Wednesday, August 17, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - New Orleans Saints

Just a year after knocking off the Colts in the Super Bowl, the Saints were eliminated in the wild-card round by the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks. Granted, Marshawn Lynch broke one of the greatest runs in the history of football, but still, to lose to Seattle is embarrasing. New Orleans re-dedicated itself to improving it's running game and their offseason moves reflect that. They also wanted to add some youth on the defensive side of the ball and spent 5 of their 6 picks on defense players. These moves, in my opinion, should help the Saints in the quest to recapture the NFC South title away from the Atlanta Falcons.

1st round, 24th overall) Cameron Jordan - DE - California
With their first pick in the 1st round, the Saints drafted what many thought to be the best 5 technique (3-4 DE) end in the entire draft. Cameron Jordan will shift to the 4-3, where he can play both end and shift inside to tackle in certain situations. Jordan has a strong pedigree as his father, Steve, was a 6-time Pro Bowler at TE, most notably for the Minnesota Vikings.

How he fits in: The Saints lack a dominant pass-rusher opposite Will Smith. I doubt that former Chicago Bear Alex Brown is that guy. He's able to provide good play against the run and situational pass-rushing ability, but Cameron Jordan is the future at DE. Smith and Brown are 30 and 32 respectively and Jordan is a great technician. You could also slide Jodran inside on passing downs next to guys like Sedrick Ellis or Mitch King.

Outlook: Jordan might be eased in as a rotational player for this year, at least starting out, but he's certainly going to be in the running for the strongside DE spot opposite Will Smith. He's not as explosive as a traditional 4-3 DE prospect and sometimes gets overexcited and will lose contain on the edge. That said, if you can keep him under control, his ability to hold the point of attack is very good and he's outstanding against the run, so much of the pass-rush he provides is just a bonus for you.

1st round, 28th overall) Mark Ingram - RB - Alabama
Coach Sean Payton knew he needed to upgrade his running game in the offseason, and the Saints made a blockbuster trade sending a 2012 1st rounder to the Pats for the right to select Mark Ingram, the best running back in the Draft. Ingram, a 5'9" 215lbs workhorse at Alabama should be an immediate starter and feature back for the Saints.

How he fits in: The oft-injured Reggie Bush was traded away to Miami and Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory have battled injuries the past two seasons. Enter free agent Darren Sproles to replace Bush and Ingram will get first crack at the feature back role. Ingram runs hard between the tackles and can break the big play. Built very similar to and has speed similar to that of former Cowboys great Emmitt Smith. He's also got very underrated hands out of the backfield (his dad, Mark Sr. was a receiver for the Giants and Dolphins in the late 80s and early 90s). Ingram should be the tone-setter on this offense and will be great for the Saints near the goaline. Ingram couldn't have asked for a better situation to land in as the Saints have a very good O-line.

Outlook: Ingram was a very durable back at Alabama and he'll be able to split carries again in New Orleans (he did so at 'Bama with Glen Coffee and Trent Richardson), so durability won't be as big of an issue as many thought it might be. Ingram will be a key cog in the Saints offense as they'll have a viable running game once again. He could very easily be the Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Saints, and I think they made a great pick here.

3rd round, 72nd overall) Martez Wilson - LB - Illinois
The Saints have very little depth behind linebackers Jonathan Vilma, Scott Shanle, and Clint Ingram. Martez Wilson, a high school classmate of the Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose, overcame a very rough upbringing to become a 2-year starter for the Illini. He's had some off-field incidents, including getting stabbed while helping a teammate in a bar fight in 2009. He's more athlete than football player, but his skill of running the arc and bending around the corner give the Saints a good blitzer from an OLB position. He has played ILB, so if something were ever to happen to Jonathan Vilma, he could step inside in a pinch. He should compete with Shanle and Ingram for one of the outside LB spots this year.

3rd round, 88th overall) Johnny Patrick - CB - Louisville
Jabari Greer as been a revelation for the Saints at CB and Tracy Porter has been solid. Former 1st rounder Patrick Robinson is in the mix as a second starter or nickel corner. Patrick, a pretty underrated prospect from Louisville, has excelled in both man and zone coverage. However, he came to Louisville as a receiver and his technique is still very raw by NFL standards. He'll get caught peeking in the backfield when he shouldn't be and things of that nature, but he's definitely got the skill and temperment to work with. He could be a solid contributor in a year or two.

7th round, 226th overall) Greg Romeus - DE - Pittsburgh
Still lacking some depth on the D-line the Saints took a late round flier on the former Pitt Panther star Greg Romeus. Injured last year and only playing two games, Romeus was productive for three seasons after redshirting for the Panthers. However, as a junior, he was overshadowed by teammate Jabaal Sheard, now of the Browns, in a big way. That's not to say Romeus can't get to the passer as he tallied 20.5 sacks in 3 seasons. He's not as athletic as you'd think and he's somewhat stiff when pursuing. He doesn't have many moves and relied too much on his speed rush in the Big East. However, his combination of size and speed 6'5" 264lbs and 4.85 forty give you something to work with. He might sneak onto the roster, but at the very least should be a solid practice squad guy.

7th round, 243rd overall) Nate Bussey - LB - Illinois
The Saints grabbed Martez Wilson's teammate Nate Bussey with a late 7th round pick. A safety originally for the Illini, Bussey played well on special teams his first season and a half and starting his final 18 contests at weakside linebacker. Bussey is a small guy, but a solid tackler. He'll have to make a serious run on special teams to make the roster, which is a daunting task given the number of good special teams players the Saints have. However, their most prominent one, Marvin Mitchell left in free agecny, so that leaves one extra spot available.

