Tag Archive: NFL


I will readily admit that I was opposed to playing Christian Ponder this week against the Packers. I tend to be more conservative when it comes to quarterback development, and if you commit to sitting a QB and letting him learn I believe that you should stick to that and not rush him into the starting role before he is ready. The Vikings don’t exactly have a beautiful track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks (the last one they developed that amounted to anything was Daunte Culpepper if I remember correctly, unless you’re one of the few Tarvaris Jackson fans left) so it’s hard for me to trust their judgement on playing Ponder this early in his rookie season. I had my reasons, and I thought they were legitimate. Why play your rookie quarterback in his first start of his career against the defending Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packers, especially when they love to apply pressure off the edge with interesting blitz packages?

Shows what I know.

Ponder didn’t have an insane stat sheet at the end of the game, completing only 13/32 passes for 219 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He had a QB rating of 59.2, and threw a couple of passes that could have been potential turnovers. The Vikings couldn’t complete the comeback against the Packers, and the Vikings limped to a 1-6 record on the season.

But somehow, that all doesn’t seem to matter.

I haven’t watched every single Vikings game this season, but it’s safe to say they looked like a different team than they did previously. They fought throughout the entire game, they didn’t look like absolute garbage in the second half (though they did struggle in the 3rd quarter as Green Bay adjusted to take away Ponder’s roll-out plays that accounted for so much of their success in the first half) and Ponder gave the Vikings a significant spark on offense. It will be interesting to see what happens the rest of the year, but I have to give the Vikings credit: They were in the right when they chose to start Ponder today.

Had McNabb started the offense would have had no confidence, it would have been the same vanilla play-calling, and McNabb’s seemingly disinterested attitude would have continued to permeate through the offense and the rest of the team. Instead, Ponder’s excitement and up-tempo attitude became contagious and the team seemed to be fighting harder than they did in other weeks. I was very impressed by this, and it was actually fun to watch the Vikings on offense today. That’s not something that I’ve said often when watching them in previous weeks.

Adrian Peterson had a great game against a very good rushing defense, and while you have to give credit to the Vikings offensive line and blocking schemes, it’s hard not to argue that a lot of it had to do with Ponder. McNabb struggled to stretch the field vertically and I have seen him get sacked so many times off of play-action I’m not sure he even expected to throw the ball after he turned around to scan the field anymore. Ponder was only sacked twice tonight, which says a lot about the game-plan the Vikings had (AKA, get the ball out early and let Ponder use his mobility to extend plays outside of the pocket) but it also speaks to Ponder’s ability to process information and how ready he was to play this game.

Now, this wasn’t just about Ponder. Ultimately, Ponder and the Vikings lost and that had everything to do with Aaron Rodgers. It has been said time and time again, but he is without a doubt the best quarterback in the NFL right now. The things he is doing right now are just out of this world. At one point Rodgers had thrown three incompletions in the first half. Two of them were a result of dropped passes that should have been caught, and the other was a spike. He was unbelievable in this game and it was really something amazing to watch. He hasn’t had a QB rating under 100 yet this year and he had one of his best games of the season against the Vikings. You have to feel for the Vikings because their defense was just not up to the task of slowing him down, especially in the secondary.

Overall I was obviously incredibly impressed with Rodgers, but Ponder really impressed me because the Vikings offense just looked totally different. It looked like he was unleashing some of their potential whereas McNabb was holding them back in previous starts. Again, I didn’t think Ponder should play in this game because I like to be conservative with QB development, but it is clear that he was ready to start. The Vikings absolutely made the right decision playing him in this game. It will be interesting to see how he does the rest of the year, particularly when teams make a concerted effort to take away so much of his passing outside of the pocket (especially on designed roll-outs).

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

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

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

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

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

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

–Tom

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

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

Will update as I hear more information,

–Tom

I have thought of Christian Ponder and Jake Locker as top 3 QB’s in this upcoming draft class for a long time, even when assuming that Mallett would come out. However, I have been monitoring their progress so far this season and watching them when I can, and honestly I haven’t been too impressed. When I have seen of Ponder so far this year he has not played up to my expectations. Perhaps they were too high, and that he really is just a fringe 1st rounder, but I have to say I was disappointed. Last season he looked like a great leader and I thought he was going to take off this year and show everyone what kind of potential I knew he had after watching him last season. Because before his junior year… I thought his ceiling in the NFL was as a back-up, and there was no reason to think otherwise. Perhaps I was guilty of a knee-jerk reaction after his great season last year. I still have two or three games I have to watch (along with the remainder of his season), but I would be surprised if they led me to a different conclusion than what I have come to now that FSU has played six games this year. His stats don’t actually look that bad, except that his completion percentage has dropped from 68.8% a year ago to 60% this year, his yards per attempt has dropped from 8.23 a year ago to 6.78 this year, and his far and away best game came against Samford, which accounted for four of the ten touchdowns he has thrown this season.

