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Jersey Numbers: Offensive Linemen

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

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

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post. Now we move to offensive linemen, who wear numbers between 60 and 79, although some wear numbers in the 50s.

One more thing: Because offensive linemen are harder to evaluate statistically, my choices may be different than yours. We’ve tried to at least mention each lineman who has started a game this season plus a few significant guys who have not played yet this season due to injury. Leave a comment to let me know where I’m crazy, and we may change the jersey number winners when we make a final judgment of the best players league-wide by number.

50 – Ben Hamilton, Broncos – Hamilton has been with the Broncos for nine years and is still a starter, with seven starts this year at left guard. He’s also started at  center in his career for a line that is almost always above-average. Other notable 50: Edwin Williams, Redskins

51 – Dominic Raiola, Lions – Raiola has been with the Lions since 2001 as a center, and he continues to serve as a full-time starter. The team re-signed him to a four-year deal in the offseason. Other notable 51: Chris Morris, Raiders

54 – Brian Waters, Chiefs – Waters joined the Chiefs in 2000 as an undrafted free agent, and he has become a Pro Bowl-caliber guard. Although his performance is slowly starting to slip with age, Waters still earned Pro Bowl honors last season (for the fourth time) and has started all 11 games this season. Other notable 54: Eugene Amano, Titans

55 – Alex Mack, Browns – Mack was the Browns’ first-round pick last April, and he has started all 11 games this season at center for Cleveland. He’s one of just five rookie linemen to start every game this season. Other notable 55: Chris Myers, Texans

57 – Olin Kreutz, Bears – Kreutz has long been one of the league’s top centers, and he has started almost since he first entered the league back in 1998. The six-time Pro Bowler is also considered one of the leaders of the Chicago locker room.

59 – Nick Cole, Eagles – Cole has emerged as a full-time starter this season for the first time, seizing the right guard job from Max Jean-Gilles and starting every game thus far.

60 – Chris Samuels, Redskins – Samuels has missed several games this season with a neck injury that could end up being career ending, but this is a nod to his long, terrific career. So we opt for him over two solid centers, Shaun O’Hara of the Giants and Jason Brown of the Rams. Other notable 60s: Brad Butler, Bills; D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets; Max Unger, Seahawks; Ike Ndukwe, Chiefs

61 – Nick Hardwick, Chargers – Hardwick missed much of the season with a knee injury he suffered in Week One, and it’s no coincidence that the Chargers’ running game has struggled in his absence. The former Pro Bowler’s return in the final month of the season should give the Bolts a jolt. Other notable 61s: Stephen Neal, Patriots; Casey Rabach, Redskins

62 – Casey Wiegmann, Broncos – Wiegmann, who has played for the Jets, Bears, and Chiefs as well as his current team, the Broncos, made his first Pro Bowl with Denver last year. He has started 138 straight games for the Bears, Chiefs, and Broncos, which is the best total for any center in the league. Other notable 62s: Andy Alleman, Chiefs; Justin Hartwig, Steelers; Max Jean-Gilles, Eagles; Brandyn Dombrowski, Chargers; Nate Livings, Bengals; Todd McClure, Falcons; Chilo Rachal, 49ers

63 – Jeff Saturday, Colts – No offensive lineman is as essential to his quarterback as Saturday is to Peyton Manning. Saturday can keep up with Manning’s constant audibles and check-with-mes and make just the right line calls to keep his signal-caller protected. No wonder Saturday is a three-time Pro Bowler with a new, long contract from the Colts. Other notable 63s: Jacob Bell, Rams; Justin Blalock, Falcons; Roberto Garza, Bears; Dan Connolly, Patriots; Geoff Hangartner, Bills; Kyle Kosier, Cowboys; Brad Meester, Jaguars; Scott Mruczkowski, Chargers; Manny Ramirez, Lions; Lyle Sendlein, Cardinals; Will Montgomery, Redskins; Scott Wells, Packers; Chris White, Texans; Bobbie Williams, Bengals

64 – Jake Grove, Dolphins – The Dolphins brought Grove over as a high-dollar free agent to bring a more physical style of play to their center position, Ironically, Grove was replaced in Oakland by another 64, Samson Satele, the man he replaced in Miami. The Dolphins were happy with the trade. Other notable 64s: David Baas, 49ers; Zach Strief, Saints; Kasey Studdard, Texans; Anthony Herrera, Vikings; Kyle Cook, Bengals; Leroy Harris, Titans

65 – Andre Gurode, Cowboys – Several quality lineman, including OGs Eric Steinbach of Cleveland and Brandon Moore of the Jets, wear 65. But Gurode has made the last three Pro Bowls at center for Dallas, so he gets the nod. Other notable 65s: Louis Vasquez, Chargers; Jeremy Trueblood, Buccaneers; Mark Tauscher, Packers; Chris Spencer, Seahawks; Justin Smiley, Dolphins; John Sullivan, Vikings; Ryan Lilja, Colts; Barry Sims, 49ers; William Beatty, Giants; Mike Brisiel, Texans; Chris Chester, Ravens

