Tag Archive: Matt Ryan


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

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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

Divisional Playoff Picks:

I’m going to be traveling on Sunday morning en route to the East-West Shrine Game so I am going to make all of my picks today. We’ve got four intriguing match-ups going on this weekend, so it will be interesting to see how they shake out.

Denver-Baltimore:

As much as I want to see Ray Lewis and Baltimore continue on this season I’m not convinced they are going to. It’s hard to bet against Peyton Manning and this Broncos team, especially since this Denver defense is much more complete than any defense Manning ever had in Indianapolis. They can really get after the passer but I think they’ll be able to slow down Ray Rice as well, and that’s what I’d be worried about most if I was a Ravens fan. The Broncos can match up with the Ravens on both sides of the ball, and I’m not sure they have the fire-power on offense or the talent on defense to take away Manning’s passing options. On top of that, I’m not a big Flacco fan and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to make the big throws the Ravens need to win this game. He made some last week, but this defense is a different animal. I’m hoping for a good game, but I think Denver is going to win by more than one score: 31-20.

Green Bay-San Francisco:

This is a tough match-up to pick, but I’m going to go with San Francisco. I think they match up ok with Green Bay’s bevy of weapons on offense and they should be able to get after Rodgers without blitzing which is a big no-no against him. If you can generate pressure with four or five rushers (like the Vikings did in Week 17) then you can knock him around a bit and not give him a lot of options and force him to make unbelievable throws. The 49ers should be able to do that, and I think they’ll be able to take away the semblance of a running game that Green Bay has. On the other side of the ball I think the 49ers will be able to run the ball how they want against the Packers, and Kaepernick’s mobility outside of the pocket should extend a couple drives for the 49ers that could prove to be critical. It’s risky to pick a young QB like Kaepernick against a seasoned veteran like Rodgers, but Kaepernick isn’t one to wilt under pressure. I’m going with the 49ers but I think it’s going to be close: 27-21

Houston-New England:

I have to pick the Patriots here. I just don’t think the Texans defense will be able to match up with the weapons that the Patriots have on offense, and if the Pats can get the run game going I think the Texans will struggle to slow Brady and the Pats offense down. The Pats aren’t a great team on defense, but I think they’ll be able to do enough to slow down the Texans offense. If they can bottle Foster up and not allow Schaub to suck their linebackers in with play action fakes I think the Pats will be able to win this game. I think it’s going to be a close game, but I’m not going to be able to bet against Tom Brady in a playoff game at home: 31-24

Atlanta-Seattle:

This is a hard game for me to pick. I mentioned last week that I think the Seahawks match up very well with the Falcons on defense and I still believe that. This game is going to come down to who wins the match-ups between the Falcons WR’s and the Seahawks corners and whether or not the Falcons can find a way to get Tony Gonzalez involved without forcing him the ball. And if Michael Turner finds a way to have a productive game the Falcons can definitely win. But if the Seahawks make the Falcons one dimensional I will be very nervous with Ryan trying to carry the Falcons to victory against a very talented Seahawks secondary. They are missing their top pass rusher, but their secondary is good enough that I’d still be concerned. The Seahawks will look to run the ball early and often and I think the Falcons have the advantage on this side of the ball. Their defense has been very good at coming up with clutch turnovers this year and even if they let Wilson and Lynch move the ball I have a feeling Wilson is going to end up with an interception in this game and Lynch needs to make sure he covers up the ball because the Falcons will be looking to strip it. It’s never a good idea to bet against Russell Wilson (I did it last week and we all know how that worked out) but I think the Falcons have the defense to match up with him and even though I’m very nervous for this game I’m picking the Falcons to win a close one: 27-20

Those are my picks, hopefully I can improve over my 2-2 record last week. Enjoy all the football guys and look out for my coverage of the East-West Shrine game this next week. I’ll be posting notes here and on The Football Standard.

–Tom

It seems like ages ago that I and many other Falcons fans were beginning to have that sickening feeling deep down inside: Will Mike Vick be able to lead the Falcons to a Super Bowl? For so many years I had debated and rationalized why Vick could and would be the quarterback to get the Falcons to their first Super Bowl since 1998, but with every year that passed with little to no progression from Vick and the same disappointing losses in the playoffs after the magical win over Brett Favre and the Packers at Lambeau Field I began to wonder if Vick had what it took to win a Super Bowl. It sounds like revisionist history now, but the year before Bobby Petrino was hired I had given up almost all hope. I wasn’t convinced that Vick was going to put the time in to improve and without that I was convinced the Falcons would keep losing in the playoffs to teams with the athleticism to keep Vick in the pocket and force him to make accurate, on time throws (like the Eagles, for example). Petrino was hired and I was very, very skeptical. He had just signed a 10 year, $25.6 million extension with the Cardinals that suggested he was getting significant interest from other schools and Louisville wanted to make an obvious commitment to him to fend them off. He signed  that contract on July 13th, 2006. On January 7th, 2007, not even a full 6 months after he signed a 10 year extension, he became the new Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons. I thought he was a snake, but he had an impressive track record on the offensive side of the ball and Vick’s strong arm would seemingly be a great fit in his system. Then the entire team came crashing down after Vick was indicted on dog fighting charges and suddenly every Falcon fan was longing for the better days when Vick would drop his eyes before going through his progressions, scramble and somehow avoid a sack to extend a drive. As bad as that season was, I honestly thought it was a necessary cleanse. The Falcons never would have cut Vick with that contract unless something like that happened, and I was more than convinced the Falcons weren’t going to win a Super Bowl with Vick at the helm. If we wanted to win a Super Bowl, as hard as it was, we needed to get a new quarterback. I never really anticipated seeing Vick go that abruptly, but it opened the door to a bevy of possibilities. As we all know, Petrino confirmed my suspicions and ditched the Falcons and all of his players before the season was over (again, less than a year after he became the head coach) to accept the same position at Arkansas.

You might all be wondering what this has to do with this season’s Falcons. Vick hasn’t been on the roster for years, and most Falcon fans are glad they got rid of Petrino (myself included). But after so many years of wondering if we had a quarterback and a roster that could make a run at a Super Bowl, this year I truly believe that we can. The reason I’m writing this article, however, is because I believe that if we don’t win one this year we might not have another good chance for a few years.

Now you are probably really confused. “This team is 13-2 and they’re in the playoffs year in and year out with Mike Smith at the helm and Matt Ryan at quarterback. Who is this guy?” The answer to that question is I am a guy who has been advocating for the Falcons to draft a dynamic tight end to learn from Tony Gonzalez for three years to no avail. The answer to that question is I am a guy who has been begging the Falcons to draft a pass rusher who has the potential to replace John Abraham once he inevitably starts to slow down and become less effective. The answer to that question is I am a guy who has taken a look at the upcoming free agents the Falcons will have to try and re-sign this offseason, and it’s a significant list.

The Falcons team this year is a team that feels like a team that can win a Super Bowl to me though. They have gotten breaks when they’ve needed them, they have won close games without playing their best, and they have beaten teams that have given them issues in the past (most notably the New York Giants, but also the New Orleans Saints). Not only that, but they have evolved from a team that protects Matt Ryan with the running game to a team that throws the ball to compensate for Turner’s ineffectiveness that I hope will lead to his release this offseason. They have also evolved from a team that could barely stop anyone on defense to a team who forces a lot of turnovers and can win games with their defense. That is the biggest difference this year, and that is one reason why I think this is the year they need to win.

If the Falcons don’t win this year they are going to have some pieces to replace, some depth to replenish, and probably some front office personnel and coaches to replace. Mike Nolan has transformed this defense from a middle of the road defense into an aggressive, turnover forcing machine. I personally believe he has been one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL this year, if not the best. But now that he has done such a great job with the Falcons defense there are going to be teams that will consider giving him another shot at being a Head Coach, and he deserves those opportunities. But if the Falcons lose him their defense will not be the same. Their front office has done a great job drafting as of late as well, and that has led to David Caldwell reportedly garnering interest from teams that will need a new General Manager. Losing him would certainly be a significant blow to the Falcons front office.