I am waiting for Ponder to step up and take control of the offense. FSU’s running game has been much more productive this season thanks to the emergence of Jermaine Thomas and Chris Thompson (who combined for 270 total yards of offense against Miami along with four total touchdowns) which has taken the pressure off of Ponder. But I haven’t seen him enough to determine if he is still making key plays in crucial situations, but I do know that he had a horrendous statistical game against Oklahoma that I am re-watching right now. In that game FSU’s rushing attack was slowed to only 3.8 yards per carry and Ponder struggled mightily, completing only 39.3% of his passes for 113 yards and two interceptions. There is going to be a game this year where it all comes down to how Ponder plays and he has to put the team on his shoulders and win it for them like he did against North Carolina, and his draft stock will be defined by that game. Will he step up to the challenge and show his potential to be a solid/good starting QB in the NFL? Or will he collapse under the pressure and lend credence to those who think he is no more than a game manager. I tend to believe he will step up to the pressure, but it’s hard to support that after his up and down season so far. But when it comes to ranking him the #2 QB in this draft class (excluding Luck since I don’t think he will declare) then yes, I do think I overrated him.

As for Locker, I think we all overrated him. That’s not to say that I don’t think he is worth a 1st round pick, because I do think he is worth that high of a selection, but the media compared him to John Elway, he was talked up as a potential #1 overall pick last year but he has simply not delivered yet this year. Part of that has to do with his relatively poor play this year, which can be attributed to the lack of talent on Washington’s team right now as Steve Sarkisian continues to improve the program and part of that can be attributed to Locker simply playing poorly. However, the expectations for him were so astronomically high that I expected that he would disappoint regardless of how well he played, and that seems to have been the case thus far. Many still have him going in the top five in mock drafts right now, but I have to say that I would be surprised if he got drafted that high at this point in the season. There is obviously a lot of time left, but I think he is a fringe top ten pick at this point. Yes, he has tons of potential and with another year of coaching I think he could definitely be a good or maybe even great QB in the NFL, but he is not there yet in my opinion. Obviously I still have a lot of tape to watch of him considering the fact that the season has not yet concluded, but he has underwhelmed me and most everyone else, and I my expectations weren’t even as unrealistic as some people’s were. Hopefully he plays better for the rest of the season (I have to say I was impressed at how well he seemed to bounce back from his awful game against Nebraska when he played USC and won), but at this point I think a lot of people, including myself, overrated Jake Locker. I had him ranked as my #3 QB after Ponder, and excluding Andrew Luck I do think Locker is the #2 in this class, but that only means that I believe Mallett is the only one with top 5 potential, Locker is more of a top 10-15 QB and Ponder is a late first round/early second round QB at this point.

However, the beauty of college football and the NFL Draft is that so much can change so quickly, and there is plenty of time for plenty of change to happen. So let’s just sit back and enjoy it and I will do my best to break it down and explain it right here for all of you to read.

Thanks for reading, I will have some updated rankings coming up soon!

–Tom

This is my analysis of Matt Ryan’s Week 1 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played poorly in this game as evidenced by his statistics: 27/44, 252 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, a completion percentage of 61.4% and a QB rating of 67.6. But there is definitely more to his performance than just his stat line, so when I re-watched this game and took twelve single spaced pages of notes on it I paid particular attention to Matt Ryan and how he played. Here is what I found:

”]Ryan had a poor performance in this game. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was when I watched it live, but he still had a pretty bad game considering everything that happened. The interception he threw to Polamalu was an incredible play on Polamalu’s part because of the instincts, closing speed and just overall uncanny ability to pick the pass off and get his feet inbounds, but it wasn’t an impossible play to make. Ryan had been throwing that same ball to Roddy all game long, he probably threw it at least 10 times or more over the course of the game. The Steelers’ corners started to key on it and had blanket coverage on a number of them as the game went on, but finally Polamalu tried to jump one and he came away with a great interception. That is on Mularkey for calling such a predictable game, but it is also on Ryan for staring Roddy down on that route and for throwing to him on that same deep curl over and over for the entire game. Plus Ryan doesn’t have the arm strength to throw a deep curl to the sideline like that, so his passes hang in the air a bit which gives the defender more time to close on the ball and make a play on it. Hence why Pittsburgh’s corners and defensive backs were in Roddy’s hip pocket all game regardless of how crisp he was going in and out of his break.

