Tag Archive: Detroit Lions


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/

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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

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

Playoff Prediction Post:

I realize I’m late on this, meant to post it earlier but lost track of time today. I had the Texans picked though, I swear!

Wild Card:

Texans over Bengals
Saints over Lions
Giants over Falcons
Pittsburgh over Denver

The Giants-Falcons game could be interesting depending on what Falcons team shows up. They have struggled against quality competition this year and have gotten to the playoffs largely because of a weak schedule (especially to finish the season). The Giants pass rush could give the Falcons offensive line fits, but if they can run the ball and keep Matt Ryan upright they could make things interesting. The Giants should be able to pass all over the Falcons if they want to, but may struggle to run the ball a bit. I’m picking the Giants because they know how to win in the playoffs and the Falcons haven’t proven that they can yet.

Divisional Round:

Ravens over Texans
Patriots over Pittsburgh
Saints over 49ers
Packers over Giants

The Texans have been an inspiring story winning without Matt Schaub and Mario Williams, but I don’t think T.J. Yates will be able to threaten downfield enough to keep the Ravens from working to take away Arian Foster. The Ravens offense is going against a quality defense but I think they will be able to move the ball. Joe Flacco may not have a ton of playoff experience, but he certainly has more than Yates. I’m not sold on Yates making critical plays in big games and I think the Ravens will expose his flaws for all to see.

The Patriots over Pittsburgh is a tough call for me. I think the Patriots are a good team but their secondary is a mess and I am not sold on their defense at all. Pittsburgh can move the ball and threaten teams vertically, so they could make New England pay if they bite on the run. It’s tough to bet against Tom Brady in the playoffs though, and even though the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game in a while I think they have a good chance to win one with Pittsburgh coming up to Foxboro.

The Saints over 49ers isn’t an automatic either, but I think the Saints might be the only team in the NFC that can beat the Packers. There’s just no way I can bet against Drew Brees, especially with Alex Smith starting opposite him.

The Giants are one of the few teams that is built to beat the Packers. The Packers can’t run the ball very well and rely on passing the ball quite a bit, and the Giants have shown that they have the blueprint to beat passing teams when they upset Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2007. This is an interesting match-up, especially since Aaron Rodgers didn’t play in week 17, but I expect the Packers to end up winning despite some of their struggles on defense.

Conference Championship Games:

Ravens over Patriots
Saints over Packers

The Ravens have a great defense that I think can slow down the Patriots offense enough for their offense to win the game. I don’t think the Patriots can slow down the Ravens enough to win this game personally. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think much of the Patriots defense, especially their secondary, but I do love the Ravens defense. So I’m going with them to beat the Patriots!

Yes, I’m picking the Saints. I can’t stand the Saints for what they do to the Falcons every year, but I do respect them. Their defense certainly isn’t elite, but they will be able to pressure Rodgers a bit and won’t have to worry much about the running game I don’t think. The Packers defense has little chance of slowing down the Saints offense and I think this game will end up being a shoot-out, but despite it all I think the Saints can win. They are playing the best football in the NFC right now and as the Packers know it’s all about getting hot at the right time. The Saints are hot, the Packers are not.

Superbowl:

Ravens over Saints

I am a defense first guy even though I love slinging the ball around and scouting quarterbacks, so that has something to do with my pick here. The Saints are a great offense, but the Ravens defense can slow them down in my opinion. Do they match up perfectly? No, I don’t think so. But I think they can rattle Brees and knock him around enough to contain their offense when they need to. The Saints know how to manufacture pressure, but I think the Ravens can run the ball on them and extend drives that way. I am a closet Ravens fan so take that into consideration, but I believe defense wins championships so one of the few good defensive teams left has a great shot to win the title!

Thanks for reading, it’ll be interesting to see how I do!

–Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Scouting Report:

AJ Green is, in my opinion, the best WR prospect since Calvin Johnson.

