|Daily Blog • May 13, 2010|
We are only a day away from sending my 2010 College Preview off to the presses! The good news is that once the magazine is off to the press tomorrow, we will go back to doing a blog EVERY DAY until the end of the 2010 College Football season!! Until then I will be giving you a 2010 NFL draft review. Today's blog gives you a review for the teams in the NFC South and NFC West.
GM Marty Hurney & HC John Fox entered the 2010 draft with 1 arm tied behind their backs. For the 2nd straight year the Panthers entered the draft without a 1st RD pick. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson firmly believes that there will be a work stoppage/lockout in 2011. As Fox stated "the team is on a budget" & have let a slew of quality veteran talent go including Julius Peppers. Hurney & Fox are in the final years of their contracts & are approaching this as "a contract year" as Richardson has shown no interest in new contracts. Fox admitted the team was going to target the best WR on the board with the 48th pick overall going into the draft. They found Clausen staring at them with the #48 pick. Questions about his foot & ability to interact with his teammates had dogged him thru the draft process but he is an excellent match for the 2010 Panthers. He has 3 years of experience at Notre Dame running the exact same offense that OC Jeff Davidson has & he learned it from Charlie Weis in NE (2000-04). CAR continued to try & improve their passing attack with LaFell stepping in as the possession WR with Muhammad gone. They traded a 2nd RD DC in 2011 for Edwards who will get to battle for the slot WR spot & be the primary KR/PR. While risky, it all but assures CAR will be looking to trade down in the 1st RD for 2011 & recoup it. Only MLB Beason was able to play all 16 games LY & Norwood is insurance if CAR moves Dan Connor to WLB if Thomas Davis isn't healthy. Hardy will be a part of the rotation as a pass rushing DE for a unit that no longer has 3 of its 4 starters from 2009 on board. Pugh is a hybrid CB/S that will get most of his time on special teams. Pike had a 3rd RD tag prior to not working out at the Combine & is clearly being groomed for a backup spot. CAR has to travel to face NYG, SEA, PIT & end the season at ATL. They do host CIN, CHI, BAL & face ARZ for the 10th time in 9 years. While Clausen is a good fit for CAR, the Panthers are seriously lacking in depth especially on defense & Fox very well won't be around to see him mature.
The Falcons made franchise history with their 1st back to back winning seasons in franchise history despite a slew of injuries. Matt Ryan (turf toe) & Michael Turner (high ankle sprain) both missed time & the Falcons started 4 different players at LCB & 2 at RCB. Ryan & Turner are expected to be 100% for 2010 & the Falcons will also get slot WR Harry Douglas (ACL) back as well as LY's 1st RD DC Peria Jerry (ACL). While Ryan's stats on the surface did dip (22-14 ratio) the team did expand the playbook & will do so again in 2010. With the injured players returning the Falcons decided to stand pat in FA for the most part. They made an expensive but important acquisition of Dunta Robinson to boost LY's #28 pass defense that had 1 Int every 35.8 pass att's. Robinson is a year removed from his ACL injury & should be closer to a top 10 CB. Mike Peterson did an ok job at WLB for ATL LY after not having playing it for 5 years but he turns 34 in June. Witherspoon is strong (squats 770), smart & his production (396 tackles L3Y) is backed up by the film. ATL feels he is a true 3 Down LB who along with Curtis Lofton gives them a very formidable LB unit. Peters is a big (6-3 300) run stuffer who will tie up OL to allow the LB's make the plays. HC Mike Smith believes in developing interior OL & he feels that the team can get another year out of Ctr Todd McClure. Hawley will learn the system in 2010 while being a swing Ctr/OG. Johnson is insurance as Justin Blalock is on his final year of the contract & the team still remembers 2007 when they were forced to play their 3rd string OT's so depth is important. Franks will challenge for a spot in the nickel defense & will be a backup KR/PR. ATL enters 2010 with a fairly favorable schedule. They open at PIT without Roethlisberger, get PHI off a long road trip from SF followed by CIN at home. They also get BAL & GB at home but have a 3 game road stand in early DEC vs TB/CAR/SEA before closing out with 2 home games vs NO & CAR. The Falcons have more than enough talent on hand to challenge the potentially distracted Saints for the NFC West.
