Wednesday, August 17, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - New Orleans Saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sports Quick Hits - 8/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moves I like:

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

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

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

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

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

5 Moves I don't like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

TGTS - Back in Action Soon

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Indianapolis Colts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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