Category: NFL News


Why Mike Shanahan Was Wrong

If you follow me on Twitter you can tell that I was pretty surprised that Mike Shanahan left Robert Griffin III in the game against the Seahawks on Sunday. He started out by leading two scoring drives, but he clearly aggravated his knee and was noticeably limping after he did. Not only that, but he was clearly not 100% before he aggravated his knee and it was obvious any time he tried to use his normally elite mobility. But after he aggravated his knee (the same knee he tore his ACL in when he was at Baylor) there was no question in my mind- RGIII needed to come out of the game.

I can understand wanting to keep him in until halftime, but at halftime if I am Mike Shanahan I would have benched RGIII and put Kirk Cousins in the game. I’m sure some will claim that hindsight is 20/20, but I was calling for this to happen in real time on Twitter, go read my timeline. I’m not saying that Cousins would have led the Redskins to a glorious victory, but I think he gave them a better chance to win than a clearly hurt RGIII.

I understand this was a huge game for Washington and really for the entire city of DC. And honestly, Shanahan would have likely caught flak either way no matter what he did. If he pulls RGIII and he loses he’s a moron, but if he keeps him in, loses, and it results in his franchise QB doing serious damage to his knee then he’s an even bigger moron. I don’t expect Shanahan to bend to the will of the fans and the media (and he shouldn’t) but that is just another reason why he shouldn’t have been afraid to take RGIII out. This team is building for the next decade, not just for this one wild card game. You have to be able to see long term, and while advancing in the playoffs is awfully important this is the exact situation you drafted Kirk Cousins for: your star quarterback is hurt, he can’t run effectively so the zone read is a glorified hand-off, and he can’t drive off of his plant leg because of the pain from his injury leading to inaccurate throws (and an interception by Earl Thomas). Put Cousins in. He knows the offense, he isn’t as mobile as RGIII but he can run the zone read and make plenty of the same throws that RGIII can make. He’s not the same, but if he was as good as RGIII he would have gone much earlier in the draft. He is a capable back-up, and this is why you drafted him- PLAY HIM!

But Shanahan didn’t play him, and there are going to be people defending his decision to not do so. One of those people is Mark Schlereth. Another is Skip Bayless. I don’t know about you, but those aren’t the kind of people I want backing up my decision making. In fact, I’d prefer the opposite. Regardless of who agrees or disagrees with Shanahan though, he left his QB in after the half instead of playing his capable rookie back-up. As the head coach, that is his decision. Some are already saying “Well I’m sure RGIII wanted to stay in the game, I agree that Shanny should have left him in if he wanted to be in.” That is irrelevant. Very rarely will an athlete, hurt or not hurt, ask to come out of a game. Everyone can remember what happened when Jay Cutler came out of the game right? He was torn apart in the media and even some players criticized him (here’s looking at you Maurice Jones-Drew). Was it fair? Maybe, maybe not, but my point is that in one of the rare instances where a player requested to be removed from the game he was torn apart for it. I personally believe that RGIII is a much better leader and honestly a more likeable person than Cutler is, and it’s not a surprise that he would want to stay in the game. And I won’t be surprised when he defends Shanahan’s decision to leave him in the game- it’s almost certainly what he wanted. He wanted to lead his team to a playoff win and he wanted to do it whether he was playing on one leg or two. I respect that, and it was alright for the first half despite the fact that he was noticeably less accurate after he was injured. However, the head coach is responsible for telling RGIII that even though he wants to play, it’s not worth the long term risk of injury, especially given how much less effectively he has been running the offense. That is why he gets paid a small fortune every year; to make tough decisions that while possibly unpopular are better for the team even if the players involved are vehemently opposed to his decision. I think Shanahan understands that, but inexplicably he still left Griffin in and we all saw the result- he got hurt.

I really hope that RGIII didn’t do any structural damage to his knee. He tore that same ACL when he was at Baylor and doing damage like that to it again would likely be very problematic. It sure looked like he did something to it though, it buckled when he planted it after that bad snap and he crumpled to the ground. He did walk off under his own power, but I have seen plenty of players with serious knee injuries walk off under their own power only to find out they did structural damage to it. It may seem encouraging, but it doesn’t guarantee he didn’t do any serious damage. We will have to wait for the result of that MRI, but regardless of what happened to his knee I believe that he should have been taken out. He couldn’t throw accurately, he was throwing with awful footwork and mechanics because he couldn’t drive off of his plant leg, and the one time he kept the ball on the zone read he literally limped for 9 yards and went out of bounds. He should have been taken out of the game.

Honestly, I am in disbelief that RGIII even played as long as he did and I have a ton of admiration for Coach Shanahan. In fact, I’m about to buy his book. But RGIII could barely jog back to the huddle. He couldn’t drive off of his plant leg. He couldn’t throw with his normal velocity or accuracy. He couldn’t run the ball effectively. He couldn’t even roll out on a bootleg. James Andrews, a man who seems to perform more surgeries on serious knee injuries than anyone ever has or will, said he was worried about RGIII playing today. They decided to play him anyway, but there were a number of times where Shanahan should have, in my opinion, asserted himself as the Head Coach of this team and taken him out. In the heat of the moment you can’t expect an athlete, especially an athlete as talented and tough as RGIII, to willingly take himself out. A leader like that will lie, cheat, beg and steal to keep himself from being taken out. RGIII did that tonight and now he got hurt. He was very professional after the game as we expected him to be, but that doesn’t make Shanahan’s decision the correct one. Here’s hoping he didn’t do any structural damage, but even if he didn’t that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have come out of the game. It would only mean that he is lucky.

