Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 NFL Draft Review: AFC East

Now that the NFL Draft is over and the dust has settled, it is time to look back at who what drafted and how each team is affected.  Today I review the teams from the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills
Good Picks: EJ Manuel (QB – 1st), Robert Woods (WR – 2nd), Kiko Alonso (LB – 2nd), Marquise Goodwin (WR – 3rd), Dustin Hopkins (K – 6th)
Questionable Picks: Duke Williams (S – 4th), Jonathan Meeks (S – 5th), Chris Gragg (TE – 7th)
Grade: B

Review: Under new Head Coach Doug Marrone, the Bills are looking to rebuild and they took steps towards being a better team in 2013.  Woods and Goodwin are both talented yet underrated Wide Receivers while Alonso is a good Linebacker in pass coverage.  Picking Manuel in the 1st round may have been a reach for Buffalo but Manuel was considered one of the top Quarterbacks available in this year’s draft and he can be a good NFL starter.  Both Williams and Meeks are safeties who lack real good Play Recognition skills but they can contribute on special teams.  Hopkins is one of the top Kickers coming out of college this year.

Miami Dolphins

Good Picks: Dion Jordan (OLB – 1st), Jamar Taylor (CB – 2nd), Will Davis (CB – 3RD), Jelani Jenkins (LB – 4th), Mike Gillislee (RB – 5th), Caleb Sturgis (K – 6th)
Questionable Picks: Dallas Thomas (OG – 3rd), Dion Sims (TE – 4th), Don Jones (S – 7th)

Grade: B+

Review: Miami has continued a trend this offseason of re-tooling their defense.  Jordan is one of the top pass rushers in this years draft and Miami sees him as being able to pair up with Cameron Wake the way Von Miller did in Denver with Elvis Dummervill.  Taylor and Davis are both talented Corner Backs who have fluid hips, good football instincts and are solid tacklers.  Jenkins is an underrated Linebacker who seems to be in on almost every play and he had very good “football speed” and closes in on the ball carrier quickly.  Gillislee can be a “poor man’s version” of Reggie Bush for the Dolphins this season.  Thomas is a good teammate and works hard but his blocking footwork leaves something to desired while he struggles to create good leverage in pass protection.  Sims is a Tight End who average hands and average blocking skills but is an above average athlete so he does have potential to develop.  I would have given the Dolphins a higher grade if they would have done more to address their biggest need: Offensive Line talent and depth.

New England Patriots

Good Picks: Jamie Collins (OLB – 2nd), Aaron Dobson (WR – 2nd), Logan Ryan (CB – 3rd), Josh Boyce (WR – 4th)
Questionable Picks: Duron Harmon (S – 3rd), Michael Buchanan (DE – 7th), Steve Beauharnais (LB – 7th)

Grade: C+
Review: The Patroits in past years have gotten good value in the mid to late rounds of the NFL draft but this year they made some interesting picks to say the least.  Collins is a good pass rusher but he is still alittle raw with his tackling technique.  Dobson is the perfect Wide Receiver for the Patriots offense, he can play in the slot and on the outside due to his speed and great hands.  Ryan is a Corner Back with good football instincts, can play man or zone coverage and is a solid tackler.  Boyce is one the best slot receivers in this draft class, he has good hands and great burst off the line of scrimmage.  Both Harmon and Beauharnais are defenders who average football speed and they take awkward angles when trying to track down the ball carrier.  They may be best suited for special teams work.  Buchanan showed flashes that he could be good in college but he struggled at times against team with very good offensive lines like Wisconsin and Ohio State.

New York Jets

Good Picks: Dee Milliner (CB – 1st), Geno Smith (QB – 2nd), Brian Winters (OG – 3rd), Tommy Bohanon (FB – 7th)
Questionable Picks: Sheldon Richardson (DT – 1st), Oday Aboushi (OG – 5th), William Campbell (OG – 6th)

