Monthly Archives: March 2009

Draft OP: The Michael Crabtree conundrum

To me, the most interesting player at the top of the first round this year is Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree. He’s a physical freak who had ridiculous numbers in the two collegiate seasons he played. (231 catches, 3,127 yards, 41 TDs)

But Crabtree’s draft stock has slipped a bit since the season ended because he needs foot surgery that will knock him out of some offseason workouts both before the draft and after he is selected. That has caused his stock to fall out of the top three or four into the back half of the top 10. (This mock draft from PFW this week slotted Crabtree 10th.)

But should that happen? Will the team in the top 10 that takes Crabtree rue Draft Day ’09 because he doesn’t pan out? Or will the teams who pass on Crabtree live to regret it? An outlandish prediction is coming, but first some history…

This decade, there have been six receivers taken in the top 5. Four have lived up to the hype and become true No. 1 receivers who are in the league’s top echelon– Calvin Johnson, Braylon Edwards (see 2007 if you don’t believe me), Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson. Two busted out — Peter Warrick and Charles Rogers.

Nine more receivers were drafted between six and 10. Only one is an unqualified success — Plaxico Burress, who, despite his 2008 problems, has been very good for a long time now. Roy Williams had some success, and Ted Ginn Jr. showed some promise last year. Reggie Williams, Travis Taylor, and Koren Robinson each had at least a moment or two, while Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, and David Terrell just didn’t have any moments.

So history says that top five receivers are a good bet, but that often receivers who go between 6 and 10 were reaches who weren’t worth it. I beileve that Crabtree belongs in the former group, not the latter. He’s a top five talent, but his lingering postseason injury might knock him below the fifth pick. If that happens, he will be a steal.

The fact is that to get a truly elite receiver, you have to invest a top-5 pick. (Look at this relativity comparison; 3 of the top 4 receivers were top-5 picks, while the other – Steve Smith – was a third-round pick because of his diminutive size.) Crabtree can reach close to that level, and there is no one else in this draft – not speedsters like Percy Harvin or Jeremy Maclin or big guns Darrius Heyward-Bey or Hakeem Nicks – who come close in comparison.

Crabtree is the prize. He’s going to be an elite receiver a la Calvin or Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. He’s a true No. 1 receiver. And recent history says that if you want a guy like that, you probably have to invest a top-five pick.

 So any team starting with the Rams at No. 2 should consider him strongly. The Rams can take an offensive tackle because there’s value and need there, and the Chiefs (Dwayne Bowe) and Lions (Calvin Johnson) have No. 1s. But if Seattle thinks adding T.J. Houshmandzadeh (turning 32 in September) means they don’t need Crabtree, they’re wrong. Crabtree would be great there. If the Browns at 5 trade Edwards (and that’s the chatter), Crabtree would be an ideal replacement. And I don’t believe the Bengals at 6 can afford to let Crabtree by, especially considering the limited career span Chad Ocho Cinco has left in Cincy.

The bottom line is that whichever team drafts Crabtree – even if he goes as high as 2nd overall – will get its money worth. Were I drafting, he would be the No. 1 player on my board. The injury conundrum may be confusing, but the conclusion should be this: Take Crabtree and reap the rewards.

Top 10 drafted receivers this decade:
2008 – none
2007 – Calvin Johnson (2nd to Detroit), Ted Ginn Jr. (9th to Miami)
2006 – none
2005 – Braylon Edwards (3rd to Cleveland), Troy Williamson (7th to Minnesota), Mike Williams (10th to Detroit)
2004 – Larry Fitzgerald (3rd to Arizona), Roy Williams (7th to Detroit), Reggie Williams (9th to Jacksonville)
2003 – Charles Rogers (2nd to Detroit), Andre Johnson (3rd to Houston)2002 – none
2001 – David Terrell (8th to Chicago), Koren Robinson (9th to Seattle)
2000 – Peter Warrick (4th to Cincinnati), Plaxico Burress (8th to Pittsburgh), Travis Taylor (10th to Baltimore)

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Deja Vu Mock Drafts – 2008

Just to add (or subtract) from my credibility, I’m posting past mock drafts. Here are my versions from 2008.
Mock Draft
As of 4.16.08

1. Miami – OT Jake Long, Michigan
2. St. Louis – DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU
3. Atlanta – QB Matt Ryan, Boston College
4. Oakland – DE Chris Long, Virginia
5. Kansas City – OT Ryan Clady, Boise State
6. New York Jets – RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas
7. New England (from San Francisco) – DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
8. Baltimore – OG-OT Branden Albert, Virginia
9. Cincinnati – DT Sedrick Ellis, USC
10. New Orleans – LB Keith Rivers, USC
11. Buffalo – WR Devin Thomas, Michigan State
12. Denver – OT Ryan Clady, Boise State
13. Carolina – DE Derrick Harvey, Florida
14. Chicago – RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
15. Detroit – CB Leodis McKelvin, Troy
16. Arizona – CB Aqib Talib, Kansas
17. Minnesota – OT Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh
18. Houston – RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
19. Philadelphia – OT Gosder Cherilus, Boston College
20. Tampa Bay – CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Arkansas State
21. Washington – DE Philip Merling, Clemson
22. Dallas (from Cleveland) – WR Limas Sweed, Texas
23. Pittsburgh – DT Kentwan Balmer, North Carolina
24. Tennessee – DE Calais Campbell, Miami
25. Seattle – OT Chris Williams, Vanderbilt
26. Jacksonville – DE Lawrence Jackson, USC
27. San Diego – LB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee
28. Dallas – RB Felix Jones, Arkansas
29. San Francisco (from Indianapolis) – CB Mike Jenkins, South Florida
30. Green Bay – TE Dustin Keller, Purdue
31. No pick (New England)
32. New York Giants – LB Dan Connor, Penn State

feel free to check this after the draft and make fun of how i did…
Mock Draft
As of 4.25.08