He had a number of bad throws in this game (I counted about seven in this game), some of which were due to bad footwork (I counted about five or so instances of this, meaning an off balance throw, throw off his back foot, etc.) and some just due to him getting flustered in the pocket and panicking. There were a few instances where he had time to throw and just missed his target, which will happen. However, we really need to stop making the deep curl and deep out such a critical route in our offense. Ryan can throw it and complete it, but if we keep doing it over and over like we did in this game teams will key on it and have some easy interceptions because of how long the ball stays in the air. He has to time the throw perfectly, throw an accurate ball and put it on the right shoulder for Roddy or anyone else to have a good chance at catching it, otherwise the defensive back will be able to knock it away if they close on it well or if they are expecting it. Mularkey really needs to work to Ryan’s strengths which involve beating blitzes, quick throws, throws over the middle and throws that require more touch and accuracy rather than pure arm strength like throws to the sideline require. We can’t scrap them from our offense entirely obviously, but there’s no reason we should be blatantly playing to one of his greatest weaknesses on such a regular basis.

Ryan threw the ball 44 times in this game. That number is much higher than I would prefer, especially when our running game was as ineffective as it was.

Ryan had a number of good throws in this game, I counted about seven good throws, five very good throws and fourteen solid throws overall. As you can tell, we threw the ball way more in this game than I think we would ordinarily want to. Our running game was just not effective for the majority of the game, but I will touch on that more when I break down how Turner, Snelling, Norwood and the offensive line did. However, Ryan and Roddy had a lot of pressure put on them to perform well and Ryan did a very good job of coming up with big 3rd down conversions in this game. He started out playing poorly on 3rd down at the beginning of the game which coincided with him looking very uncomfortable with his offensive line. He showed a number of examples of poor pocket poise at the beginning of the game as well as some bad footwork and bad decisions that occurred when he panicked in the face of pressure. That is definitely not something I expected to see out of Ryan so I made sure to see how he looked in those situations as the game progressed. As the game continued he definitely settled down and played better, made better decisions and showed a lot more poise. However, he was getting away with those deep curl throws to Roddy and Roddy made some very nice catches with defenders blanketed all over him which had to help Ryan’s confidence. So after he threw that interception to Polamalu his confidence took a huge hit and he resorted to his earlier antics a bit during the drive in overtime, but still looked better late than he did early in the game.

Ryan definitely had a mixed bag as far as good decisions and bad decisions as well as good/very good throws and bad throws. Again, we threw the ball way more than I would normally like (44 times, which is way too high for a run-first team like us) and we were completely ineffective running the ball (25 attempts, 58 yards and only 2.3 yards per carry). We couldn’t run the ball well so we got into 2nd and 3rd and long situations far too often, and Ryan had to throw us into field goal position to get us any points what-so-ever. We had no balance and eventually we just became entirely too predictable and mistakes were made like Ryan’s interception late in the 4th quarter. Because I am writing this after the fourth game of the season I have the benefit of looking for trends, and I found some that were similar to those I identified three years ago when he came out of Boston College. When he was at Boston College he regularly had to throw the ball a lot to keep the team in games and often when he did that he would turn the ball over more often than when the team had a semblance of a running game. In the two games that we have had no running game (against Pittsburgh and San Francisco we had a combined 156 rushing yards on 54 attempts for a pathetic 2.88 yards per carry average) Ryan threw the ball 44 and 43 times, respectively. In those two games he threw three interceptions versus only one touchdown, had an average of just under six yards per attempt versus over seven yards per attempt in the two games against Arizona and New Orleans, and an average QB rating of about 67 against Pitt and San Francisco versus about 112 against Arizona and New Orleans. In this case I truly believe the stats speak for themselves: When Ryan has to carry the offense by throwing the ball 35 or 40+ times in a game, we struggle and he struggles as well. The only times we will have to do that is when we get behind early in the game or when our run game sputters, which is what happened against Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

The disparity in Ryan's stats when he throws the ball more than 40 times versus 35 times or less is staggering.

Now, I haven’t re-watched the past three games yet so I can’t accurately describe how Ryan played in each of them, but I can tell you right now that the dominant running game we had against Arizona and New Orleans played a significant role in Ryan being vastly more effective and efficient. He is very good off of play-action, especially when we don’t roll him out to the sideline and we just let him make his progressions naturally. However, when the running game isn’t effective and he has to do a lot of straight three and five step drops to try to throw the team into the game he is going to turn the ball over more. That is just who he is as a player. He doesn’t have the rocket arm strength or arm to put the team on his back like Peyton Manning and throw for 400 yards and pull out a win in my opinion, which I now realize means that I don’t think he will be one of the best QB’s in the NFL for his entire career. That is a bit disappointing considering the incredible hype he had after his great rookie season, but he is definitely a good enough QB to put together a crucial game-winning drive when we need it most. I know that because he has done that regularly during his first two and a quarter seasons on the Falcons. That means we can win a Superbowl with him if we surround him with enough talent along our offensive line to consistently run the ball and if we give him enough weapons to keep the defense off balance by spreading the ball around. We don’t have those pieces in place yet so it will be interesting to see how we go about acquiring those pieces to allow Ryan to flourish. Because if we surround him with that talent I absolutely believe he will.

Overall I think Ryan had a below average game, but it was not nearly as horrible as I thought it was watching it live. The Polamalu interception was so late that it made everything seem so much worse than it was. Our offensive line really made it hard on Ryan, but he made quality throws to convert for first downs on at least eleven or twelve 2nd and 3rd downs with seven or eight yards needed to pick up a first down. Many of them were on 2nd and 10 or 3rd and 10. That had a lot to do with our ineffective running game obviously, but Ryan still stepped up to the challenge and did the best he could. He definitely missed some open targets in this game because he got too locked in on Roddy, and I saw probably three or four instances when he could have made a routine or solid throw and picked up a nice gain or a significant chunk of yardage. That will happen, but Ryan is usually much better about going through his progressions than he was in this game. It was a poor effort on his part, and that was reflected in his stats, but there was plenty of silver lining to be found in this game in the form of his number of good, accurate throws, his poise in the pocket getting consistently better throughout the course of the game, and his regular conversions in long yardage situations on 2nd and 3rd downs. It will be interesting to break down the rest of the Falcons games this year to see how Ryan progresses as the season goes on during my careful film study of each game.

Look out for more in-depth Falcons analysis! Go Falcons!!

Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed this piece. I will have a number of other Falcons-focused reviews coming throughout the course of the season as I get around to re-watching each of the games, taking a lot of notes on each play, and then analyzing the information I gather and summarizing it for everyone to read. I’d like to do this for more teams than just the Falcons, but I think it makes sense to start with the Falcons and perhaps try analyzing a critical game for another team every once in a while. I’m sure I will have a Vikings and Packers game analysis at one point during the season since I see them play so often and I am so familiar with their rosters.

Thanks again!

–Tom

Game analysis: Oklahoma State

Solder is very athletic, but he needs to get stronger and improve his hand usage to raise his draft stock in my opinion.

Nate Solder is an intriguing physical specimen, but he still has a lot of room to grow if he is really only 305-310 pounds at 6’9”. He needs to get a lot stronger in his lower body so he can anchor better against bull rushes, and so he can get a more significant push in the run game. However, he has impressive mobility from what I can tell and looks like a TE running around in open space. He is a good combo-blocker, and moves with good fluidity from the double team to the next level to engage a linebacker. He takes away the speed rush easily because he is an athletic guy and gets out of his stance quickly on a pretty regular basis (though sometimes he will be slow out of it, I can’t say I’m sure why). His footwork looks better than it did when I saw him against Texas earlier this year, but he still worries too much about the speed rush sometimes and opens his hips up too early, making him vulnerable to an inside counter move. I have seen this before from guys who are slower and less athletic, but they usually open their hips up too early to attempt to compensate for their lack of lateral agility. Solder doesn’t have that issue, so it is just something he needs to be coached up on and drilled on as far as I can tell.

One thing that I think Solder needs to work on is his hand usage. I saw some signs of improvement between the Texas game and the Oklahoma State game I just watched, but he still has issues sustaining blocks sometimes, though he looked much better in this regard when it came to pass blocking in this game. Part of that probably has to do with Texas having much better pass rushers than Oklahoma State, but Solder did his job and neutralized the man he went up against more times than not in this game, so that’s what matters. Another thing that looked better, even though he still needs work on it, was his footwork. Against Texas I noticed that he was back-pedaling a lot to take away the edge in pass protection, but in this game he was using his kick slide well and, aside from opening his hips prematurely, he took away the corner with better fundamentals. He is a natural knee bender it looks like, and it didn’t look like he was bending at the waist in this game from what I could tell. He did a decent job of anchoring against the bull rush, but he needs to get much stronger in his lower body or he will get walked into the quarterback on a regular basis when he gets to the next level, especially when he will have trouble winning the leverage battle since he is 6’9”.

Solder has great size, long arms and impressive athleticism, but he needs to fill out his frame if he is going to be a quality NFL player and a high draft pick.

Overall, I liked what I saw from Solder in this game. Is he an elite prospect? Not in my opinion. Is he well polished? No, not yet. Does he have a lot of potential? Absolutely. A 6’9”, 305 pound man who can move like he does is incredibly rare, and he looked more fundamentally sound in this game than when I saw him before. I will absolutely watch him two, three or maybe four times next season, and I hope to see better footwork, a stronger lower body, better hand usage to sustain blocks and hopefully he won’t open his hips prematurely as often as he did both times I saw him. If he can work on those flaws he will be a much more polished prospect, which will only help his stock. I am excited to see how he does next year, because a guy with his combination of size and athletic ability is very rare for the position, and I think he could be a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme for that reason.

Hopefully you enjoyed this read, and keep an eye out for Solder next year. He’s hard to miss on the left side of Colorado’s offensive line!

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Analysis of Game: Oklahoma State

Jerrod Johnson has a lot of talent, but I think he needs to work on his fundamentals to warrant a draft selection as high as the 2nd round.

I realized that I would get an opportunity to watch Johnson in this game while I looked for further highlights of Andre Sexton, so I paid particular attention to him in this game. To be perfectly honest, I was not very impressed. He clearly has a lot of talent, but his fundamentals are relatively sloppy overall and his throwing motion is not clean in my estimation. He doesn’t operate out of an exclusively spread offense, but Texas A&M does run a lot of four and five wide receiver sets over the course of a game. That means Johnson is in shotgun quite a bit, though to his credit he did line up under center a number of times. He doesn’t have much poise in the pocket, and needs significant work on learning to stay patient in the pocket so he can buy time by stepping up or side-stepping the rush (which he should have no problem with considering his mobility). However, some of that has to do with his offensive line’s poor performance. I imagine he is used to having to scramble for more time, but if he gets drafted and developed properly by a team with a decent pass-blocking offensive line he should be able to adjust to having a fairly consistent amount of time to scan the field. But as it stands right now he is being pressured very frequently. To make matters worse, it usually happens before he has had ample time to go through his progressions. This isn’t an excuse for ALL of his bad footwork and his other bad habits, but it certainly does explain how he developed some of them and why they are so persistent.

This picture isn't the greatest example of his throwing motion, but against Oklahoma State it looked like he had a dip or a hitch in his throwing motion. That can be an issue.

Johnson does have pretty good size, mobility and arm strength, but a lot of his passes had a surprising amount of air under them in this game. I think this has to do with him not stepping into some of his throws, throwing off of his back foot, etc. However, it is still an issue that I noticed and I thought it warranted mention. So between his lackluster footwork, his throwing motion with a bitch of a hitch in it (he seems to drop it down below his chest on a regular basis) and a number of his passes hanging in the air for too long, Johnson has some issues he will have to overcome to get drafted in the first three rounds come April. Not to mention he will have issues transitioning to the NFL because of his experience in a more wide-open attack at Texas A&M, largely because of all the snaps he takes in shotgun. However, he also rarely goes through more than one of his progressions, and if that option is covered he usually starts to scramble to try to extend the play instead of staying patient, going through his other reads and buying time inside of the pocket. Perhaps as a Senior he will have matured and he will spend more time in the pocket, but he seems to have been conditioned to scramble after his first reads aren’t there, partially because of the offense he runs and how he plays and partially because his offensive line doesn’t consistently give him enough time to comfortably stay in the pocket.

Jerrod Johnson has natural talent that is worth developing, but unless he shows that he is more fundamentally sound this year I would be surprised if he was picked in the first two rounds.

I personally grade Johnson as a 4th rounder at this point, but he could move up with another good season this year. But a good statistical season won’t suffice in my opinion. I think he needs to show more patience in the pocket, better footwork, perhaps better mechanics on his release, and more consistency in going through more than just one or maybe two of his reads on any given play. I would be very surprised if he showed improvement in all these areas, especially if it was significant improvement, but I will watch a few of his games regardless to get an accurate feel of his strengths and his weaknesses. But at this point this is my impression of his ability and if I had to put a grade on him today I would grade him as a 4th rounder. He definitely has talent that warrants development, but he needs mechanical work and that means for a year or two he will need to be developed before he can get any kind of significant playing time.

Feel free to comment if you agree or disagree with this, I love getting comments and the conversation generated from my posts can be very interesting. Hopefully you enjoyed reading this, and thanks for visiting my blog!

–Tom

This blog post is focused on Case Keenum, the quarterback of the Houston Cougars. He is rather well known for his gaudy passing numbers but there is a lot more to a quarterback than impressive stats. Read on to find out why Keenum will be lucky to be drafted barring significant improvement as a senior despite all of the accolades he may get for his passing production.

Analysis of Game: Houston @ Oklahoma State

When I watched this game I was actually watching the game so I could find highlights to use for a highlight reel for Andre Sexton. It’s a long story, but the Sports Agency I have an internship with represents him and I need to put a highlight reel together for him. But one of the games I watched today (I watched four) featured Case Keenum and Houston against Oklahoma State, and I figured I would give Keenum some of my attention while I watched out for noteworthy plays for Sexton. I will state ahead of time that I am not a believer in Keenum and I think he is the essence of a system quarterback, I don’t think he has a very strong arm, I don’t think he can read defenses well and I think he is worth a 6th or a 7th round pick at best as of right now. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, we can get on with what I saw when I had the opportunity to watch him in this game:

Case Keenum has impressive passing stats, but that isn't unusual for a quarterback operating out of a spread offense.

First of all, Keenum operates out of a pure spread offense and is almost exclusively in the shotgun. If you haven’t read any of my previous posts, the reason this is such an issue is because when QB’s spend the majority, if not all of their time in the shotgun, they don’t get a chance to improve their footwork on their three, five and seven step drops. In addition, they don’t learn to read defenses from under center (where it is more difficult to judge what the defense is doing than when you are standing back in shotgun) and spread offense QB’s regularly look at only their first or maybe second read. All of those things are extremely hindering once they get to the NFL, and that results in a very high bust rate in spread offense QB’s. I was not surprised that he was operating out of the shotgun that often, but still it is disappointing not to see a sizeable percentage of snaps from under center mixed in.

Second of all, Keenum did not strike me as an impressive QB despite his gaudy numbers and reputation as a quality QB. He panicked easily in the face of pressure, he left the pocket prematurely on a regular basis, and he rarely, if ever, went through more than one or two of his progressions the entire game. He forced passes into coverage, threw passes across his body at times and showed very little ability to buy time in the pocket by stepping up while still looking downfield. He didn’t look like he had very good mechanics, and when he is facing pressure he is more than willing to throw off of his back foot with no regard to his usual mechanics as far as I can tell. To his credit, he is accurate when he isn’t pressured as far as I can tell, and his throwing motion looks relatively clean. He also showed more mobility than I would have previously expected as he scrambled up the middle, bounced the run outside to avoid pursuit from the backside and scored on a 20 or so yard touchdown run in this game. So if the play breaks down he is a threat to run, which helps his value.

I project Keenum to be a 7th round draft pick, which is probably much lower than most NFL Draft sites. But I have my reasons.

Overall I can’t say I am impressed with Keenum at all, but it was good to finally get a feel for how he plays the game. But I value poise under pressure, leadership and the ability to read defenses quite a bit, and Keenum did not impress me in any of those regards when I watched him in this game. I project him as a 7th round pick right now, but we will see how he looks during the season this year. You might look at his stats and think, wow, a quarterback who put up 5671 yards, who completed 70.3% of his passes, averaged 8.10 yards per attempt, and had 44 touchdowns with only 15 interceptions (that includes a whopping six interceptions against Air Force in Houston’s bowl game), he must really be something. Well, not quite in my opinion. I learned my lesson about trusting stats, especially when it comes to spread offense quarterbacks, a long time ago. I thought I’d pass that along to anyone who reads my blog.

So now when your friends talk about how good Case Keenum is, feel free to tell them exactly why that may just not be the case.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

First of all, I apologize profusely for the huge gap between this post and my last post, which was close to three weeks ago. My computer had a bunch of viruses on it and apparently the hard drive was about to break (which Geek Squad said was probably caused by bumping or dropping it, woops!) so I got it fixed, it took about a week, and I now have Windows 7 instead of Vista and I just installed Microsoft Office 2007 about an hour ago before I finished writing this up (since I couldn’t read any of my notes before that because I didn’t have Microsoft Word on my laptop. It was a pretty serious issue. I also couldn’t watch tape all that time!) Anyways, between my laptop breaking and not having Microsoft Office I had a long unintentional break between my posts, so thank you for bearing with me and occasionally checking my blog out to see if I had gotten my act together and written anything! Here, at long last, is my post about the Wisconsin-Miami Champs Bowl game from last season!

Harris is talented both as a runner and as a passer, but he needs to learn to put more zip on his throws if he is going to legitimize himself as a NFL prospect.

When you watch Miami games Jacory Harris is a guy you just have to take notes on. He’s a very talented guy, he’s a good quarterback and he’s a threat to run, and those players are always intriguing and they always warrant a lot of discussion and projection, especially if they mature throughout their careers, learn to make better decisions, read defenses, and generally just become more efficient. An efficient QB who can run when all else fails and pick up quality yards is scary, which is why Mike Vick was the #1 overall pick in 2001. Little did we all know that you can’t just learn to throw accurately, make good decisions and read defenses from the pocket once you get to the NFL, but he was picked that high because if he became as good at throwing as he was at running he would have been one of the best players in the NFL. Anyways, Harris warrants discussion for a number of reasons. He has pretty good accuracy, and does a respectable job of reading defenses for a young quarterback and showed the ability to recognize a blitz and find his hot read quickly to avoid a sack and to pick up quality yards. That’s good to see.

However, Harris really seemed to struggle in this game. He does not strike me as a tough quarterback at all, and at times he would run timidly and does not seem at all willing to take a hit even if it means picking up the first down. I know you don’t want your quarterback running around initializing contact, but when he’s scrambling and he can either run out of bounds two yards short of the first down marker or put his head down and get as many yards as possible, I want my QB to put his head down and go for it, not run out of bounds with his tail between his legs. Maybe that’s just me, but that’s how I feel about it. Harris seems to prefer jogging out of bounds, and I don’t really like to see that. He also seemed bothered by the cold, but that wasn’t just a problem for him, the whole Miami team was huddled around the heaters and it was only 50 or 55 degrees outside. The Wisconsin players all had short sleeves on, mostly because in the Winter it gets real cold up north, so 50+ is t-shirt weather to those of us from Minnesota and Wisconsin. So between his timid running style and the fact that he seemed to be bothered by the “cold” I was not very happy with how Harris did in this game from a toughness aspect. He did take some shots and he popped right back up from all of them, but that just confused me more because you’d think that if he could absorb the hits he was taking when he was dropping back to pass that he could “suck it up” (so to speak) and run harder when he does scramble.

Harris never got comfortable against Wisconsin. Whether it was his ankle injury, the regular pressure from Wisconsin or the "cold" weather, he never settled in and got into a rhythm.

One thing that is a little alarming about Harris’ game is the amount of touch and air he puts under the majority of his throws. He throws an accurate ball and does great when touch is required, but sometimes you need to throw the ball with some zip and he does not seem to understand when that is necessary. He floats a LOT of passes, whether he is on the run, whether he has his feet set in the pocket, or whether he is throwing into a quickly closing window over the middle. I don’t know if that is something he will ever be able to stop doing since he has probably been getting away with it for his entire playing career, but if it is indeed correctable then he should already be working on it as we speak. Hopefully he shows me some progression in this area because it is really concerning how much air and touch he has on the majority of his passes.

Harris also never really looked comfortable in this game. He had his moments when he completed a few passes in a row, but Wisconsin got enough pressure on him (which, along with his injured ankle, had to contribute to him never getting into a rhythm) to keep him from ever getting into a groove and it definitely showed. He didn’t go through his progressions as well as I would have liked, he stared down his receivers regularly, he didn’t do a good job of buying time in the pocket without scrambling outside of the tackle box, and he looked sloppy throwing on the run when he couldn’t set his feet. He needs to do a better job of keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage even when rolling to his left. That is when you will see right-handed QB’s get a little less accurate if they don’t keep their shoulders square. In my experience it is because their throwing motion will be slightly elongated and their mechanics will therefore be different, meaning the throw won’t be as accurate and won’t have as much zip on it as it would have regularly had if he had set his feet or kept his shoulders square while rolling out.

Overall, Harris has a lot of talent and ability, but he has to work harder on the little things, the fundamentals, if he is going to take big enough strides to be considered a potential NFL starter and an early NFL Draft pick. Right now I’d grade him as a 4th or 5th round selection because of his potential and ability. That alone warrants some consideration in the mid-rounds and if he can be coached up well then he could be well worth the investment. However, he does not look like a NFL starter to me yet. Of course it is very early to be predicting how he will do in the NFL and where he will be drafted because he is going to be a Junior in his second season as the full-time starter, so I realize I am jumping the gun with this. I just feel obligated to state where I think he is as far as his progression as a QB, and in my opinion he is still rather raw and needs developing. Hopefully he stays through his Senior season so he can get as much experience as possible before moving on to the NFL. I have to say, I am intrigued by some of his ability and I really hope he works on putting more zip and less touch on some of his passes this year. Hopefully he takes some significant strides in his second season as a starter.

If Cooper can come back from his serious knee injury healthy then he could still be an impact player in the NFL.

One other player I knew I had to take notes on was Graig Cooper, who was a junior running back for the ‘Canes at the time. As soon as you see him touch the ball you can tell that this kid is fast. He flies around the field, has great acceleration and great burst to hit holes, seams, anything. He definitely has potential as a game-changing running back in the NFL. The tragic part about this was that he suffered a very serious knee injury in this game in the 2nd half on a rather run of the mill kick-off return. In fact, if he hadn’t suffered the injury he could have potentially scored on the play, though that is purely my own speculation. I don’t have much of an update on his rehab obviously, but I read that he has not yet been cleared to begin running as of early April. Hopefully he has made progress since then, but the fact remains that this was a very serious injury, and I would be pretty surprised if he was 100% during his senior season, which is disappointing for him and for his fans (of which I was one) because I was really rooting for him last year. It’s a shame this had to happen to him at such a critical time in his career.

In any event, I still managed to get some notes on him from this game before his injury, and though it would be particularly impressive if he came back to pre-injury form I think he will still have value even if he isn’t just as explosive as he was before he got hurt. He seems to have pretty good vision, and on one particular play that I remember JJ Watt did not stay at home and collapsed to where the run was supposed to go, but Cooper got the ball and immediately cut to the outside to where Watt would normally be and got a nice gain on the play. If he plays next year (which I really hope he will, even if it isn’t a significant amount) I will be interested to see how much of his great quickness and explosiveness he regains as he gets closer and closer to 100%. Hopefully he comes back as strong as can be expected, and I will be carefully monitoring his progress as more information becomes available. I’ll keep you all posted naturally.

Hankerson made this incredible one-handed grab late in the game. I know he has reliable hands, but if he can show this kind of concentration even on routine catches he will be an early NFL Draft pick.

Harris’ primary receivers on the ‘Canes are Leonard Hankerson, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin, which is a pretty nice trio of receiving targets. I didn’t get a lot of notes on them in this game, though I have been impressed with each of them at different times when I have seen them. Frankly, Harris didn’t give them a lot of catchable balls in this game so it was hard to find times to take notes on them, but when I saw them catch passes they all impressed me. Hankerson had a great one-handed catch late in the game and made another catch or two with his hands which was nice to see. Byrd, as far as I can tell from my notes, didn’t make a catch without catching the ball away from his body which was great to see. And Benjamin has always been good for big chunks of yardage and a lot of separation, and he nearly pulled off a terrific 3rd down catch along the sidelines on Miami’s last ditch attempt after they recovered an onside kick. I am excited to see how all three progress this season, and I think that if Harris continues to improve and if Miami’s offensive line holds up they could have a very explosive offense on their hands. I am excited to see them all play.

Orlando Franklin, Miami’s left tackle in this game, is going to receive mixed reviews from me. I heard rather frequently last year that he looked good filling in for Jason Fox, Miami’s very reliable left tackle who got hurt during his senior season before he left for the NFL. However, he looks more like a left guard to me than a left tackle, though he will have ample opportunity to prove me wrong during his senior campaign. He doesn’t look very quick out of his stance, and he seemed to struggle with Schofield and Watt versus the pass and Watt gave him some trouble with his quickness off the ball versus the run as well. Overall, he just didn’t seem athletic enough to handle Schofield, Watt or Chris Borland, a linebacker who will occasionally play with his hand in the dirt on obvious passing downs. I don’t know if he was quite prepared to play left tackle last season, so hopefully he will look more comfortable on the outside as a senior when he is preparing to play the position. I will definitely be paying attention to him this year.

Bailey has a lot of potential and natural athletic ability, but I am not a believer yet. He needs to get stronger versus the run and improve his hand usage before I buy him as a potential 1st round pick.

On the defensive side of the ball Miami naturally has some talented players, but Allen Bailey is definitely one of the more highly touted players on the roster. He has drawn comparisons to Justin Tuck because of his versatility to play defensive tackle and defensive end, though I think he mainly played defensive end in this game. However, I can’t say I was entirely impressed with him in this game. He had a sack where he got a nice bull-rush on Josh Oglesby, shed his block and wrapped Tolzien up for a sack, but he was also blocked effectively in the run game by Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks and Oglesby multiple times. That was particularly alarming because a DE/DT ‘tweener should be strong enough with good enough hand usage to man-handle 95% of TE blocks. I can understand getting blocked effectively by Graham a time or two because he has a good reputation as a run blocker (even if I think he gets away with holding rather regularly). But he got blocked effectively by Graham multiple times one on one, by Kendricks multiple times, and got blocked one on one effectively by Josh Oglesby versus the run. That was pretty shocking, and it really made me question him as a prospect. Sure, he can get after the passer, but if he can’t defend the run or shed blocks in the trenches then his value as a prospect will be significantly lower to me. He’s getting a lot of positive pub right now, but I am definitely not a believer in Bailey as of today. He has another year to show me what he can do, but he needs to show me a lot more ability versus the run for me to think he will be the quality player everyone else seems to think he will be.

One player I saw flash some impressive ability was Olivier Vernon, a freshman defensive end on Miami. He didn’t get a lot of playing time as a freshman, but he absolutely tossed Gabe Carimi like a rag-doll on a run play and got a great TFL. He didn’t make any other plays as good as this one in the game that I noticed, but he sure did flash some ability on this play. I have high hopes for him in his career, and I think that he will show some substantial growth as a sophomore. I am very interested in seeing him play this season, he is definitely a sleeper for the DE position. Hopefully he breaks out and makes me look smart!

Harris has 1st round ability, and he is one of my favorite draft elligible corners this year. (Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan)

Finally, one player that I am a big fan of on Miami’s defense is their corner Brandon Harris. He was only a sophomore last season but he managed 15 pass deflections and two interceptions on the year. I watched the Miami-FSU game early in the year and I immediately noticed him. He just makes big plays whenever I watch him. There was one particular play against Wisconsin when Harris got beaten, I believe it was by Garrett Graham underneath, and he turned upfield and I thought it was a certain touchdown. But Harris didn’t give up on the play and he came up behind Graham and as he began to wrap him up he punched the ball out just before he crossed the goal line. Miami recovered the ball in the end zone for a touch-back and Miami stayed in the game, all because Harris didn’t give up on this play and forced the fumble. I think he is going to end up declaring after his junior season and he is going to be a high draft pick if he plays well this year in my opinion. He is definitely one of my favorite draft-eligible corners, even if he doesn’t support the run as well as I might like. Definitely keep an eye out for Harris next season, I think he is going to break out even more than he did last year.

That just about concludes the notes I have for the Miami Hurricanes. Check out my blog post below for my write-ups on the Wisconsin players I took enough notes on to get a feel for their ability as a player. Hopefully you enjoy this post and my other posts to come. Thanks for reading!

–Tom