66 – Alan Faneca, Jets – Faneca has long been one of the best guards in the league, and he’s provided a jolt for the Jets in his two seasons there since moving from his long Steelers tenure. So he still gets the nod over fellow guards David Diehl of the Giants and Derrick Dockery of the Redskins. Other notable 66s: Cooper Carlisle, Raiders; Jeromey Clary, Chargers; Kyle DeVan, Colts; Hank Fraley, Browns; Ben Grubbs, Ravens; Evan Mathis, Bengals; Stephen Peterman, Lions; Mark Setterstrom, Rams; Mansfield Wrotto, Seahawks; Donald Thomas, Dolphins

67 – Jamaal Jackson, Eagles – Jackson, a former undrafted free agent, took over the Eagles’ starting center job midway through the 2005 season and has started every game since. We’ll give him the nod over another good young center, Ryan Kalil of the Panthers. Other notable 67s: Josh Beekman, Bears; Joe Berger, Dolphins; Dan Koppen, Patriots; Andy Levitre, Bills; Vince Manuwai, Jaguars; Kareem McKenzie, Giants; Rob Sims, Seahawks; Tony Ugoh, Colts; Damien Woody, Jets

68 – Kevin Mawae, Titans – Mawae has long been one of the league’s best centers, and last season he returned to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2004. He gets the nod at this number over OG Kris Dielman of the Chargers, who has made the last two Pro Bowls. Other notable 68s: Doug Free, Cowboys, Richie Incognito, Rams; Jon Jansen, Lions; Chris Kemeoatu, Steelers; Seth McKinney, Bills; Frank Omiyale, Bears; Keydrick Vincent, Panthers; Adam Snyder, 49ers

69 – Jordan Gross, Panthers – Although Gross has been shelved for the rest of the season, he has been a top-level player both at right tackle and now at left tackle. He made his first Pro Bowl last year at a left tackle, and his mauling style makes him solid blocking for the run as well as the pass. That gives him the nod over Giants OG Rich Seubert. Other notable 69s: Mike Gandy, Cardinals; Jamon Meredith, Bills; Steve Vallos, Seahawks; Chester Pitts, Texans

70 – Leonard Davis, Cowboys – Davis, a massive guard, has made the last two Pro Bowls, even though his size can get out of hand and limit his quickness. Still, he’ll get the nod over OLT Jamaal Brown, who has missed the whole season for the Saints, and youngsters OT Donald Penn of Tampa Bay, OG Logan Mankins of the Patriots, and OG Travelle Wharton, who has moved to left tackle to fill in for Jordan Gross in Carolina. Other notable 70s: Khalif Barnes, Raiders, Alex Barron, Rams; Rex Hadnot, Browns; Daniel Loper, Lions; Langston Walker, Raiders; Eric Wood, Bills; T.J. Lang, Packers

71 – Michael Roos, Titans – For years, 71 has been the domain of Seahawks great OLT Walter Jones, but Jones has missed the entire season. So we’ll give the nod here to Roos, a left tackle who made the Pro Bowl last year for the first time. He gets the nod over Jason Peters of the Eagles, who hasn’t played the last couple of years at the same level he performed at around 2007; young Ravens OLT Jared Gaither; and Vikings rookie ORT Phil Loadholt. Other notable 71s: Russ Hochstein, Broncos; Kendall Simmons, Bills; John Wade, Raiders; Josh Sitton, Packers

72 – Vernon Carey, Dolphins – Carey is turning into a solid right tackle for the Dolphins. He has incredible size, which is part of the reason that the Dolphins spent so much to re-sign him in the offseason. We’re giving him the nod over two-time Pro Bowl OLT Matt Light of the Patriots, who seems to be starting to decline as a player. Other notable 72s: Sam Baker, Falcons; Erik Pears, Raiders; Tra Thomas, Jaguars; Jason Spitz, Packers; Ryan Tucker, Browns; Darnell Stapleton, Steelers

73 – Jahri Evans, Saints – Earlier this week, I heard ESPN’s Trent Dilfer call Evans the best guard in the league. Steve Hutchinson might argue, but that’s enough for us to give Evans the nod over a strong field of 73s that includes OT Marcus McNeil of San Diego, OG Harvey Dahl of Atlanta, OT Joe Thomas of Cleveland, and OT Eric Winston of Houston. Other notable 73s: Shawn Andrews, Eagles; Mackenzy Bernadeau, Panthers; Eben Britton, Jaguars; Kirk Chambers, Bills; Daryn Colledge, Packers; Anthony Collins, Bengals; Adam Goldberg, Rams; Chris Kuper, Broncos; Marshal Yanda, Ravens; Ramon Foster, Steelers; Jake Scott, Titans

