Monday, June 27, 2011

Sport Quick Hits - KD & Brooklyn Decker? Almost...

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted today. Chizzy is off in New York and I've been swamped with work and other things. Other things being booking a trip to Vegas, getting ready for JM's wedding this weekend, and dusting off the golf clubs for 18 holes on Friday. Now, onto the Quick Hits. With the NBA and NHL Finals and Drafts concluded, there's really not much sports wise to concentrate on other than baseball, so let's start there.

I had time to read through Sports Illustrated while waiting for my car in the shop this past weekend (nothing major, so no worries) and came across an article talking about Derek Jeter and his chase for his 3,000th career hit. Jeter will be come the 3rd youngest player to do it, and he should reach that milestone in the coming week. The article talked about how Jeter has used only one model of bat, and the same stance he's used since high school, throughout his entire career. It really is one of the quirkier swings you'll find, as he keeps his hands extremely tight into his boday. Having been so consistent since 1996, the Yankees are now frustrated at Jeter's propensity for hitting ground balls. Jeter admitted in the article he was pretty frustrated by his contract dispute this past offseason, so I think there's going to be something coming to a head with Jeter - most likely after he gets number 3,000.

Former Reds Manager Davey Johnson just won't go away. Jim Riggleman resigned as manager for the Washington Nationals, and they've hired Davey Johnson to fill in. Johnson hasn't managed in 11 years, and is 68 years old. With Johnson and McKeon now both battling the teams, and age, in the NL East, I'd like to make a notion that if they do indeed realign the divisions, that both the Marlins and Nationals be placed in the Southeast Retirement Home one.

The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court today. This comes just days before the June 30th deadline that had been imposed by Major League Baseball, and now basically ensures a settlement in the Dodgers ownership debate won't come any time soon. Commissioner Bud Selig condemned the move, and it should be known that the Commissioner can terminate the franchise, effectively telling Frank McCourt couldn't own the team. McCourt claims that he's got interim finances to hold the team over without stiffing players and staff. This saga just keeps getting uglier and uglier. Here's the in-depth story.

Updating my story from last week, the NFL and the Players Association will meet yet again this week. Players were given updates on the situation last week on the phones, presumably from DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA attroneys, and player reps, keeping them aware of the situation. Many athletes have hinted on Twitter and through other social media and communication sources, that a deal could happen in 3 weeks time. The Players Association and its attroneys met alone today in Minneapolis in an informational meeting about the situation. From what we've learned, from what little has been leaked out, the following concessions have been made:

- The owners will not include the potential for an 18 game season in this CBA, which I think is a damn good thing. There'd be too much crappy football by expanding the schedule.

- More benefits will go to the retired players pension fund and for medical and player safety studies. Again, another good thing.

- Players with a minimum of 4 years accrued experience will have the option to become an unrestricted free agent, rather than becoming a restricted free agent and having a tender (draft pick compensation) placed on them. It's not yet known what happens to players who've been franchise tagged, but there will be tags in the new CBA. Players who were tendered prior to the lockotu that have 4 years experience will become unrestricted free agents. That's big news for guys like Saints G Carl Nicks, a pair of RBs in Carolina's DeAngelo Williams, and the Giants Ahmad Bradshaw. Perhaps the biggest potential name, Patriots G Logan Mankins, is still an unknown as he was tagged prior to the lockout.

- Both sides are still determining how to splite the $9.3B pie that is NFL yearly revenue. The players' share would be very close to 50%, and the $1B in expense credits that the owners receive off the top (before any money is divided) would disappear. No word on team revenue sharing yet, as the 2006 CBA put in place a plan where the top 15 revenue generating teams (Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, Redskins, Seahawks, etc.) would pool a percentage of their revenue and give it to the 17 bottom revenue generating teams (Bengals, Jaguars, Raiders, Vikings).

- No fees for the players would come from designated shares, but rather the entire pool of revenue and teams would have a salary cap floor, from which their minimum salary cap must be above. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ownership, the Glazer family, who partially operates soccer power Manchester United, is $1.7B in debt, and consequently have docked payroll for the Buccaneers. Well, they're going to be forced to spend now, and it's rumored they'll be $70-80M under the cap, but no word on how much they'll have to spend to get to the floor. Either way, that number is staggering. Good luck if you get into a bidding war with them for say, CB Nnamdi Asomugha.

Lastly, both sides have agreed there will be a rookie wage scale, we just have no idea what the max salary would be. It's been rumored that the NFL will adopt an NBA style "ladder" where each draft picks salary is pre-determined. This means that the number 1 overall pick can earn 'X' amount of dollars and each subsequent pick earns a predetermined amount less than that 1st pick and goes down the line.

Got all that? Good. John Clayton reported on ESPN last week that there could be a meeting July 7th or 8th in which the owners would meet to ratify the proposed new CBA and end the lockout. Here's to hoping!

I missed the first few picks of the NBA Draft, but watched more of it than I ever have. Cavs fans got Kyrie Irving from Duke and Tristan Thompson from Texas with their two picks in the top 5. Good luck winning with those two. Hey, at least they also acquired two future 2nd round picks in a trade with Orlando. There were more foreign-born players drafted in the 1st round than ever before. A case of Dirk Fever perhaps? I think so.

The NBA is also about to head into a lockout. Bummer. I actually enjoyed watching the NBA more this season than I have since Michael Jordan wore the 23 jersey for the Chicago Bulls. The first time around. Here's a trivia question for you. Most people know that Michael Jordan wore his famous 23. He also wore 45 after coming back from baseball. But, did you know that Michael Jordan, for one game, wore another number? His jersey was lost prior to a game in Orlando. Post in the comments section what you think it was and I'll tell you if you're right. There's no prize for Googling it. Here's to hoping the NBA's lockout is no where near as potentially ugly as the NFL's got for a time. Something tells me that David Stern being in charge will make things a little more difficult than DeMaurice Smith has made things in the NFL's labor dispute.

Chizzy posted a great article several weeks ago about franchises abandoning their cities and relocating to new towns. The Winnipeg Jets were one of those franchises. Well, now they're back. Or is it the Atlanta Thrashers moving north? I don't know, but I do know that either way the NHL is planning on a massive realignment in the 2012-13 season. I think the NFL did a pretty good job in 2002 when the Houston Texans came into the league, though some of the divisions are a little mixed up geographically to keep the rivalries going. I mean, you don't think of Indianapolis as a southern city do you?

Anyway, as for the NHL's proposed realignment, the league plans to create 4 divisions; two with eight teams and two with seven teams. Several teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, and Columbus Blue Jackets are hoping to be moved into what is now the Eastern Conference. The proposed plan is likely to be finalized in this December's Board of Governor's Meeting.

In other news:
Former Florida Gator LB Channing Crowder hinted that he sold all of his Florida Gator jerseys to Jacksonville businessmen during his career in Gainesville. Crowder was drafted by Miami in 2005, and made the comments on his weekly radio show in Miami.

Another former Dolphin and former West Virginia Mountaineer QB Pat White will play football this season for the UFL's Virginia Destroyers. This after White retired from the Kansas City Royals minor league affiliate earlier this year.

Keeping with the college football theme here, Wisconsin RB Zack Brown will be transferring to Pitt. Brown has already graduated from Wisconsin, but only played 3 seasons, so he'll be immediately eligible to play for the Panthers. The Badgers will get a gift though as extremely talented N.C. State QB Russell Wilson will be transferring to Wisconsin. A shortstop who played two season in the Colorado Rockies organization, has given up on baseball, and will be able to play immediately at Wisconsin as he'll be taking graduate classes. He reportedly chose Wisconsin over Auburn, I'm guessing because Auburn gave all of its spending cash to Cecil Newton. Sorry, I had to.

Both Williams sisters knocked out of Wimbeldon already? Serena bowed out today. I honestly can't remember seeing a Wimbeldon not won by one of those two, though I admit, I usually don't watch tennis all that much. However, I did meet Andy Roddick as he came to the restaurant where I worked at during college when he was in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open. Unfortunately, he didn't have Brooklyn Decker with him, though I have met Vanessa Minillo...she's not bad either.

Lastly, a bit of news semi-related to Chizzy and I's beloved Dayton Flyers. The University of Dayton, known to some as God's Country, and known to others as the second greatest place on earth behind Disney World, will host the NCAA Tournament's "First Four" in 2012 and 2013. The 2013 Tournament edition will mark the 75th anniversary of the NCAA Tournament. I attended all of the "First Four" games last year (thanks to Kimbo for the cheap tickets and sweet seats) and saw a Final Four team in VCU play. Hey, it was worth the $70 alone to know that there was a rumor Charlie Sheen, a Dayton native and fan of USC was in the house. He wasn't there, and as a result, USC didn't play with Tigerblood.

I'll be back tomorrow with the Chargers Draft Grade.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - New England Patriots

For a team that most every fawns over for their ability to draft, the Patriots have been pretty poor at it the last few seasons, which makes their 14-2 finish in 2010 all the more impressive. Last year's class had a decent impact with TE's Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez, along with LBs Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham. This year's Patriots draft class included a lot of trades, including their record streak with the Eagles, who've made a trade in each of the last 10 Drafts with the Patriots, but some teams have wisened up and haven't had the wool pulled over their eyes (49ers) as some teams have in the past (Raiders). New England still had a ton of ammo in the first three rounds, and ended up trading a portion of it for picks next year. That being said, let's take a look at what they did this year.

1st round, 17th overall) Nate Solder - T - Colorado
The Patriots O-line has been one of the more dominant ones over the years, but it's starting to come apart. RG Stephen Neal retired due to injury. LG Logan Mankins held out the first 10 games of last season, and was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but New England put the franchise tag on him before the lockout; we'll see how that plays out. Veteran LT Matt Light is a free agent, so it made sense for the Patriots to grab one in the first round. Solder, a converted TE, is long and very lean, much like RT Sebastian Vollmer and is better in pass protection than he is in the ground game; which is good for New England, but he comes with some drawbacks.

