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Football Relativity: QB quandaries

After a training-camp season full of quarterback stability (only Arizona made an in-camp change), a whopping eight teams ran into quarterback issues by Week Two. Below, we compare the significance of these quarterback issues, given how close teams are to contending and how good the quarterback options are. We’ll do this using Football Relativity, with the 10 level noting the most pressing QB quandary and the 1 level marking one that doesn’t change a team’s fortunes at all.

10 – Philadelphia Eagles (Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick) – Kolb missed Week 2 due to the after-effects of a concussion, and Vick had a big game against the Lions. Vick has completed 64 percent of his passes and thrown for three TDs without an interception, and he has run for 140 yards. He looks revitalized after a disappointing return to the NFL in 2009. At first, the Eagles said they’re sticking with Kolb, who became the franchise quarterback when Philly traded Donovan McNabb. But then the Eagles reversed field (a Vick-ian maneuver) and named Vick the starter not just for Week 3 but going forward. It’s shocking that the Eagles pulled the plug on Kolb after just one half on the field, but Vick’s solid performance won the day. The question is what happens if Vick’s two good games turn into inconsistent play. Philly is a talented team, but unless Vick really is back, the way they’ve handled their QB situation could end up scuttling the season.

9 – none

8 – Tennessee Titans (Vince Young vs. Kerry Collins) – After three turnovers, Vince Young was yanked out of the Titans’ loss to the Steelers, and Collins came in to lead Tennessee’s only TD-scoring drive. Of course, Collins also had two turnovers as well. Jeff Fisher has said there’s no question that Young is the starter, but Collins is a capable quarterback who proved in 2008 he can step in for Young and lead the Titans to the playoffs. (Of course, in 2009 Young replaced Collins and led the Titans from an 0-6 start to an 8-8 finish.) So Young needs to perform well in the next couple of games, or else the clamor for Collins will really pick up.

7 – none

6 – Carolina Panthers (Matt Moore vs. Jimmy Clausen) – The Panthers are making the switch from Moore, the December superstar in ’07 and ’09, to the rookie Clausen after Moore turned the ball over six times and failed to generate much offense in his first two starts. Clausen is polished for a rookie, but he’s still just a rookie who will make mistakes. Given the talent Carolina has elsewhere on the field, quarterback play that rises from putrid to mediocre could help, but the question is whether Clausen is wily enough at this point to be even that small of an upgrade over Moore.

5 – Arizona Cardinals (Derek Anderson vs. Max Hall) – The Cardinals opted for Anderson, a scattershot quarterback with a big arm, over the cautious check-down man Matt Leinart in training camp, but Anderson’s inconsistency has outweighed his potential thus far. Hall, a rookie out of BYU, lurks as a potential replacement. Hall is more of a quick-hitting trigger man who doesn’t have the big arm but might be better equipped to get the ball to Arizona’s strong stable of receiving targets. So if Anderson struggles and the Cards start to fall behind in the lowly NFC West, Hall will get a shot.

4 – Oakland Raiders (Bruce Gradkowski vs. Jason Campbell) – The Raiders brought in Campbell to bring stability to the QB position in place of JaMarcus Russell, but Campbell lasted six quarters until he was benched. Campbell has talent, but he makes enough mistakes to offset his ability to throw the ball downfield. Gradkowski is a Jeff Garcia-type of scrapper who doesn’t have a big arm but does find ways to move a team. The question is whether Gradkowski would be exposed if he played 3-4 games in a row. But for now, the Raiders should try to keep the spark Gradkowski lit last week aflame.

3 – Pittsburgh Steelers (Charlie Batch vs. Byron Leftwich) – Dennis Dixon won the Steelers’ September starting job in training camp, but he suffered a torn meniscus against Tennessee that will sideline him at least until Ben Roethlisberger returns. So now Pittsburgh must choose between Batch, the ultimate placeholder, and Leftwich, who had some good games for Pittsburgh back in 2008 but looked awful for the Bucs last year. Leftwich may have a little more upside, but he’s got such a slow delivery at this point that Batch might actually be less of a liability. But the bottom line is that the Steelers will win the next two games because of defense, not Batch or Leftwich, and so in the end it really doesn’t matter much which guy starts.

2 – Jacksonville Jaguars (David Garrard vs. Todd Bouman) – Garrard threw four picks against the Chargers and was replaced by Luke McCown, but McCown blew out his knee at the end of the game and will miss the rest of the season. Jacksonville brought back Bouman to be Garrard’s backup, but the injury means there’s no question that Garrard is the guy.

1 – Buffalo Bills (Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Trent Edwards) – The Bills made the switch from Edwards to Fitzpatrick, but both quarterbacks have frankly proved that they’re not good enough to be regulars on the NFL level. No matter who plays, the Bills are among the league’s worst teams in terms of QB play, and they have few hopes of winning.

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Fantasy Football: Finding gems at quarterback

It’s clear in fantasy football this year who the top eight quarterbacks are. But who are the sleeper quarterbacks in this year’s crop?

In a previous post, we identified the top quarterbacks, and we’ve also discussed Donovan McNabb’s declining stock and Jason Campbell’s promise in this post. Now we’re going to comb through the rest of the NFL’s starters to see which have the upside to contribute as fantasy starters this season.

Our baseline in this post is to find guys who are better than Big Ben. Roethlisberger would belong with the top 8 quarterbacks if not for his suspension, and so this post seeks to find guys we’d rather have than Roethlisberger starting in Week 5.  We’ll use our applaud or a fraud tool to do this, identifying with each verdict what it means in relation to Big Ben plus a fill-in.

Jason Campbell, Raiders – We covered Campbell earlier and told of our reasons for optimism with his fantasy stock. But is his stock going to rise enough to put him over the Big Ben level? Last year’s 20-TD season was Campbell’s career high by quite a bit, and throwing 20 TDs is basically replacement level for a top-15 quarterback. So while Campbell has upside, he’s more of a fill-in for Big Ben than an improvement over him. There’s upside here, but not enough to surpass Big Ben plus a fill-in. Verdict: A fraud

Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler’s first season in Chicago was interesting but inconsistent. With 27 touchdowns and 26 interceptions, Cutler was a fine fantasy quarterback in leagues where interceptions didn’t deduct points. But if he matches his TD and yardage numbers (3,666) from last season and drops just a few interceptions, he’ll shoot up the fantasy charts toward the top 10 at the QB position. Plus, Cutler seems to have a better environment to succeed this year with Mike Martz stepping in as offensive coordinator and young receivers like Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu emerging. Cutler may not break the 30 touchdown barrier, but he’ll break the Big Ben plus a fill-in mark by throwing for 25 TDs and approaching 4,000 yards. Verdict: Applaud

Joe Flacco, Ravens – Flacco took a step forward as a fantasy quarterback in his second season, throwing for 21 TDs in ’09 after throwing just 14 the year before. He also threw for 3,613 yards, an increase of about 650 yards. And many fantasy analysts are projecting even bigger things for Flacco this year now that the Ravens have added Anquan Boldin. Boldin immediately becomes the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver, and he and Derrick Mason are a fine pair of receivers. Adding other players such as Donte Stallworth and rookie TE Ed Dickson add to Flacco’s group of receivers. That’s all good news, but consider that Flacco was basically a replacement-level backup QB last year. He’ll take a step forward to around 25 TDs, but counting on Flacco as a top-10 quarterback is risky. Still, Flacco moves above the Big Ben or fill-in level. Verdict: Applaud