On the field the Falcons have a lot of potential issues to manage as well. Brent Grimes is coming off of a serious Achilles injury that plenty of great athletes haven’t come all the way back from, and he is a free agent after the Falcons were unable to reach a long-term agreement with him on an extension that led to them using the franchise tag on him (and ultimately losing Curtis Lofton in free agency to the Saints). The Falcons likely won’t feel comfortable giving him a huge long term deal, and Grimes will want more than a one or two year trial contract. If they weren’t able to come to an agreement last year before his injury I don’t see any reason they will all of a sudden see eye to eye on his value this year. If you follow me on Twitter you are well aware that I am not a fan of Dunta Robinson and I would much rather have Grimes than Robinson, but Robinson already got a big contract and according to www.spotrac.com (@spotrac) he is due $8 million in 2013, $10 million in 2014 and $11.5 million in 2015. I would be very surprised if they paid him the final $21.5 million they owe him on that contract, but regardless of that they already have a lot of money tied up in him and probably aren’t ready to sign Grimes to a big contract after his injury even if he deserves to get paid much more than Robinson does.

Not only is Grimes a free agent, but Tony Gonzalez is a free agent and he is very likely going to retire. The Falcons are lucky to have had him for this long, and for some reason they wouldn’t draft a quality tight end prospect (I was pounding the table for Aaron Hernandez since I had a 1st round grade on him) to be his heir apparent. Well now they are faced with Gonzalez’ retirement and his back-up tight end is Michael Palmer. Palmer is not the long-term answer, and he’s certainly not going to replace Gonzalez’ impact on the passing game that Matt Ryan has gotten used to the last three years. On top of that, Sam Baker is an unrestricted free agent (UFA), his back-up Will Svitek is a UFA, old man river Todd McClure is a UFA, and William Moore is a UFA. Key reserves like Chris Hope and Mike Peterson are UFA’s as well. The Falcons don’t have a replacement on the roster for Grimes (though I have been very happy with how Robert McClain has played this year), Gonzalez, or William Moore, and McClure’s heir apparent Peter Konz has spent the majority of the year getting beat at right guard, including an embarrassing showing against Ndamukong Suh on Saturday night against the Lions.

There’s certainly nothing stopping the Falcons from retaining Baker, Svitek, Grimes, Moore, McClure, Hope and Peterson, but McClure and Peterson are getting very long in the tooth, Baker has been an average starter his entire career, Svitek isn’t the answer at left tackle, and I’ve already detailed some of the potential issues with locking Grimes up. These aren’t cornerstone players, but losing Grimes and Moore would be devastating long term for this secondary, and the Falcons’ offensive line isn’t good enough to deal with losing one or more starters without a significant upgrade. Not only that, but even though John Abraham is under contract through 2014 with a modest salary of $3.25 million for both 2013 and 2014 he is unlikely to continue to play at this high level for much longer and the Falcons have not secured a suitable replacement for him either. Lawrence Sidbury was drafted to hopefully develop into a quality pass rusher but he has been an absolute non-factor his entire career in Atlanta, and even though Jonathan Massaquoi has some upside he fell to the 6th round because his production dropped off considerably the year before he declared for the draft. Hopefully slimming back down to his sophomore weight will help him develop into a quality option, but I’m also not holding my breath for him to become the caliber of player that Abraham has been for the Falcons all these years. That means the Falcons will be facing some tough decisions this offseason, but luckily for them this draft class figures to have some high end tight end talent and has a bevy of pass rushing depth. The Falcons would be very wise to look at TE and DE in the first two rounds this year in my opinion.

I don’t mean to write a doom and gloom article, because it’s very conceivable that the Falcons retain the key free agents they need to sign and I would assume they will retain restricted free agents like Robert McClain, Vance Walker and Michael Palmer. But it’s also entirely possible that they balk at Grimes’ contract demands, lose Tony Gonzalez to retirement, and lose one or more of their quality free agents this upcoming offseason. The impact Gonzalez has can’t be understated, and if Abraham’s play starts to drop off the Falcons’ pass rush will be a serious problem that will only be rectified by daring blitz packages that will risk exposing the secondary in coverage.

So, long story short, the stars have aligned for the Falcons this year. The bounces are going their way, they have home field in the playoffs, Matt Ryan has plenty of weapons to throw to and the defense is the best it has been in years. Here’s hoping the Falcons go all the way this year, but if they don’t it could be a little while before they have a shot to go back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my write-up on the Falcons-Bears game from Sunday, September 11th. For those of you who read my blog consistently you may know that I am a Falcons fan. I feel that I was relatively objective when writing this post, but knowing a team as well as I know the Falcons is sure to create some bias. Hopefully you enjoy the post in spite of this, as I took pages of notes on this game as I watched it live. Enjoy!

Falcons Offense:

The Falcons offense was ineffective at best today. Matt Ryan passed for 319 yards but had to do it with 31 completions on 47 attempts, which is never a good sign for an offense that prides itself on ball control and effectively running the ball. The Falcons only ran the ball 14 times today and while it was for 110 yards they got 53 of them on a huge run by Turner up the middle where he was largely untouched before he was caught from behind. Ryan averaged 6.8 YPA, which is not bad but not great either, and threw an interception on a forced pass to Tony Gonzalez that Brian Urlacher made a terrific play on to bring in the pass. There were a number of dropped balls in this game additionally. Roddy dropped at least two, I believe Harry Douglas had at least one, perhaps two drops, and Turner and Snelling each had a drop if I remember correctly.

The Falcons offensive line was also clearly overwhelmed by the Bears pass rush and it showed as they tallied 5 sacks, 14 QB hits, 9 hurries and forced two turnovers courtesy of Ryan (one INT and one fumble recovery). Early in the game Ryan was willingly taking shots to deliver catchable passes, but he was getting pressured and hit so consistently that he gradually became more and more uncomfortable in the pocket and started fading away from his throws which led to less precise ball placement, more air under his passes and therefore became less effective passing the ball.

When he had time the Bears were usually only rushing four (though they regularly applied significant pressure with four down linemen rushing) which meant Ryan was looking to pass against seven defenders dropping into coverage. That led to a lot of check downs which was frustrating to watch considering how much emphasis the Falcons front office and coaching staff placed on creating more explosive plays downfield. Julio Jones flashed the ability to help in this department by showing the ability to get vertical and make catches in traffic as well as taking shorter passes and getting yards after the catch which is something the Falcons have been sorely lacking.

However, despite spreading the ball around fairly well, Ryan still checked down a lot to his running backs and at times forced the ball to Tony Gonzalez which is something he really needs to stop doing. At times he will key on one receiver (frequently Gonzalez) and throw the ball to him despite the coverage keying on his eyes, which is how Urlacher was able to make that interception on a pass intended for Gonzalez. But I also recognize that he was checking down because of the lack of separation the Falcons’ wide receivers were creating downfield, which is equally as frustrating. The Bears were playing quality coverage on all of our receivers, our offensive line couldn’t slow down their pass rush, and Ryan was forced to dink and dunk all day. That meant we needed to string a lot of plays together with no mistakes to get a potential scoring drive, but we had so many penalties (9 penalties for 65 yards) on the offensive side of the ball such as false starts and holds that a number of promising drives were killed as a result of them. It seemed every time the Falcons fought their way into Bears territory they had an unnecessary penalty such as a false start, hold or penalty after the play ended that either led to a field goal attempt or to a punt looking to pin the Bears back in their own territory.