How he fits in: The Solder pick is an insurance policy for Dante Scarnecchia's O-line unit. If Logan Mankins does someone leave, they could re-sign Matt Light and slide him to LG. If they somehow keep both Light and Mankins, Solider can be a swing tackle and learn for a year. Solder struggled mightily at the Senior Bowl and has trouble with physical pass-rushers, especially those with natural leverage. With his being 6'8" 319lbs, pretty much every pass-rusher will have leverage on him. Solder needs to add more strength, as he's not good in the ground game. New England doesn't run a lot, though BenJarvus Green-Ellis turned in a 1,000 yard season last year. Solder should have a shot to start as a rookie and Dante Scarnecchia is as good as it gets coaching up linemen.

Outlook: I feel like Anthony Castonzo, who went later on to the Colts, would've been a better fit, as he's a better all-around player. But, for what the Patriots want, Solder might fit the bill. Despite all of the 3-4 teams in teh AFC East, only Miami's Cameron Wake had more than 10 sacks last year, so he won't face that much elite competition in-division. As long as he keeps the Ghost of Bernard Pollard away from Tom Brady, he'll have earned his pay and more. As he develops and adds more strength, he could become one of the better LTs in the AFC. I liken him to Tennessee's Michael Roos, just without the run-blocking skills to this point.

2nd round, 33rd overall) Ras-I Dowling - CB - Virginia
One of the things the Patriots do well is draft to stop the teams in the AFC East, which has seen an influx of talent at receiver come in during the past few seasons. Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, and Lee Evans all cause matchup problems and the Patriots added another solid corner to their secondary. A bigger CB at 6'1" 198lbs, Dowling should be able to come in and start right away opposite last year's rookie sensation Devin McCourty. Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington are adequate, but they're better served as nickel and dime backs. Dowling's got a great football IQ and is very athletic, despite not having standout speed. He's overcome a broken ankle and battled knee and hamstring issues as a senior, but in the Patriots scheme, he should be able to put everything together and become a day one starter.

2nd round pick, 56th overall) Shane Vereen - RB - California
Here's the Patriots draft took a bit of a wobble in my opinion. Kevin Faulk has been the classic 3rd down back in the NFL for seemingly forever. But age and injury have taken their toll on him, though he says he'd like to come back. Shane Vereen gives them a more explosive option as a 3rd down back. However, with the law firm that is BenJarvus Green-Ellis set to be a free agent, and Danny Woodhead not being able to sneak up on anyone this year, the Patriots needed a feature back in my mind. Vereen carried the rock plenty in his three years at Cal notching 556 carries and 29TDs on just under 3,000 yards rushing. He also caught 74 passes, so the attraction to the Patriots pass-happy system is natural. But, isn't he just a suped-up version of Danny Woodhead? I think they could've had him a round or two later on.

3rd round, 73rd overall) Stevan Ridley - RB - LSU
The wobble continued as the Patriots drafted a potential to BenJarvus Green-Ellis should he leave via free agency. Ridley carried a late round grade, and was a bit of a one-year wonder for the Tigers. He doesn't have a lot of tread worn off the tires so to speak, having totaled just 306 carries over his career. He's a one-cut type of runner who is sort of like a beggar's Arian Foster. He's got decent size at 5'11" 225lbs, but he's not very fast, and isn't going to make many people miss him in space. He's a one gear and go back who can churn out hard yards, but that's about it. Ridley's not a big threat in the passing game catching just 11 passes as a senior for a paltry 61 yards. It'll be interesting to see how Ridley fits into the Patriots scheme, as I picture him as the replacement for Sammy Morris in a sort of pseudo-fullback/short yardage and special teams ace.

3rd round, 74th overall) Ryan Mallett - QB - Arkansas
Purely an arbitrage pick here. New England's pretty high on backup Brian Hoyer, but should Tom Brady go down to injury again, the Patriots aren't going to go as far as Matt Cassel took them in 2008. Mallett's probably the best pure passing QB in the draft, and has excellent arm strength. However, off the field issues, questions about his work ethic, failed drug tests, blowing off the Panthers pre-draft meeting, and everything else caused Mallett to fall into the late 3rd round. Either way, Mallett went much, much lower than he should have, and the Patriots, while they probably won't ever get much from him on the field unless Tom Brady gets injured, they'll probably land a draft pick in a year or two, much like the Eagles are about to with Kevin Kolb. A ho-hum pick in terms of production, but that's not the purpose for the Mallett pick, and with a team capable of going 14-2, they've got a lot of leeway to make such a move.

5th round, 138th overall) Marcus Cannon - G TCU
Marcus Cannon would've been drafted much higher, but in the pre-draft process, it was discovered that he had a treatable version of lymphoma that had developed in his groin over four years ago. Cannon's currently undergoing treatment, and his playing status for this season's up in the air. It might've even been a planned "redshirt" year for him anyway as the Patriots have some younger guys in Dan Connolly and Rich Orhnberger that will also get a crack at replacing the retired Stephen Neal. Cannon the player, was a LT for the Horned Frogs and is very athletic for being 6'5" 358lbs. I'm sure the Patriots will want him to cut more weight so they can use him to pull on counters and bootlegs and such for Tom Brady. He's got outstanding push in the run game and is adequate in his mirror and slide technique, however, for a guy with his size, he lacks a nasty demeanor. As long as his long-term health is okay, Cannon will be a future starter for the Pats.

5th round, 159th overall) Lee Smith - TE - Marshall
Bill Belichick loves him some TEs. Alge Crumpler had a crucial drop in the AFC Divisional round, and his blocking prowess as dipped some, which makes him a candidate for the turk in New England. That's where Lee Smith comes in. He's essentially like having a 3rd tackle on the field and reminds me of a bigger version of the Bengals Reggie Kelly, whom was dominant as a blocker in their 2005 playoff season. Smith is huge at 6'5" 266lbs, much like Crumpler was, and he's very physical off the line. He's athletic enough to reach, scoop, and pull when asked, but he's not going to be busting anyone up the seam. He could be a nice goaline option for New England with his size, as he caught 74 passes for the Tundering Herd, but had just 3 TDs in his career. New England found plenty of ways to use Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Crumpler last year, so it stands to reason that they'll find a way to use Smith if they do in fact drop Crumpler.

6th round, 194th overall) Markell Carter - LB - Central Arkansas
The Patriots have long needed to upgrade their pass-rushing talent at OLB. Tully Banta-Cain is the best of the bunch, and they're still developing Jermaine Cunningham. The Pats are rumored to be heavily interested in Matt Roth, should he get out of Cleveland as he's rumored to do, but Roth's more of an edge-setting run stopper than anything else. Rob Ninkovich is a cover guy. They don't really have a true pass-rusher. Carter has a chance to earn a roster spot if he shows he can get after the QB in camp and in preseason. He's got a nice build at 6'4" 248lbs, and is very athletic, but lacks the strenght necessary at the NFL level, so the practice squad could be in his near future. Carter recorded 5.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a DE his senior season. A worthy developmental prospect for the Pats.

7th round, 219th overall) Malcolm Williams - CB - TCU
Another developmental prospect at corner here. Williams, a JUCO transfer played two years for TCU. He's got some experience at S and at CB, but made his hay on special teams primarily. While he didn't start a game, he's got decent size at 5'11' 204lbs, and is fairly athletic. While I doubt he supplants anyone off the roster, Williams bears watching as he could make an impact on special teams. There weren't really a whole lot of prospects left on the Patriots board at this juncture, so Williams is a player who makes sense for them as a depth pick.

Overall Grade: C
The Patriots landed some talent and traded for some future draft picks, which I'm sure they'll trade away in the future. Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, and Marcus Cannon will all be starters for the Patriots. Shane Vereen fills a niche role as a 3rd down back. As does Lee Smith. However, the Patriots overdrafted Stevan Ridley and only got developmental prospects with their later round picks. They also didn't address a pass-rushing OLB need that's been looming over the roster since Mike Vrabel left town in the Matt Cassel trade. While there's no grading Bill Belichick's genius, I don't think the Patriots capitalized as much as they could have with this draft. I think you can make a strong case that they would've been served well to keep their other 1st round pick and taking the very player the Saints got when they acquired it with Mark Ingram. Ryan Mallett was a value pick, but what's he really going to do for the Patriots? Unless Tom Brady gets hurt, it's hard to imagine Mallett setting foot on the field for them, so he'll likely get them a future pick, which will probably get traded later on anyway. The Patriots cycle through picks and don't land as many quality players as they could. It remains to be seen what kind of production they get out of this class, but as it stands right now, I think it's very average.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan, GM Bruce Allen, and the Washington Redskins needed to add a lot of talent. The Redskins responded by trading down out of the 10th spot, to Jacksonville, and proceeded to trade multiple times throughout the Draft, landing 12 picks in total. Of the 12 picks, however, 8 of them came after the 4th round. The Redskins have holes at a lot of positions, and are still trying to infuse talent into their new 3-4 defense. Years of bad drafting and bad free agent contracts (DeAngelo Hall, Albert Haynesworth, etc.) have left the Redskins devoid of talent, so the multiple draft picks strategy works to a degree. However, the Redskins haven't fully addressed what they'll do with Donovan McNabb and the rest of the quarterback position. Here's what they did with their abundance of picks.

1st round, 16th overall) Ryan Kerrigan - LB - Purdue
Brian Orakpo burst onto the scened as a rookie with 11 sacks. In 15 games last year, he added another 8.5 sacks. The problem being, no one else added much, and as such, guys like Andre Carter probably won't be back. Enter Ryan Kerrigan, a talented DE at Purdue, he racked up 37.5 sacks and 55.5 tackles for loss over his career. Playing in 48 games, he brings a wealth of experience in the 4-3, so it remains to be seen how he'll transition to a 3-4.