David Garrard, Jaguars – The past two years, Garrard has been a consistent yardage producer, throwing for right at 3,600 yards both seasons. But in both seasons, he threw only 15 touchdowns a season. Even though he has run for five TDs in the last two seasons combined, those low TD pass numbers keep Garrard from being a top-15 fantasy quarterback. Even though Garrard has a talented group of young receivers led by Mike Sims-Walker, it’s just too hard to imagine him making a huge jump in TD passes that will make him a better option than Big Ben plus a fill-in. Garrard is far better suited as a fill-in in that scenario than as a replacement for Big Ben. Verdict: A fraud

Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – Hasselbeck’s fantasy stock plummeted due to injury two seasons ago, and last season his numbers were pedestrian even considering he missed two games. His yardage total (3,000 in 14 games) was fine, but 17 TDs put him with the average fantasy quarterbacks. And now that Pete Carroll is the new sheriff in Seattle, it seems like the heat has been turned up on Hasselbeck’s seat. Hasselbeck is probably a safe bet for 20 touchdowns and 3,200 yards if he stays healthy, but that puts him just under the Big Ben or a fill-in level. Hasselbeck is merely a fantasy backup at this point. Verdict: A fraud

Chad Henne, Dolphins – Henne had a solid first season, throwing for 2,878 yards despite playing only 14 games. Even better, he seemed to click into gear late in the season. After throwing for 220 yards or more in only one of his first nine games, he did so in four of his final five contests. So projecting Henne for 3,200 yards seems safe, and he has the ability to ratchet that number up into the 3,600-yard range pretty easily, especially after the Dolphins added Brandon Marshall in the offseason. The question with Henne is touchdowns. He threw for just 12 last year. If he follows the Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco pattern, he’ll move up to the 20-TD level in his second year as a starter, and if that happens Henne will be a replacement-level top-15 fantasy quarterback. But projecting Henne to double in his TD total – which is what it would take to put him over the Big Ben and a fill-in level – seems like a two-year project, not a 2010 occurrence. Henne is a terrific fill in with Big Ben, but we can’t quite put him over that level. Verdict: A fraud

Kevin Kolb, Eagles – Kolb doesn’t have much of a track record with just two career starts, but he steps into a  fantasy gold mine in Philadelphia. Andy Reid loves to throw the ball, and with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek, the Eagles have one of the best groups of young receivers in the league. And in Kolb’s two starts last year, he put up solid fantasy numbers by throwing for more than 300 yards in each game with two TDs in each game. Of course, Kolb won’t live up to those numbers through a full season, but his potential and his ideal situation makes us willing to take the risk on Kolb before we take the risk on the Big Ben plus a fill-in strategy. Verdict: Applaud

Matt Leinart, Cardinals – After Kurt Warner’s retirement, Leinart finally gets his shot to start in Arizona. He hasn’t started more than four games since his rookie season, and his performance then mirrored what we’ve seen from guys like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan more recently. And in his one start last year, he was 21-of-31 for 220 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, which is not a warning flag. Now that Anquan Boldin’s gone, Arizona seems to be tipping toward the running game, but even with that emphasis Leinart has a great collection of targets in Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Doucet. We can’t put Leinart above the Big Ben and a fill-in level, but he’s a decent gamble as the fill-in because he could emerge as a nice fantasy performer who becomes an attractive trade chip once Roethlisberger returns to the field. Verdict: A fraud

Eli Manning, Giants – Manning had his best fantasy season last year, throwing for career highs with 4,021 yards and 27 touchdowns. That yardage total was about 700 yards above what Manning had hovered around the three previous seasons, but that may be attributable to an improved group of receivers that features youngsters Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham. Even in Manning reverts to the 3,300-yard, 23-touchdown level that was his career norm before last year, he’s still above the Big Ben and a fill-in level. But last year showed that Manning has the upside to knock on the door of the top 10 at the position. Verdict: Applaud

Donovan McNabb, Redskins – We discuss McNabb previously, but just to reiterate our reservations about his stock. He’ll turn 34 during the season, which means his prime is waning if not completely gone. He’s never been a paragon of health, and now he’s moving behind an offensive line that’s more vulnerable up the middle than Philly’s was. Most of all for fantasy owners, McNabb’s cadre of receivers in Washington is two or three levels below what he had at his disposal in Philly last year. His numbers will decrease to the point that Roethlisberger’s a better bet starting in Week 5. You’d be better off with Big Ben and a fill-in than with McNabb. Verdict: A fraud

Carson Palmer, Bengals – After an injury-plagued ’08 season, Palmer returned to play all 16 games in ’09. The problem was that his fantasy production didn’t return with him. After throwing for between 26 and 32 touchdowns in ’05 to ’07, he threw just 21 in ’09. (Three rushing touchdowns, more than his previous career total, mitigated that somewhat.) And instead of being in the 4,000-yard range, Palmer barely cracked 3,000. Part of the reason was that there was no real complement to Chad Ochocinco in the offense, and the Bengals believe signee Antonio Bryant addresses that issue. But fantasy owners know that a bigger reason is that the pendulum in Cincinnati has swung toward the running game. That means Palmer falls between 15 and 20 on the fantasy QB pecking order. Maybe there’s upside for him to begin to approach his glory-year numbers, but our hunch is that Big Ben and a fill-in will end up with better totals. So we’re placing Palmer below that level. Verdict: A fraud

Matt Ryan, Falcons – Although Ryan missed two games last year, his TD numbers went up from 14 to 22 as he took a step forward as a fantasy quarterback. Ryan hasn’t been a superb yardage producer – less than 210 yards per game – and that limits his fantasy value. But with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, Ryan has two elite targets, and with a full season he should be in the 25-touchdown neighborhood again. Best of all, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of risk of Ryan falling off the map. He’s not an elite fantasy quarterback, but you can comfortably put Ryan in the top 12 at the position and slot him above the Big Ben and a fill-in level. Verdict: Applaud

Mark Sanchez, Jets – Sanchez’s rookie numbers were pretty typical – 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions with 2,444 yards (in 15 games). But he seemed to develop in the playoffs with four TD passes and just two interceptions, making him worth a second glance for fantasy owners this season. The Jets maintain a run-first offense, but by adding Braylon Edwards at midseason last year and Santonio Holmes (suspended four games) this season, the Jets have given Sanchez more to work with. Those guys, plus Dustin Keller and Jerricho Cotchery, create a deep group of receivers. It’s feasible to see Sanchez ratcheting up to the 20-TD, 3,000-yard mark, which would make him a fantasy backup. But expecting Sanchez to jump past Big Ben and a fill-in level to the top-12 at quarterback is asking too much. Verdict: A fraud

