Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Race For Suh

The Bucs’ ugly ’09 reached new heights this week with Jim Bates being stripped of his title of defensive coordinator. Hey, at least he lasted 3 months longer than Jagz. As a result, Raheem Morris assumes the role of DC (the job he should have started the season with) for the Bucs’ final 6 games. Of those games I think even the most optimistic Buc fan would see no more than 2 wins. After this week’s matchup against the Falcons, the following 3 contests should be somewhat competitive given how each of those teams is currently performing. I don’t like the Bucs’ chances of winning at Carolina or Seattle, but they might have a shot against the Jets if Sanchez and company continue their downward spiral.

Let’s say they win 1 more game to finish 2-14. As bad as that looks, sounds, and smells, the Bucs might have a bit of competition for the #1 pick. Who are those fortunate franchises?

Well, 5 of them sit at 3-7 on the year (Buffalo, Kansas City, Oakland, Washington and Seattle), and they all have at least 1 winnable game remaining on their schedules.
Buffalo – MIA, NYJ, @KC
Kansas City – BUF, CLE, and 2 against the plummeting Broncos
Oakland – WAS and @CLE
Washington – @OAK
Seattle – @STL, TB, TEN

Let’s assume that they each win one more game. With 4 wins, that removes any chance (IMO) of a tiebreaker with the Bucs.

That leaves the Browns, Lions, and Rams competing with the Bucs for the right to be the worst team in the league. Their remaining schedules:

Detroit (2-8) – GB, @CIN, @BAL, ARI, @SF, CHI
The Lions were a part of last week’s most exciting game, a contest which allowed them to earn their second victory of the season. Looking at their remaining opponents, it’s a good thing they got that win last week because I don’t see another one on the horizon.

Cleveland (1-9) – @CIN, SD, PIT, @KC, OAK, JAX
Man they’re bad, but if they play with the same energy they brought to Detroit last week, I could see them winning one of those final three games putting them at 2-15 on the season.

St. Louis (1-9) – SEA, @CHI, @TEN, HOU, @ARI, SF
Assuming (I know, HUGE thing to do) that the Bucs win another game, I think these guys are picking first overall. I don’t see the Rams beating any of those teams, especially with Marc Bulger out with a leg fracture. He’s not Peyton Manning, but he’s better than Kyle Boller.

Uh oh, Tampa Bay may not have an unimpeded path to making Ndamukong Suh a Buccaneer. There’s one team that I see standing in their way, and if the Bucs manage to win another game, things could get dicey.

St. Louis – Bulger shouldn’t and probably won’t be the guy in St. Louis beyond this season. Their biggest need is finding his replacement, and they will likely have a few options when looking to do so. I still think that Clausen, Bradford, or Locker will be the preference.

Cleveland – See St. Louis. Despite possibly finishing with a better record than the Rams, the Browns might arguably be in worse shape. They certainly will if Manjackass returns as HC. Even if they do hire a new HC and GM (as I 100% expect them to do), I don’t see the Browns spending any more time on Brady Quinn. I see them starting over there, and whoever the Rams don’t select should be options for the Browns.

Detroit – Here’s the Bucs biggest competition for Suh IMO. If the Bucs and Lions finish with the same record, the Lions will get the earlier pick due to a far weaker strength of schedule. They too could certainly use a guy like Suh in the middle of the front of their defense. That said I still think that LT is going to be their pick. How much longer are they going to trot Jeff Backus out there with Matthew Stafford under center? The rookie passer from Georgia might be the biggest factor that allows the Bucs to draft Suh.

Watch these final six weeks closely. If Detroit is able to somehow upset one of their remaining opponents, I think it’s a done deal, but if not, Bucs fans might be in for more disappointment. For what it’s worth, I’ve got my eye on Detroit's finale at home against the Bears as the game that could make this discussion a non-issue.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and Go Lions!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking Ahead at the 2010 Draft

Yes, it’s really early, but you all know how I live for the NFL draft. This season hasn’t been one of the more enjoyable ones, but I think we’ve at least been able to evaluate a lot of the “talent” on the roster. Quickly, here’s a position by position current state assessment with some potential free agent cures. First, let me say that these are potential free agents, and the tenuous status surrounding many of them will be determined by the outcome of the CBA situation. Depending on how that works out, the market could be flooded with talented players whose teams are looking to dump inflated contracts without cap ramifications.

QB – Josh Freeman has performed admirably thus far. Some are more impressed with his efforts than others (me), but he looks like he might be worth building around given some decent coaching. Ideally they’d improve the backup position with a veteran, but Chad Pennington looks to be the best of a shoddy free agent class.

RB – Cadillac has performed unexpectedly well, but Ward has failed to provide much of a spark. Graham has been reduced to a FB. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but the way I understand it, Cadillac is an RFA if we head into an uncapped year. Otherwise, he’s a UFA. One way or another, we might be looking for depth if nothing else at this position. Willie Parker, Larry Johnson, Chester Taylor, and LaDainian Tomlinson are the best current potential free agent options.