The Falcons have a lot to clean up before next week on the offensive side of the ball. Most notably they have to find a way to keep Ryan upright because if they can’t give him time and room to step up in the pocket to avoid the outside pass rush (which was a problem today with Joe Hawley and Garrett Reynolds making their first career starts at Center and Right Guard respectively) it is going to be a very long season and there won’t be time to stretch the field as those routes take longer to develop. As a result of their defense’s poor play and their inability to score a single offensive touchdown against the Bears the Falcons’ run game was abandoned which is never a good sign for Atlanta, and re-establishing that despite Michael Turner’s clear lack of explosiveness and burst is going to be critical.

Overall I thought the offense struggled mightily today, only managing six total points. We didn’t see more explosive plays thanks to limited pass protection for Ryan and limited separation downfield from the receivers, and the offense overall was inconsistent at best. When they did finally seem to have something going a penalty or sack would derail the promising drive, leading either to a punt or a field goal.

Falcons Defense:

The Falcons defense was very underwhelming to me. I was hoping to see a much improved pass rush and hopefully some better pass coverage, but I was not impressed with either. John Abraham provided the majority of our pressure as usual, but I did not hear Ray Edwards’ name called once. I was hoping that he, along with Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, would create more consistent pressure. I think the pass rush was better than last year for the most part, however the Bears offensive line is a group we should have handled pretty easily, and far too often I thought deep completions downfield were a result of Cutler having plenty of time to survey the field and plenty of space to step up and deliver a catchable ball. So, while Abe impressed me (and drew a number of uncalled holding penalties as usual) I was underwhelmed by our defensive tackles and outside of some pressure from Biermann, Edwards and even some flashes from Sidbury I was not impressed by the defensive line from a pass rushing standpoint.

The secondary was our biggest problem area in my opinion, and that really hasn’t changed much since last year. I think it should be pretty clear to everyone that Dunta Robinson got vastly overpaid and really is not a #1 corner type of player. At times I wonder why he is even a starter. I thought he might just be best in a man coverage type scheme, but routinely he struggles whether in zone, man, press or off coverage. He opens his hips the wrong way, he doesn’t recover well once he’s made a mistake, he doesn’t close on the ball well, he lets running backs break contain when his only job is to force them inside to the pursuing defenders, and he misses tackles in the open field far too often. What exactly is the upside to playing him? I have to ask, because I don’t know. He’s better than the other corners we would start, which explains why Cutler was picking us apart (especially in the first half), but I think he is definitely upgradable and I don’t think he should be on our team in another two years. Thankfully, Brent Grimes makes up for some of his inadequacy with great plays on the ball, great instincts, better tackling, and amazing athleticism to recover, close and make plays on passes. He was one of the bright spots for the Falcons yesterday.

One problem I saw yesterday was not that the defense wasn’t getting any opportunities for turnovers, but rather that they weren’t capitalizing on them. I counted three dropped interceptions yesterday (Two by Thomas DeCoud and one by Sean Weatherspoon) and if DeCoud had brought in both interceptions it would have prevented a field goal and Matt Forte’s touchdown on a screen pass, which occurred just two plays after DeCoud dropped an interception if my memory serves. That is a serious problem, because if the pass rush rattles Cutler enough to make a mistake (which they did at times, even if it wasn’t as consistent as Chicago’s pressure) then the pass coverage needs to take advantage of it. Because they didn’t, 10 points went up on the board that could have been avoided, and instead of being down 30-12 late in the game it could have theoretically been a 20-12 game with only one possession necessary to tie the game. That is a huge difference, and it was one of the main reasons why the Falcons were unable to keep this game close.

One positive on the defensive side of the ball was the Falcons run defense. I thought it looked quite good for the majority of the game. I still think that the Falcons have issues tackling, as evidenced by Sean Weatherspoon when he attempted to shove Matt Forte when he was running down the sideline for an eventual touchdown instead of even attempting to wrap him up, but they were swarming to the ball, gang tackling at times, and they played fundamentally sound run defense for the majority of the game. That was great to see, because at least the front seven was doing its job and taking Matt Forte out of the game from a running perspective. Forte had a solid game running the ball accounting for 68 yards on 16 carries (4.3 yard average) with 27 yards coming on a single carry. Excluding that for curiosities sake, the Falcons only allowed him to run for 41 yards on his other 15 carries (an average of only 2.73 per carry) which is definitely good. The Falcons only gave up 88 yards on the ground (a 3.3 yard per carry average) and allowed no touchdowns on the ground which was good to see. However, Matt Forte shredded the defense catching passes out of the backfield with 5 catches, 90 yards and a touchdown. So while they slowed him down as a runner he showed his value as a pass catcher.

Long story short, the Falcons have a lot to work on. Their pass coverage was largely atrocious and there were plenty of big holes for receivers to take advantage of in zone coverage, and rarely were many Falcons in position in man coverage. The Falcons like to run zone, and that really proved to be problematic for Dunta Robinson and Chris Owens from what I was able to see. The pass coverage is going to have to come a long way, and an improvement in the pass rush will help that. But the pass rush isn’t going to be collapsing the pocket on every play, and I think it was better than it was last year even if it was less consistent than I would have liked in the first half. The secondary needs to hold up their end of the bargain, especially when it comes to capitalizing on turnovers. That didn’t happen, and it resulted in a pretty pathetic defensive display and an eventual loss.

Chicago Bears Offense:

The Bears offense looked like a juggernaut in the first half as Jay Cutler was carving up the Falcons secondary for significant chunks of yardage, he regularly had plenty of time to throw and this was all happening without much of a running game from Matt Forte and the offensive line. I thought Roy Williams looked great as he was making tough catches away from his body and providing Jay Cutler with a nice, big target that only needed the ball in his general area for the pass to be completed. A lot of people were skeptical about Williams and whether or not his addition would be significant, but I think he had a good game even if his stat line (4 catches for 55 yards and no touchdowns) wasn’t earth shattering. He did his job and each of the four times the ball was thrown to him he caught it. That’s all you can ask of a wide receiver.

I thought the Bears used Devin Hester more effectively yesterday. I don’t think you need to throw to him 5-10 times a game (they targeted him 5 times) but using him on bubble screens, a reverse and maybe a fade and post route would be how I would deploy him. He’s just so dangerous that if he can make a guy miss and get into the open field you never know what will happen, which is exactly what he did on a screen against the Falcons. He made a guy miss, got into the open field and just kept working back across the field, using his blockers and avoiding tacklers until he was pushed out at the one (though I personally thought he scored) which led to an easy 1 yard touchdown pass on play action from Cutler to Matt Spaeth in the back of the end zone. 53 of his 60 yards came on that one screen play, but that is what Hester brings to the table. He might get tackled four times for a total gain of seven yards, but he only needs one touch to change the landscape of the game.

Matt Forte continued to impress me which is nothing new. I’ve loved watching him play since he was at Tulane and I thought he was going to be a great back. I actually wanted the Falcons to draft him in the 2nd round instead of signing a free agent running back (like Michael Turner). That’s not to say that Michael Turner hasn’t been an effective back for the Falcons, but I thought Forte’s game would have been a great compliment to a quarterback like Ryan who is very smart and usually knows when to check down to his running back. I also thought his value was significant because even on a day when he was bottled up as a runner (save one 27 yard run) he was able to dramatically change the game as a pass catcher. Add it all up and he had 158 total yards rushing and receiving plus a touchdown, which is production you would take any day of the week from your running back. I really love watching him play and I think he is really the guy that makes this offense go.