1. Miami – OT Jake Long, Michigan (signed)
2. St. Louis – DT Glenn Dorsey, LSU
3. Atlanta – QB Matt Ryan, Boston College
4. Oakland – RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas
5. Kansas City – DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
6. New York Jets – DE Chris Long, Virginia
7. New England (from San Francisco) – DT Sedrick Ellis, USC
8. Baltimore – OG-OT Branden Albert, Virginia
9. Cincinnati – DE Derrick Harvey, Florida
10. New Orleans – LB Keith Rivers, USC
11. Buffalo – WR Devin Thomas, Michigan State
12. Denver – OT Chris Williams, Vanderbilt
13. Carolina – OT Ryan Clady, Boise State
14. Chicago – OT Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh
15. Detroit – RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
16. Arizona – CB Leodis McKelvin, Troy
17. Kansas City (from Minnesota) – OT Gosder Cherilus, Boston College
18. Houston – RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
19. Philadelphia – CB Aqib Talib, Kansas
20. Tampa Bay – LB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee
21. Washington – DE Philip Merling, Clemson
22. Dallas (from Cleveland) – WR Limas Sweed, Texas
23. Pittsburgh – DT Kentwan Balmer, North Carolina
24. Tennessee – CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State
25. Seattle – QB Chad Henne, Michigan
26. Jacksonville – OT Sam Baker, USC
27. San Diego – WR DeSean Jackson, California
28. Dallas – RB Felix Jones, Arkansas
29. San Francisco (from Indianapolis) – CB Mike Jenkins, South Florida
30. Green Bay – CB Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech
31. No pick (New England)
32. New York Giants – S Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State

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Deja Vu Mock Drafts – 2007

Just to add (or subtract) from my credibility, I’m posting past mock drafts. Here are my versions (along with follow-up thoughts) from 2007.

NFL mock draft, try 1

 OK, those who know me or hear me in my occasional cameos on ESPN 1400 know I’m a football geek, so I figured I’d go ahead and post my first take at a mock draft for this year. Enjoy…

1. OAK – QB JaMarcus Russell
2. DET – OT Joe Thomas
3. CLE – QB Brady Quinn
4. TB – WR Calvin Johnson
5. ARIZ – DE Gaines Adams
6. WASH – DE Jamaal Anderson
7. MINN – DT Amobi Okoye
8. ATL (from HOU) – S LaRon Landry
9. MIA – CB Leon Hall
10. HOU (from ATL) – OT Levi Brown
11. SF – LB Patrick Willis
12. BUFF – RB Adrian Peterson
13. STL – DT Alan Branch
14. CAR – DE Adam Carriker
15. PITT – LB Lawrence Timmons
16. GB – RB Marshawn Lynch
17. JAX – LB Paul Posluszny
18. CIN – TE Greg Olsen
19. TENN – WR Dwayne Bowe
20. NYG – WR Ted Ginn Jr.
21. DEN – DE Jarvis Moss
22. DALL – CB Darrelle Revis
23. KC – WR Dwayne Jarrett
24. NE (from SEA) – CB Aaron Ross
25. NYJ – DE Anthony Spencer
26. PHIL – OG Justin Blalock
27. NO – CB Chris Houston
28. NE – S Reggie Nelson
29. BALT – WR Robert Meachem
30. SD – S Michael Griffin
31. CHI – OT Joe Staley
32. IND – DB Eric Weddle

NFL mock draft, take 2

 

Here’s take 2, 1 week out…

1. OAK – QB JaMarcus Russell
2. DET – WR Calvin Johnson (Johnson goes 2 in a trade)
3. CLE – QB Brady Quinn
4. TB – DE Gaines Adams
5. ARIZ – OT Joe Thomas
6. WASH – OT Levi Brown
7. MINN – S LaRon Landry
8. ATL (from Hou) – DT Amobi Okoye
9. MIA – CB Leon Hall
10. HOU (from Atl) – RB Adrian Peterson
11. SF – LB Patrick Willis
12. BUFF – CB Darrelle Revis
13. STL – DE Jamaal Anderson
14. CAR – DE Adam Carriker
15. PITT – LB Jon Beason
16. GB – WR Ted Ginn Jr.
17. JAX – S Michael Griffin
18. CIN – LB Paul Posluszny
19. TENN – WR Robert Meachem
20. NYG – DT Alan Branch
21. DEN – LB Lawrence Timmons
22. DALL – CB Aaron Ross
23. KC – WR Dwayne Bowe
24. NE (from Sea) – OT Joe Staley
25. NYJ – TE Greg Olsen
26. PHIL – DE Jarvis Moss
27. NO – CB Chris Houston
28. NE – WR Anthony Gonzalez
29. BALT – OG Ben Grubbs
30. SD – WR Dwayne Jarrett
31. CHI – DE Anthony Spencer
32. IND – CB Eric Wright

how did i do?