WR – Everyone not named Sammie Stroughter pack your bags. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Michael Clayton is going anywhere, so we’ll be stuck with him and his shitty play again in ’10. Stovall hasn’t been too shabby lately, and I’d be fine with keeping him as the last receiver on the depth chart; especially considering his special teams skills. The problem is he’s being asked to play a significant role. Bryant’s year has been wasted, and I have a hard time seeing him wanting to return or the Bucs really wanting to spend the money to retain him. We need at least 3 additions at this position, and there could be some decent options available in free agency (Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards, Kevin Walter, and Miles Austin).

TE – For better or worse, all three of our TE are under contract for ’10.

OL – Their play hasn’t been terribly inspiring, in part because of Faine’s extended absence, but I really don’t see us replacing any starters for ’10. I’m guessing the scheme will change instead. Zuttah has probably been the weakest link this year, but I think he needs more time with Faine. Jahri Evans (G, New Orleans) will probably be the best free agent lineman, so there doesn’t look to be any upgrade in free agency. Aaron Sears also just rejoined the team, so here’s to hoping he’s healthy and able to contribute in ’10, along with ’09 draftee Xavier Fulton.

DE – Wilkerson (a free agent to be) has been a real bargain, White makes a play every now and then, and Crowder has played well in spurts. Kyle Moore has been inactive most of the season, but you’d hope he’s ready to perform in ‘10. We still need a serious threat off the edge; someone who can consistently rush the passer from his blind side and make plays in the backfield. Ideally, Wilkerson is retained, and the Bucs upgrade in free agency and/or the draft. Julius Peppers, Elvis Dumerville, and Aaron Kampman are free agents.

DT – Miller has been a fine addition, but Hovan and Sims haven’t gotten the job done and should be backups at best next year. We need to see more of Dre Moore to find out if he’s worth keeping around in ’10. Needless to say, this is a real weak area. The free agent crop looks to be weak as well. Ryan Pickett (GB) might headline the list.

CB – My hat off to you Ronde. Thanks for stepping up and showing us you’ve still got something in the tank. Talib is well on his way to becoming one of the league’s top playmakers, so we’ve got one solid starter in ’10. Can Ronde be counted on again? We know that Mack can’t. Ideally, Cox’s spot is upgraded. Mickens and Biggers have potential but are questions. We can’t afford to go into another season with a “let’s check these guys out” attitude. Leigh Bodden will be on the market again next offseason as will Dunta Robinson.

S – Tanard Jackson is solid, but Sabby is still undisciplined. Our depth is injured, and Corey Lynch is a question. The best free agents (OJ Atogwe, Ryan Clark, and Antoine Bethea) are all FS.

By my guesstimation (not necessarily in order) our primary needs would be DT, DE, WR, CB, and LB, and to a lesser extent depth at RB, S, and the OL. Depending upon how committed the coaching staff and front office are to extending the Piscitelli experiment, safety might creep up the list of needs as well. As of right now the Bucs have 10 picks in next year’s draft.

R1 – TB
R2 – TB & Bears
R3 – TB
R4 – TB
R5 – Patriots (Alex Smith trade); Cleveland has ours as part of Winslow deal
R6 – TB
R7 – TB & BAL (Marques Douglas trade from last year)

The 10th pick would be the conditional pick from the Jags for McCown.

Here’s my current preference for how the first 3 of those picks are used.

Round 1
I think DT has to be the first pick. There’s not much value at other positions the Bucs would be looking at here (DE, T, WR, CB), and Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 302, Nebraska) and Gerald McCoy (6-4, 295, Jr, Oklahoma) might be the top two prospects in the entire draft, not just at their positions. Suh is the more powerful of the two. He has huge upper body strength, great handwork, controls his man at the LOS, sheds blocks better than anyone at his position, and has shown a tendency to occupy and disrupt passing lanes. Dude’s name means “house of spears”, so you’ve got to love that. Collegiate linemen are no match for him, and he frequently blows up double teams. McCoy is the more versatile of the two, and he might have more explosion off the snap and be the better penetrator, but Suh doesn’t just clog lanes. Sure he’s big strong, but he’s also an intelligent, instinctive defender (as evidenced by his ability to disengage from blocks and bat down passes when he can’t get to the QB). Want some numbers?

’08 –
7.5 sacks
19 TFL
7 QB hurries
2 blocked kicks

’09 (through 10 games) –
5 sacks
13 TFL
19 QB hurries
3 blocked kicks

The pick – Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska)

Round 2
The Bucs have two picks in this round thanks to the deal that sent Gaines Adams to the Bears, and right now, Chicago is sitting at 4-5 (2-4 in conference). There are 14 other teams at 4-5 or worse at this point, so the Bears have some losing to do to get themselves to the top of the draft. Their remaining games:

Vs. Philadelphia
@ Minnesota
Vs. St. Louis
Vs. Green Bay
@ Baltimore
Vs. Minnesota
@ Detroit

That’s not an easy stretch considering how bad the Bears have been playing, and they could easily end up 6-10 on the year. Having 3 of the first 40 picks in the draft would put the Bucs in position to emerge with some real talent.