Jay Cutler may have gotten a lot of grief for how he handled his injury in the conference championship game, but regardless of that he is still a quality NFL quarterback. Maybe he is lacking in toughness, and I am still personally bewildered by his footwork at times, but the guys arm is special. He has great arm strength, zip and there are times when he throws an off balance pass down the seam in perfect stride with his receiver and you just can’t help but marvel at how he made that throw. I personally think he could be one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league without much debate if he improved his footwork and his mechanics from that standpoint, but even still he is very effective especially when he gets in a rhythm which the Falcons allowed him to do in the first half. He was very efficient as he completed 22 of his 32 pass attempts for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception that was returned for Atlanta’s only touchdown of the game. It was a bit of a fluke interception, but I still think it was on Cutler for throwing it instead of taking a sack, etc. I have always been a supporter of Cutler because he was the guy I thought would turn out the best of the trio of QB’s in his draft class. It’s hard to say he didn’t end up the best of the trio he was compared with considering the problems Vince Young and Matt Leinart have had in the NFL, but he could still be much better. But he didn’t have a very consistent rushing attack to take pressure off of him in this game and he was still efficient and effective which warrants mentioning in my opinion.

The Bears offensive line was better than I expected it to be, but considering the seemingly random assortment of parts that make up their offensive line that still isn’t saying a lot. It’s a definite testament to Mike Tice’s ability to coach up offensive linemen that the group played so well as a unit, only surrendering four sacks and 6 additional QB hits according to the stat sheet I’m looking at. In contrast, the Falcons offensive line allowed 5 sacks and 14 QB hits, plus 9 hurries and it is widely considered the better unit. They didn’t provide a lot of running room for Forte and Bell to run through, but I think that is something that might improve as the season progresses if the offensive line can stay healthy and mesh together as a unit. It will never be a good or a great unit in my opinion, but I think it can be solid.

Chicago Bears Defense:

The Bears defense continues to be the staple of their team. For years the defense has been responsible for dismantling powerful offenses to keep their lackluster offense in the game as long and often as possible. Now, with a potentially more dangerous passing attack and a running back who can threaten defenses just as well with the run as he can with the pass, the defense doesn’t have to win games by themselves. Their pass rush yesterday was as terrifying as ever, and Rod Marinelli continues to prove just how good of a defensive line guru he really is. The Bears cut Tommie Harris and brought in Amobi Okoye to replace him as he had not been effective for the Texans and no longer fit their scheme, and he provided some pressure along with Henry Melton at defensive tackle to collapse the pocket, and even ended up with a sack. Melton had an astronomical 5 tackles, 2 sacks and an almost unbelievable SEVEN hits on the quarterback. While they obviously played well from a statistical standpoint, I think part of the reason they were creating so much pressure was because Peppers was causing so many problems off the edge for Sam Baker and the Falcons offensive line. He forced Ryan to step up a number of times and a few times there just wasn’t any room to step up because the defensive tackles got such good penetration. The Bears defensive line was fantastic in this game, and that is a testament to their front office, their scheme, their personnel and definitely to Rod Marinelli.

The Bears run defense was more problematic than their pass defense was, but their team is built to stop the pass (especially deep passes) more than it is built to stop the run in my opinion. This was demonstrated by giving up 110 yards on only 14 carries to the Falcons. 53 of those yards came on one huge run by Michael Turner, but even still they gave up 57 yards on only 13 carries (an average of 4.38 per carry). So, their run defense could use some improvement, but they weren’t terrible in my opinion.

The real strength of the Bears defense was their pass defense. Their defensive line was nasty, but their secondary was also quite good. I think they look better than they actually are when you consider the personnel they are employing (I’m not a huge fan of Tim Jennings or Major Wright), but with that pass rush and some corners who can play man to man coverage (especially if they do it as well as Charles Tillman does) or zone coverage then they can be very effective. They caused a lot of problems for Matt Ryan because the pass rush applied pressure so quickly that the secondary was still covering the Falcons receivers effectively, meaning he had to either check down, take a sack or force a throw against good coverage. Being a pretty smart player, Ryan regularly elected to check down or take a sack. The Bears are very good at taking away big plays, but a big test for them will be seeing how well they do when they are forced to take away big plays from a team like the Packers. They have so many weapons in their passing game (Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones, to name a few) that I think it will be hard to eliminate all of the big plays like the Bears did with the Falcons. The Falcons have Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, but unlike the Packers they don’t get vertical nearly as well as the Packers’ offensive weapons do. That was one reason the Bears were able to take away so many vertical plays: there just weren’t that many legitimate deep threats beyond Roddy and Julio.

Overall I was impressed with the Bears. A lot of people thought that they were going to finish in 3rd in their division and that there was no way they would see the playoffs having to go against the defending Superbowl Champion Packers twice a year plus deal with the up-and-coming Detroit Lions team in their same division. But they showed that while their offense is still a work in progress at times they can still play defense effectively. I don’t know exactly how their season will play out, especially since I don’t know if their pass rush will always be as consistently effective as it was against the Falcons yesterday, but I do think that they have a great shot at 8-9 wins which is more than a lot of people expected them to get based on what I read.

Sorry this post was so long, I had pages and pages of notes on this game. Hopefully you enjoyed the read, and thank you for reading! I’ll have my Missouri-Arizona State post up next.

–Tom

Falcons Preseason Post:

Offensive notes:

Series 1:
-Bad throw to Julio, inaccurate pass by Ryan.
-Good play fake. Vontae Davis with good coverage on Julio. Ryan threw a better ball but it was to a tight window, well defended by Davis.
-False start on Sam Baker.
-Shotgun, Ryan stepped up, got hit and the throw was incomplete. Terrible first series.

Series 2:
-Turner with a huge run between the tackles. Good blocks by Clabo, Reynolds and Mughelli to spring him. Clabo and Reynolds created a huge lane, I could have ran through it.
-Turner is running well, also with more power than I remember. Not overly explosive, but that’s not surprising considering the workload he’s had in recent years. Blalock got to the second level well, Baker with a nice down block on the DT.
-Great play fake, forced a pass to Tony Gonzalez in double coverage though. Had Turner WIDE open in the flat with 5 yards of green around him. He needs to stop staring Gonzalez down so much, he’s almost stunting some of his development as a QB. Normally Ryan would find Turner in the flat.
-Ryan stepped up and hit Julio on a drag route and he got a lot of YAC. Just what we need from him, turning small gains into significant ones. Good pass pro also.
-Very nice run by Snelling. Great cut back, good block by Baker gave him a seam. Nice vision. Baker has shown some solid run blocking. Not drive blocking, but wall-off blocking and doing his job.
-Turner with a TD, needs to protect the ball better though.

Series 3:
-7 in the box, 8 if you include the safety 6-7 yards off the LOS. Ryan still went with the run. 1 high coverage with Roddy and Julio getting pressed in man coverage? I’d check out of that and take a shot, especially because the safety will probably shade towards Roddy’s side, leaving Julio in one on one which could be a mismatch. As is, a linebacker came in unblocked because the box was stacked and he hit Turner in the backfield, the FS cleaned it up. Ryan should see that and check to a pass.
-3 WR, 1 back, 1 TE. Good pocket for Ryan, delivers a nice ball to Julio downfield. That’s a 20+ yard pass play right there. Second 20+ yard pass play of the game. Exactly what I was hoping for from him.
-End around to Julio, boy can he move. Needs to tuck the ball away securely though.
-OL has gotten a good push. Good to see that.
-Good check down to Snelling. This is against 2nd team Dolphins D though.
-Great catch by Weems. Good to see him getting action on offense. Love his potential in the slot. High throw, but great catch away from his body.
-Smart check down instead of forcing it downfield. Mularkey tried to go with a 2 TE set and surprise with a play action pass since we run so often out of that set, but the Dolphins weren’t fooled at all.
-Jared Odrick just made a nice play to beat Baker 1 on 1 versus the run and tackle Gartrell Johnson. Very nice swim move.
-HD caught a touchdown here. He didn’t look very fast on his TD, but Ryan threw a good ball perfectly in stride on the score and HD made a nice catch in traffic. I’m not sure HD is going to beat a lot of people deep though.