Grade: C+
Review: With new GM John Idzik the Jets are changing personnel to fit his vision for the team.  Dee Milliner is the best Corner Back in this draft class.  Milliner has excellent football instincts, can play man defense against any receiver in the league and he is a very good tackler.  Smith is one the top Quarterback prospects in this draft and he is the Jets new QB of the future.  Brian Winters is a phenomenal athlete for a offensive line, he has good agility, great strength, good footwork and has the potential to be a Pro Bowl Guard in the NFL if he works hard enough.  Sheldon Richardson is a head scratching selection because he is best suited as a Defensive Tackle in a 4-3 defensive system, not the defense the Jets run.  While Richardson has good potential in college he did not play well or consistent against elite competition in the SEC.  Aboushi and Campbell are offensive lineman with average strength and had trouble defending the pass, especially when they had to make quick decisions aginst heavy-side blitz packages.  Tommy Bohanon is one the best all-around Fullbacks to be drafted in years.  Bohanon is a great run block with excellent strength and leverage; he also is quick and can be an asset in the passing game.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My 2013 Mock NFL Draft

With the NFL Draft coming up this week, I wanted to preview the draft by performing my own 2013 NFL “Mock” Draft.  Unlike the guys you see on the major sports networks, my mock draft is not who I think each team will draft but who I think they should draft, according to need and how I rank/value each prospect is accordance with that particular team and their system.  So here is my selections and why

1.  Kansas City Chiefs: OT Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M)
With the Chiefs opening the door for OT Brandon Albert to leave for Miami, they have an opening at Left Tackle.  Joeckel is the most NFL-ready Offensive Lineman in this year’s draft.  His footwork and blocking skills are top notch and he will only get better because how hard he works and studies. 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars:  DT Shariff Floyd (Florida)
New Head Coach Gus Johnson has a defense that works best with versatile players.  Floyd is a freak athlete who can line up on the defensive line as a Defensive Tackle, Nose Tackle or 3-4 Defensive End.  Floyd’s experience playing in the SEC also makes him an NFL ready starter who doesn’t need a lot of polishing while he also has a high ceiling talent-wise.

3. Oakland Raiders: OT Eric Fisher (Central Michigan)
The Raiders lack depth on their offensive line and with the acquisition of Matt Flynn to play Quarterback it would help if they invested in keeping their new QB’s protection.  Fisher is a talented but raw offensive tackle who has unique combination of strength and athletic ability.  For a team in “rebuilding mode” you have the luxury of being able to select a player with great potential who needs to refine their skills and Fisher fits that mold.

4.  Philadelphia Eagles: DT Star Lotuleilei (Utah)
Chip Kelly has brought a lot of change already to the Philadelphia Eagles and one of those changes is defense scheme.  A “hybrid” 3-4 requires having defensive lineman who can handle taking on offensive guards and centers.  Lotuleilei was a great defensive lineman at the collegiate level whose skills are comparable to Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens: Excellent strength, suprising speed and agility, and excellent pursuit to the ball. 

5. Detroit Lions: CB Dee Milliner (Alabama)
The Lions had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last year and they play in a division where they have to face Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler twice a year.  Milliner is the top defensive back in this year’s draft.  He is a great man coverage cornerback who is a good tackler and has very good instincts.  He could start right away for the Lions to start the 2013 season.

6. Cleveland Browns: OG Chance Warmack (Alabama)
While the Browns are unsure who will be their starting Quarterback for the 2013 season, one thing for sure is they need help protecting their QB.  Warmack is an NFL ready Guard who has great strength, good footwork and top level experience while playing for the National Champion University of Alabama.  Warmack can do more than protect a QB, he is also a great run blocker.

7. Arizona Cardinals: S Kenny Vaccaro (Texas)
With the Cardinals releasing Pro Bowl Safety Adrian Wilson, so to say the Cardinals have a need at the safety position is definitely an understatement.  Vaccaro is a talented safety with very good ball skills and has great football instincts.  Some have compared his style of play to Ed Reed.

8. Buffalo Bills: QB Ryan Nassib (Syracuse)
New Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone is known as a great offensive minded coach and for coaches like him they need a Quarterback who can run their offense.  Well there is no better option than to draft the last player who ran your offense.  Nassib broke Syracuse records while under the guidance of Marrone.  Nassib has good arm strength, great at looking off defenders, good athlete and knows Marrone’s system and expectation.  Just like how Ryan Tannehill had success in Miami with his old college coach I think Buffalo can have the same, if not better success, by selecting Nassib.

9. New York Jets: OLB Dion Jordan (Oregon)
The Jets need a pass rusher.  The Jets need Outside Linebackers who can play in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense.  Jordan fits both of those needs for the Jets.  Jordan is one of the top athletes and top defensive talents in this year’s draft.  His skill set reminds me of DeMarcus Ware although he might be quicker than Ware.

10. Tennessee Titans: OT Lane Johnson (Oklahoma)
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchack was a long time offensive line coach before become a head coach and Johnson is the type of player with great potential who needs work on his raw abilities.  Muchack has always liked to develop Offensive line and with a guy like Johnson who is versatile, very good Football IQ and open to be coached up, this selection is a perfect match for team and player.

11. San Diego Chargers: OG Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina)
Philip Rivers is among the top ten QB’s in the NFL but he does his team no good if he doesn’t have protection.  The Chargers had numerous injuries to their offensive line last season and need depth.  Cooper is an offensive guard with good leverage, great blocking footwork and has the potential to be a 10 year starter in the NFL. 

12. Miami Dolphins: TE Tyler Eifert (Norte Dame)
Coming into his second season as a starting NFL Quarterback, Ryan Tannehill needs offensive weapons.  While he already has a deep threat receiver (Mike Wallace) and a position receiver (Brad Hartline) the Dolphins are lacking a talented receiving Tight End.  Eifert is a prototype TE for today’s NFL.  He has good speed and great hands for a TE while also has good football instincts to get open for his QB.  Eifert would fit right into the offensive system the Dolphins have.

13. New York Jets: WR Tavon Austin (West Virginia)
The biggest, most glaring weakness of the Jets offensive from last season: no big time playmakers.  Tavon Austin is the most explosive offensive player in this year’s draft.  He has good hands, great speed, excellent agility, and could start game one as a slot receiver for the Jets in 2013.  Austin can also be a return specialist on kick offs and punts since he is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands.

14. Carolina Panthers: DE Barkevious Mingo (LSU)
Since losing Julius Peppers to free agency a few years ago, the Panthers have had trouble with their pass rusher and ceiling off the edges on wide running plays.  Mingo is an excellent athlete who has good ball pursuit skills.  If he is utilized correctly he can be a disruptive force on defense and draw double teams that will allow his teammates to make more plays.

15. New Orleans Saints: DE Bjoern Werner (Florida State)
New Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan runs a defensive 3-4 scheme that relies on the guys upfront to put pressure on the opposing Quarterback and create havoc in the backfield on running plays.  Werner is a unique football talent who has great strength, good agility and quickness and has a knack for being a menace for opposing quarterbacks.  Even though he has only been playing organized football for a few years he is open to being coached and has the potential to be a Pro Bowl caliber player.

16. St. Louis Rams: DT Sheldon Richardson (Missouri)
The Rams have a lot of talent and depth at multiple defensive positions except D-Tackle.  Richardson is a good tackler with great agility and footwork.  His biggest weakness in college was that he was the best defensive lineman on his team and opponents would game plan to shut him down.  With very talented defensive ends on the Rams, opponents will not be able to focus solely on Richardson anymore, opening the door for him to excel in the NFL.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers: ILB Alec Ogletree (Georgia)
Steelers are in need of youth on defense, especially at linebacker.  Ogletree is one of the top inside linebackers in this year’s draft.  He is a great tackler with excellent football instincts and has great pursuit.  He will fit in great with the Steelers and in short time could be their top linebacker and lead the team in tackles.

18. Dallas Cowboys: S Matt Elam (Florida)
New Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin runs a Cover 2 defense.  That type of defense thrives when it has talented defensive backs in the secondary.  Safety is a position that is thin for the Cowboys.  Elam has a nose for the ball, whether as a ball-hawk as a pass defender or a land-shark as a run stopper, Elam can do it all.  He is an excellent athlete with great instincts and would be a great fit for the Cowboys.

19. New York Giants: LB Jarvis Jones (Georgia)
Due to the injury bug the Giants lacked playmakers on defense.  Jones is one of the top defensive players in this year’s draft.  He is a dynamic athlete with a nose for the ball.  He is a great tackler, has good instincts, and is excellent in pursuit.  He can stop the run and blitz the opposing QB.  Jones will not be expected to start immediately so there will be no major pressure on him which will allow him to excel even more in the NFL.