After going DT in the first round, I’m now looking at DE, LB, CB, WR, RB, and T. The first of the two picks should be in the 33-38 range, and below are the players taken with those picks in the last 5 years.

33 – Lions (Louis Delmas, S, Western Michigan)
34 – Patriots (Patrick Chung, S, Oregon)
35 – Rams (James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio St)
36 – Browns (Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio St)
37 – Broncos (Alphonso Smith, CB, Virginia Tech)
38 – Bengals (Rey Maualuga, LB, USC)

33 – Dolphins (Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson)
34 – Rams (Donnie Avery, WR, Houston)
35 – Redskins (Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan St)
36 – Packers (Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas St)
37 – Falcons (Curtis Lofton, LB, Oklahoma)
38 – Seahawks (John Carlson, TE, Notre Dame)

33 – Cardinals (Alan Branch, DT, Michigan)
34 – Bills (Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn St)
35 – Bucs (Aaron Sears, G, Tennessee)
36 – Eagles (Kevin Kolb, QB, Houston)
37 – Chargers (Eric Weddle, S, Utah)
38 – Raiders (Zach Miller, TE, Arizona St)

’06 –
33 – Texans (DeMeco Ryans, LB, Alabama)
34 – Browns (D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Maryland)
35 – Redskins (Rocky McIntosh, LB, Miami)
36 – Patriots (Chad Jackson, WR, Florida)
37 – Falcons (Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech)
38 – Raiders (Thomas Howard, LB, UTEP)

’05 –
33 – 49ers (David Bass, C, Michigan)
34 – Browns (Brodney Pool, S, Oklahoma)
35 – Eagles (Reggie Brown, WR, Georgia)
36 – Bucs (Barrett Ruud, LB, Nebraska)
37 – Lions (Shaun Cody, DT, USC)
38 – Raiders (Stanford Routt, CB, Houston)

Some hit, some didn’t, and so far DeMeco Ryans is the only one to have earned Pro Bowl honors. Here are the players I’m looking at right now as options with those two second round picks:

Brandon Spikes (6-3, 256, Florida) and Rolando McClain (6-4, 256, Jr, Alabama) are two guys that I’d love to see manning the middle of our defense, but I think both will be off the board in round one. McClain isn’t a sure thing to declare. If I’m still looking at LB, the guy at the top of my list would be Sergio Kindle (6-4, 255) from Texas. Regardless of the scheme, I think he can come in and be a big time producer. He’s a SLB with tremendous blitzing ability and a knack for making plays in the backfield. His versatility would be a huge asset here in Tampa where he would have the opportunity to line up as a DE on passing downs and give the defense another capable pass rusher. He’s what the Bucs were hoping Quincy Black would be. He’s quick and decisive, closes well, and has the strength to make open field solo stops. Last year Kindle averaged just under 1 TFL per game (12.5 in 13 games), totaled 10 sacks, had 5 QB hurries, and recovered 2 fumbles. Playing at DE this season, he’s accrued another 14 TFL and 3 sacks. Aggression is his game, and I’d love to pair him with Suh as our first two picks in the draft. I have a feeling opposing defenses would feel a bit more pressure by adding those two.

Eric Norwood (6-0, 252, South Carolina) and Sean Weatherspoon (6-1, 245, Missouri) are two other guys I really like. Norwood would be more in Kindle’s mold of a SLB with the ability to rush the passer while Weatherspoon is a very athletic, active, instinctive WLB. Norwood has been very productive at South Carolina where he headed into this year as the school’s all time leader in TFL and third in career sacks. Through 11 games this year, Norwood has 7 sacks, 10.5 TFL, 2 INT, 9 QB hurries, and an impressive 3 blocked kicks. Weatherspoon had 18.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 INT, 6 QB hurries, and 7 pass break ups last year, and through 10 games this season, he’s added another 12 TFL, 3.5 sacks, and 1 INT. His 93 total tackles are also almost double that of the next highest total on Missouri’s defense.

Man do we need someone who can rush the passer. At DE, I’m looking for the Freeney/Dumerville type rusher; the shorter, quicker guys. In other words, I’m avoiding the lanky, rangy Gaines Adams types. It’s not solely because of Adams’ lack of success, but I want to get a guy who can burst off the edge and get into the backfield consistently without having to tap dance with a tackle. Thankfully, there are quite a few prospects that fit that build – Brandon Graham (6-1, 265, Michigan), Everson Griffen (6-3, 280, Jr, USC), Jerry Hughes (6-3, 257, TCU), and Brandon Lang (6-4, 255, Troy) are four guys on the radar. Each is going to be considered in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, so the Bucs will have extra competition for their services.