Positives: Great combination of size, speed and acceleration/burst. He has fantastic hands and has made some incredible catches during his three years at Georgia. He catches the ball with his hands very well, and sometimes with just one hand. He can catch passes that are too far out in front, too far behind him, he adjusts to the ball really well while it is in the air and has great leaping ability to high point the ball in the air above the defender. He attacks the ball in the air as well instead of just letting it come down to him, at least usually. He is much better at catching the ball in traffic than I expected him to be given his slight frame, but I have seen him make some great catches and take huge hits and not let that football go, even if he ended up laying on the field for a while afterwards. He is also effective at running after the catch, and he has a pretty nasty stiff arm to keep defenders at bay. He also has a killer instinct as a receiver which makes him a really dangerous competitor because when he wants to go get the ball he will come down with it as long as it is thrown anywhere near him. He runs good routes for the most part and he has good speed in and out of his breaks to create separation. He definitely has the speed to challenge a defense vertically, in college or the NFL, and should be a very dangerous deep threat once he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game. In addition he offers some effort as a run blocker and has long arms which helps him block defenders that are usually smaller than him pretty effectively. The final thing that I love about AJ Green is that he shows up in critical situations when his team needs a big play. If it is a 3rd down or if his team needs a touchdown he will show up with a great catch for a huge conversion, and you can never have enough guys like that. Showing up in crunch time is something that I love seeing in prospects because it isn’t something that can be taught, it is something within them that can’t be taken away from them. AJ Green has it, and it makes him a really dangerous prospect.

Negatives: One thing you have to watch out for with him is injury. He has dealt with some injuries during his career with the Bulldogs and because he is pretty skinny there is definitely the potential for injury if he goes over the middle and makes a great catch knowing he is going to get lit up after he brings the pass in. Because of his competitive nature sometimes he will play angry and sometimes that means push-offs when the ball is in the air, though they are rarely called, and stiff-arms to the helmet of the defender trying to tackle him. Both of those things could be called more than they were in college, particularly when he is a young player and not a superstar like he was in the SEC whenever he played the last two years. He runs good routes generally and usually comes back to the ball, but like any receiver sometimes he will round off his routes and not come back to the ball. It doesn’t happen a lot but it does happen so it warrants mentioning. Sometimes his effort isn’t what I would like it to be, but I don’t think these lulls in consistent effort will be very detrimental to him. It’s just something to think about. His game is definitely pretty finesse, but like I said he has a lot more toughness than I thought he did.

Overall: AJ Green is without a doubt the best wide receiver in the country and I think he may be my #1 prospect on my big board. Hell, after watching him he probably would have been #1 even if Luck had come out. He is that good. His flaws are relatively minor and he has the ability to dominate any game from the receiver position which is rare, and he has gotten substantially better every year he has been in college, which is hard to believe considering how good he was as a freshman and sophomore. He made Aaron Murray’s transition to the college game as a freshman starter much easier than it could have been once he came back from his suspension, which I don’t think is a red flag personally. He sold his jersey, he knows it was wrong, he has learned from it. That’s all there is to it for me.

Projection: Top 5. The list of things he could do to drop himself out of the top 5 is pretty short, it would have to be something pretty drastic like murder or robbing a bank while wearing his football jersey. He is as close as it gets to a top 5 lock, and I think the Panthers should give him heavy consideration for the #1 pick to give Jimmy Clausen some help as he will likely be the starter going into his second season. Wide receivers like Green can make bad quarterbacks look solid, solid quarterbacks look good and good quarterbacks look great, so no matter what Clausen actually is throwing to Green will help him out.

Skills:
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite

Speed: 4.0
Hands: 5.0
After Catch: 4.0
Body Control: 5.0
Range: 4.0

 

Thanks for reading! I’ll have my Justin Houston report up tomorrow.

–Tom

Donovan McNabb Benched?

McNabb's Eagles used to torment my Falcons on a yearly basis but even I know he doesn't deserve to be treated this way.

I know this isn’t exactly “NFL Draft” related, but it’s something I felt that I needed to talk about. I am honestly shocked and a frankly a bit disgusted that the Redskins have decided to bench Donovan McNabb. Now, I would definitely not call myself a fan of McNabb’s. In fact, for many years when he was on Eagles teams that knocked my beloved Falcons out of the playoffs I despised him. But despite my hatred for him and those Eagles teams who always got in the way of my team come playoff time I always respected him because he was and is a quality NFL QB. The Redskins made a play to bring him in and like the Redskins always do they raised expectations too high with veteran acquisitions with too little well-developed talent to ever live up to the expectations of the front office, the media and the fans.

Now, I still believe McNabb is a good QB and his play this season will not change my mind about that. Why you ask? Let’s consider what he is working with on the offensive line. He has a rookie protecting his blind side in Trent Williams, and despite his high draft status he can’t be expected to step up to the NFL level and dominate talented DE’s that he will face, especially in a division with the Giants who have been pressuring QB’s consistently for years, the Eagles who usually have a stable full of quick edge rushers, as well as the Cowboys who have one of the best in the business at getting after the passer in DeMarcus Ware. In addition to Williams the Redskins are starting Kory Lichtensteiger, Casey Rabach and Will Montgomery in the middle of their offensive line. Lichtensteiger was a fourth round pick by the Broncos two years ago who moved to guard because he didn’t have much experience snapping in a traditional pro-style offense, Rabach is a former third round pick of the Ravens who has, to put it lightly, not had a very good season of pass protection. Montgomery is a former seventh round pick of the Panthers, and he plays next to Jamaal Brown, the former Saints left tackle who they tried so hard to get rid of last season. Not exactly a stellar group of players blocking for him, they have needed significant help up front for a couple of years but they have continued to ignore it, even while drafting Trent Williams. They could use an upgrade at LG, C and RG and depending on how Brown looked at RT they could use help there as well.

Not only that, but McNabb doesn’t have a whole lot of talent around him. Two guys who were supposed to contribute, Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, have produced nothing since being drafted and it is probably fair to label them busts at this point having been picked in the second round. Santana Moss is still there, as is Clinton Portis, but as most people know Portis has not been healthy much this season and that has left Ryan Torain as the lead back. However, it is well known that the Redskins need a wide receiver capable of being a go-to guy on offense which they currently lack. So besides their woeful offensive line they have little talent outside at the skill positions outside of TE where they have reliable targets in Chris Cooley and Fred Davis (even though Davis can be inconsistent).

So is it really fair to blame McNabb’s career high 15 INT’s entirely on him? I don’t think so. That makes this benching all the more confusing. Yes he has had a down statistical season, but if you are going to bench McNabb you should bench at least three members of the offensive line, Ryan Torain, Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong so they can see what they have in other players. Because if Rex Grossman and John Beck, two NFL journeymen who have little value as potential starting QB’s if they have any at all, warrant exploration, then anyone on that roster has a legitimate case to get some playing time over the next three weeks.

If Shanahan actually releases McNabb not only would the Redskins shoulder a substantial cap hit, he would put a quality starting QB on the free agent market.

There is one intriguing thought I had about all of this. If the Redskins, despite the contract extension they gave McNabb and any evidence I or anyone else can come up with to support the idea that this season really isn’t a great reflection of McNabb’s ability as a NFL QB, do ultimately decide to release him there will be a number of teams lining up for his services, the first of which should be the Minnesota Vikings. I think it is pretty obvious that Brett Favre should have retired last season, and I don’t think that he should come back for another year. It’s a shame that his career may have to end this way, but it really is his own fault for coming back one year more than he should have. But without Favre the Vikings will be searching for a new QB. I, like most people, am convinced that Tarvaris Jackson is not the answer at QB for the Vikings. I am not even sure he is a reliable enough option for an interim-only basis. Joe Webb will get his first career start on Monday Night Football against the Bears in TCF Bank Stadium, so that will be a good opportunity for the Vikings to evaluate whether or not he is worth keeping as a developmental QB or as a potential #2 at some point.

Beyond that, though, the Vikings literally have no talent at QB. They should be in the market for a veteran to take the reigns for at least a year and a young QB to develop into an eventual starter this year, and should McNabb become available I imagine the Vikings would spare no expense to get him to Winter Park to sell him on the organization. If they were able to get McNabb it would save the Vikings from potentially spiraling into the bottom of the NFC North with the Detroit Lions for a couple of seasons. He won’t fix the offensive line, the defensive line or the secondary, but he would solidify the QB position which is probably their most pressing need at the moment, and that’s something. Not to mention having McNabb would be a great buffer for whoever they draft to play QB in the future because ideally he would play well enough for at least a year or hopefully two years to keep fans from clamoring for the young gun to play.

So it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out. Hopefully the Redskins don’t just release McNabb, but if he doesn’t want to play there anymore and they do cut him then I’m sure the Vikings would be more than happy to scoop him up. God knows McNabb deserves a team who will treat him with some respect. Maybe the Vikings could be that team.

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

Andrew Luck is almost certainly going to be the next #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft should he declare, and I think it would definitely be in his best interest to declare. His stock can’t get any higher and he should take advantage of that. He is a very good quarterback with a great combination of size, athletic ability, an impressive arm and intelligence. He is the total package, and I think he will follow in the wake of Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez as top five selections in the NFL Draft that start from Day one.

Andrew Luck is almost a lock to be the first quarterback selected as well as the #1 overall pick, and for good reason.

Scouting Report:

Positives: Luck has good size, good mobility and athletic ability, good arm strength, impressive accuracy, he makes good decisions, has a clean release, and good mechanics. He has two years of experience in a pro style offense and is very intelligent and has great intangibles. He is without a doubt the #1 QB in this draft class if he comes out, and he is probably on par with Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez as far as overall draft grade.

Negatives: There aren’t a lot of things wrong with Luck’s game, but there are some things that I noticed and had problems with when watching him. First, he doesn’t have the best pocket poise. Especially off of play action he tends to panic and start to scramble if his first or second read isn’t there, and he will throw off balance a lot in these situations. Whether it is off of his back foot or while he is scrambling (even across his body occasionally) he will throw passes without setting his feet which I don’t like to see. He needs to work on his pocket presence if possible. I don’t know if he has a problem feeling the pressure, but he just needs to learn to step up into the pocket and buy time by side-stepping the rush at times instead of pulling the ball down to scramble. He also needs to be coached to not throw off of his back foot as often as he does. He also doesn’t have very good arm strength. He has great zip on passes to about 20-25 yards, but when he tries to throw a deep ball he will often be encountered with underthrown passes that have a lot of air under them. That is something he needs to work on.

Overall: Luck is a very good QB prospect and is definitely the best QB prospect in this draft class. I really like him as a prospect, but he needs to improve his pocket poise, his footwork and I would like to see him work on his play-action reads and throws more because he just looks uncomfortable when his first or second read isn’t there on play-action. He panics and starts to scramble instead of being patient in the pocket at times. I don’t know if he will be automatically ready to start from day one like Ryan and Sanchez were, but there is a good chance he will. I think he could have a similar or better year than Sanchez did if that were the case.

Projection: Top 3. There is almost no way he slides out of the top 3, and frankly I’d be surprised if he wasn’t the #1 overall selection. I think he will have a solid rookie season if asked to play right away, but forcing him into action too soon may hinder his development especially when it comes to throwing off of his back foot and improving his pocket poise.

SKILLS
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite

ARM STRENGTH: 3.5
ACCURACY: 4.0
MOBILITY: 3.5
DECISION MAKING: 3.5
MECHANICS: 4.0
POCKET AWARENESS: 3.0
INTANGIBLES: 4.5

Hopefully you found my thoughts on Andrew Luck interesting. Let me know your thoughts! Also, keep an eye out for reports on Ryan Mallett, Nate Solder, A.J. Green, Da’Quan Bowers, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

My First Mock Draft of the Year

This is my first mock draft of the year and it is only the first round. I hit some snags while doing it, but for my first mock draft since April I thought it was a good effort. Let me know what you think obviously and hopefully you will enjoy the read!

First round:

Pick:  1  San Francisco 49ers- Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas-

Analysis: First off, I don’t think Andrew Luck will declare this year, but if he does I think he is definitely the front-runner for the #1 overall pick.  That said, the next best thing is Ryan Mallett as far as potential is concerned. Mallett’s combination of size and arm strength is borderline unheard of, and as a result his potential is through the roof. He has some mechanical issues, such as his footwork (which I think leads to some inaccurate throws, I don’t think his actual accuracy is as bad as some say), however the #1 overall pick is about production, potential and glitz and glamour, not necessarily the best overall player in the draft. I don’t think Mallett is the best QB in this draft, nor do I think he is the best player in the draft, but that doesn’t mean he won’t go #1.

Pick:  2  Carolina Panthers- Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama-

Analysis: This seems a little high for Dareus especially considering the two game suspension earlier this season, but he is an extremely disruptive force at DE in Alabama’s 3-4 defense, and though I think he would be a great fit in a 3-4 defense in the NFL I think he could play defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense as well. The Panthers’ defense is a bit of a mess right now between injuries and losing starters via free agency or trade, but their defensive tackles are absolutely awful. Until they upgrade that position they won’t be able to stop the run or rush the passer, so I think improving up the middle has to be a high priority for them this year.

Pick:  3  Buffalo Bills- Jake Locker, QB, Washington-

Analysis: I think Locker is a top 10-15 selection right now, but this is a very need-based pick so though I think it is a little bit of a reach as far as my evaluation of Locker’s stock at this point, I think it makes sense. The Bills finally cut Trent Edwards loose since he clearly wasn’t getting the job done and they need a new face of the franchise to promote optimism and sell tickets, and Jake Locker fits that bill perfectly. He has great intangibles, great athleticism and great potential, however he has not progressed the way many people thought he would this year so I think his stock has taken a bit of a hit. He could easily move back up to a top 5 pick by the time the draft rolls around, especially if he plays better the rest of the season, but right now Luck and Mallett are in the drivers’ seat for the #1 overall pick. Some will argue, like they do every year, that they should pass on the potential franchise QB and fill another need in round 1 and get a safer, less risky quarterback in round 2. I made that mistake when I wanted Brian Brohm in round 2 instead of Matt Ryan, so I probably won’t ever feel that way again.

Pick:  4  Detroit Lions- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU-

Analysis: The Lions have done a very nice job of acquiring nice pieces of talent since Matt Millen was fired. First there was Calvin Johnson, then Matt Stafford and now Ndamukong Suh. However, they are still lacking at the cornerback position, which is where Patrick Peterson comes in. Not only is Peterson arguably the best cornerback in the nation, but he is an absolutely electric return man. Once he gets the ball in his hands he can make guys miss and turn on the jets in a hurry. That makes him dangerous on punt returns and after he comes away with a turnover on defense. Having that kind of a playmaker at cornerback is something the Lions have lacked since they signed Dre’ Bly away from the St. Louis Rams years ago. The Lions could also consider a defensive end or a left tackle here, but in my opinion there is no better player available at either position than Patterson, making him the best selection for the Lions.

Pick:  5  Cleveland Browns- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia-

Analysis: I think that A.J. Green is in the drivers’ seat to be the first receiver off the board in April, and the Browns are a team that needs desperate help both at quarterback and at wide receiver. With Mallett and Locker both off the board already, the Browns should take the best player available and that figures to be Green. The Browns already have a former Georgia Bulldog on the roster in Mohamed Massaquoi, but he is not thriving as their #1 option. Green definitely has #1 WR potential, and he would give whoever takes snaps at QB more options to throw to as a result. I think Green is a very good player, but something about his game makes me wonder how well he will transition to the NFL. Honestly, I think he is a little over-hyped, but I haven’t scouted him yet this year so perhaps I will change my tune once I do.

Pick:  6  Minnesota Vikings- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska-

Analysis: This may seem like a strange pick, especially since the Vikings picked Chris Cook last year, but the Vikings really like to stick to the best player available, and in this case I think that is Amukamara. Now, when you look at their roster on paper it might not seem like they need a corner. They have Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook waiting in the wings. Asher Allen provides some depth, and bingo! No issue… right? I would say wrong. Winfield has lost a step or two, and will only get slower and become less suitable for the starting role, and Cedric Griffin has now torn both of his ACL’s within the last calendar year. That is too bad, especially since he fits their scheme well, but between Winfield’s age and Griffin’s injury history the Vikings aren’t as deep at corner as they appear to be on paper, and that is assuming Chris Cook pans out as well. Amukamara could really help shore up the position and if Cook pans out they could form a very nice tandem for years to come with Asher Allen filling in at the nickel spot.

Pick:  7  Dallas Cowboys- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa-

Analysis: The Cowboys have a couple of solid DE’s in Igor Olshansky and Marcus Spears, but Spears has never really lived up to his 1st round pick billing. Clayborn strikes me as an ideal 3-4 DE prospect. He doesn’t have the edge speed to fly off the edge as a 4-3 DE but he is so big, strong and has such good hand usage I think he could be very disruptive at the DE spot in a 3-4. He is good versus the run though I have not seen how well he handles double teams, though with coaching and weight training he should have no issues controlling two gaps in the NFL.

Pick:  8  St. Louis Rams- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama-

Analysis: Julio Jones has a boatload of potential and he hasn’t really come close to reaching it at Alabama. Part of that has to do with how balanced their offense is and how worried teams tend to be about him beating them when the Crimson Tide do pass, but he definitely has the potential to be a better NFL player than he was in college. He has great size, speed and can make some highlight reel catches. If the Rams are looking for a potential #1 WR for Bradford to throw to, Jones is one of the best they could hope to get in this draft class. I have my concerns about Jones’ route running and his tendency to drop passes, but that comes down to concentration because his hands are obviously reliable. Jones is one of the more interesting prospects in this draft class to project to the NFL because he strikes me as a hit or miss guy.

Pick:  9  San Diego Chargers- Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State-

Analysis: I’m not sure how realistic it is for two 3-4 DE prospects to come off the board in the top 10, but the Chargers really need help at DE. Not only is the starter opposite Luis Castillo a better fit as a back-up, but Castillo himself is regularly injured. Heyward has great size, strength and defends the run well. He doesn’t have the speed off the edge to play DE in a 4-3, however I do think he could slide inside to defensive tackle in that scheme. But, I think his best fit is at DE in the 3-4 defense, and a combo of Heyward and a healthy Castillo at DE would be a very big boost for San Diego’s defense.

Pick: 10  New England Patriots (F/Oak)- Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA-

Analysis: The Patriots are notorious for a few things. One is having multiple first round picks (which they have again this year) and the other is consistently spending high draft picks on their front 7 on defense. I think they will go this route again this year with one of their selections at least, and Ayers strikes me as the perfect “Patriot” player. He is a good pass rusher and he can drop back into coverage and make plays. I am not sure how well he defends the run, but he has a lot of potential. This might seem high for him, but the Patriots have made surprising picks like this before, especially when it comes to the front 7.

Pick: 11  Denver Broncos- Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama-

Analysis: The Broncos could really use a stud ILB to play next to DJ Williams, and if they pick up Hightower they could have the beginnings of one of the best front sevens in the NFL. If Ayers, Dumervil, Hightower and Williams are all healthy they would have a very dangerous group of linebackers. They can all get after the passer and defend the run too, which is the scary part. Of course, they all have injury histories which may ultimately scare the Broncos away from Hightower. But ILB is a need for them and Hightower is the best draft eligible ILB prospect without a doubt.

Pick: 12  Cincinnati Bengals- Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina-

Analysis: Part of me wants to see the Bengals draft Christian Ponder, but I don’t think the Bengals will give up on Carson Palmer so easily (even if he hasn’t been the same QB since his horrific knee injury). That said, the Bengals could use a boost to their pass rush, and that is Robert Quinn’s specialty. The guy is an absolute freak athlete, and though he is suspended for the rest of this season for his interactions with an agent I would be relatively surprised if he didn’t declare for the draft this year. Perhaps he will surprise me and stay for his senior season, but I think he is talented enough to still get drafted in the 1st round if he declares. He will be a big gamble because he hasn’t played football all season, but the Bengals have taken risks on guys with worse character concerns than Quinn before so I think Cincinnati is definitely one of the most likely landing spots for Quinn in the first round. Combine their tendency to roll the dice on “character risks” with their need for a boost to their pass rush and Quinn makes a lot of sense.

Pick: 13  Seattle Seahawks- Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson-

Analysis: The Seahawks definitely need help at defensive end, and Bowers is the best pass rushing defensive end left on the table (though that isn’t saying much at this point). I honestly think Bowers is overrated at this point because of the hype he had coming out of high school, but he hasn’t really lived up to it during his time at Clemson. He hasn’t gotten to the quarterback as often as I (and many others) probably expected him to, and he doesn’t look like he has the best burst off the line and the best edge speed to be a good/very good pass rusher. At this point I almost think he would be a better fit in a 3-4 defense, but I haven’t scouted him enough yet this year to come to that conclusion yet. Perhaps he will be a better NFL player than college player, but he is just as likely to be a player with huge potential who never lives up to it in my opinion. I don’t know how likely this pick is because the Seahawks made it very obvious last year that they value production over potential when they made two of my favorite picks in the draft with Russell Okung and Earl Thomas.

Pick: 14  Miami Dolphins- Aaron Williams, CB, Texas-

Analysis: The Dolphins have a couple of young corners in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith according to their depth chart, but Sean Smith does not look like a natural corner to me at all. I always thought he would be a better fit at FS, so I think the Dolphins would be much better off drafting another corner and sliding him back to the safety position. Aaron Williams has a lot of potential and athletic ability, and he has been groomed by a program that has been churning out quality defensive back prospects for years now. I haven’t gotten a chance to scout him yet, but I will soon. As you can see from this picture, he is quite the playmaker on the defensive side of the ball.

Pick: 15  Arizona Cardinals- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State-

Analysis: This seems early for Ponder now since I think he has played himself into the “fringe” first rounder area thus far this season, but the Cardinals have to be desperate for a QB at this point and Ponder is the best available at this point. I think they could definitely go in another direction, perhaps cornerback if one they like is available, or they could slide down to get better value for Ponder or to see if some guys they like are still around. But for the sake of this exercise, I think they have to go with a QB. I don’t think Ponder will be ready to play as a rookie, and when I have seen him this year he hasn’t been particularly impressive. I am beginning to think that his terrific performance against UNC last year was an anomaly and that he will only be a solid starter in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if his performance the rest of that year confirms or denies those suspicions.

Pick: 16  New Orleans Saints- Greg Jones, OLB, Michigan State-

Analysis: Greg Jones is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. He has terrific instincts for the position and it physically pains me to mock him to the Saints, that is how good I think he is going to be. The Saints really need linebacker help, whether it is at WLB or MLB, so Jones makes a lot of sense for them from a need perspective.

Pick: 17  Green Bay Packers- Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida-

Analysis: I think Jenkins is being underrated by a lot of draft-niks right now because I haven’t seen him in a 1st round mock yet and I think he is one of the top three or four best corners in the nation. He is an absolute playmaker and he is physical and supports the run very well. I think his physicality makes him a good fit in Green Bay, plus he has dreadlocks so he would continue the tradition of the Packers having at least one corner with dreadlocks that was started years ago by Mike McKenzie. Plus, Al Harris and Charles Woodson are both getting old, and Harris has had trouble with injuries in recent years. They have some talent at corner on the roster in Tramon Williams, but to avoid a drop-off at the position the Packers could use another talented corner, and I think that could be Jenkins.

Pick: 18  New York Giants- Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois-

Analysis: This might seem high for Wilson, and honestly it probably is right now, but I think he has a lot of potential to be a stud ILB in the NFL. He has been a tackling machine this year for the Illini and he is coming off of a season ending injury from a season ago. The Giants might shy away from him because he his injury was from his neck, similar to what helped force Antonio Pierce away from football, but all indications are that he is healthy and he has been a force thus far this season.

Pick: 19  Jacksonville Jaguars- Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh-

Analysis: The Jaguars always seem perfectly willing to take a chance on a super talented player even if they have their question marks. I wonder how well Baldwin will be able to adjust to the NFL because he has been able to cruise on his natural athletic ability for so long and because I don’t think he has good enough burst or quickness to create separation and run effective routes. However, he does have very long strides and good deep speed and he locates and adjusts to the ball in the air as well as any receiver I have ever scouted. He definitely has a lot of potential, but I think he will need a couple of years to adjust to the speed of the NFL and to work on his route running. Then in years three or four he will either strut his stuff or end up being a bust. He strikes me as a boom or bust guy.

Pick: 20  Philadelphia Eagles- Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina-

Analysis: The Eagles love to have fast, hard hitting players all over their defense and that makes Carter a perfect fit for their scheme. He is an athletic freak. He is very fast, very strong and he makes plays on defense and on special teams. I don’t think he has very good instincts, though that is masked by his athletic ability on a regular basis. But he won’t be asked to play in coverage that often as the SLB and he should be able to play the run and get after the passer and make an impact on special teams, which is what I think he does best.

Pick: 21  Washington Redskins- Malcolm Floyd, WR, Notre Dame-

Analysis: Floyd is a WR who I have always marveled at. There aren’t many WR’s I have ever seen who high-point the ball in the air better than Floyd does, and whenever there is a jump ball thrown within five yards of Floyd I just assume he is going to come down with it and marvel at how he does it. He doesn’t have very good deep speed and doesn’t run great routes, but his combination of size, leaping ability and reliable hands is hard to come by. He may not strike fear into defenses with his speed, but I think that if he gets single coverage in the NFL he will still find a way to come down with the ball, so despite his lack of deep speed he can still threaten defenses deep. The Redskins really need a deep threat for McNabb to throw to opposite of Santana Moss, and Floyd’s size and leaping ability would really contrast Moss’ quickness and deep speed well.

Pick: 22  Indianapolis Colts- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State-

Analysis: Hudson is the top OG in this class in my opinion and though he is relatively undersized he is so technically sound and mobile for the position that I would be shocked if he slides out of the first round. The Colts love a smart and technically sound offensive lineman and they need help up front so this pick seems like a match made in heaven to me.

Pick: 23  Tennessee Titans- Brandon Harris, CB, Miami-

Analysis: The Titans have tried to find a second quality starting corner but none of their attempts have really hit home yet. I think Brandon Harris would fit in very well on their defense because of his athletic ability and his playmaking ability. Not long ago the Titans secondary was coming down with interceptions with astonishing regularity, but as the pass rush has waned so have the turnovers. They need playmakers in the secondary and pass rushers up front, and if Derrick Morgan can get healthy Harris and the rest of the Titans secondary could stand to benefit.

Pick: 24  Houston Texans- Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA-

Analysis: The Texans have needed help at FS for the majority of their existence as a franchise, so I think it is high time that they finally address that problem. Rahim Moore is a playmaking FS at UCLA and had a mind-boggling 10 interceptions last year as a sophomore. He hasn’t had the same success this year, and though I haven’t watched him I can’t imagine teams are challenging him as often as they were last year. Regardless, he would give the Texans that true centerfielder that they have needed for so long, and with Mario Williams rushing the passer he could come away with some easy turnovers as a Texan.

Pick: 25  Kansas City Chiefs- Jurell Powe, DT, Mississippi-

Analysis: The Chiefs really need help at NT in their 3-4 defense and Powe is the best draft eligible NT in the draft in my opinion. He is quick off the ball and is very disruptive versus the run and can collapse the pocket with his bull rush. He actually reminds me a lot of B.J. Raji, minus the spin move Raji flashed at Boston College. Both are built low to the ground but are very strong and thick, and both project well to the 4-3 NT position. However, like Raji, Powe could end up playing NT in a 3-4.

Pick: 26  Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia-

Analysis: The Bucs have one quality corner in Aqib Talib, but they have not yet found a suitable replacement for the ancient Ronde Barber. I am not a huge fan of Ras-I Dowling, but his size is a huge plus and his lack of elite speed is less of an issue in the Bucs defense. If they continue to run the Cover-2 then Dowling could fit in very well, plus they would have two of the bigger corners in the NFL with Talib and Dowling dropping back into coverage.

Pick: 27  New England Patriots- Cameron Jordan, DE, California-

Analysis: The Patriots love to spend their early selections on the defensive side of the ball, and drafting Ayers and Jordan would really shore up two of their weaker positions in their front 7. Jordan looks to be a nice 3-4 DE prospect who I think may sneak into the first round, though I don’t think he will be drafted as high as his former teammate Tyson Alualu was last season. With Jordan replacing Seymour and Ayers rushing the passer and dropping into coverage at linebacker the Patriots front seven would be very dangerous again.

Pick: 28  Pittsburgh Steelers- Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State-

Analysis: This may be late for Sherrod, but I haven’t had a chance to watch him much yet. He is probably the only OT I would grade as a potential top 15 pick at this point, but the way the draft order came out this week I just didn’t think he would get picked until 28. Regardless, the Steelers could use an upgrade over Max Starks at LT and sliding him back to LT and playing Sherrod at LT would improve their pass blocking and their offensive line as a whole.

Pick: 29  Chicago Bears- Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida-

Analysis: The Bears need help all over the offensive line. I am not sure if Chris Williams will ever be a reliable starter, but I’m not sure the Bears are willing to spend another first round pick on the position until they are sure what they have in him. However, their interior offensive line is also a mess and warrants serious overhaul in my opinion. Pouncey may have played awful at center at the beginning of the year for Florida, but he was a very good offensive guard prospect before his horrible showing at the pivot, and I see no reason he shouldn’t be a quality OG prospect now. The Bears could really use him at either guard position, so drafting him at this spot makes perfect sense, especially if they aren’t completely sold on upgrading Chris Williams yet.

Pick: 30  New York Jets- Allen Bailey, DE, Miami-

Analysis: The Jets seem to attract guys with tons of potential and Bailey would fit that bill perfectly. He has a pretty incredible combination of size, strength and overall athleticism and on paper seems to project perfectly to the 3-4 DE position. However, I personally think he is very overrated. I don’t think he sheds blocks well at all and he usually the last Miami defensive lineman off the line of scrimmage. Being slow off the ball and struggling to shed one on one blocks, much less getting washed out by double teams, makes me wonder how he will ever transition to the NFL. However, I have been wrong before, and if he can improve his hand usage and learn to stand up to double teams and beat one on one blocks more consistently he could be a handful in the NFL. He seems to be yet another boom or bust guy, and if I had to put money on one I would put it on bust.

Pick: 31  Atlanta Falcons- Lance Kendricks, TE, Wisconsin-

Analysis: This may seem awfully high for Kendricks, but I have graded him as a early-mid 2nd rounder since I started scouting him last season, and I don’t feel much differently about him now. I don’t know if he will sneak into the first round or not, but I do know that as an Atlanta Falcons fan I would be ecstatic if we ended up with him on draft day. Kendricks is a great athlete, he has very reliable hands and he is a much better blocker than most give him credit for. He had a number of key seal blocks in the bowl game against Miami last year and I watched him block Allen Bailey one on one on more than one occasion in that same game. He is a good in-line blocker, better than I thought he would be actually, and he is an even better receiver. Drafting him while we still have Tony Gonzalez would allow Gonzo to show him some of the tricks of the trade, and when Gonzo retires Kendricks would be ready to step in and give Ryan a reliable target to throw to at the position. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Falcons slide into the 2nd round if they are picking late in round 1. Thomas Dimitroff is a Patriots disciple and the Patriots are notorious for stock-piling draft picks. If there were ever a year for Dimitroff to try that it would be this year.

Pick: 32  Baltimore Ravens- Mark Barron, S, Alabama-

Analysis: Ed Reed has been the gold standard for safety play for years and years, but he is wearing down and injuries or his better judgment will eventually end his career. When that happens the Ravens have to be ready, and getting a playmaker like Barron is the first step for preparing for that day. Reed should still have another year or two left in him (hopefully) and drafting Barron to sit behind Reed (and play when he is injured) would help his development and put the Ravens in terrific position to replace Reed when that day comes. Plus, Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski are nothing to write home about.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom