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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The 'Young Bucs' were only a bad, late-season home loss to the Detroit Lions away from going 11-5 and taking the wild-card spot that belonged to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. Leave it to Detroit to let the Packers win...
Anyways, the Buccaneers hit a homerun with QB Josh Freeman in 2009. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price helped stop the run and were nice picks in 2010. The Buccaneers also scooped up LeGarrette Blount off waivers after he was cut by Tennessee. GM Mark Dominik has steadily put together one of the youngest, most talented rosters in the entire league. With a boatload of cash to spend after the Glazer family cut costs to help stave off financial debt with their ownership stake in English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United, Tampa Bay has more money than any team in the NFL to spend on free agents. They also had an incredible draft haul, let's take a look.

1st round, 20th overall) Adrian Clayborn - DE - Iowa
The Buccaneers had trouble stopping the run and getting to the opposition's quarterback last year. Stylez G. White (formerly Greg White) led the team with just 4.5 sacks. When you play in a division with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, that's not going to get it done. White and fellow ends Roy Miller and Tim Crowder didn't do enough against the run, as the Bucs allowed an average of 131.7 yards per game. Clayborn should help fill the void at the strongside end spot.

How he fits in: Clayborn was a dual-threat player at Iowa showing he was capable of stopping the run and getting after the QB. As a junior in 2009 he lit the Big 10 on fire making 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Clayborn dealth with some shoulder issues, mainly due to Erb's Palsy, which he was born with, that limited his play as a senior. He racked up 7 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He's got experience playing the strongside, weakside, and even has kicked inside to defensive tackle in certain situations. At the very least, Clayborn should earn the starting strongside DE spot opposite White this year and will be a force against the run.

Outlook: Many people had the Bucs pegged to take a pass-rusher, it was just a question of whether it was going to be Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, or Da'Quan Bowers. In my opinion, they landed the best of the bunch with Clayborn. At 6'2" 281lbs, he's got good size, is fairly athletic, and can hold the point of attack. He's versatile enough that he can kick inside in passing situations to allow the Bucs to put in another DE, like Bowers or Crowder, and have 3 guys capable of getting to the passer surrounding Gerald McCoy. Great pick here as long as his shoulder's hold up.

2nd round, 51st overall) Da'Quan Bowers - DE - Clemson
The Bucs dipped into the DE well again here going purely with the best player available. Two years ago, Da'Quan Bowers was considered the best player in this entire draft class. Surgery on his left knee in February, rumored to be microfracture surgery - a deathnail for any athlete - hindered his abilities to perform at the Combine and he looked sluggish at his pro day workout, hence why his stock slipped so drastically, as doctors feared he'd be out of the league within 3 years. A physical specimen at 6'3" 280lbs, many 3-4 teams considered Bowers to play OLB prior to the injury; he's that athletic. After seeing part-time action behind some solid players entrenched above him at Clemson his first two years, Bowers led the nation in sacks with 15.5 and racked up 25 TFLs in 2010. Bowers is capable of playing either side, and will probably be a rotational player starting out, but he and Clayborn are the future bookends in Tampa.

3rd round, 84th overall) Mason Foster - LB - Washington
Barrett Ruud, a tackling machine for Tampa Bay is a free agent, and Geno Hayes, Quincy Black, and Dekoda Watson leave a litte something to be desired should Ruud leave. Mason Foster, an outside backer at Washington, is a very capable player and has experience in the middle and as a weakside guy. With the Bucs ample cap room, it wouldn't be a surprise if they brought back Ruud and started Foster next to him. Foster's got great size and speed for the Bucs scheme at 6'1" 245lbs and clocking a 4.75 forty. He's a tackling machine who can cover, and he's gotten got the QB a bit with 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He reminds me of a young, poor-mans Derrick Brooks in that he can do it all pretty well (not as well as Brooks though) but isn't overly phyiscal. He should be a day one starter, it's just a matter of whether he'll play inside our outside.