Graham is a hustler who I expect to go in the first round. Through 11 games, he has a whopping 21.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks after totaling 20 and 10 respectively last year. Griffen, a teammate of ’09 pick Kyle Moore, is an extremely quick junior with a ton of potential. His numbers (8 sacks and 9.5 TFL) won’t match those of other prospects, but his athleticism is undeniable. He’s really quick for a guy who sits 6-3, 280 and is impressive to watch in pursuit in the open field. Griffen, like Graham, could easily be a first round pick.

Hughes might be the most likely 3-4 player at the next level, but he could have a future as a 4-3 RE with his ability to fire off the LOS and zero in on QBs. His ’09 numbers (10.5 sacks and 13 TFL) won’t match last year’s 15 sacks and 19.5 TFL, but he can (in part) thank his reputation and increased attention from offense blocking schemes for that. A former RB, speed and agility are his game. I like his relentless pass rush and explosion off the snap. Lastly, Lang will be a bit under the radar playing at Troy, but he’s a consistent threat off the edge. His ’09 numbers (6.5 sacks and 9.5 TFL) are down a bit from last year’s 10.5 sacks and 17.5 TFL, but the things I like most about his game are his lateral movement, how he uses his hands to gain leverage, and his utilization of various pass rush moves in addition to a solid speed rush.

Jason Pierre-Paul (6-6, 260, Jr, USF) might make me change my mind about the lanky type end because that dude has been a menace all year long. Definite upside there. I like Willie Young (NC State) too, but at the moment, I think he’s a 3rd rounder.

My work on this position is far from done. To be honest, it’s gotten less attention than every position except for TE, G, C, and S. That said, here are my very fluid top 10 rankings as of right now:

Joe Haden (5-11, 180, Jr, Florida)
Donovan Warren (6-0, 185, Jr, Michigan)

Both of these guys will be first round picks if they come out, and both are projected shutdown corners at the next level. I wish Haden was just a smidge bigger, but that’s my biggest gripe about the guy. I really like his willingness and consistency as a tackler. The rest of these corners have a good shot of making it through the first 32 picks unselected.

Patrick Robinson (5-11, 194, FSU) – athletic, instinctive, speed, and hands; could improve tackling

Amari Spievey (6-0, 190, Jr, Iowa) – really nice size and physical play; lacks elite speed

Trevard Lindley (6-0, 179, Kentucky) – great cover skills, gambles, ball skills; not terribly strong

Kyle Wilson (5-10, 186, Boise State) – aggressive, cover corner, ball skills; not much of a tackler

Jerome Murphy (6-1, 185, USF) – tough, active, high effort, closes well; I’d like him to be thicker

Javier Arenas (5-9, 198, Alabama) – accomplished return man, productive; aggressive; better off in zone

Ras-I Dowling (6-2, 200, Jr, Virginia) – ideal size, nice jam, physical; lapses of inconsistency, slow recovery

Brandon Ghee (6-0, 190, Wake Forest) – closes really well, aggressive, jam; lacks instincts, hits better than he tackles

A couple others:
Myron Lewis (6-2, 205, Vanderbilt) – I like his size, but he looks like an NFL safety
Alterraun Verner (5-11, 180, UCLA) – cover skills, intelligence; lacks elite speed, limited potential
Perrish Cox (6-0, 198, Oklahoma St) – nice size but don’t like his press skills in our current scheme

I’m not a big fan of this receiving class, but picks 2a and 2b will likely be our best chances to land a quality starter. Let’s safely assume that Dez Bryant is off the board. I’m not saying he’ll be the only one picked in the first round, but he’s got the best shot of going first IMO. Damian Williams (6-1, 190, USC) and Brandon LaFell (6-3, 210, LSU) are two who could join Bryant as first rounders. Williams is polished and does all the little things right, but on the heels of Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett, I’m a bit gun shy of USC receivers. He’s a very accomplished route runner for a college WR and attacks the football rather than allowing it to play him. LaFell is a guy who you can line up in multiple spots. He’s really quick in the open field and has a knack for finding space and making himself available to his QB. He consistently gets good ball-you-man position against defenders, but I’d like to see him do a better job of regularly catching the ball with his hands rather than his body.

Mardy Gilyard (6-1, 180, Cincinnati) and Golden Tate (5-11, 195, Jr, Notre Dame) are my two favorite receivers in this class (assuming Tate declares), and they should both be available with our second pick. In addition to Gilyard’s explosiveness, reliable hands, and excellent body control, I think he’s got the best vision in this class. I love his upside and think he’d be a great weapon for Josh Freeman. Adding Gilyard to Stroughter would give him two promising, young wideouts at his disposal. Tate is usually the one on the receiving end of Jimmy Clausen’s deep tosses. I love his speed, concentration, and the way he catches the ball in stride. He’s really strong for his size, but I have some concerns about his ability to be a premier receiver at the next level. Gilyard’s easily my favorite of this year’s class. I like Jordan Shipley (6-0, 195, Texas) too, but I think he can be had in the third round.