20. Chicago Bears: OG Kyle Long (Oregon)
A glaring weakness for the Bears in the couple seasons has been their offensive line.  While the team has upgraded the Tackle position through free agency they still need depth at Guard.  Long is a versatile OG with great footwork and was one of the top Guards in the Pac-12 the last couple seasons.  He would provide much need depth for the offensive line and if he has a good training camp could be in line to be a start week one of the 2013 season.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: OT DJ Fluker (Alabama)
The Bengals do not have any major areas they need to fill in the short term.  In the long term they need depth for the future on the Offensive Line.  Drafting Andre Smith in 2009 did not work out for the Bengals.  Fluker is different than Smith in that he has a better work ethic and better footwork than Smith.  Fluker is underrated as an offensive lineman in a draft that has many O-Line prospects.  Fluker will be a good addition to the Bengals, providing depth to a team that is trying to get back to the playoffs for a third straight season. 

22. St. Louis Rams: WR Robert Woods (USC)
With the departures of Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson via free agency, the Rams need to replace their top two wide receivers from last season.  Woods is the best all-around WR in this year’s draft and he is also the most NFL ready since he played in a pro-style system at USC.  Woods is a great route runner who has great hands and underrated speed.  He could be a starter for the Rams week one of the 2013 season.

23. Minnesota Vikings: CB Desmond Trufant (Washington)
In a division where the Vikings have to deal with a plethora of super talented wide receivers such as Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson and more, the Vikings need more talent in their secondary.  Trufant is a talented Cornerback who has fluid hips, very good speed and is great at defending the deep pass.  In order to make the playoffs this season the Vikings are going to need more from their defense and Trufant will help them at least slow down their opponents.

24. Indianapolis Colts: DT JesseWilliams (Alabama)
The defensive tackle has been weak point for the Colts for over a decade.  They were able to hide their lack of depth this past season when they changed to a “hybrid 3-4” defense.  But it is time for the Colts to address this need with a play who can play either Nose Tackle or Defensive Tackle.   Williams is underrated in this year’s draft because he wasn’t a “star” at the combine or at any of the collegiate “all-star” bowls.  But Williams has the track record from his time playing at Alabama as one of the top defensive tackles in the SEC.  He has very good strength and is great at recognizing a play and reacting to it.  His football IQ is high so he can have an impact for the Colts in the 2013 season as a rookie.

25. Minnesota Vikings: WR Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee)
With the loss of Percy Harvin, the Vikings need a dynamic playmaker on offense and special teams.  Patterson is the perfect replacement for the Vikings.  His great speed, agility in space and knack for getting open Patterson would be a great compliment on offense to Adrian Peterson and Greg Jennings.

26. Green Bay Packers: DT Akeem Spence (Illinois)
While the Packers do not have any major needs they could use more depth on the defensive line.  Spence is listed as a Defensive Tackle but he can play all three positions on the D-Line in a 3-4 defense.  Aside from his versatility Spence is good at shedding blocks and batting down passes along with stopping the run.  He also plays well next to talented lineman; he played next to current San Diego Chargers starter Corey Liugett in college.

27. Houston Texans: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson)
With the recent injury history of star Wide Receiver Andre Johnson the Texans need more talent and depth at receiver.  Hopkins is a dynamic playmaker on offense with very good speed, great hands, and excellent leaping ability.  He caught 18 touchdowns this past season so he knows how to score.  He would be a great weapon for QB Matt Schaub.

28. Denver Broncos: DE Ezekiel Ansah (Brigham Young)
The Broncos are a team set at almost every position so they have the ability to pick the best player available.  Ansah is a unique talent who played Defensive End in college but may be converted to an Outside Linebacker in the NFL.  Head Coach John Fox has a history of finding roles for talented players who may not have a specific position but can make an impact on the field.  Ansah is still raw but he is very athletic and can tackle.

29. New England Patriots: WR Terrance Williams (Baylor)
The Patriots are lacking depth and experience at Wide Receiver.  They need someone who has starting WR experience who can play both out wide and in the slot.  Williams is a great route runner with good hands and excellent change of direction speed.  He is a tall receiver compared to some of the receivers the Patriots have had over the years (i.e. Welker, Edelman, Stallworth, etc) so he is a unique fit for the Patriots offensive scheme.

30. Atlanta Falcons: CB Jamar Taylor (Boise State)
The Falcons biggest weakness is in their secondary and they need more depth at Cornerback.  Taylor is an underrated CB who has very good play recognition skills, excels in man-to-man coverage, and has the speed and quickness to keep up with most wide receivers in the NFL.  His years of experience as a starter in college also shows he has real-time game experience and has seen many different types of offensive schemes.