4th round, 104th overall) Luke Stocker - TE - Tennessee
Kellen Winslow's an outstanding tight end, but his physical style of play and injury history are always going to leave you concerned. After Winslow, there's not much depth to speak of. The reliable John Gilmore is nearing his last legs, and there's little else on the roster. Stocker can be a very nice number two TE and complement Winslow well. I'd draw the comparison of Stocker to being Anthony Fasano in Dallas when the Cowboys had Jason Witten. At 6'4" 258lbs, Stocker's a big guy who can block better than most prospects in this draft class. He's got decently soft hands and is a little more sneaky quick than you'd think. He's an experienced player having entered 52 contests for the Vols and had two nice seasons as a junior and senior despite some bad QB play in Knoxville. He's not going to stretch the seam by any means, but he's a guy who can do everything a TE needs to do well enough to get a decent amount of playing time.

5th round, 151st overall) Ahmad Black - S - Florida
Tampa Bay's got some talent in their secondary with Aqib Talib - legal issues aside - Ronde Barber, Tanard Jackson - off-field issues aside - and Sean Jones. Corey Lynch made some nice plays, but ended up on IR. With Jackson on a 50/50 chance of returning due to off-field problems, the Buccaneers took a chance on another best player available scenario in Ahmad Black. The Gator safety, who owns one of the most ridiculously thugged out Twitter accounts I've ever seen, is a solid player who lacks size and speed. Black's just 5'9" 184lbs and only ran a 4.76 forty, but if you watch his film, he's got game speed and covers decent ground. A three year starter and team captain, Black registered 7 INTs his first year as a starter and 13 throughout his career. He's got experience playing CB in Florida's system, and the Tampa 2 style might leave him better suited to be Ronde Barber's (or Aqib Talib's) replacement if Jones, Jackson, and Lynch all return at safety. Either way, the Bucs got another good player who fills a hole.

6th round, 187th overall) Allen Bradford - RB - USC
The Bucs found a true steal in LeGarrette Blount last year and made the most of him as he led all rookies in rushing. With Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams reduced roles, the Bucs looked around for a new number two back. Bradford, once a workhorse starter for the Trojans, is almost a carbon copy of Blount. At 5'11" 242lbs, Bradford cuts like a dull blade, but he's got good speed for a big back, has nice hands, and decent blocking ability. To give you a fair comparision, he's equivalent to what Willis McGahee is for the Ravens; a big back that can come in and blow people up in short yardage and goaline situations and catch passes out of the backfield. With Blount's ability to shoulder a full load, adding Bradford to Cadillac Williams gives Tampa Bay a nice trio of backs who can do some different things and still wear out a defense.

7th round, 222nd overall) Anthony Gaitor - CB - Florida International
The Bucs still need some depth at CB and they might have added some more here. A typical Bucs-type CB, Gaitor is 5'9" 177lbs, but was a four year starter and brings plent of experience to the table. He's got pretty good straight line speed and racked up 11 career INTs. He's shown some decent return ability on those picks racking up 263 return yards. He might be able to stick as a 5th or 6th corner for Tampa Bay if he shows something on special teams. They do have a good number of young players there, so it might even take something more in preseason action, how much there is, for him to stick. At the very least, he could be a practice squad candidate and get rostered somewhere down the line.

7th round, 238th overall) Daniel Hardy - TE - Idaho
Again, back to having little depth behind Kellen Winslow, the Bucs added a versatile prospect to potentially add to the roster. Converted DE Erik Lorig did a decent job as a FB last year, but Tampa could really use a full-time solution after losing Chris Pressley to the Bengals last year. At 6'3" 249lbs, Hardy fits more of an H-Back/FB size profile and could very well find himself playing in that role. He was the second leading Vandals receiver last year despite missing 5 games with a broken arm hauling in 32 catches for 545 yards and a TD. He's not much of an in-line blocker, so moving to the backfield could be an option for him, though Tampa Bay might feel compelled to keep him as a 3rd TE.