A sneaky pick might just be one of the tackles that falls out of the first round. I keep going back and forth with Bryan Bulaga (6-6, 305, Jr, Iowa) and Russell Okung (6-5, 300, Oklahoma St) in the top spot, but regardless, both will be early 1st round picks and unavailable when we choose a second time.

Bruce Campbell (6-7, 310, Jr, Maryland) might be the best of the bunch, but he’s missed some time this season with knee and foot injuries. I suspect he returns and tops next year’s list. I’ve got Anthony Davis (6-6, 325, Jr, Rutgers) right there with Matthews. He’s an impressive combination of size and athleticism, but his focus/commitment has been questioned on more than one occasion. He’s a solid run blocker who, if focused, has the skill set to develop a complete game at the next level.

Charles Brown (6-6, 295, USC) and Jason Fox (6-7, 310, Miami) are two really athletic type tackles with a lot of potential. Brown’s quick feet and length help him excel in pass blocking, but he needs to get stronger and more physical to be a force in the run game. Fox has been a fixture on the left side of the Hurricanes’ line, and I think he’s a bit underrated by the reports I’ve seen. He won’t be the most talented guy in the league, but I think his package of experience, athleticism, and intelligence will allow him to be a productive tackle in the NFL.

Two of the better known tackles that I’ve got down on my list are Ciron Black (6-5, 330, LSU) and Trent Williams (6-5, 305, Oklahoma). Black is a really strong, durable run blocker, but I don’t like his footwork and think he’s too inconsistent in pass protection. I think he ends up a RT in the NFL where he’ll be better than Gosder Cherilus but not as successful as Jeff Otah. Call it overreacting, but from what I’ve seen this year, Trent Williams is going to watch his draft stock fall. I don’t think he’s an NFL LT, and because of that, he’ll likely be a late 1st round pick.

Tony Washington (6-6, 300, Abilene Christian) is really athletic and shows nice technique on the edge. His run blocking could use some work, and his biggest question will no doubt be the level of competition he’s faced in the Lone Star Conference. He’s someone to really keep an eye on. Washington seems to have the makings of a quality NFL LT, and it will be interesting to see how he does against top competition in the end of season All Star games.

Selvish Capers (6-5, 295, West Virginia) has nice footwork and lateral movement, and he’s a guy I could see excelling at the next level if he stays in a ZBS. He gets a good set against the pass rush and plays with balance. He’s got a pretty decent ceiling, but can he get stronger?

It might not appear to be a need, but we still have a ways to go before our season is done and our situation is settled. Is Cadillac going to be a free agent? Does Graham return? Is Peanut going to be used more out of the backfield? Come April we just may be looking for a back, and there’s going to be some talent available when the Bucs pick in the second round.

Jahvid Best (5-10, 194, Jr, California) is still my favorite of the bunch. I could go on and on listing his skills, but to keep it simple, I’ll just say see Chris Johnson. Wow! I don’t know if he’s leaning towards returning, but if he comes out, he’s going to be one of the first 32 players chosen. CJ Spiller (5-11, 193, Clemson) is another player likely to go in the first round. There’s not much on the football field he can’t do. Spiller runs, catches passes, and returns kicks with the best of them. He’s not going to be an inside runner in the NFL, but he’s not a guy who shies away from contact either. He’s a playmaker and would look really good in Philadelphia, Minnesota, Baltimore, Miami, Green Bay, and Atlanta just to name a few teams.

A guy I’m really intrigued by is Ryan Mathews (5-11, 215), the junior from Fresno State. This kid runs hard every carry, hits the hole well, runs with good pad level, doesn’t hesitate in traffic, keeps his feet moving after contact, and displays impressive vision both inside and outside. He’s not very shifty and doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he’s likely the top lead back if he declares. I think he’s a surefire first rounder.

If Mathews does return, the honor of top lead back could go to Toby Gerhart (6-1, 235, Stanford) or Jonathan Dwyer (6-0, 228, Georgia Tech). Gerhart’s back to back banner performances against Oregon (223 yards, 3 TD) and USC (178 yards, 3 TD) alone will earn him a lot of recognition and consideration. He’s incredibly light on his feet for a 235 pounder and is a very balanced runner. He’s really hard to bring down (especially on initial contact and in the secondary), and he keeps his feet moving the entire time the ball is in his hands. His vision is top notch (even more noticeable at the second level), and his ability to provide solid pass protection will give him a leg up on most NFL rookies. Gerhart’s also an outfielder on the Stanford baseball team. I hate that Dwyer is stuck in a gimmicky offense, but I like his skillset at the next level. He’s really strong, runs with authority inside, breaks tackles, has a powerful lower body, possesses impressive cutback vision, and shows decent speed for a big guy. Neither is used much in their team’s passing game, but I think it’s more an issue of scheme than ability in both cases. They’re both durable backs. Dwyer sustained a shoulder injury this year against Clemson and was limited in his next game against Miami, but he put up 158 yards on 19 carries against UNC the following week. Gerhart did tear his ACL in the second game of the ’07 season, but he came back the next year and broke Stanford’s single season rushing record and earned second team Pac 10 honors. In addition to Tampa, I think these guys would look good in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Houston, and Cincinnati.