 

OK, time for a little self-evaluation. Here’s my mock draft from last week and what actually happened…

1. OAK – QB JaMarcus Russell – dead on
2. DET – WR Calvin Johnson (Johnson goes 2 in a trade) – no trade but dead on
3. CLE – QB Brady Quinn – Quinn went 22, but I got the team right
4. TB – DE Gaines Adams – dead on
5. ARIZ – OT Joe Thomas – actually went 3
6. WASH – OT Levi Brown – actually went 5
7. MINN – S LaRon Landry – actually went 6
8. ATL (from Hou) – DT Amobi Okoye -actually went 10
9. MIA – CB Leon Hall – actually went 19
10. HOU (from Atl) – RB Adrian Peterson – actually went 7
11. SF – LB Patrick Willis – dead on
12. BUFF – CB Darrelle Revis – actually went 14
13. STL – DE Jamaal Anderson – actually went 8
14. CAR – DE Adam Carriker – actually went 13
15. PITT – LB Jon Beason – actually went 25
16. GB – WR Ted Ginn Jr. – actually went 9
17. JAX – S Michael Griffin – actually went 19
18. CIN – LB Paul Posluszny – actually went 2nd round
19. TENN – WR Robert Meachem – actually went 27
20. NYG – DT Alan Branch – actually went 2nd round
21. DEN – LB Lawrence Timmons – actually went 15
22. DALL – CB Aaron Ross – actually went 20
23. KC – WR Dwayne Bowe – dead on
24. NE (from Sea) – OT Joe Staley – actually went 28
25. NYJ – TE Greg Olsen – actually went 31
26. PHIL – DE Jarvis Moss – actually went 17
27. NO – CB Chris Houston – actually went 2nd round
28. NE – WR Anthony Gonzalez – actually went 32
29. BALT – OG Ben Grubbs – dead on
30. SD – WR Dwayne Jarrett – actually went 2nd round
31. CHI – DE Anthony Spencer – actually went 26
32. IND – CB Eric Wright – actually went 2nd round

At PFW, we had a competition where you got points if you got the right person in the right spot. Under that system, I had 1+2+4+11+23+29, which is 70 points, a good total. I also hit 27 of 32 first rounders, which I feel pretty good about. So at the least, it’s not embarrassing.

Woo-hoo for me. (that’s sarcasm, folks)

draft – who i liked

 

Since I’m going to be on ESPN 1400 tomorrow to talk draft, I thought I’d share the teams who I liked in the draft

(you can listen to 1400 AM in Spartanburg 5/1 at 3:40 p.m. to hear me…)

The top 8, in alphabetical order:

ARIZONA — (Key picks: OT Levi Brown, DT Alan Branch, LB Buster Davis, WR Steve Breaston) Got productive guys from big colleges; Branch has top-10 talent and could become cornerstone of Arizona’s D

ATLANTA — (Key picks: DE Jamaal Anderson, OT Justin Blalock, CB Chris Houston) Got 2 first-round values in the 2nd round in Blalock and Houston

CAROLINA — (Key picks: LB Jon Beason, WR Dwayne Jarrett, C Ryan Kalil, DE Charles Johnson) The 2 second-rounders look like steals. Their trade-down from 14 to 25 was savvy because the board dropped off at 14 except at CB, which wasn’t their need area. Beason is a solid player who could help outside or in the middle if Dan Morgan gets hurt again. Jarrett is Keyshawn Johnson’s clone and potential replacement. Kalil is just a center, which is the reason he fell, but his presence allows the Panthers to upgrade at C and RG, which were trouble spots last year. Johnson is a talented DE who can apprentice for a year behind Mike Rucker before stepping in. 2 other picks, KR Ryne Robinson and TE Dante Rosario, provide depth at key areas. The one thing they didn’t get was a safety, unless 7th-rounder CJ Wilson steps up.

INDIANAPOLIS — (Key picks: WR Anthony Gonzalez, OT Tony Ugoh, CB Daymeion Hughes) Maybe my favorite draft. Gonzalez will step in for Brandon Stokely immediately as the 3rd wideout and could replace Marvin Harrison eventually. I liked him just below Bowe and Meachem, ahead of the others in that group. Ugoh is a good value pick, and Hughes is a steal at a need position.

MINNESOTA — (Key picks: RB Adrian Peterson, WR Sidney Rice, CB Marcus McCauley, WR Aundre Allison) Their offense will undoubtedly get better with Peterson and Rice, who should be more productive than his rating. McCauley was a great value as well.

OAKLAND — (Key picks: QB JaMarcus Russell, TE Zach Miller, DE Quentin Moses, WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, RB Michael Bush) Had a lot of picks and used them well for a change. Moses and Bush were first-round talents who fell because of inconsistency and injury, respectively, but if the Raiders hit on either, this draft is great value. I also liked them taking a shot on Mike Williams in a trade from the Lions. (Remember, new coach Lane Kiffin was Williams’ offensive coordinator at USC.)

SAN DIEGO — (Key picks: WR Craig Davis, S Eric Weddle, LB Anthony Waters) I don’t know about Davis, who may be a reach but at least is at a need position. But Weddle was a good player to target at one of their few need positions, and Waters will be a really good pro if he can come back from his ACL injury.

SAN FRANCISCO — (Key picks: LB Patrick Willis, OT Joe Staley, WR Jason Hill, DE Ray McDonald) This team on the rise decided to go for it this year with several aggressive and promising moves. Willis should step in and start right away. Staley cost them next year’s 1st-rounder, but if he can start at OLT he’s worth it. Hill and McDonald were good value picks. But maybe the best move was trading for WR Darrell Jackson, who immediately becomes their No. 1 and fills a huge need.

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Draft OP: Stafford or Sanchez?

 One of the biggest questions going into this draft is which quarterback you would rather have: Matthew Stafford of Georgia or Mark Sanchez of USC? History says that quarterbacks at the top of the draft are a 50-50 proposition. Bet right (a la Peyton Manning), and a team will have its franchise quarterback. Bet wrong (a la Ryan Leaf), and you set your franchise back 3-5 years.

 So is it Stafford or Sanchez this year? I smell an outlanidish prediction coming… but after some thoughts.