Overall Grade: A+
In my opinion, this was one of the two best draft classes in the entire NFL this year. The Buccaneers got two major, albeit slightly risky, talents at their most glaring position of need with Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. Adding Mason Foster to the LB corps is a huge coup, and one move that will reap benefits for Tampa Bay's defense more than people expect. They also filled some backup roles with talent players with Luck Stocker, Ahmad Black, and Allen Bradford, though Black could very well challenge for a starting spot depending on where he's played. Even their last two picks both have a chance to make the roster and contribute in some capacity as rookies. The only knock I might give Tampa Bay is that they didn't address the interior of the OL with G Davin Joseph slated for free agency. However, given the Bucs tremendous amount of salary cap room with which to maneuver, they very well could retain him, or even go after someone better like Harvey Dahl or Carl Nicks in free agency. They've certainly got money to throw at free agents like Nnamdi Asomugha if they so choose to, and at the end of the day, all they did with this draft class was get even better. And that's the point.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sports Quick Hits - Hard Labor Edition

Happy All-Star Break to all baseball fans out there; hopefully your team has played better than my Reds have of late. Just to let you know, if you're missing Chizzy, he's still in preparation for the bar exam, and probably won't be back until August, so you'll have to bear with me for the remainder of the month. I myself am thinking about taking the plunge into law school...yikes, right? But that's a ways off still, if I go through with it. Onto more sports related things, and perhaps some of the best news we've received yet in the NFL Lockout, so we'll start and end there, as there's not much news going on in the sports world besides the lockout this week.

Reports surfaced today that a new CBA could be reached between the players and owners in the NFL lockout, and could be ratified by owners as early as July 21st. In order to pass, 75% of the owners, i.e. 24 of the 32, must vote in favor of it. While the revenue-sharing issues amongst owners aren't at the forefront this time around, if I had to bet on two owners who would vote no, it'd be the same two as the last time around: Cincinnati's Mike Brown, and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson.

It's rumored that the last sticking issue, and quite frankly in my opinion, the most surprising, is the rookie wage scale and rookie contract length issue. The owners want to be able to sign first round picks for 5 years, which I get since they're still shelling out big bucks to 21, 22, and 23 year olds who've never set foot on an NFL field. On the other hand, if the current players are getting to free agency after 4 accrued seasons of service, shouldn't it be the same for the rookies? I think so. The players have already made several concessions and hopefully the owners will see that with respect to the rookie wage/contract length issue and not muck up the negotiation process.

Now, with the potential ratification date on the 21st, it appears that the only football lost, other than the 50 plus workouts, OTAs, mini-camps, and rookie tryout camps that have already been lost, would be the Hall of Fame Game on August 7th, between the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams. Here's what the truncated league calendar would look like:

July 21st - CBA ratification and date to start educating teams (i.e. GMs, coaches, players, staff, etc.) on new collective bargaining agreement and voluntary training.

July 25th - Begin signing period for undrafted rookies and re-signing of teams free agents. For example, teams can sign any undrafted rookie free agents, but wouldn't be able to sign others free agents - meaning at this point, teams could only re-sign their own players, the Dolphins couldn't make a call to Ahmad Bradshaw, for example.

July 28th - League Year Opens, free agency begins. At this point, all those players waiting on huge pay days: Nnamdi Asomugha, DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, Sidney Rice, etc are now set to meet with any NFL team if they haven't re-signed with their 2010 team.

At this stage, most, if not all teams begin training camp. This is typically the normal start time anyway, but they'll have been without said OTAs, rookie camps, mini-camps, etc.

August 2nd - Teams must set max rosters at 90 players.

August 3rd - Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from their current NFL team. At this point, it would be those players who are slated for free agency that haven't accrued 4 seasons of play.

August 7th - Deadline for teams to match restricted free agent offers in the form of draft picks or player compensation. I don't think there's that many huge restricted free agent names out there, but it could be interesting to watch.

August 12th - Deadline for drafted rookies to sign. I think this is a good step, as it forces both teams and players (and their agents) to negotiate deals quickly. Given the truncated timetable, I'd imagine most rookies are signed relatively quickly once the market is set on rookie contracts. I can't imagine any lengthy holdouts as we've seen over the past few years with players like Michael Crabtree, JaMarcus Russell, and David Pollack.

August 16th - Restricted free agency period ends.

August 29th - Deadline for players to report to camp. If players fail to report they're to be listed in the reserver, non-football injury list, or PUP (physically unable to perform list) until week 6 of the season.

At this point, I think it'd be assumed that the trade deadline would be the same as usual, also typically around week 6 of the NFL season.

All things considered, I think the timetable is fair as it gives each NFL team a chance to take care of the easier things first, like signing UDFAs and bringing back their own free agent players before getting into restricted free agency and teams making runs at unrestricted free agents.

