Category Archives: Local Knowledge

How killer is Spiller?

(Note: For all our draft coverage,  including posts on Jermaine Gresham, Sergio Kindle, Jimmy Clausen, and Tim Tebow, go to the Draft category on the blog and click around.)

Of all the ballyhooed prospects in this year’s NFL draft, the guy I’ve seen most with my two eyes is Clemson RB C.J. Spiller. Since my wife is a Clemson graduate and I’m a Wake Forest alum, we usually attend the Clemson/Wake game. And in that contest this season, Spiller went off, running for 106 yards and two touchdowns on just 9 carries, including an eye-popping 66-yard touchdown. Spiller had a touchdown of 50 yards or longer 21 times, and tallied one in every game but two this season. He won ACC player of the year honors and was told his number would be retired before he played in the ACC championship game.

All of those accomplishments are terrific, but how killer is Spiller when it comes to the pros? He’s by far the best running back in the draft class, and he’s probably the best big-play threat available at any offensive position. But Spiller may not be big enough at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds to be a 25-carry-a-game back, and that kind of load would probably inhibit his big-play potential.

While Spiller isn’t an Adrian Peterson-style every-down back, it would be foolish to think about what he can’t do. That’s because Spiller can do an awful lot for an NFL team. When you think about what Reggie Bush has become for the Saints, you get a picture of the kind of role Spiller would thrive in. He’s a fantastic kickoff returner (seven career touchdowns, including four as a senior), and although he hasn’t had as many chances returning punts, he has shown terrific flashes there as well. He’s great in the screen game, although he’s not quite the fluid receiver that Bush is. Still, Spiller can make you pay in that area. And for a breakaway back, Spiller is also plenty tough running between the tackles. In a running back tandem, Spiller can immediately be a force, and that force will make a huge difference for whatever team drafts him. Plus, he’s a phenomenal guy loved and respected by teammates and coaches alike.

But the reason Spiller has shot up draft boards is the 2009 success of Chris Johnson. who was a game-changer for Tennessee with a 2,000-yard season. Like Johnson, Spiller has explosiveness, and even though he’s not big, he’s not afraid to run inside. So our read is that scouts look at Spiller and see a Johnson clone, only without the dreads. In a copycat league, Spiller hits the draft market at exactly the right time to maximize his stock.

Spiller would fit with Seattle, which drafts sixth and 14th in the first round, but he would look even better playing for a contender like San Francisco (13 and 17) or Houston (20). While that may work best for Spiller, the rumblings that attach Spiller to the Giants at 15 or even the Jaguars at 10 show that he’s more likely to go off the board early than late. And no matter where he lands,  Spiller will create a role by being there for a team. He’s that good.

3 Comments

Filed under Football Relativity, Local Knowledge, NFL draft

Jersey Numbers: Punters and Kickers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post. Now we move to kickers and punters, who wear numbers between 1 and 19, although the vast majority sport single numbers.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers hasn’t shown off the big leg he featured earlier in his career, but he has developed into a consistent threat on field goals. He gets the nod over Dallas’ Mat McBriar, a supersolid punter. Other notable 1s: Pat McAfee, Colts; Matt Turk, Texans

2 – P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs – He doesn’t get much credit, but Colquitt may be the NFL’s best punter not named Shane Lechler. With 31 punts inside the 20 vs. just four touchbacks, and with an incredibly low average return rate of just 5.2 yards, it’s no wonder that Colquitt is second in the NFL in net punting with a 41.9-yard average. We give him the nod over good placekickers like David Akers of Philly, Mason Crosby of Green Bay, and Rob Bironas of Tennessee. Other notable 2s: Brandon Fields, Dolphins; Nick Harris, Lions; Reggie Hodges, Browns

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski has developed into a solid clutch field goal kicker as well as a strong kickoff specialist. It’s rare to find a single kicker who does both jobs so well. Other notable 3s: Kris Brown, Texans; Josh Brown, Rams; John Carney, Saints; Jeff Reed, Steelers; Jay Feely, Jets; Matt Stover, Colts; Adam Podlesh, Jaguars; Hunter Smith, Redskins; Matt Bryant, Falcons

4 – P Andy Lee, 49ers – Lee is another underrated punter with terrific averages both gross and net. He gets the nod over long-time placekickers Jason Hanson of Detroit, John Kasay of Carolina, and Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis, who has missed much of the season. Other notable 4s: Sam Koch, Ravens; Brad Maynard, Bears; Phil Dawson, Browns

5 – P Mike Scifres, Chargers – Scifres’ numbers don’t completely reflect it, but he can be a game-changing punter, as he showed in San Diego’s playoff win over Indianapolis last season. Other notable 5s: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins; Garrett Hartley, Saints; Rhys Lloyd, Panthers; Matt Prater, Broncos; Ben Graham, Cardinals; Donnie Jones, Rams; Chris Kluwe, Vikings

6 – PK Joe Nedney, 49ers – There aren’t dominant kickers or punters at this number, so we’ll give the nod to Nedney, who has long been a solid kicker with a big leg. The fact that he’s about the funniest kicker I ever interviewed doesn’t hurt either. Other notable 6s: Nick Folk, Cowboys; Ryan Succop, Chiefs; Shaun Suisham, Redskins; Chris Hanson, Patriots; Brett Kern, Titans; Thomas Morstead, Saints; Sav Rocca, Eagles