Give Tebow credit where credit is due: He wins games, and he can win ugly. But is he consistently accurate enough to be a quality NFL starter? I have my doubts.

Tim Tebow led a very surprising and impressive comeback by scoring 15 points in the last 2:44 of the 4th quarter against Miami Dolphins on Sunday which led to an eventual 18-15 win in overtime. As improbable as that was, that has come to be expected from Tebow. He has done it before both in college and in the NFL, and as many of his supporters say: He just wins.

Tebow isn’t quite the athlete that Mike Vick was, but he is one of the most polarizing figures that I have seen since Vick was an Atlanta Falcon. His supporters almost refuse to see fault in his performance and point to his win-loss record, and his detractors point out the competition he faces and how ugly some of the wins are (especially regarding his performance). Somehow Tebow managed to completely validate both sides of the argument by struggling with ball placement, not processing information quickly, struggling with timing a bit and throwing some pretty bad passes during the majority of the game. But he seemingly flicked a switch and put together some quality throws and led the Broncos back to an improbable victory against the woeful, win-less Miami Dolphins. He flashed his potential because of his mobility, his ability to throw on the run, and his ability to make quality NFL throws when his team needs it most.

However, I still don’t buy Tim Tebow as a quality NFL starter.

I think that an important part of being a NFL quarterback is consistency. I haven’t watched a lot of Tebow as a Broncos starter (talking about his playing time last season) but my impression of him from what I have seen is that he hasn’t been very consistent. He hasn’t always made great decisions, hasn’t always placed the ball well, and from what I saw of him yesterday he didn’t seem to react to pressure that well when he was forced to stay with-in the pocket. When he had to stay inside the pocket instead of scrambling outside the pocket he seemed to get sacked, but when he could escape he could make something interesting happen. At least that was my impression.

Tebow’s throwing motion is still a concern for me as well. In a clean pocket without pressure it is clear that his throwing motion has improved, but when he is flustered and under duress he tends to revert to a throwing motion that resembles what it was back when he came out of Florida. That is concerning, and comes back to his consistency issues. If he doesn’t have similar mechanics on each throw (especially pertaining to his throwing mechanics) it makes it more difficult to deliver consistently accurate passes.

I also don’t understand why this comeback is being so highly touted. Yes, it was very impressive to see him score 15 points in the last 2:44 and then to lead the team to a win in overtime. But it was against the DOLPHINS! This team has a legitimate chance at the #1 overall pick and if they don’t make a coaching change soon they have a slight chance of going completely win-less. They are a truly awful football team and that demeans the comeback to me. Yes, a win is a win, but I don’t think all comebacks are created equal. This comeback was only possible because of Tebow’s own inadequacy throughout the rest of the game, and while he turned it on when it mattered most he still put himself in that position with poor, inaccurate passing in the previous 57 minutes. You have to give him credit where credit is due for coming back and winning, but I think we need to pump the breaks when talking about the comeback because of the circumstances. Namely, why they were in that situation and who they were in that situation against.

That’s just my opinion obviously, feel free to comment with your own thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Carson Palmer to Raiders

The Raiders are on the verge of making a bold move to acquire Carson Palmer, potentially giving up two 1st round picks.

If what is currently being reported is indeed true, then Carson Palmer will be an Oakland Raider by the end of the day. The Raiders would send a 2012 1st round pick as well as a conditional 1st round pick in 2013. That is a very steep price for a player who has not been the same since his serious knee injury versus Pittsburgh in the playoffs in the 2005-2006 season. He’s definitely a quality quarterback, but in my opinion he is a pretty significant risk considering how he has played since his injury and because of how long it has been since he played a snap in a NFL game. How long will it be until he is ready to play? Will the Raiders still be in position to compete for a playoff spot? Will Palmer be able to mesh with the Raiders’ current personnel in time to lead them to the playoffs?

These are all questions that I find myself asking and honestly I have my doubts. Stranger things have happened, but it’s tough for a new quarterback to acclimate himself to a new roster when he is signed as a free agent and has an entire offseason, much less being traded to them mid-season when he has been previously out of football for the entire season. He has to mesh with the roster, learn and then master the playbook, and then go out there and make plays on Sundays. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, but it will be interesting to see if Palmer is up to the task. I have to say I am pretty skeptical just because it is a very tall order, but if he can pick up the playbook quickly and is embraced by the locker room then he has a chance to lead the Raiders to the playoffs. I have to say, as a fan I am excited about the potential of this move and I am very interested to see if Palmer can make this worthwhile for the Raiders. The early winner of this trade is clearly the Bengals in my opinion. Potentially getting two first round picks for a player who was never going to start for you again thanks to Dalton’s emergence as a quality leader? Yeah, that’s a pretty nice trade. Plus they are off the hook for his salary of which there was nearly $20 million remaining over the next two years.

I love the boldness of this move, I just question whether or not I would have done the same. That’s an awfully high asking price, and this potential batch of quarterbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft class figures to be significantly better than any of the recent QB draft classes as far as overall talent and depth. But you have to think that if Al Davis was still running things this would be the kind of move he would make: It may seem crazy to some people, but he trusted his evaluation of the move as well as the rest of his staff and he believed that his coaches could make the most out of the acquisition. So in a way, this is kind of like Al’s last bold move as a Raider. I for one am rooting for them, and hopefully Palmer can find a way to make an immediate and lasting impact in Oakland.

Before I start to discuss anything it’s important to know that I’m a huge Falcons fan, but I think it’s time to talk about the hype surrounding Matt Ryan. I have been pleased with Ryan since he became a Falcon but I don’t view the Falcons with rose colored glasses and I do what I can to not “drink the Kool-Aid” before each season. I have been a pretty consistent supporter of Ryan since he became a Falcon, especially because he played a significant role in turning the franchise around, bringing consecutive winning seasons to Atlanta for the first time in franchise history and getting us back to the playoffs for the first time since Michael Vick was our starting quarterback.

Matt Ryan is a good NFL starter, but I don't think there is a lot of evidence that he is "great" or that he will ever be "elite."

But at the same time it is not unfair to acknowledge some of Ryan’s faults of which there are a few. The most obvious of these faults is his relative lack of arm strength. It’s not awful like Chad Pennington’s in my opinion, but it is not good or great by any means. I would constitute it as above average personally, because I think he struggles to stretch the field well downfield, and doesn’t have great zip on passes in the 10-15 yard range like deep curls, deep outs and other difficult NFL throws. To his credit he makes up for his lack of arm strength with good accuracy and anticipation which he routinely uses when he throws the ball before his receivers make their breaks on these more difficult throws so that the defensive back still struggles to make plays on the ball even though the ball hangs in the air a bit longer than you would ideally prefer.

One thing that I have noticed Ryan has been doing over the last couple seasons is forcing passes to particular players and at times doing so instead of finding an open player. Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are usually the players he forces the ball to when he does do it. I have seen Ryan throw the ball to Gonzalez in double coverage, once or twice with three players around him, and this does not traditionally end well for Ryan because he doesn’t quite have the zip on his throws to put the ball into tight windows without the defense having time to make a play on the ball. The most frustrating part of this is that he almost seemed to be regressing as far as making his progressions in these specific instances because he would ignore Turner open in the flat at times in favor of throwing to Gonzalez or White in double coverage.

The final thing that I personally consider a flaw is that I don’t think Ryan can will us to a victory. Not many quarterbacks can, but this is something the great ones are able to do and I don’t think Ryan can do it. I’m not saying he should be able to play by himself out there and win the game, but the correlation between Ryan having a below-average/poor game and our running game struggling to consistently churn out yardage is pretty staggering. Obviously a good running game makes life easier for any quarterback, but great quarterbacks are able to shoulder the load on offense and throw their teams into contention when they don’t have a running game. Brady, Manning and Aaron Rodgers are all players who have done this consistently for the last couple of years and their teams routinely appear in the playoffs. But when the Falcons (specifically Michael Turner) struggle to gain yardage on the ground on a consistent basis and Ryan is forced to throw to convert 2ndand 3rd and longs to sustain drives it usually results in a loss for Atlanta. That, in my opinion, is not the mark of a great quarterback. And believe me, this isn’t something that I just conjured up out some doom and gloom thought process because of the Falcons unexpected 2-3 start, I have had this opinion of Ryan since I re-watched the Falcons-Steelers game from week one of last year. My post on the subject was actually published on October 5th, 2010, just over a year ago.

Julio Jones has been an incredibly pleasant surprise this year. I thought highly of him as a prospect, but I didn't expect him to contribute so much explosiveness so quickly.

Now, one thing that the Falcons made a huge deal about was our lack of big plays last season. I would argue that the Falcons’ lack of big plays as well as their poor pass defense contributed to their problems last year, but their running game and run defense was solid. The Falcons decided that getting Matt Ryan another playmaker at receiver was the best course of action and sold the farm to move up and select Julio Jones. I was skeptical of the move, but I never doubted Jones’ upside. I just worried that the Falcons were putting too much pressure on him by anointing him the starter after watching him practice by releasing Michael Jenkins, a relatively reliable #2 receiver, before Jones had ever played a game. I have been very pleased with Jones and he has been everything I could have hoped for and more this year as a rookie, but we just haven’t been able to get him the ball consistently down-field. We wanted more explosive plays and I tend to believe that our issues with pass protection really inhibit our ability to challenge defenses down-field. Additionally, our wide receivers during Ryan’s first three seasons in the NFL weren’t exactly burners that created a lot of down-field separation so it wasn’t completely unrealistic to see limited down-field plays that can change games and grab momentum for the offense.