I've still not seen word on franchise tags applied to players prior to the lockout, for instance, Patriots G Logan Mankins. Teams would still be able to use a franchise tag and possibly a transition tag as well, and would get to use those coinciding with restricted free agency's deadlines.

In other news:
Adam "Pacman" Jones was arrested in Cincinnati over the weekend on disorderly conduct charges. Though he claims he wasn't drunk, I've got it on good authority that he's been frequenting a particular bar with fellow Bengal Frostee Rucker, and Reds P Aroldis Champan, and on more than one occasion, Jones has been carried out of the bar and had a cab paid to take him home. I don't think he'll ever learn.

The Women's World Cup Team made it past Brazil and into the semi-finals against France. Go USA, but man, women's soccer is very slow and tough to watch!

I'm not really interested in the Home Run Derby. Much like the NBA's dunk contest, there's hardly ever many big names in it, and without steroids, it's just not the same as seeing Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds just go yard.

Chiefs OLB, and former Patriots OLB, Mike Vrabel will retire and return to Ohio State to become linebackers coach. I wish you well Mike Vrabel, but why go back now? I have to think that most, if not all, of that staff will be gone after 2011 when Ohio State makes a run at Bo Pelini, a former Buckeye, or Urban Meyer, who just moved to Columbus. All things considered though, you had a great NFL career and should do what you want.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - New York Giants

The Giants, under GM Jerry Reese have drafted pretty well over the last few years, and they have a talented roster. Injuries to the offensive line and a gaff by a rookie punter kept them out of the playoffs in that loss to the Eagles. However, Eli Manning must cut down from his legue-leading 25INTs next year for the G-men to make a serious run into the playoffs. The Giants led the league in forced turnovers, and have maintained a good running game since the Tiki Barber days. All things considered, the Giants don't have a whole lot of weaknesses aside from an aging offensive line. Let's see what they did in the draft.

1st round, 19th overall) Prince Amukamara - CB - Nebraska
The Giants, who I felt could've really used a left tackle, made a great value pick here with Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. He was the best player on the board, and had Nick Fairley not been on the board at 13, the Lions would've been hard pressed not to take him. The Giants have spent lavishly on their secondary in recent years signing free agent Antrel Rolle and using high draft picks on Kenny Phillips, Aaron Ross, and Corey Webster dating back to the 2005 Draft. While Webster is solid, he's had trouble staying with faster receivers in the division like DeSean Jackson and Dez Bryant, while Tarell Brown and Aaron Ross leave something to be desired when they've had to start.

How he fits in: Enter Prince Amukamara. Despite getting torched by Justin Blackmon last year, Amukamar had a fantastic season. Amukamara was a three year starter who played in 47 consecutive games to close out his career with the Cornhuskers. He's got great size at 6'0" 206lbs and could be a legitimate number one corner in the league over time. He could press any of the Giants top three corners for a starting position this year. He does have some struggles flipping his hips and turning and running after more athletic receivers. He's good against the run and he can play man or zone coverage with equal effectiveness.

Outlook: Amukamara will eventually become the Giants number one corner, unless they go out and sign Nnamdi Asomugha or something like that - the Prince is that good. Some have even mentioned that he could have a home at FS down the line, and if Kenny Phillips continues to not stay healthy, perhaps the Giants experiment with that move a little earlier than expected. The Giants made a nice move here, but you've really got to start wondering how long they continue to use David Diehl at left tackle before sliding him inside to his natural guard spot.

2nd round, 52nd overall) Marvin Austin - DT - North Carolina
Another value pick here. Austin carried a 1st round grade before being suspended for the 2010 season for improper dealings with an agent in Chapel Hill. Austin could very well be replacing free agent Barry Coefield, who could command a pretty big pay day in this year. With only Rocky Bernard, Linval Joseph on the active roster at seasons end, and Dwayne Hendricks on the practice squad, the Giants had to make a move. Austin goes 6'1" 309lbs, and looked pretty impressive in drills and at the Combine for not having played football in a year. Austin was a three year starter for the Tar Heels, including his freshman year, but he's carried a reputation as an underachiever who works out well.