74 – Nick Mangold, Jets – Mangold, who made his first Pro Bowl last season, has emerged as one of the league’s best young centers. Now in his fourth season, he looks like he’ll be a preeminent linemen for years to come. So we give him the nod over massive Vikings OLT Bryant McKinnie and standout rookie Ravens ORT Michael Oher, whose story is told in the outstanding movie The Blind Side. Other notable 74s: Jermon Bushrod, Saints; Willie Colon, Steelers; Cornell Green, Raiders; Ryan Harris, Broncos; Stephon Heyer, Redskins; Winston Justice, Eagles; Joe Staley, 49ers; Chris Williams, Bears; Damion Cook, Lions; Charlie Johnson, Colts; Dennis Roland, Bengals; Wade Smith, Chiefs; Will Svitek, Falcons; Reggie Wells, Cardinals; Maurice Williams, Jaguars; Ray Willis, Seahawks

75 – Davin Joseph, Buccaneers – Joseph isn’t well known, but he’s part of a solid Buccaneers line. The right guard made his first Pro Bowl last season. Other notable 75s: Levi Brown, Cardinals; Marc Colombo, Cowboys; Eugene Monroe, Jaguars; Chad Rinehart, Redskins; Robert Turner, Jets; Ryan O’Callaghan, Chiefs; Nate Garner, Dolphins; Mario Henderson, Raiders

76 – Steve Hutchinson, Seahawks – At a loaded number, Minnesota’s Hutchinson is the best of the bunch. He’s the highest paid guard in the league, and he’s earned every penny of that deal by playing like the best guard in football for many years now. He’s a big reason the Vikings’ run game is so potent. So he gets the nod over OLT Flozell Adams of Dallas, OG Chris Snee of the Giants, legendary OT Orlando Pace of the Bears, and rookie OT Sebastian Vollmer of the Patriots. Other notable 76s: Branden Albert, Chiefs; Stacy Andrews, Eagles; Jeff Backus, Lions; Chad Clifton, Packers; Robert Gallery, Raiders; Jonathan Goodwin, Saints; Levi Jones, Redskins; Deuce Lutui, Cardinals; Tyler Polumbus, Broncos; Jeremy Zuttah, Buccaneers; Duane Brown, Texans; David Stewart, Titans

77 – Jake Long, Dolphins – Long, the former No. 1 overall pick, has stepped in as a terrific left tackle in Miami. He should be a bellweather left tackle for years in the league. He gets the nod over Baltimore C Matt Birk, who has long been a force, and underrated Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth. Other notable 77s: Gosder Cherilus, Lions; Tyson Clabo, Falcons; Brandon Frye, Seahawks; Nick Kaczur, Patriots; Damion McIntosh, Seahawks; Uchi Nwaneri, Jaguars; Carl Nicks, Saints; Tony Pashos, 49ers; Jason Smith, Rams; Floyd Womack, Browns; Randy Thomas, Redskins; Demetrius Bell, Bills

78 – Ryan Clady, Broncos – It’s a golden era for young left tackles, and Clady may be the best, at least as a pure pass blocker. He gave up his first sack in his season and a half in the NFL earlier this year, which is amazing for such a youngster. He’s a true blue-chipper. Other notable 78s: Allen Barbre, Packers; Jordan Black, Jaguars; Mike Pollak, Colts; John St. Clair, Browns; Max Starks, Steelers; Jon Stinchcomb, Saints; Adam Terry, Ravens

79 – Jeff Otah, Panthers – Otah is another young tackle, only he plays on the right side. He’s a big, physical run blocker who perfectly fits the style that Carolina wants to play. Other notable 79s: Jon Runyan, Chargers; Trai Essex, Steelers; Mike Goff, Chiefs; Todd Herremans, Eagles; Artis Hicks, Vikings; Jonathan Scott, Bills

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Week 6 moves

We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 5 transactions here and work your way back through the season.

Additions

Redskins (add OT Levi Jones) – Jones, the long-time Bengal, comes in to try to stabilize an offensive line that has been ransacked by injuries. Washington is playing without regular OLT Chris Samuels, who suffered a season-ending and perhaps career-ending neck injury, and while Jones is not a great option at left tackle, he could be at least serviceable.

Eagles (trade for LB Will Witherspoon) – You can read more about Philadelphia’s acquisition of Witherspoon in this post. The fact that Philly had to put fill-in MLB starter Omar Gaither on injured reserve with a Listfranc injury in his foot later in the week only made the acquisition of Witherspoon more vital.

Panthers (trade for DT Tank Tyler) – You can read more about Carolina’s acquisition of Tyler in this post.