Matthew Stafford, Lions – Stafford’s rookie numbers – 225 passing yards per game and 13 passing touchdowns in 10 games – weren’t bad. And if you project Stafford to take the same kind of second-year jump that Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco did, he would move from an 18-TD pace to a 22- or 23-TD clip. That, plus his 3,500 yard pace from last year, are promising. Add in the fact that the Lions added Tony Scheffler, Nate Burleson, and rookie Jahvid Best to Calvin Johnson to set Stafford up to succeed, and it seems like Stafford’s set up to succeed. But Roethlisberger’s track record makes us just a smidgen more secure in picking him than Stafford. Ideally, Stafford would be the fill in you pair with Big Ben, because Stafford’s upside could give you a top-12 fantasy quarterback to trade once Roethlisberger returns. But for now, we’ll leave Stafford just a hair below the Big Ben and a fill-in level. Verdict: A fraud

Vince Young, Titans – Young is an unconventional fantasy quarterback. In basically three seasons’ worth of starts, he has thrown just 32 touchdown passes, but he’s also run for eight. As much as his value comes from running the ball (about 25 yards per game last year) as from passing (about 150 yards per game last year). Some are projecting Young to emerge as a fantasy quarterback, and some signs are there. Young seemed to mature last season, throwing for 235 yards or more in three of four games down the stretch. Plus, Kenny Britt seems to be becoming the best receiver the Titans have had since Derrick Mason left. But even with those positive harbingers, we can’t put Young above the Big Ben plus a fill-in level. The numbers just don’t support it. Verdict: A fraud

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Rise/Sink/Float – QBs in new places

As we continue our fantasy football preparation for 2010, we’re going to analyze players with new teams and predict whether their 2010 numbers will rise above, sink below, or float alongside their 2009 production. In this post, we cover quarterbacks. We’ll cover running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in subsequent posts.

Donovan McNabb, Redskins – McNabb has never reached the Peyton Manning/Tom Brady level of elite fantasy quarterbacks, but for most of his career he’s been a productive fantasy starter. But now that he’s moved from Philly to D.C., that status is endangered. He doesn’t have nearly the targets in Washington that he did with the Eagles, and that should limit his big-play potential. There’s no DeSean Jackson type of threat in D.C., and the Santana Moss/Devin Thomas/Malcolm Kelly/Mike Furrey collection outside is among the NFL’s most pedestrian groups. McNabb will have to rely on tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis heavily, and that’s not the path to fantasy greatness. And even though Mike Shanahan is a QB-friendly coach, he’s not above McNabb’s former playcaller Andy Reid in that regard. Throw in the fact that McNabb has missed at least two games in four of the last five seasons and that he hasn’t produced at an elite fantasy pace since 2006, and what you have is a player on a minor decline going to a far less favorable situation. That means McNabb is no longer a dependable fantasy starter in 10-team leagues. Verdict: Sink

Jason Campbell, Raiders – Campbell was dealt out of Washington when McNabb entered the scene. He lands in Oakland, where at least he’ll be a starter. But once again, Campbell faces learning a new offensive system. Coordinator Hue Jackson’s offense seems to fit Campbell’s skills a little better than what he had with Jim Zorn last year, so that’s a minor plus. And Oakland’s collection of receivers, while not a name group, has some promising young players in Louis Murphy, Zach Miller, and Chaz Schillens. Former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey will need to emerge to give Campbell a true breakout threat, but there’s at least a chance of that happening. At the least, Campbell is a more professional QB than JaMarcus Russell and a more talented QB than Bruce Gradkowski, and that should help his receivers’ numbers and development. Last year was Campbell’s third as a starter and his first with 20 TD passes, and he threw for a career-high 3,600 yards as well. We don’t see Campbell moving into the top 10 of fantasy quarterbacks, but he’ll at least stabilize his numbers at last year’s level, and our hunch is that he might show enough of a tick forward to make himself a dependable fantasy backup. Verdict: Rise

Jake Delhomme, Browns – Delhomme hadn’t been a fantasy starter in recent years, but he remained fantasy relevant until last season’s total collapse in Carolina. He lost his starting job and got cut, and he landed in Cleveland as a stop-gap option. But don’t be fooled into taking Delhomme, even as a fantasy backup. Signs still point to the fact that he’s completely lost it, and even if he hasn’t Cleveland’s motley crew of receivers isn’t going to provide the opportunity for him to be even a decent fantasy fill-in. You’d be much better served taking a shot on a prospect who has a shot of taking over a starting job than spending a late draft pick on Delhomme. His stock is just as dead in the water as it was last year. We give him a float because he’s still sunk. Verdict: Float

Derek Anderson, Cardinals – Anderson, the former Browns starter, had a fantasy superstar season back in ’07, but his inconsistency cost him his job with the Browns. Now he moves on to Arizona, where he’ll back up Matt Leinart as training camp opens. Since Leinart hasn’t proved much in the NFL, Anderson could emerge as a starter, and he’d be interesting in that role with Arizona’s talented group of receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Doucet. That makes Anderson worth a flier as a backup quarterback in large leagues (more than 12 teams), just in case he overtakes Leinart early in the season. That hope means Anderson’s stock is actually a bit higher than it was in the doldrums in Cleveland last year. Verdict: Rise

Charlie Whitehurst, Seahawks – Whitehurst has never thrown an NFL pass, but he got a big contract after the Seahawks paid a pretty penny (at least in terms of draft picks) to acquire him from the Chargers. Matt Hasselbeck is still the starter in Seattle, but Whitehurst now looks to be the QB of the future there. That puts him on the fantasy radar. The former Clemson QB isn’t draftable except in mega-leagues where No. 2 QBs become handcuffs for their teams, but the fact that Whitehurst is worth noticing indicates a small rise in his value. Verdict: Rise

Marc Bulger, Ravens – Bulger had been battered over the years as a Rams starter, and his play quickly fell off as a result. Now he gets a chance to lick his wounds in Baltimore as Joe Flacco’s backup. That’s a good role for him, because if he’s pressed into action it will come behind a much better offensive line with an improved group of targets that includes Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason. Bulger isn’t draftable in fantasy leagues, but if he gets on the field because of a Flacco injury, he becomes a decent fantasy fill-in. He’s still around the 35th best fantasy quarterback entering the season, as he was last year, but this time there’s upside involved. Verdict: Float

A.J. Feeley, Rams – Feeley hasn’t been on the fantasy radar since his starting stint in Miami back in 2004. And even though he’s the ostensible starter in St. Louis entering the season, he’s not fantasy relevant now. Sam Bradford looms, and the Rams don’t have nearly enough weapons to make Feeley worth a second glance by fantasy owners. His fantasy stock continues to float along at the worthless level. Verdict: Float

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Preja Vu – The Football Relativity 2010 Mock Draft

After much ado, we finally present the Football Relativity Mock Draft.

Instead of doing umpteen versions of mock (read: made-up) drafts this offseason, we tried to be different than other sites by focusing on more specific issues. You can look back through the draft coverage to see analysis, opinions, and outlandish predictions on the biggest stories of the draft — Tim Tebow and the value of intangibles, the Jimmy Clausen conundrum, how killer C.J. Spiller is, whether it was worth it for the teams that traded out of the first round this year, the guys we like (Jermaine Gresham on offense and Sergio Kindle and Eric Norwood on defense), and our research on what offensive positions and defensive positions are most likely to produce a superstar at the top of the draft.