3rd round, 83rd overall) Jerrel Jernigan - WR - Troy
Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Steve Smith, and the rest of the Giants receiving corps aren't going to be confused as a true deep threat any time soon. If there's one thing the Giants learned from the loss to the Eagles last year, it's that you can always use a game changer. They've got one in the backfield in Ahmad Bradshaw, but he's a free agent. Jernigan would be a great slot reciever who can also line up outside and be used as a deep threat. Jernigan's also an excellent kick and punt returner and offers some versatility for the Giants that year. At 5'8" 185lbs, Jernigan is undersized, and didn't run as fast as people thought he would, clocking in at just 4.46 in the forty.

4th round, 117th overall) James Brewer - T - Indiana
The Giants addressed their offensive line with James Brewer in the 4th round. Overshadowed by Rodger Saffold, now with the Rams, at Indiana, Brewer played right tackle throughout his career. He's got very good size at 6'6" 323lbs and is pretty athletic. Some draftniks think that he could eventually be moved over to the left side of the line, much like Trent Williams was at Oklahoma. He's had some nagging ankle injuries that have caused him to miss some time, and isn't overly physical for his size. If Brewer gets time to learn behind Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl, he should be able to challenge for a starting spot in a year or two.

6th round, 186th overall) Greg Jones - LB - Michigan State
I really like the Giants pick here with Greg Jones. He's a tackling machine who has some decent coverage skills and was all over the field with the Spartans. Jones reminds me a lot of Antonio Pierce who anchored the Giants D for so many years. There's no real middle linebacker prospect on the Giants roster, so it wouldn't surprise me if Jones pushed for a starting spot right away. That said, the Giants could make a move for someone in free agency like Dhani Jones or Stephen Tulloch, but Jones could very well be the future. He's a little lacking in strength and has some trouble shedding blocks and at 6'0" he's a little on the short side. However, he's got the frame to add some more bulk and muscle as he's just 242lbs. I love this pick here for the Giants.

6th round, 198th overall) Tyler Sash - S - Iowa
Another nice pick here, and I really like it for the Giants. Tyler Sash certainly isn't a flashy prospect, but much like the rest of the Iowa defenders taken in this draft, he's a very solid player. Sash profiles as a backup SS to Kenny Phillips as he goes 6'0" 211lbs and isn't overly quick. He's an outstanding tackler and made a lot of plays for the Hawkeyes. Sash had a nose for the football in Iowa's zone scheme, notching 13 interceptions in 3 years and breaking up 14 passes. Sash doesn't have the speed or athleticism to be a regular starter, but he should crack certain packages and will contribute on special teams as a rookie.

6th round, 202nd overall) Jacquian Williams - LB/S - South Florida
The Giants went for a developmental prospect here. Williams stands at just 6'2" 216lbs, but led the Bulls in tackles as a senior. Just a one-year starter, Williams was voted a team captain and produced some decent numbers in his starting campaign registering 71 tackles, 11 for loss, 2.5 sacks, and an interception. Williams may be facing a position switch unless he bulks up, but he could compete with some current players on the roster for a special teams job.

7th round, 221st overall) Da'Rel Scott - RB - Maryland
Scott, one of the fastest backs in the entire draft sure slipped a lot further than many people thought. It was rumored the Raiders had a 2nd round grade on him, and many others had him in the 4th. Scott, a 5'11" 211lbs back ran a 4.34 forty and had a few breakaway runs for the Terps. Scott's had some injury and fumble issues throughout his career. However, this pick is strikingly similar to the Ahmad Bradshaw pick the Giants made a few years ago. Scott's bigger and faster, and could eventually prove to be a potential replacement for Bradshaw should he leave via free agency.

Overall Grade: A-
I really like what the Giants did in this draft, and I think they got some talented players at every juncture of the Draft. Prince Amukamara, Marvin Austin, Greg Jones, and Tyler Sash could all make significant impacts as rookies. James Brewer and Jerrel Jernigan could prove to make significant contributions down the line. At the very least, Jernigan gives them a quality deep threat and a kick and punt returner. Da'Rell Scott might be a diamond in the rough and could prove to be a nice complement to Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw, or both. They really only had one wobble, that being Jacquian Williams, and with a late 6th round pick, I'm willing to overlook that for everything else they did. The only reason I'm not giving them a solid A is that I just don't think they addressed the tackle position the way the could've. Anthony Castonzo was still on the board, and James Brewer has a long way to go before he's going to be a left tackle. Other than that, it's one of the best draft classes this year.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - San Diego Chargers