*Stafford is the more physically gifted quarterback. He has an unbelievable arm and ideal height. Sanchez has a good but not great arm and is a little more mobile. Advantage here goes to Stafford.
*Stafford started two and a half years and got better each year. (2006: 52.7 completion percentage, 7 TD, 13 INT; 2007: 55.7 completion percentage, 19 TD, 10 INT; 2008: 61.4 completion percentage, 25 TD, 10 INT) Sanchez started one year and had a monster year (65.8 completion percentage, 34 TD, 10 INT). So Stafford has an experience advantage, while Sanchez has a minor statistical advantage.
*Stafford played in the SEC, while Sanchez played in the Pac-10. So while Sanchez didn’t play against stiffs, Stafford faced more athletic defenses that are more pro ready. That’s another experience advantge to Stafford.
*ESPN wrote about a stat analysis that says Sanchez is the far better bet. Basically, this complicated formula compared Sanchez to Ben Roethlisberger and Chad Pennington and compared Stafford to Cade McNown and Joey Harrington. (The link is worth a click.)
*When it comes to charisma and leadership, Sanchez seems to ooze locker-room prowess. Stafford isn’t as dynamic, but his declaration that he wants to go to Detroit and turn things around counts for something.

With all that said, my pick would be…

Sanchez.

Stafford could end up being a good quarterback, but for some reason I get the feeling that Sanchez will end up with the better pro career. In my mind, he’s more likely to win a Super Bowl and less likely to bust out. I know that banking on a quarterback with only one year of starting experience is a white-knuckle chance to take, but that’s the feeling I can’t shake.

I may be right, and I may be wrong. (Hey, 11 years ago I preferred Leaf to Manning on draft day. This is an inexact science.) But the outlandish prediction is that Sanchez will be a better pro than Stafford.

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Turning the page

For the last month-plus on the blog, we’ve focused on free agency. But today marks a new page. We are now one month away from the NFL Draft, and we’re going to start covering the annual selection meeting (bet you didn’t know that was the formal name) here on the blog. We’re going to make outlandish predictions about Matthew Stafford vs. Mark Sanchez, the Michael Crabtree conundrum, Aaron Curry’s upside, and more. We also have a research project in store that will tell us what positions are most troublesome at the top of the first round and mock drafts from the past two years to help you decide whether or not to believe what you’re reading about this year’s draft. And of course, we’ll top it off with a mock draft or two or 12.

If there’s anything you’d like to see in our draft coverage over the next month, leave a comment and we’ll put it in the hopper. Stay tuned and let us know what you’d like to see.

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FR: Marquee games

At the NFL owner’s meetings, the league announced 7 marquee games on the 2009 schedule. These are the 4 prime-time games in the opening weekend and also the three Thanksgiving games. Sounds like a time for a relativity comparison to me. 10 is the most compelling game, and we move down the scale to the least compelling at 1.

10 – Buffalo at New England, Week 1, Monday night (early game) – Not only do we get Terrell Owens’ Bills debut; we get it against Randy Moss and the returning Tom Brady. T.O. and Brady are both compelling figures, whether it’s from a football perspective, a fantasy football perspective, or even just a TMZ drama perspecitve.

9 – Tennessee at Pittsburgh, Week 1, Thursday night – This is a rock ’em, sock ’em game that will set a physical tone to begin the season. These teams won’t light up the scoreboard, but by the middle of the second quarter we’ll have seen enough hitting to know that NFL football’s back. The NFL continues the tradition of letting the defending Super Bowl champ open the season at home, which is a cool tradition even though it’s only a few years old.

8 – none

7 – New York Giants at Denver, Thanksgiving night game – The Giants are compelling television, and the Broncos are always a fun watch. Who knows who Denver’s quarterback will be by that point – if it’s Jay Cutler this could be a really fun watch – but we do know that the Mile High crowd will be into it. If this game were on a regular network instead of the NFL’s house channel, it would be further up the list.

6 – none

5 – Green Bay at Chicago, Week 1, Sunday night – This NFC North rivalry is always close. The Packers were actually a fun team to watch last year because of the offensive abilities of Aaron Rodgers. The Bears, though, lack much pizzazz, and their offseason has been eerily quiet thus far. It’s hard to get excited about watching Kyle Orton, even if John Madden is on the call. Still, on a week where the prime-time games are stretched out, this is a decent game to cap off a full Sunday.

4 – Oakland at Dallas, Thanksgiving late afternoon game – The Cowboys are always at least a little watchable because there always seems to be some sort of drama to follow. I don’t expect much from the Raiders this year, but seeing their uniforms on Thanksgiving will be interesting.

3 – San Diego at Oakland, Week 1, Monday night (late game) – It’s hard to invest in the late Monday night game in Week 1, especially if you live on the east coast, but this AFC West matchup is usually competitive. The Chargers are a fun watch, and the LaDanian Tomlinson watch will be on full alert to open the season. As for the Raiders, JaMarcus Russell will be on display to see if he’s taken a step forward yet. 

2 – none

1 – Green Bay at Detroit, Thanksgiving early afternoon game – The Packers are a fun watch, but Detroit has been so bad recently – especially on Thanksgiving – that it’s hard to imagine sitting down to watch them. I think Jim Schwartz will make the Lions  better, but until that actually happens any Lions game has to pale in comparison to other contests on the schedule.

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FR: Receivers for 2009 and beyond

When I was writing the post about Terrell Owens going to Buffalo, I mentioned that there were at least 5 receivers I would take before Owens. So that got me to thinking… Exactly where does Owens rate among receivers in the NFL going into 2009? So I compiled a relativity post comparing NFL receivers to each other. (We already did this earlier this offseason with quarterbacks.)