How he fits in: Given the Redskins dismal OLB depth chart after Brian Orakpo, Kerrigan should figure to start early at the strongside position. He's something of a cross between Matt Roth and Mike Vrabel, that comes out looking like a version of the Rams DE Chris Long, if you can follow all that. Kerrigan is 6'3" 267lbs, and has a non-stop motor. He's not as athletic as you'd like and didn't do a whole lot form a two-point stance for the Boilermakers. That said, he's got absolutely violent hands, has a vast array of pass-rush moves, and can run the arc surprisingly well. Jim Haslett runs a pretty aggressive defense, so it's not likely Kerrigan will have to drop into coverage too often, as he's very unproven in that regard.

Outlook: Kerrigan will have to transition to a 3-4 OLB spot, but he'll have some opportunities to put his hand in the dirt in nickel and dime situations. He should be able to stop the run pretty well, as he did at Purdue, but it's his pass-rushing abilities across from Orakpo that will be scrutinized the most. Depending on how Haslett uses Kerrigan, he should have every opportunity to show what he can do. Matt Roth, a 4-3 DE out of Iowa, struggled for thre seasons in Miami before they moved him to OLB. He continued that success last year Cleveland, and is now squarely on the Patriots radar. If someone as unathletic as Roth can be an edge-setting menace, Kerrigan can certainly do it, and what he gives the Redskins as a pass-rusher is a bonus.

2nd round, 41st overall) Jarvis Jenkins - DE - Clemson
The Redskins defensive front is a collection of aging veterans like Phillip Daniels and Vonnie Holliday, retreads from other teams like Adam Carriker and Darrion Scott, and some young players like Kedric Golston and Jeremy Jarmon. Of that group, only Vonnie Holliday and Kedric Golston have had much success over their careers, and the Redskins figure to dump some of those names and contracts. Jenkins possesses prototypical size at 6'4" 310lbs and is a very good bull-rusher. He didn't get many press-clippings due to a lack of sacks, but he's good against the run. He doesn't have a nice repertoire of pass-rush moves, but he's good in pursuit and moving down the line against the run, but he has a tendency to play too tall at times. Jenkins should make the Redskins 2/2 in picking defensive starters in this draft class though.

3rd round, 79th overall) Leonard Hankerson - WR - Miami
When your top two receivers are Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong, you're in some trouble. Santana Moss is still good and is pretty underrated, but he's starting to get up their in years. Armstrong is a deep threat, but he's inconsistent. Enter Hankerson who brings size, terrific hands, and some good route-running ability to the Redskins offense. "Hank" is 6'1" 209lbs and brings a 16.1 ypc average along with 23 career TDs to Kyle Shanahan's offense. Hankerson had an 1,156 yard season as a senior, and should profile as a nice number two option opposite Santana Moss. He'll eventually be phased into a starter's role at some point this season, and gets the Redskins to three starters in this draft class; good for a team that needs a lot of help.

4th round, 105th overall) Roy Helu - RB - Nebraska
With Clinton Portis hitting free agency this year, the Redskins needed to add a talented back in the Draft as their roster reads Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams as the top two returning backs from last year. Portis has said he's opening to a return to D.C., but the cost will have to be right for the Redskins. Mike and Kyle Shanahan's system has featured a one-cut runner for ages, and has produced the likes of Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, and Clinton Portis with 1,000 yard seasons. Roy Helu's a decently sized back at 5'11" 219lbs, and has good speed. He led college football in runs over 30 yards last year, but has been nagged by injuries throughout his career. If he can stay healthy, he should be a really good fit in the Redskins offense, and he's shown to be a capable receiver out of the backfield as well. He should get plenty of carries as a rookie, but Washington will probably look to bring back Portis or add another back in free agency.

5th round, 146th overall) DeJon Gomes - S - Nebraska
Gomes played a hybrid positon of safety-linebacker for Bo Pelini's Blackshirts in Nebraska. He'll be a full-time safety in the NFL, as he goes 5'11" 208lbs, and he should be able to carve out a role for himself as a rookie. As an in-the-box type of SS, he should find a niche in Jim Haslett's nickel and dime packages as a blitzer or someone who covers TEs. He certainly won't unseat LaRon Landry, but he's got more talent that a lot of the other options the Redskins have at S like Reed Doughty, Kareem Moore, and Macho Harris. Gomes should find himself playing in some particular packages and will be a force on special teams. He's a bit limited athletically with what he can do, but has a nose for finding the football as he racked up 99 tackles, 3INTs and 4PBUs as a senior for the Huskers.

5th round, 155th overall) Niles Paul - WR - Nebraska
Paul makes it three straight Huskers heading to D.C. and he too should find a nice niche role like Gomes. Paul, a big receiver at 6'0" 224lbs, has good bloodlines as his uncle is former NFL RB Ahman Green. Paul's built like a running back as he has very short arms and unbelievably small hands for someone his size. Paul is versatile as he can return kicks and punts, and he's experience with 46 games under his belt. In those games he hauled in 103 passes for over 1,500 yards and 5TDs. Paul is more of a deep threat than a possession receiver who comes from a very conservative offensive system. He should earn a roster spot as a 4th or 5th receiver and kick returner.

6th round, 177th overall) Evan Royster - RB - Penn State
The Redskins drafted a second big back here, who also is a decent one-cut back. Royster comes from the Penn State program where he was the main running threat for most of his career toting the rock 686 times. He's 5'11' 212lbs, but looks like he's 225lbs and plays bigger as well. He does a lot of things well, he just lacks speed and athleticism. Royster hasn't been the best redzone running back, but he can churn out yardage between the 20's. Royster could find a home in the Redskins backfield, and he could be cut outright in camp. Depending on how quickly he grasps the system and what the Redskins do with Portis, or another free agent, Royster could earn a spot. But that spot might not come through his own doing.

6th round, 178th overall) Aldrick Robinson - WR - SMU
As I mentioned with Greg Salas in the Rams review, Aldrick Robinson is another of the June Jones offense recievers. Robinson is a little different than Davone Bess and Emmanuel Sanders however, as he possesses the speed to get deep. At 5'9" 184lbs, he's probably direct competition for Anthony Armstrong down the line, and he can return punts, though he didn't do that at SMU as he was too valuable to the offense there. His lowest YPC average came as a freshman with a 16.8 clip, and he registered two 1,000 yard seasons as a sophomore and again as a senior. He was very productive with 181 catches for over 3,300 yards and 30TDs. So, you know you're getting someone with good hands, and he's got nice speed. He'll have to adapt to running NFL-style routes in the slot, but he's a great value pick here for Washington.

7th round, 213th overall) Brandyn Thompson - CB - Boise State
If there's one position on the Redskins defense that's got some depth to it, it's at CB. DeAngelo Hall is a riverboat gambler who lives and dies by the big play, but he's starting to really figure things out. Carlos Rogers play has slipped a bit, but he's been serviceable since he was drafted in 2005. However, he's a free agent that will command some nice coin in free agency after guys like Nnamdi Asomugha and Jonathan Joseph are signed. Thompson won't supplant anyone as a starter right off the bat, but he can fill a hole lower on the depth chart if Rogers doesn't come back. He's shown a nose for the football with 13INTs over his career in Boise, and as a three-year starter, he's got good game experience. He could find his way onto the field in nickel and dime packages, but like most late round picks, he'll have to show something on special teams to stick on the roster.

7th round, 217th overall) Maurice Hurt - G - Florida
A depth pick here for the Redskins. Hurt played mostly LG for the Gators and benefitted by playing next to each of the Pouncey twins throughout his career. He got some experience at RG and RT in 2010, but for the most part, he's bounced between a starter and a top backup while in Gainesville. Hurt's got decent NFL size at 6'2" 318lbs, but he's not mobile, and will have to play RG. The Redskins don't have much on either side of veteran C Casey Rabach. However, with his presence and getting to play next to either Trent Williams or Jammal Brown, if Hurt has to play, he'll be sandwiched between guys with experience. He'll have to compete with backups Xavier Fulton, Selvish Capers, and former 2nd overall pick Mike Williams for time, as Artis Hicks figures to hold down one of the G spots. He could be an interesting developmental prospect and could be destined for the practice squad.

7th round, 224th overall) Markus White - LB - Florida State
The Redskins added some more depth to their OLB corp with the selection of Markus White at this juncture. Like Kerrigan and Orakpo before him, White's a convert 4-3 DE prospect. He played three seasons in Tallahassee after coming over from the JUCO ranks. He started seeing significant time for the Noles as a junior and became a two-year starter. He really turned it on as a senior registerin 12.5 TFLs and 8 sacks. Despite having a nice build at 6'4" 266lbs, he's not very quick or athletic. He'll also take some time to develop into something of use in a 3-4, so he too could be headed to the practice squad.

7th round, 253rd overall) Chris Neild - NT - West Virginia
With a 4th pick in the 7th round, the Redskins took a developmental NT prospect as insurance in case they decided to finally unload Albert Haynesworth who is extremely miscast in their 3-4 defense and wants out of town badly. Neild's got good size at 6'1" 319lbs, and was a 3-year starter for the Mountaineers. However, that experience at NT came in a 3-3-5 system, which isn't quite the same as playing in a 3-4 defense as a 0 technique. Neild's a stump in the middle and is decent against the run, but he's going to have to really impress against NFL level competition to stay on the roster.

Overall Grade: B+
I'm pretty tempted to give the Redskins an A- here, but they failed to address the QB position, and had a surefire shot at Blaine Gabbert at the 10th spot. However, they traded that pick to Jacksonville to recoup more picks. I like what they did with their early rounders as Ryan Kerrigan, Jarvis Jenkins, Leonard Hankerson, and Roy Helu should all see significant action as rookies, and all 4 could end up starting in 2011. DeJon Gomes, Niles Paul, Aldrick Robinson, and Brandyn Thompson should all be able to carve out roles for themselves as well and could see some nice time. I'm not sure where Evan Royster fits in, and they've got a few developmental prospects at the back end of the 7th round. However, when you consider that they could get 3 opening day starters and an additional 5 role players seeing the field out of this class in week one, you've got appreciate that draft haul. It remains to be seen how they'll address the QB position, and I think they could've done some more on the O-line, but all things considered, this is a good, deep draft class that will pay some early dividends.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sports Quick Hits - Turds in the Punch Bowl

My schedule was thrown off a bit this week with work, so I'll get back to my NFL Draft Grades tomorrow, and hopefully by this weekend I'll have my Top 10 College Football Games article posted. So, that aside, here's Sports Quick Hits, a day late, but not a dollar short.