However, I think it is very clear that Ryan plays a role in our limited deep plays as well. You can’t blame it all on Mike Mularkey’s lack of down-field play-calling, you can’t blame it on a lack of receivers who can separate down-field, and you can’t blame it exclusively on the offensive line. At some point Ryan is responsible for his production on down-field throws, so I would like to highlight how he has done on throws that produce 20+ yard plays that the Falcons were so driven to create this year. These are statistics on any throw that is thrown 21+ yards from the line of scrimmage from the past four years:

2008: 21/55, 718 yards, 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s
2009: 9/35, 297 yards, 3 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2010: 10/38, 320 yards, 4 TD’s, 1 INT
2011: 2/14, 94 yards, 0 TD’s, 0 INT’s (through five games)

Even Aaron Rodgers, who I personally think is the best quarterback in the NFL right now, isn't automatic on 21+ yard passes.

Now, it’s easy to look at these statistics and say “Wow, that’s awful. Even in his best season he was only 21/55, that’s under 50% and good completion percentages for quarterbacks are typically 60%.” While that is true, deep passes that travel 21+ yards are difficult to complete even for great quarterbacks. Here are some stats for some other quarterbacks to help demonstrate this:

Aaron Rodgers:
2010: 24/65, 976 yards, 8 TD’s, 5 INT’s
2011: 7/13, 255 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Tom Brady:
2010: 14/36, 537 yards, 6 TD’s, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/18, 186 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT’s (thru five games)

Even Sam Bradford, a player I have never really liked, has been more efficient on 21+ yard passes than Ryan has this season.

Phillip Rivers:
2010: 22/57, 852 yards, 9 TD’s, 4 INT’s
2011: 4/14, 159 yards, 2 TD’s, 2 INT’s (thru five games)

Sam Bradford:
2010: 10/39, 345 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s
2011: 6/15, 213 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s (thru four games)

So as you can see, even some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL don’t complete a lot of down-field throws. They are low percentage plays a lot of the time and they are some of the most difficult throws to complete because they require better pass protection, they require a good route from the receiver as well as a more difficult down-field catch, plus they require a more difficult throw from the quarterback. But still, the best quarterbacks in the business complete more down-field passes for more yardage than Ryan does, and while some of that has to do with who they are throwing the ball to or who is blocking for them at the end of the day Ryan has to shoulder a portion of the blame for his limited down-field production. He’s not a great deep ball passer and these statistics help prove that to be true. You would like to see him take that positive rookie season in which he was able to threaten defenses down-field and progress, but instead he has regressed on his deep passes and become less and less efficient with each year of experience. That is a disturbing trend and it’s one that absolutely warrants mentioning because he is in his fourth season in the NFL and is surrounded with some legitimate weapons with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas (who has been a pleasant surprise now that he is healthy), Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. Is this a team full of pro-bowlers and Hall of Famers? Perhaps not, but they are still legitimate weapons that are better than perhaps a majority of other teams in the NFL.

And yet, in spite of this improved supporting cast Ryan hasn’t been able to be as efficient on deep passes as Sam Bradford, a player I have never been a fan of and continue to be skeptical of in the NFL. But he has almost matched his previous totals in completions, yardage and has already thrown one more touchdown pass on 21+ yard throws than he did as a rookie. He is trending upwards in spite of his pathetic supporting cast of wide receivers who are regularly lambasted for dropping passes. Ryan’s supporting cast drops passes too, sure, but it would be outlandish to suggest that his supporting cast is not significantly superior to Bradford’s. Yet, in spite of this assertion, Bradford has been more efficient on deep passes and has a comparable QB rating to Ryan (Ryan has a 79.9 QB rating this year, Bradford a 70.8).

Tom Brady has been and continues to be one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL, but he makes his money on passes within 20 yards, not on 21+ yard bombs.

Now, this is not an attempt to say that Bradford is going to be the next great QB, far from it. I am also not trying to suggest that Ryan is a poor quarterback. I am simply trying to demonstrate that he isn’t a very good deep ball passer. The games I have watched of him (over three years of games at this point) as well as the statistics he has accumulated are pretty clear evidence of this, and it’s arguable that even with better pass protection and upgraded skill position weapons that he won’t ever be a good or great deep ball passer. That’s just not what his skill set is. This season on passes within 20 yards (excluding passes behind the line of scrimmage) Ryan has a QB rating of 91.54, a good number. Rodgers has an insane rating of over 120, as does Tom Brady. Both are having incredible seasons statistically thus far, and it shows on their bread and butter passes of under 20 yards. Ryan is good in this area too, and to force him to throw deep passes that he struggles to consistently complete seems counter-intuitive. On one hand, you obviously can’t keep throwing passes that are under 10 yards while attempting to run the ball or the defense will crowd the line of scrimmage and put a stranglehold on the offense’s ability to sustain successful drives. But that hasn’t been Ryan’s problem. He is actually most efficient statistically on throws that are 11-20 yards downfield, completing 24/43 attempts for 402 yards, 4 TD’s and 2 INT’s (a rating of 99.2). That is statistically superior to Phillip Rivers, but significantly below the outrageous QB ratings that Rodgers and Brady have (142.1 and 130.8, respectively).