Now that all that is done, it’s time to make the outlandish prediction and do the mock draft. So here is the first round, as I predict it. Of course this is preja vu, not deja vu, so there will be mistakes. But I’ll let you know what I’m thinking as we go along. As always, feel free to leave comments criticizing, questioning, or confirming what you read below.

1. Rams – QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
The Rams have passed on quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez and Matt Ryan the past two years, and so it’s no surprise that St. Louis has one of the most desperate quarterback situations in the league. With Marc Bulger now gone, St. Louis needs a quarterback to build around. Plus, with new ownership coming in this offseason, having a franchise quarterback that will sell tickets and, more importantly, hope is a good business strategy. So for all the off-the-field reasons, Bradford makes sense. But does he make sense on the field? We say yes. Bradford is tall (6-foot-4), and he’s put on enough wait in the offseason to make you believe he can stand up to a pounding. He can really throw the ball well despite his ’09 injuries, and he can pair in St. Louis with OLT Jason Smith (last season’s No. 2 overall pick) to begin to build a core on offense. And while the rest of the offensive line and the receiving corps is still painfully thin, Bradford can lean on Steven Jackson in 2010 to keep from being completely shell-shocked. The Rams have to take a quarterback soon to begin the building process, and Bradford checks all the boxes for a franchise-type guy. Taking a quarterback in the top 3 is always a risk, but Bradford is a risk the Rams simply must take.

2. Lions – DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
Suh is quite possibly the best player in this year’s draft, and the Lions can afford to take him because they already have taken their shot at a quarterback by picking Matthew Stafford last year. With Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew, the Lions have the makings of promise on offense, and now it’s time to start building on defense. Last year’s draft yielded two above-average defensive starters in OLB DeAndre Levy and S Louis Delmas, and Suh will become a playmaker on the interior of the defensive line. Suh can stuff the run, but even more he can penetrate into the backfield and create havoc as well. That combination is rare, and it’s what makes Suh such a great prospect for the Lions. He’ll roar in Detroit.

3. Buccaneers – DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
McCoy is above Suh on some draft boards, and the Oklahoma product has a more flash-forward style than Suh. That makes many scouts imagine McCoy as a new-era Warren Sapp, a three-technique defensive tackle that puts the teeth in the Tampa-2. Not nearly as many teams run that 4-3 zone-coverage scheme anymore, but the Buccaneers still do, and McCoy can make that scheme work. That, plus the fact that the Bucs drafted QB Josh Freeman in the first round last year, and plus the fact that the Bucs’ offensive line is at least average with a young player in Donald Penn at left tackle, makes whoever’s left between Suh and McCoy the logical and smart choice for Tampa Bay. McCoy could make an instant impact for the Bucs, and this franchise needs impact at any position in the worst way.

4. Redskins – OT Trent Williams, Oklahoma
After trading for Donovan McNabb, it’s obvious that the Redskins’ biggest need is now at left tackle. Chris Samuels is gone, and if Washington doesn’t get some help there, McNabb won’t make it through the season. So the question isn’t position but player for the Redskins. Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung is solid, but his upside is perhaps capped a bit. Other linemen like Williams and Anthony Davis of Rutgers are more talented and promising but far less consistent. Ultimately, the choice will come down to Okung and Williams, and we’ll break from the pack and pencil in Williams at this spot. Shanahan’s best offenses in Denver were stout at left tackle with Gary Zimmerman and Ryan Clady, and we should see the new Redskins boss take the same approach in Washington now. And since he trusts his coaching staff to get the most out of linemen, he’ll peg the third Oklahoma Sooner in the top four of this year’s draft.

5. Chiefs – S Eric Berry, Tennessee
Last year, the Chiefs reached to take a top-15 prospect in DE Tyson Jackson at No. 3 overall, and that leads some prognosticators to suppose that they’ll reach again to take Bryan Bulaga of Iowa at No. 5 this year. But since the Chiefs have a young left tackle in Branden Albert, we’re going to project that they’ll look for help at another position. That approach would lead the Chiefs to grab the best available player, and that’s Berry. Berry didn’t pop off the screen in Monte Kiffin’s cover-2 defense last year, but he was a standout the year before in a more traditional scheme. In Berry, Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel would get a Rodney Harrison-type of impact player in the defensive backfield. K.C. needs playmakers on defense, and Berry can be that splashy player who makes workmanlike guys like Jackson more effective.

6. Seahawks – OT Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
Like the Redskins, the Seahawks lost their long-time left tackle to retirement this offseason when Walter Jones came to the end of the road. So Seattle needs to fill that hole in this draft when it has two first-round picks. Perhaps the Seahawks chance it and wait till No. 14 to see if Davis or Bruce Campbell or even Bulaga is around, but the wisest course of action is to take the sure thing in Okung here and then find a playmaker like C.J. Spiller or Derrick Morgan at 14. Okung can be an anchor for Pete Carroll’s offense, and those guys simply don’t grow on trees. Seahawks fans should hope that Carroll, who’s calling the shots after being out of the NFL for more than a decade, realizes that and fills his massive OLT need ASAP.

7. Browns – RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson
This is where the draft could get crazy quick. Berry is the guy who makes the most sense for the Browns, but if he goes off the board, then Cleveland will face some choices. Bryan Bulaga, the last of the three elite offensive tackles, doesn’t make sense, because Cleveland already has Joe Thomas. The Browns could look at a defensive playmaker, but neither Derrick Morgan nor Jason Pierre-Paul really fits the 3-4 system they run, and it’s too early for guys like Rolando McClain or Dan Williams who do fit. So we’ll give the Browns the best playmaker on the board in Spiller, who would add an element of explosiveness to Cleveland’s offense that isn’t there at this point. That explosiveness is the Browns’ biggest need, and Spiller’s the option most likely to provide it. Spiller is a safer bet than wideouts Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas, but like those players he can bring a jolt into the passing game. Plus, Spiller would be a huge upgrade at running back over Jerome Harrison, Chris Jennings, and his former college teammate James Davis, and he will help journeymen quarterbacks Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace have a far better chance of success in 2010. The Browns may pick a quarterback, but they seem more likely to do at the top of the second round than at this spot. Holmgren has made this kind of pick before, taking Shaun Alexander in the first round in 2000 with Seattle, and so we’ll make the unconvential call that leaves Spiller wearing an orange helmet in the pros just as he did in college.

8. Raiders – DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech
Everyone seems to think the Raiders are going to do something crazy at this pick, and that’s certainly possible after last year’s Darrius Heyward-Bey fiasco. But last year, we heard of the Raiders’ love for HeyBey well before the draft, and there’s not similar buzz this year. So we’ll give Oakland a more conventional guy in Morgan, who’s the most complete 4-3 defensive end in this draft class. Morgan isn’t superfast, but he can get into the backfield and also hold up against the run. In a lot of ways, he’s like Richard Seymour, whom the Raiders traded their 2011 first-rounder for and then used the franchise tag on. The Raiders have a need at offensive tackle, but Bryan Bulaga isn’t their cup of tea, and it doesn’t seem that Al Davis has fallen for inconsistent specimens Bruce Campbell or Anthony Davis. And while the Raiders could use a quarterback, the Raiders’ maven has refused to give up the ghost with JaMarcus Russell yet. That leads us to defense, where Morgan is a great fit.

