Tag Archive: Tom Melton


Hey all,

I’m back, I bet y’all thought I forgot I had a NFL Draft Blog.

First of all, thanks for putting up with me not posting any of my scouting reports on here this year. I meant to get some additional ones up that I didn’t cover in my NFL Draft guide, but I’ve been so busy with work it just didn’t happen. If you haven’t picked up a draft guide yet they only cost $5 and I’d say they’re worth well more than that given all the work that went into them. There’s plenty of great stuff left on non 1st round draft prospects, so pick one up now here.

Now onto the NFL Draft pick recaps:

#1 Overall- Houston Texans- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina- This is a fantastic pick, I’d give it an A. This is the perfect place for Clowney to go because if you have any questions about his work ethic or motor those should be eased knowing that JJ Watt will be working closely with him to help him maximize his potential in the offseason and during the season. I seriously don’t know how offenses are going to account for both of them once Clowney starts to really fill out his game from a technical standpoint. Those two are going to terrorize offensive backfields for years to come, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

#2 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn- I’m giving this pick an A as well, Robinson is one of the most talented offensive linemen that has come around in a long time, and he has franchise tackle upside. He is the rare offensive tackle that can be a dominant force as a pass blocker and as a run blocker, and that makes him worth the pick here even if he is still a bit raw. He’s an immediate upgrade in both phases of the offense regardless of where the Rams play him.

#3 Overall- Jacksonville Jaguars- Blake Bortles, QB, UCF- This is harsh, but I’m giving this pick a D. I don’t hate Bortles, in fact I had a late 1st-Early 2nd round grade on him, but #3 is way too high for him in my opinion. I don’t think he’s a franchise caliber player, and I don’t think he’s going to live up to the pressure that this high of a selection puts on him. He’s not as NFL ready as other QB’s in this class in my estimation, and still needs time to develop and season, but I’m not sure he’ll get a lot of that in Jacksonville particularly now that he was picked this high. I’ll own up to this if I’m wrong, but I think the Jaguars made a mistake selecting him this high.

#4 Overall- Buffalo Bills- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson- I’m giving this pick a B- even though I’m a big Sammy Watkins fan, and here’s why: Watkins is a top talent, and I had him as my #1 WR in this class for a reason, but I’m still not sold on him as a top 5 pick and I don’t think he’s going to be an elite WR in the NFL. He’s a playmaker without a doubt, and he’s going to be fun to watch in the NFL, but giving up a 2015 1st and a 4th round pick to move up for Watkins in a draft that is overflowing with talent at the receiver position is baffling to me. I like that they want to surround EJ Manuel with talent, but this isn’t the right way to go about it in my opinion.

#5 Overall- Oakland Raiders- Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo- The Raiders got it right this year picking a very talented player in Khalil Mack who is going to be a very good defender for them for a long time. It was a predictable pick, but it was the right pick, and I give it an A. The Raiders needed a hit on this pick, and I think they got a very good player here even if it wasn’t as flashy as a player like Sammy Watkins or a quarterback.

#6 Overall- Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M- This isn’t what I was hoping for at #6 for Atlanta, but it’s a smart pick even if it isn’t the pass rusher that I really wanted. Sam Baker is not the long term answer for the Falcons at left tackle in Atlanta, and they needed a dependable player that would be able to start there for the next decade and they got that in Jake Matthews. He doesn’t have the insane ceiling that Greg Robinson has, but he’s going to be a good tackle for a long time and solidifying that position is the correct move in this situation. It’s not sexy, but it’s absolutely what had to happen given the way the draft board broke. I give this an A-. It could have been better, but with Mack off the board this was the right pick.

#7 Overall- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M- This pick gives the Bucs a very intriguing combination of receivers in Vincent Jackson and Evans, and that’s going to be hard for any team outside of the Seahawks to neutralize. I didn’t think Evans was a top 10 pick, but he’s got a lot of upside and with a guy like Jackson to learn from it should speed up his learning curve significantly. He’s a match-up nightmare because of his size, athleticism, and leaping ability, and if he can polish his game he and Jackson will be able to terrorize defensive backfields with their size and ability to win jump balls downfield.

#8 Overall- Cleveland Browns- Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State- I’m not a big Gilbert fan, but I’m giving this pick a B for one reason: Joe Haden. I think Haden is the kind of player that will mentor Gilbert, help speed up the learning curve that all rookie CB’s have to endure (namely, getting burned once they get on the field) and a guy with Gilbert’s athleticism and ball skills has to be intriguing. I’m still not a huge fan of him in coverage and he’s not physical, but if Haden can help Gilbert reach his ceiling as a corner then they will have a very dangerous duo in Cleveland for a long time, plus Gilbert is an impact return man.

#9 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA- I am not a big Barr fan, but his athleticism is undeniable. One of the reasons I didn’t want him in Atlanta is because he is so raw and I’m not confident in their ability to develop him and turn him into a dominant force off the edge. With Mike Zimmer in Minnesota I don’t have that same concern, and I really think this is a good fit for him from that standpoint. If you want him to make an immediate impact you are going to be disappointed outside of situational pass rushing, but he’s got a very high ceiling if he can improve his technique and round out his game, and I think Zimmer and that staff have a good chance to do that. I’m giving this pick a B+, but if they can coach Barr up he could end up being one of the top 5 players in this class.

#10 Overall- Detroit Lions- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina- This pick is a B for me. It’s not a bad pick by any means, but I don’t like the value for Ebron here. I know he probably wouldn’t be available later, but despite his combination of size and athleticism his drops still give me pause and I consider him Jermichael Finley but with better blocking, and I say that as a UNC fan who has watched Ebron since he was a freshman. He gives the Lions a legit weapon other than Calvin Johnson and they will be able to pick up a receiver any time on Day 2 or 3 and get production because of how deep this class is, but if I’m picking a TE top 10 I want him to be an impact player with great hands, and while Ebron can be an impact player who makes great catches he still has issues with concentration drops.

#11 Overall- Tennessee Titans- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan- Lewan isn’t squeaky clean off the field, but you can’t question his toughness and ability on it. If you need to infuse attitude and toughness up front then Lewan is your guy, and that’s why I give this pick a B. He’s going to be a good tackle for a long time whether he’s on the left or right side, and he’s going to give you a toughness and an edge up front that every offensive line needs.

#12 Overall- New York Giants- Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU- I have been an OBJ fan since he was a freshman, and watching everyone catch on to how talented he was over the past couple years has been a real treat. He’s going to be really fun to watch playing opposite Victor Cruz, and he’s going to be able to make an immediate impact as a receiver and as a return man. I give this pick an A-.

#13 Overall- St. Louis Rams- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh- A+. Slam Dunk. I am a huge Aaron Donald fan, and oh my god is the Rams front horrifying now. They already had a terrific front, but plugging Donald into the middle of that is going to make it even more fierce. How do you block all that talent up front? I seriously have no idea, and I don’t think there’s an offensive line that matches up with their pass rush talent across the board. Donald is going to have it easy going against one on ones on this unit, and that’s why it’s the top grade I’ve given so far. It doesn’t get any better than this.

#14 Overall- Chicago Bears- Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech- I’m giving this a B+ because it’s earlier than I expected him to go, but he’s a good football player. He’s got injury concerns and I’m worried that he will have trouble shaking those nagging injuries which is why I didn’t think he’d go this high, but he’s as well rounded of a corner as there is in this draft, and he’s going to be ready to play DAY ONE whether it’s outside or in the nickel, and you don’t have to worry about this guy filling or tackling. He’s a complete corner, and those are tough to find, but the injury concerns scare me as big a fan of his game as I am.

#15 Overall- Pittsburgh Steelers- Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State- Shazier is such a fantastic athlete and he plays with such great instincts I think he is a great fit for the Steelers as an inside linebacker. Keep him clean and let him make plays by flying to the football. I give this pick an A-.

#16 Overall- Dallas Cowboys- Zack Martin, OG, Notre Dame- Many thought Martin could stick at LT, and he made me believe that he had a chance to do so after the Senior Bowl, but playing inside at guard will likely be best for him, and the Cowboys made a wise investment filling a need up front again this year. With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin up front they have turned a weakness into a potential strength. I give this an A- since it’s earlier than I thought he’d go, but it’s still a very good pick even if it isn’t flashy.

#17 Overall- Baltimore Ravens- CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama- This is such a Baltimore Ravens pick. I give this an A because Mosley is the kind of leader they needed inside after losing Ray Lewis, and he gives them two very talented inside linebackers between him and Arthur Brown who they got at the end of the 2nd round last year. They’ll be young in the middle of that linebacking corp, but Mosley is a talented player even if he can’t catch to save his life.

#18 Overall- New York Jets- Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville- I’m giving this a C+ because I have never been a huge Pryor fan. I love watching him deliver big hits and he’s a good tackler, but I’m still not sold on him holding up on the back end despite solid range. I may be proven wrong here, but I don’t think he’s going to be a really good coverage safety in the NFL, and as fun as big hits are they just aren’t as valuable as coverage is in the modern day NFL.

#19 Overall- Miami Dolphins- Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee- James is a solid player who I seriously think could have played left tackle for a lot of college football teams, but if they slot him at right tackle he will be good there as well. He wasn’t widely regarded during the season because of his teammate Antonio Richardson, but he’s a good player in his own right. I’ll give this a B because it’s earlier than I expected for him, but he’s a nice player.

#20 Overall- New Orleans Saints- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State- I’m giving this a A because this a perfect fit for the kind of player Cooks is. They’ll get him the ball in creative ways and let him make plays in space, and he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to do so in addition to returning. They needed a guy that could get a lot of YAC now that Sproles moved on and Cooks fills that need perfectly.

#21 Overall- Green Bay Packers- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama- This grade should be an A just because HaSean has had my favorite college football name for a long time now, but the Packers badly needed an upgrade at safety and they got a rangy, talented, ball-hawk in Clinton-Dix. He’s exactly what they needed, and while they haven’t had much luck at safety since Nick Collins got hurt (Morgan Burnett hasn’t lived up to expectations in my opinion) I think Clinton-Dix will be a quality starter for them particularly in coverage.

#22 Overall- Cleveland Browns (via PHI)- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M- Mr. Football himself! I give this pick an A because there was a chance, however remote, that Manziel could have gone top 5 and they got him much later at #22 overall and they got to get another talented player earlier in the round as well. Manziel is going to be electrifying if nothing else, and he won’t be forced into the starting role immediately either which is perfect for him in my opinion. It remains to be seen if Manziel will quench the thirst of Cleveland Browns fans for a good quarterback, but I think he’s the best chance they’ve had at having an impact player at that position in a very long time. If Shanahan will mold his offense to Manziel instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole then I think the Browns can definitely be successful with him long term. I’ve long maintained that he elevates the play of those around him, and I still feel that way. I think he can be a good NFL starting quarterback as long as he’s willing to work at it, and I think he is, so I say this is a good pick. Only time will tell if Manziel’s magic will translate.

#23 Overall- Kansas City Chiefs- Dee Ford, DE, Auburn- I didn’t like this pick much initially, but it gives them a good player to develop so that Tamba Hali becomes expendable next offseason if he pans out (which would save them $9 million if I remember correctly). Ford has a great motor and should be able to contribute immediately as a situational pass rusher, and while his lack of size hurts him in a 4-3 I think he will be a good fit in the 3-4 defense the Chiefs employ. I give it a B.

#24 Overall- Cincinnati Bengals- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State- I give this pick a B+. The Bengals have invested a LOT of resources in corners lately, but Dennard is a very talented player who fits their style of defense well, or at least he would have fit in well under Zimmer. He’s big, long and physical, and if they don’t have a lot of faith in Dre Kirkpatrick this pick makes a lot of sense.

#25 Overall- San Diego Chargers- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU- This pick is an A for me. All that Verrett is lacking is height, the rest of his game is terrific, and he has a fantastic vertical to make up for what he lacks in height. He won’t match up with Calvin Johnson well, but he’s going to be a very good corner for a long time. The Chargers got a good one here.

#26 Overall- Philadelphia Eagles- Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville- I didn’t have a 1st round grade on Smith, but he is a good fit for the Eagles defense that clearly places a premium on athleticism. He’s got significant pass rushing upside, but he still has room for improvement. I wouldn’t have picked him this high, but I’ll give it a B- because it’s a good scheme fit.

#27 Overall- Arizona Cardinals- Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State- I’m giving this grade a C- because I think this is way too early for Bucannon, and it feels like a reach in a fairly thin safety class. I don’t think he’s as good in coverage as his interception numbers might lead you to believe, and even though he is a fierce hitter I don’t place a premium on that from my safeties. This is one I could end up wrong on because I’m being harsh, but I never thought Bucannon would go this high.

#28 Overall- Carolina Panthers- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State- Wow did this pick surprise me, I thought this would definitely be Marqise Lee, but instead they drafted a match-up nightmare with drop issues. He’s a raw player that still has a lot of room to grow, but rolling the dice on a receiver with one year of production in the 1st round is never a good idea, and I think this pick could very likely end up being a bust in a couple years. I’m giving it a C- because I get what they were trying to do, but this is early for Benjamin in my opinion and there were better options at receiver available.

#29 Overall- New England Patriots- Dominique Easley, DT, Florida- This pick gets an A+ from me because Easley is a top 10-15 talent that slipped because of his two ACL injuries, and while it’s a risk because of those injuries I love the dice roll here. He has impact player potential and I think this is a great fit for him as well.

#30 Overall- San Francisco 49ers- Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois- This pick is an A in my opinion because Ward is a very talented and versatile player. He’s got good range, ball skills, and he can play free safety or drop down and play in the slot. The 49ers have three capable safeties now in Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea and Jimmy Ward, and that gives them a lot of flexibility on defense, and it gives them a long term secondary of Reid and Ward which could very well develop into one of the better tandems in the NFL.

#31 Overall- Denver Broncos- Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State- I’ll give this pick a B because I think Roby is a very talented player, but I’m not sure this is the best locker room (or State… think about it) for him to be going to. Von Miller hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble, and I have to say I’m a little worried Roby will get into a little trouble on this team. From a talent standpoint it makes sense particularly because he’s such a good athlete, but I have my reservations.

#32 Overall- Minnesota Vikings- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville- A+++. Bridgewater is my #1 QB and I never wavered on that despite all the ridiculous things people decided to knock him for, and he’s still a very good quarterback prospect. I never claimed he was an elite or “franchise QB” but I think he can be a good or very good NFL starter, and the Vikings desperately need a player who can be a quality starter at that position. The fact that he went 29 picks after Blake Bortles is an absolute joke in my opinion, but the Vikings did a great job not only to end up with Bridgewater, but to get him at the very end of the 1st round so they have the option to control his rights for five years versus only four years had they picked him in the 2nd round.

 

And that concludes my 1st round recap… It’s good to be back, and hopefully next year I won’t get swamped with work during 70 hour work weeks during the time that I’m trying to finish all of my scouting reports.

Don’t forget to check out the draft guide and follow me on Twitter for more NFL Draft insight!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

“I’m just going to come out and say it: I love insecure women.

That was the introduction to an article entitled “The Case Against Female Self Esteem” by Matt Forney. I refuse to post a link to it because I don’t want to give his site any more traffic than it has already gotten, but if you are hell bent on reading the awful things that he wrote in that article then feel free to Google it on your own.

The deep-seated anger I felt after reading this article was palpable. The more I read the angrier I got. I realize that my blog is almost entirely NFL Draft focused, and quite literally is 100% football focused, but thanks to all of the people who have read my work and supported me since I started writing, I have a platform from which to speak. This blog isn’t a big platform. In fact, it is extremely small, but it is a platform none the less. After I read Forney’s article I knew I had to respond to it. I apologize that this isn’t football related, and perhaps some of you will be turned off by the fact that I am discussing something other than football. That’s fine; you are entitled to your own opinion, but I would be remiss if I didn’t respond to this article because I strongly disagree with many of the assertions Forney makes. The claims made were so egregious I honestly thought it must have been a joke or an article on The Onion, but unfortunately I don’t think that is the case.

For those of you who didn’t read the article yourself (which I thank you for, by the way, because I am not proud of the fact that my response may direct additional traffic to his article) I will highlight some of the claims that the author makes. If you are anything like me, you will likely be offended, and I apologize for that too. However, I need to discuss them briefly so I can illustrate why they are wrong. Here are some of the claims:

“The idea that women should have self-esteem or need it…is one of the most disastrous social engineering experiments of the modern era… [confidence] prevents women from fulfilling their natural biological and social functions. ”

“In order for America to right itself, there needs to be a massive and concerted war on female self-esteem.”

“From the moment they are old enough to speak, girls in America are bombarded with propaganda that artificially boosts their self-esteem.”

“Most girls have done nothing to deserve self-esteem.”

“Women claim they want equal rights, but don’t want equal responsibilities. As such, they demand respect not based on their merit as people, but for merely continuing to breathe. Most girls’ so-called achievements, the ones they take pride in, are complete jokes.”

“If anything, having a college degree is a strike against a girl…as it shows that she’s a conformist who thinks credentials are a substitute for knowledge and experience.”

“The same goes for having a job. The vast majority of girls work useless fluff jobs…If every girl were fired from her job tomorrow, elementary schools would have to shut down for a couple days, but otherwise life would go on as usual.”

“In squelching her inborn insecurity with you-go-girlisms and drugs, the modern woman has become an emotional cripple.”

“They [girls] want to be collectively led back to the kitchen, told to make a nice big tuna sandwich with extra mayo and lettuce, then swatted on the ass as we walk out the door. I say we give them what we want.”

Are you angry yet? I certainly was. It might seem like I quoted a lot from the article, but trust me those are just the things that made my blood boil. Very little of this article was based on actual fact, rather it was largely based on the author’s personal opinions. Normally I would disregard an article so reliant on opinion and not on fact, but the notion that someone actually believes all of the things written in this article, much less advocates for other people to think the same way, warrants a rational response.

I hardly know where to begin in my response to this, but I suppose the assertion that America needs to start a war on female self-esteem in order to “right itself” is as good a place to start as any. I don’t really think I need to spend much time on this thanks to this article as well as this article. Those are articles discussing the government shutdown and the FEMALE Senators that helped end the shut down. Senator John McCain was quoted as saying “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily from women in the Senate.” Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas added “The truth is, women in the Senate is a good thing, we’re all just glad they allowed us to tag along so we could see how it’s done.”

It isn’t a stretch or exaggeration to say that, had it not been for these women (who one might say are probably pretty strong and confident) the government shutdown would not have ended as quickly as it did. So knowing that, why would you advocate for a war on female self-esteem that discourages women like those who helped lead the charge for the end of the shutdown? These women prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that confident women aren’t bad, in fact, they are essential. These articles debunk the myth Forney proposes that “most girls have done nothing to deserve their self esteem” and that “most girls’ so called achievements are complete jokes.” Obviously female senators aren’t in the majority, but given their effectiveness in working together across the aisle to end the shutdown maybe they should be.

I previously mentioned that no rational person would advocate for a war on women’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, the mass media has been doing a number on female self-esteem for years. Do you ever watch television ads? Do you see the scantily clad women in them? Do you ever read magazines? Do you ever notice the photo-shopped women on the cover or in the advertisements? If you aren’t aware of how often women, even women who are objectively gorgeous without photoshop or even make-up, are photoshopped in magazines, advertisements and billboards, you should take a look at this article that highlights some considerable doctoring of women in the media. If you don’t believe that women are bombarded with images of nearly perfect women that they are expected to emulate, check out this study that articulates similar thoughts.

I didn’t realize that someone could be so completely oblivious to these facts, but that is my mistake. Still, the point is that when many young women see these images it negatively impacts their self-esteem. It can also ruin their own body image because they don’t look the way the women in the pictures do, even though the women in the photos are not real. That leaves young women striving for an unattainable level of beauty that not even the women paid to be photographed were able to reach. Doesn’t that sound like a problem to you? It might sound strange to some people, but if a woman close to you struggled with her body image or had an eating disorder I can assure you that you wouldn’t find it funny in the least. It’s a serious problem, particularly in the United States, and the portrayal of women in the media contributes to a myriad of problems for young women. So the author doesn’t need to advocate for a war on female self-esteem to begin; it has been raging for years.

Unfortunately, the war on female self-esteem goes beyond pictures in magazines or advertisements on TV. Perhaps the most pervasive attacks on female self-esteem are in mainstream music, particularly rap music and music videos. I spent some time reading through a 26 page study titled “Misogyny in Rap Music” to further educate myself on something I already knew to be true: Women are not portrayed as equals in rap music, and are regularly degraded. In fact, according to that study, women are rarely portrayed positively and are often degraded in rock and country music as well.

This study focused on all rap albums that attained platinum status (selling at least one million copies) from 1992 to 2000, a timeframe the authors Ronald Weitzer and Charis E. Kubrin claimed had not been examined in previous research on misogyny in rap music. Weitzer and Kubrin pointed out that while they were solely focusing on studying misogyny in rap, a study done in 1999 indicated that in 57% of rock music videos women were portrayed in a “conventional” manner. That includes being passive, dependent on men, or accenting the woman’s physical appearance. Only one third of the videos presented women as strong and independent.

Country music isn’t much better, as a study done in 1999 determined that country music videos portrayed women in a traditional or condescending manner in two thirds of the videos, and only 9% of them presented women as fully equal to men. Just for the sake of being thorough, a study done in 1993 indicated that “blatant abuse” of women is uncommon in heavy metal songs.

That leaves rap music.

Surprisingly enough, misogyny was only found in 22% of the 403 rap songs that were randomly selected for Weitzer and Kubrin’s study. They made sure to point out that while this is less prevalent than many people would expect, it is still clearly a significant theme. They also added that “significance is not simply a matter of frequency. Also important is the nature and intensity of the messages.” They argued that the intensity of the derogatory messages aimed at women in rap music are much more intense than in other genres.

Weitzer and Kubrin also argued that “Much rap music… seeks to restrict, rather than broaden, women’s proper roles and resuscitate male domination. The messages are thus both essentialist and normative—portraying men and women as inherently different and unequal.” This leads me to the topic of “hegemonic masculinity” which Weitzer and Kubrin discussed at significant length. For those that are unfamiliar with this term, hegemonic masculinity has been defined as attitudes and practices that perpetuate heterosexual male domination over women (does this sound anything like Matt Forney?). “It ideologically legitimates the global subordination of women to men” (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005, 832).

According to the definition of hegemonic masculinity, to be a “man” requires the acceptance of attitudes that objectify women, practices that subordinate them, and derogation of men who adopt an egalitarian orientation equally affirmative of men and women and all sexual orientations (Connell 1987; Donaldson 1993; Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). “To remain normative, it requires ongoing reproduction via the mass media.” Weitzer and Kubrin claim that, stated differently, “popular music can be seen as part of a larger ideological process of persuading the population that heterosexual male supremacy is natural and normal.”

Weitzer and Kubrin also added that a number of rap songs can be described as a full-fledged “status degradation ceremony” directed at women. In these songs it is typically women in general, rather than a specific woman, who are shamed with derogatory names. This theme was present in half (49%) of the misogynistic songs in their study. Additionally, sexual objectification of women was evident in 67% of their misogynistic songs. Sexual objectification refers to the idea that women are only useful for sex.

The sexual objectification of women, according to Weitzer and Kubrin’s study, has a flipside in the sexual empowerment of men. Male sexual bravado and hypersexuality were present in 58% of the misogynistic songs. Just as young men may earn respect from their peers if they are viewed as having casual sex with many women, rappers likewise frequently brag about their sexual exploits, and are rewarded for doing so.

Finally, Weitzer and Kubrin claimed that although women are presented as subordinate to men in a majority of rock and country songs as noted earlier, rap stands out for the intensity and graphic nature of its lyrical objectification, exploitation, and victimization of women. Rare are lyrics (in rap) that describe women as independent, educated, professional, caring, and trustworthy. Although the majority of songs in the original sample did not contain misogynistic lyrics, even these songs failed to present women in a favorable light. In other words, the absence of misogyny does not equate with a positive representation of women.

Now, that was a lot of information, so I hope I didn’t overwhelm everyone reading this article with all of those statistics. I didn’t include anything from the study that I didn’t think was eye opening or significant. At the risk of dumbing down such a well done study, the point is that rap music, and other popular music in general, thrives on age-old stereotypes of women, degrades women, and rarely describes them as strong or confident. Now think about how prevalent this music is in our culture, and how easy it is for young women to hear this music or see music videos for these songs. It’s just as easy for young men to listen to this music, and while mainstream songs certainly aren’t solely responsible for how young men learn about how to interact with women, it certainly isn’t helping them learn to treat women with respect and dignity. In fact, this study argues that many rap songs are doing the complete opposite.

Once again, if you are curious to read any more about the misogyny in rap music, refer to that study. My point has been made: the mass media isn’t artificially propping women up as the author claims, it is dragging them down. The irony of this is that even in spite of this onslaught of negative messages from the mass media, women outpace men in college enrollment by a ratio of 1.4 to one. According to this article describing a book called ‘The Rise of Women’ a 2010 study showed that 36% of all women graduate from college versus only 27% of all men. That might have something to do with the fact that the rate of women being the primary breadwinners in their household has quadrupled since 1960. This article claims that in 2007, before the recession started, only 20% of women told Pew Research Center that their “ideal scenario” would be to work full time rather than part time or not at all. That number has jumped to 32% by the end of 2012.

The fact that women are out-earning men or solely supporting their household is made all the more impressive considering the significant gender wage gap in this country. According to data from the US Census Bureau, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2012. That equates to a wage gap of $11,500 between men and women. While that may not concern Forney, it certainly concerns women who are being paid less for doing the same work as men (though Forney likely doesn’t believe they do the same work) and all this wage gap is doing is hurting households that rely on income from women to support their families. That is a serious problem, and the backwards ideologies Forney propagates in his article contribute to the lack of progress in solving these problems.

I do have one confession to make. I hate to admit it, but the author does have a point about finding vulnerability attractive in women. Maybe it’s how I’m wired, but I have always been drawn to women who might “need me.” Maybe it’s because of where I grew up, or maybe it’s because when I was 16 my mom needed me to provide her with a little bit of extra emotional support when she was going through chemotherapy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Or maybe it’s because my little sister, who I love more than anyone on this planet, has been dealing with self esteem issues since she was a little girl. But even though I admit that I feel the same way as this author does in this particular instance, I hate that I feel that way. I love being there for people, whether they are women or men, and I think all of my close friends would echo that statement. Nothing makes me more proud as a person than someone telling me that I am a good friend, except for people telling me that I am a good brother to my sister.

Forney and I are different, though, in that I do not wish vulnerability on women. I do not want women to lack confidence. I do not want them to struggle with self-esteem issues. I do not want women to look at themselves in the mirror and hate their bodies. I want women to be confident, to have a strong self-esteem and healthy body images. That is what every man in this country should want, because if they advocate for anything else then they are doing potential harm to any woman they love, whether it be their wife, their daughter, another family member, or just a female friend.

So I have to ask, why must so many men spend so much time tearing women down instead of building them up? Clearly women are capable of doing spectacular things (the fact that I even have to say that in the year 2013 made me die a little inside) so why do men cling to these backwards ideas of what women are capable of or what they should be asked to do?

The opinions described by Forney are, unfortunately, ones that a number of men in this country share. Looking at the comment section for his article made that clear to me. That brings me to my next question. Why are confident men revered as strong leaders, but confident women are ridiculed and often pigeon-holed as “bitches”? I don’t have any evidence for this, but I think men who hate confident women are threatened by them. What is more terrifying than something you don’t understand? I don’t profess to be an expert on confident women, but I can tell you one thing: I’m not afraid of confident women. I have been trying to help my sister become more confident in any way I can since I was 16, and the strides she has made are amazing. She’s about to graduate from college with a degree in psychology and is a better student and academic than I could have ever dreamed of being. I am so proud of her for all she has ACCOMPLISHED, especially because of all she has overcome in her young life, and because she is becoming more confident and self assured. I almost feel like a proud father watching her grow up and become stronger and more confident with each passing year.

Why isn’t that the norm? Well, unfortunately it’s likely because of fathers. Some refer to them as “daddy issues” in jokes, but they are not a joke. Studies have shown that the relationship between a daughter and her father are incredibly important because they shape what women know and look for in men. When the father is either absent or emotionally closed off those young women tend to be insecure, lack self confidence and have poor self esteems. As a result they go looking for male attention and approval from other men. Take a quote from this article, for example:

“A father’s love gives a girl strength, empowers her, makes her feel worth of a man’s love,” says the counselor. What she means is a father’s affirmation goes a long way into building a woman’s self esteem. Girls loved by their fathers tend to be very confident. “Even if they encounter partners who may try to abuse them or tear down this confidence, they are not easily demeaned,” she says.

From another daddy’s girl, Milly Babirye, 37, “It is the best thing to know that you are valuable. If you grow up hearing positive things, knowing you are capable it makes you able to weather anything. No one can take that away from you.”
This explains why most of the confident women I know also boast of a very close relationship with their fathers, or at least did in cases where he is deceased.

This perfectly illustrates my point, and this article illustrates the negative aspects of absent or emotionally insufficient fathers:

Women with ‘daddy issues’ are usually seen to have an unhealthy need for male attention. Sometimes that plays out as being clingy, sexually aggressive, or promiscuous; other times as using men and then abandoning them (often just like fathers have done). Women let themselves be mistreated by men because they so desperately ache for male attention.

Did you have a father in your life growing up? Without a safe male role model, women can have a difficult time developing a healthy view of self and sexuality. Think about it. Without a father, you don’t have anyone to show you love that has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with who you are. If your only experience with men is distant or sexual, it’s easy to see yourself as a sexual object versus a complete person with much to offer a relationship.

It is obvious that fathers are integral to the development of their daughter’s self-esteem and self worth. Absent fathers or fathers who do a poor job of connecting emotionally with their daughters perpetuate a vicious cycle that is causing women to struggle with self esteem and self confidence. This isn’t to say that every father is like this, which certainly isn’t the case. However, if we are going to correct the problem with women’s self-esteem it starts with our fathers. So to all the men reading this: be a good father to your children whether they are boys or girls. Teach your sons how to treat women with respect, and teach your daughters that they are worthy of respect and love.

I think it’s safe to say that I have gone on a long enough rant on this subject by now, but hopefully this sufficiently evidences how strongly I disagree with so many of the things Matt Forney wrote. I have been lucky to be surrounded with many strong women in my life, from my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins, their friends, my female friends, and most importantly my own mother. I can say without a doubt that if it were not for these strong women supporting me since I could first form memories I would not be who I am today. I can only hope that any man reading this will take this time to think about all of the women in his life and how they have helped shape the person he is. I know this isn’t the case, but I wish every man had the chance to be surrounded with such a strong, positive group of women. Having read the author’s thoughts on the subject, I am inclined to make the assumption that he hasn’t had this luxury. That would certainly explain some of the negative opinions he seems to have of women. I hope by writing this I am able to restore some faith in this country’s men–faith that any female who read Forney’s article surely lost.

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

P.S. I’m sure a lot of people who read Forney’s article will become angry and feel the need to lash out. I would ask you not to do that. I spent some time looking at the author’s Twitter account yesterday and he is clearly feeding off of the backlash and vitriol some women are spewing back at him. I am not saying that it isn’t deserved, but he is clearly enjoying the fact that he is causing women so much anger and frustration. Either don’t respond to it, or do so respectfully. Don’t stoop to his level.

Dominic_RaiolaWhat year is it? Oh, it’s 2013? Good to know, because Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola set us back a few years today before and after the Lions began their game against the Green Bay Packers.

The Wisconsin Band, one of the best in the nation I must say, typically performs for at least one Packers home game during the season. As someone who grew up across the street from three boys who have ALL played the tuba and marched in the band I am very familiar with this tradition and I have seen numerous pictures of them during these events. In fact, my best friend even got to do a Lambeau Leap into the crowd after his performance (a childhood dream for any die hard Packer fan). The Packer faithful love the band, and the band loves performing at these events. It is truly a win-win, but that wasn’t the case today thanks to Raiola.

According to a Wisconsin tuba player, Raiola and his teammates were engaged in their pregame warm-ups on the field near the goal line when he turned around and called him and the other tubas “Fat mother f**kers” and told them that “they sucked.” According to that tuba player no one in the band had done anything to provoke him, and no other band members I spoke with witnessed anything that could have provoked Raiola. The tuba player I spoke with made sure to point out that the rest of the band hadn’t even been on the field yet, and none of the tuba players said anything to him, so no one in the band could have provoked Raiola prior to him making those comments.

As the band was preparing to play the National Anthem another band member told me Raiola was yelling at him, saying such things such as “Hey fat guy, you want a hot dog?” When this band member did not acknowledge him, he continued to yell at other band members within earshot of him until the band began to play. A third band member told me Raiola was calling a band member near him a “fat fu**” prior to their pregame performance as well.

After the band’s halftime performance multiple band members I spoke with told me he and multiple other band members vividly heard Raiola ridicule a trombone player’s weight while they were performing. One band member reported hearing a female member of the band say “Hey number 51,” referring to Raiola, which multiple band members told me he responded to by calling her “the c-word” as they were walking back to their seats.

This is all in addition to this facebook status which has been shared 243 times as of this writing:

Zach York Facebook Status

According to this band member Raiola made comments regarding his sexuality, as well as other insults involving his sister and recently deceased mother. An additional band member confirmed this story, adding that one such insult was “[Raiola] was going to take his trumpet and shove it up his sister’s p***y” in addition to Raiola “repeatedly calling him a f*g.” According to this band member “as soon as we stopped for our position to play the National Anthem I just heard [Raiola] yelling continually at him.”  Multiple other members of the band reported hearing Raiola uttering homophobic slurs throughout his unprovoked denigrating of the students prior to the National anthem.

This is a developing story and as I confirm more information regarding this story I will be sure to update this post. Raiola, 34, is the longtime starting center for the Detroit Lions. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2001 NFL Draft and has been a regular starter since the 2002 season. He played college football at the University of Nebraska.

It is worth noting that while Raiola’s comments were completely uncalled for, a band member confirmed to me that Lions safety Louis Delmas apologized to him and other members of the band for Raiola’s actions and assured them that he had spoken with him about it. He also added that he enjoyed their performance.

Update: 11:31 am CT 10/7/13

For those asking, I have emailed the Lions director of Media Relations for comment and have not heard back as of this time. At least one other writer has attempted to reach them for comment and has not heard yet back either.

Update: 11:37 am CT 10/7/13

The Lions have issued a statement, this is via Chris McCosky of Detroit News and DetroitNews.com:
@cmccosky: Lions statement on Raiola: “Those reports are extremely inconsistent with the standard of behavior we expect from our players.”
@cmccosky: More from Lions: “We currently are gathering more information and will respond further when appropriate.”

Update: 11:48 CT 10/7/13

Jay Sorgi (@jsorgi) interviewed the father of a band member who witnessed it, listen to the interview and read his article on it here: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/green-bay-packers/Report-Lions-player-tosses-epithets-at-UW-Band-during-Packers-game-226755831.html

Update: 12:05 CT 10/7/13

My colleague Jeff Risdon weighs in on the Raiola comments: http://www.detroitlionsdraft.com/2013/10/raiola-and-the-band/

Update: 12:20 pm CT 10/7/13

Jay Sorgi interviews a band member who heard the comments Raiola made: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/green-bay-packers/Report-Lions-player-tosses-epithets-at-UW-Band-during-Packers-game-226755831.html

Update: 1:53 pm CT 10/8/13

Dominic Raiola has issued an apology. Here is the link courtesy of Jay Sorgi: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/green-bay-packers/Lions-player-apologizes-for-attacks-UW-Band-members-during-Packers-game-226935431.html

Update: 1:58 pm CT 10/8/13

This will likely be the final update, Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Lions will not discipline Raiola and that he is making a donation to the Wisconsin Band program. No word on how much money he is donating. http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/10/08/dominic-raiola-donates-to-wisconsin-band-wont-be-disciplined-2/

NFL Weekly Picks: Week 3

Hey guys, sorry I didn’t have time to get my weekly picks post up last week. I just moved back to Minnesota so now that I am settling in hopefully I will be able to get into a groove with all of these weekly posts that I want to do. So, without further ado, here are my NFL Weekly Picks!

Eagles over Chiefs- I think the Eagles’ offense will be too much for the Chiefs to slow down, but it may come down to whether or not the Eagles defense can stop anyone. Thus far the answer to that question is no. Still, I’m going with Chip Kelly and the home team Eagles in this match-up, especially since the Chiefs have Dunta Robinson on their roster.

Packers over Bengals- The Bengals got a solid win against the Steelers last week but the Packers offense looked borderline unstoppable last week against the Redskins. The Bengals defense is a significantly better unit, but I think the Packers will be able to put up enough points to win this one. If Andy Dalton plays well he could make things interesting though, and I’m not sold on the Packers defense yet. Still, it’s tough to bet against Aaron Rodgers in this match-up even on the road.

Rams over Cowboys- This might surprise some people, but the Rams are a good football team and they gave my Falcons a run for their money last week. The Cowboys couldn’t quite figure out the Kansas City Chiefs, and while the ‘Boys have a lot of talent on offense the Rams are a talented defensive football team that I think has a chance to match-up with the Cowboys on offense. Of course, if Dez Bryant goes off for 180 yards and a touchdown like Julio Jones did last week then I would be completely wrong on that. Still, I have a feeling the Rams will play well in this game and I think they can beat Tony Romo and the Cowboys on the road.

Chargers over Titans- I’m realizing I’m picking a lot of road teams here so far, but I think the Chargers are the better football team in this match-up and it’s tough not to go with Philip Rivers over Jake Locker here. If Locker can pass accurately and use his legs effectively they could give the Chargers defense some problems, but most of us know the likelihood of both of those things happening consistently for four quarters is not likely.

Vikings over Browns- This would have been a more interesting game prior to the Trent Richardson trade, and there is something funny about the Browns making this trade with the Colts just days before they travel up to Minnesota to play the Vikings given that the Vikings are the team that traded down with Cleveland to allow them to move up to number three overall and select Richardson in the first place. The Browns offense has been struggling even with Richardson in the lineup, and it’s hard to imagine them being better without him even with Josh Gordon returning from suspension. The Browns do have a good defense though, so I expect both teams to score less than 20 points. The Vikings have the offensive advantage in this match-up though thanks to Adrian Peterson and a solid game from Christian Ponder, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and Jerome Simpson should be enough to win this one for the purple. However, it is worth mentioning that this is the kind of game the Vikings traditionally find a way to inexplicably lose.

Patriots over Buccaneers- The Buccaneers aren’t in great shape right now and while the Patriots have barely managed to defeat two rookie quarterbacks in consecutive weeks I don’t think Tom Brady and that offense are going to stay out of synch for more than a couple weeks. That should play to the Bucs advantage this week, but I don’t think it will be enough to get them a victory.

Saints over Cardinals- Originally I had the Cardinals winning this game, but it’s tough to travel into the Superdome and get a victory, particularly since the Saints defense looks significantly better through two weeks than it ever did last season. Carson Palmer has reinvigorated the Cardinals offense, and their defense is still respectable despite the loss of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, but I don’t think it will be enough to go into the Saints’ house and beat Drew Brees on his home turf.

Redskins over Lions- The Lions have shown plenty of flashes through the first two weeks, but I think they are going to come up short against a Redskins team that will likely be very motivated and focused after starting 0-2. It remains to be seen if the ‘Skins defense can get on track, but going up against the Eagles and the Packers in the first two weeks isn’t exactly a fair barometer for a defense, especially since they were essentially the NFL’s guinea pigs against Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offensive scheme. I think the Redskins will be motivated and hungry this week, so I’m giving them the edge over the Lions.

Giants over Panthers- I definitely didn’t expect the Giants to start the season out 0-2, but if Eli Manning can’t stop throwing interceptions they may be in for a long year. However, I am well aware that not all of those turnovers are his fault and I expect he and the Giants to get back on track against the Panthers. It would be really nice if David Wilson would get his act together and stop fumbling the ball, but the addition of Brandon Jacobs back into the fold should help provide at least a little stability in the running game. Maybe Cam Newton and the Panthers will surprise me, but I think the Giants are going to be motivated after starting 0-2 just like the Redskins are. I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about the Panthers yet or not.

Texans over Ravens- The Ravens offense has been ineffective thus far this season and I don’t anticipate them getting back on track against the talented Texans defense. If Andre Johnson can play the Ravens will get to see the Texans explosive combination of Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson AND DeAndre Hopkins who was one of my favorite wide receivers in last year’s loaded draft class. He caught the game-winning touchdown last week against the Titans, so I think the Texans are ready to beat the Ravens on the road this week.

Dolphins over Falcons- It pains me to do this, but the Falcons got way too banged up last week to go on the road and beat the Dolphins in my opinion. I think Ryan Tannehill is about to go off, and Lamar Miller may have a big day as well. Not only that, but Brent Grimes is a sure bet to pick off Matt Ryan in this game and I just don’t think the Falcons will be able to overcome Roddy White not being at 100%, Steven Jackson being out (though Jason Snelling will hopefully get a lot of touches), Kroy Biermann being out for the year, Bradie Ewing being out for the year, AND Sean Weatherspoon being out until Week 11. That’s a lot to replace and account for in one week, and while I think they will be able to survive those set-backs long term I’m not sure they can get away with it this week, so I give the advantage to the Dolphins at home.

Bills over Jets- In the battle of rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Geno Smith I’ve got to give Manuel and the Bills the edge in this one. The Jets defense is still a quality unit despite the departure of Darrelle Revis, but Geno Smith made some questionable decisions and poorly executed throws in the elements against New England last week, and I have been shocked by how well EJ Manuel has been playing thus far. The Bills coaching staff has done a great job managing him thus far, and I trust Nathaniel Hackett to gameplan well more than I trust Marty Mornhinweg to do the same, so I am going with the Bills in this one. May the best rookie QB win. I must say, I was shocked and critical of the Manuel pick at 16 overall, but defeating Geno Smith (who I expected to come off the board first of all the quarterbacks) would be a pretty big vindication for EJ Manuel and the entire Bills organization. It would also make me look stupid, so that’s probably why it will happen.

49ers over Colts- This is an interesting one and it will be worth monitoring just how involved Trent Richardson will be in this game given that he is unfamiliar with the system and has no chemistry with the team at all, but the 49ers are the better squad and are likely very pissed off after the way they lost that game to division rival and offseason Cold War opponent Seattle on Sunday Night. The 49ers should come out firing and it will take a terrific performance from Andrew Luck to leave Candlestick with a victory.

Seahawks over Jaguars- #BecauseJaguars and #AllRussellWilsonEverything

Bears over Steelers- I thought Marc Trestman might give the Bears offense a tune-up and he appears to have done just that, and it makes me happy to see Jay Cutler playing well. The Steelers offense is completely devoid of playmaking at this point and I don’t anticipate they will be able to take advantage of the Bears defense enough to come away with a victory even at home.

Broncos over Raiders- The Broncos are playing some terrific football right now and they are looking especially sharp on the offensive side of the ball so far. They simply have more talent than the Raiders do at this point, though I think Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden may give the Broncos defense a few headaches. It would be a truly fantastic upset if the Raiders were able to come away with a victory against the Broncos on the road, I just don’t see it happening.

Thanks for reading, hopefully I do better this week than I did during the openers. Enjoy the games this weekend!

–Tom

Current 2013 Pick Record: 9-6

NFL Quick Hits: Week 2

This post will have to be more brief than my original one, partially because I missed the majority of the late afternoon games as well as the 49ers-Seahawks game (despite the delay) because of my move. Still, I want to write up my thoughts on the games I was able to see this week, so here there are.

New Message: Missing You. Sender: Tom Brady. Recipients: Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez: The Patriots are 2-0, but barely. They eeked out a win week one against a rookie quarterback and the Buffalo Bills and needed three interceptions from their defense to hang on for a 13-10 win against Geno Smith and the New York Jets this past Thursday. Shane Vereen got hurt after a very productive opening week and Stevan Ridley has started slowly in the first two weeks. On top of that, Danny Amendola was hurt against the Jets, Gronkowski is still out, Hernandez is long gone and so is Wes Welker. Julian Edelman was the only receiver Brady could trust to catch the ball and he targeted him very frequently as a result, though Aaron Dobson had three solid catches for 56 yards and the Patriots’ only touchdown. However, he caught those three passes on a whopping 10 targets from Brady and had at least a couple drops from what I saw watching the game live. Brady let his frustration show throughout the game and it’s easy to understand why. He’s used to sure-handed receivers that are on the same page as him, but it was clear that everyone on the unit outside of Edelman was still working out the kinks with Brady. This was perfectly shown on one 3rd down play in the red zone where Dobson was running a corner route and as he got to the goal line Brady fired a pass expecting him to have read the coverage, recognize the hole in the zone and sit down for an easy touchdown. Instead, Dobson continued running his route and the pass fell incomplete and led to a field goal attempt which left Brady incensed as he came off the field and on the sideline. Hopefully Amendola won’t be out for longer than a couple weeks and Gronkowski should be back either this week or next, so Brady won’t have to put up with this indefinitely. As frustrating as this is for him right now it might pay some dividends later in the season if he gets on the same page with Dobson and rookie undrafted free agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins early on. Once Amendola and Gronkowski are back (and if they stay healthy) having Dobson, Thompkins and Edelman as reliable complementary options could provide this offense with a significant spark, not to mention if the running game gets going and Vereen returns healthy after he is activated from the injured reserve. The silver lining for the Jets is that Geno Smith flashed some upside in this game despite his three interceptions (though some of the throws he made late in the game were awful and complete head scratchers) and Chris Ivory seems poised to take over as a potential bell cow as he comes back from injury. That would be great for the Jets because they need a running game to help take some of the pressure off of Smith’s shoulders, there’s no way he should be throwing the ball 35 times in poor conditions against Tom Brady and the Patriots in his second career start. As out of synch as the Patriots offense was at times, the Jets defense has been better than a lot of people assumed it would be after losing it’s best player in Darrelle Revis, further proving that Rex Ryan may not be a media darling but he is a very good defensive football coach. We’ll see if that continues, but I don’t expect the Patriots to continue to struggle on offense like this for more than two or three weeks, and hopefully Chris Ivory will stay healthy and help keep Smith from needing to attempt 30+ passes in a game for a while.

It’s A Good Thing the Falcons Played at Home Because They Know Where All the Hospitals Are: Steven Jackson is already hurt and may be out another two to four weeks with a thigh injury. Bradie Ewing is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Kroy Biermann is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Sean Weatherspoon is on IR and is eligible to return week 11 because of a Lisfranc injury. Roddy White is playing through his injury but was clearly limited in week two as he was targeted just three times for three receptions and 21 yards. Julio Jones was on the injury report but thankfully went off for 181 yards and one touchdown against the Rams. The Falcons can survive without Steven Jackson thanks to Jason Snelling (if they ever give him the ball) and Jacquizz Rodgers as a change of pace back, they can survive while Roddy White is largely a decoy if Harry Douglas keeps catching 80% of his targets like he did against the Rams (4/5), they can survive without Ewing at fullback like they did all last season, and they can find a way to replace Biermann’s production as a pass rusher and hopefully his versatility to drop into coverage as well as his terrific motor. However, it’s going to be hard to replace ‘Spoon’s value to the linebacking corp because the Falcons were already thin there and relied on rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu from Texas State to help solidify that unit already. Now they will be scrambling to either add a veteran or will be forced to call up one of the young linebackers who didn’t make the team such as Pat Schiller. The Falcons have been hit hard by injuries already this year, but it’s not time to hit the panic button yet. However, they really need to work on establishing the run game against the Dolphins this upcoming week because running the ball 16 times for 36 yards (2.3 ypc) is embarrassing, particularly when your most effective runner (Jason Snelling) only got 2 carries and managed 19 yards and a touchdown despite the coaching staff almost deliberately trying not to give him the ball. Ryan was brilliant despite the lack of even a semblance of a running game, but expecting him to be that brilliant without a running game consistently is asking for a let down. Feed Snelling and let him take some of the heat off Ryan by getting him in more favorable 2nd and 3rd down situations. I haven’t been able to go back and rewatch the game yet, but Sam Bradford finally seems to have some weapons around him to do some damage with. Chris Givens gives him a deep threat that the Rams have been missing for years, and despite not liking him out of Boise State Austin Pettis has stuck around and remained productive despite lacking any explosiveness what so ever. The Rams, too, need to establish a running game and Daryl Richardson is the man they expect to do it. Still, he only got 10 carries and mustered 35 yards, but I still hope the Rams will give Benny Cunningham a chance to show what he can do. He is my favorite running back on the Rams roster and I really think he and Isiah Pead could do some damage splitting carries. The Rams defense is definitely talented enough to contend, it all comes down to whether Sam Bradford and the offense can take that next step this year now that he has some weapons to throw to.

Aaron Rodgers Is Still A Robot: I watched almost the entirety of the Packers-Redskins game and it honestly scared me watching Rodgers play quarterback. He had 335 yards passing at HALFTIME and finished with 480 yards, tying the passing record set by Packers legend Matt Flynn. He also threw four touchdowns while completing an insane 34 of his 42 passing attempts. His “QBR” of 80.9 is proof that ESPN’s rating system for quarterbacks is a complete joke because Rodgers was nothing short of masterful against the Redskins. On top of that the Packers also got 132 yards and a touchdown out of James Starks who was forced into action after Eddie Lacy was knocked out of the game with a concussion. RGIII on the other hand had a tougher day and started much slower than Rodgers did (though Rodgers was under pressure frequently during the first couple series). He still managed to finish the game with 320 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 26/40 passing, but only ran the ball four times for a total of one yard. The Redskins are clearly trying to limit the contact that RGIII is taking, but it’s hurting the offense’s effectiveness early on in games if you ask me. The ‘Skins are 0-2 now and RGIII and that offense will have to get things going earlier if they are going to turn things around. We’ll see when the Shanahans are comfortable turning him loose on his surgically repaired knee.

Rivers Gets Redemption, Steals Victory From Vick, Eagles: Philip Rivers bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Texans the week before by winning on a last second field goal against the Eagles this past week. Rivers completed 36/47 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns, all of which went to his new favorite target Eddie Royal who now has five touchdowns in just two games. Who saw that coming? Not me. I wasn’t happy to see Malcolm Floyd sustain a neck injury when he got sandwiched by two Eagles defenders over the middle, but his injury gave Keenan Allen a chance to get on the field and he caught two of his three targets for 34 yards including a BEAUTIFUL route on a deep in for his first NFL reception. Allen was my #1 ranked wide receiver in the 2013 NFL Draft class so I am excited that he might be getting more playing time even if it is because Floyd went down with an unfortunate injury. Rivers’ performance also overshadowed a terrific game from Mike Vick who threw for a career best 428 yards on 23 of 36 passing and two touchdowns. He also added six rushes for 23 yards and another score on the ground. LeSean McCoy only got 11 carries for 53 yards but he and DeSean Jackson were lethal in the passing game as McCoy totaled 114 yards on just five receptions and Jackson reeled in nine passes good for 193 yards and a touchdown. Chip Kelly’s offense is certainly fun to watch, but I am not surprised that the Eagles’ defense is struggling to stop opposing offenses from gaining a lot of yards and putting up a lot of points. They’re giving up 30 points per game through the first two weeks and that isn’t going to cut it in a division with the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys all capable of putting up a lot of points on any given Sunday.

Texans “Nuke” Titans: For years Texans fans and NFL Draft analysts alike have been waiting and wondering when the Texans would get a legitimate wide receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson and 2013 was finally the year as the Texans added DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was my #4 ranked wide receiver in an absolutely loaded class but I am a huge fan of his and was not surprised to see him help the Texans rally despite losing Andre Johnson to a possible concussion in the 4th quarter. He finished the game with seven receptions for for 117 yards and the game winning touchdown in overtime in just his second game during his rookie season. It’s clear “Nuk” Hopkins is living up to the hype so far, and it’s great to see such a talented player blossom under the tutelage of a longtime NFL star in Andre Johnson.

Bengals, Bernard Burst Past Steelers: This wasn’t as fun of a game as I was hoping it would be largely in part because the Steelers offense is in a very bad way right now. Outside of Antonio Brown and occasionally Emmanuel Sanders there are no playmakers (Markus Wheaton has barely gotten any snaps the first two weeks) and Heath Miller was out for this game as well. Big Ben will be happy once Le’Veon Bell and Miller return because Bell should help perk up the running game even though Maurkice Pouncey will be out the entire season. Ray Lewis seemed to think that this was a devastating blow to the Steelers, and contrary to what I have read from some media members I tend to side with Ray. It’s easy to overlook how critical a center is to the offensive line sometimes, but players like Pouncey (even if he hasn’t been at his best for the last year or so) don’t come around too often. Add to that the departure of Mike Wallace and Miller’s injury and it’s not hard to see why the Steelers are struggling out of the gate this year. The defense is still strong, but they struggled to match up with the quickness of Giovani Bernard out of the backfield as well as the athleticism of Jermaine Greshman and Tyler Eifert. The Bengals continue to look like a very good team at pretty much every position except quarterback where I still have my reservations about Andy Dalton despite the fact that he is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Bengals have done well to surround him with weapons to get the most out of him that they can, but I think he plateaued after his rookie season and I don’t think he will ever take the next step from being a solid quarterback to being a good or great one. He settled down in this game and helped steer the Bengals to victory, but he was missing some throws he has to make to Eifert and AJ Green, two players with massive catch radii, that he has to make if he wants to lead the Bengals to the playoffs consistently, much less on a deep playoff run. The Bengals don’t seem to be totally convinced that Dalton is “the guy” yet either or they probably would have signed him to a contract extension, so it will be interesting to see how the season plays out, if Dalton takes the next step, and what the Bengals elect to do with him prior to him becoming a free agent.

Well, it was slightly more brief than last week. Hopefully you all enjoyed my thoughts, let me know what you think and if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve written here.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

NFL Quick Hits

This is a feature I’m going to try every week where I post some hopefully brief thoughts on the past weekend of NFL games. I don’t know if I’ll have time to do the same with College Football games, but I will post them if I have time to write them all up. Hopefully you guys enjoy this segment.

1- The Falcons Are Who We Thought They Were- I’m sure most of you guys know I’m a Falcons fan by now, and that loss to the Saints was tough. The Falcons scored on their opening drives in both halves, but otherwise were very inconsistent on offense. I’m wondering why they ran the ball so infrequently despite Steven Jackson having solid success on the ground, and I’m also wondering how they managed to hold Drew Brees and the Saints to 23 points despite a lackluster pass rush. I’m not too worried about the offensive line yet, I think they will gel and become a stronger unit, but the amount of pressure in Matt Ryan’s face and the inexplicable avoidance of the run game and quick-hitting pass game to try to counter the pressure was frustrating. Brees was on point as always and I was impressed with the Saints dramatic improvement on defense. Rob Ryan has done a great job with them up to this point, and the pressure they got on Ryan and the looks they were showing him pre-snap stuck out to me. The Falcons will be fine, but I don’t think they are a 13-3 team like they were a year ago. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think they are in the 10-6/11-5 area. We shall see.

2- Peyton Manning Needs To Stop Playing On Rookie- The way Manning was playing on Thursday night it is evident to me he was just playing Madden on a rookie setting, and a veteran with his resume should be playing on All-Madden at least, and preferably with a number of the sliders raised manually beyond that. Manning was obviously masterful, and that was despite having no running backs with a yard per carry average over 3.8 and only gaining 65 total yards on the ground. Joe Flacco came down to Earth after his fantastic playoff performances and it’s clear to me that he is missing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta right now. Torrey Smith is a stud, but he can only do so much without a significant threat to take some pressure off of him. Dallas Clark surprised me with 7 catches for 87 yards, and if he can keep that up the loss of Pitta shouldn’t be quite as significant. I am a huge Demaryius Thomas fan and had a top 20 grade on him out of Georgia Tech and he has completely lived up to my expectations for him. I definitely expected Decker to be the #2 guy and Welker to be the 3rd option, but if the first week is any indication then Welker is going to get a lot of love from Manning this year. I don’t think 2 catches for 32 yards will be a typical week for Decker by any means, but I think I definitely underrated Welker’s potential impact coming into the year. I was also blown away by how well Duke Ihenacho and Shaun Phillips played. I liked Ihenacho out of San Jose State but realized some of his athletic limitations, however he had 12 tackles (including ELEVEN solo stops), 1 tackle for loss and 3 pass deflections as well as some pretty nice hits in this game. Phillips had 2.5 sacks and 3 QB hits on the night and definitely helped make up for the absence of Von Miller for at least one night. The Broncos looked like they were in mid-season form, but I don’t think the Ravens are going to have that much trouble on offense or defense for the entire season. They have lots of new faces on their roster and they need time to gel, and Manning took full advantage. Don’t hit the panic button yet Ravens fans.

3- EJ Manuel Is Making Me Look Stupid- I was pretty clear that I was not a fan of EJ Manuel at FSU and while it is still very early in his career my analysis of him is looking quite foolish right now. I have been very impressed with how Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have managed Manuel starting from his first pre-season snaps. They haven’t asked him to go out there and be Tom Brady, but much like Cam Newton his rookie season they will likely open up the playbook and let him attack more as he becomes more comfortable. I was happy to see Robert Woods get his first NFL catch and his first NFL touchdown, but Manuel got to see first hand that there’s almost nobody better than Tom Brady when the game is on the line. He may not have had a great day statistically, but when it counted he took the Pats down the field and got them in position to win the game. Danny Amendola predictably had a good game, I loved what Shane Vereen did and I was very sad to see that he is going to miss significant time due to a broken wrist (which he apparently suffered on the first play of the game!). I am hoping that Spiller was given limited touches because of his lost fumble, and not because he is inexplicably being mismanaged again in 2013. Regardless, Bills fans should be very encouraged by the early returns on EJ Manuel.

4- “Same Old Bungles”- That is for my good friend Ryan Koons who is now an active duty marine. He is a die hard Bengals fan and whenever they manage to lose a game like this that is what he would always say. I have to say I really thought those days were behind Cincinnati because on paper I thought they were ready to win the AFC North. However, Andy Dalton continues to make me wonder about just how far the Bengals can go with him as a quarterback even in spite of the absolutely fantastic play of AJ Green. The Bengals have tons of talent on defense, they’ve got weapons on offense, but if they are going to win close games and go deep in the playoffs they need Dalton to play better and limit his turnovers. The run game deserves some ire as well as the Bengals only averaged 3 yards per touch and totaled 63 yards on the ground. On the other side I thought Jay Cutler, overall, had a good game and Brandon Marshall was fantastic. The Bears running game was sluggish as well, and hopefully that offensive line will slowly gel and improve over the course of the season. I know that probably makes Bears fans nervous because they’ve been waiting for that offensive front to improve for years, but I’m hoping this is the year for their sake.

5- Reggie Bush Is Dangerous, Christian Ponder Is Not- The Lions put up 38 points on the Vikings defense and a lot of that is due to Reggie Bush totaling 90 yards on the ground (4.3 ypc) and 101 yards and one touchdown as a receiver (with a long of 77). That’s very impressive production, and it comes despite only hauling in four of his eight targets on the day. Matt Stafford had another high attempt, high yardage day and while it wasn’t the most efficient performance it certainly got the job done. I wouldn’t expect too many four catch, 37 yard days for Calvin Johnson, but Bush, Nate Burleson and Joique Bell took the pressure off of him this week. On the other side Christian Ponder continues to prove his doubters right as he threw 3 interceptions, got sacked three times and lost a fumble on the day. He also spoiled a fantastic game for Jerome Simpson who had 7 catches and 140 yards which I certainly didn’t expect from him. Adrian Peterson had a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry but gained only 15 additional yards on his next 17 carries, but still managed 93 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as 18 yards and another touchdown receiving. I will be the first to admit that I liked Ponder out of FSU (clearly I’m 0/2 on scouting Florida State quarterbacks right now) but he doesn’t have the same velocity he had prior to the injuries he sustained his senior year, he isn’t making good decisions and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Cassel start at some point this season for the Vikings. That’s not a good sign, and it likely means the Vikings will be looking to draft a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft. I have been patient with Ponder and he occasionally shows signs of life, but unfortunately now that he’s in his 3rd year these kinds of struggles won’t be tolerated anymore. He’s got to step up his game and quick.

6- Pryor Makes Oakland Offense Almost Competent- I really feel like I am ruining any credibility I have as a quarterback scout but I liked Tyler Wilson a lot out of Arkansas and I didn’t like Terrelle Pryor out of Ohio State, but I am glad the Raiders elected to start Pryor over Matt Flynn. Pryor’s legs gave the Raiders life in this game and while I don’t think it will get them to the playoffs it should make them more competitive than they would have been with Flynn at the helm. I didn’t get to see as much of this game as I wanted to because the feed went out for it multiple times at the bar I was watching the games at (for some reason it was streaming online, not sure why), so outside of Pryor impressing me as a runner and Andrew Luck being a stud I don’t have too many thoughts on this game. Sorry guys.

7- Nolan Nawrocki Your Crow Is Ready- I know it’s early, and I know it’s only his first start, but it was fun to see Geno Smith rally the Jets to an unlikely win against Tampa Bay week one. I’m not going to say he made some unbelievable plays on that final drive to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but if Sanchez was the QB on that final drive I don’t think the Jets would have won that game. Smith isn’t known for his scrambling, but his athleticism was obvious at the NFL combine and he gave the Jets a chance to get lucky thanks to his skill set. He wasn’t mind-blowingly efficient by any means, but it was definitely a solid first start based on what I was able to see. Unfortunately for Bucs fans Josh Freeman struggled (though the Jets do still have a good, well-coached defense) and despite 154 yards from Vincent Jackson he only managed 210 yards on 31 attempts, was sacked three times and threw one touchdown and one interception. I wasn’t a Freeman fan coming out and his first season it really looked like he might make me eat my words, but he seemed to plateau after that rookie season and hasn’t quite been the same since.

8- Kaepernick Is The Truth- I wasn’t wild about Kaepernick’s throwing motion or accuracy coming out of Nevada, but Jim Harbaugh has done a fantastic job with him and that offense is now tailor made for him. It certainly helps having weapons like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis (even though Davis had a drop or two that he shouldn’t have) while Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are injured, but his athleticism, pure arm strength and seemingly improving accuracy really stood out to me against the Packers. Green Bay had absolutely no answer for the Kaepernick-Boldin connection and while they managed to keep him bottled up as a runner he shredded them for 412 yards and three touchdowns as a passer. The Packers will have to go back to the drawing board now to try to figure out how to slow Kaepernick down if they meet again in the playoffs. I thought Aaron Rodgers was great as usual even if he did come up just short, I still love Randall Cobb, and I was happy Jermichael Finley bounced back from that drop that led to Rodgers only interception with some solid catches, good yards after the catch and that impressive touchdown. The Packers should be fine and I think they will be a playoff team, but I’m sure they and their fans are annoyed that another referee controversy led to a do-over for the 49ers that led to an Anquan Boldin touchdown. Maybe I’m alone here, but I think the NFL downgrading Bill Leavy for that mistake is ridiculous. Leavy is a veteran official and while he made a mistake this just reeks of an overreaction to me.

9- RGIII Was Rusty, The Eagles Offense Wasn’t- The Eagles defense made this interesting in the second half as RGIII and the Redskins started to knock some of the rust off, but in the first half RGIII had a lot of issues fading away from throws and not stepping into his passes. He still did some of that in the 2nd half, but he was definitely much more crisp and effective once his receivers stopped dropping passes and Kyle Shanahan adjusted to get him into a rhythm with quicker, easier throws. Michael Vick was impressive, though he’s still the same Michael Vick that will hold onto the ball too long and take unnecessary risks with his body at times. LeSean McCoy looks like an ideal fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and he should have a huge year. I was also happy to see that one of my favorites from a couple years ago Mychal Kendricks looked much better (based on what I saw live) and was pressuring RGIII pretty consistently. I’m not sure he’s great in coverage, but it was fun to see him rushing some of Griffin’s throws. Additionally, that interception Cary Williams made on that out route that Griffin threw was nothing short of fantastic. What a terrific play.

10- Oh Philip Rivers, You Poor Bastard- Rivers was absolutely fantastic in the 1st half and he started off the 2nd half in the same fashion. He had the Chargers up 28-7 and seemed poised for a statement victory in week one of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, much like he and the Bolts have in the past, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Rivers and the offense began to sputter, the Texans woke up on offense, and the rally was complete once Brian Cushing read Rivers’ eyes beautifully and made a diving interception that he then returned for a game-tying touchdown. The Texans would go on to move the ball down the field and position Randy Bullock for a game winning 41 yard field goal. Andre Johnson continued to show why he is one of the best in the game with a 12 reception, 146 yard performance, Owen Daniels chipped in 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Hopkins added five receptions and 66 yards. I thought Arian Foster seemed determined to make a big play all game and didn’t seem focused on doing the little things. He was palming the ball and holding it away from his body, he dropped multiple catchable balls, and almost seemed to be showing off and looking to make someone look foolish. Maybe that’s just me over-extrapolating, but he seemed off tonight. I’d be surprised if Gary Kubiak doesn’t talk to him about how he’s holding the ball after he and the other coaches watch film.

Alright, so that was a LOT less brief than I expected it to be. I guess I had more to say than I anticipated, though I shouldn’t really be surprised since I am so long winded anyway. Sorry that was such a long post, hopefully you enjoyed it anyway!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

Size: Lucas has very impressive size for an offensive tackle as he is listed at 6’8”, 328 pounds. He has very long arms and certainly looks the part from a length standpoint, but he needs to gain noticeable weight in his lower half to continue to improve his anchor and give him a chance to generate better movement in the run game when blocking 1 on 1.

Athleticism: For such a huge man Lucas is a pretty impressive athlete. He rarely has issues getting to the second level, he can take away a defensive end’s speed rush off the edge, and he looks like he has the lateral agility to stick at left tackle in the NFL to me. He’s not an elite level athlete, and he probably won’t run that well in the 40 yard dash, but he looks the part of a NFL tackle to me.

Technique: This is one part of Lucas’ game that needs work in my opinion. His hand placement needs noticeable work and I think he got away with a number of pretty egregious holds in the games that I watched of him. He lets his hands get too far outside both in the run and pass game, and I think he needs to improve that before he will be a quality starter at the NFL level. There are times he bends at the waist which is concerning, but what is more concerning is how high he plays consistently. He regularly stands straight up when attempting to run block and while he is going to struggle naturally with pad level due to his height he rarely seems to bend his knees and attempt to win the leverage battle. He is also very rarely in a true 3 point stance, and I think operating out of the two point stance aids him in pass protection. When he is in the 3 point stance he tends to more or less stand straight up out of the stance whether he is run or pass blocking.

Pass Protection: This is the strongest part of Lucas’ game in my estimation. As I mentioned previously he has the athleticism, even at his mammoth size, to take away edge rushes from defensive ends. His length certainly aids him here and he does a good job getting out of his stance into his kick slide and not over-committing to stopping the speed rush very often. He struggles at times with power moves and bull rushes because of his issues with leverage and pad level though. He needs to get stronger so he can anchor and recover better, but if he doesn’t improve his pad level and work on bending his knees as he absorbs contact it won’t matter how strong he gets; he will still struggle to absorb bull rushes, anchor and recover. He showed the ability to recover when defenders got him off balance though which I was encouraged by. He’s not a quick-twitch athlete, but he showed that he could mirror defenders pretty effectively. He doesn’t show much of an initial punch to shock the defender, and I want to see him work on replacing his hands when they are slapped away by a pass rusher trying to avoid being engaged. He has plenty of upside in this phase of the game, he just needs coaching.

Run Blocking: This is the aspect of Lucas’ game that drives me up the wall. Despite his massive size and length he is extremely passive in this area of the game. He struggles with pad level and leverage in the run game much like he does in the pass game, only here it is even more pronounced. He rarely generates movement off the snap, he regularly stands straight up as he’s attempting to run block, and doesn’t play with any nastiness or tenacity in this phase of the game. He doesn’t consistently block to the whistle, he doesn’t finish blocks the way I would like him to, and he seems content with temporarily getting in the way with a wall off block, a reach block, or a combo block where he gets to the second level. He does get to the second level and engage linebackers consistently well, but he leaves a lot to be desired in his 1 on 1 run blocking against defensive ends (even those significantly lighter than he is). I don’t think he’s ever going to be a good drive blocker, and therefore he is going to be best in an offense that utilizes zone blocking concepts consistently. He has the athleticism to perform them all, he just hasn’t quite gotten the hang of the cut block yet. One of the parts of his game he really needs to improve on is short yardage. Those are the situations in which his “gentle giant” tendencies are most obvious. He doesn’t fire off the ball, he doesn’t win the leverage battle, and he doesn’t generate any push, which leads to his defender ending up in the backfield more often than not. From what I could see it looked like Kansas State rarely ran behind him when they really needed the yardage, and I don’t blame them. He has the size and length to be an effective run blocker, but he’s very far away from that at this point in his development. He needs significant coaching and technique work in this area.

Overall: Lucas is a difficult prospect for me to pinpoint exactly. He has all the size, length and athleticism you could ask for in a tackle as large as he is (and his height is almost a detriment at 6’8” or so) but he doesn’t have the strength or tenacity that I value in offensive linemen. I think he’s going to be an effective pass blocker at the next level with continued coaching, but it does concern me that he spends so much time in the 2 point stance and doesn’t seem overly comfortable coming out of a 3 point stance. That can be coached, but it’s something that gave me pause when watching him. The problem area is really his run blocking which I don’t think will ever get significantly better than it is now. He can effectively wall off and seal his man now, he can get to the second level to get a hat on a linebacker, he can double team with his guard or his tight end, and he can block down on a defensive tackle and seal him. He’s never going to be a good drive blocker who can generate push off the ball and unless his line coach can really light a fire under him I don’t think he’s going to consistently block to the whistle and make it a point to take his man out of the play each snap. He has that potential, but it has been almost completely unrealized at this point. He’s definitely a guy who needs some development, and it seems like Kansas State has found ways to gloss over some of his shortcomings (putting him in a 2 point stance and rarely asking him to drive block) but they will be on full display at the next level. He needs to start working to correct them.

Projection: 3rd-4th round. As much as I think he has significant upside as a pass protector his run blocking tanks his grade for me. There’s plenty of talent to work with here, but he needs significant coaching up. He’s worth a look on Day 2 and definitely on Day 3, but without significant improvement as a senior I don’t think he’s going to be drafted in the first two rounds.

Brandon Allen, QB, Sophomore- Allen is obviously young and inexperienced, but I think he has a lot of upside. He may not have quite as strong an arm as Brandon Mitchell (the man he beat out for the starting quarterback job) but he definitely has adequate velocity based on what I’ve seen. I think he can add even more velocity if he starts using his lower body better, as he is making a lot of “all arm” throws right now in my opinion. However, he showed pretty good accuracy, he is athletic and can throw on the run, and supposedly has been emerging as a leader since he was named the starter. He’s listed at 6’3”, 214 pounds and only threw 49 passes last year (completing 21) for 186 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Part of that is because he was the next guy in line after Tyler Wilson went down and had to start against Alabama as a freshman. He’s going to take his lumps as a brand new starter in the SEC this year, but I definitely think he has some long term upside.

Jonathan Williams, RB, Sophomore- I like what I saw from Williams in the spring game. He’s got some big shoes to fill since Knile Davis went so high in the draft (higher than I would have drafted him, to be sure) and I was one of the biggest Dennis Johnson fans last year (if not the biggest). However, the 6’0”, 220 pound running back showed impressive burst and athleticism for his size, he ran hard and gained some tough yards after contact. He’s powerfully built but he has enough athleticism to gain chunks of yardage and isn’t purely a power back. Not only that, but he showed some ability to make catches out of the backfield. He’s also surprisingly shifty for such a big running back which I really liked to see. I think he’s going to have a big year if Arkansas can give him the requisite blocking up front.

Nate Holmes, RB, Sophomore- Holmes is a speed demon, simple as that. He’s listed at 6’1”, 176 pounds but he has a lot of speed and is the fastest back that Arkansas has. He doubles as a punt returner and I really think that he has a chance to be a gamebreaker in that phase of the game. He’s not going to get a lot of carries I don’t think, but he could be worked in as a change of pace guy. He was held out of the first half of the spring game because of academic issues, so if he can stay eligible I think he can be a very valuable weapon for Arkansas.

Demetrius Wilson, WR, Senior- Wilson impressed me while I was watching the spring game. I don’t know how many receptions he ended up with, but he showed reliable hands and was able to make a couple of tacklers miss (particularly on curl routes) and gain extra yardage after the catch. He doesn’t look like a dynamic receiver necessarily, but I think he is going to easily surpass his 9 reception, 117 yard, 1 touchdown stat line from a year ago. He’s listed at 6’1”, 202 pounds and likely isn’t even on NFL draft radars as a possible undrafted free agent (he played some special teams for the Razorbacks last year for what it’s worth) so I am hoping he has a good year as a senior.

Javontee Herndon, WR, Senior- Herndon is one of the main guys returning for Arkansas at receiver, though that isn’t saying a whole lot. He is tied with Mekale McKay for the most receptions returning to Arkansas with 21, and is second to McKay in yards with 304 last year. He also added 3 touchdowns, the most of any receiver returning to Arkansas. The offense last year was essentially just throw the ball to Cobi Hamilton, and it showed as he totaled 90 receptions, 1,335 yards and 5 touchdowns, or 69 more receptions, 1,018 more yards and 2 more touchdowns than ANY receiver returning for 2013. That is a staggering differential, and I’m not sure Herndon or anyone on the roster is going to be able to be that “go to” guy that Hamilton was last year. Still, Herndon showed reliable hands, wiggle after the catch and seemed to be a solid route runner. He’s listed at 6’1”, 194 and he doesn’t exactly look like a burner, but he should be a reliable slot receiver for Arkansas as a senior. He’s likely in the undrafted free agent boat as well, but that can all change if he can finish his career on a strong note.

Mekale McKay, WR, Sophomore- McKay is the guy I think might have the chance to replace Hamilton’s vast production at some point. It may not be this year, but I think he’s got the most upside of any of the receivers I’m previewing. He’s listed at 6’6”, 195 pounds and definitely looks skinny when you watch him. He produced 21 receptions, 317 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman and is going to be relied upon as a significant contributor as a sophomore. He and Herndon are the two most productive receivers returning for Arkansas this year, so it will be interesting to see if his route running has improved since the spring game. He showed good hands and obviously has a large target radius, but he really needs to fill out his frame too. He still demonstrated to me that he can make a catch and take a hit, and while he isn’t a burner he has long strides so he can cover more ground than you might think. He’s got upside, so we’ll see what he can do as a sophomore.

Keon Hatcher, WR, Sophomore- Hatcher is a back-up on this team right now but he impressed me in the spring game. He’s likely not going to get much playing time this year, but he’s listed at 6’2”, 208 pounds, looked like a natural hands catcher and showed some wiggle after the catch. I think he’s going to be a significant contributor in the future, but may not be this year.

Travis Swanson, C, Senior- Swanson is the best prospect that the Razorbacks return on their offense, and he is considered by many as the top Center in the 2014 NFL Draft class. Initially when I watched him I was pretty underwhelmed, and he really seemed to struggle against Texas A&M’s Kirby Ennis, a 6’4”, 300 pound nose guard. He struggled to create push in the run game when blocking defensive linemen 1 on 1 in all the games that I watched which is contrary to what you might think given his listed size of 6’5”, 314 pounds. Still, he had a bad game against Texas A&M and that happens to everyone, it’s why you need to watch more than one game whenever possible. Swanson bounced back strong against Auburn and showed more mobility than I saw versus Texas A&M (almost to the point that I wondered if Swanson was playing through an injury that week) and looked more comfortable combo blocking and reaching linebackers at the second level. That was very encouraging to see, and it was also good to see him flash some ability to pull and make cut blocks. I think he needs work in this area, but there’s ability to work with there. He can generate push when double teaming with one of his guards, but he’s at his best when he can combo block, reach the second level, or seal off a defender without trying to push him off the ball. When he tries to generate push he tends to lean too much and it made him easy to shed for guys like Kirby Ennis of A&M and Isaac Gross of Ole Miss. There were times that Swanson really seemed to struggle with speed and quickness in the run game, and that was particularly evident against Ole Miss when Isaac Gross regularly beat him despite being listed as a 6’1”, 255 pound true freshman defensive tackle. He was much quicker than Swanson and that made it tough for him to initiate contact and keep him out of the backfield. However, despite some of his struggles in the run game I was quite impressed with him in the pass game. It’s evident that he is very smart and he makes very few mental mistakes based on what I was able to see. He isn’t easily fooled by twists, stunts, or late blitzes and seems comfortable making line calls and adjusting blocking schemes. That is good news, because he’s going to have to hold Brandon Allen’s hand a little bit in that regard since he has so little experience starting at quarterback in the SEC. He’s also regarded as a very good leader and that is very encouraging. I thought he showed a pretty solid anchor in pass protection, but I still think he can get stronger and improve it at this point in his career. He’s pretty tough to bull rush though, and a number of the issues I saw with him in the run game weren’t present in the pass game. He’s going to be a good pass protector in the NFL and I think he might be able to plug and play at the center position thanks to that skill set. He has experience snapping under center, in shotgun and the pistol thanks to Arkansas’ offense, and as I mentioned previously he has a lot of experience making line calls. I still want to see him continue to work on his hand placement, particularly in the run game, and there are times in pass pro where he tends to shuffle back in a strange way. He almost seems to be on his heels trying to gain depth after the snap, and it looks like if he was engaged he would really struggle to anchor and recover. He’s shown an ability to do that when I’ve watched him, but that shuffle looked strange to me. Regardless, he still needs work in the running game and I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the mauling run blocker you might expect given his size and weight, but he’s a good pass blocker with a high football IQ who I think has a long NFL career in front of him. At this point I have a 3rd round grade on him, so it will be interesting to see if he can boost his stock beyond that point during his senior season.

Chris Smith, DE, Senior- Smith is a defensive end that is listed at 6’3”, 266 pounds but I’d be surprised if he was really that tall and that heavy when officially measured and weighed, but that’s just my opinion of how he looks when I’m re-watching his games. He has a very impressive first step and that helps put offensive tackles on their heels immediately, and he does a good job working back inside if he gets them off balance. He flashes a solid bull rush, but after that his pass rush repertoire is fairly limited. He needs to learn to use his hands better and I worry about how long his arms are. There were a number of times that he was engulfed by larger, long armed offensive tackles. He needs to learn to slap their hands away and avoid getting locked up with them, but he also needs to learn to shed those blocks better with counter moves after he is inevitably engaged on some plays. He got washed out at times versus the run, particularly against those massive offensive tackles, but he’s no slouch in the run game either. He seems to have a good motor as well and that matches up nicely with his 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL and 4 pass break-ups from a year ago. He’s not great at getting his hands into passing lanes, but he at least flashes the ability to do it. I like him as a defensive end prospect and he’s a very solid 3rd rounder in my mind right now. That could obviously change with another strong season this year.

Trey Flowers, DE, Junior- I was relatively familiar with Smith having watched him the past couple seasons, but Flowers was a player I was completely unfamiliar with. I knew he was productive last year, but I hadn’t really watched him play. When I finally did I was blown away. I like Smith, but I love Flowers. He is a former linebacker who is listed at 6’4”, 256 pounds and he honestly reminds me of Barkevious Mingo when I watch him play. I don’t think he is that level of a freakish athlete, but he has a long, lanky frame that he can definitely stand to add weight to, he plays the run much better than you would expect given his frame and athleticism, and he’s a hell of a pass rushing prospect. He’s still learning the position, and he doesn’t have Smith’s elite get-off, but there is 1st round upside here in my opinion. Last year as a sophomore he notched 50 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 TFL, and 3 pass deflections. He packs a punch as a hitter, he’s got an impressive motor and he has been very disruptive and active in all of the games I’ve watched (albeit less disruptive against Texas A&M because he and Smith were playing contain the whole game). He sets the edge well, seems to understand how to control blockers with his long arms and then shed to make the tackle, and I’ve watched him beat an offensive lineman, then a running back, and then end up with a sack despite all of that. He’s a very impressive player and he and Smith are going to be a helluva pass rushing duo for Arkansas this year, and boy will they need it.

Deatrich Wise, DE, Sophomore- Wise is only a sophomore but he impressed me when I was watching Arkansas’ spring game. He is the back-up to Trey Flowers at defensive end but he definitely flashed some impressive athleticism when he got playing time. He is listed at 6’6”, 265 pounds and has very long arms. He just engulfs ball carriers when he wraps them up. Wise also has some burst and he flashed some bend as well. He’s still learning how to use his hands and obviously needs development, but he definitely intrigued me and he could be next in the line of promising pass rushers on Arkansas’ roster. Never thought I’d say those words a couple years ago!

Bryan Jones, DT, Senior- Jones looks like a solid defensive tackle prospect to me. I think he’s probably a day 3 guy right now, but he has more pass rushing upside than I previously believed when I started watching him. Initially I thought he was purely a run defender and wouldn’t add much to the pass rush at all, but over the next two games I saw more burst off the ball and a little more explosion than I anticipated which was encouraging to see. He’s listed at 6’2”, 310 pounds and produced 52 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3.5 TFL as a junior. He’s not on the same level as a prospect as Chris Smith or Trey Flowers in my opinion, but with a strong season I think he could boost his stock. He isn’t elite at the point of attack, but he is definitely reliable there and doesn’t get pushed around too easily versus the run. He’s not going to be a dynamic pass rusher, but he has flashed the ability to collapse the pocket with a bull rush and has flashed a pretty good swim move to beat a 1 on 1 block or split a double team. I’m looking forward to see if he takes any steps forward as a senior.

Robert Thomas, DT, Senior- Thomas didn’t get a ton of playing time as a junior but I think he’s going to surprise some people as a senior. He is projected to be a starter now and the 6’3”, 318 pound defensive tackle has some promise in my opinion. He only had 18 tackles last season, but he still managed 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFL despite starting only 2 games (though he registered one of those sacks against Louisiana Monroe and had his 2.5 TFL versus the run against Jacksonville State and Louisiana Monroe). Still, he showed me something and he isn’t easy to push off the ball either, though he has struggled at times versus double teams. I think he has more burst and explosion off the ball than Jones does and he seems to be more violent and play with more purpose than Jones does at times. He seems feisty to me and I think he has a good motor, while there are times I think Jones is going through the motions a little bit. We’ll see if he keeps that motor running full time now that he’s a starter, but I think he’s got a chance to boost his stock and get drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent.

Tevin Mitchel, CB, Junior- I really wish I had more notes on Mitchel because he’s an intriguing player but unfortunately between the camera angles and the teams Arkansas was playing in the games that I watched he wasn’t tested a whole lot. Mitchel is the boundary corner on Arkansas’ defense (or at least it seemed that way when I was watching them) meaning if the ball is on the left hash he will defend the outside receiver that lines up on the near sideline. The field corner (Will Hines) defends the outside receiver closest to the far sideline. The boundary corner is considered the more difficult position because you have less time to react before the ball gets there, which is why the more experienced Mitchel played there last season. He produced 34 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 4 pass deflections and 1 interception on the season. He’s listed at 6’0”, 181 pounds and he definitely has a lot of upside, but I need to see more of him before I will be able to evaluate him fairly. He spends a lot of time dropping into zone coverage, particularly Cover-3 according to my notes, so I’d like to see him a lot more in man coverage.

Will Hines, CB, Sophomore- I didn’t get to see as much of Hines as I would have liked when I watched Arkansas, but he’s got some upside and got playing time as a true freshman last year (including 9 starts). That’s obviously rough in the SEC, but he had 24 tackles, 4 pass break-ups and an interception despite that. Supposedly he had an up and down spring, but he had an interception (albeit on a pretty poor throw) in the spring game and has the size (6’1”, 191 pounds) that some NFL teams are starting to target in corners. I haven’t been able to evaluate him specifically yet, but he didn’t look especially fluid when I did see him. However, he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this year and in coming seasons.

Zach Hocker, K, Senior- Hocker caught my eye in the spring game during the bizarre kicking competition they had to try to give the defense some points. Normally I wouldn’t watch it, but Hocker has a legit NFL leg. He was 16/19 with a long of 51 as a freshman, but he hasn’t been quite as consistent since then. He was 21/27 with a long of 50 as a sophomore, and only 11/18 with a long of 46 as a junior. He’s got a strong leg though, he just needs to be more consistent. We’ll see if he can get back to his freshman year success, but he’s definitely got the leg to be a NFL kicker. He was just short of a 60 yard field goal in the spring game.

Johnny Manziel: Enough Is Enough

First of all, I just want to say that I am a little frustrated with myself for even writing this article. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of Johnny Manziel and the outrageous attention he has been receiving this offseason, and as a result I am very passionate on the subject. But as much as I have wanted to write this article for the past few weeks, I also regret doing it because it is just adding to the list of articles and news stories talking about him, and that is not something I am proud of doing. I am proud of what I have written here, but I am not proud of continuing to excessively discuss Manziel and everything that has happened to him. I think we have gone beyond overkill, and I think we all as members of the media and society need to take a step back and think about what we are doing and the impact it could have. However, in order to do that, I must talk about myself a bit to help create some context for why I think the way I do.

It seems pretty clear to me that Manziel is overwhelmed by everything that has happened to him, and I can’t say I blame him one bit. I am a NFL Draft analyst and I pride myself on finding potential stars or breakout players before the season starts, and even a week or two into the season I had never heard of Johnny Manziel. In that sense, watching him play and develop over the course of the season was beautiful to me. I didn’t see it coming at all, and that was refreshing. As I strive longer and harder to turn covering or participating in football into my long term career I am finding that making football my job removes a little bit of the fun from watching it. I can’t help but look up players I have never watched before when they make a play that sticks out to me. I can’t help but analyze the plays as they unfold, and I find it harder and harder to turn off the scout inside me and just watch the game to enjoy it. In a weird way, that is why I think I, in some miniscule way, understand what Manziel is attempting to grapple with.

Let me be very clear: I have never played a down of organized football. I worked for Beloit College’s football team for three years doing film work while I attended the school, but I have never played. I realize that makes what I just asserted seem completely ridiculous, but I have no interest in deceiving people by making them think that I too was a superbly talented quarterback who had to struggle to comprehend and control his own fame. That has never happened to me. However, I did grow up in affluent suburb called Edina in the state of Minnesota and I think I understand, in very small way, how Manziel has grown up. I lived in the same house for my entire life until two years ago when my parents told me they were getting a divorce. I visited during my school’s October break my senior year of college and everything was the same. My parents were clearly unhappy, my basketball hoop was still intact in the backyard, and all of my possessions were in my room or downstairs in front of our big screen TV. I was happy with things remaining the way they were, but I knew they wouldn’t be that way for long. When I came back for Thanksgiving just a month later my mom had moved into a new house 30 minutes away in the country and my dad had moved into an apartment ten minutes away, but still in the city of Edina. My house was empty and on the market, and I felt like I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye to it. It was my own fault for not doing so ahead of time, but I still I felt like I had missed the chance to pack up all of my things one possession at a time, reminisce about all the memories I had made in that house, and then make my peace as I moved on with my life. When I go home I still drive by my old house, thinking about all the memories I made living there for over 21 years of my life, and how lucky I was to have not had to move out of my family home until I had nearly graduated from college. But this clarity and perception of what was happening has only come to me after having been removed from that time period, and I am hopeful that the same will be true for Manziel, though by then I am afraid it might be too late.

Let me pose you all a question. How often after a tragic event happens to a celebrity or someone who is perceived to “have it all” do we all say “it’s always the happy ones” or “no one saw it coming”? I did not anticipate Junior Seau, a Hall of Fame linebacker with thousands of adoring fans, committing suicide as he unsuccessfully grappled with his life post-football. The point is, it’s not “always the happy ones,” it is always the ones that are perceived as happy from the outside, from fans, and from the media. As unfortunate as this is, Wright Thompson’s brilliant article on Manziel and his family have made it obvious: A tragic event may be coming. There are signs, the writing is on the wall, and yet no one is letting up. Everyone who writes about him continues to push him further and further to the brink. Why? Because he won a Heisman trophy? Because he tries to escape his own persona by living a normal college life? Because he makes mistakes??

I realize many people think Manziel is spoiled, and as a result have absolutely no sympathy for him. After all, he and his family are wealthy, if he wants something he can buy it, and even if he doesn’t succeed as a NFL quarterback he likely won’t ever be working two low-paying jobs just to pay the electric bill. But isn’t there an old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness, or did I just make that up? Just because you or I – complete outsiders as it pertains to Johnny Manziel’s life – think to ourselves, “Wow, if I had everything he has then I would be very happy with my life,” doesn’t mean that Manziel is happy. That likely has everything to do with his perspective as well as your own, but I don’t think there is anyone who has read an article about him that would argue that he doesn’t seem like he is troubled, or perhaps even deeply troubled. I have no proof of this, but I believe Manziel is partying and trying to have fun to escape the reality that he has stumbled into. And you know what? I don’t blame him. I’ve never been under nearly the same microscope that Manziel has been under, and yet I have gone out and partied to try to deal with the stresses of my life in a similar, albeit likely less extravagant, fashion. This all dawned on me over this past weekend that I spent in Madison, Wisconsin with my best friend since I was in middle school.

I woke up on Friday, July 26th and as I do most days I got up, grabbed my phone, and checked Twitter. I tend to get on Twitter and read my timeline like a personalized newspaper, catching up on things that may have happened over the hours that I was sleeping. It may seem ridiculous, but there have been many nights I have gone to bed at 2:00 or even 3:00 am and woken up the next morning behind on a story regarding a suspension, an arrest, or even at times, a death. That was the case on the morning of July, 30th when I woke up and saw an ESPN alert that Texas A&M’s Polo Manukainiu, and incoming Utah Ute Gaius Vaenuke had tragically lost their lives in a one vehicle accident.

However, last Friday, something much different happened. I looked at my Twitter notifications and to my shock and awe David Pollack, an ESPN analyst and member of the College Football Gameday crew, had followed me on Twitter. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. I watched Pollack dominate the SEC as a Georgia linebacker as I was growing up, and I watched him blossom into a very good NFL player prior to his career ending neck injury. I was relieved to see him land on his feet with ESPN and continue to be involved with football, something not all football players manage to do after their careers end whether on their own terms or someone else’s. Not only was I honored to have him follow me at all, but he was just shy of 95,000 followers (he has since exceeded that total) and follows under 100 people. It absolutely blew my mind, and I really couldn’t wrap my head around it. I immediately texted my best friend, asked him what he was doing this weekend, and in minutes it was decided that I would be heading up to Madison, Wisconsin – one of the country’s greatest college towns – to hang out with him on his last full weekend before he went back to school. I needed to get away and share the absurdity not only of David Pollack following me on Twitter, but of Bomani Jones, a man I have been reading and watching on ESPN First Take since I was in high school (if not longer) following me on Twitter two weeks beforehand. I may not have been Johnny Manziel but, not to toot my own horn, I felt like I was getting popular on Twitter. I began to think about whether or not I should get a personal account for my high school and college friends to interact with me on, something I never thought I would do, that I honestly thought was a ridiculously egotistical thing for anyone to do when I first created my NFL Draft Blog and Twitter account. “Why would I ever need a personal account and a professional one? Will I ever be that egomaniacal?” It seemed absurd to me, and yet here I was, contemplating the very thing that just a few years ago I practically swore I would never take myself seriously enough to do.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, the craziness did not end there. I went out with my best friend and some of his friends from college and had a great night. It really helped me get out of my own head. I woke up at 8:00 am the next morning, and while my friend slept in the other room, I began working on my Arkansas Razorbacks prospect preview by watching their entire Spring Game on YouTube prior to watching the games I have on my external hard drive. I completed my evaluations of about half of the players that I wanted to include in the preview, but decided to delve deeper into my evaluation of Travis Swanson, Arkansas’ highly touted senior center prospect who I have seen regarded as the top center in this class. He has all the size, football IQ and leadership capability you could want in a center, so without having scouted him it made sense that he would be discussed in such a way. However, upon watching him play I was disappointed. I expected a 1st or 2nd round player, but I felt like I was watching a 4th rounder. That shouldn’t sound like an insult (though I realize it likely comes off that way) because being drafted at all is a monumental accomplishment. I elected to tweet my thoughts about Swanson being a “mid-rounder”, not knowing what would ensue that afternoon.

A local TV reporter in Arkansas happened to see my tweet and in his response he casually mentioned that my opinion of Swanson seemed to fly in the face of what the Razorbacks’ new head coach, Bret Bielema, seemed to think of the senior center. We had a brief, civil discussion, and as a result I received tweets from a few Arkansas fans eager for me to further explain my position. Understandably so. I continued to watch Arkansas games to further improve my evaluation of Swanson as well as the rest of his teammates that I was including in the preview, when all of a sudden I saw a new interaction pop up on Twitter. I paused the game, opened the Twitter tab on my laptop, and to my complete surprise, Bret Bielema had seen the tweet, looked at my Twitter page and sent a response. Without quoting it directly, he essentially insinuated that because I was a “former” draft analyst at the web site NFL Draft Monsters (where I cut my teeth in my coverage of the NFL Draft) my opinion should not be trusted, and that his evaluation of his center was correct. I was not offended by this, rather I enjoyed the confrontation and another insinuation that I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. I thrive in those situations as Alex Holmes and his family found out when they attacked my credibility as it pertained to my evaluation of his brother, Khaled Holmes, after I projected him as a 4th round draft pick in June 2012 prior to his being drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. I simply couldn’t believe that Bielema, the former head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers (whose town I was staying in for the weekend) and the new head man of an SEC football team had taken the time to look at my Twitter profile and respond to my tweet, even if it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in my skills as a draft analyst. I respectfully responded and, as I expected, received no response from him, but that didn’t stop a number of angry Arkansas fans from calling me a hater, looking through my past scouting reports to find guys that I had missed on, or simply telling me I had no idea what I was talking about. My phone went off with new tweets for the rest of the afternoon, as well as text messages from friends who thought it was absolutely hilarious that I had ruffled Bielema’s feathers enough to get a response out of him.

As the night wore on I went out to have some fun and get my mind off of this new Twitter interaction, and after a couple particularly specific shots at my credibility I responded to a couple of angry Arkansas fans in a less than professional manner. I didn’t swear at them, but I did use a heavy dose of sarcasm and I was less than nice to them. I was tired of being attacked, particularly since they hadn’t even gotten to read my analysis of Swanson because I hadn’t even written it yet! The next night I again went out with my friends and had fun, but unfortunately got in an argument with a Vikings fan who disagreed with my selection of David Fales in a Twitter mock draft I had been participating in. He wasn’t being very respectful, and I was pretty short on patience after my bout with the unhappy Arkansas fans the day before, so I wasn’t very respectful back. It was just another ridiculous Twitter interaction, and I was starting to get overwhelmed by the whole thing. This was capped off beautifully by gaining a number of influential followers who were beat writers or reporters in Arkansas and Kentucky following discussion of the Razorback prospects and the release of my Kentucky Wildcats prospect preview on Monday, July 29th. That same day, I was followed by Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, two very talented starting defensive ends on the Razorbacks, just days after their coach insinuated I wasn’t exactly credible. The brightest moment of all was, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite players, Alge Crumpler, following me on Twitter. Crumpler was a star tight end on the Falcons back when Mike Vick was on the team, and I have been a huge fan of his for at least the past ten years. Seeing him finally follow me on Twitter was a huge moment for me, and yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. But later, to top it all off, I got dragged into a pissing match that a New York Post beat writer found himself in after mistakenly tweeting about the read option being a formation, rather than just a play. If you had told me on Thursday night when I went to bed that within the next four days I would be followed by all those people, tweeted at by Bielema and involved in any of those absurd arguments, I would have told you that you were crazy.  And yet…here I was.

I am telling you all of this not to try to put you to sleep, not to try to act like I am a hot shot, but to get all of this off my chest in what I consider to be a safe space on my blog. I may not be proud of this, but all of that overwhelmed me. I began to realize that I couldn’t just tweet whatever I wanted without ever having to face the consequences of the things or people I was tweeting about seeing my thoughts. I finally understood that I had to be more professional on Twitter, and though I had learned those lessons previously, I had never learned them as intensely as I had this particular weekend. And finally, I am telling you this because this is the context that I needed to paint for you so that I could prove to you that in some miniscule, fraction of a way, I think I understand how Johnny Manziel feels.

I have spent thousands of words trying to explain why I think I understand how Manziel feels, and yet even as I type it that sounds ridiculous to me, as I’m sure it sounds just as ridiculous to all of you. Yet I still believe it anyway. I have not felt the pressure he has, nor have I been attacked the way he has been, but on a microscopic level I have experienced a small fraction of what he has. I have let my frustrations get the better of me after reading too many negative tweets, I have lashed out at people who I felt have criticized me unfairly, and I have tried to get away from it all by surrounding myself with trusted friends who, as much as I want them to, didn’t understand what I was going through. Doesn’t that sound, just a little bit, like what Manziel is dealing with?

I have spent a lot of time trying to legitimize my claim that I get where Manziel is coming from, but now it’s time to delve deeper into what he is dealing with. It is clear to me that Manziel has stumbled into this fame without knowing exactly what to do with it, and before he knew it, partially because he was barred from interacting with the media per Kevin Sumlin’s coaching policy, Johnny Football took off and no one got to know the man behind the mask. I see people criticizing his maturity, lambasting him for poor decision making, and shredding him for how he carries himself. I see people call him cocky, arrogant, spoiled, and various other adjectives. But how many of you reading this had your life figured out at 20 years old? How many of you were vastly more mature than Manziel is at the ripe old age of 20? I certainly wasn’t. I might have thought I was at the time, but I like to think I’m smart enough now to realize that I wasn’t. I made mistakes. I screwed up. But most importantly, I learned from it. I can’t speak to whether Manziel is learning from it or not, but for his sake I hope he is. And if he hasn’t yet, I have faith that as he gets older and hopefully wiser that he will.

So is Johnny Manziel just a kid too immature for the fame he has stumbled into? Or is he a metaphor for all of college football and our society in general? We have this very talented 20 year old kid who we should be cherishing for his mesmerizing play on the football field, yet all we ever talk about is him going to courtside basketball games, going to fraternity parties, putting up pictures on instagram or tweeting things he should probably keep to himself. He is making Texas A&M and the NCAA millions of dollars, he helped Kevin Sumlin get a $1 million raise, and Texas A&M is building a new stadium, yet all Manziel has gotten out of the deal is largely unwanted limelight and near constant attacks on the content of his character. Not that he needs the money, but he is clearly a precious product on the field, yet he benefits from his performances much less than those running the show around him. He is such a bright light on the field, yet all the attention he receives off of it threatens to smother that light until it burns out. As a society and as a collective media shouldn’t we at least consider giving him a break?

Maybe it’s not fair to think that someone who has achieved so much at such a young age should even have a chance for, much less deserve, a break like that. But the more I hear about Manziel the more I keep thinking back to Ryan Leaf. Leaf was considered arrogant to a point that people disliked him, he was consistently getting in trouble off the field, and after he retired a complete disappointment he was indicted on burglary and controlled-substance charges in Texas in May of 2009. In March of 2012 he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his home town of Great Falls, Montana. Then, four days later, he was arrested again on burglary, theft and two counts of criminal possession of dangerous drugs. He was sentenced to seven years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, but he continued to cause trouble, including threatening a staff member and violating the conditions of his drug treatment placement. He was clearly a very troubled young man, and he never got his life together. As a result, he ended up in jail. Can’t you say similar things about Jamarcus Russell? Or Maurice Clarett?

Yes, they brought this on themselves, and Manziel has brought this on himself as well, but even in spite of all he has accomplished, all the fame he “enjoys” every day, and all the money he could potentially make, I feel bad for him. He clearly doesn’t want all of this attention if you ask me. I think he wants to be a normal college kid, and I think he wants to be able to have fun and play football. But his immense success has taken that away from him, and that’s something that is hard for people to understand. They see him win games and they see him partying and think “wow, that kid has it all” but I think he parties to try to escape his own celebrity, or to at least try to wrangle it.  I think that way because I think that is exactly what I would do if I was in his shoes. The world is obsessed with “Johnny Football” the electrifying athlete who beat Alabama as a freshman, was the 5th player to ever pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in the same season, and the only freshman to ever win the Heisman trophy in the history of the award. But they do not know Johnny Manziel the person, they only know some of the infamous things he has done off the field while he tries to escape or hide from the insatiable demand for updates on his whereabouts or activities from any news outlet you can think of. I would bet you $1,000 that all Manziel wants right now is some time to himself with his friends, with his family, without having to worry about someone taking a picture of him having fun, and without having to worry about being swarmed by strangers trying to catch a glimpse of his greatness. It’s hard to explain, and even harder for a normal person to understand, but I think that sometimes when you want something so bad for so long and you finally stumble into it you realize that it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be and it’s harder to control than you ever could have imagined. I think Manziel is finding that out right now.

It is for that reason that I am hoping and begging all of you to collectively give Manziel a break. Will that actually happen? No, it almost certainly won’t. But amidst all the overzealous analysis of his character without ever having spoken a word to him, amidst all of the criticism of how he carries himself off the field, and amidst all of the constant discussion about him and his future I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least voice my opinion on the matter and say that I am worried about him. I am worried that as the attention he garners from the media continues to intensify it will push him closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, and I don’t know what is waiting for him if he falls off of it. Drugs? Alcoholism? Jail time? Death? I have no idea what it could be, but I know I am not alone in worrying about him now that I have read Thompson’s article, which involves his parents openly agonizing about what will happen to him if he doesn’t mature and if this pressure doesn’t let up. I don’t want to find out what happens to him either, so I am hoping that Manziel finds a way to block out the pressure, live his life, and mature. I’m only 23 years old and I can’t imagine the pressure he is under, and I can see minute similarities between him and myself aside from the major difference in athletic ability and fame. I still have a lot of growing up to do, and so does Manziel, especially because he is three years younger than I am. If I was in his position I would want people to cut me some slack, and even though from a NFL Draft perspective he is raising a lot of red flags, the last thing I am thinking about right now is his NFL Draft stock. I am more worried about him as a person, and if he can’t find a way to cope with all of this pressure I think he is going to crack like Ryan Leaf did, although perhaps not in the same exact manner.

When he officially declares for the NFL Draft we will cross that bridge and discuss his draft stock, but for now I’d rather just appreciate all of the talent he has and marvel at what he can do on the football field. Shouldn’t we enjoy what we have in Manziel before he is gone? And more importantly, shouldn’t we focus on the positives and try to give him the benefit of the doubt for some of his shortcomings? Wouldn’t you want someone, or everyone, to do that for you if you were in his position? Haven’t people given you second chances in life, looked past any of your shortcomings, and given you the benefit of the doubt? I know I have, and I still believe in the golden rule that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. So tell me, are you treating Manziel the way you would want to be treated if you were walking a mile in his shoes? If you aren’t, maybe you should reevaluate how you perceive his situation. Like most things, it’s not as black and white as “he’s a hero” or “he’s a villain.” He is just Johnny Manziel, and he deserves a break.

Raymond Sanders, RB, Senior- Sanders is a “short not small” back who is listed at 5’8”, 199 pounds and I believe he is close to 200 based on watching him. He’s short, but he is compact and it’s obvious he spends time in the weight room. He supposedly has a 40 time in the 4.42-4.45 range and he looks fast on tape, but he also has impressive quickness and burst. At times his legs went dead on contact, but there were others where he effectively churned his legs for additional, tough yardage. He is a reliable receiver out of the backfield and should be effective on screens as well. I haven’t been able to effectively evaluate his vision yet, partially because of the problems Kentucky had up front overall in the games I watched (especially against Mississippi State). Sanders is a bit of a sleeper in my opinion right now, but he has the chance to move up draft boards if he can stay healthy and be more consistent. Once again, that comes back to the offensive line play, but he only went over 100 yards against Kent State and Samford as a junior. That needs to change in his final year as a Wildcat.

Demarco Robinson, WR, Junior- Robinson is another undersized weapon that Kentucky likes to get the ball to. He’s listed at 5’10”, 159 pounds but honestly didn’t look like he only weighed 160 to me when I watched him. Sure he looks skinny, but not THAT skinny. Anyway, he has shown that he is a reliable hands catcher, can make defenders miss after the catch, and isn’t afraid of contact despite being so small. He looks like a sub 4.5 guy to me, but he better be at that size. I’d like to see him fill out his frame to 175+ at some point, but he’s still a playmaker at this size. He finished the season with 28 receptions, 297 yards and no touchdowns, also offering 117 yards (6.5 average per return) on punts.

Daryl Collins, WR, Sophomore- Collins kind of looks like a running back to me because he’s listed at 5’11’, 205 pounds and looks like he’s in the 4.5-4.55 range to me. He’s not quite as fast as Robinson, but he’s equally as shifty in the open field and can make guys miss after the catch. He didn’t get as much action in the games I watched, but when he did get looks he seemed to catch the ball well with his hands and not allow it into his chest which was good. He totaled 17 receptions for 171 yards and no touchdowns last year, but hopefully he can step up his game and give Kentucky a couple reliable options in the pass game. Out of their top 7 receivers, only ONE returns with a touchdown reception from the 2012 season, and that is back-up running back Jonathan George. Kentucky really needs Robinson and Collins to step up.

Darrian Miller, OT, Junior- I was keeping my eye on Kentucky’s offensive line the entire time I watched the offense and I was doing my best not to watch Larry Warford at right guard. I wasn’t very impressed with the majority of the line, but Miller caught my eye. He’s listed at 6’5”, 288 pounds and despite needing to get stronger and not looking comfortable in space I liked what I saw. He looks like he has the athletic ability to remain outside at tackle at the next level, and while he isn’t “quick-twitch” he did a solid job recovering if he was ever put on skates. He needs to get stronger to improve his anchor and so he isn’t so susceptible to being pushed off balance by power moves, but if he can work on that he should solidify the left tackle spot from a pass blocking perspective. In the run game he didn’t look very good getting to the second level and had multiple issues letting linebackers get by him, but when he was asked to block the lineman in front of him he did just fine. He created some push (though a couple times the defender was playing WAY too high) and he did a pretty good job sealing off some running lanes for Sanders. He’s not a great run blocker or pass blocker at this point, but I do see some upside here.

Alvin Dupree, DE, Junior- Dupree is a talented player who many are expecting to have a break-out season this year. His break-out may have already occurred last year though, as Dupree accounted for 91 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 6 TFL and 1 pass break-up. This year he is moving full time to the defensive end position in Kentucky’s new defensive scheme, and I for one am excited to see how he does as a full time pass rusher. When I watched him he spent a lot of time in coverage and while he wasn’t terrible he didn’t look very comfortable dropping in space. Not only that, but he didn’t attack blocks, stack and shed and play as aggressively as I would like either. I’m hoping Kentucky’s new defensive line coach will be able to light a fire under him and get him to play more violently, particularly with his hands. He’s got all the size (6’4”, 254 pounds) and athleticism you could want in a defensive end, but was clearly very raw when he was rushing the passer as a sophomore. If he can learn to use his hands better, dip his shoulder and generally improve his overall technique he could be in for a big year for Kentucky. That’s obviously a lot of things he needs to work on, but the ability is there, he just needs to work on refining his game.

Za’Darius Smith, DE, Junior- Smith is the one player on this list that I wasn’t able to watch at all because he was signed as a 4 star junior college transfer. However, he had an impressive spring (especially in the spring game) so I wanted to list him here. Like Dupree he has all the size and speed you could want, but he is still learning the position. He’s listed at 6’6”, 257 pounds and only started playing football as a senior in high school. He’s entering his 4th year playing football, so he is obviously more raw than you would like. However, his talent is undeniable and if his defensive line coach can coach up his technique then Kentucky could have a surprisingly good pair of pass rushers at defensive end this year.

Mister Cobble, DT, Senior- Mister Cobble is one of my favorite football names ever, but his mom supposedly named him that so that when people said his name he would be treated like a gentlemen. I think that’s nice, and I love the name, so I wanted to work that tidbit into this preview. Cobble is a short, squatty defensive tackle who is listed at 6’0”, 340 pounds. He has surprising burst off the line for such a heavy guy and I’d honestly like to see him get into the 320-325 range because I think he’s carrying a lot of extra weight that he doesn’t need. Still, he’s tough to move off the line of scrimmage and definitely surprised me with how well he matched up with Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State’s stud offensive guard, in the run game. He had his way with Mississippi State’s center Dillon Day, consistently moving him into the backfield and refusing to be moved off the line of scrimmage when blocked 1 on 1. He flashed the ability to collapse the pocket with a bull rush, but I don’t think Cobble is going to offer much of a pass rush at the next level. He is likely going to be more of a two down run defender, so if he can continue to improve his conditioning and help stabilize Kentucky’s run defense he may have a shot as an undrafted free agent.

Donte Rumph, DT, Senior- Rumph is the more highly touted defensive tackle on Kentucky’s roster but despite his impressive listed size of 6’3”, 323 I came away quite unimpressed with Rumph’s game. He was consistently washed out in the run game whether he was doubled or not, and he did not show any explosion or burst off the snap at all. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency to his game, and I really can’t believe he ended up with 4 sacks and 2 TFL last year. He looks like a possible NFL player thanks to his size, but based off of what I’ve seen from him when I watched him I don’t think he’s got a shot to get drafted.

Tristian Johnson, DT, Senior- Johnson was called out by Joker Phillips last year for not taking football seriously enough and for joking around too much, but after that he seemed to get it together and help make an impact. This was especially evident against Mississippi State as he notched his only solo sack of the season and was consistently disruptive versus the run. He didn’t rack up stats last year, but he finished with 27 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL and 2 pass break-ups. He is an undersized defensive tackle, only listed at 6’1”, 277 pounds, but he has more upfield burst than Cobble and Rumph and plays in the backfield more as a result. If he can continue to get stronger and fill out his frame (he may not be able to get much bigger than 285 without losing some of his quickness) then I think he has a chance to catch on as an undrafted free agent. He plays with good pad level, gets off the ball relatively well, and has some strength despite his listed weight. He’s not listed as a starter, but he’s got more disruptive potential than Cobble or Rumph.

Avery Williamson, MLB, Senior- Williamson is far and away my favorite NFL prospect on this team right now. He’s listed at 6’1”, 241 pounds and I’d ballpark his 40 time in the 4.7 range, but he plays very instinctually, moves through trash well and closes like a missile. He plays downhill pretty well, occasionally showing hesitation, but he reads his keys effectively and is a very reliable tackler. Not only that, he’s got plenty of pop as a hitter and knows how to time his blitz to get a free shot on the quarterback. He led Kentucky’s defense in tackles by a wide margin, finishing with 135 tackles, 3 sacks, 1.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. He doesn’t look especially fluid in coverage, and doesn’t have insane range, but I think he is a very underrated inside linebacker at this point. He needs to get better at stacking and shedding, but he has flashed the aggressiveness to shock an offensive linemen before making the tackle. He just doesn’t do very well once he is engaged. I think he can be a 3 down linebacker in the NFL, and he was a joy to watch while I was scouting Kentucky.

Cody Quinn, CB, Sophomore- Quinn played as a true freshman last year and started 6 games, managing 25 tackles and 5 pass break-ups. Quinn is tiny and is listed at only 5’10”, 177 pounds, and he played like it at times when he didn’t give very good efforts at making tackles on larger receivers. However, he looks like a fluid athlete with good closing speed, and he made a very nice play on the ball that almost resulted in a tip drill interception for his safety. I didn’t get to see much of him because of ESPN’s camera angles, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on thanks to his athleticism and fluidity.

Fred Tiller, CB, Sophomore- Tiller is in the same boat that Quinn is in. He is listed at 6’0”, 170 pounds (yes, 2 inches taller but 7 pounds lighter than Quinn) and he played in 11 games as a true freshman. He totaled 27 tackles and 2 pass deflections in those games. Now he is likely to be a starter, and he is also an impressive athlete with some ball skills. Kentucky is going to have some trouble in the secondary thanks to all the youth they have playing back there. Quinn and Tiller figure to be starting at both corner spots with 6 combined starts in their respective careers, and both safeties have never started a game in the SEC either. One is a junior college transfer, the other a sophomore who has never received a start. That puts the onus on Kentucky’s front 7 to generate a lot of pressure and make life easy for the Wildcats’ secondary, otherwise it could be a long year full of big plays downfield.

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