So, my argument is that the Falcons need to acknowledge that Matt Ryan isn’t the next Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. He doesn’t have the same skill set. He has been effective on passes that are under 20 yards and while we still need to take the occasional deep shot, passes in that 11-20 yard range will help keep defenses honest and can turn into longer gains if the pass is completed to a player like Julio Jones who can gain quality yards after the catch once he has the ball in his hands. So while everyone loves to see the 30 or 40+ yard deep ball that the receiver hauls in and scores on that just isn’t what Ryan is good at doing. Mularkey and the rest of the staff should acknowledge this and continue to work to his strengths: Passes with-in twenty yards, play-action passing, and passes on three and five step drops. He is good at making pre-snap reads and gets the ball out quickly when he identifies a blitz, and if we can sustain drives and get some yards after the catch to make bigger plays without just lobbing the ball up and praying for it to be completed I think our offense will be better off.

This isn’t me arguing against 20+ yard plays, it’s simply me questioning how we are going about getting them. Ryan’s track record is pretty solid evidence that throwing the ball 21+ yards downfield isn’t the most efficient way for him to accumulate yards, so why would we continue to force him to do it? He’s not an elite quarterback and this is something he struggles with, so let’s continue to play to his strengths as much as possible. He can’t just throw us into games when we are behind or when the running game is ineffective. Accepting that and moving forward seems like a more logical step to take rather than pretending he is going to be the next elite NFL quarterback, because after over three years of watching him I’m just not convinced that he is going to be.

As most of you have heard ESPN confirmed that Peyton Manning underwent an anterior fusion surgical procedure done on his neck which was operated on just a couple months earlier on May 23rd to attempt to repair a damaged nerve in his neck. Nerve injuries are said to be particularly tricky because there is no exact timetable for return. He is expected to be out 2-3 months at which point he could potentially return to football, but it is unclear exactly when he will be back at 100% or if he ever will be. When a player of Manning’s stature is hurt for any extended period of time the impact of the time he misses ripples throughout the league, and this post will be focused on the impact Manning’s injury will have not only on the outcome of this season, the fantasy impact of the players who were around him on offense, but also the impact it could and likely will have on the next NFL Draft in April.

Obviously because Manning is injured he won’t be starting in week one, and he might miss 8-12 weeks of the regular season. While the Colts have been a perennial playoff team for the majority of the last decade, it’s hard to imagine them returning to the playoffs without Manning at the helm. Kerry Collins is a reliable back-up and stop gap, but he isn’t a reliable enough starting candidate to expect him to mesh with the starters quick enough to keep them relevant until Manning gets back this season (if he does get back this season at all). That means that even if Manning is healthy in time for the last 3-4 games of the season he might just be placed on IR and allowed to heal completely in preparation for the 2012-2013 season instead of rushing back for relatively meaningless games at the end of the year. So it is entirely possible that Manning won’t play a single game this season even if he comes back close to 100% within that 2-3 month range. If the Colts do somehow remain competitive the Colts will have a tough decision on their hands for a number of reasons. If they are in range of making the playoffs with Collins, should they bring Manning back once he feels ready even though Collins got them that far? Should they mortgage Manning’s future performances after giving him a substantial contract to salvage a season without a lot of potential for a deep playoff run? There will be a lot of questions for them to answer. Personally I would do everything in my power to make sure Manning isn’t rushed back, but late in the season if there are important games to play that could get the team into the playoffs I would consider playing him.

Obviously Manning’s absence will not only impact the Colts, but the rest of the teams in that division. Suddenly, the Texans schedule has gotten easier without having to match up with Manning twice a year with a secondary that has traditionally struggled to slow him down (however, with Jonathan Joseph in the fold that may have started to change anyways). The Titans and Jaguars both seemed destined to be bottom dwellers in their own special ways due to their uncertainty at the quarterback position, but not having to face Manning twice in a season would be favorable for both squads. I think, due to Manning’s injury, that the Texans are the pretty obvious favorite to win the division. If they can’t pull this off with two weak teams and a Manning-less Colts team then they might need to move to the UFL.

This injury also has a significant fantasy impact. Who knows if Collins will spread the ball around game to game as well as Manning did. It’s hard to imagine Reggie Wayne having the same level of effectiveness, and the same goes for Austin Collie and Dallas Clark. They will probably try to run the ball more, but without Manning there threatening to check out of a run against eight men in the box there might not be as many holes for Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to run though. It will also be particularly interesting to see how Anthony Costanzo does this year. I am not sure if he is expected to be the starter on opening day for the Colts, but I would not be surprised if he was. I was a big fan of his, so I am excited to see how he protects Collins’ blind side over the course of the year. If you have any of the Colts players (I have Collie in one league) their value may never be lower than it is currently. So make sure you don’t panic and trade them, especially if Manning has a freak recovery and comes back healthy sooner than expected or if Collins manages to mesh with the team and gives them an unexpected spark as the starter.