9. Bills – QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
We’ve already discussed how we’re not huge Clausen fans, but he’s clearly a notch above other quarterback prospects like Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow. And given that quarterback is the Bills’ glaring need, it will be hard for them to pass up on Clausen here. Buffalo could still use a tackle like Bryan Bulaga or a pass rusher like Jason Pierre-Paul or Brandon Graham. But most of the time, when a team has a desperate quarterback need, and there’s a quarterback available in the first round, the team can’t stomach the idea of passing on the chance to get him. So Clausen is the pick.

10. Jaguars – CB Joe Haden, Florida
The Jaguars would probably prefer to trade out of this spot, in part because they want to replace their traded first-round pick and in part because they have a hard time cutting the check for a top-10 selection. But in this spot, they have a chance to address their pressing need for secondary help. While Earl Thomas fits a more glaring position need at safety, Haden’s the better prospect by a fair amount. Haden could team with Rashean Mathis to stabilize Jacksonville’s secondary and set the rest of the defense up for success. Haden’s stock dropped a bit after a slow 40 time at the combine, but he’s a really good player who will play up to this lofty draft position. He’d be a win for the Jags at this point.

11. Broncos (from Bears) – WR Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech
The Broncos under Josh McDaniels have become a tricky team to predict, because McDaniels is so confident in his abilities as an evaluator and coach that he’ll do the unconventional. He traded Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, and last year in the draft he took Knowshon Moreno in the first round even though he had added several running backs in free agency. With Marshall gone, the Broncos need a No. 1 receiver, and while Dez Bryant is the consensus No. 1 wideout Thomas might be the Broncos’ choice. Bryant is a more complete player than Thomas, and he was more accomplished at the collegiate level. Plus, Thomas suffered an offseason injury that limited his workout time. But Thomas is a physical freak with amazing speed, and while he’s raw he can develop into the kind of breakout receiver that Marshall was for Denver. We think the wiser pick would be for the Broncos to upgrade their 3-4 defense as they continue to build personnel for that defense, but while Dan Williams or Rolando McClain would fit, we believe McDaniels will get his way and get another exciting tool for his offense. So we’ll reach a bit with the Broncos and project Thomas here.

12. Dolphins – NT Dan Williams, Tennessee
After acquiring Marshall, the Dolphins can now go big by upgrading their defensive line. And that leads them to Williams, who is sturdy enough to play on the nose in the 3-4. That’s a rare trait, and we saw with B.J. Raji last year that nose tackles are premium players who shoot up the board in the draft. Williams could replace Jason Ferguson, an aging player who will miss the first eight games of the season under league suspension, and help to stabilize a Dolphins’ defense that slipped a bit last year after solid play in 2008. Bill Parcells loves big players, and they don’t come bigger than Williams in this year’s draft class.

13. 49ers – DE Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida
Pierre-Paul is a boom-or-bust type of prospect, but the upside is so huge that a team in the teens like the 49ers will feel compelled to pull the trigger and take him. Pierre-Paul has the size to play defensive end in the 4-3 and the speed to play from a two-point stance in the 3-4, and that versatility could allow him to become a Terrell Suggs type of player in the best-case scenario. The 49ers have a sturdy defense, but they lack the pass-rush pop that JPP could provide. With Mike Singletary at the helm, the 49ers also may figure they have the coaching to make the most of talented players, with Vernon Davis’ emergence last year as proof positive. This would be a risk, but with two first-round picks, the 49ers should take a shot this year to add a premium talent with at least one of them. And that points to JPP with one of their first two picks.

14. Seahawks (from Broncos) – WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
The Seahawks are bereft of playmakers, and so with one of their two picks they have to get some explosiveness. That could mean a pass rusher, but in this scenario the value is with Bryant, an elite talent who will need a little TLC to develop. Pete Carroll can provide that kind of atmosphere, and if he does Bryant could really thrive. He could become a No. 1 receiver who can make big plays down the field while also providing a dependable option on third downs. And while there are concerns about Bryant’s background and upbrining, he’s not a bad guy. Instead, like Michael Oher last year, he came from such a bad situation that his maturity process will naturally be slower. But a former college coach like Carroll can really help Bryant, and the payoff would be huge. This is probably about the best situation for Bryant off the field, and he would really fill a need for the Hawks on the field.

15. Giants – MLB Rolando McClain, Alabama
The Giants have gotten old quickly both on the offensive line and in the front seven on defense. So there are a lot of ways that Big Blue can go at this spot. A lineman like Bryan Bulaga, Mike Iupati, or Maurkice Pouncey would make a ton of sense, but we’ll project them to look at the other side of the ball and add a defensive leader instead. McClain is not an elite athlete, but he’s an incredibly heady player who leans into a leadership role. He would immediately step into the MLB spot vacated in New York when Antonio Pierce was released in the offseason. This would be a need pick, but the Giants have a lot of needs if they want to keep their window of opportunity open in the next couple of years. McClain can contribute right away and help them do just that.

16. Titans – DE Brandon Graham, Michigan
After losing Kyle Vanden Bosch and bidding adieu to Jevon Kearse in the offseason, the Titans have a pressing need for a pass rusher. Thankfully for them, they also have one of the best defensive line coaches in Jim Washburn, who has helped guys like Kearse and Albert Haynesworth – both picked around this spot in the first round – emerge into prime-time players. Our hunch is that the Titans give Washburn another swing this year, and given the way the draft has gone Graham is the best prospect available to them. Graham is a DE-OLB tweener who might fit a 3-4 defense more quickly, but his pass rush skills are valuable in any system. If the Titans take Graham (or any other defensive lineman), the player should consider himself lucky to be able to work under such good coaching. We trust the Titans to make the most of this pick.

17. 49ers (from Panthers) – OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
After taking a pass rusher with their first pick, we have the 49ers flipping to the offensive line with their second pick. Bulaga, who some are pointing to as a potential top-5 pick, would be great value here. Bulaga isn’t a premier left tackle, but he can play there in a pinch, and he could settle in at right tackle and thrive. Bulaga plus Joe Staley would give the 49ers bookend tackles that will stabilize their line and help the offense grow. Another offensive lineman like Maurkice Pouncey or Mike Iupati would make sense too, but our hunch is that the Niners won’t pass on Bulaga twice.

18. Steelers – OG Mike Iupati, Idaho
The Steelers have a pressing offensive line need, especially on the inside, so taking Iupati would be a nice fix. Iupati is probably going to project more as a mauling guard than a nimble-footed tackle at the NFL level, but he has enough chance of playing outside that he’ll find himself a first-round pick. Some have compared Iupati to Steve Hutchinson, which is incredibly high praise, but if Iupati can be 75 percent of what Hutchinson is, he’ll be a great mid-first-round pick.