31. San Francisco 49ers: DT Jonathan Jenkins (Georgia)
Needing to add depth on their defensive line, you have to sign and draft the right types of defensive line who can play and excel in a 3-4 defense.  Jenkins is perfect for the 49ers as a Nose and Defensive Tackle.  He is surprisingly athletic and quick for a guy listed at 345 pounds.  He is a good tackler and can shed blocks on run defense while on passing downs he can deflect passes and take on multiple blockers opening up holes for his teammates to get to the opposing Quarterback.  Jenkins would be a good fit for the 49ers.

32. Baltimore Ravens: LB Kiko Alonso (Oregon)
With the retirement of Ray Lewis and Darnell Ellerbe leaving via free agency the Ravens need to fill depth at inside linebacker.  The NFL has become a passing league where speed and athleticism is as important on defense as play recognition skills and tackling ability.  Alonso fits those needs as he is one of the top ILB in this year’s draft against the pass while also being a very good tackler.  Alonso also has experience playing in a “hybrid 3-4” defense so he is use to lining up in different ways on defense.  Also, the Ravens are looking for “character” guys and Alonso is known as a good leader in the locker room

Monday, April 1, 2013

Steve Alford is the man for the job

There was a great deal of chatter this weekend about the hiring of former New Mexico Head Basketball Coach Steve Alford to take over the same position at the prestigious UCLA basketball program.  Eleven National Championships is nothing to sneeze at, UCLA has more history in just their basketball program than most school entire athletic programs combined.

But note the word “history”.  The reality is that in the ten seasons that Ben Howland was Head Coach he led the school to the Final Four three consecutive seasons.  There were those who disliked Howland’s recruiting or felt he wasn’t a “UCLA man”.  Well congratulations, UCLA hired another guy who isn’t a former Bruin or a California guy.  John Wooden isn’t coming back to coach anytime soon and Howland wasn’t the coach who delivered the results wanted.

Hiring Steve Alford was one of the best options for UCLA for many reasons, yet I want to start with why the other “popular candidates” would not have been the right choice.  In order to have a successful basketball program at UCLA you need to be able to recruit the fertile region of Southern California while presenting a positive image of the school.  Popular “Mid-major” coaches such as Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens and Andy Enfield all are excellent coaches but none of them have recruiting connections in California.  This was the major problem with the hiring of Howland over a decade ago, he had to learn on the job; recruiting California is different than the northeast or Midwest.  Basketball to California is like Football to Texas: it’s the king of all sports.  And those kids and parents who have a crazy passion about basketball looked at a guy like Ben Howland as an outsider.  Both Smart and Stevens are great at maximizing the potential of their players and finding diamonds in the rough, but neither guy is known for their recruiting ability.  UCLA is about results, recognition, and headlines.  Enfield is the best recruiter of the three “hot name” coaches but he doesn’t have the west coach recruiting connections.  Also, Enfield just began head coaching a few years ago, he doesn’t have much of a resume except that he is a “basketball lifer”.

This is where Alford comes in and shines about the rest.  During his tenure at New Mexico he did recruiting in Southern California and has familiarized himself with the area, schools and people.  Alford also has the ultimate weapon in recruiting: championships.  Alford was a starting player in the 1980’s winning a National Title under Bob Knight at Indiana and as a member of the Gold Medal winning basketball team in the 1984 Olympics.  When recruiting big time players, being able to walk around with that kind of Cache means you got a hand up on many coaches.

Also important about Alford is his background as a coach.  While he hasn’t had great postseason success at Iowa or New Mexico, he does have the ability to “resurrect” dying basketball programs.  Before he got to those two schools neither one were known as “winning” programs.  The truth hurts UCLA alumni and fans: your basketball program needs some “resurrection”.  Somewhat apropos considering Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this past weekend, UCLA basketball for some people is a religion (i.e. football in Texas).  I am not saying Steve Alford is a “messiah” of any sort but he has the coaching and recruiting ability as well as the basketball acumen to take UCLA and make it great again.  Only time will tell if his qualifications for the jobs add up to results.  But one thing is for sure, he is definitely a very qualified candidate.