Overall Grade: A-
I really like what the Saints did, especially trading back into round one for Mark Ingram. I think he'll add a dimension to the offense they haven't had in a while. Cameron Jordan, Martez Wilson, and Johnny Patrick all will have a chance to become solid contributors, perhaps even starters, in a few years time. Romeus and Bussey are two guys who could find roles on special teams or in a rotation. In my opinion, the only thing keeping the Saints from an "A" is the fact they didn't address some positions on the O-line, such as C and RT. Veteran Olin Kreutz was brought in to replace Jonathan Goodwin, but how much longer will he last? John Stinchcomb was just cut the other day at RT; what's their plan there? I'm not sure placing Jermon Bushrod or Charles Brown at RT is the right move. Other than that, I think they did a great job, even if it involved giving up a 1st rounder in 2012.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sports Quick Hits - 8/15

Sorry for the delays between posts. But we're back, and there's a rumor going around that we may see the return of Chizzy soon.

Football is finally back! Well, preseason football that is. Just a few observations from the limited action I saw over the weekend:

1) Philip Rivers is good. Really, really good. The Chargers offense should be fine.

2) It could be a really long season for Andy Dalton and the Bengals. Question: If they finish as bad as I think they will, do they draft Andrew Luck next year? If he enters the Draft that is.

3) Colts fans should start worrying about Peyton Manning's neck injury. Without him, they're not a good football team.

4) As dumb as the new kickoff rule is, I was surprised to see some long returns this weekend. Kudos to Lovie Smith and the Bears for totally ignoring the rule and having Robbie Gould kickoff twice from the 30 yard line to practice coverage (the new rule dictates you must kickoff from the 35 and players may have only a maximum of a 5 yard run-up to the ball).

5) Ryan Mallett is by far and away the most pro-ready of the rookie QBs, but he won't start this year being stuck behind Tom Brady. That said, Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, and Jake Locker were all fairly impressive in their preseason debuts.

Obviously there were a ton of transactions right after the lockout ended. Here's 5 moves that I like and don't like made by teams.

Moves I like:

1) The Eagles signing multiple free agents and dealing Kevin Kolb. The Eagles got a king's ransom for a pretty unproven player. Landing Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha gives them the best trio of CBs probably ever. Ronnie Brown gives them a power runner, and adding the Giants Steve Smith gives them a nice option in the slot. However, I'm not sure they'll get away with having Casey Matthews starting at MLB all year.

2) The playing hardball and retaining Ahmad Bradshaw. The diminutive power runner tried to up his contract status by visiting Miami and scheduling one to Cincinnati. Miami said his demands were too high and the Giants brought him back for slightly less than what Bradshaw wanted from Miami. Good move for both parties there.

3) Darren Sproles to the Saints. Mark Ingram will be the workhorse there, but let's face it, Sproles is an upgrade to Reggie Bust...I mean Bush. While he's not as fast as Reggie, he's a better runner between the tackles, is a much better kick returner (look up the numbers for yourself, Reggie was pretty damn bad), and can do all the things out of the backfield that Bush did for New Orleans. Their offense could be scary-good. Remember, in 2009, Brees was only 18 yards shy of breaking Marino's signle-season record (5,084 in 1984). Brees could challenge that.

4) Minnesota trading for Donovan McNabb. This comes with the caveat that McNabb is 100% into football this year. The Vikings have a lot of pieces in place and have Adrian Peterson to rely on. Sidney Rice leaving creates a void on offense, but I think Minnesota will find ways to manage their downfield attack. McNabb at least offers a nice mentor to Christian Ponder, again, with the caveat that he's totally into football this year.

5) Okay, not NFL related, but Andrew Luck's beard is on the road to magnificence.

5 Moves I don't like:

1) Reggie Bush to Miami: New Orleans gave him up for a 6th round pick and reserve safety Jonathon Amaya. That's pretty telling to me. He himself has admitted his knee is messed up, and Miami trying to pass him off as a true #1 RB is just a disaster in waiting.

2) The 49ers keeping Alex Smith. Just watching their first preseason game was pretty ugly. I'll give Jim Harbaugh the benefit of the doubt for now, but Colin Kaepernick wasn't stellar either. However, a reunion of Harbaugh and Andrew Luck in 2012 would bring more attention to the 49ers than they've had since a man named Rice caught passes there.

3) Chris Johnson holding out in Tennessee. I understand the man wants paid, and deservedly so, but just get to camp already. Tennessee is willing to play ball and will make you the highest paid RB ever. But, the more Johnson stays away, the more Javon Ringer (a high school nemesis of mine) can ease into the starting role.

4) Marcel Dareus in Buffalo. What happened man? You showed up at the Draft weighing in at 318lbs and looking great. 1st day of training camp in Buffalo - 343lbs. Yikes. However...

5) ...that's small potatoes compared to Bryant McKinnie in Minnesota. The once elite left tackle has eaten himself off the roster and up to nearly 400lbs. Someone has to protect Donovan McNabb's backside or the Ponder era will start early.

First and foremost, apologies to JM. His Brewers are for real this year and are a legitimate contender. My Reds however, are done - stick a fork in them. Too much drama in the front office between Dusty Baker and Walt Jockety, too many injuries, and half the team coming back to earth (I believe I said that would happen in my NL preview) a little harder than expected has ended their season prematurely. Nice to see Dontrelle Willis coming back strong though.

How good are the Phillies? At 37 games above .500 (78-41 record) they have a nice lead on the Atlanta Braves, currently 9 games. They've run away with the divison as the third place Mets are just 20.5 games back.

The NL East aside, there's some really good races in every other division. Starting in the AL, Boston's only got a .5 game lead over the Yankees in the East. In the Central, the White Sox and Indians are both within 4 games of first place Detroit (it feels weird typing "first place Detroit" when not talking hockey). In the West, it's a close two-horse race as the Angels are just 4 back of the Rangers.