19. Falcons – S Earl Thomas, Texas
Thomas is a terrific safety, but the fact that he’s undersized could put a cap on his draft stock. Still, Thomas is likely to step in and be an immediate starter and asset at safety, even for a quality team like Atlanta. The Falcons are trying to upgrade their defense, and Thomas or his Texas teammate Sergio Kindle would do just that. A pass rusher would look good too, but it appears unlikely that one of the premium guys will slip this far. So we suggest that the Falcons will draft for value and happily grab Thomas.

20. Texans – RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State
The Texans are on the cusp of breaking into the playoffs, and the one piece they’re missing is a top-flight running back. Mathews is just that. He has size and speed and explosiveness, and scouts drool about all he can bring to a team. Maybe the Texans should be looking at a cornerback to replace Dunta Robinson, but our hunch is that Gary Kubiak and his staff will look for an over-the-top guy like Mathews instead of trying to fill in a gap somewhere.

21. Bengals – TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
The Bengals haven’t had a top-flight tight end in what seems like forever, but given their new run-first bent on offense, it makes sense for them to add a counter-punch option like Gresham. We’ve made our respect for Gresham known, and we think he can be a great mid-field option between Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant. If Gresham can step in and make an impact in the passing game, the Bengals’ good offense could get a little bit better and make Cincy a playoff contender once again.

22. Patriots – OLB Jerry Hughes, TCU
It’s always hard to predict what the Patriots will do, but with a first-rounder and three second-rounders this year, New England needs to add some pass-rush punch. Hughes can do just that. He’s more of a 3-4 outside linebacker than a 4-3 defense end, but he can get to the quarterback, and Bill Belichick is certainly smart enough to maximize the skills of a player like Hughes who has strengths but is a fit in only certain schemes. New England could easily go in another direction, but a high-character guy like Hughes seems like the kind of guy that Belichick would invest a pick in.

23. Packers – OT Anthony Davis, Rutgers
The Packers made a great transition to the 3-4 defense last year, thanks in large part to rookies B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, and Brad Jones. Suddenly, the Packers look set on defense, and that means it’s now time to turn their attention to their offensive line. That unit was awful last year until Mark Tauscher returned from retirement and Chad Clifton recovered from injury, but those veteran tackles aren’t going to last forever. So picking a high-upside player like Davis makes sense. Green Bay won’t need Davis immediately, and they can wait and hope that Davis’ work ethic catches up to his talent as he interns under Clifton and Tauscher for a year.

24. Eagles – C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
There are myriad rumors about who the Eagles want and how they want to trade up, but here’s the bottom line – since Andy Reid came to town, the Eagles almost always go big with their first-round pick. And when you survey the offensive and defensive linemen available at this point, Pouncey is the best. Pouncey’s gotten a lot of pub in the weeks leading up to the draft, and some have speculated that he’s going to go in the teens, but it’s hard to see a center/guard who’s good but not great going that high. Instead, this spot seems about right. Our guess is that Philly would be happy to add Pouncey to stabilize the interior of a line that slipped a bit last year.

25. Ravens – DE Jared Odrick, Penn State
The Ravens rarely swing and miss in the draft, even when they draft for need. So even though we think they’ll address their defensive line depth with this pick, they won’t reach. Instead, they’ll stay put and grab Odrick, who’s probably the prototypical 3-4 end available this year. With Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards leaving via free agency, the Ravens need depth there, and Odrick can provide the kind of solid play that allows Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata to get aggressive on the pass rush. Odrick would be a great fit in Baltimore.

26. Cardinals – OLB Sergio Kindle, Texas
The Cardinals have lost a ton of front-seven players over the last two seasons, and now it’s time to replenish the cupboard. Kindle is the kind of versatile player who can do the things Karlos Dansby did, plus provide a pass-rush punch. He’d be a great complement to Joey Porter and could emerge into a team leader in the vein of Dansby. We’ve made our affinity for Kindle known, and Arizona would be a place for his promise to shine.

27. Cowboys – DE Tyson Alualu, California
Alualu is a fast-rising prospect, in large part due to his ability to play defensive end in the 3-4 defense. The Cowboys are stocked across the board, so they can afford to look for the guy they like the best, and Alualu’s size and tenacity fits. He can plug in and play the five-technique to allow DeMarcus Ware and the emerging Anthony Spencer to continue to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

28. Chargers – CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State
It only makes sense for San Diego to spend its first-round pick to replace Antonio Cromartie, whom they traded in the offseason. Since none of this year’s cornerback class behind Joe Haden is great, our guess is that several of them will end up clumped at the end of the first round and beginning of the season. Wilson is a solid player who had a good Senior Bowl week and also a solid college career. He’s not a shut-down corner, but he’s good enough to thrive in a pressure defense like San Diego runs.

29. Jets – OLB Sean Witherspoon, Missouri
The Jets have been among the most aggressive teams in the offseason, trading for Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes to fill some of their biggest needs. That puts them in position to draft the best player left. A tackle like Bruce Campbell or Anthony Davis may make sense to eventually replace Damien Woody on the right side, but our guess is that Rex Ryan tries to reinforce his defense. Witherspoon is a standout player who has enough pass-rush pop to play outside linebacker in the 3-4, but he’s also good in coverage. That kind of versatility will make Ryan drool in the war room and could land Witherspoon with Gang Green.

30. Vikings – CB Kareem Jackson, Alabama
The Vikings have a loaded roster, but the one place where they can use an upgrade is in the defensive backfield. Devin McCourty from Rutgers would be one option, but we’ll point instead to Jackson, who is a proven player from a top-notch program who can step in and serve as a quality starter for the Vikes, and therefore help them continue to move forward in the NFC. While some prognosticators have the Vikings pulling the trigger on Tim Tebow here, we think more immediate help is in the offing.

31. Colts – OT Vladimir Ducasse, Massachusetts
Colts president Bill Polian made no secret about the fact that he was unhappy with the play of his team’s offensive line in the Super Bowl, and as proof of that conviction he cut starter Ryan Lilja soon after. So it makes sense that Indy will spend its first-rounder on a lineman. We’re projecting Ducasse over Roger Saffold or Charles Brown, but any of those players would make sense for Indy as it attempts to keep its Peyton-powered offense running smoothly.

32. Saints – TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona
The defending Super Bowl champions could use help at safety from a guy like Taylor Mays or at cornerback from a guy like Patrick Robinson, but our hunch is that Sean Payton gets some more help for his high-powered offense. Gronkowski is a dynamic tight end who’s even more physical than Jeremy Shockey. The Saints used several different tight ends last year in Shockey, Darnell Dinkins, David Thomas, and Billy Miller, so we can see that it’s a big part of their offense. Gronkowksi could usurp one or even two portions of that role and make the Saints even more explosive. That sounds to us like the kind of approach Payton would want.

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Washington nabs McNabb

Last year, the big trade of the offseason happened in the first week of April and sent QB Jay Cutler from Denver to Chicago. This year, in the first week of April, we have another huge trade, as the Redskins traded for QB Donovan McNabb. Below are some thoughts on the trade; you can see how it trumps other trades from the 2010 offseason in this post.