Not only does this injury impact the regular season, fantasy football stats, and the entire landscape of the AFC South division, but it has a significant impact on the 2012 NFL Draft. If you had asked me yesterday if I expected the Colts to have even a remote chance of selecting in the top five, much less #1 overall, in the 2012 Draft I would have told you that Manning would have to get kidnapped or murdered to see such a thing occur. Well, luckily he hasn’t been kidnapped, but he is going to be wearing street clothes on the sideline for a significant period of time. That means it is not inconceivable for the Colts to lose a lot of football games. No one has lost more games during the preseason in recent years than the Colts, and that has a lot to do with them playing Manning extremely sparingly and evaluating their back-ups. Obviously that is not concrete evidence that the Colts are going to go 0-16 by any means, but it serves as evidence that substantiates the monumental impact that Manning has had and continues to have on the Colts franchise. Simply put, there is no way the Colts will be as good this year without Manning as they would be with him. That means they should be expected to lose more games, and possibly miss the playoffs all together.

Naturally, some people will overreact and assume they will lose almost every game and be in the run for the #1 pick. That is where things get interesting, however, as that means they would have a chance at winning the Andrew Luck sweepstakes that will be held over the next 17 weeks. Whoever gets the #1 pick figures to draft Andrew Luck or trade the pick for a wealth of draft picks to a team that desperately wants him. If the Colts ended up with the pick it is hard to imagine they wouldn’t select him, and boy would that be an instance of the rich getting richer. I saw this comparison on Twitter today, so I can’t claim it as my own, but I do think that scenario would be extremely similar to the situation the Spurs found themselves in when they were awarded the #1 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft when they selected Tim Duncan. Duncan then teamed with a healthy David Robinson to lead the Spurs to a NBA Championship, and eventually Duncan took over the Center position when Robinson retired. In this instance, Peyton Manning would be the equivalent of David Robinson, and Andrew Luck would be Tim Duncan. It’s certainly intriguing to think about, and it will surely be something on the mind of everyone who follows the NFL, especially the NFL Draft, as the season progresses. I don’t think it is especially likely that the Colts will end up with the #1 pick, as that would likely mean they lost all but two or maybe three games. I don’t expect them to make the playoffs, especially if Manning doesn’t play all season, but I think they have it in them to win 4-6 games without much fanfare. That would position them high enough in the draft to pick another quarterback if they chose to (Matt Barkley might be in the conversation), but it would require a lot of value to move up from where they would be picking (perhaps #3-7 overall) to move up to #1 overall and select Luck. That’s not to say that it isn’t possible, but perhaps not probable.

So, even though I wouldn’t bet much of my money on the Colts ending up with Andrew Luck as a result of using the #1 pick of the 2012 NFL Draft on him, it sure is interesting to think about the vast impact that one player (though a very important player) can have not only on the games he misses, but on the proceedings that occur long after the season has ended.

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

Demario Ballard is turning heads in camp. It's still very early, but my gut says he might stick on their 53 man roster.

Did you project Demario Ballard to be drafted? I didn’t, I never even got to watch film of him. But Ballard may turn out to be the gem of the UDFA class if he continues to impress at Lions training camp. Ballard has impressed coaches, fans and reporters alike at Lions camp. Partly because of his sheer size and athletic ability (Ballard stands at an impressive 6’6″, 220 pounds and ran a 4.50 40 yard dash according to CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout’s profiles on him) and partly because he has been making impressive catches and using his size to turn potential into production in camp. Doing a little research on him revealed his impressive measurables, and that he went to Western Oregon and had 35 receptions, 620 yards and 5 touchdowns as a senior. Not exactly all-world production, but his athleticism projects to the NFL.

Here is a scouting report courtesy of Chad Reuter, one of the best sources for draft information on the internet and someone I have been reading since the first day I became interested in learning about the NFL Draft:

Positives: Tall deep threat with some thickness who is a handful for Division II corners. Effective on vertical routes with strides and surprising agility. Strong hands, goes up to high-point jump balls over smaller corners (in red zone, down sideline, over the middle). Good release off the line for his size. Tracks ball over his shoulder, finds passes when turned around. Used on short routes, shows some agility and toughness to gain a few extra yards after contact. Uses his length to create separation downfield just before the ball arrives. Has size, arm length to effectively block for the run and to open up lanes downfield.

Negatives: Strider who must rely on size to separate from NFL cornerbacks. Not practiced at beating the jam. Dances after the catch too much, takes time to accelerate and must prove he can make defenders miss at the next level. Gets taken down quickly after the catch. Consistency as a blocker is lacking, needs to ramp up intensity more often. Adequate adjusting to low throws, may struggle with fastballs from veteran passers. Gets caught from behind on longer runs.

Not surprisingly Ballard relies on his long strides to cover ground quickly, but isn’t a very good route runner and needs technique work as a route runner and as a blocker. But his athleticism, ball skills and overall ability check out, he just needs some quality coaching. If he has the right attitude and work ethic his route running and blocking could be easily rectified, and there would be little standing in his way of making a NFL roster and being a significant contributor.

Without being able to see him in person it’s hard to make this claim, but I have to say reading about him and looking over the information I found on him, it’s hard to say that he doesn’t have the potential to be the undrafted version of Marques Colston. There, I said it!

I can’t wait to see him in preseason action, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks on the Lions roster… I have a gut feeling that he will. I am going to pursue an interview with him, if I land it I will obviously post it!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

It’s beginning to look like McKinnie is out as Minnesota’s left tackle. I don’t just mean the starting line-up, he might be off the team altogether.

McKinnie was placed on the NFI list (Non-Football Injury) signaling that he may have arrived to camp out of shape. There have been rumblings for at least one or two years that the Vikings have wanted to either move or upgrade the LT spot, as McKinnie has had trouble off the field more than once since joining the Vikings. However, there was never an upgrade available (at least realistically), so a move was never made.

That changed yesterday when the Vikings were able to snag Charlie Johnson, the starting LT for the Colts last year, for a 3 year deal worth around $12 million from what I have seen. Johnson is versatile, and may be best as a LG, but showed he can play LT last year (even if he gave up 6 sacks protecting Peyton Manning, which doesn’t speak glowingly in terms of his ability to stick at that spot). He doesn’t have any character concerns that I’m aware of, which certainly makes him more attractive than McKinnie (especially if they don’t consider his six sacks allowed as an indictment on his ability).

Adam Schefter just tweeted that McKinnie has been cut, so he is officially a free agent and ready to be signed (if anyone wants him).

It’s been an interesting run for McKinnie in Minnesota, but his time has finally run out. I’ll update this as I hear more.

–Tom

More Transaction Updates:

Chad Ochocinco to Patriots- This is another saavy pick-up by the Patriots. Getting a quality player at a discounted price and they have the locker room to keep him in line, though he will always have his fun. It’s great to see Chad getting a chance to play for a contender, instead of the inconsistent Bengals. He definitely has upside, and with Chad, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady should be a very happy camper. That offense may not look like an explosive offense (like it was with Randy Moss) but it’s an offense that can kill you in a 2 TE set or a 4 WR set, or even with 3 WR’s and 2 TE’s split out. I’m not sure you can say that about any other offense. Not to mention they have four or five running backs that could make most NFL team’s rosters. That offense is stacked.

Johnathan Joseph to Houston- This is a big pick-up for Houston. A year ago they let Dunta Robinson go and while he didn’t have a very good season in Atlanta it still left them searching for a quality corner. Now with Joseph and Kareem Jackson at corner they have a potentially impressive tandem of corners which is a huge change for a team that traditionally has a lot of issues in their secondary. Joseph is a very good corner in this league and if he can stay out of trouble (which has been a problem every once in a while, not consistently like other Bengals) he should be more than worth the money he got in my opinion.

Greg Olsen to Carolina- They gave up a quality pick for him, so Chicago got more value for him than the ‘Skins got for Haynesworth or the Bengals got for Chad Ochocinco, which is good. But the Bears traded away a quality weapon, though most people know that Mike Martz has never really heavily featured tight ends in his offense so the trade isn’t a huge surprise. I believe he was rumored to be available last year but nothing ever materialized. Carolina on the other hand picks up a quality TE who is the best TE they’ve had in a very long time, arguably since Wesley Walls.

Ray Edwards to Atlanta- This is a HUGE signing for the Falcons. I was concerned that he was going to get $8 or $9 million dollars a year, and we got him for 5 years, $30 million with $10 or $11 million guaranteed. Absolutely fantastic deal, not going to hurt us badly in the long run and he should be able to play up to that contract easily. Does a good job versus the run and also can threaten as a pass rusher with consistent 1 on 1 match-ups, and he will have that playing opposite Abraham with Babs and Peters in the middle. Hopefully Peria Jerry, Biermann and Sidbury will all step up, and if they do then we could have a very talented defensive line. This was the final piece of the puzzle for at least this year, so I am very excited to see how this talent laden DL performs.

Tyson Clabo back to the Falcons- Clabo signed for only 5 years and $25 million, a bargain for a pro-bowl caliber RT and another nice signing by the Falcons. I was skeptical of our offseason, but if we get Blalock at a reasonable price along with Clabo, Edwards and hopefully an extension for Grimes and possibly resigning Jason Snelling then this would be a terrific offseason.

Falcons release Jamaal Anderson, Michael Jenkins- We should have released Jamaal Anderson two years ago, but it’s official that he is gone now. As bad as he was for Atlanta he could be a solid player for a 3-4 defense at DE. He was most effective at DT for us when we moved him inside, but he will never be much of a pass rusher in a 4-3. Jenkins, on the other hand, was a solid #2 for us and I was hoping we’d keep him for one more year to keep some pressure off of Julio Jones. Now if Julio doesn’t step up and ball right away we don’t have anyone to put in to let him get his bearings, he just has to fight through it. Let’s hope Julio steps up, but I’m worried about asking too much of him too early.

Roy Williams agrees to go to Chicago- This would be a nice pick-up for the Bears who need a quality WR for Cutler to throw to and he has upside that he didn’t demonstrate much in Dallas. Leave it to Mike Martz to maximize that, so expect a more effective Roy Williams in Chicago.

Breaking news this offseason, the blockbuster we have all been waiting for appears to have been confirmed. Kevin Kolb has been dealt to the Cardinals for the rights to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a pretty good cornerback on the Cardinals who has struggled a bit as of late, and a 2nd round selection.

