going to hum like it almost did two years ago, they need a little talent boost opposite A.J. Green.  I’m not sure what they have in Cody Core and whether he is a potential solution.   Corey Davis (Western Michigan) hasn’t tested in the pre-draft process due to injury.  I like him, but he might be a little too risky for Cincy at 9.  Mike Williams (Clemson) is too rich for my blood any earlier than the late-teens.  John Ross could be gone at 9, and has his own injury concerns (shoulder and knees).  Fortunately, this WR class has something for everyone in every round.  Day 2 could be a good spot to snag some potential starting WR talent.  Curtis Samuel (Ohio State RB/WR with a 4.31 40 to his name), Zay Jones (set records at East Carolina running bubble screens but he showed at the Senior Bowl he might be more than that), Chris Godwin (Penn St., good WR evaluators that I trust think he’s better than Mike Williams) would be intriguing in round 2 and Carlos Henderson (Louisiana Tech), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky), and Juju Smith-Schuster Smith (USC) would be outstanding additions especially if they fall to the early third. Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) set records at the FCS level but I’m not sure I like him enough to take him as high as he is going to go.  ArDarius Stewart (Alabama), Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), Chad Hansen (California)…Ok I’m starting to feel like Mel Kiper just randomly spouting off every player he’s ever heard of.  Here’s the point: the beauty of having A.J. Green is that finding high-end WR2 talent is a lot easier than finding elite WR1 talent.  They don’t need to find Batman, they need to find Robin and if they can land one of these 12 or so guys I’ve mentioned I would be thrilled.  This is the year to do it.  They will develop with Boyd and really be ready to rock when this roster really rebounds in about 1.5 to 2 years.  Their current crop will be ok, otherwise this would rank higher.  Yet, I just typed up half a page on it without breaking a sweat.  If they want to be great, they’ll find a way to sneak WR in some time between rounds 2 and 4.      

5b. TE
Same deal here? I’d be just fine with their current group of Tyler Eifert, Tyler Croft, and C.J. Uzomah, but all three missed time in 2016 due to injury.  Eifert is in a contract year.  Will he be the latest talent to bleed out the door in the first few days of free agency triggering the whole world to scoff at the Bengals’ frugality? O.J. Howard (Alabama) would be a nice insurance policy to that and it would allow them to go to more 2 TE sets essentially solving the WR2 problem at the same time.  Most think this could be the best TE class ever.  Granted a lot of the players project more as receiving only talents, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world.  There’s more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to bolstering depth for your receiving targets.  David Njoku (Miami) will be gone in the 15 to 25 range, but they will have plenty of other opportunities to add TE depth sprinkled throughout the draft figuratively and literally… Arkansas TE Jeremy Sprinkle could a guy they consider (How about that for a football name?  Not exactly Tank Johnson or Rock Cartwright) 

5C. DE
Most would place DE towards the top of the needs list for the Bengals.  Pass rush pass rush pass rush will be the number 2 item on the canned list of talking points this offseason.  I see it the same as WR2.  It’s not urgent in that if they stand pat for now it won’t sink their 2017 season, but if they want to challenge the top tier teams consistently, they need to get some talent in the pipeline.  Solomon Thomas (Stanford) will be gone quickly.  Johnathan Allen (Alabama) might fall to them at 9.  He would be a nice addition, but I don’t think he has enough upside as a pass rusher to solve their real problem.    Beyond that there is a big jumble as far as the next best edge guys.  I don’t really like Taco Charlton (Michigan), Derek Barnett (Tennessee), and Charles Harris (Missouri) as pro prospects. They are better off trying to snag players like Jordan Willis (Kansas State), Takkarist McKinley (UCLA), Tarell Basham (Ohio), Demarcus Walker (Florida State), or Derek Rivers (Youngstown State) later in the draft.     

6. RB
I don’t know what to make of the incumbent duo, a recovering Giovani Bernard and a struggling Jeremy Hill.  Let’s just say I would have liked to see them keep Rex Burkhead.  They should resist the urge to draft one of the big names early and take a swing on somebody late to add some fresh blood to the mix.
7.  Safety
I don’t know if Shawn Williams is going to plateau as an average player or if he can step up.  There is some safety talent in this class, but the best move is probably to stand pat unless Malik Hooker falls into their laps at 9.  He’s raw, but he could be great.

7. DT
They can hold off here to see what they have in recovering players like Andrew Billings, Brandon Thompson, and Marcus Hardison.

8. QB

Similar strategy at QB.  Use 2017 to evaluate Jeff Driskel.  Only add a player if they decide to trade A.J. McCarron.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

QB Blitz

The quarterbacks are sliding, the quarterbacks are sliding.  The February and March storylines blared across the internet like an air raid siren warning the world of impending doom.  Now we are a week from the draft and you are starting to hear a little bit different buzz. Maybe the Browns like a quarterback.  Maybe the Texans like one.  So what is it, teams wafting smoke screens from the tops of their facilities or tiny leaks springing as the pressure of the moment mounts each day?    
Probably both.  There is definitely some gamesmanship going on.  On the other hand, this QB class has been undersold all along.  The 49ers and Bears seem serious about not taking a quarterback, but the Jets are just sitting there like a bad poker player dealt pocket aces trying to keep a straight look on his face.   On the surface they are nodding, “Absolutely, this quarterback class is terrible!”  But inside it’s, “We @$$&ing just want Deashaun Watson!  Please don’t take him. Please don’t take him.”
And why wouldn’t they?  He’s like Geno Smith with poise and character (Okay that might be underselling him a little, but we’ll get to that).