The Eagles opted to end the McNabb era by dealing him to their NFC East rivals in Washington. This says a lot about what the Eagles think about McNabb right now. (Chris Mortenson brough up the fact that the last time this happened was when the Patriots traded Drew Bledsoe to the Bills, and the Pats knew when they made that deal that Bledsoe was falling off the cliff.) They’re obviously not scared of playing McNabb twice a year, because it’s not like the Redskins paid a premium for McNabb. In fact, instead of getting a Jay Cutler windfall for McNabb, Philly accepted a deal much like what the Patriots got for Matt Cassel last offseason – an early second-round pick (37th overall) and either a third- or fourth-rounder in 2011. So Philly takes a fair but not exorbinant deal to send away McNabb, who led them to one Super Bowl and five conference championship games in his 11 seasons there. Still, McNabb was never fully embraced by Eagles fans. I was there at the 1999 draft when McNabb, drafted third overall, was roundly booed by Eagles fans who had been bussed into New York by a sports-radio station that had called for Philly to select Ricky Williams. But McNabb proved well worth that pick, becoming easily the best of the five first-round quarterbacks that year and a top-level leader for the Eagles. At age 33, McNabb doesn’t have many of his prime years left, but he certainly played at a quality level throughout the ’09 season. In Washington, though, he faces the obstacles of a mediocre offensive line and receiving corps, along with a running back trio of Clinton Portis, Willie Parker, and Larry Johnson that may be completely cooked. The Redskins do have good tight ends, and the fourth overall pick now figures to go toward an offensive tackle like Russell Okung, which will help. But at best, McNabb takes a team that was headed for five or six wins with Jason Campbell to eight or nine wins max. He can’t solve all the Redskins’ roster problems. The Eagles, meanwhile, now cast their lot with Kevin Kolb, who played well in two starts last year and now gets the chance Aaron Rodgers got in Green Bay two years ago. If Kolb is ready, as Rodgers was, the Eagles will benefit from this move within two years. Kolb steps into a good situation with young receivers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek, so the Eagles now look set in the passing game into the middle of the decade. That’s a good thing, even if the Eagles are making the move to their new quarterback a year early. But it’s pretty clear that Philly wasn’t going to re-sign McNabb, and so getting something for him now makes sense. They can only hope that McNabb doesn’t exact his revenge twice this fall and cost them a playoff spots, or else the fans will absolutely revolt against Andy Reid and his regime. On paper, this trade makes sense for the Eagles, but on the field McNabb could make it look foolish if he can keep his play at its current level over the next 3-4 years.

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FR: General managers

We’ll follow major front-office changes in this growing post throughout the offseason and compare them using our Football Relativity tool. The 10 level is reserved for what looks to be the best move, and 1 is for the worst. So here are the big changes that have happened thus far in the front offices of NFL organizations.

10 – Cleveland (George Kokinis out as general manager, Mike Holmgren hired as team president, Tom Heckert hired as general manager) – In this role, Holmgren will serve as a Bill Parcells-esque figurehead who makes the major hiring decisions and guides the personnel and schematic philosophy on the field. Holmgren has had similar power before in Seattle, where he served as (deep breath) head coach, general manager, executive vice president, COO of Microsoft, shift manager of a Starbucks, and Miss Teen Seattle. All those duties spread Holmgren too thin, and it wasn’t until after Holmgren gave up his front-office job that he was able to coach the Seahawks to the playoffs. But the personnel Holmgren acquired helped the Seahawks’ multi-year run atop the NFC West, showing that he does know what he’s doing in that area. In Cleveland, Holmgren will focus on the front-office side, showing he knows that he can’t do everything. Eric Mangini basically ran the organization this season – ex-GM George Kokinis was his hand-picked guy – and Mangini showed a couple of things. First, his version of discipline was far too petty, and it showed too much disregard for player safety. (Ask James Davis or Syndric Steptoe.) Second, he overvalued guys he had coached before, which led to getting 50 cents on the dollar in trades with the Jets in which Cleveland gave up two of their best assets, WR Braylon Edwards and the fifth overall pick, and didn’t get enough in return. The Browns’ recent wins show that maybe Mangini is salvageable as a head coach, but he needs someone above him holding him accountable on his organizational decisions. Holmgren can do that. Heckert, meanwhile, brings his personnel acumen to the player selection process. While Heckert implemented Andy Reid’s plan as Philly’s GM, Holmgren says he will have more authority in the draft and free agency with the Browns. Holmgren says his role will be to establish an organizational philosophy and then break ties when Heckert and Mangini differ about how to implement it. Holmgren and Heckert are both tremendous hires for the Eagles, and they’re the kind of people who can get the Browns back on track.

9 – none

8 – Washington (Vinny Cerrato out as VP of football operations out, Mike Shanahan hired as exec. VP/head coach and Bruce Allen hired as exec VP/general manager) – Cerrato, a former recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame, spent most of the last decade as owner Daniel Snyder’s right-hand man. But instead of being a positive influence, Cerrato often appeared to be the errand boy sent out to execute every whim Snyder had. That, plus the fact that Cerrato always emerged unscathed despite the Redskins’ repeated changes at head coach, made him a rather unpopular and disrepected figure. Cerrato has some skills, but he probably fits a little further down the food chain in an organization. Allen, on the other hand, served as Al Davis’ right-hand man with the Raiders and then as a general manager for the Buccaneers. He has chops, as well as D.C. ties because his father George Allen famously coached the Redskins. But Allen’s main job is to caddy for Shanahan, who has final decision-making say there. Shanahan had lost steam with the Broncos at the end of his tenure there, although he showed a knack for drafting offensive linemen who fit his system, and it’ll be interesting to see whether a new spot reinvigorates him. The questions in DC  fall more on the personnel side than the coaching side. But if Shanahan can find talent, especially on offense, he should be able to coach a winner in Washington.

7 – none

6 – none

5 – Seattle (Tim Ruskell out as general manager, Pete Carroll in as executive vice president of football operations, John Schneider in as general manager) – The Seahawks were going to let Ruskell’s contract as general manager expire, and so he chose to leave his post in early December. Ruskell arrived in Seattle from Atlanta to take over as general manager from Mike Holmgren, who maintained his head-coaching role. The duo led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance, but over the past two years injuries have plagued a roster that has gotten too old. While many Seahawks fans point to the departure of OG Steve Hutchinson as the turning point, the fact is that too many of Seattle’s core players – including Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones – have passed their prime, and there simply aren’t elite players around to replace them. Ruskell’s reputation as a scout is still intact, and he’ll get another job somewhere, but Seattle needs a new approach. So they turn to Pete Carroll, an average NFL head coach in the late 1990s who ruled the world at USC. Carroll isn’t the general manager, but he is in a position of authority to at least be equal to and perhaps above the general manager who is yet to be hired. Carroll knows how to run an organization from his time at USC, and that’s going to be a plus. His GM is John Schneider, a long-time football operations guy in Green Bay and Seattle. He and Carroll don’t know each other, which may provide a valuable give and take if they can disagree agreeably. The advanatage is that Schneider knows the NFL and the players in it, which will help speed Carroll’s reacclimation process. The relationship between Carroll and Schneider will determine how this works, but this isn’t a bad plan on paper.