In the NL Central, Chizzy's Cards are trying to close a 5 game gap between them and first place Milwaukee and out West the surprise Diamondbacks hold a 2 game lead over defending Champs San Francisco.

I'll be the first to admit that I typically lose a lot of interest in baseball around this time of year, especially since the Reds aren't in contention this year (back to normal for Cincinnati) and I turn into a football junkie yet again, so apologies in advance if our baseball coverage is a little lax.

Other Sports News
Due to inclement weather, NASCAR had a road course race this morning at Watkins Glen in New York. Can you say ratings boom?!?

Terrelle Pryor is supposedly meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tonight or tomorrow to see if he can become elgible for this Wednesday's Suppelemental Draft. Both Miami and Oakland have shown interest, but his eligibility remains a question mark. Former Georgia RB Caleb Kings is the only other noteworthy name up for grabs.

Mark Sanchez admits he wanted to fight Rex Ryan after Ryan considered benching him during the 3rd quarter of the Jets 10-6 loss to Miami last November. Sanchez put together back-to-back stinkers in a loss to the Patriots the week before the Dolphins game. All things considered, give me Rex Ryan, and his new tattoo, in the battle of "The Weight-Watcher vs. The Cradle-Robber". It might as well be the undercard of the proposed Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight next spring.

Speaking of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao - that really needs to happen, and soon. I've given up on watching any UFC event, unless Anderson Silva is involved, but I've been a boxing fan since I watched Tyson bite off Holyfield's ear. Gone are the glory days of the world's once most followed sport.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

TGTS - Back in Action Soon

Sorry for the delays between posts. Chizzy is still recovering from taking the bar exam and I've been quite busy with work. Chizzy will have an article on his beloved Philadelphia Eagles soon, so I'm skipping them in my Draft Reviews. I'll have a Sports Quick Hits up Tomorrow and should be back in regular action. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, August 1, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Indianapolis Colts

When you have Peyton Manning, who's now weilding a new $90M contract, your team always has a chance, and with the Colts offense getting some players back healthy in 2011, such as Joseph Addai, Anthony Gonzalez, and Austin Collie, they should be potent. GM Bill Polian and owner Jim Irsay said they were going to improve the offensive line after the Colts lost to the Saints in the Super Bowl. That didn't happen in 2010, but it did happen in the 2011 Draft. With just 5 picks, the Colts addressed a couple of needs and got, in my opinion, two steals in the latter rounds of the Draft. Let's see who they got.

1st round, 22nd overall) Anthony Castonzo - T - Boston College
Since the retirement of Tarik Glenn, Peyton Manning hasn't had a top tier protector on his blind side. Look at some of the other quarterbacks in the league. Philip Rivers has Marcus McNeill; Tom Brady has Matt Light; Aaron Rodgers has Chad Clifton and soon to be Bryan Bulaga; Jake Long has...oh, wait. Either way, Peyton Manning deserves better than Charlie Johnson, who has played well, but is a more natural guard.

How he fits in: It shouldn't be too hard for the big man from Boston College to win the starting LT spot from day one. Charlie Johnson might be able to hold him off for a while, but it it's really just a matter of time. Castonzo, who stands at 6'7" 311lbs isn't quite in the same class as Trent Williams and Russell Okung from last year's class, but he's very good in his own right, and in my opinion, the best left tackle in this year's clast. He's got some nastiness to him in the run game, and Peyton Manning's quick reads and throws will mask some deficiencies in his pass sets.

Outlook: A biochemistry major who was nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship, it's safe to say Castonzo is very smart, and he's also got a high football IQ on the field. He's got a prototypical build, and while not as athletic as some guys with his build, he's long enough to reroute defensive ends. Has to learn to play with better leverage. Castonzo played against a lot of top competition including Derrick Morgan, Allen Bailey, Robert Quinn, and Da'Quan Bowers during his college years in the ACC. He'll be a starter for a long time in the NFL.

2nd round, 49th overall) Ben Ijalana - G - Villanova
Similar in many ways to Jets 2010 pick Vladimir Ducasse, Ijalana comes from the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) where he started 53 straight games for the Wildcats. Ijalana played LT in college, but with a shorter build at 6'3" 317lbs, he'll probably have to be groomed at G. The Colts have a few prospects on the interior with Mike Pollak, Kyle DeVan, and Jeff Linkenbach, but none are really dominant interior players. Ijalana is pretty athletic for his size, but will be making a tremendous jump in competition. I'd expect he probably won't start right away, but he could phase out either Pollak or DeVan, eventually. He could surpass Jeff Linkenbach as a top backup this season.

3rd Round, 87th overall) Drake Nevis - DT - LSU
If not for Nick Fairley's burst into national prominence during his senior season, one of the SEC players we all would have been talking about on the D-line would've been Nevis. Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir got the job done last year on the Colts interior, but Muir was just signed by the Rams, potentially clearing the path for Nevis to start early on. Eric Foster and Fili Moala are decent role players and DeMario Pressley was recently added, but Nevis could be the best of that role-playing bunch. He's a prototypical tackle for the Colts; undersized, quick, and very experienced coming out of college. At 6'0" 294lbs, Nevis racked up 24 TFL's and 10 sacks the past two years for the Tigers. Very quick and athletic for his size on the interior, clocking a 5.06 forty in Indy at the Combine.