This is huge news, especially because Kolb got a huge contract from the Cardinals- I read that it was 5 years, $63 million with over $20 million guaranteed… That’s huge considering his limited amount of playing time. I would definitely not have done this trade if I was the Cardinals, but it’s a great trade for the Eagles. They get DRC at a discounted price and even if he doesn’t pan out as a stud, there’s no way he isn’t an upgrade over what they currently have opposite Asante Samuel. Great move by the Eagles, as usual.

Will update as I hear more information,

–Tom

More Free Agency

Leinart officially back with the Texans.

Olindo Mare signed a 4 year, $12 million contract with the Panthers ($4 million). Apparently the Panthers are serious about turning their 2 win roster from a year ago into a potential 3-4 win roster for years to come.

Robert Gallery (OG) has signed with the Seattle Seahawks. They should have a pretty good offensive line.

DeAngelo Williams got 5 years, $43 million ($21 million guaranateed) from Carolina. They definitely overpaid for him, and considering his injury concerns (plus having a starting caliber back in Jonathan Stewart already…) they could have easily let him leave. Under no circumstances would I have paid him near that much money. As I said on Twitter “In three years people will look back on this contract and say ‘Wow, Carolina made a huge mistake paying DeAngelo, an injury prone back, all that money.'” http://twitter.com/#!/TMeltonScouting

Per Adam Schefter it seems that Kolb to Arizona in exchange for DRC and a pick should happen by the end of the week. Will be interesting to see just how high that pick is, and what kind of a contract extension Kolb gets out of AZ. Probably something substantial, 4-5 years $40-50 million if I had to guess.

Eric Weddle got a record deal for a safety, 5 years, $40 million.

Santonio Holmes officially got 5 years, $50 million with $24 million guaranteed. Reportedly he took less money because he “loves being in NY” and may have wanted to help keep space open to pick up Aso. Will be very interesting to see if that works, but keeping Holmes was huge for NY.

The Jets have also been rumored to have interest in Randy Moss. Would be a great redemption story if he got a shot at playing in NY, especially if he stepped up and played well like I think he is capable of.

David Baas (OC) has signed with the Giants.

Matt Hasselbeck has signed with the Tennessee Titans (which I predicted, not to pat myself on the back).

Doug Free stays in Dallas (4 years, 32 million)

Paul Pozluzny to Jags (6 years)

Barry Cofield to Redskins (6 years)

Jacoby Jones stays with Texans (3 years, 10.5 million)

Donte Stallworth to Redskins (1 year deal)

Brad Smith possibly signing with Chicago

Ike Taylor resigns with Pittsburgh (4 year deal)

Raiders resign Jarvis Moss, Jon Condo (LS)

DeAngelo Williams is deciding between Carolina and Denver.

Takeo Spikes to Chargers (2 year deal)

Leinart has not yet signed with Seattle (according to his twitter), but it could still happen.

Eric Weddle is in high demand. Jaguarys, Broncos, Vikings, Cowboys and Texans all interested.

Broncos looking at McGahee for RB.

Dolphins have expressed interest in Marion Barber.

Mason Crosby resigns with Packers (5 year deal)

Wayne Hunter (OT) has signed a 4 year deal worth $13 million with the New York Jets.

Kevin Boothe signed a two year deal with the Giants.

Kevin Payne signed with the Panthers.

Chiefs resigned Casey Weigmann and Terrance Copper.

Nate Davis signed a two year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

Nick Barnett, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams (WR), Devin Aromashodu, Derek Anderson, Bryant Johnson all released by their former teams.

Devin Aromashodu has signed with the Vikings.

The Falcons have resigned Stephen Nicholas to a 5 year deal (GREAT NEWS!)

The Titans are expected to release former #3 overall pick Vince Young on Thursday once teams are allowed to cut players. As I have mentioned before, he could be a fit in Buffalo.

I’m late on this, but Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg, Todd Heap and Willis McGahee for anyone who missed it.

Again, late on this, but Quintin Mikell signed a 4 year, $28 million deal with the Rams. Nice signing on paper, might not be as productive on the Rams as he was on a talent-laden Eagles defense.

The Chargers have signed Bob Sanders according to a report I saw on Twitter. Will wait to see it confirmed.

Tyler Thigpen agreed to a three year deal with Buffalo.

Damoine Lewis signed a one year deal with the Texans.

Jeremy Clary signed a 4 year, $20 million deal ($8.5 million in 2011) with the Chargers.

Randy McMichael signed a one year deal with San Diego.

Tarvaris Jackson’s contract with the Seahawks is 2 years for $8 million.

Ron Edwards (DT) signs a 3 year, $8.25 million contract with Panthers.

Nathan Enderle has signed a rookie contract with the Bears. Look out for him moving up the depth chart in the next year or two.

Cofield got 6 years, $36 million and $12.5 guaranteed from the ‘Skins. Not sure how well he fits there, he was perfect for a penetrating scheme like the one the Giants or Falcons run.

Santonio Holmes resigned for 5 years with the Jets.

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