Packers (add RB Ahman Green) – Green Bay put third-down back DeShawn Wynn on injured reserve with a knee injury, and to replace him they brought back Ahman Green, who starred with the team from 2000 to 2006. Green, who most recently was a bit player with the Texans last season, fits in as a backup to Ryan Grant and should also fall behind Brandon Jackson on the depth chart, but he could provide a little bit of help if he plays in limited spot duty. This move doesn’t solve any major problems, but it does make Packers fans happy. So there’s that.

Rams (trade for WR Brandon Gibson) – You can read more about St. Louis’ acquisition of Gibson in this post.

Chargers (add CB Dante Hughes) – The Chargers haven’t gotten good play out of their secondary, so they are taking a look at Hughes, who was a third-round pick by the Colts in 2007. It’s a long shot, but Hughes showed potential at one time and thus could conceivably help.

Chiefs (add NT Kenny Smith) – After trading Tank Tyler to the Panthers, the Chiefs brought in Smith, who comes out of the Patriots’ system. Smith is more of a true nose tackle than Tyler, so he’ll at least fit the system better. But it remains to be seen if Smith can actually perform at the NFL level.

Subtractions

Bengals (put OLB Antwan Odom on injured reserve) – Odom, who has broken out this season as a pass rusher with 8 sacks, was hurt last week against Houston and now will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon. That’s a huge loss for the Bengals, who don’t have other great pass rushers. To fill Odom’s roster spot, the Bengals brought back Orien Harris, whom they traded in the offseason. Harris is a warm body, but not someone who’s going to make an impact.

Jets (put NT Kris Jenkins on injured reserve) – Jenkins (aka Jackpot) is a huge man who’s one of the biggest run-stuffers around. His absence, caused by a knee injury he suffered last week vs. Buffalo, will be hard for the Jets to overcome because they don’t have another player or combination of players who can wreak havoc inside. Now that opponents can single-team the Jets’ nose tackle, fewer blitzers will break free. The Jets brought back Howard Green to be in the NT rotation, but neither Green nor anyone else on the roster can come close to replacing Jenkins.

Browns (put LB D’Qwell Jackson on injured reserve) – The Browns don’t have many good players, but Jackson, who was one of the leading tacklers in the league last season, was one of them. But Jackson suffered a torn pectoral muscle that will cost him the rest of the season. That’s a big blow to a Browns defense that’s painfully bereft of playmakers.

Falcons (put CB Brian Williams on injured reserve) – Williams, a late signee in Atlanta, had established himself as a starting cornerback and had helped to stabilize a secondary that entered training camp with many questions. Now those questions return. Atlanta brought back DB Jamaal Fudge to replace Williams on the roster, while Chevis Jackson will get the first shot to replace Williams in the lineup.

Patriots (cut WR Joey Galloway) – The Patriots looked to the veteran Galloway as an outside receiving threat, but he never fit in with the Pats, even though he beat out Greg Lewis in the preseason. Now the Patriots turn to youngster Sam Aiken and rookie Brandon Tate to step into that spot in three-WR sets.

49ers (put LB Jeff Ulbrich on injured reserve) – Ulbrich will have to miss the rest of the season due to concussion-related problems. Matt Wilhelm, who starting at inside ‘backer in San Diego last year, comes in as a solid if unspectacular option.

Buccaners (put FB B.J. Askew on injured reserve) – Askew, the Buccaneers’ top fullback, will miss the rest of the season with a neck injury.

Bears (put LB Pisa Tinoisamoa on injured reserve) – Tinoisamoa (aka the Tower) will have to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. That’s a blow to the Bears, who planned on the Tower starting at outside ‘backer entering the season. This also makes for a disturbing week for the two guys that Football Relativity has nicknamed thus far – The Tower and Jackpot. My brother Chase believes it’s a curse. (See the comments on this post.) And there is a player that needs to be very, very nervous. He shall be called Spanx. You will find out who and why very soon.

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Bengal bingo

The Cincinnati Bengals moved some pieces around today, adding former Cowboy S Roy Williams is headed to Cincinnati and cutting longtime OT Levi Jones loose. We (of course) have some thoughts on the moves. We’ll compare the Williams signing to other moves in an upcoming relativity post on post-draft free-agent signings, while you can see the Jones cut in comparison to other recent releases in this post.

UPDATE: The Bengals got closer to a transaction bingo Thursday by trading for RB Brian Leonard. Thoughts on that below, but with a cut, a signing, and a trade, plus the obligatory free space, leaves them just one move for BINGO. I’m hoping beyond hope for a waiver claim on Friday…

Williams had some good seasons as an in-the-box safety in Dallas, even reaching Pro Bowl level. But over recent years, his performance has plummeted as his coverage inadequacies have been exposed. That, plus a hefty price tag, led the Cowboys to cut the cord. Now he heads to Cincinnati, where he’s reunited with ex-Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Zimmer knows what Williams does well and what he can’t do, which gives the Bengals a little better than average chance to use Williams well. Plus, his veteran leadership could help a team that’s slowly building a new defensive nucleus around LBs Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga. On a short-term, incentive-laden deal, it’s easy to see why Cincinnati would take this shot.

Jones was once a top-10 pick, and he started for a long time for Cincinnati. But injuries sapped his effectiveness over the past few years, and the Bengals finally replaced him by drafting Andre Smith at No. 6 overall this year. Jones would have been cut earlier, but Cincinnati waited to get his replacement in house before pulling the plug. Jones could still land somewhere as a backup tackle who’s good enough to play in a pinch but probably can’t play 16 games without getting dinged up. For his sake, we’ll hope he lands with a contender in that kind of role after years of meaningless games in Cincy.

Leonard was a second-round pick just two years ago after a strong career as a ball-carrying fullback at Rutgers. He had a decent rookie year with the Rams but fell off the radar as a sophomore last year. Still, he’s a good enough prospect for Cincinnati to take a shot, especially since they have little depth behind Cedric Benson, who hasn’t proven himself as a dependable full-time back. In exchange, the Bengals gave up DT Orien Harris, who is now onto his sixth team in four years. He’s a potential rotation player but not much more. It’s clear the new Rams regime didn’t have plans for Leonard and just wanted to get a roster-ready guy in exchange.

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Post-draft cutbacks

We’ve done two cutbacks posts thus far this offseason, one detailing cuts before free agency opened and one between the beginning of the new league year and the draft. But after the draft, there were some pretty significant cuts, and so we decided to begin a new post to compare those. This is once again a relativity poll with 10 being the most significant cuts and 1 being cuts that are merely worth mentioning. We’ll continue updating this post, so check back.

10 – Cardinals (cut RB Edgerrin James, DE Travis LaBoy, and CB Rod Hood) – James was a high-dollar free-agent acquisition three seasons ago, and he had two good seasons before beginning to decline last season. With the emergence of Tim Hightower last year and the selection of Beanie Wells in the first round, James became extraneous. The question is whether he has enough left to still contribute somewhere or if he’s just having the end-of-career dropoff that all running backs seem to have. Regardless, he’s had a great career with more than 12,000 rushing yards. LaBoy was one of Arizona’s big-money signings last year (5 years, $22 million), but injuries limited his effectiveness, and he only had four sacks last year. His price tag was just too high. Hood started 14 games last year, but he wasn’t good enough, and the Cards replaced him with Bryant McFadden in free agency.

9 – Bengals (cut OT Levi Jones, RBs Chris Perry and Gary Russell, S Mike Doss and Ps Kyle Larson and Ryan Plackemeier) – Jones was once a top-10 pick, and he started for a long time for Cincinnati. But injuries sapped his effectiveness over the past few years, and the Bengals finally replaced him by drafting Andre Smith at No. 6 overall this year. Jones would have been cut earlier, but Cincinnati waited to get his replacement in house before pulling the plug. Jones could still land somewhere as a backup tackle who’s good enough to play in a pinch but probably can’t play 16 games without getting dinged up. For his sake, we’ll hope he lands with a contender in that kind of role after years of meaningless games in Cincy.  Perry was a former first-round pick who fought injuries so often that he never really lived up to his potential. He was talked about as a starter going into the ’08 season after the Bengals released Rudi Johnson, but injuries derailed him again. Still, Perry is a good enough pass catcher to at least get a look as a third-down back elsewhere if he can stay healthy. Russell was a waiver claim from Pittsburgh just before the draft, but after the Bengals picked two backs, he became expendable. Doss was a former Colts prospect who disappointed for a second team. Larson and Plackemeier were cut after the Bengals drafted Kevin Huber, who looks to take over the punting job.

8 – Cowboys (cut DE/OLB Greg Ellis) – Ellis came to Dallas in 1998 in the midst of a firestorm, because the Cowboys picked him in the top 10 instead of selecting Randy Moss. While Ellis was never the difference maker that Moss was and is. He had 77 sacks in his career and was also a solid run-stopper. When Bill Parcells came to Dallas and switched the defense to a 3-4, Ellis was unhappy with his role. Still, as an outside linebacker, he tallied 12 sacks and won comeback player of the year honors in ’07 coming off an injury. That would suggest the Ellis still has something to contribute in a limited pass rushing role somewhere like Carolina or Washington. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will rely on former first-round pick Anthony Spencer to finally emerge as an impact guy. But Spencer has a long way to go to fill Ellis’ shoes.

7 – Steelers (cut ILB Larry Foote and P Dirk Johnson) – Foote has started every game for five years in a row, but ’07 first-rounder Lawrence Timmons is ready to take that spot.  Foote is a solid run-stuffer who has to come off the field in obvious passing situations. Those limitations made his $2.8 million salary-cap number too rich for the Steelers.