Here are the qualifications I used: Since so many receivers start and/or play in the NFL, I used a statistical benchmark. We’ll rate the 33 receivers who had at least 800 yards receiving in 2008. In addition, we’re including nine of 10 receivers who had 800 yards in ’07 but not ’08 (omitting Shaun McDonald). We’re also including two of the 3 receivers who had 1,000 yards in ’06 but didn’t reach 800 in either of the last two years (omitting Mike Furrey). That leaves 44 receivers, who we’ve compared on 10 levels. 10 is the level for the ultimate receiver, and 1 is a guy who shouldn’t be starting anymore.

10 – Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Calvin Johnson. Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the NFL right now, and his play in the playoffs was at a level we haven’t seen much at all since Jerry Rice was in his prime. Andre Johnson is a physical specimen whose only negative is his inability to stay healthy. Smith is a gamebreaker who is just 5-foot-9, but the Panthers are still able to throw jump balls up and trust Smith to catch them, as if he were 6-foot-5. (The end of last year’s win at Green Bay was a prime example.) Calvin Johnson had terrible quarterbacks and still had an amazing year. If the Lions get a young quarterback who can grow with Johnson, watch out.

9 – Reggie Wayne, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Hines Ward. Wayne has developed into a true No. 1 receiver in an offense that remains one of the league’s most potent. Moss is a tremendous deep threat who has resurrected his great career in New England. Welker, Moss’ teammate, is the ultimate slot receiver who catches pass after pass and gets first down after first down. He’s impossible to cover inside. Ward isn’t a gamebreaker with the ball, but his ability to block downfield puts him on this level. He remains a great asset, especially on a running team.

8 – Terrell Owens, Anquan Boldin, Roddy White, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings. So there are eight receivers definitely ahead of Owens on my list, and I’d take Boldin and maybe White on this list above him in ’09 as well. (Thinking long term, Bowe and Jennings would move ahead of him too.) Owens is still a gamebreaker, but his hands were spotty last year, and his age (35) says a slow-down is coming before too long. Boldin is a great receiver after the catch, and he could be a No. 1 on most teams. However, he’s not at Fitzgerald’s level. White emerged as a good receiver in ’07 and took another step forward last year. He and Matt Ryan will be a top-flight combo for a long time. Bowe is physically gifted, and he’s put up good numbers in bad offenses the last two years. It’ll be fun to see how he steps up with Matt Cassel at the Chiefs’ helm now. Marshall has the talent to be a 9, but his off the field issues have made him unreliable. He could easily miss some games on league suspension in ’09, and that has to be accounted for. I’m not sure I would gamble on him as a long-term answer at this point. Jennings has developed into a strong threat, and last year he finally passed Donald Driver as the Packers’ No. 1 threat. He and Aaron Rodgers make another good pitch-and-catch combo.

7 – Santana Moss, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Santonio Holmes, Donald Driver, Lee Evans , Braylon Edwards – Moss is a consistent playmaker for Washington, but his lack of size keeps him from being higher on this comparison. Houshmandzadeh has been a consistently good possession receiver, but he can be a bit more – and will have a chance to prove it in Seattle this year. Holmes emerged as a game-changing receiver in the playoffs, and I expect him to knock down the door and become an elite receiver in ’09. Driver is getting up in age but has been a productive guy under the radar for several years. Evans is a deep threat whose yards-per-catch average is always good and should be better with T.O. in Buffalo now. Edwards struggled with drops last year, which keeps him down on this list, but he has the talent to be on the 8 or 9 level if he improves his consistency.

6 – Antonio Bryant, Vincent Jackson, Derrick Mason, Eddie Royal, Lance Moore, Marques Colston, Bernard Berrian, Roy Williams  – Bryant finally capitalized on his immense talent level last year in Tampa. If he can do it again and stay on the field, he’ll rocket up this list. Jackson is a big receiver who quietly had a monster year in ’08. He and Philip Rivers are a pretty good answer as a pitch-and-catch combo. Mason has lost a step from his Tennessee days, but he’s a solid veteran receiver who still makes more plays than you might expect. Royal had a great rookie season and is an ideal complement to Brandon Marshall because of his speed, shiftiness, and breakaway ability. Moore emerged last year as a big-time player in New Orleans’ offense. He’s the inside receiver who can make big plays, while Colston is the big outside receiver. Both are good, and if Colston gets healthy, that could be an elite tandem in ’09. Berrian has breakaway ability, and he delivered a fair amount of big plays last year after Minnesota brought him over to be their No. 1 wideout. Williams has all the ability in the world but didn’t produce last year after moving to Dallas. He has the ability to move up this ranking, but does he have the will?

5 – Steve Breaston, DeSean Jackson, Jerricho Cotchery, Laveranues Coles, Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco, Muhsin Muhammad, Torry Holt – Breaston emerged as a legitimate starter in Arizona last year and is ready to step in and produce if Anquan Boldin moves on. Jackson was a big-play source as a rookie, but his size may prohibit him from being a true No. 1. He’s better as the big-play threat than the every-down target. Cotchery isn’t dynamic, but he’s solid and can put up numbers. Coles, who moved to Cincinnati, is not as good as he thinks he is but is still an above-average NFL starter. Johnson (or Ocho Cinco, if you prefer) had a down year last year, and he’s been banged up the last two years. Can he still be a true No. 1 guy? Muhammad had a suprisingly big year returning to Carolina in ’08 and is also a good downfield blocker. He is still a quality complement to Steve Smith. Holt was banged up much of last year, and injuries have slowed him down at least a little, but he can still be an effective starter as long as a team has a speed guy who can draw coverge his way on the opposite side.