To quote the late, great Harry Caray, "Hoooolllllyyy Cow!" That was some performance by Rory McIlroy this weekend en route to winning the US Open. I mean, that was pretty brilliant. In the midst of round 2 of my fantasy golf run, and having missed the first round of the Open, I noticed two of my players, Y.E. Yang and Graeme McDowell were both in or near the top 10 heading into Saturday. Unfortunately for me, Rory McIlroy tallied a scorching 16 under par finish to take the title, and a cool $1.44M for the win. And good for him, after that terrible collapse at Augusta. Personally, I find it hard not to root for someone who goes out to see "Hangover Part II" in between rounds. You've also got to be very impressed by amateur Patrick Cantlay, who finished at even par. All in all, it was a great tournament to watch, and I'm sure Chizzy will have even more detail on this in the near future.

I thought I'd have better news regarding the lockout today given that the owners are in an informational meeting regarding the state of the lockout and a new proposed CBA. Lawyer Bob Batterman is confident the owners meetings won't stretch into Wednesday, as once thought late last week, as there will NOT be a vote on the new CBA.

Word leaked to media outlets that a potential owners meeting last week could "blow up" and halt negotiations with the players all together. ESPN ran a story this weekend stating that owners of two AFC teams were against the the proposed CBA that would end the lockout. In order for a new CBA to be enacted, 75% or 24 of the 32 league owners must vote in favor of the proposal. You may remember in 2006, when the late Gene Upshaw and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue basically saved football, the CBA that expired March 1st this year was voted in favor by a count of 30-2.

The two owners who voted against it are interestingly enough in charge of AFC teams, and could perhaps be the same two owners, though I'll concede I think a separate owner could be part of that twosome this time around, who voted no last time around. They were Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, the oldest in the league at 92, who openly admitted he didn't understand what the terms of the 2006 CBA meant. I'll give him a pass for his age and the fact he did so much for the AFL and merging it with the NFL in 1970. The other was Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown whose team finished dead least in ESPN's franchise rankings. Just look to him to figure out why; the man is, and alway has been a turd, and as former University of Dayton Quarterback Rob Florian once told me, "You can't polish a turd." Al Davis could theoretically be the other based on the fact the Raiders may be heading back to Los Angeles. Again.

Giants C Shaun O'Hara reportedly told teammates to prepare for camp on July 27th, which is typically around the time camps start anyway. Stay tuned.

***Wednesday Update: After a labor-heavy intensive meeting yesterday, the NFL's owners committee and Rodger Goodell will meet with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith in suburban Boston today and tomorrow in another "sectret" negotiating session. The major compromise appears to be in terms of free agents. Those players who have accrued 4, 5, or 6 seasons will now be unrestricted free agents. In the past, a player had to wait 5 years to become a UFA. There's a rumor that the proposed CBA will include something similar to the NBA's max contract stipulation, which would prohibit any one player from making 10-12% of a team's total salary. Those already doing so, for example, Tom Brady, will still have their contracts honored, but it means that Peyton Manning is a UFA, and the Colts probably won't be able to sign him to a monster $20M per year deal as they've done in the past, which I think is a good thing league wide. The NFL is also stipulating that teams must operate with a salary cap floor, meaning they have to be "X" amount of dollars away from whatever the cap is, and they can't go lower. If your team is competing for a free agent with Tampa Bay, sorry, but you'll lose at least in terms of money available. Here's to hoping they actually get something done that allows trainging camp to open near it's traditional July 22nd start date. I'll leave you with a tweet from Colts owner/pseudo wannabe rocker Jim Irsay. Here it is:

"I'm just so f-ing excited...but I don't know why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" For more details of the meetings scheduled in Boston for today and tomorrow, click here.***

NFL Odds and Ends
Outcast Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor will enter the NFL Supplemental Draft, which will be held and conducted via e-mail, as it's typically done, sometime in July. Pryor, right now, is the only major name that will enter as former Florida CB Janoris Jenkins, who was kicked out of school for repeated marijuana arrests, will transfer to Divison II North Alabama. Ironically, the North Alabama program is now being headed by Terry Bowden, and his brother, Jeff, is the associate head coach.

AEG has partnered with Farmers to form a potential plan to build an NFL stadium between the Staples Center and L.A. Convention Center as part of L.A. Live to attract a potential franchise to move to America's second largest market. Personally, I don't think there's any way the Vikings or Bills are moving, so I think it comes down to the Chargers, Rams, Jaguars, and possibly the Raiders. Of those four, I think the Chargers are the best fit as they started their franchise in the city of angels.

Chizzy's St. Louis Cardinals have taken the top spot in the N.L. Central again, but will lose Albert Pujols for 4-6 weeks with a sprained wrist. If Milwaukee and Cincinnati are for real, now's the time of them to make a move.

Florida Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez resigned over the weekend giving way to 80 year old Jack McKeon. The Marlins started off 30-20 and were just a few games back of the Phillies. Something went terribly wrong as the Marlins have gone just 2-21 since that time. McKeon, who led the Marlins to an improbably World Series victory in 2003, said that, "I've managed since I was 14, and I'll probably manage until I'm 95." What team was he in charge of at age 14?

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig rejected the television proposal between the Dodgers and Fox Sports a day after Frank and Jamie McCourt agreed on a divorce settlement. In the TV contract, Frank McCourt was to receive $385M of a $3B total up front, allowing the Dodgers to make the June 30th payroll deadline. Now, they're in a state of limbo. If McCourt fails to make that deadline, Major League Baseball could seize full control of the Dodgers and put the team up for sale. Here's MLB's statement on the matter:

"This decision was reached after a full and careful consideration of the terms of the proposed transaction and the club's current circumstances," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "It is my conclusion that this proposed transaction with FOX would not be in the best interests of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, the game of Baseball and the millions of loyal fans of this historic club."

Here's the rest of the story, including Frank McCourt's comments on Bud Selig's ruling.

The Dallas Mavericks shocked just about everybody and finished off the Miami Heat 4-2 to win the franchises first NBA Title. Perhaps even more embarrasing than Cleveland Cavaliers fans calling themselves Dallas Cavericks fans, is that Macy's mistakenly ran an ad in the Miami Herald the day after the Heat lost, congratulating them on winning the NBA Championship. Oops.

It's unfortunate that for so much of the LeBron hating, and some of it deservedly so as he choked about as hard in the fourth quarter of each game as the New England Patriots did against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Let's face it, LeBron's never, ever, going to be Michael Jordan. He's not as consistent as Magic Johnson even. LeBron is LeBron, and he always will be.

That said, it's unfortunate that stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd won't be remembered as much for winning an NBA Title as the Heat will be for losing one. However, one rumor that I've heard that's quite interesting, is that if Jason Kidd does retire, Dallas would make a move to bring back Steve Nash. Wouldn't that be something if Dirk Nowitzki, once labeled soft and un-clutch, though not quite to LeBron standards, could win titles with Jason Kidd and Steve Nash?

As for those Dallas Cavericks fans, shouldn't you be more worried about the upcoming NBA Draft and how you're going to have to take Kyrie Irving and Enes Kanter? Yikes.

More turds in the punch bowl in the Stanley Cup Finals as the city of Vancouver's collective cheese slid completely off the cracker. Congrats to the Boston Bruins for winning game 7, and goalie Tim Thomas for setting a record of allowing only 8 goals in 7 games. That said, for a city known for its beauty, splendor, and based on the last Winter Olympics, the people, what the hell happened? I mean, it's not Rodney King redux, and it's not quite on par with the Cincinnati Police Riots, the only close rioting I've ever encountered, but's nonetheless very disturbing. I know Canadiens love their hockey intensly. I'm guessing it's about on par with how the British love soccer, I don't know, I've never been to a hockey game in Canada or on the pitch in the UK, but it has to be close. I mean, you didnt' see this in the city of Pittsburgh after the Steelers lost the Super Bowl.

Well, as you can see, it's been quite an interesting past few weeks in the sports world. Hopefully next week's installment of Quick Hits will have some more happy news.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Miami Dolphins

My beloved Miami Dolphins had the 15th pick in the Draft, so forgive me if I embellish a little here. I'd like to feel a little more confident in Miami going into 2011 as they finished with the 6th ranked defense and beat the Super Bowl Champs in Lambeau Field. However, Miami was 30th in the NFL in points scored last year, and parted ways with the ancient Dan Henning at offensive coordinator. They responded by hiring Brian Daboll from Cleveland, who fielded one of only two offense that scored less than Miami last year. Great. Miami's the 3rd youngest team in the league and has a lot of talent, but a deteriorating running game and subpar play from Chad Henne kept them from making a playoff run. They selected Florida C Mike Pouncey to fill the void there, but had things shaken out a little differently on Draft night, he wouldn't have been the pick. Here's why.

1st round, 15th overall) Mike Pouncey - C - Florida
On my Dolphins forum on Draft night we learned that Miami's draft board for the first round went in order as follows: Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Robert Quinn, and they graded Mike Pouncey and Gabe Carimi the same. All I have to say is yikes, and thanks to the Titans and Vikings for keeping Miami away from one of the quarterbacks as I feel like they'd be destined to fail in Miami. Miami suffered through long bouts of bad play in the middle last year from C Joe Berger. Reserve Cory Proctor broke his leg minutes into his first start against Chicago and things went downhill from there as Miami list 4 of its last 6 games. Enter Mike Pouncey to fix things.