Series 4:
-JPW has more zip on his throws than he did last year and definitely more than he did coming out of Alabama. Meier with a nice catch away from his body. He has great hands, I think he’s the new Finn.
-The backup LG got beat here. Looked like Andrew Jackson. He gave up pressure 1 on 1 and it rushed JPW who overthrew Peelle.
-Snelling running well. Good to have him back.
-Good read and throw by Wilson here but Nate Ness made a nice diving deflection to force a FG.

Series 5:
-Weems with another nice catch. Has to be in the slot WR mix.
-JPW has good zip on his throws. Good route and quickness to create separation on curl. Good hands by HD.
-Wilson has made some nice throws. HD making some nice catches as well. Good to see.
-Don’t really see anything special from Gartrell Johnson.
-JPW comfortable in offense, good cadence to get DE to jump early.
-Weems almost made a great grab. Perfect throw from JPW, but Benny Sapp knocked the blal out.
-INT by JPW.

Series 6:
-Nothing special in Gartrell Johnson… let’s see Quizz.
-Good move from Odrick. Beat Jackson outside, good burst and hand usage. Should have a good year.

Series 7:
-Edds sacked JPW, came completely free. He’s a good blitzer and he timed it up well, nice play.
-Weems with a catch underneath in traffic. He is killing anyone’s chances of making this team as a #5 WR the way he is running routes and catching the football.
-JPW got hit hard, threw a ball into coverage but it feel incomplete. He started well, hasn’t faced pressure effectively though.

Series 8:
-A good catch on sideline by Weems. I like what I’m seeing from him a lot. I’ve been high on him as a WR since I rewatched the Pittsburgh game from week 1 last year.
-JPW got sacked from his blindside and lost the fumble. Jimmy Wilson made a nice hit on the blitz and forced the fumble. He has been everywhere, he’s a 7th round pick from Montana and the announcers will not stop talking about him. Would be surprised if he didn’t make the team.

Series 9:
-Brandon Harvey made the catch of the day so far, amazing extension and toe tap on sideline for completion.
-Antoine Smith showed some burst and speed, good hands as well.
-Good burst, nice vision/cut and ran through an arm tackle or two. Smith and Quizz should be battling for the #3 spot, Gartrell should get cut.
-Great leg drive by Quizz as he got some TOUGH yards.
-Wilson has showed some accuracy, zip. Not sure he will ever be a starter, but can be a quality back-up in my opinion. Don’t think he handles pressure in the pocket well enough to ever be someone’s Plan A.
-Again, Wilson doesn’t handle pressure that well.

Misc Off:
-Good cut by Quizz. He has a LOT of quickness.
-Froman has missed two throws here. Threw it away on the next play though, showing some maturity.
-Solid rollout, checkdown. I really don’t like all of those play action rollout plays. Cuts off half the field.
-Bad throw here behind his man, I’m not convinced he can take the job from JPW from what I’ve seen.
-Brandon Harvey is impressing me. Not a great play/throw by Froman though. Harvey looks like PS material if he is young enough.
-Froman’s ball placement has not been impressive today.
-I don’t think Froman’s arm is better than JPW. Would be surprising to me if he beat him out.
-Nice throw down the seam, good zip, but the next throw was a pass with a ton of air under it and it fell incomplete.
-Interception by Froman. He forced it into coverage and it was not accurate. JPW has to be the heavy favorite for the #3 QB job.

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in so long. I haven’t had much time at all to watch film or write stuff up being the Vice President of my fraternity and working for my college’s football team during two-a-days. School has just started, so I’m going to make a much more concerted effort to get back to my roots and watch a lot of film. So enjoy this post, and I’ll start working on more film ASAP.

–Tom

Hey everyone, sorry I haven’t been posting much recently. I’ve been extremely busy so I haven’t had much time to scout, but I took some time this past week to crank out this mock draft. I wanted to wait until after the Senior Bowl and the Super Bowl were done before I posted another one, but now that the draft order is set and all of the postseason games are over with I am happy to present you with my updated mock draft! Enjoy.

1st round NFL Mock Draft:

1st– Carolina- A.J. Green, WR, Georgia: I think that AJ Green is the top player in this draft class, so it makes sense to draft him here especially because there isn’t a QB worth this selection. Nick Fairley will get some consideration here, but this DT class is so deep and talented that there will be quality options available later. Plus Green doesn’t have any of the potential on field distractions that Fairley might bring because of accusations of him being a “dirty player.” Getting another weapon to help Jimmy Clausen bounce back from a pretty terrible rookie season should be a huge priority for Carolina, and while they also badly need a DT I think A.J. Green should be the pick here.

2nd– Denver- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn: Fairley shouldn’t make it too far if he doesn’t go #1 overall, at least as things stand currently. He would be perfect for Denver if he does become available here because they will be moving to a 4-3 defense under new head coach John Fox. That means they are going to need a quality DT in the middle and Fairley fits that bill perfectly. He is extremely disruptive and reminds me a lot of Kevin Williams as a player because of his combination of burst off the ball and his great strength. He could be a dominant force in a 4-3, so I think he makes a lot of sense for Denver here.

3rd– Buffalo- DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson: Bowers was really all potential before this season when he finally capitalized on his immense talent and produced a lot of pressure and sacks this season. I’m wondering how high his ceiling will be in the NFL though. He doesn’t have great burst and speed off the edge, and he was strong enough to beat a lot of offensive lineman with brute strength and hand usage. I think he has the ability to be an impact LE, but I’m not sure he is going to be an 8-10+ sack guy at LE. I understand why he is projected to go this high, but I suppose I would be wary to pick him so high after only one season of consistent production. Buffalo needs pass rush help though and Bowers could be the man to deliver that aid.

4th– Cincinnati- Patrick Peterson, CB/S, LSU: Peterson would be a perfect pick for the Bengals here because they really need help in the secondary, particularly at safety. Peterson definitely has the athletic ability to play cornerback as well as safety so that would give the Bengals flexibility. However, I think Peterson could be an All-Pro safety in the NFL considering his size, athletic ability, speed and ball skills. That is something that the Bengals could really use. It’s possible that the Bengals could go after a DE or a WR here, and Robert Quinn would be a good fit for them, but Peterson is a better player than Quinn, so he makes more sense here. If A.J. Green slid to #4 overall I could also see Cincinnati going in that direction. Quarterback will be considered here, but I personally think that Ryan Mallett could end up falling to the second round due to some potentially serious character concerns. If that ends up being the case then the Bengals could get the best of both worlds here by picking up Peterson, a potentially stud playmaking safety, and Mallett, a rocket-armed quarterback with pretty good pocket poise and accuracy, to eventually replace Palmer. The Bengals haven’t been deterred by character concerns before, so if Mallett does fall to the 2nd round I think the Bengals are a definite landing spot.

5th– Arizona- Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M: Von Miller has really boosted his stock lately as he had a strong finish to the season and a very impressive Senior Bowl showing. It is being argued that he could play 4-3 OLB at this point, but I am not sure he is that effective in coverage. However, I do think he can play the 3-4 OLB position even if he is a little undersized. Will he play right away? I’m not sure. He will need to get at least to 240 or 245 before he will be able to be anything beyond a situational pass rusher in my opinion. But he could rotate in and give a good speed rush at this point. Most pass rushers that get drafted this high aren’t ready to walk into the NFL and contribute right away. They have a lot of potential but they need to be developed, improve their pass rush moves and potentially bulk up. Miller has a great speed rush, especially when standing up, so I think that makes him a good fit for a 3-4. Is the top five a little high for him? In my opinion, yes. He is a good player, I have thought he was a top 15 guy for a while, but top five feels high especially since he will need to add some weight and develop for a year or so before he can contribute as a starter.