7 – P Jason Baker, Panthers – Few kickers wear this number, so Baker, who isn’t having his best season but has been solid in his time in Carolina, gets the nod. Other notable 7s: Jeremy Kapinos, Packers; Billy Cundiff, Ravens

8 – PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, and he’s 18-for-19 on field goals this year, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. That gives him a slight nod over Buffalo P Brian Moorman. Other notable 8: Dirk Johnson, Buccaneers

9 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – Lechler is on his way to a record-setting season. As Bill Simmons pointed out on Friday, Lechler has a chance to break the single-season record of 51.4 yards per punt (held by Hall of Fame QB Slingin’ Sammy Baugh). Lechler is currently averaging 51.7, and his net average of 44.7 yards is nearly three yards better than the single-season record, which Lechler already holds. He’s the best punter in the league and might be the best punter ever. Other notable 9s: Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers; Michael Koenen, Falcons; Jon Ryan, Seahawks; Daniel Sepulveda, Steelers; Steven Weatherford, Jets; Robbie Gould, Bears; Rian Lindell, Bills; Lawrence Tynes, Giants

10 – PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has had his playoff problems, but he’s been a reliable regular-season producer. That gives him the nod over Seattle’s Olindo Mare, who is having a good season but has been inconsistent in recent years. Other notable 10s: Connor Barth, Buccaneers; Josh Scobee, Jaguars; Kevin Huber, Bengals

11 – PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The kicker also known as Sea Bass (think Dumb and Dumber) has a powerful leg and has the distinction of being one of the very few kickers to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

15 – P Craig Hentrich, Titans – Hentrich hasn’t played this season, but we’ll recognize his strong career as a punter in Green Bay and Tennessee here. Other notable 15: Dave Zastudil, Browns

17 – PK Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham has developed into one of the most solid kickers around. Although his consistency this season has been lacking, Graham remains a good threat for Cincy. Other notable 17: Mitch Berger, Broncos

18 – P Jeff Feagles, Giants – Feagles has been punting in the NFL forever, but he still has a roster spot. He’s one of the few practicioners of the art of directional punting left in the league as well. Other notable 18: David Buehler, Cowboys

3 Comments

Filed under Jersey Numbers, Local Knowledge

Local knowledge on the 2009 draft

Local knowledge is important in golf, and it can help in understanding the draft. I’ve already shared a lot of my local-knowledge thoughts on Aaron Curry, whom I saw a lot of because he played at Wake Forest. Here are some thoughts on other guys I’ve watched closely over the years and their new teams…

*My buddy Brandon lives in Denver and asked what I thought about the Broncos drafting Wake Forest corner Alphonso Smith in the second round. (The Broncos traded their 2010 first-rounder to Seattle for the 37th pick to select Smith.) Here was my reply:
He’s a really good player who’s good playing the ball and isn’t afraid to hit. He’s just short. That probably makes him more of a nickel back inside than an outside corner like Champ Bailey. I just hate for them that they traded a first-rounder next year for him. But if smith ever gets the ball in his hands, look out, because he’s electric. I hope he has a good career out there but can’t help but wonder if he’s worth a ’10 first.

*The other two Wake Forest guys who got drafted, LB Stanley Arnoux and S Chip Vaughn, both went to New Orleans in the fourth round. I think Vaughn is the better prospect. Vaughn is a big hitter who made a bunch of plays at safety, and he has the physical tools. Consistency is what he needs to take the next step. Arnoux is more of a clean-up tackler than a playmaker, but he’s smart and can probably be a solid backup and special teamer. And as Carl pointed out, Arnoux’s name will fit perfectly in New Orleans. (That was too good of an observation not to, um, appropriate for myself.)

*CB D.J. Moore, one of the Bears’ fourth-round picks, dropped from a second-round grade because of his height and his slow 40 speed. But don’t overlook him. I remember watching him as a do-everything player in high school (quarterback, receiver, corner, returner, and maybe some things I’m forgetting), and he made plays all over the field. Because he played at a small school and didn’t have the right measurables, he didn’t get a top rating from the recruiting gurus, and he ended up at Vanderbilt. He started there within a year and became an all-SEC player. And the Bears have a track record of taking advantage of mid-round corners; their best player at that position, Nathan Vasher, as a fourth-rounder. Moore has the talent to have a similar career path, and he’ll get the opportunity there.

*I also saw Brooks Foster as a high school player. He went to North Carolina to play basketball and was actually on the 2005 national championship team there. But his best play was as a receiver. He doesn’t have the sudden speed that his college teammates Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate had, but he’s got good size and can make the catches. It’ll be interesting to see whether he can use that size to advantage and stick with the Rams, who picked him in the fifth round.

*Joel Bell signed as an undrafted free agent. He’s a former missionary kid who grew up in Croatia and didn’t really get his first taste of football until the 11th grade. He played one year of high school ball, and that got him a scholarship at Furman, a I-AA (or FCS now, I guess) school. He started four years there and was named the top blocker in the Southern Conference this year. He’s 6-foot-8, 310 pounds and had among the best agility and speed numbers of all the offensive line prospects at the combine. He has some ability and is worth a shot as a project. Of course, the Bills were the team that developed Jason Peters from an undrafted tight end into a Pro Bowl tackle, so that team may be a really good fit for him.

1 Comment

Filed under Local Knowledge, NFL draft