How he fits in: Pouncey will be given every opportunity to be the starting C right off the bat, and I'm perfectly fine with that. His younger twin brother, Maurkice, left early and if not for Ndamukong Suh would've been the best rookie in the league last year for the Steelers. Mike joins fellow first rounders Vernon Carey, one of the few survivors from the dreaded Dave Wannstedt era draft of 2004, and Jake Long, who'll be named the top lineman in the NFL this weekend on NFL Networks Top 100 players, falling somewhere between 21st - 30th overall; congrats Jake! Miami will have to add a free agent guard to start opposite Richie Incognito or John Jerry, with Pouncey in the middle. Mike's not quite as technically sound as his twin Maurkice was, but he's still a good player, but has only one year of experience at C. He brings good size at 6'5" and 303lbs, and is excellent in space, an attribute that will be helpful as Daboll will use zone schemes in the running game.

Outlook: Overall, I love the Pouncey pick, as I wanted either him or Alabama's Mark Ingram if Miami was unable to trade down. I think he'll fit in nicely as a C, and in a worse-case scenario, they can play him at guard and move Richie Incognito to C. So, that's a fallback scenario I'm okay with. It stings slightly that they didn't take a chance on Ryan Mallett here, but idiotic owner Stephen Ross, in one of the few moves of his I've actually liked, has basically laid it out that if Miami doesn't make the playoffs this year, Tony Sparano is a goner. GM Jeff Ireland might be safe, and next year's QB crop could be the best one since the 1983 class if certain players declare; so I'm glad he saved some picks and didn't trade up for Locker or Ponder. Pouncey made their Draft for me.

2nd round, 62nd overall) Daniel Thomas - RB - Kansas State
After a run on running backs in round 2, Jeff Ireland made a move back up into the 2nd round to acquire Thomas. Miami didn't have a 2nd round pick due to the Brandon Marshall trade in 2010, so they gave up a 3rd, a 5th, and a 7th round pick to Washington to move back up. Thomas is a big back at 6'0" 230lbs and has sweet feet for a big back to go along with his stellar vision. However, he's not fast, and goes down more easily than a big back should. A former JUCO QB, Thomas only has two years experience as a running back, but we saw what Brian Daboll did with Peyton Hillis in Cleveland last year. I like the pick, but Miami could've waited until the 3rd round and still got a quality back. They also options in free agency and have been linked to DeAngelo Williams (who I think ends up in Denver reuniting with John Fox) and Ahmad Bradshaw, who wouldn't be a free agent if the CBA reverts back to the 2010 league rules. Personally, I'd prefer Bradshaw as he's more of a homerun hitter and can do some more things than Thomas will be able to initially.

4th round, 111th overall) Edmond Gates - WR - Abilene Christian
One of the most glaring weaknesses on Miami's offense last year was that while they're big and physical, they're very slow. Brandon Marshall is fine as a #1 option, but he doesn't have elite speed. Brian Hartline is their fastest guy, but he ended up on IR to close out the year. Davone Bess is an outstanding slot guy and can play outside, but like Marshall, doesn't have elite speed. Undrafted rookies Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace didn't add much. Enter Gates, who was the fastest receiver at the Combine running a 4.37 40. He comes from Abilene Christian, and dominated at that level hauling in 66 passes for 1,182 yards, good for a 17.9 ypc, and 13 TDs. However, he got by on physical talent and being the fastest player on the field at that level. He's 5'11" 193lbs and is pretty similar to Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace, though he's not quite that fast. He should give Miami a shot in the arm as a #4 receiver and kick returner, but he'll have to take his time learning the route tree at the NFL level. Fortunately for Miami, they won't need him to do much more than run fast as a rookie.

6th round, 174th overall) Charles Clay - TE - Tulsa
Miami needed a second TE to compliment Anthony Fasano, whose a fantastic all-around player, but isn't a downfield threat as a receiver. Clay's 6'3" 245lbs and played FB, QB, WR, and TE for the Golden Hurricane. He's a jack of all trades, master of none. During his career he had 179 carries for 911 yards and 10 TDs and caught 176 passes for 2,225 yards and 21 TDs. He's very versatile, but isn't a great blocker as a TE, and didn't do enough in-line blocking as a FB. It'll be interesting to see how they use Clay, but I had to ask, why not take a chance on Virgil Green at this juncture?

7th round, 231st overall) Frank Kearse - NT - Alabama A&M
Miami GM Jeff Ireland's found a few late round and undrafted gems in RB Lex Hilliard, WR Davone Bess, and K Dan Carpenter, but more often than not, his late round picks are throwaways, and that's how I feel here. Miami's defense has some budding stars in NT Paul Soliai, DE Kendall Langford, OLB Cameron Wake, and CBs Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Karlos Dansby's well established, and 2010 rookie Koa Misi did a pretty solid job, however, Miami could've really used a 3rd OLB for pass-rushing situations, and with several guys on the board, they passed and opted for a backup NT. Paul Soliai became the richest defensive player in the history of the Dolphins this offseason, which is saying something as they've had some studes throughout the past 15 years. He won't be going anywhere, and has absolutely abused Nick Mangold, the league's best C in 3 straight games against the Jets. Kearse comes from the SWAC and is the first player drafted from the entire conference since 2004. He's 6'4" and 315lbs and was looked at by a few teams, namely Pittsburgh and New England, so I'll trust Miami taking a chance on him. However, Miami already has Chris Baker, a pet project of Mike Nolan from Denver, ahead of him on the roster, and I think Kearse is destined for the practice squad.

7th round, 235th overall) Jimmy Wilson - CB/S - Montana
Late round picks rarely have stories as interesting as Jimmy Wilson, who spent two years in jail on trial for murder after playing three seasons at CB for the Montana Grizzlies. Wilson got into an argument with his aunt's boyfriend, who was drunk at the time and pulled a rifle on Wilson. Wilson and the boyfriend got into a physical altercation and the gun went off, killing the boyfriend. The New York Times covers the aftermath significantly better than I can, so I'll let you read the story on your own time. Wilson also got into trouble while at Montana for biting his girlfiend in the leg, and was suspsended for a game in 2010. At this time, I'd just like to find it ironic that Miami questioned Dez Bryant about his mother's prostitution and Ryan Mallett's off field activities and removed both from their draft boards, yet they take a chance on Jimmy Wilson. Go figure. Wilson played CB for three seasons and came back as a S after two years in prison. He's undersized for an NFL S at 5'11" 185lbs, but is a fierce hitter and Ireland says he'll start there and have to make a mark on special teams to stick.

Overall Grade: B-
Mike Pouncey and Daniel Thomas really make the draft for Miami. The Dolphins needed significant help in the middle of their O-line, and they got it in Mike Pouncey. If they add a mobile LG (they tried to trade for New England's Logan Mankins last year when he came back from his holdout, so keep an eye on that move if he leaves New England, which is doubtful), they're O-line could be really good. Thomas should be the starter, and if they're successful in luring a talented free agent RB in, they'll have a a nice backfield. Gates will add some speed and will help open things up for Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline, and Davone Bess, but he's got a lot to learn before he can make a significant contribution to the offense. Clay is a mystery man for now, and I still contend Virgil Green would've helped them more. Kearse and Wilson were throwaway picks and Miami could've used help at OLB and S, and there were plenty of picks still on the board at those spots at the time. However, I believe that Miami filled some big needs, and they managed to keep all their picks for next year. I think Brian Daboll's passing scheme, which he learned in New England, that empasizes quick throws could, and I'm purposefully emphasizing could here, help out Chad Henne some. However, if he doesn't take the next step, both Henne and Tony Sparano will both be gone in 2012. And I like the fact Jeff Ireland stuck to his guns and kept his picks as they'll have a full arsenal to use to trade up for a QB if needed. If you haven't figured it out by now, I love Andrew Luck and I'd be fine with Miami giving up a slew of picks to get him in 2012, but that's a long way off for now. Overall, Pouncey and Thomas will make this class and whatever Gates and Clay add to it will be a nice bonus.

KD's NFL Draft Grades - St. Louis Rams

Recently there's been a lot of fuss about AEG's attempt to lure one of 5 NFL teams out to Los Angeles. The Rams, who started in Cleveland, spent a good number of years in Anaheim and L.A., and are one of the 5 teams being considered to make the move. Personally, I feel like the Chargers, who were founded in Los Angeles, are the best team to move since it's the shortest trip, not counting the Raiders, and that the St. Louis Rams should be allowed to stay in the midwest and continue building upon an upstart young team. After all, their only Super Bowl title came in the Gateway to the West. There's also been much speculation that the Rams will be heavily in the market for Randy Moss or Sidney Rice once free agency starts to provide Sam Bradford with the elite weapon he desparately needs. Overall, I'm intrigued by what the Rams did during the Draft, and I think they'll get some good help from their class.

1st round, 14th overall) Robert Quinn - DE - North Carolina
Once considered the top player in the 2011 Draft Class, Quinn was suspended for the 2010 NCAA season along with a few other Tar Heels for improper conduct with an agent. Quinn's stock didn't fall too much as he still went in the top 15 picks of the Draft after blowing away scouts with a very impressive pre-Draft workout in Chapel Hill. At 6'4" 265lbs with long arms and club-like hands, and impressive athleticism, Quinn figures to be the premier pass-rusher the Rams are currently lacking.

How he fits in: Despite being away from football for a year, I'd be shocked if Quinn doesn't crack the starting lineup early on this season. The Rams have two outstanding talents in their front seven in strongside DE Chris Long and MLB James Laurinaitis. FS O.J. Atogwe is pretty underrated, but the Rams certainly need to add more punch on their defense. Quinn certainly does that and will compete with savvy veteran James Hall for the starting weakside DE position. Steve Spagnuolo is a master of a blitz-heavy 4-3 defense (see Giants over Patriots in the Super Bowl) and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see him move Quinn all over the place to get him favorable matchups.