4th round, 119th overall) Delone Carter - RB - Syracuse
The Colts were able to bring back Joseph Addai at a favorable contract. He and Donald Brown are a nice tandem, but both have had issues staying healthy. Dominic Rhodes, Mike Hart, Devin Moore, Javarris James (cousin of former Colt great Edgerrin James), will likely compete for the 4th running back spot, i.e. a special teamer who might be active on game day. Addai and Brown are the top guys, but I think Delone Carter locks down the third spot and could be a starter by season's end. A 5'8" 222lbs wall of muscle, Carter plays a lot bigger than he his and should get all of the short yardage carries right off the bat. He's got decent hands out of the backfield and shows decent change of direction skills for a man his size. Carter had some off-field issues and was kicked off the team for a year, but was reinstated and ripped off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. This will be the Colts future at RB, a lot more so than Donald Brown, and he should be a nice addition to the Colts offense this weekend.

6th round, 188th overall) Chris Rucker - CB - Michigan State
Rucker had several off-field incidents at MSU, his most recent including getting involved in a dorm-room brawl as a senior, and he also had several alcohol related incidents on campus. Coach Mark Dantonio suspsended him briefly as a senior, but he was surely the Spartans best defensive back. At 6'0" 195lbs, he's not overly quick, but he's very good in man-to-man coverage and is at his best when he can be physical up on the line. He's a very good tackler and isn't afraid to come up in run support and is definitely a gamer. Jeraud Powers and Jacob Lacey will probably be starters, but Rucker should push for playing time in nickel and dime packages with the release of Kelvin Hayden. Provided Rucker can keep his nose clean off the field, he's got a lot of potential and should it in very well in the Colts cover 2 scheme where he can be physical up close to the line of scrimmage.

Overall Grade: A-
I have to give the Colts credit, they identified some of their biggest weaknesses and addressed them. Overall though, what they did in the draft paled in comparison to the importance of re-signing Peyton Manning. They scratched that off their list, and despite his not being 100% healthy, he'll be fine for the regular season. Anthony Castonzo and Drake Nevis look like they'll be the only two rookies to start off this year. However, Ijalana, Carter, and Rucker all have the potential to contribute in specific packages or in depth roles right away. Each of those three also has the potential to start down the road. Despite having limited picks, the Colts turned in some nice names that will be able to contribute to the team both now, and in the future.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sports Quick Hits - 7/25 - Lockout Over/Stars Overseas?

Well, it's a little late today, but with this edition of Sports Quick Hits, you can know that the NFL Lockout is Over! Almost. It's still pending the formality of the players vote, which at this points looks like it'll be a majority agreement with the owners unless something dramatic changes. With that vote, the NFL and NFL Players committees, who worked until 3am this morning, have expedited the NFL time line. If the deal is accepted today, here's what will happen:

Monday, 7/25 - The NFL will announce teams can go to 90-man rosters and will distribute official free agent lists. So, expect to see a bunch of big names, and we'll also get clarification on guys like Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson, and whether or not their franchise tags will stick.

Tuesday, 7/26 - Teams can begin negotiating with drafted rookies and undrafted college free agents beginning at 10am. All signed players are allowed into team facilities, with 10 teams beginning training camp. To keep teams from having additional practices, all teams may begin camp only 15 days prior to their first preseason game. Teams may begin resigning their own free agents and start negotiations with unrestricted free agents and begin trade talks. However, transactions involving unrestricted free agents and trades cannot be reported to the league office until Friday the 29th, so you may have to wait a few days to see some new faces on your favorite team's roster.

Wednesday, 7/27 - Ten more teams are allowed to report to training camp, and ten more will report Thursday with the Jets and Texans reporting on Sunday.

Thursday, 7/28 - Teams can begin to cut players currently under contract to get back under the new $120M salary cap. Teams must spend at least 89% of that total in cash contracts, or $106.8M). Presently, there are 8 teams over the cap. Those teams and the amounts over are as follows:

Dallas Cowboys - $18.9M over
New York Giants - $11.3M over
Oakland Raiders - $10M over
Pittsburgh Steelers - $10M over
Minnesota Vikings - $5.1M over
Indianapolis Colts - $2.7M over
New York Jets - $1.2M over

Among some of the notable players likely to be cut due to high salaries are: Reggie Bush, Saints; Shawn Andrews, Giants; Flozell Adams, Steelers; Marion Barber, Cowboys; Vince Young, Titans; Donovan McNabb, Redskins; and Vernon Carey, Dolphins. Note that this list doesn't include players like Peyton Manning and Santonio Holmes, who are unrestricted free agents whose contracts will come off their respective teams books should they leave. Those two are unlikely, but there will be a lot of guys in flux the next 4 days.

Friday, 7/29 - All teams can file all new transactions (signed unrestricted free agents, rookie contracts, and trades) with the NFL League Office starting at 6pm.

August 4th - Deadline for recertification of NFLPA and ratification of new Collective Bargaining Agreement by the players.

As much as I hate to dole out kudos to these two, but my hats off to Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith for taking over these negotiations the last two weeks. And lastly, I think you have to ask the owners, was it worth it? I think not, and I think that's plenty evident by teams hurting badly on season ticket sales.

Just when the MLB trade deadline is approaching and some of the races are getting hot, the NFL seemingly solves its lockout issues. Buzzkill for baseball. Anyways, there are some great races going on. Here's my top 3.

1) NL Central - this one is sort of by default, as the first place Pirates, also tied with the Cardinals and Brewers, all have worse records than every other first place team in the Majors and are all also worse than 4 of the second place teams around the majors. The Reds are also 3 games back and won back-to-back games for the first time in a month last night. I'd expect some serious deals to go on in this division over the coming days.

2) AL Central - don't look now but Ozzie Guillen's White Sox are hard-charging and just two games below .500 and just 4.5 out of first after a dreadful start. Detroit holds a two game lead over the Indians, who just won't seem to go away. I think this remains a 3 horse race to the bitter end.