7 (con’t) – Redskins (cut OT Jon Jansen and WR James Thrash) –  Jansen was a stalwart of the Redskins’ offensive line for 10 seasons after joining the team as a second-round pick. He started 123 games in that time, almost all at right tackle. He was a physical run blocker who held his own in the passing game as well. He missed most of the 2007 season with an injury, though, and last year he only started 11 games. Although he was never a Pro Bowler, he was generally an asset as a starter until the last couple of years. But declining performance, coupled with a contract that lasts until 2011, made him expendable. The Skins don’t really have a replacement lined up, unless they want to depend on Jeremy Bridges or recent fill-in Stephon Heyer. So they may have to invest in a veteran – someone like a Jon Runyan – to fill in until they get a replacement ready to go. Thrash, a 12-year vet, failed his physical due to a bulging disc in his neck. He’s never been a top receiver, but he’s always found a role as a backup and special-teams dynamo. He carved out a pretty good career, and Washington seems open to bringing him back if he gets healthy. But if this is it, he should be proud.

6 – Lions (cut CB Travis Fisher, OT George Foster, QB Drew Henson, and LB Alex Lewis) – Fisher was brought over last year from St. Louis to be a starter, but Detroit spent most of this offseason signing corners to replace him. He still considered himself a starter, which might have been why the new regime cut the cord so quickly. Still, Fisher will latch on somewhere. Foster, a former first-round pick in Denver, was part of the package the Lions got in exchange for CB Dre Bly a couple of years ago. But Foster never lived up to his potential, and after Detroit added Jon Jansen and Ephriam Salaam this offseason, someone had to go, and Foster was that someone. Henson, a former top prospect both in baseball and football, was Detroit’s No. 3 quarterback last year, but he was released as the Lions put in a claim on John Beck (see above). Henson’s chances to make it in the NFL are just about gone. Lewis was a five-year Lion who played most on special teams, but he became replacable as Detroit worked to improve its talent at linebacker this offseason.

6 (con’t) – Falcons (cut QB Michael Vick, C Alex Stepanovich and OT Renardo Foster) – It’s hard to know how to compare Vick, who hasn’t played in two years, to other cuts because at this point, the Falcons have moved on. They have a new franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and a new playing style. Plus, they were basically forced to release Vick so that they didn’t end up having to pay him when he is eventually reinstated. So Vick is now free to try to find a team. His talents fit the new Wildcat fad across the league, but it’s going to be hard for a team to stomach the firestorm of publicity (or even criticism) that would come with signing Vick. This release is just the next step in a drama that still has miles to go. Stepanovich and Foster were once both prospects, but they fell in line as mere backups in Atlanta. Maybe a change of scenery will help, or maybe they’re just not all that good.

5 – Rams (cut LB Pisa Tinoisamoa) – Tinoisamoa — known as as The Tower here on FR — was the Rams’ leading tackler in 2008 with 135 stops, so it was somewhat surprising that he was released just after the team’s first minicamp. But the Tower Pisa was leaning too much the previous two years as he missed a bunch of time with injury. Once the Rams invested a second-round pick in James Laurinaitis, the Tower’s starting spot was gone. He’s not special, but he’s an effective inside ‘backer who can clean up tackles if he’s protected. With so many teams moving to 3-4 defenses, there will be someone who can use the Tower at one of those inside spots, at least for two downs. He doesn’t merit a big contract, but he does deserve a starting spot in the league.

4  – Broncos (cut RBs Selvin Young and J.J. Arrington, LBs Boss Bailey and Louis Green) – Young entered last year as a starter, but injuries limited him to just eight games. After drafting Knowshon Moreno and signing three vets, there was no more room for Young in Denver. He should end up as a backup somewhere in the league, though. The Broncos added Arrington as part of their free-agency binge, and even with the glut of running backs Denver brought in – Arrington, Correll Buckhatler, Lamont Jordan, and Moreno – Arrington looked to have a solid role based on underrated his triple threat skills. But Arrington had a knee injury in Arizona, and he never was healthy enough to pass a physical in Denver. The Broncos lost about $100,000 but had protected themselves against a greater loss by the way they structured Arrington’s contract.  His departure won’t be a huge blow at running back, but he would have helped if he had been healthy. Bailey, brother of Broncos star CB Champ Bailey, started six games last year before suffering a knee injury and undergoing microfracture surgery. The former Lion is undersized and hasn’t performed well enough in the pros to really carve out a role. If he can prove he’s healthy, he might find a roster spot for a team that plays a 4-3, but this knee surgery might prove to be the end for him. Green is a special-teams ace who is replacable, especially considering the system change the Broncos are undergoing right now.