The picks –
Sergio Kindle (LB, Texas) and Mardy Gilyard (WR, Cincinnati)

(alt) Everson Griffen (DE, USC) and Eric Norwood (LB, South Carolina)
(alt) Patrick Robinson (CB, FSU) and Toby Gerhart (RB, Stanford)

So after two rounds I’ve given the Bucs the best player in the draft, a force at LB who doubles as a pass rusher, and a playmaker at WR. Defensive end and corner would be next on my radar, but I think we’re off to a good start here.

Rounds 3-7 at a later date

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Got Parity?

We’re about halfway through the season, and man, there are some shitty teams in this league. I can’t remember there being a year when this many teams were marginally competitive at best. I’ll leave Carolina out because, while they’re having a really down year, they showed last week that they still have the talent to beat playoff caliber teams. Below are the 11 teams that I feel fall into the “Damn, they’re bad!” category. I list their remaining schedules and mark in red the games that they are likely to lose.

Washington Redskins (2-5)
Why they’re bad: Poor play from Jason Campbell; a porous offensive line; can’t blame the defense
Remaining games: @ATL, vDEN, @DAL, @PHI, vNO, @OAK, vNYG, vDAL, @SD
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13

Detroit Lions (1-6)
Why they’re bad: Bad offensive line; breaking in a rookie QB; no receiving threats outside Megatron; pass defense has allowed 18 TDs (Tennessee worst at 19)
Remaining games: @SEA, @MIN, vCLE, vGB, @CIN, @BAL, vARI, @SF, vCHI
Possible/Likely final record: 2-14

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7)
Why they’re bad: Uncommitted ownership; miserable offseason planning and implementation; wretched coaching; horrid tackling on defense; 3rd worst in the league with 162 rushing yards allowed per game; also 3rd worst with 11 sacks on the year; very little receiving talent
Remaining games: vGB, @MIA, vNO, @ATL, @CAR, vNYJ, @SEA, @NO, vATL
Possible/Likely final record: 0-16

Seattle Seahawks (2-5)
Why they’re bad: One of the worst offensive lines in football; Matt Hasselbeck’s injury; relying on Julius Jones as a starting RB;
Remaining games: vDET, @ARI, @MIN, @STL, vSF, @HOU, vTB, @GB, vTEN
Possible/Likely final record: anywhere from 6-10 to 3-13

St. Louis Rams (1-7)
Why they’re bad: Really bad defense; no receivers; Marc Bulger has a worse QB rating than Trent Edwards
Remaining games: vNO, vARI, vSEA, @CHI, @TEN, vHOU, @ARI, vSF
Possible/Likely final record: 2-14 or 3-13

Buffalo Bills (3-5)
Why they’re bad: Trent Edwards can’t get the ball downfield; worst run defense in football; Dick Jauron needs to go
Remaining games: @TEN, @JAX, vMIA, vNYJ, @KC, vNE, @ATL, vIND
Possible/Likely final record: 4-12 at best IMO; I think they lose 2 of those 3 unmarked road games

Cleveland Browns (1-7)
Why they’re bad: Mangini sucks; shoddy QB play; a defense that allows a league worst 401 yards per game
Remaining games: vBAL, @DET, @CIN, vSD, vPIT, @KC, vOAK, vJAX
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13 at best but likely 2-14; I see them losing at least 2 of those unmarked games

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
Why they’re bad: Very little talent at WR; really bad pass defense; NFL worst 5 sacks; I like Del Rio, but I think they need a fresh start
Remaining games: vKC, @NYJ, vBUF, @SF, vHOU, vMIA, vIND, @NE, @CLE
Possible/Likely final record: 5-11 or 6-10

Tennessee Titans (1-6)
Why they’re bad: Kerry Collins is the 29th rated passer in the league, and the defense allows more yards per game than any team other than the Browns; they’re worst in the league vs. the pass
Remaining games: @SF, vBUF, @HOU, vARI, @IND, vSTL, vMIA, vSD, @SEA
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13; it will be tough for them to get to 3 wins let alone 4

Oakland Raiders (2-6)
Why they’re bad: Al Davis is still alive; JaMarcus Russell has been the worst starting QB in the league since he got his job; NFL worst 215 total offensive yards per game; piss poor run defense
Remaining games: vKC, vCIN, @DAL, @PIT, vWAS, @DEN, @CLE, vBAL
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13 or 4-12