3) NL Wild-Card - the Braves have a 4 game lead over Arizona right now, but Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati, the New York Mets, and Washington Nationals are all within 10 games of the Braves.

Other Sports

A lot of NBA guys are looking overseas. Deron Williams already signed with a team in Turkey, and that squad is currently in talks with Kobe Bryant. Dwight Howard has eyed teams in Europe, Turkey, and maybe biggest of all, China, in order to improve his game overseas while the NBA Lockout is in effect.

Terrelle Pryor, the former Ohio State QB, may not be allowed to be in the Supplemental Draft, which still has yet to have a date set for it, as he left Ohio State under his own volition, as opposed to being ruled academically ineligible or being kicked out of school for unforseen circumstances.

Lastly, and this one is for Chizzy, I'll go ahead and call the Eagles trading Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and a draft pick. Book that one for Friday night.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

KD's Top 10 College Football Games for 2011

Sorry for the brief hiatus the past two days, we should be back on track now. It's better late than never, but my Top 10 College Football Games of 2011 are finally here. Obviously college football rivalries happen with pretty much weekly regularity, and a few of them happened to make my list. That being said, you won't see a game like Michigan vs. Ohio State on the list, as I tried to pick the best games that will occur this year, meaning that both teams should be good and that the game will have significant bearing on the BCS standings. I don't see Michigan vs. Ohio State fitting those characteristics this year.

Now, after reviewing my games, it's pretty tough to determine an exact 1-10 order. Obviously teams records will change and may knock the game down slightly in the rankings, but on paper, prior to the season these are the marquee matchups. I've listed them in the order that they will occur on the calendar from earliest to latest. I've listed the teams, their ranks, game date, location, and will have a rundown of each team. I'll list a key player to watch on each team as well, and if it is a rivlary game, you'll have the moniker associated with it, or one cleverly made up by yours truly. Here we go.

Please note these rankings reflect ESPN's Mark Schlabach's Way Too Early Top 25 rankings as published January 11, 2011 to keep consistent with my prior college football articles. That, and rankings haven't been released yet.

1) #3 Oregon vs. #4 LSU
Date: September 3rd
Location: Cowboys Stadium, Dallas Texas
Moniker: The NCAA Probe Bowl

Preview: Just yesterday, LSU got hit with a year's probation and sanctions for recruiting violations centered on former junior college recruit Akiem Hicks and former assistant D.J. McCarthy. Oregon is currently being probed by the NCAA for the recruitment of LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk, and their relationships and financial dealings with Will Lyles and Baron Flanery. Oregon's high-powered offense will matchup with LSU's retooled defense in a Pac-12 vs. SEC showdown. LaMichael James will be suspended for the matchup due to an altercation with his girlfriend last year, so the Ducks will have to rely on Darron Thomas and Kenyon Barner. LSU has some quarterback issues, and Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee will probably both see time, so expect the Tigers to rely on the running of Spencer Ware.

Key Players: I'll have to go with Barner and Ware here. Both of them should carry their teams in this game. Barner is a dynamic weapon as a kick returner, running back, and they've put him in the slot and out wide at times. He should see action all over the field. Ware, a converted quarterback is a pounder at 5'11" 225lbs, and he'll see a lot of work.

Predicted Winner: I like LSU's defense and their ability to grind the clock in this game to slow down the Ducks. Without LaMichael James, the Tigers will be able to key on Kenyon Barner, and Oregon's top two receivers from last year are both gone. The SEC takes this one.

2) #1 Oklahoma at #7 Florida State
Date: September 17th
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahasse, Florida.
Moniker: The Trail of Tears Game

Preview: These two teams have hooked up in an inter-conference matchup the past two years. Oklahoma has more talent coming back than any other team in the country; they have 29 players with starting experience returning, but it centers around two guys: QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles. Expect Oklahoma's offense to put up yardage and points through the air. Their defense should be fine, although the passing of the late Austin Box will hurt them in the middle. The Noles are looking to replace Christian Ponder at QB, but they have a slew of talented running backs and E.J. Manuel does have some starting experience. The Noles defense, in particular their outstanding CB tandem of Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid will be tested early and often in this matchup.

Key Players: For Oklahoma, I'll go with ILB Tom Wort. He'll be pressed into starting action again with the loss of Box, and the British Import will have to be on his toes against the Noles ground game athleticism of E.J. Manuel. For the Noles, I've to take Manuel. He'll have to grow up fast as this is each team's second game of the season, and Oklahoma has far more players and plays in place than the Seminoles do.

Predicted Winnner: Oklahoma won this matchup last year in Norman 47-17, and it's hard to not take them again here. Florida State won't have Christian Ponder, and Oklahoma simply has too much firepower for the Noles. Even though it's in Chief Osceola's back yard, the Sooners are too much in this contest.

3) #2 Alabama at #23 Florida
Date: October 1st
Location: The Swamp (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium), Gainesville, Florida
Moniker: SEC Bare-Knuckle Game

Preview: While it's not a traditional rivalry game for Florida like they have againts Georgia or Florida State, nor Alabama with Auburn, these two teams were at the zenith of college football in the 2000s. They met in the SEC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010, with each team winning it once and moving onto the National title. Florida will have to replace Urban Meyere with Will Muschamp, who will instill a more traditional offense for the Gators. Alabama will have to deal with losing Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, and Greg McElroy on offense. Alabama has plenty of talent coming back, and their defense should be very good as some key guys decided to return. Florida lost a lot in the secondary via the draft and Janoris Jenkins getting kicked out of school. This is Alabama's toughest early season test, and it could derail their National Championship aspirations.