And it won’t just be one QB to go early, QB2 and QB3 will come off the board by pick 20 with QB4 not far behind.  I’ll admit, I’m not saying this with 100% confidence, but it’s definitely more likely than the 0 QB’s in the top 20 theory.  But the story here is not that all four QB’s will get taken in the first round, it is that all four QB’s SHOULD get taken in the first round.  Everyone can’t help themselves from ragging on this class.   Guess what, quarterback is still the best way to upgrade your team.  If you don’t have a top 15 guy in the league, you don’t have a chance.    The pundits can't get past the flaws.  Meanwhile, all of the league decision makers are sitting there shifting their eyes back and forth waiting for someone to blink.  Here’s the disconnect: the media, fan bases, and probably some front office members can’t accept that even though a quarterback isn’t a day 1 starter, it doesn’t mean they are a bad prospect.  It is a case by case situation.  Someone like Cam Newton can hop into the league and thrive in trial by fire mode.  Others like David Car get incinerated.  Some guys just need to get a feel for what defensive schemes are doing.  Learn the speed of players. Learn pro offenses until they are second nature.  Iron out some kinks in their mechanics.  Play a few times in the first few years in some spot duty to get their feet wet. THEN they can go take the league by storm.  Everyone gets wrapped around the salary of a top 10 pick.  Who cares?  Some backup quarterbacks make a lot of money these days.  So what if you pay one $10 million?  The rookie salary structure has adjusted to allow it.  The cap is adjusting to allow it.  Draft your guy then develop him until you think he’s ready.  If it is number 1 overall.  So be it.  Talking heads will chortle, “You can’t take a guy that high then sit him on your bench.”  Sorry, weak-minded pundit. That is a garbage take.  Quarterback is different.  You can’t compete without one so stack your roster with as much talent as possible then wait for it to bloom.  You have four to five years before you have to decide.  As a coach or GM you might not be around four or five years, but what are you going to take to your next interview? 

“Well, we cut our nose off despite are face, because it was best for me if we took a player that could provide a quicker, albeit smaller, impact."
“I did the best thing for my team regardless of the consequences to me because it was my job to do that.”
Value, value, value.  No one can stop talking about value.  “First round” value.  “Top ten” value.  It means nothing. Evaluate the players.  Decide who you like. Then draft them as late as you think you think you can get away with. 

So what are the QB’s in this class?  Yes, none of them are surefire day 1 starters, but all of them have above-average starter potential: 

Deshaun Watson, Clemson: 
Maybe Geno Smith isn’t a bad low-end apocalyptic comp, but I would go with rich man’s Teddy Bridgewater or Alex Smith 2.0.  Again, that might not get your motor revved up, but if you are waiting to find Peyton Manning, you are likely going to keep waiting.
Pat Mahomes, Texas Tech: 
Flies-by-the-seat-of-his-pants prospects usually draw the same high-end Brett Favre comp.  Mahomes is no different. It might actually be justified in this case.  What’s the low end comp?  Somewhere between Josh Freeman and Jay Cutler with better character and attitude.  We’re talking boom or bust here, but if there’s a potential upside that will get you Brett Favre, someone is going to take a swing at him in the first round.   And why wouldn’t they? The value in this draft class is relatively flat.  Outside of the top 1 or 2 picks, there really isn’t anyone you could take in the first round that you couldn’t find a reasonably comparable, slightly-downgraded version 30 picks later.  Somebody will talk themselves into Mahomes.
Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina:  
Trubisky had the best 2017 of any of these guys, but the fact that he only started one year in college gives everyone pause.  People point to the Stanford bowl game as a negative.  I came out of it fairly impressed.  UNC was driving at the end of the game down 8 points.  Once they got down around the 30 yard line, Trubisky threw 5 straight passes that could have been caught for touchdowns.  The first two were dropped.  The third was caught, but the receiver couldn’t quite keep his balance well enough to get into the end zone.  The fourth was dropped.  UNC scored to get within 2 on the fifth attempt, but lost the game when Trubisky got pummeled on the two point conversion attempt by multiple defensive lineman within a second of snapping the ball.  A lot of people can’t look at him without the ghost of Mark Sanchez floating around in the back of their mind.  I think if you need a quarterback, you have to take a shot on him.     

Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame: 
Big strong armed quarterback that struggles with accuracy at times.  Everyone is scratching their heads because Notre Dame stunk this year.  I see hints of Donovan McNabb.  Andy Reid will too.  There is a little bit of a scary floor to Kizer if you don’t think he will ever be able to process reads quick enough and throw accurately enough to be successful.  Coaches see themselves as sculptors though.  I’d be surprised if he lasts into day 2. 

Are all of these guys going to pan out?  Absolutely not, but at least one of them will.  Yes, they all have flaws, but there is enough starter potential here that all four should go within the first 32 picks. Go ahead NFL, do it.  You’ll get chastised.

“These teams are panicking.  They are pushing these guys up their draft boards.  There is a quarterback tax.  They are overating the position.”  It’s okay.  Don’t listen.  Actually, the talking heads squawking are underrating the position.  Forget about them.  Go for it NFL.  Go get your QB.