3 – Saints (cut DTs Brian Young and Hollis Thomas and LS Kevin Houser) – Young is a solid veteran who has been so battered by injuries that his effectiveness has been severely limited. Unfortunately, this could be the end of the line for him, but if he gets healthy he can fit into someone’s rotation as a backup. Thomas is a huge inside player who missed most of last season with injury. Because of his size, someone will take a look to see if he can still play 15-20 snaps a game. Houser had been the Saints’ long snapper since 2000, but the team decided Jason Kyle was an upgrade there and so they made the switch and cut Houser. He should find work elsewhere, either in camp or because of injury during the season.

3 (con’t) – Buccaneers (cut QB Brian Griese) – Griese’s second tour of duty in Tampa Bay came to an end, and it wasn’t unexpected. After signing Luke McCown to a backup-quality deal in the offseason, then adding Byron Leftwich, and then drafting Josh Freeman in the first round, there was simply no room for Griese. The 11-year veteran still has enough to be a decent backup if he wants to keep playing, but he also has been around long enough that retirement could be an option. If it is, the former third-round pick who succeeded John Elway can rest in the fact that he had a solid if unspectacular career.

2 – Dolphins (cut QB John Beck) – Beck was a second-round pick in ’07, but once his advocate Cam Cameron was fired, he quickly fell out of favor with new decision-maker Bill Parcells. It took just one year for Chad Henne to pass Beck as the Dolphins’ signal-caller of the future. Beck still has talent, so he’ll get another shot (apparently next in Detroit as a backup).

2 (con’t) 49ers (cut S Jimmy Williams) – The former Atlanta second-round pick was out of football last year after flaming out with the Falcons. The 49ers had signed him earlier in the offseason as a flier, but he obviously didn’t leave an impression during minicamps, because he was quickly released. Williams has size, but how many chances does he have left?

2 (con’t) Jaguars (cut CB William James and QB Cleo Lemon) – James, formerly known as Will Peterson, spent eight years in the NFL, the last one with Jacksonville. He’s probably a marginal NFL player at best at this point, which means he’s a roster fill-in but not much more. Lemon was once thought to have potential, and he actually started some games with the Dolphins, but Jacksonville chose to go with Todd Bouman as its backup quarterback instead. Lemon at this point is no better than a No. 3 QB.

2 (con’t) – Jets (cut TE Bubba Franks) – Franks, the long-time Packer, had only six catches in his first season with the Jets in ’08. In fact, his primary role might have been as terminology translator for Brett Favre once Favre joined the Jets in training camp. The Jets resigned Franks in the offseason but released him on the eve of training camp. That seems to indicate that Franks is getting very close to the end of his career.

1 – Chargers (cut TE Scott Chandler and CB DeJuan Tribble) – San Diego gave up on Chandler, a fourth-rounder in ’07, and Tribble, a sixth-rounder last year, after selecting this year’s draft picks.

1 (con’t) – Patriots (cut RB Patrick Pass) – Pass, one of only 7 Patriots who was on all three Super Bowl winners, has been out of football since 2007. He signed with the Patriots in early June but was released one week later, which seems to indicate that he is in fact done with his NFL career.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (cut LB Stryker Sulak) – In an unusual move, the Raiders cut Sulak, a sixth-round pick, before he even signed a contract or reported to training camp. That’s either a failure in scouting – teams should have enough players on their draft board that a sixth-rounder is someone they like – or an organizational cheapness that’s regrettable. Either way, it’s not a good sign. Sulak, who hasn’t gotten a paycheck or any signing bonus yet because he had not yet signed, could land somewhere else, but he would basically be an undrafted free agent there who faces long odds to make a roster.

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Filed under Football Relativity, NFL Free Agency

RP: Draft boom and bust by position – Offense

As we approach the NFL draft and listen to coverage, I’ve heard constantly that drafting a quarterback at the top of the draft was a 50-50 proposition. But is that really true? And what about other positions — what are the chances of picking a lemon at those spots? As I wondered what positions have been the safest in the draft recently and what positions have been the riskiest, I decided to undertake  a research project to see exactly that.

Here’s the methodology: We looked at the top 16 picks of every draft this decade. We categorized each player as a positive, a negative, or a neutral. We only allowed neutrals for the past three drafts so that we didn’t straddle the fence over and over. We ranked offensive linemen as a group because at this level in the draft, it’s mostly offensive tackles anyway.

We then counted the positives as completions and negatives as incompletions to create a percentage of sorts. Neutrals did not count as attempts so that they don’t skew the rankings.

So here are the results. Feel free to quibble with the positive/negative/neutral ratings, because that would obviously change percentages. I’ve tried to be fair, and if there is a debate, I leaned toward the positive. (That’s the kind of guy I am.) Even with that, there are some pretty clear distinctions by position. Hopefully you’ll find the results are pretty insightful.