Outlook: Lots of rookies hit the proverbial "rookie wall" after about 10 games, and I expect Quinn might hit that wall harder than most having been away from football for so long. Let's be real, there's being in shape, and then there's being in football shape - two totally different things for those who haven't played the game. I'd imagine Quinn will get the lion's share of the snaps with James Hall spelling him when needed. Certainly I'd expect him to beat out reserves C.J. Ah You and George Selvie and Quinn could feasibly see time at OLB in pass-rushing situations. Overall, I absolutley love this pick, even if it takes Quinn some considerable time to get back up to speed; I truly believe he'll make a nice impact for the Rams and should garner some Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration.

2nd round, 47th overall) Lance Kendricks - TE - Wisconsin
All young QBs benefit from having good TE play and while Daniel Fells was pretty serviceable, along with Michael Hoomanawanui, the Rams still lacked that TE that could get down the seam and stretch the field. Kendricks gives them that option now, and while he's not spectacular in any one facet of the game, he does everything he has to do pretty well. At 6'2" 243lbs, there's some fullbacks in the league bigger than he is, but he's a willing blocker, and he's got pretty good body control when in open space. He compares pretty well with the Jets Dustin Keller, who has really helped Mark Sanchez, and I expect Kendricks to have the same kind of productivity for Sam Bradford. Kendricks caught 43 passes for 663 yards and 5 scores, good for a very impressive 15.4 ypc average. He'll have to work on his blocking skills to unseat Fells from the number one TE position.

3rd round, 78th overall) Austin Pettis - WR - Boise State
The Rams have a bunch of number 3 and 4 receivers on their roster, with Danny Amendola leading the way. However, Amendola belongs in the slot more than anywhere else. Laurent Robinson can't stay healthy, Mardy Gilyard fell behind in the playbook, and Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander still have a way to go and have battled injuries, hence why the Rams are in the market for Moss and Rice. Pettis comes in and profiles as a #2 possession-type receiver. The best word to describe him is probably smooth, as he runs very good routes, he's got superb body-control and great hands. He's not overly fast and won't take the top off an NFL secondary, but he's smart and isn't afraid of getting physical at the line or over the middle. Very productive with 229 career catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 39 TDs for Boise State, and that should help him acclimate to the NFL pretty quickly.

4th round, 112th overall) Greg Salas - WR - Hawaii
The Rams went to the receiver well again, and tabbed another ultra-productive guy in Hawaii's Greg Salas. Salas is cut from almost the exact same cloth that Austin Pettis is and probably more competition for Alexander, Gilyard, and fellow rookie Pettis at the possession receiver spot. Salas, like Davone Bess at Hawaii and Emmanuel Sanders at SMU, now with Miami and Pittsburgh respectively, are products of the June Jones spread offense, and Salas notched two 100 catch, 1,500 yard seasons for the Warriors, vaulting himself up draft boards. A former running back, he's physical off the line and uses his 6'1" 210lbs frame very well. He'll have to learn the nuances of an NFL offense, but like Bess and Sanders, he comes out as a very solid route runner.

5th round, 158th overall) Jermale Hines - S - Ohio State
St. Louis, like the Lions before them, is a team with a lot of holes, so talent can help pretty much anywhere. Veterans James Butler and Michael Lewis gave way to youngster Craig Dahl by the end of the year, and he's not someone you really want to start in your secondary. O.J. Atogwe will be back off injury, but behind him there's really not much available. Hines played SS for the Buckeyes and brings more size and athleticism to the Rams lineup. Hines is 6'1" and 219lbs and is a very sure tackler. He's very much a liability in coverage, and profiles as an in the box, 2-down safety at the NFL level. That's not necessarily a bad thing as the Rams have some better coverage guys on the roster, but they could certainly use his run-stopping prowess on defense. He should compete for a starting gig, even as a 5th round prospect.

7th round, 216th overall) Mikail Baker - CB - Baylor
Baker's a project player at corner for the Rams. He was primarily a kickoff returner early in his career in Waco, he started the final 9 games of the 2010 season after suffering a season-ending knee injury 3 games into the 2009 campaign. Baker came to the Bears as a wide receiver and didn't make the transition to the defensive side of the ball after receiving a medical redshirt after breaking his collar bone in 2007. Baker's an experienced player and Baylor's all-time leading kick returner, but that probably won't help him much in the Rams secondary as he's a major project that could take a few seasons on the practice squad to get him up to snuff in an NFL defense.

7th round, 228th overall) Jabara Williams - LB - Stephen F. Austin
The Rams linebacking corps, aside from James Laurinaitis, isn't much to write home about. The other two starters, Larry Grant and Na'il Diggs, also former Buckeyes are solid, but are aging, especially Diggs. David Vobora's got experience, but you really don't want to have to start him. After that Chris Chamberlain, David Nixon, Curtis Johnson, and Bryan Kehl...well, you get the picture. Williams falls right into that category as well, as he's another project player for Spagnuolo. A 6'1" 228lbs, more athlete than linebacker, Williams will project to the weakside behind Grant and Vobora. He'll have to show something special teams to stick.

7th round, 229th overall) Jonathan Nelson - CB - Oklahoma
Again, another project here. A one-year starter for the Sooners, Nelson racked up 5 career INTs and 9 PBUs in 17 starts for the Sooners. He possesses decent size at 5'11" 188lbs. He should compete for a boundary corner spot as a rookie and may bring something to the table on special teams as he's a pretty solid tackler. He's decent in run support and has a knack for making big plays at big times. Overall though, there's just not enough of a body of work to get an accurate read on how he'll transition to the pros. Oklahoma DBs are all over the NFL map, so Nelson may stick onto a roster somewhere, even if it's not in St. Louis.

Overall Grade: B
The Rams draft class is pretty top-heavy with Quinn, Kendricks, and Pettis likely to start as rookies. Salas will likely have some sort of role on the offense, but after that only Jermale Hines has the potential to be a starter down the road. Spagnuolo's a defensive guru and might be able to find uses for the latter end of the draft class in Baker, Williams, and Nelson. The Rams accomplished their goal of adding some weapons for Sam Bradford, but they could've used help in the secondary and another running back to spell Steven Jackson; though they're rumored to be at the top of the list for Darren Sproles. The first 3 picks really make the grade, and if Robert Quinn turns out as good as they expect him to be, this class could help get the Rams to the top of the NFC West.

5 Players Who I Think Could Win the US Open, and the One I Think That Will Win It

It's time for the ol' US Open. America's national championship is the toughest tournament the players will play all year.

Five inch high rough? Check.

Greens that roll faster than hardwood floors? Check.

Par 4's longer than the longest hole Average Joe plays ever? Check.

The U.S. Open is the USGA's (golf's governing body) opportunity to rise up and slap the professionals around like a red-headed step child. The winning score is rarely below par, you're going to see a heck of a lot more scores in the 80's than you will in the 60's, and Sunday is known for its famous meltdowns.

TC Chen's double chip back in the 80's. Arnold Palmer blowing a seven shot lead back in 1966. Dustin Johnson going triple-bogey triple-bogey last year at Pebble. Phil Mickelson double bogeying the eighteenth in 2005 to hand the title to Geoff Ogilvy.

This year should be no different. Congressional Country Club's Blue Course measures over 7,600 yards. The 18th hole is a brutal 523-yard par 4, with a tight fairway and a green completely surrounded by water. I don't want to play that hole. Meanwhile, many players are starting their tournament on the par 3 10th hole, a 213-yard hole that is over water, with bunkers in front and behind. Talk about a way to be shaking in your boots before you even get started. I've played a lot of golf, but I'd be terrified with 15,000 people watching me.

Having said all that, it takes a special (or extremely lucky) person to win a U.S. Open. They need to be long off the tee, hit a LOT of greens, and be a solid - but not great - putter. The reason I say that is because at the U.S. Open, you're not trying to make birdies. You're trying to make pars. So if you hit a lot of greens, two putts are going to be just fine.

Almost every player in this tournament can two putt from most places, so in my mind hitting greens is the most important quality in a U.S. Open champion candidate. Even more important than wearing snazzy outfits on the course, and that's saying a lot because as we all know, 90% of being good at golf is looking good while you're on it.

Keeping those qualities in mind, the following five players are the ones that I believe have the best shot to win this week at Congressional, followed by the player I think WILL win. Go into this knowing that I'm probably going to be wrong.


Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Anthony Kim.


Nick Watney, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Jeff Overton, Ernie Els (won here at Congressional in 1997).


Lee Westwood: Starting at the Masters, the strapping Englishman has played six events leading up to the U.S. Open, winning twice and never finishing outside the top 11. That's a pretty good track record if you ask me.

Westwood is known as one of the best ball strikers in the world with his irons, especially the longer irons.

At a U.S. Open, the key is to get on greens. If you don't, you may as well be left for dead. The last three years, the winners of the tournament have all been in the top 15 in greens in regulation for the tournament.

Westwood's statistics this year on the PGA Tour?

68.33%. Good enough for 18th place. And he ONLY plays the top events on Tour; he's not playing the John Deere Classics and the Turning Stone Championships which yield high GIR percentages. He's also been dropping a lot of putts from 15-25 feet (27.08%, 2nd on Tour).

Also, Westwood leads the Tour in distance from the pin from shots from 125-150 yards as well as shots from 200-225 yards - key distances this week. He also has the lowest Sunday scoring average on Tour this year. All this information leads to a strong potential for Westwood to capture his first ever major championship this week.

Luke Donald: He's the No. 1 player in the world, has played in nine events on Tour this year, and has finished in the top 10 in eight of them. In the words of Jason Segel in the Bad Teacher trailer, "THAT'S ALL THE ARGUMENT I NEED, SEAN!"

But in case those statistics still leave you wanting for more, I'm happy to oblige. Donald - long thought to be one of "the next big things" in golf - is known as Mr. Consistency. While he doesn't hit the ball a long way, he is one of the best players in the world with both the irons and the flatstick.

He leads the Tour in scoring average, is 5th in birdie average, 6th in putting, and is 33rd in GIR average. While nothing on Donald's resume blows anyone away, it is the fact that nothing in his game is a glaring weakness. He is an all-around great player.

At the U.S. Open you need everything to be solid - driving, irons, wedges, putter. Nothing needs to be overly spectacular, but everything needs to be reliable. Donald has that game, and fits the bill of a major champion. The most important thing is that even he believes this major is his best opportunity - he said earlier this week that the U.S. Open is the major that best suits his game.

Phil Mickelson: I don't really need to go into statistics here. Why? Because Phil will contend here. The guy has nine Top 10's over the last 15 years, including five second place finishes.

Phil is the most tortured player in recent U.S. Open history, and perhaps of all-time. He finished second at Pinehurst to Payne Stewart in 1999 in one of the most iconic tournaments of our lifetimes, to Tiger Woods in 2002 at Bethpage Black when the crowd was distinctly behind him, to Retief Goosen at Shinnecock in 2004 when Phil's putter failed him, most tragically in the aforementioned tournament at Winged Foot in 2006, and again at Bethpage in 2009 when his putter failed him.

Phil wants to win this tournament more than anything, and I think this is his last great shot at it. He's getting up there in years, and his dominant reign seems to be on the beginning of its downturn. As a diehard Phil fan myself, I don't want to see him falter. Watching him in the 2006 Open was one of the hardest things as a fan of sports that I ever had to watch.

But there's no doubt Phil is contending here this week. He's been playing well, won the week before the Masters, likes the set-up, and is always a threat to win.

Steve Stricker: Stricker may be 44 years old, but he's been playing the best golf of his career after the age of 40, similar to Kenny Perry a few years ago.

Known for spending his winters hitting balls out of a heated range in upstate Wisconsin, Stricker has the game, demeanor, and recent track record to set up for success this week.

Known as one of the best ball strikers and putters on Tour, Stricker can hit the ball with the best of them. He hits a TON of fairways (65.55%, 33rd on Tour), which is important at the U.S. Open. If you get into the rough, sometimes you can't even find it, and if you do you're better off getting it out with a machete in your hand.

Stricker also hits a lot of greens (67.75%, 22nd on Tour), and is especially accurate from 150 yards and in. Finally, he's the best in the game from 15 feet and in, which reflects and impeccably cool attitude which serves well in a U.S. Open. He likes to stay steady, and just goes about his business.

What's the takeaway from all of this? As shown in his recent win in the Memorial, if Stricker is on his game he's one of - if not the - best in the world.

K.J. Choi: Does K.J. even have emotions? I mean, the guy doesn't smile, doesn't get angry, barely talks, and basically goes about his business on the course like a samurai ninja. In fact, that's my new nickname for him: Ninja Choi.

Ninja Choi picked up the biggest win of his career last month at the Players Championship when David Toms basically threw up on himself in a playoff.

Long known for playing basically an entire set of hybrid clubs, Choi is a great iron/hybrid player. He ranks near the top of the Tour for shots played from 150-200 yards, and with an abundance of 440-470 yard par 4's, those shots need to be on to hoist the trophy on Sunday.

While his statistics aren't overwhelming in his favor, Ninja is what us in the golf world like to call a "grinder." What this means is that he's a gritty player who never gives up, and can make par from anywhere. In a U.S. Open, that's essential, which is exactly why I like Ninja Choi to sneak up the leaderboard this week.

MY PICK TO WIN THE TITLE: In a complete front-runner move, I'm taking Mickelson. It seems his "window of opportunity" is closing, and if he's going to win a U.S. Open this is the best year to do it. Best of luck Phil, bring home the hardware.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Detroit Lions

On the Dolphins forum I belong to, several members, myself included, participate in a 2 round mock draft and "adopt" teams to draft for. I got my hometown Bengals and the Detroit Lions. Gross right? Well, the caveat for the mock draft is that we can't trade picks, so you're stuck where you're at. So, with my 4 picks, I managed to get 3 right. All of them except the Lions taking Nick Fairley with the 13th overall pick (Fairley was available in our mock draft surprisingly, but I really didn't think the Lions would consider it given the gaping hole they have at left tackle). So, I was wrong, but got the most picks right out of all contestants in the mock forum, so I'll take that. GM Martin Mayhew has done a fantastic job of adding talent to a Lions team that was run into the ground by Matt Millen. While Detroit's not all the way back, you can certainly tell they're more competitive and have some pieces to the puzzle. And after adding players like Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Ndaumkong Suh, and now Nick Fairley, the Lions fans have something to cheer about, and the rest of this draft class fits that bill. Let's have a look.

1st round, 13th overall) Nick Fairley - DT - Auburn
No player in college football exploded onto the scene like Nick Fairley did for Auburn last season. The 6'3" 291lbs defensive tackle recorded 60 tackles, 24 of which came behind the line of scrimmage, and 11.5 sacks. An explosive 1-gap penetrator Fairley carried the Auburn defense to a national title and for a time, had some draft experts debating who was better between he and Marcel Dareus. The fact that Dareus went 10 spots ahead of Fairley shouldn't be as damning as it sounds, as Fairley is an equally good player, but won't fit into every defense.

How he fits in: Fairley's stock slipped a bit do to some questions about his being a 1-year wonder and a shaky work ethic. I think he answered the latter by showing up at the Combine in terrific shape and dominating most of the workouts. The problem being, Marcel Dareus did equally well and is almost 30lbs larger than Fairley. I'd expect Fairley to be on the field plenty next to Ndamukong Suh, who won't let Fairley not work to his full potential, quite a bit even if Fairley's not technically a starter. Jim Schwartz's defenses in Tennessee utilized a fantastic DL rotation, and I'd expect the Lions will do that with Suh, Fairley, and veteran Corey Williams. They also have two younger players in Sammie Lee Hill and Andre Fluellen who will take some snaps away from Fairley in short yardage and goaline packages. However it plays out, Fairley will be on the field a lot, and with him playing next to Suh and in between Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, he'll be a solid cog in a very formidable defensive line.

Outlook: Detroit had it's pick of any offensive tackle save Tyron Smith at this spot. They also could've used Prince Amukamara desperately in the secondary, but instead opted to upgrade the strongest unit of their defense. Their D-line was good, and now it's really good. They're a double-digit sack defensive end away from being dominant. While I thought they would've opted to protect their $60M investment in Matthew Stafford, the Lions have faith in veteran Jeff Backus and the freshly minted Rob Sims to step in at left guard and keep Stafford protected. This was purely a BPA (best player available) pick, and it's a whale of a pick. After looking back on it, I understand it, and I love it.

2nd round, 44th overall) Titus Young - WR - Boise State
Detroit again went with the BPA move here and ended up with one of the more underrated receivers in the draft in Boise State's Titus Young. The charismatic receiver from Boise State has garnered comparisons to the Steelers' Mike Wallace. I think those are a little off as Young doesn't have quite that speed, but he can stretch a defense. Young's real benefit will come from playing both in the slot and opposite Calvin Johnson. Derrick Williams failed at this role since being drafted a few years back and Bryant Johnson is starting to slow down. Young should start off as the 3rd receiver behind Johnson and Nate Burleson who had something of a renaissance last year, but Young should eventually challenge for that starting role opposite Megatron. Young can also return kicks if needed, but Detroit is expected to roster Stefan Logan for those duties.

2nd round, 57th overall) Mikel Leshoure - RB - Illinois
As a Dolphins fan, I was hoping Leshoure would keep slipping even though I pegged him to the Lions in our forum two round mock draft. Leshoure failed a drug test prior to the Combine and his stock fell, but only slightly. Leshoure's a big back and should shoulder more of the load allowing Detroit to find ways to use the explosive Jahvid Best in space more. Leshoure is 5'11" 230lbs and runs with very good balance. He's not overly athletic and doesn't quite have the homerun type speed of a Steven Jackson, but he's not that far off. He's an excellent receiver and a pretty willing blocker, so Detroit's getting a true #1 RB here. Leshoure posted a very impressive season in 2010 running 281 times for 1,697 yards and 17TDs. He also hauled in 17 passes for 196 yards and 3 more TDs. Another great pick who will make an immediate impact from the get go.

5th round, 157th overall) Douglas Houge - LB - Syracuse
After giving up some picks to move up to get Mikel Leshoure, the Lions went back to addressing the defensive side of the ball, and their weak linebacking corps. DeAndre Levy is a very good player who should get to move back to his more natural weakside position after having played in the middle last year. Bobby Carpenter finished the year starting on the strongside, but probably shouldn't be handling those duties. The Lions also have their eye on Tennessee Titans tackling machine Stephen Tulloch, a free agent, to come in and start in the middle. Detroit's got some decent backup players, but they can easily be improved upon and they did so here with Hogue. A weakside linebacker for the Orange, Houge is pretty football savvy and is good in coverage. He's a reliable tackler and wrapped up 95 as a senior. He might stay on the weakside of Detroit's unable to land Tulloch and is forced to keep Levy in the middle. He's got starting potential down the road, but should be a nice role player for the Lions as a rookie.

7th round, 209th overall) Johnny Culbreath - T - South Carolina State
Detroit's added a few pieces to try and solidify their left tackle position. Jeff Backus will likely beat out Tony Ugoh, Jason Fox, and Corey Hilliard, but it doesn't hurt to add another project. Culbreath goes 6'5" 280lbs, but is very fleet of foot. He'll have to make a pretty big jump in competition and might be looking at a position switch to guard until he's able to add enough bulk to kick outside to tackle. Culbreath should be a nice player to have on the practice squad, and should be able to serve as a depth player in a year or two at the very least.