4 – Kevin Walter, Kevin Curtis – Walter had a big year in Houston last year and seems to be a good complement to Andre Johnson. He’s good enough to be an above-average No. 2 target. Curtis battled injuries last year but had a big year in ’07. He probably fits better as a No. 3 than a No. 2, but he won’t kill a team if it has to start him.

3 – Plaxico Burress – Burress has worlds of talent, but his off-the-field issues drop him well down the list. The fact that the Giants are at least considering keeping him, though, shows he still has some value.

2- Joey Galloway, Bobby Engram  -Welcome to the has-been haven. Galloway is moving to New England to show he still has value, but he’s a No. 3 there at best. He probably still can succeed in that role. Engram moves to Kansas City, where his possession skills should help take some pressure off of Dwayne Bowe.

1 – Chris Chambers, Javon Walker, Marvin Harrison, Isaac Bruce – Has-been haven continues Chambers went to San Diego in ’07 to be a No. 1, but he’s slipped while Vincent Jackson has stepped up. Now it’s a question whether Chambers can even be an average No. 2 target. Walker has been a major bust in Oakland, but 2 years ago in Denver (before a serious knee injury) he was dynamic. It’s unlikely he can near that form again, but he’s still the Raiders’ best option. Harrison had a decent year last year, but he’s falling off, and he needs to find the perfect situation to keep playing. Bruce wasn’t bad in San Francisco, but he’s in decline too. He’s considering retirement, and if he plays he might not even be starter quality anymore.

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FR: Free agency weekly review pt. 3

Another week, and a bunch more moves on the NFL landscape. Here’s a review of the moves from March 14-20 in comparison to each other. The 10 level is reserved for the team that made the most important signings of the week; the 1 level is reserved for a team that’s merely worth mentioning this week. Click on the following links for comparisons of the opening weekend, week 1, and week 2 moves.

10 – Saints (add S Darren Sharper, DE Paul Spicer and C Nick Leckey; kept WR-RS Courtney Roby) – The Saints still have major secondary needs, so Sharper’s leadership and veteran wiles are vital. He’s the NFL’s active leader in interceptions with 54. Spicer, who spent 10 years with the Jaguars, still can be a spot pass rusher and is worth a 1-year deal. Leckey started 10 games in Arizona last year and can fit in on the line. Roby fits in as a return option for New Orleans.

9 – Browns (add OT John St. Clair, LB Eric Barton, OG Floyd Womack, CB Corey Ivy, and RB Noah Herron) – St. Clair is a former first-round bust in St. Louis who emerged as a decent right tackle in Chicago. He got a deal worth $9 million over three years to be the bookend to stud OLT Joe Thomas. Barton has lost not just one but a few steps, but he knows Eric Mangini’s defense and may still be able to play at least on running downs. Womack, who has one of the league’s greatest nicknames — Pork Chop — played both guard and tackle in his nine years in Seattle. He’s an ideal 6th lineman who can also start and do OK. Ivy was Baltimore’s nickel back last year, and he played well in that role. He should fill a similar role in Cleveland.

8 – Ravens (add TE L.J. Smith and CB-RS Chris Carr) – Smith had a bad year in Philadelphia in ’08, largely because of injury, but he’s a dangerous pass catcher when healthy. The Ravens hope having either Todd Heap or Smith healthy will give them a middle-of-the-field threat. At $1.5 million for one year, Smith is kind of a pricy insurance policy. Carr is an underrated player who really emerged in Tennessee last year. He’s a dynamic returner, and he proved he could also contribute as a nickel back for the Titans. Given the overhaul the Ravens are doing at cornerback, Carr could be a very important player for them. He looks to fit in behind Dominique Foxworth (another addition) and Fabian Washington as Baltimore’s No. 3 corner.

7 – Patriots (add WR Joey Galloway and OL Al Johnson; kept DE Mike Wright, OT Wesley Britt and S Tank Williams) – Galloway was ineffective last year because of injury, but he was quietly dangerous in Tampa Bay in the two seasons before that. He’s a veteran who could fit in beautifully as an outside receiver opposite Randy Moss and beside Wes Welker, but Galloway will have to beat out Greg Lewis for that spot. In any case, the Patriots have improved their depth at receiver. Johnson is an interior lineman who was in Miami last year. Wright is a rotation defensive end who got a 4-year, $7.2 million deal to remain in New England.

6 – Raiders (add OT Khalif Barnes; kept C Chris Morris) – Barnes only got a one-year deal to move to the bay from Jacksonville, which is why this move isn’t higher. But he’s a talented player who is still trying to prove he can be an elite left tackle in the NFL. He’ll be a certain starter in Oakland.

5 – Cardinals (add RB Jason Wright, NT Rodney Leslie, TE Anthony Becht, and C Donovan Raiola; kept OLB Clark Haggans, DE Bertrand Berry and OG Elton Brown) – Wright, who got 2 years and $2 million on his new deal, replaces J.J. Arrington as Arizona’s third-down back. That’s the proper role for him. Leslie is a wide load who can play nose tackle as the Cards move to a 3-4 defense. He probably should be a backup and not a starter, but he’s a good option to have around. Becht is a block-first tight end who provides insurance in case Stephen Spach can’t return from his playoff knee injury. Haggans and Berry got one-year deals to stick around. Berry is a good citizen and team leader who can still get to the passer on occasion. Haggans played in Pittsburgh for eight years and should be an asset as the Cardinals seek to move to a 3-4 defense modeled after the Steelers’ D. Brown has started in the past but is more of a backup type.

5 (con’t) – Buccaneers (add LB Angelo Crowell) – Crowell missed the entire ’08 season with injury but was a productive linebacker in Buffalo before then. He’s vital in helping the Bucs replace ousted outside ‘backers Derrick Brooks and Cato June.

5 (con’t) – Chiefs (add LB Monty Beisel and WRs Bobby Engram and Terrance Copper) – Engram fits in as a possession receiver across from Dwayne Bowe, who is emerging as a quality No. 1 receiver. Engram didn’t do much last year because of injury, but he had a great ’07 season. Copper, meanwhile, will probably fit in more on special teams than on offense. Beisel will help new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast install his new offense. Beisel was a Chief from ’01 to ’04 but spent last season in Arizona with Pendergast and new head coach Todd Haley. This is another offseason move dedicated to getting a veteran hand who can help install and teach a new system.

4 – Redskins (add DE Renaldo Wynn; kept PK Shaun Suisham) – Wynn, a Redskin from ’02 to ’06, returns from the Giants on a one-year deal to provide defensive line depth.

3 – Titans (add WR-RS Mark Jones) – Jones moves from Carolina to replace Chris Carr as Tennessee’s primary returner. Jones brought more juice to the Panthers’ return game last year than Carolina had seen since Steve Smith was in that role, so he’ll help in Tennessee.

3 (con’t) – Eagles (add FB Leonard Weaver) – Weaver is the prototypical West Coast offense fullback. He can block pretty well, catch the ball a little, and run short-yardage plays in a pinch. He was actually on the field for more than 50 percent of Seattle’s offensive snaps last year, but with Mike Holmgren retiring, the offense was going to change enough to limit Weaver’s touches. He’ll step in and be a solid complement to Brian Westbrook in Philly, and he’ll make a play or two along the way as well. Weaver is a role player well worth a 1-year, $1.75 million deal.

2- Vikings (add CB Karl Paymah and WR-RS Glenn Holt) – Paymah moves from Denver on a one-year, $1.55 million deal to contribute as a backup corner and a special-teams dynamo. Holt will help on special teams too; he’s a quality returner who will keep the Vikings from having to use Bernard Berrian in that position.

2 (con’t) – Jets (add Marques Douglas; kept S Abram Elam and CB Ahmad Carroll) – Douglas is another ex-Raven who can play defensive end in new head coach Rex Ryan’s system. He’ll be a backup who plays in a rotation. The Jets kept Elam by matching a 1-year, $1.5 million offer sheet he had signed with Cleveland. Elam can backup both safety spots, and he played well last year. Carroll is a former first-round pick who might have finally found a home after latching on with the Jets last year.

1 – Bills (add LB Pat Thomas) – With Angelo Crowell leaving, the Bills needed to add a veteran linebacker who could start. Thomas opened nine games last year in Kansas City, so he fits that bill.

1 (con’t) – Packers (kept CB Jarrett Bush and DE Mike Montgomery) – The Packers matched an offer sheet from the Titans to keep Bush, but it’s strange to picture them paying $4.5 million over three years for a backup corner. Bush will need to at least be a nickel back for this contract to make sense for Green Bay. Montgomery was a backup defensive tackle last year, but he’ll likely become an end in the Packers’ new 3-4 scheme.

1 (con’t) – Broncos (add OG Scott Young; kept TE Jeb Putzier) – Young was a backup with Philadelphia and should fill a similar role in Denver. Putzier could be an important retention because the Broncos are shopping pass-catching TE Tony Scheffler. Putzier can catch OK but is more of a blocker, which will be more important in the new offense that rookie head coach Josh McDaniels is installing.

1 (con’t) Lions (add TE Will Heller) – Heller’s a block-first tight end who will help the running game but won’t catch much at all. He comes from Seattle to replace John Owens, who went from Detroit to Seattle.

1 (con’t) – Steelers (kept OG Trai Essex, CB Fernando Bryant and LB Arnold Harrison) – Bryant is an established vet who didn’t play much after signing in Pittsburgh in the middle of last season. The hope is that, with training camp under his belt, he can serve as an effective backup. Essex signed a two-year deal, which is important because so many Steelers linemen are still free agents.

Seahawks (kept LB D.D. Lewis) – backup and special teamer

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Peppers part 2

OK, I was unfortunately a little imprecise in my outlandish predictions on Julius Peppers earlier this week. In predicting trades, I ignored the Patriots, who have been widely rumored to be interested. The thought had actually crossed my mind (I hear you now: yeah, right), but because I was trying to identify potential players in a trade, I omitted the Patriots.

The Pats do have the ammo to get Peppers, with a first-round pick and three second-rounders. The rumor out there is the No. 34 overall pick that the Pats got from K.C. in the Matt Cassel trade. My thought is that the Panthers would need to get at least two of those picks, including one of the two highest, for a deal to be worth it. But that wouldn’t be a bad return for Peppers

For the record, here are other 3-4 teams that I failed to mention in the earlier post: 49ers, Jets, Browns, Chargers, Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, Dolphins. It’s hard to see resolution for the Peppers situation in any of those spots, but now you know.

Leave a comment with any ideas you might have  with one of these teams, or anyone else.

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OP: Whither Julius Peppers?

As a Panthers follower (OK, probably fan), I’ve been thinking about what the Panthers can do to solve the stalemate with franchise free agent Julius Peppers. The defensive end wants out of Carolina, preferring to go to a team that plays a 3-4 defense. But the Panthers want to keep him and so used a franchise tag that guarantees Peppers a one-year deal worth more than $16.6 million in ’09. That tag has clogged the Panthers’ cap so much that Carolina had less than $25,000 under the cap before cutting CB Ken Lucas last week. They still barely have enough to sign draft picks, and they won’t be able to address any other team issues (quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line depth among them) until they do something with Peppers.

What are their options? And what prediction (however outlandish) do we make? Read on.

1. Keep him – This is the Panthers’ preference, but Peppers isn’t amenable at all. Unless some sort of major deal is worked out (and that appears unlikely), it seems the only way this happens is if the Panthers wait Peppers out until about the beginning of training camp. At that point, Peppers wouldn’t really have any options in free agency, and his only way to play in ’09 would be with Carolina. A holdout would be likely, but eventually Peppers would take the $16-plus million and play the year. The problem with this scenario is that the Panthers would be in salary-cap purgatory all the way through the offseason, which would inhibit the team’s ability to improve elsewhere. This is not an appealing option, although the Panthers might be stubborn enough to try it.

2. Let someone else sign him – Peppers isn’t an “exclusive” franchise player, which means another team could sign him. But a team would have to give up two first-round picks to sign Peppers. That would give the Panthers an out, but it’s unlikely. Most of the time, when a franchise player changes teams, it’s because teams work out compensation. (That’s what happened with Matt Cassel this offseason, for example.) I’d cast this as unlikely as well.

3. That leaves one option: Trade him – Peppers wants out, and there is reportedly a list of 3-4 teams that he wants to be traded to. (The only details we’ve gotten are Dallas, two other NFC teams, and an AFC team.) So what trades are possible? Let’s delve into four theoretical/hypothetical options to see if they make sense. (Note: These are my ideas, based on analysis but not on reporting, inside info, or even rumors.)

Peppers to Dallas for Greg Ellis and picks – Dallas, the one named team, doesn’t make sense because the Cowboys have DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in the outside ‘backer spot that Peppers would fill.  Dallas is trying to re-sign Ware to a multi-year deal, and it would be hard to imagine the Cowboys giving big bucks to both Ware and Peppers despite Jerry Jones’ penchant for collecting big names. If a deal were to happen, the Cowboys would probably want to trade Greg Ellis, who has played down lineman and has a decent-sized salary. Ellis is a North Carolina product (like Peppers), so a move to Carolina would probably be OK with him. But the Panthers would have to get more than Ellis, because a 33-year-old defensive lineman doesn’t have a long shelf life. The Panthers might even prefer Anthony Spencer, a former first-round pick who hasn’t yet panned out. Either way, Dallas would have to include some draft picks, but they don’t have a first or a third this year because of the Roy Williams trade. This deal seems very unlikely.

Peppers to Green Bay for Aaron Kampman and picks – The Packers are one of 4 teams moving to the 3-4 defense as their primary defense for next season. (You’ll see two more of those teams below.) The Packers have some players who fit the scheme perfectly (DE Cullen Jenkins, ILB A.J. Hawk), but one who doesn’t seem to is DE Aaron Kampman. Kampman’s dimensions remind you of Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware, but does he have the same athleticism? It might make sense for Green Bay to trade for Peppers to fill that marquee slot. That would be a big departure for the Packers in terms of organizational philosophy, but it could work. Kampman, who had 9 1/2 sacks and has 37 over the past 3 years,  would be an acceptable replacement for Peppers in Carolina. He’s a very good defensive end (almost Pro Bowl level at his best) and would soften the sting of Peppers’ loss a little bit. Kampman plus a second-round pick wouldn’t be a terrible haul for the Panthers in exchange for Peppers. It wouldn’t be equal value, but it would be 80 cents on the dollar, which is probably all the Panthers can hope for given the leverage Peppers has via the salary-cap situation. This move would make sense for Carolina if Green Bay wanted to do it.

Peppers to Denver for QB Jay Cutler – And now the wild-goose chase of ideas really starts to get far afield. The Broncos and Cutler are in a disagreement that is quickly turning into an all-out war. It appears now that trading Cutler, which would have been unimaginable at the end of the season, is now at least a 50-50 proposition. Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels has said he’s not trading Cutler only for draft picks. But would they trade him for Peppers? Like Green Bay, Denver is moving to a 3-4 defense this offseason. But the Broncos don’t really have dynamic pieces in their front seven. So Peppers would definitely fit in. This would also be a fair value trade. Cutler would allow the Panthers to say goodbye to Jake Delhomme and start a new quarterback era that’s coming in 2010 if it doesn’t happen this offseason. Delhomme is a loved Panther, but his abominable performance in the playoffs last year likely portends the end of his tenure in Carolina. If the Panthers could get Cutler, the pain of losing Peppers would at least be worth it because it meant a major step forward elsewhere.

Peppers to Arizona for WR Anquan Boldin – This is wild-goose chase part deux. Arizona is another team moving to a 3-4 defense this year, at the behest of head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is trying to get back to his Pittsburgh roots. But there’s not a clear outside pass rusher on the Cardinals’ roster, especially after Antonio Smith departed via free agency. Enter Peppers. He would add a pass-rush capability the Cards haven’t had in years and make that defense better. Peppers, DT Darnell Dockett, LB Karlos Dansby, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be four pretty good building blocks for any D. So who would the Cardinals give up in return? Bolding makes the most sense. He’s never going to be happy as the second banana in Arizona because of the contract situations he and Larry Fitzgerald have. While a move to Carolina would mean again teaming with a high-profile receiver, the Panthers are probably better able to match Boldin’s salary to Steve Smith’s. Boldin would be the complement to Smith the Panthers have been looking for, for a long time. The move would make both teams better, at least in the short run.

So in summary, what is our outlandish prediction? The trade that’s most likely to happen is the Green Bay move for Aaron Kampman. While that doesn’t sound sexy at all, it would address the issues the Panthers have and allow Peppers the defensive system he wants. It’s a move the Panthers wouldn’t want to make, but it appears more and more that it’s a move they’ll have to make. Patience is a virtue, but patience alone isn’t going to bail the Panthers out of this situation.

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