The Glazer family surprised the NFL with the sudden firing of John Gruden & Bruce Allen opting for Raheem Morris who had never been a DC in the NFL as HC & Mark Dominik was tabbed as a 1st year GM. Morris spent the offseason tweaking the team to his style on both sides of the ball but in a stunning move fired OC Jeff Jagodzinski 10 days before the start of the season. TB lost its 1st 7 games but upset GB who were struggling after a MIN loss & looking ahead to DAL. Morris realized the players couldn't run the new style of defense & went back to the 2008 playbook afterwards. TB is rebuilding itself in its former image & drafted an ideal fit for its DL. McCoy is a penetrating 2 gap DT that has excellent leverage & has gotten Warren Sapp's blessing. Price will be the pivot point as the NT chewing up double teams & the two of them will help a defense that allowed 158 ypg (4.8) on the ground LY. Keeping expectations in perspective for McCoy & Price is the fact of the 17 DL DC's taken in the 1st 2 rounds in 2006-08 they have tallied 4 FF's & 17 sacks combined in their rookie years. Lewis will be able to challenge for a nickel CB spot in TC & the Bucs need him to develop as Barber is in the twilight of his career. TB needed to draft a WR to develop with promising Josh Freeman (3-6 LY) & got a underrated prospect in Benn. Benn's stock fell due to poor QB play & the team adjusting to a new system & OC. Williams has a good size/speed mix (6-1 221 4.52) to be a 1st or 2nd RD possession WR but his time at Syracuse wasn't very smooth. Dominik is intent on rebuilding the team via the draft & won't overpay for vets just to have them. TB has an early bye week (Wk 3) & have 4 road games in 5 Wks vs ARZ, ATL, SF & BAL in late Oct/Nov. The good news is that TB likely got 4 starters, a nickel CB & a P in the draft which is excellent but Raheem Morris may be building the team for another coach in 2011.
Thanks to an incredibly brave onside kick recovery at the half & a timely Int return for a TD the Saints ended 43 years of futility with a Super Bowl win. Drew Brees' mastery of Sean Payton's offense (1 TD every 15.1 pass att's) overcame the injury issues in the secondary to propel the team into the postseason. The Saints post-championship celebrations were expected to hinder their draft plans but GM Mickey Loomis worked the board well. The Saints were unable to pursue FA's due to the final 8 plan in the uncapped year. They did upgrade the DE spot with Brown & Wilkerson after releasing Grant & Will Smith is expected to be suspended for the 1st 4 games of the year. NO missed out on Jerry Hughes so they settled on Robinson to add even more depth to the unit. Robinson (4.47 spd) gives the unit enough depth to open up trade possibilities or allow Malcolm Jenkins to move to FS if Darren Sharper's microfracture knee surgery doesn't hold up. Brown's stock slipped due to a back concern & this is a case of best player available. The Saints are looking to trade Jamaal Brown & want to ensure depth later. Graham is a 4 year basketball player who only has 1 year as a football player at Miami. NO is lacked depth at TE & Shockey has a history of injuries, which makes a young receiving prospect a need. The Saints traded up for local product Woods to help shore up their run defense & feel that he can fight for time in a rotation. Ctr Jon Goodwin is 31 & the team needed a player they could develop for 2011. Tennant has mid-round talent but he's dislocated both elbows so his stock dropped. NO has a major off field distraction brewing involving Loomis, Payton & asst' HC Joe Vitt which could deal a severe blow to the team. They have a very tough sked opening vs MIN, SF & ATL. They have 4 road games in the final 6 Wks as well as 4 primetime games. This is a talented team but it'll be very tough to win 13 games in 2010.
The Kurt Warner era has ended in ARZ as he retired after helping lead the team back to respectability & 2 consecutive NFC West Titles & their 1st SB appearance. No team has been hurt more in FA despite the CBA situation than the Cardinals. They have lost via FA or trade 6 starters & they were forced to play catch up in the draft to replace the talent. The good news is that the Cardinals have planned ahead with Warner's retirement as HC Ken Whisenhunt has already stated the team will run much more in 2010 with Wells & Hightower to support Matt Leinart's growth. While Wisenhunt is doing the right things & preparing for the Leinart era, the Cardinals were very interested Donovan McNabb. The Cardinals were rewarded for their patience in a deep draft & were able to take the best true 3-4 NT in Dan Williams. Whiz has seen the value of a standout NT when he was with PIT in Casey Hampton & Williams will allow a former NT Alan Branch to shift to DE & fortify that position. Washington is a highly athletic player who has a skill set similar to James Harrison & he'll learn the OLB spot behind another former Steeler in Joey Porter. Even with the trade of Anquan Boldin the Cardinals have a deep WR unit & were able to afford taking Roberts in the 3rd RD as a KR/PR & slowly groom him into the system. Skelton is a bigger (6-5 243) more athletic version of Derek Anderson out of Fordham who will need lots coaching to develop. Schofield is a very interesting prospect as he had a 2nd RD grade but tore an ACL at the Senior Bowl which caused his stock to drop. He'll start the season on the PUP & be introduced as a pass rush specialist. ARZ has 3 tough road games vs ATL, SD & MIN as they open the season with 3 road games in the 1st 4 Wks. They do get the Saints & Cowboys at home along with a 3 game home stand in late Nov/early Dec. The Cardinals will have a very tough fight on their hands for the NFC West in 2010 with SF maturing & SEA's solid draft combined with an energetic HC & the best QB in the division.
The 49ers ended 2009 upbeat despite missing the playoffs as they won 3 of the L4 & finished with their best record since going 10-6 in 2002. Singletary put most of his efforts in the #15 defense that pulled in 1 sack every 13.2 pass att's as SF improved their TO margin by +28 vs 2008. OC Jimmy Raye shifted the offense from a power run system to a spread offense that highlighted QB Smith's, TE Davis & rookie WR Crabtree's skills. Singletary continued to shape the team in the draft by adding a pair OL with their 2 1st RD DC's after only using 4 on OL over the previous 42 years. The 49ers reaffirmed their committment to Frank Gore & the ground game while admitting they needed to upgrade the pass blocking (1 sack every 13.2 pass att's) for their spread attack. SF traded a 4th RD DC to move up 2 spots to take Davis who is a mauler in the run game & solid vs the pass but he had questions about his work ethic after odd behavior at the Rutgers Pro Day. He improves 2 spots as LY's RT Adam Snyder shifts to RG. Iupati's star exploded at Senior Bowl practices & he is an instant starter at LG for a team that will value his nasty streak. SF tallied 1 Int every 32.2 pass att's LY & they got a surprise addition with Mays who slid into the 2nd RD despite his 4.32 speed. Bowman is good ILB run stuffer who will learn the system behind Takeo Spikes & the best 3-4 ILB in Patrick Willis. Dixon has a lot of CFB carries on his body (910) but SF feels he'll be a good compliment to Gore without sacrificing power in the offense. Byham is a tough blocking TE that is at best a short yardage option like the Steelers Matt Spaeth. SF took a big step in upgrading their special teams by acquiring Ginn as while he's not suited to be more than a slot WR he is a difference maker on returns. SF has 5 road trips in their 1st 8 games including a game vs DEN in London. The do get NO & PHI at home but GB & SD are on the road in the 2nd half of the season. It wouldn't be a surprise for the SF/ARZ game to be the SNF season finale as it determines the NFC West Champion.
When Mike Holmgen departed he left a hand picked successor in Jim Mora Jr. What Mora inherited was a roster built to lose that was old & lethargic. With 9 of the 11 losses by 10 or more pts & scoring 10 in 3 of the final 4 games, SEA owner Paul Allen cleared house & lured away Pete Carroll from USC. One of Carroll's 1st moves was to retain DC Casey Bradley who was with the team under Mora & kept his system. SEA had a strong draft as they filled many key needs by simply letting the draft fall to them. Okung is a big & powerful LT who will replace Hall of Fame LT Walter Jones who finally retired. SEA only earned 1 Int every 43.7 pass att's & 1 sack every 20.3 pass att's so drafting Thomas was a natural fit in a pass heavy division. Thomas typifies the elite FS/CB hybrid that can cover a lot of ground without sacrificing run support. Carroll scouted Tate in the USC/ND games & knows exactly how good he can be as he enters 2010 as the slot WR. Tate will also be the primary return specialist in 2010. Thurmond was a 2nd RD talent but sustained a severe knee injury last Sept but will be ready to challenge for a nickel DB spot in TC. Wilson is a run stuffing DE for a DL that allowed 111 ypg (4.1) rushing LY & Chancellor is an old school run stuffing Safety. McCoy was slowed by an ankle injury LY & tested positive at the Combine so his stock dropped from a 3rd RD grade to the 6th RD being the only USC player drafted by Carroll. SEA gained ground in its RB depth by acquiring LenDale White who is down to 218 which "is less than what he weighed when I recruited him." Washington sustained a nasty broken leg LY for the Jets but the risk of a 5th RD pick for his potential when he returns was worth it. SEA's sked is favorable as they get SD, NYG, CAR & ATL at home & the farthest East they go is TB at the end of the year. SEA stands to improve in the records if they can keep Hasselbeck healthy as Charlie Whitehurst has 0 NFL pass attempts.
The Rams are just 6-42 over the L3Y being outscored by 13.9 ppg in that span. STL went into 2009 with a 1st year HC, OC, DC at the helm of talent deficient team & were a fake FG vs DET away from being the 2nd 0-16 team in the NFL. The Rams only scored 16 TD's compared to 1999-2001 Rams who averaged 58 TD's a year. The lone bright spot for STL was Steven Jackson leading the NFC with 1416 yds (4.4) rushing. For the 1st time since 1963, the Rams had earned the 1st pick in the draft outright (traded with Jets in 1997 for Pace) & for the 1st time since 1964 the Rams took a QB with the 1st overall pick. While Bradford did miss most of 2009 with a shoulder injury he wowed the Rams at the Combine at 6-4 235. After studying the tape & going to a Pro Day that was labeled "the best since Troy Aikman's" the Rams took the one consensus franchise QB in the draft. STL then added Saffold in the 2nd RD to bolster that has only had the same OL play 5 straight games once since 2005. At one point LY the Rams only had 1 healthy WR that could practice & Gilyard is a slot receiver that will also be given every chance as the main KR/PR. Hoomanawanui is a pure blocking TE while Onobun is a longterm developmental prospect for a receiving TE. Defensively the Rams have been rather conservative in FA & the draft. Murphy is a cover CB who will come in as the #3 CB & will see time on special team coverage units. Davis & Sims are similar developmental pass rushers who will need time to grow. Selvie had an outstanding 2007 (14.5 sacks 17 tfls) but disappeared afterwards. In looking at a team thats had just 1 Pro Bowl player drafted in the 2000's its tough to call for improvement. Their winnable games TY look to be DET, TB, CAR & KC. The key for 2010 will be in keeping Bradford off the field until after the bye week so he gets adjusted to the NFL. If Jackson's back injury keeps him off the field STL could go winless in 2010.