Overall Grade: A
See, I told you I give out A's to some teams. While Detroit ignored weaknesses at left tackle and at cornerback, you have to realize they've been rebuilding from an 0-16 that had an enormous amount of holes. GM Martin Mayhew's done a nice job of plugging some of the gaps, but, as the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. Detroit is a team that needs talent everywhere, and they landed talent at DT, WR, RB, and LB, and got a nice project along the offensive line. The Lions are a team on the rise and should be able to draw some decent free agents in the secondary and in the linebacking unit to help sure up their defense. With the players they added this year, they'll see significant impacts from Fairley, Young, and Leshoure, and should get some help from Doug Houge. It's hard to not really like what the Lions did and if they can get expected production out of their first three picks, they could feasibly make a run at cracking the .500 mark. It's unfortunate that they reside in the NFC North, because if they were in the West, you're probably looking at the division favorite. They did a great job, and now that they've proven to themselves they can win on the road, I think Detroit will be in the thick of things for the first half of the season.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Minnesota Vikings

Perhaps no team made a more shocking pick than the Vikings selection of Florida State Quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th overall selection. Many draft experts were left shaking their heads at the pick, but we know now that had Minnesota not taken him, Miami had him atop their draft board at the 15th selection. However, I believe that Ponder was worth a 1st round pick in the middle of the round, so I don't consider it much of a reach for Minnesota, especially since they had a huge need at the position. Minnesota ended up with 10 total selections that they used to help fill in some of the holes on their roster. At a quick glance on paper, Minnesota's roster is pretty complete, and the horrific play of Brett Favre just showed how important quality play at the quarterback spot is.

1st round, 12th overall) Christian Ponder - QB - Florida State
You'll recall that I liked Ponder better than just about every quarterback prospect in the draft except Ryan Mallett when it comes to on-field skills, and unlike Mallett, Ponder's record is as clean as a whistle. Ponder's extremely smart having already completed his undergraduate degree in finance and his MBA, and he was working on a Masters of Sport Management in the spring of 2011. Most of Ponder's struggles at FSU were due to injuries, coaching changes, and very inexperienced wide receivers in Tallahassee.

How he fits in: Ponder should be in the mix to start from day one as Brett Favre is finally done, we think. Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar probably won't stand in Ponder's way, so unless a veteran is brought in via free agency or traded for, Ponder should get a handle on the job right away. Ponder's got decent size at 6'2" 229lbs and comes from a pro-style offense at Florida State. Jimbo Fisher kept the offense pretty simplistic due to the young receivers and skill players. Ponder's got decent arm strength, and his athleticsim is very good. You sort of have to color him as a crossbreed of Aaron Rodgers and Chad Pennington.

Outlook: Ponder will certainly benefit from being able to hand the ball of to Adrian Peterson. Minnesota has some nice weapons in Percy Harvin, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Sidney Rice, if they're able to re-sign him. The offensive line is good, but it's getting old. Bryant McKinnie is still a mountain of a man but he's lost a step. Steve Hutchinson isn't the best guard in the NFL any more, and Phil Loadholt looks great one week and like a turnstyle the next. That's where Ponder's athleticsim will factor in as he can extend the play outside the pocket and still keep his eyes downfield, much like Favre did running all over the field. Ponder will see action early, and he's my favorite of the first 4 guys drafted to succeed.

2nd round, 43rd overall) Kyle Rudolph - TE - Notre Dame
I won't profess to know how the Vikings will use the dynamic tight end early on, but one of my old co-workers was Rudolph's basketball coach in high school and still keeps in touch with him, and in fact, was with Rudolph when he was drafted. He relayed that the plan was for Minnesota to use Visanthe Shiancoe as the starter and rotate Rudolph and veteran Jim Kleinsasser based on the situation (Rudolph in passing sets, and Kleinsasser in running sets). Then, they'll make a decision to keep one of the two between Shiancoe and Kleinsasser to team with for the future going forward after the 2011 season. Rudolph brings tremendous size, athleticism, and hands to the position. He's an adequate blocker, and he'll get better over time. The key for him is to stay healthy. At 6'6" and 259lbs, he's a nightmare mismatch for anyone in a defenses back seven. He just has to stay on the field.

4th round, 106th overall) Christian Ballard - DT - Iowa
Ballard's stock took a hit when it came out when he failed a drug test at the Combine in February, which is pretty dumb to say the least because you know it's coming up. Regardless of his off the field habits, which are frequent among players anyway, Ballard is a legitimate top 50 talent, so Minnesota got a nice value pick here. Ballard's undersized compared to the "Williams Wall" made up of Kevin and Pat, who've been shutting down run games since the mid 2000s. Ballard stands in at 6'3" 284lbs, but like most Hawkeye defenders, he displays great technique to make up for the lack of size. He's versatile and can be lined up as a strongside DE in short yardage situations, and that may be what the Vikings have in mind as Ray Edwards, who is following Tom Zbikowski into professional boxing, is a free agent. Ballard will see plenty of snaps, be it at end or tackle, and he should make an immediate impact.

5th round, 139th overall) Brandon Burton - CB - Utah
The Vikings traded away Benny Sapp just before the season started last year and Antoine Winfield is getting pretty old. Asher Allen, Lito Sheppard, and Frank Walker are little more than average depth at this point, so Minnesota decided to add a potential future starter to its lineup. Utah's program has been churning out solid defensive prospects over the last several years, and I think they'll really surprise people in the new Pac-12 conference. They'll miss Burton's presence as he opted to entre the draft a year early. Obviously, Burton could've benefited from an extra year at school, but he brings nice size 5'11" 190lbs to the table. A two-year starter, he's gotten his hands on a lot of footballs notching 18 pbus and 3 picks the past two seasons. He'll probably start as a dime or nickel player as a rookie and will have the opportunity to learn from a savvy vet like Winfield, which will help him in the future. Getting Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin back from injury will make it harder for Burton to earn playing time.

6th round, 168th overall) Demarcus Love - T - Arkansas
Playing through a leg injury, Love had a horrendous showing at the Senior Bowl and dropped way down draft boards. He might even have to switch inside to guard at the NFL level because of his lack of athleticism. At 6'4" 315lbs he's stout enough to anchor against a bull-rush, but has trouble mirroring and sliding his feet against quicker rushers. He bounced back and forth between left and right tackle at Arkansas (switching sides in certain series thanks to a strange gimmick in Bobby Petrino's offense). His technique leaves something to be desired and he'll get caught lunging after defenders and struggles in space. Minnesota might be a good fit for him, but he'll have to compete with a slew of guards on the roster to earn playing time.

6th round, 170th overall) Mistral Raymond - S - South Florida
Minnesota had a need at safety after some dissapointing play from Tyrell Johnson and an injury to Madieu Williams. Raymond was an off-the-radar pick and was a one year starter for the Bulls. He notched 43 tackles (4.5 for loss) and an interception as a senior. He has just average size and might just be purely a competition pick for one of the reserve safety spots. He'll have to show something in the preseason either on defense or special teams just to make it through final cuts.

6th round, 172nd overall) Brandon Fusco - C - Slippery Rock
Fusco was an intriguing player at the Senior Bowl as he more than held his own against a much higher level of competition. He showed decently well at the Combine and even showed up with some added muscle from the Senior Bowl, checking in at 6'4" 306lbs. He's very athletic and is a very quick learner, so coaches will like him a lot. His technique is raw, as he often plays too high and has trouble finding and sticking with work at the second level. While I don't think he'll push the incumbent John Sullivan this year, he could very well push him next year or even be the eventual successor to the great Steve Hutchinson at left guard.

6th round, 200th overall) Ross Homan - LB - Ohio State
Minnesota's had a strong group of linebackers the past couple of seasons led by E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway. Ben Leber is capable of holding his own, but there's almost zero depth aside from Jasper Brinkley. Homan was a tackling machine for the Buckeyes recording 108 stops as a junior and 72 as a senior. He's also decent when going back into coverage, but he's short so you can throw over the top of him to backs and tight ends. He dispelled a lot of concerns showing up to the Combine at 240lbs, up from the 225lbs he was playing at in Columbus. Homan won't start as long as Chad Greenway is a Viking, but he's certainly a player who is smart enough to grasp the defense enough to take Leber or Henderson off the field on 3rd downs and in nickel situations.

7th round, 215th overall) D'Aundre Reed - DE - Arizona
The third DE from the Wildcats program behind Brooks Reeds and Ricky Elmore, D'Aundre provides the Vikings with another option for depth along the D-line. Everson Griffen and Brian Robison currently hold the top two spots, but they're not much to write home about. Reed played in 34 games with 7 starts over his final two years at Arizona, and was an adequate player. He brings a nice combination of size and athleticism to the table, but he just hasn't been able to put everything together yet. He might have his best football in front of him still, but he looks like he's destined for the practice squad at this point.

7th round, 236th overall) Stephen Burton - WR - West Texas A&M
It's pretty rare to have two players from the Lone Star Conference go in the Draft, but that's what happened with Miami's Edmond Gates and the Vikings Stephen Burton. Burton is a big receiver at 6'4" 215lbs and has decent speed. Prior to his arrival at West Texas A&M, he was a kick returner for Long Beach Community College averaging 23.9 yards per return. He'll give the Vikings a tall receiver to throw to, but he's a project at best for right now.

Overall Grade: B
As Ponder goes, so goes this draft grade. I really like the pick, he's just got to prove it out on the field. Kyle Rudolph and Christian Ballard are both solid players who will see a lot of action right away. After that though, the Vikings added a lot of depth. They owned the 6th round with four selections, the best of whom will be C Brandon Fusco. Demarucs Love has a long way to go, but he might shape himself into a useful player for the Vikings, perhaps a swing tackle or 3rd grade with possible starting potential down the road. However, there's not a whole lot to be excited about having so many late round options and just three picks in the first four rounds. However, all three of those picks should be good, and if they can develop Brandon Burton and Brandon Fusco, this draft will have shaped up pretty nicely. Any additional production they can get from the likes of Mistral Raymond, D'Aundre Reed, and Stephen Burton is a bonus.