For years most NFL pundits have lauded the Chargers for having the most talent-rich roster in the NFL. I highly disagree. Their offensive line isn't as good as it was when LaDainian Tomlinson was running in San Diego. The defense, even before Shawne Merriman's injuries before left town, wasn't that great. Last year, they put together the 1st overall ranked offense notching 395 yards per game; they were second in points scored with a 27.6 average. They also fielded the top defensive unit surrendering just 271.6 total yards a game while giving up just 20.1 points per game, good for 10th in the league. Yet, another slow start doomed the Chargers and they missed the playoffs. GM A.J. Smith's moves have come under a lot more scrutiny in recent years and he pulled some more questionable moves in the 2011 Draft.

1st round, 18th overall) Corey Liuget - DE - Illinois
A lot people, myself included, were a little puzzled by this pick initially, but upon further review, I think the Chargers made a nice move. Liuget profiled as more of a 3-technique player in the 4-3 defense, as opposed to the 5-technique 3-4 DE spot that he'll play for the Chargers. He simply lacks the ideal height teams are used to. However, we've seen several good 3-4 DEs emerge with less than adequate height over the past few seasons. The Chargers own Luis Castillo, Miami's Randy Starks, and Kansas City's Glenn Dorsey are all 6'3" or under. Liuget is 6'2" and brings adequate bulk at 298lbs. He comes off a superb season for the Illini with 63 tackles, 12.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.

How he fits in: The Chargers front line is pretty serviceable, but it's not as dominant as you'd want it to be; especially in a division that features the top two rushing offenses in the NFL in Kansas City and Oakland respectively. Luis Castillo will hold down one DE spot for sure while Liuget and savvy veteran Jacques Cesaire will likely battle for the other spot. The Chargers have a few guys capable of playing 3-4 DE and sliding inside in nickel and dime packages in Travis Johnson and Ogemdi Nwagbuo, and Liuget should challenge to take snaps away from either of those players in those situations. While he might not "start", Liuget will certainly be in the rotation and will receive plenty of snaps as a rookie.

Outlook: Really, looking back on this pick, I think the Chargers made a great choice. My only question would be, why not Cal's Cameron Jordan at this juncture? Jordan had experience in the 3-4, is a better pass-rusher, more athletic, and has the prototypical size you look for. It will be interesting to watch Liuget and Jordan as each was drafted by a team that uses a defense that was thought to be the opposite of where each would go (Jordan went to the Saints 4-3 scheme). Liuget should hold his own, and he'll be a starter for a long time, even if it's not right away. I like this pick for them as I think he helps stop some of the AFC West's rushing attacks.

2nd round, 50th overall) Marcus Gilchrist - CB - Clemson
The Chargers had a bit of an under-the-radar pick here in the 2nd round, but they landed a solid player. Gilchrist, who formed a nice tandem at S for Clemson alongside Deandre McDaniel, will be used primarily as a CB by the Chargers. Quentin Jammer is a solid veteran presence, but he's starting to slow down. After Antonine Cason, there's very little depth to speak of. The Chargers also have FS Eric Weddle set to become an unrestricted free agent in the new CBA, and he'll command top dollar on the open market. So, Gilchrist will likely be a nickel corner to start with, but the Chargers may have some plans for him at FS depending on what happens with Eric Weddle.

2nd round, 61st overall) Jonas Mouton - LB - Michigan
Much like trading multiple picks for LSU FB Jacob Hester a few years ago, this pick is mildly absurd. Now, let's start by prefacing this pick that the Chargers had some of, if not the worst special teams in the NFL last year, and it probably cost them 2 or 3 games at least. Mouton had a ho-hum career in Ann Arbor until his senior season, but is a special teams linebacker really worth the 61st overall pick (am I one to judge as my own team drafed Pat White 44th overall in 2009?)? Mouton goes 6'1" 239lbs, so he's undersized for the base 3-4 scheme, where he'd have to play inside. However, he probably fills the role that Tim Dobbins left vacant by leaving in free agency a year ago, and Mouton can probably be that special teams ace and 3rd ILB, just, was it necessary to spend a 2nd round pick on him?

3rd round, 82nd overall) Vincent Brown - WR - San Diego State
After Vincent Jackson, whose contract situation remains unresolved, though it's expected he'll stay with the Chargers, Malcolm Floyd, and Legadu Nanee, the Chargers lack depth at receiver. Buster Davis has been a disappointment, Patrick Crayton is a role player, and the rest are simply bodies competing for a special teams job. Vincent Brown gives the Chargers a legitimate slot receiver option. At 5'11" 187lbs and running a 4.57 40, Brown's not flashy, but gets the job done. His stock rose after a solid showing at the Senior Bowl. However, it remains to be seen if he's simply that good (69 catches, 1,300+ yards, 10TDs in 2010) or if super San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley should start getting more credit.

3rd round, 89th overall) Shareece Wright - CB - USC
The lack of depth in the Chargers secondary was not lost on A.J. Smith as he doubled-up at CB early on. Wright's career was marred by off-field incidents at USC, but he finally came on strong in 2010. At 5'10" 185lbs, he's a smaller corner who can run and play some tight man-to-man coverage. However, he's a gambler and will take a lot of unnecessary chances, or just flat out get caught looking in the backfield. He's not a reliable tackler either, but it's hard to judge his overall ability as his best football might still be ahead of him. A hairline fracture in his neck limited him to 2 games in 2008. Was arrested in 2008 for a misdemeanor of disturbing the peace and was ruled academically ineligible for the 2009 season, only playing in USC's bowl game. Buyer beware here, but he definitely fits the Chargers scheme and what they like to do with their corners.

6th round, 183rd overall) Jordan Todman - RB - Connecticut
This pick should clearly indicate that the Chargers either have no plans to try and re-sign Darren Sproles, or that they simply know they won't be able to and are moving on accordingly. Todman, who reminds some of the Giants Ahmad Bradshaw, is a smaller, quick back who has more size than Sproles. At 5'8" 203lbs and running a 4.40 flat 40, Todman gives them a nice sized complement to Ryan Williams. A two year starter for the Huskies, he posted back-to-back seasons of at least 1,100 yards and 14 TDs. He's also versatile enough to catch passes out of the backfield, hauling in 42 for 283 yards during his career. He might even be able to return kicks, effectively filling all of the roles that Darren Sproles had filled.

6th round, 201st overall) Stephen Schilling - G - Michigan
A rare 4-year starter for the Wolverines, Schilling's come a long way since being abused by Vernon Gholston of all people way back in 2007. Schilling saw time at RG and RT as a freshman and sophomore before starting every game the last two years at LG. At 6'4" 308lbs he carries nice size, and is a solid technician. However, he simply lacks the core strength you see in guards at the NFL level and his footwork is merely average. Schilling should at the very least become a swing guard on the inside - one of the two linemen that dress for the game that don't start but are active - and he's got the chance to learn from one of the best guards in the business in Kris Dielman.

7th round, 234th overall) Andrew Gachkar - LB - Missouri
Another potential special teams pick here. Gachkar had the unenviable task of trying to replace Sean Weatherspoon last year in Columbia playing the weakside linebacker spot for the Tigers. He did a decent job, but it's still somewhat surprising he was drafted. He's undersized at 6'3" 228lbs and despite being a two-year starter for the Tigers, he'll have a very uphill battle just to make the Chargers roster as a special teams player.

Overall Grade: C+
The Chargers addressed a few needs in this draft, filling spots at DE, CB, and replacing, or at least attempting to replace Darren Sproles. They didn't get any better at pass-rusher, as Larry English has disappointed across from Shaun Phillips ever since he was drafted. They also didn't account for the possiblity of having to replace Eric Weddle should he leave in free agency, and the special teams guys they drafted, were both over drafted - Mouton by a ton. Vincent Brown and Stephen Schilling provide nice depth at the respective positions, as does Jordan Todman. All things considered though, the Chargers had a lot of talent they didn't choose left on the board with a lot of their picks and overdrafted to fill niche roles - not what you'd want to do if you're A.J. Smith and potentially facing a move to Los Angeles.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sports Quick Hits

Hope you had a great 4th of July Weekend! I had a great time golfing at Beavercreek Country Club and at JM's wedding. Chizzy's Cards beat my Reds last nigth, 1-0, on an infield hit. And now, Albert Pujols might be back tonight. Wow! More on that in a second. With Major League Baseball a week away from the All-Star Break, this is really kind of a dead-time in sports. Wimbeldon just finished and the Women's World Cup is still ongoing, but that's about it. Here's a quick look at the top stories in the sports world.

While it's hard for me to say who the best baseball player I've ever seen play is, especially since so many were on the juice during the 1990s and early 2000s, I'd have to narrow the list down quite a bit. My candidates, including all positions would be as follows, in no particular order:

- Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
- Ken Griffey Jr, OF, Seattle Mariners (and only his time with the Mariners)
- Mariano Rivera, CP, New York Yankees
- Frank Thomas, 1B, Chicago White Sox
- Greg Maddux, SP, Atlanta Braves
- Tony Gwynn, OF, San Diego Padres

Of those, you have a dominant starting pitcher in Maddux, and this might be my favorite state of all-time, who only threw a 3-0 count 17 times in his entire career. Mariano Rivera is the best closer we've ever seen, or will ever see. Ken Griffey Jr, if not for injuries, might have or be close to having all the records in the books for HRs. Frank Thomas and Tony Gwynn could flat out rake and both were big human beings, Thomas more so than Gwynn. And then we have Albert Pujols, who could potentially start the Reds vs. Cards game tonight, just 15 days after breaking his wrist. Just incredible, and I'll have a full-length article about Pujols soon. It's a big week in the NL Central as the Brewers just continue to lose on the road, the Reds play both St. Louis and Milwaukee, and the Pirates are still in the thick of things. Makes for an interesting second half in a tight division.

Yep, the lockout's still in effect, but more meetings are scheduled for this week. The Hall of Fame Game, slated to be played by the Rams and Bears on August 7th, is slated to be on track. While despite talks nearly disintegrating last week, a source says an agreement is likely to be achieved, just not this week. Hmmm, where have we heard that before. Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, along with the lead negotiating teams will be back to have face-to-face discussions this Thursday and Friday. Strictly my opinion here, but those two days could make or break the potential CBA deal. I think we'll have a clear understanding of who soon a deal can be done or how far apart the two sides really are by Saturday.

The retired players have also filed a class-action lawsuit and want a seat at the negotiating table as well. The named plaintiffs are some big-time names: Carl Eller, famed defensive lineman from the Vikings "Purple People Eaters" defense; Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Marcus Allen of the Raiders and Chiefs; and Paul Krause of the Redskins and Vikings.

Another lockout here, and the first thing to go, much like the NFL was free agency. Starting July 1st, the NBA's traditional free agency opening day, came and went without any transactions. Everyone's favorite uncled, Charles Barkley offered this quote regarding the lockout situation:

"It's going to get ugly. I've already been on the record saying I don't think they're going to play at all next season."

That my friends, would be turrrrible.

NHL free agency is in full swing, and a familiar name popped up in an unfamiliar place. Jaromir Jagr, who most know from his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins (maybe some might remember him with the Rangers also) ended up signing with the rival Philadelphia Flyers, for a one year $3.9M deal. The 1999 league MVP played the last three seasons in Russia. I think this is pretty odd as Jagr won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins playing along side the great Mario Lemieux, now the Penguins owner. Something smells a little fishy here.

Maria Sharapova made a nice run in climbing back to the top 6 in the world, but she fell short in the Wimbeldon Final, losing 6-3, 6-4 to Petra Kvitova. On the men's side, Roger Federer went out early, and Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the final to claim his first Wimbeldon Championship and a cool $7.5M. He's got a 48-1 record this year, losing only to Federer in the French Open last month. Djokovic was 0-4 in grand slam tournaments against Rafael Nadal until beating him in England.

Other Sports
South Carolina won its second straight College Baseball World Series over SEC rival Florida.

The US Women's World Cup team is 2-0 and has a big one against Sweden, also 2-0, on Wednesday night. A win there means the US would avoid having to play Brazil in the knockout stage.

Joey Chestnut won the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest downing 62 yesterday.

Derek Jeter returned last night and was hitless against the Indians. He remains just 6 shy of 3,000 for his career.

That's all for this weeks edition of Sports Quick Hits. I'll have some NFL Draft Grades for you throughout the week.