6th– Cleveland- Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina: Robert Quinn is a tough guy for me to project just because he had so much potential as a sophomore but we didn’t get a chance to see how much he developed during his junior season to judge him in the NFL. So right now he is still just a guy with tons of raw athletic ability and potential that needs to be developed for a couple of years. Quinn has great burst and speed off the edge, but there is no telling how good his hand usage his, how consistently he gets off blocks or how well his pass rush moves have developed. He is almost like a really expensive grab bag that is required to have a certain amount of value, and it could have no more than that (just raw athletic ability and potential that is never reached) or it could be a fantastic defensive end that everyone looks back on and says “why didn’t we take a chance on him?” Conservative teams should stay away, but I think Robert Quinn can be a very good DE if a team takes their time developing him for a year or two. He should be able to have an impact during those years as a situational pass rusher, but outside of that he should be improving his hand usage and developing pass rush moves. If he can do that, with his speed off the edge, he could be a lethal pass rusher in the NFL.

7th– San Francisco- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska: The 49ers need a quarterback first of all. Alex Smith has repeatedly proven to be a bust, and while Troy Smith showed fleeting flashes of potential I don’t think he is anything more than a stop-gap. However, I don’t know that any of these quarterbacks are franchise caliber players. I am high on Gabbert because of his strong arm and great accuracy, but he is going to need some development. Ryan Mallett has a rocket arm and lots of production, but he is not reliable late in games and has potentially serious character concerns that will hurt his stock in my opinion. Jake Locker has problems with consistency, and while he has great intangibles you have to wonder if he will actually make his team better as a player, not just as a leader. Finally, there is Cam Newton, who will need a lot of development before he will be able to have a fair shake at being a starter. He has a ton of potential, but I wonder if he will ever come close to reaching it since he has so much work to do as a passer. So it is arguable that there is a legitimate issue with each of these quarterbacks (not that past QB’s have been perfect, but they have been in pro-style offenses or demonstrated more consistency). That said, I think it makes perfect sense to go another direction here with this pick. Amukamara would give the Cardinals another good corner opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but he would fit into their style of play that Whisenhunt tried to bring over from the Steelers. He is a very physical corner and will match up well with any big, physical receivers in that division (most notably Larry Fitzgerald if he sticks around, but also Mike Williams and potentially Danario Alexander). He supports the run well, is a good tackler and has pretty good ball skills, though I’m not sure he has great hands for the interception.

8th– Tennessee- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn: This pick might not make much sense, but I am going out on a limb on this part. I have heard that Tennessee’s owner is high on Cam Newton and really wants him on the Titans. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because I think he is a more undeveloped version of Vince Young with better size, arm strength and similar athleticism. There are questions about his character off the field, but on the field he seems to be a good leader and his teammates seem to like him. However, it seems strange to me that the Titans would want another player with potential off-field concerns. To his credit though, Newton didn’t seem distracted by any of the off-field problems brewing this year, so he can definitely block that stuff out (at least he could in college) and produce on the field. However, he is one or two years away from being ready to be a reliable starter because of the offense he played in. He doesn’t have to make any complicated reads, he doesn’t have to go through many progressions, he rarely went through three, five and seven step drops from under center, and he doesn’t have very good pocket poise because of his ability to scramble and gain yardage with his legs. Will he ever be a good pocket passer? I don’t know, I kind of doubt it. But if he ever did his potential would be immense because of his athletic ability and his ability to extend plays. Regardless, the Titans are rumored to be interested in him and even though I don’t think it makes much sense for them I could see them picking him at #8 overall if their owner truly is interested or trading down and picking him in the middle of the first round.

9th– Dallas- Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama: I previously thought that the Cowboys might trade down from this spot but when I reshuffled some picks Marcell Dareus slid down and he is a perfect fit for Dallas. They really need DE help because Marcus Spears never really lived up to his first round billing, and they need help around Jay Ratliff. Dareus is a perfect 3-4 DE in my opinion even if he isn’t the 6’5”, 315 pound ideal specimen that you would like. He is probably 6’2” but if his arm length checks out then he would be a perfect 3-4 DE because of his experience in that system at Alabama. He is very disruptive against the run game, he is extremely strong, has great hand usage and can also apply some pressure from the DE position in a 3-4. He would really strengthen their defensive line and I honestly think that he could come in and start as a rookie. People seem to have forgotten how good he has been at Alabama and if he does slide to Dallas he could be another very good rookie for them.

10th– Washington- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: Originally I had Gabbert getting picked number nine overall after Miami traded up to get him, but because Dallas stayed at #9 to pick up Dareus at that spot Gabbert slides to #10 where Washington could very well be waiting to pick him. On one hand I could see them trading back into the late 1st round to pick a guy like Jake Locker, and spending extra picks to acquire a specific player is a totally Washington Redskins thing to do. However, quarterback is a need for them considering the Donovan McNabb fiasco and Rex Grossman being the back-up. Regardless of who they decide to make their starter they will still be around for another year or two which would be a perfect situation for Gabbert to develop. He will have a very significant transition from the offense he ran at Missouri to a pro-style offense in the NFL. He operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun with four and five wide receiver sets the vast majority of the time so he will need to learn how to take snaps from under center, make pre-snap reads from under center, make his drops and still deliver accurate passes after doing so and he will have to make very different reads than he did at Missouri. However, he has great size, underrated athletic ability and mobility as well as great arm strength and accuracy. His pocket poise leaves something to be desired, but he is fantastic at resetting his feet and delivering accurate throws even after he gets happy feet, which alleviated my concerns about that a bit. Overall he has a lot of potential, so that is why I have him ranked #1 overall in this quarterback class and that is why I think he is worth developing for a year or maybe a little longer than that. His combination of size, arm strength and accuracy is rare so his tools are absolutely worth developing.

11th– Houston- Cameron Jordan, DE, California: This is an interesting pick, but I think it is a good one for Houston. They are apparently switching to a 3-4 defense, which I can’t say I agree with, but that is obviously not my choice to make. I don’t know where Mario Williams fits into that scheme, but I suppose they will have to figure that out. However, they will need a quality DE who can play 3-4 DE in that scheme but also flex into either a 4-3 DE or DT when they run nickel packages and they will probably run a fair amount of 4-3 looks this year as they begin the transition to the 3-4 scheme with some personnel turnover this year. Jordan could potentially play 4-3 DE, he fits best at 3-4 DE in my opinion, but probably has the versatility to slide inside to 4-3 DT if the defense were to be running a nickel package. He is a very good player and is a bit underrated, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he moved up boards and got drafted in the top 15, especially by a team that needs some scheme flexibility like Houston will this year.

12th– Minnesota- Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois: This might seem high for Liuget (pronounced “Legit” how awesome is that) but I think he has a chance to go this high. I am really high on him as a defensive tackle prospect and I think he could be a great fit in Minnesota. They figure to continue running the Cover-2 scheme with Leslie Frazier assuming the head coaching vacancy left by Brad Childress but I think DT is a huge need for them right up there with QB and Safety. There is no safety worth this selection, and honestly I think they need to sign a stop-gap QB like Matt Hasselbeck or Kyle Orton if he is indeed a free agent (or Donovan McNabb if the Redskins do actually get rid of him) because any of the QB’s they could pick in this draft will need time before they can step in and start. There is not a Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco or Mark Sanchez in this draft class. So, I think the Vikings should fill one of their other needs with a BPA pick here and honestly Liuget might be that guy. When I put together my new DT rankings he will probably be #3 behind only Fairley and Dareus. He would play very well next to Kevin Williams because he is very strong and holds up pretty well versus the run but can also penetrate, make plays in the backfield and get pressure on the QB. He isn’t on Fairley’s level of disruption, which is comparable to Kevin Williams but he could be a very good player in their system, especially with Williams as a mentor.