Kansas City Chiefs (1-6)
Why they’re bad: Very little talent across the roster; big WR talent drop off after Dwayne Bowe; Larry Johnson is done; OL has allowed an NFL high 27 sacks; 3rd worst yards allowed per game on defense; equally bad against the run and the pass
Remaining games: @JAX, @OAK, vPIT, @SD, vDEN, vBUF, vCLE, @CIN, @DEN
Possible/Likely final record: 4-12

How I see them ending up (with possible 1st round draft preferences):
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-16) - DT
2. Detroit Lions (2-14) - OT
3. St. Louis Rams (2-14 or 3-13) – QB
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13) – QB
5. Tennessee Titans (3-13) – QB, T, safety to pair with Michael Griffin
6. Oakland Raiders (3-13) – who the hell knows?
7. Washington Redskins (3-13) – QB, T
8. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) – T, WR, DL, LB
9. Buffalo Bills (4-12) – DL, QB
10. Seattle Seahawks (6-10, 3-13) – T, RB
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – DE, DB, WR, QB

Going by this list, that’s over 1/3 of the league that isn’t competitive on a weekly basis, and if my numbers turn out to be close, this will be the worst groupings of bad teams that I can recall. The records would be even worse if a lot of these teams weren’t playing each other down the stretch.
So is parity out the window, or are there just some chronically bad teams? Is it the coaching? Is it the talent in front offices? Is it the financial situations of owners? More importantly, what does Tampa Bay do to rectify the slop that is the '09 season? Do they pretend to contend once again? It ain’t pretty folks, in more cities than just Tampa.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Don't Worry, We've Got Freeman!

Eight weeks into the season, and the Buccaneers are the only team yet to win a game. Now we all thought it was going to be a long year, but even I figured we’d somehow manage three wins. That looks like a monumental reach at this point seeing as how we’ve already lost to the Bills, Redskins, and Panthers and have yet to play even one of our four matchups with the Saints and Falcons. Frankly, I see maybe one win on the remaining schedule.

vs. Green Bay – not a chance
@ Dolphins – might be their best chance at a victory; still see Miami winning
vs. Saints – ha ha ha
@ Falcons – ha ha ha ha ha ha
@ Panthers – not if Carolina plays half as well as they did in winning @ Arizona
vs. Jets – yeah they’re up and down, but they’ve yet to be as “down” as the Bucs
@ Seahawks – we can’t win out west with decent teams
@ Saints – ha ha ha ha ha ha
vs. Falcons – ha ha ha

So with the Rams and Titans winning this past Sunday, the Bucs are in the driver’s seat for the first pick in the ’10 draft. Too bad they don’t need, or should I say won’t take, a QB with their first pick. No, after the blunder that was drafting Josh Freeman over Jeremy Maclin or Michael Oher, the Bucs won’t spend a first round pick on a QB for the second year in a row even though there could be at least 7 QBs better than the one Raheem picked this past April. My order of preference (some significant reshuffling included):

1) Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame)

He’s the #1 QB on my list, and it really isn’t close. I think the junior from Notre Dame throws the best deep ball in the game and just seems to have the “it” factor. He sees the entire field, knows where all his receivers/options are, and is extremely accurate (his 56% completion rating against USC was his worst of the season). My biggest knocks on him are his attitude (seems more cocky than confident) and lack of mobility, but I don’t see either one prohibiting him from being one hell of a successful pro. I think he’s flat simply the best passer in this year’s class, and as long as he doesn’t stumble down the stretch, I think going pro might be too hard to pass up. What might work most in Notre Dame’s favor is that Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Kyle Rudolph should all return next year. Tate is the only one eligible in this bunch, and I lean towards him coming back.

2) Jake Locker (Washington)

Locker is probably the most athletic QB in this potential class, and if Clausen returns, I think he’s probably the undisputed #1. He’s a proven run threat and under Steve Sarkisian’s tutelage, is becoming a feared passer as well. The junior has a huge arm and is looking quite impressive in Washington’s pro style offense. I think he’s got a great head on his shoulders and will continue to improve when surrounded by coaches who can further develop his passing skills. I wasn’t quick to move Locker up the list of QBs because, despite having a ton of potential, I hadn’t seen “it” yet. I still don’t think I have, but I’ve seen enough to grasp the possibilities. The biggest turnoff for me when it comes to Locker is the lack of victories under his belt. He only has 6 career wins in 2+ seasons at Washington. I know he doesn’t have a ton of support out there, but I haven’t seen a headline game from him yet. The talent is obviously there, and while I can absolutely see it translating well to the NFL (why I have him this high), I think he needs to put together a couple of big games in his last 4 contests to cement his status as a top QB.

3) Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)

For me, there’s a noticeable drop off after a healthy Sam Bradford. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner injured his throwing shoulder not once but twice this year and recently underwent surgery which will be followed by 4-6 months of rehab. If all goes well, he’s expected to forgo his final year of eligibility and turn pro. Funny thing is, entering the season he was the most pro ready QB of this class, but he’s turned into a bit of a question mark at this point. He’s an extremely precise passer who goes through his progressions like a pro and is mechanically consistent, but he’ll have to pass some serious medical tests to show he’s still worth a top 5 pick. I’m still a huge fan of this kid, but until I see that his shoulder is stable, he’s not getting any higher than #3 on this list.

4) Ryan Mallett (Arkansas)

The sky seems to be the limit for this 6-7, 238 redshirt sophomore. There’s not a throw he can’t make, but I’m a bit bothered by his poor accuracy against strong defenses (34% vs. Alabama, 44% vs. Florida, and 35% vs. Mississippi). His receivers have had their share of drops, but you’d still like to see those numbers be higher. Mallett has as much potential as any other passer in this class, but I think he’d be doing himself a huge disservice by entering the draft after the season. He had only started 3 games in his career prior to this season (all at Michigan while filling in for Chad Henne), and I think he’s far better off returning for another year. I want to see him with more game experience, staying in the huddle and taking on the pass rush. If he returns, we might be talking about this guy as the #1 pick in the ’11 draft.

5) Colt McCoy (Texas)

First rounder? Possibly, but I still don’t think he’s an elite prospect. He’s still completing over 70% of his passes, but his TD-INT ratio isn’t going to be anywhere near his remarkable 34-8 from last year. He looked uninspiring in his one contest against a decent defense, the 16-13 victory over Oklahoma. McCoy is extremely intelligent, mobile, experienced, and accurate, but I think his negatives are too glaring to warrant elite status. He’s got an average frame (the smallest 6-3 I’ve ever seen), has zero experience operating under center, and has questionable deep arm strength. A lot of his timing routes will/would be picked off at the next level. At his absolute best, I think he’ll be a poor man’s Drew Brees, but unfortunately I see a lot of Alex Smith too. Somewhere in the middle is most likely, but I don’t see an elite NFL passer when I look at Colt McCoy. Can he be a successful pro? Absolutely, but I wouldn't take him in the first half of the first round.

6) Jevan Snead (Mississippi)

Big time drop for Snead as there’s only so much apologizing I can do for a guy. His arm rivals any other passer’s in the country, but I absolutely haven’t seen “it” from him this year. He’s making some really dumb throws, and he just doesn’t seem to play with a ton of energy/passion. After setting a nice foundation as a sophomore in ’08, I expected Snead to harness his talent and take a huge step forward in ’09. That certainly hasn’t happened. The Ole Miss team was overrated coming out of the box, and maybe Snead was as well. He looked downright awful at South Carolina, completing just 7 of 21 passes and barely topping the 100 yard mark. Numbers aren’t everything, but Snead has only topped 200 yards passing in 4 of his 8 contests. After a pretty good performance against Arkansas, I figured we’d see more of the same against an Auburn club that had struggled to contain Jordan Jefferson, the much maligned passer from LSU. Against the Tigers, Snead flopped after getting out to an early lead and finished with a sad 45.7 completion percentage and only 1 TD. The fact that he’s struggled in all four of his road matchups this year isn’t encouraging. He should light up Northern Arizona, but the following two home contests against Tennessee and LSU will go a long way in determining his ’10 draft fate. He might be better off returning.

7) Christian Ponder (FSU)

Don’t laugh. I’ve never been a guy that you’d call a homer, as I’m generally far tougher on Nole prospects than players from other universities; thus my omission of his name in any of the limited draft discussions I’ve had so far this year. Look at this kids’ numbers: just under 2500 yards passing (average of over 300 per game), a 13-3 TD-INT ratio, and a completion percentage that rivals Colt McCoy’s for best in the country. Beyond the numbers, Ponder seems to impress more and more in each contest. He’s confident, intelligent, mobile, makes all the throws, calls his owns checks at the line (something most college passers don’t do), and consistently goes through his progressions. Like Locker he’s lacking in the win department, but I seriously think he’s going to sneak his way into first round draft discussion before this thing’s over. If I had to guess right now I’d say that he’ll return for another season, but with the way he’s rising, I may have to change my mind in a couple of months.

I’d like to think that there will be some interest in the Bucs’ #1 overall pick by a team like the Rams, Browns, Bills, and Redskins. Each of these clubs has a tenuous QB situation, and all are expected to be drafting fairly early in April. Might one of these guys distinguish themselves enough to spark a bidding war for the top selection? For now I’ll sit here and anticipate Ndamukong Suh being the #1 overall pick, but wouldn’t it be nice to trade out of the spot and still get him with the 3rd, 4th, or 5th pick? I’d be much happier trading dealing down and accumulating additional selections, but that might be wasted effort if the same clowns are calling the shots next April.