Key Players: For Alabama, a lot of this season hinges on RB Trent Richardson's ability to shoulder the full load at RB. For the Gators, give me head coach Will Muschamp. This is Florida's big test this year, and Muschamp, a former Saban assistant with LSU and the Miami Dolphins, will have to figure out which QB to go with to take on the best coach in College Football.

Predicted Winner: I'll take the Crimson Tide in a closer game than what many will be expecting.

4) #19 Nebraska at #12 Wisconsin
Date: October 1st
Location: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
Moniker: The Big 10 Intra-Squad Scrimmage Game

Preview: This game will be quite confusing as Nebraska and Wisconsin's uniforms are nearly identical, save for their helmets. Okay, so my made up moniker isn't great, but even the teams are pretty similar. Both have big lines, solid defenses, like to run the ball, and now, with Wisconsin's addition of QB Russell Wilson, both teams have outstanding quarterbacks. Taylor Martinez and Russell Wilson should both be very fun to watch. Both can throw, both are very mobile, and they both make good decisions, and despite the tradition of both teams, I don't think this will be the type of plodding, low-scoring game Big 10 fans are accustomed to.

Key Players: I'll stick right with Martinez and Wilson here. Both teams will have solid defenses, though each squad will have a significant amount of graduated and drafted talent to replace, so I think this game could be a higher scoring affair. Whichever QB makes fewer mistakes will win the game.

Predicted Winner: Badger fans will be jumping around in Madison as they have a more reliable running game to go with the outstanding game Russell Wilson brings to the table.

5) #10 Ohio State at #19 Nebraska
Date: October 8th
Location: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska
Moniker: The Big 10 Blue Bloods of College Football Game

Preview: In what would've been the first game back for Jim Tressell, Terrelle Pryor, and the rest of the suspended Buckeyes, the Ohio State team will look a little different. I can't imagine them going 5-0 in the stretch of games prior to this one, and they'll be going into a very hostile environment for the first time on the season. Nebraska comes into this game off a road trip to Wisconsin, which in my scenario, they will lose, so this has the makings of a great game for two of the blue bloods of College Football. This should make for the start of an interesting inter-division rivlary in the Big 10, however, the Leaders and Legends names are just completely stupid. Fail.

Key Players: For Ohio State, they'll be getting back Daniel "Boom" Herron, their best runner who can help take the pressure off of whomever their QB is at this juncture. Herron runs hard for his size, and is probably Ohio State's best weapon offensively as DeVier Posey will be making his return as well. For Nebraska, give me DT/DE Jared Crick. He played with Ndamukong Suh, and he's very good in his own right against both the run and pass.

Predicted Winner: Score one for Big Red and the Huskers here. Ohio State is in disarray and it'll be just the first game back for the suspended players still on the roster. Inexperienced QB play in this environment? Ain't gonna happen Buckeyes.

6) #4 LSU at #2 Alabama
Date: November 5th
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Moniker: The Saban Bowl

Preview: In what could be the game the determines the SEC West's representative in the SEC Championship Game, the Tigers battle the Crimson Tide in a huge battle. LSU won the most recent battle in 2010 winning 24-21, but Alabama leads the all-time series 45-24-5. The Saban Bowl might be the best game all season this year. Alabama will have a high-powered running attack and a stout defense, much like LSU, so this could be that type of low-scoring, plodding game (yes, even in the SEC) that traditional football fans like me love. I think the Crimson Tide will have more overall talent, and if QB A.J. McCarron develops well, they should be the better team as long as Trent Richardson is still healthy.

Key Players: A pair of linebackers here. For Alabama, I'll give you Dont'a Hightower, and for LSU I'll give you Karnell Hatcher. Both inside backers will have to be on their games to stop Trent Richardson and Spencer Ware as a lot of the offense will come on the ground in this battle.

Predicted Winner: Hard to go against the Tide at home. I think their defense is better, and they'll have revenge on their minds after losing in Baton Rouge last year.

7) #3 Oregon at #9 Stanford
Date: November 12th
Location: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, California
Moniker: The Pac 12 QB Battle

Preview: There's two potential Heisman candidates playing in this game with Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oregon's LaMichael James. This game could potentially be a knockout for a BCS Championship Game representative. Stanford's lone loss last year was to the Ducks and Andrew Luck came back for another year to graduate with his recruiting class and to make a run at a Pac 12 title. Luck will have to carry the Cardinal this year as he's losing some talent on offense, most notably Ryan Whalen and Owen Marecic, along with 3 starters on the O-line. Oregon, if they get past LSU in their opener, will have this game marked as the only contest between them and back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

Key Players: Luck and Oregon QB Darron Thomas will be the key factors in this matchup. The Cardinal will be at home, in probably their biggest home game in a long time. Thomas will have to lead the Ducks attack into hostile territory, but it should make for a very exciting game to watch.

Predicted Winner: I'll take Andrew Luck and Stanford in a revenge game here. Stanford is pretty underrated, and if there's a next Peyton Manning, it's Andrew Luck.

8) #8 Arkansas at #4 LSU
Date: November 25th
Location: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rogue, Louisiana
Moniker: The Battle for the Golden Boot

Preview: Tyler Wilson takes over the reins at QB for the Razorbacks after Ryan Mallett graduated. The Hogs have a lot of talent coming back with Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson at RB, Joe Adams, Greg Childs, and Colbi Hamilton coming back at receiver. Wilson played very well in spot duty last year, including a 300 yard game. He also played well in the Spring Game and has some Razorback fans already comparing him to Ryan Mallett. LSU will have been through the wringer coming into this game having played Oregon, Florida, Auburn, and Alabama, so this is the last hurdle in their season, and they could be really banged up.

Key Players: Wilson and Jordan Jefferson, the two QBs in this game, will be the key. Arkansas will probably be able to put up some points on the LSU defense, so it'll be up to Jefferson to keep the Tigers in the game. LSU kicked a ton of field goals last year in the redzone, so they'll really need to convert touchdown opportunities in this game to keep pace with the Hogs.

Predicted Winner: I'll go with an upset here and take the Razorbacks despite them having to go into Death Valley. I think they just have too much talent on offense and can outscore LSU in the end.

9) #2 Alabama at #17 Auburn
Date: November 26th
Location: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama
Moniker: The Iron Bowl

Preview: Alabama nearly wrecked Auburn's National Championship season last year, but Cam Newton powered the Tigers comeback. In Tuscaloosa. Auburn nearly derailed Alabama's perfect season in 2010, in Auburn. So, something's going to give here. Obviously, without Cam Newton, Auburn's going to be lacking on offense a little bit. This game is Alabama's last hurdle to the SEC Championship Game, so it could be for all the marbles for the Tide. Last year's freshman phenom Michael Dyer will have to take up a bigger work load along with Onterio McCaleb. If Trent Richardson is still running hard, he'll be on his way to a potential Heisman campaign.

Key Players: Michael Dyer and Trent Richardson. This rivalry game has been pretty close the past few years, and I expect no different this year even though the Crimson Tide have more total talent. Richardson and Dyer are both big backs who run hard, and will have to produce in this game to keep the chains moving and put points up on the board.

Predicted Winner: Roll Tide. Alabama's going to be too strong for the Tigers this year, but I expect the game will be closer than most people think. It's a pure hatred game here, and if recent history is any indicator, it should be very entertaining to watch. At the very least, it's a good way to work off your turkey hangover the day after Thanksgiving.

10) #1 Oklahoma at #6 Oklahoma State
Date: December 3rd
Location: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Moniker: Bedlam

Preview: We close out the Top 10 Games of 2011 with Bedlam. The rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is a long-running one that dates back to the Big 8 Conference with the Sooners dominating the all-time series with an 81-17-7 record, including 8 straight wins since 2002. In fact, OK State's last two wins came in 2001 and 2002 when Oklahoma was ranked 4th and 3rd respectively while the Cowboys were unranked. This year figures to be different as both teams could potentially be in the top 10 and this could be the game that determines if Oklahoma's going to head to the BCS Championship Game. Oklahoma State has a deadly QB - WR combo of its own in Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, but they'll have to replace the departed Kendall Hunter in the ground game. I'd expect this to be a shootout with Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles on the other side.

Key Players: Blackmon and Broyles. Perhaps two of the best three receivers in College Football, with respect to the outstanding Alshon Jeffery, these two should light up the scoreboard. Pay special attention to Blackmon especially, as he absolutley abused Nebraska's Prince Amukamara last year, and in my opinion, will carry a higher grade than Georgia's A.J. Green did when he enters the NFL Draft.

Predicted Winner: It's hard to buck history here, so I'll have to take the Sooners in a wild shootout in Stillwater. And if I were a betting man, I'd bet on Oklahoma to take on Alabama in the BCS National Chamipionship Game, which would be one heck of a matchup for all College Football Fans.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Cleveland Browns

The Browns were involved in the league's biggest 1st round trade, with Atlanta, who moved up to select Juilo Jones. The Browns the made another trade to move back up to the 21st spot, held by the Chiefs, by giving up a 3rd round selection. The Browns of course are transitioning from Eric Mangini's 3-4 defense to a 4-3 under new head coach Pat Shurmer. Anytime you have a team trying to make a huge transitition like that, it's usually a 2 year process at minimum; though it is a little easier to go from a 3-4 to a 4-3 than the other way around. The Browns had the leagues 31st ranked offense last year despite pulling off to major upsets, beating the Patriots and the Saints behind rookie QB Colt McCoy. The Browns managed to get him a few new weapons after upgrading their D-line. Let's see what they did.

1st round, 21st overall) Phil Taylor - DT - Baylor
Given the Browns traded down a few years ago and took C Alex Mack, it's not really a surprise they went with his counterpart on the other side of the line, even though the front office is different. Taylor himself was a bit of a head-scratcher as many people had him pegged as a 3-4 NT, and a lot of people had him going to Kansas City, who traded out of this spot. However, with Shaun Rogers taking off to New Orleans prior to the lockout, the Browns need a big body in the middle to go next to Ahtyba Rubin.

How he fits in: Taylor is massive, standing 6'4" and is down to 334lbs, yes, down to 334lbs. He's a big guy who can occupy blockers and take up double-teams, much the way Rubin already did as the Browns NT last year. Taylor's stamina isn't that great, and he's battled a sprained knee and turf toe already in his career. He should definitely push for a starting spot as a rookie, but he'll be rotated in and out of the lineup more than Rubin will be until he gets his weight fully in check.

Outlook:: For as big a trade as the Browns made, they're not really getting anything new. In reality, they're just reinforcing the interior of their 4-3 defensive line by putting him next to Rubin. Taylor's physical style of play will keep people from getting to the linebackers at the next level. All things considered though, the Browns could've taken Cameron Jordan or Da'Quan Bowers to upgrade their pass-rush. Even Julio Jones at 6 if they had stayed put would've been really nice for Colt McCoy. So, Taylor's going to have to make an impact to make that trade stand up.

2nd round, 37th overall) Jabaal Sheard - DE - Pittsburgh
Again, the Browns passed on Da'Quan Bowers here, fearing his surgically repaired knee and taking Jabaal Sheard over him. An underrated prospect who didn't garner the same headlines as Pitt teammate Greg Romeus, Sheard was often the better player and had a nice career across from Romeus. Sheard was a three year starter for the Panthers and won the 2010 Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award. He's got good size 6'2" 264lbs, and is pretty athletic and had a lot of 3-4 teams interested in him as an outside linebacker. Registered at least 10TFL s and 5 sacks in each of his three years as a starter and had 14.5 TFLs and 9 sacks as a senior. He should win one of the starting DE spots for the Browns as a rookie.

2nd round, 59th overall) Greg Little - WR - North Carolina
Adding another receiver was imperative for the Browns and they got a pretty good one late in the second round. Little came to Chapel Hill as a receiver, was then converted to running back, and went back to reciever in 2009. He is one of the most physical receivers in the Draft, but he also sat out the 2010 season while suspended for improper dealings with an agent. He also saw some time on the Tar Heels basketball team in 2007. At 6'2" 231lbs he's built more like a running back than receiver, and while he's certainly not a deep threat, he's a good all-around player whose well suited for the west coast offense. His best football is still ahead of him at receiver.

4th round, 102nd overall) Jordan Cameron - TE - USC
Ben Watson had a revival year last year under coordinator Brian Daboll, who is now gone. Alex Smith and Evan Moore are decent depth, but all three players are more plodders and better blockers than they are receivers. Watson's the best of the bunch, but he'll turn 31 this year. Cameron, a TE whose stock was rising after a good showing at the Combine is a guy who can stretch the seasm. A former basketball player at BYU, Cameron was the Trojans second TE as a senior after playing two years as a backup wide receiver. He's got excellent size at 6'5" 254lbs and clocked a 4.59 forty time in Indy. He's a "potential" pick as he only had 16 career receptions at USC, all coming as a senior. It is worrisome that his ypc average is just a paltry 7.6 for someone with his athleticism; only 1 TD in his career.

4th round, 124th overall) Owen Marecic - FB/LB - Stanford
The Browns want to move on from the style of FB that Lawrence Vickers is and want to bring in a banger to lead block for Peyton Hillis. Vickers, more of a receiving FB/H-Back hybrid was a decent blocker, but they didn't get the most out of his versatility. Marecic, who played both FB and ILB for the Cardinal, is probably the best blocking FB to come out in the Draft this year. Marecic has good size at 6'0" 248lbs and is definitely a throwback type of player. He's decent in short yardage situations and gives you a little something in the receiving game, though make no mistake, his job is going to be to open holes for Peyton Hillis. That said, it's a little early to take a FB in the 4th round, but given the style of offense the Browns will have, it makes sense.

5th round, 137th overall) Buster Skrine - CB - Tennessee-Chattanooga
Joe Haden, Sheldon Brown, and Coye Francies give the Browns three nice prospects at CB, and they have some developmental prospects in DeAngelo Smith and Ramzee Robinson. That said, the ability to improve the depth in the secondary is a thing Cleveland wanted to address and did so with Skrine. An undersized corner at 5'9" 186lbs, Skrine has timed in the 4.3's despite running an official 4.48 forty. He was a three year starter at UTC, whose most famous football alum is Terrell Owens, and while his tape, by all accounts is pretty average, his workouts are outstanding. He might have been overdrafted, but he could push for a dime spot as a rookie and may offer something as a backup kick returner to Josh Cribbs.

5th round, 150th overall) Jason Pinkston - T - Pittsburgh
Having to play John St. Clair at RT is no fun for any team, and the Browns tried to find his immediate replacement here with Jason Pinkston. A left tackle at Pitt, Pinkston is built more like a G at 6'3" 317lbs, but he still might have a home at RT in the NFL given the likes of smaller, physical guys who've succeeded there in Marshal Yanda, Michael Oher, both Ravens, and even a younger Mark Tauscher for the Packers. Pinkston should push St. Clair and Tony Pashos for the RT spot, and may even slide inside to challenge Floyd Womack at RG if he can't make a push on the outside. An experienced player, Pinkston's a bit of an underachiever and has shorter arms than you'd like. Cousin of former Eagles receiver Todd Pinkston.

7th round, 248th overall) Eric Hagg - S - Nebraska
T.J. Ward might've made as big an impact as a rookie S of any player since his former Oregon teammate Jarius Byrd a few seasons ago. Sabby Piscatelli and Abram Elam both struggled at the SS spot and neither may be long for a starter's role. Hagg, a player with decent size at 6'1" 209lbs, was a two and a half year starter for the Cornhuskers and has experience at both CB and S. It was a S where he made his biggest impact as a senior playing next to Prince Amukamara. Hagg notched 49 tackles, a sack, two hurries, 4 PBUs and 5 INTs to win Nebraska's Defensive MVP Award. He's played a combination of safety and nickel corner, so he offers some versatility with where you can play him. He should be able to unseat one of the Browns backups in the secondary and find a role to contribute in as a rookie.

Overall Grade: B-
Other than the big trade with the Falcons, the Browns had an under-the-radar type of draft. Nothing too flashy, just meat and potatoes at positions of need. Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard should both start and will have every chance to make an immediate impact as rookies. Greg Little should fill a role, but isn't the deep threat the Browns needed, nor is he the true #1 WR that the Browns could've had if they kept that 6th overall pick and selected Julio Jones. Owen Marecic will be a nice lead blocker for Peyton Hillis and will fill some roles on special teams and can even double as a LB if needed, though it's pretty early to spend a 4th round pick on an offensively one-dimensional FB. Skrine might have been overdrafted as well, but he and Eric Hagg could push for certain roles in the secondary as rookies. Pinkston could play either RT or RG, but must play up to his potential. I think the Browns had a lot of chances to add more talent to their roster, but went conservative in many cases and didn't get enough back in the Falcons trade to warrant a higher grade from me.