13th– Detroit- Tyron Smith, OT, Southern Cal: This might seem high for Tyron Smith because he played RT at USC and hasn’t really made a name for himself at USC. However, he is arguably the most athletic offensive tackle in the draft and honestly reminds me a lot of D’Brickashaw Ferguson because they both have some trouble keeping weight on and getting up to 300 pounds, so it will be interesting to see how much he weighs in at when he’s at the combine. However, he should put on a show there because he could very well run a 4.8 in the forty yard dash and surprise people with how athletic he really is. He really is an impressive physical specimen and I think he will be fine moving to LT in the NFL. He is still raw despite starting for over two years at USC, but I have seen him mirror corners blitzing off the edge, so his lateral agility and kick slide is pretty amazing for someone his size. He moves very well in the open field too and gets to the second level easily, but he needs to improve his technique and improve his fundamentals as well as add weight before he can step in as a starter. That is probably ideal for Detroit because he has a very high ceiling but with Jeff Backus still entrenched as the starter he won’t be rushed in before he is ready. Tony Ugoh is still listed as the back-up, but I don’t think having Ugoh on the roster as a back-up is enough to pass on Tyron Smith if they think he can be their franchise left tackle, which if he gets coached up well and patiently developed he definitely could be.

14th– St. Louis- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama: I have seen this pick in a number of mocks, so it actually kind of bothers me that I am following suit, but previously I had Dallas trading down to #15 with Miami so that Miami could grab Blaine Gabbert before Washington got their hands on him. That led to Julio going #10 overall instead of here. However, when I reshuffled an earlier pick it led to Marcell Dareus sliding to #9, making him the obvious selection for a Dallas team in desperate need of a 3-4 DE. That led to Washington getting Gabbert after all, and thereby forced Julio down the board until St. Louis. They could really use him here, and he would give them a legitimate #1. With Julio opposite Danario Alexander and with Donnie Avery in the slot the Rams would haveJulio Jones is a very big, strong, physical receiver with big play ability downfield as well as serious red zone potential because of his leaping ability, size and strong hands. He can make some incredible catches and when he gets involved consistently he can take over a game, but he wasn’t always involved or thrown at very often at Alabama and he would also drop routine passes more than I would like. He definitely has great hands, he just needs to concentrate and look in routine passes because it is pretty clear to me that he is just taking for granted the fact that he will be able to make the catch and either taking his eye off the ball or trying to run before securing the catch. He reminds me of Braylon Edwards a bit in that respect because of his potential for big, game-changing plays, but he will also drop passes that any receiver of his talent and caliber should catch. It will be interesting to see how Julio transitions to the NFL and if a good WR coach can help him improve his concentration to make him an even better receiver or if he will be content to make some great catches and then drop some easier ones.

15th– Miami: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: This feels like a really cliché pick to me but I think this could actually happen. The Dolphins don’t have a ton of needs and with Newton and Gabbert off the board I don’t think a QB is an option here unless the Dolphins get enamored with Locker as a potentially ideal wildcat quarterback. However, as everyone seems to state in their mock draft, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both getting older and while neither of them has completely worn down Ronnie Brown has had some trouble staying healthy and Ricky is older than a typical complementary back because of his time off from the wear and tear of the NFL. Ingram would be an ideal back to bring in to take pressure off of these guys because the Dolphins running game is the heart and soul of the offense. I have never been a big Chad Henne fan because I have always thought he was incredibly inconsistent and he could make a great throw and follow it up with one or two terrible decisions or passes. I haven’t watched a lot of Dolphins games, but when I have seen him he will look good when I’m watching him and then look like a different player just minutes later. Quarterback is definitely something that needs to be considered for Miami, but Jake Locker’s inconsistency might remind them too much of Henne despite his vastly better athleticism and Ingram is one of the safest picks in the draft if he can stay healthy because he will grade very high as a feature back. If he stays healthy he could very well have seven or eight 1000+ yard seasons with 8+ touchdowns once he becomes the feature back for Miami.

16th– Jacksonville- Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: Jacksonville has had some trouble with defensive ends in the past (Derrick Harvey, I’m lookin’ at you) so I think they may look for a relatively “safe” player here and that would be Ryan Kerrigan all over. He reminds me of Chris Long in that he can still be a productive DE but I don’t think he will ever be a 10+ sack guy in the NFL. He is good off the line of scrimmage and has pretty good speed off the edge as well as very good hand usage to shed blocks. He could probably step in and contribute immediately, and learning from Aaron Kampman (if he can get healthy) would definitely help him develop into a quality starter. Does he have the highest ceiling of any DE in this draft? No. But he has one of the higher floors of anyone in this draft class especially at defensive end. The Jaguars need to get one right at defensive end, so unless they are willing to roll the dice on another defensive end that may or may not pan out I think they will go ahead and grab Kerrigan.

17th– New England (F/ OAK)- Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State: This might seem high for Cameron Heyward, but everyone seems to be underrating just how dominant he can be as a DE and DT in a 4-3 or as a 3-4 DE. He has great size, he is extremely strong and has great hand usage. He can absolutely toss some blockers around like rag-dolls (I have seen this happen to Gabe Carimi before) and he is very effective in the run game. He is literally an ideal 3-4 DE so I don’t understand why he is so underrated. However, if there is one team that will recognize how good this guy is it will be the Patriots. He would be a perfect fit in their defensive scheme because he can hold the line versus the run and handle double team blocks. Additionally he can get after the passer even though he doesn’t have much speed off the edge, but at his size he really isn’t supposed to. At 17 he would be a great value, and even at this pick I think in a number of years when he is a very good starter for the Patriots a lot of people will look back and wonder how this guy fell so far. That is my bold prediction about Cameron Heyward.

18th– San Diego- Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA: Ayers makes sense at this pick because the Chargers gave up on Shawne Merriman and his supposed replacement Larry English has disappointed in the 3-4 alignment at OLB. I personally thought he was more of a 4-3 RE who struggled in space, but regardless of whether he has struggled in coverage or not he has simply not been applying pressure on the QB enough for the Chargers’ liking, so he could definitely stand to be upgraded. Ayers is a well-rounded football player and is well worth a selection here. I haven’t scouted him specifically yet, but I have seen him play live once or twice and I came away fairly impressed with what I saw. I’m confident he could play in a 3-4 alignment at OLB and should give the Chargers a quality pass rusher, run defender and coverage linebacker.

19th– New York Giants- Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State: The Giants don’t have a lot of needs, but they could use help at OT potentially. Sherrod is interesting because he could probably play LT, but I personally think he would be a bit better at RT. He is a quality OT prospect, but he isn’t overly flashy. I haven’t scouted him specifically yet, but the Giants could use a relatively safe, quality pick here and I think Sherrod fits that bill. I could see them grabbing a DT to bolster their interior defensive line depth, but I feel like they have bigger needs barring the loss of Barry Cofield via free agency (should there be one).

20th– Tampa Bay- Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri: The Buccaneers spent their first two draft selections to attempt to bolster their defensive line but now it is time to upgrade the defensive end position so that they could have a very good defensive line once all of their prospects develop. Aldon Smith could very well have been a top ten pick if he stayed another year because of his talent level, but I would be surprised if he made it out of the top 25 in this draft. He would fit in well on the Buccaneers and could form a formidable defensive front with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in the future should all of them pan out.

21st– Kansas City- Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin: The Chiefs have a couple needs, such as OLB and potentially CB, but offensive line might be one of the more pressing concerns. They need help at OT and Carimi is probably one of the best OT’s in this draft class even if he doesn’t project to be a great LT in the NFL. I think he offers a lot of value because I think he can be a very good RT in the NFL and potentially start very early in his career but in a pinch he could slide over to LT and hold his own. That makes him a valuable commodity both as a starter and as a back-up, which should make him attractive to a lot of teams including the Chiefs.