And if you want to check out the defensive results, check out this post (online Friday).

Quarterbacks: 8 of 11 positives (73 percent)
Positives: Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Michael Vick
Negatives: Alex Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington
Neutrals: JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart
Thoughts: This percentage was higher than I expected, but that’s because I held the jury out on Young and Leinart. Were I forced to assign a mark, both would be misses. Russell likewise needs to have a good year to move up. Smith could still turn his rating around, but because I forced a mark on him, it has to be a minus because he compiled only one quality season. Leftwich had four pretty good years in Jacksonville, and could still start in the league, so he’s a positive. Vick had six mostly good years in Atlanta, so his on-field performance was a plus too. It’s remarkable to see Ryan in the plus category so soon, because most QBs take 2-3 years to really start to shine. The strong QB class of ’04 (Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger) pushes this completion percentage up, but the class of ’05 (Young and Leinart along with Cutler) could yank the percentage right back down.
This year’s candidates: Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez

Running backs: 9 of 12 positives (75 percent)
Positives: Jonathan Stewart, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, LaDanian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones
Neutrals: Darren McFadden
Negatives: Cedric Benson, William Green, Ron Dayne
Thoughts: This is a pretty safe position at the top of the draft. If a running back fits into the top 16, he’ll most likely have some good years as a pro. And most of the time, backs can make an instant impact, which is another plus. We saw that with Stewart this year and Peterson and Lynch the year before. Williams has been hurt a lot, but when he’s played he’s been really good. McFadden is a neutral because he was so banged up as a rookie, but he still averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Dayne had some decent years, but he never notched 800 yards in a season, and so he has to receive a minus. Benson’s in the same boat, but he has a chance (like Thomas Jones) to reinvigorate his career in his second stop this year as a Bengal.
This year’s candidates: Knoshown Moreno, Beanie Wells

Wide receivers: 12 of 20 positives (60 percent)
Positives: Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr., Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Andre Johnson, Donte Stallworth, Santana Moss, Plaxico Burress
Negatives: Troy Williamson, Mike Williams, Charles Rogers, David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Rod Gardner, Peter Warrick, Travis Taylor
Thoughts: There are some legitimate superstars (Calvin and Andre Johnson, Fitzgerald) in this category, but the overall batting average isn’t wonderful. Some of the busts – Williamson, Mike Williams, Rogers, Terrell – have been completely useless as pros. (They almost make me want to have a double-negative category.) Ginn has shown enough potential to be a positive, and while Clayton has only had one dynamic season, the fact that Tampa re-signed him moved him onto the plus side as well. Reggie Williams is another marginal plus. Roy Williams hasn’t lived up to his hype, but he had good years in Detroit. I remember covering Gardner’s Pro Day; he tore it up, especially on his vertical jump, and thus moved from a late first-round pick up to No. 15 overall. A similar workout-phenom jump happened to Williamson. Such overdrafting mistakes based on workouts can kill a team. All in all, this is a position that plays out as more of a risk than others.
This year’s candidates: Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Derrius Heyward-Bey

Tight ends: 3 of 3 positives (100 percent)
Positives: Kellen Winslow II, Jeremy Shockey, Bubba Franks
Neutrals: Vernon Davis
Negatives: None
Thoughts: It’s a little weird to look at this list, because none of the guys on the list has been lights-out dominant. But Winslow, Shockey, and Franks have all been productive (if a little tempermental, in the cases of Winslow and Shockey). Still, in our simple plus/minus grading, each of the three gets a plus. Davis would get a minus, but there’s still hope, and he actually started to come around at the end of the season after Mike Singletary went beyond benching and banished him off the sideline in a midseason game. Because there’s still hope for Davis, we’ll leave him neutral for now.
This year’s candidates: Brandon Pettigrew

Offensive line: 14 of 16 positives (88 percent)
Positives: Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Branden Albert, Joe Thomas, Levi Brown, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jamaal Brown, Shawn Andrews, Jordan Gross, Bryant McKinnie, Levi Jones, Leonard Davis, Kenyatta Walker, Chris Samuels
Neutrals: Chris Williams
Negatives: Robert Gallery, Mike Williams
Thoughts: This position was one where the history is striking. If you want a safe pick at the top of the draft, take the offensive tackle. While there are a couple of notable busts, most of the time you get good value out of it. Some of these tackles are superstars, including recent top picks Long, Clady, and Thomas. But even the tackles who haven’t been started for a while, either at tackle or inside at guard. For example, Leonard Davis was not a great tackle, but he’s become a roadgrader at guard. Gallery moved to guard from tackle as well, but he’s a starter who hasn’t proven to be dominant. The numbers here surprised me in this research project, and they make me lean even more to this year’s crop of quality offensive tackles.
This year’s candidates: Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith, Michael Oher, Eben Britton

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Filed under NFL draft, research project