4 – San Francisco (Scot McCloughan out as GM, director of player personnel Trent Baalke gains responsibility) – It’s unclear why McCloughan was releived of his duties, and the timing 5 weeks before the draft seems troublesome. But at that juncture in the offseason, the 49ers knew their free-agency plan and had their draft board basically organized, which makes McCloughan’s absence more feasible. McCloughan was GM in San Francisco for two years, after three seasons as director of player personnel, and during that time the 49ers have moved back toward relevance, primarily by drafting players such as Patrick Willis and Michael Crabtree. McCloughan’s evaluation skills will be missed, but the 49ers seem to have a good plan in that area, and so giving Baalke and his team more responsibility makes sense.

3 – none

2 – Philadelphia (Tom Heckert leaves as GM, Howie Roseman hired as GM) – With Tom Heckert leaving for Cleveland’s GM job, the Eagles promoted vice president of player personnel Howie Roseman into the GM’s job. It’s the right move to hire from within, because the system is working in Philly. But with team president Joe Banner and head coach Andy Reid still in place, Roseman’s job will be finding players, not overhauling the system. That will give Roseman a chance to grow into this job. But largely, there won’t be a lot of changes in how the Eagles get things done because the organization alpha dogs are still in place.

1 – Buffalo (Russ Brandon promoted from chief operating officer to CEO, Buddy Nix promoted from scouting director to general manager) – After firing head coach Dick Jauron, the Bills realigned their front office by promting Brandon to the top spot under owner Ralph Wilson in the organization and making long-time scout Nix their GM. Although Brandon had been filling the GM role for the Bills, he is considered more of an overall organization man than an on-field talent evaluator. So now those duties go to Nix, who at age 70 has a long resume working with John Butler and A.J. Smith first in Buffalo and then in San Diego. That’s a pretty good pedigree when it comes to finding players. The question is whether Nix can take off his scout’s hat and begin to put together a team systematically. That’s especially important now considering that the Bills have a vacancy at head coach. The Bills are a team without a true identity and without a clear future at quarterback, and those are big issues that outweigh the presence of good to very good players like rookie safety Jarius Byrd, WR Lee Evans, or DE Aaron Schobel. Nix’s stamp has to go beyond good drafts to an overall plan. Maybe his long tenure in college coaching helps him do that, but getting a first shot at running an NFL front office at age 70 makes it far from a sure thing. Nix will help a ton on draft day; it’s what he does the rest of the year that will determine how the Bills go from here.

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FR: What makes a great NFL coach?

I was on the radio with the Open Mic Daily guys last week on ESPN 1400, and one of them (props, Smitty) asked what a coach needed to be successful in the NFL. That got me thinking, and so I wanted to create a Football Relativity comparison of the various skills a coach must have to be successful as an NFL head coach. We’re comparing these skills using a 10-point scale, with the 10 level noting the most important skills and the 1 level noting the skills that are merely marginal.

10 – Creating and organizing a system – This is the most vital thing a head coach must do. A coach, in conjunction with the rest of the football organization, must determine what kind of team he wants to have. Bill Parcells is the best of all time at this. He wants a team that is big and physical. He has physical dimensions he wants at each position. That clear plan allows everyone else in the organization to have a goal in mind and point toward that goal. Without a plan, a head coach fails. But the best coaches – Parcells, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, Andy Reid, etc. – know what the goal is and have built a system that allows their teams to move toward that goal.

9 – none

8 – Building a staff – A head coach must delegate (more on that later), and so a coach must be able to have assistants he trusts to do what they were hired to do. A coach with assistants who are skilled at teaching and at game planning gets a leg up. Staff chemistry is also an issue. You’ve got to have guys who are pulling the same direction that you are, and you have to make changes when that isn’t happening. That’s why, for example, Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt let defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast go after last season despite a Super Bowl berth – he wanted a defense that did what his vision was. New defensive coordinator Bill Davis is on the same page as Whisenhunt, and the results look quite good right now.

8 (con’t)- People skills – A head coach needs to be able to relate to others. Just as in any other leadership position, a head coach has to treat others well so that everyone stays on the same page. This doesn’t mean being a pushover; the head coach can be firm. But the demeanor needs to be fair and consistent. When that doesn’t happen, no one in the organization can fully trust the coach, and that undermines the system.

7 – Delegation – Even if a coach builds the right staff, he still must let the staff do its job. That takes delegation. If a coach doesn’t delegate responsiblity – whether it’s running practice, teaching skills, creating a game plan, calling plays, or whatever – then he runs the risk of spreading himself too thin and compromising one or more parts of his job. Delegation is vital to the overall success of a coach.

6 – Game planning – This is an important skill, but it’s not a head coach’s primary responsibility. In an ideal world, the head coach will have input and give guidance to the overall game plan, but it’s the assistants who take a philosophy and turn it into a weekly plan. It’s also the assistants and advance scouts who will find holes in opponents that can be exploited. While many coaches who have been coordinators hold onto this responsibility, the best head coaches know what part of game planning to do themselves and how much of this task to delegate.

5 – Play calling – Like game planning, play calling is something most head coaches are good at. In many cases, it’s what got a coordinator noticed and promoted into head-coaching jobs. But often, head coaches are better off giving up play-calling duties so that they can focus on macro issues within a team and an organization. We’ve seen this to be true in Washington this season, as the Redskins’ offense has clicked better now that Jim Zorn has given up play-calling duties. The play callers can give more detailed attention to play calling than Zorn, who has far more duties, could.

4 – Game and clock management – This is the place where coaches catch reams of criticism. From Belichick’s decision to go for a fourth-and-2 to use of timeouts to many other issues, mistakes in this area are glaring. But they are actually a small part of a coach’s job. A coach can be wildly successful without good game management skills, while a coach with unbelievable game management skills but no system will quickly fail. This area seems more important than it is; it’s not a make-or-break skill.

4 (con’t) – Replay challenges – This is a subset of game management that can lead to great criticism but ultimately is a minor part of a coach’s job. In fact, a coach who makes emotional decisions with the red flag to support his players, even if he’s often wrong, can actually get players motivated and inspired. This ultiamtely is not a skill that will get a coach fired if he doesn’t have it – but it can help a bit.

3 – Motivation – Motivation skills are what fans love to see, but at the NFL level, this is a relatively minor issue. That’s because players are usually self-motivated. Money, playing time, endorsements, and more keep players preparing at a high level. So motivation doesn’t make the huge difference in the pros that it can on the college level.

3 (con’t) – Discipline – Some coaches, like Eric Mangini, take discipline to the nth degree. But in the broad view, discipline isn’t as important as organization. If you have an organized system, then discipline serves to keep players in line with it. But if your system is unclear or unorganized, then discipline won’t save it. Those two things must go hand in hand. Otherwise, you look like a self-righteous jerk instead of a disciplined head coach. But when you have a system, such as a coach like Tom Coughlin has, then discipline is how the system runs. That’s a combination that works.

2 – none

1 – Dealing with media – This is another high-profile part of a coach’s job, but it ultimately doesn’t determine whether coaches thrive or not. While it’s nice to have a coach who’s good with the media, a la Rex Ryan or Dungy, it doesn’t make that coach successful. As long as a coach can let media criticism roll off his back, his demeanor with the media doesn’t really affect the performance of a team in the long run. It’s hard for a former media member to admit, but it’s true.

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