22nd– Indianapolis- Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College: I struggled with this pick because I couldn’t decide if the Colts would look to pick up a LT to protect Manning’s blind side or if they would try to pick up a DT to help improve their disappointing run defense. Ultimately I think they will prioritize protecting Manning here and the Colts aren’t exactly a team to take a risk on a player like Nate Solder who has a lot of raw athletic ability. They seem more likely to take a player who won’t be flashy but will get the job done, and that seems to be Castonzo to a T. Will he be a franchise left tackle? No. Will he be a quality offensive lineman for a long time? Probably. He has above-average athleticism and pretty good technique, so he should be a pretty good tackle for the Colts and should help keep Peyton Manning upright.

23rd– Philadelphia- Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: The Eagles have little talent opposite Asante Samuel and they have had injury issues at this position. They tend to go after offensive and defensive linemen, and if Gabe Carimi lasted this long I could definitely have seen him being the pick here. However, they also need playmakers in the secondary especially at corner and Harris brings that to the table. He is a bit of a risk-taker like Samuel is but he has good ball skills and impressive athletic ability to close when beaten.

24th– New Orleans- Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa: Clayborn is a bit of a disappointing prospect to me because last year he seemed to command double teams and play relentlessly on most snaps but this season he was being taken out of the play with one on one blocks against average offensive tackles and didn’t seem to play as hard. I personally think he could fall out of the first round, but that might not happen come draft day especially if he interviews well. Regardless, I think he had a disappointing senior season. I don’t think he will be a great 4-3 LE because I don’t think he has the edge speed to be much of a pass rushing threat, and honestly I think he would be best served bulking up a bit and playing DE in a 3-4, but his block shedding ability and strength to hold up versus doubles probably makes that transition a bit problematic. However, the Saints need a quality DE prospect and despite his shortcomings this year Clayborn still has his redeeming qualities. You have to wonder which DE you are going to get in the NFL though. Will you get the dominant one who flashed 6-8 sack potential as a LE in a 4-3 or the LE who will get taken out of plays by one on one blocks and occasionally get a sack or TFL on a talented defensive line? That remains to be seen, but I definitely have my doubts about Clayborn.

25th– Seattle- Jake Locker, QB, Washington: This seems like a match made in heaven. The Seahawks have a couple of stop-gap guys in place with Matt Hasselbeck (who is a free agent) and Charlie Whitehurst (who I thought looked solid against St. Louis, but again it was St. Louis) at quarterback which would allow Locker time to develop behind at least one veteran quarterback. That would prevent him from being rushed into the starting job before he was ready (hopefully) and would give him the best chance at NFL success in my estimation. He has off the chart intangibles but his accuracy and ball placement was just too inconsistent for me to be that impressed. He is a very polarizing prospect as you either seem to love him or hate him, but I find myself thinking that he will not live up to the hype that was created for him by his biggest fans but I also don’t think he will turn out to be a colossal bust like his biggest critics think he will be. I don’t think he will be a franchise quarterback, but I think he can be an effective QB in the NFL who completes 58% of his passes and extends drives with his legs. He won’t ever be incredibly accurate, hence my doubts that he will have a career completion percentage of over 60%, but he has good arm strength and such a good work ethic that I don’t think I can bet against him having a solid career as a NFL starting QB. I’m sure he’d love to stay in the state of Washington and play for the Seahawks, so that would be even more motivation to work (not that he needs it).

26th– Baltimore- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Smith is an interesting guy, but I think that the Ravens will see some similarities to Chris McCalister when they watch him. If they do I would not be surprised if they picked him here, even over the more well known Aaron Williams. Smith has good size and plays physical, plus he has good closing speed. He would fit well in Baltimore’s physical defense in my opinion and would present some much needed talent at cornerback, a position that Baltimore has had trouble with in recent years, especially with injuries. Smith should provide a nice influx of talent to the position with this pick.

27th– Dallas (F/ ATL)- Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: The Falcons have this pick but if the board breaks like this there will be no obvious player that they should select, and I have been saying for months that this feels like the year that Thomas Dimitroff, a General Manager that was trained by the Patriots, could very well make a “Patriots move” and trade down into the 2nd round. If the board breaks like this that would definitely be my preference. Now, the Cowboys don’t necessarily need to move up here as they could end up with Quinton Carter, but Jerry Jones is an aggressive man and I could see him making this trade to try to secure a player who I believe is an absolute ball-hawk. Moore would bring a lot of range and playmaking ability to the Cowboys secondary and it is very badly needed. They have talent at corner but their safety play leaves a lot to be desired. Moving up and securing Moore, arguably the best safety in this draft class if you don’t grade Patrick Peterson as a safety, would make a great first two selections paired with Marcell Dareus for the Cowboys.

28th– New England- Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois: This was a tough pick for me to project, but because the Patriots have so few holes I could see them going straight BPA here and that could very well be Leshoure. Leshoure is a very talented running back and is probably going to be #2 or #3 on my next RB rankings. He would give the Patriots a legitimate feature back instead of just a running back by committee system that they seem to be employing now. This doesn’t seem like a very likely pick for the Patriots, but I don’t see them drafting an OLB here because I don’t think there is a good one on the board still (this is because I don’t think Justin Houston projects well to the 3-4 OLB position at all, but that is my personal opinion).

29th– Chicago- Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: I struggled with this pick a lot also because honestly I am not a big fan of Solder, and for some reason I really wanted to mock a quality offensive tackle to the Bears because boy do they need one. However, Solder is the best offensive tackle available at this point and he has the potential to be a very good LT if he can develop fundamentally and improve his technique. Whether he actually does that in the NFL is a different story, but if anyone can coach him up it would definitely be Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL. So in reality this would be a pretty intriguing selection because Tice managed to produce a relatively solid unit out of a pretty terrible group of offensive linemen, so if the Bears front office got him a guy as athletically talented as Solder he could potentially mold him into a quality left tackle.

30th– New York Jets- J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin: The Jets don’t have a lot of glaring holes but one place I think they could use some youth and talent is defensive end in their 3-4 scheme and J.J. Watt is probably a perfect fit for that scheme. I think he could play 4-3 LE but he would not get a lot of pressure and sacks from that position, but in the 3-4 he could be a perfect fit. I’m not sure how well he will do if asked to occupy blockers and let linebackers make plays behind him, but if he can penetrate into the backfield and play disruptively like he did in college he could be a very nice DE for the Jets.

31st– Pittsburgh- Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor: The Steelers have a very good defense but Casey Hampton is currently 33 years old and they have little talent/depth behind him that could eventually develop into a starter. Taylor has great size, strength and is surprisingly agile for a man of his size. He also holds his weight well. I think he would be a perfect fit at NT in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense which makes him a very hot commodity here.

32nd– Green Bay- DeAndre McDaniel, SS, Clemson: This might not seem like the most logical pick considering Green Bay’s terrific secondary, but strong safety is the weakest link in their secondary. Cornerback is strong if Charles Woodson keeps playing well with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields filling out the rest of their nickel package. Nick Collins is one of the best free safeties in the league but he rarely got any credit for his play, but he probably will now. However, Atari Bigby has his issues in coverage and Charlie Peprah is at best a stop-gap starter. Enter DeAndre McDaniel, a quality ball hawk who would fit in well in Green Bay’s secondary in my opinion. He is probably a mid-2nd round grade right now, but that is just my personal opinion. If he can provide quality coverage from the strong safety position as well as solid run support he would really take that secondary to the next level, so I think he makes a lot of sense here.

Hopefully you enjoyed my mock draft! Leave a comment and let me know what you think of it. I tried to keep it original and go in some different directions, but overall I think it is pretty realistic. Some of you will probably be surprised about Mallett falling out of round one, but I think that is a serious possibility come draft day.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom