Tag Archive: Sam Bradford


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

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Andrew Luck is the ultimate prize for whatever NFL team manages to lose enough to get the #1 overall pick.

1- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford– Did you expect anyone else to be #1? He’s the best QB prospect I’ve seen since I’ve been scouting and he’s a great bet to be the #1 pick in the 2012 Draft should he declare after this season (and there have been rumblings that he will).

2- Matt Barkley, QB, USC- Barkley has been on my radar since he was a true freshman at USC. I was never sold on Aaron Corp and while I thought Mitch Mustain had potential as a sleeper before his off-field issues, I always thought Barkley was the most talented QB on the roster once he got there. That has proven to be true, and he has continued to develop in a pro-style offense since emerging as the starter during his freshman year. Now in his junior year it seems there is a strong chance he will declare. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, but I think there is a small chance that he comes back to take a run at a Rose Bowl because their bowl ban will have expired. Part of me wants him to stay, but there isn’t much left for him to prove outside of leading his team to a great season with a post-season win.

3- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M- Tannehill flashed incredible upside last year leading Texas A&M to a furious finish before ultimately losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. He hasn’t had the same incredible start this season but he has still flashed potential. He doesn’t have much experience but as he continues to develop he could become a quality NFL QB. He has quality tools such as arm strength, accuracy and athleticism. Plus, he seems to be a guy with quality intangibles and leadership capability, so even if you need to develop him for a year or maybe two he has the upside physically and mentally to warrant early round consideration.

Russell Wilson might not be rated this high by other draftniks, but he's a great QB. The only serious knock on him as a prospect is his height.

4- Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin- Russell Wilson won’t be this high on many people’s rankings, but I was one of the people that was wholeheartedly convinced that he would be a spectacular quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers and I said just as much in my post that I wrote shortly after it was announced that he was going to play for them this year. I didn’t think he’d be this terrific so early, but that really speaks to his fantastic intangibles and leadership qualities. Wilson’s only knock as a prospect and as a quarterback is his lack of size, as I would estimate he is about 5’10” or maybe slightly taller. That will make his transition to the NFL more difficult, but he is a very talented quarterback. He’s got very good arm strength, has accuracy to all levels of the field, throws a very nice deep ball, can make any NFL throw, and has demonstrated quality pocket poise at times. I think he could stand to improve as a passer with pressure around him when he’s in the pocket, especially when there is pressure at his feet. However, he is very athletic and uses his athleticism to extend plays and is great at making plays outside of the pocket. He may not be an ideal quarterback for a West Coast offense that requires frequent three step drops and throws as he will struggle to find throwing lanes at times and he may have problems with passes getting batted down at the line of scrimmage. But if he is drafted to a team with an offensive coordinator who knows how to get him out on the edge and make effective use of his athleticism and ability to throw on the move he could be a very dangerous quarterback. I know I won’t be betting against him simply because I know how hard he works and how well he assimilates into a new team. He became a leader of this 2011 Wisconsin Badgers team after being an official member of the roster for two months when it takes many quarterbacks two years if they can ever even become a captain. People have really underestimated how difficult and rare it is for him to do what he has done so far this year. Without sounding like a rabid Russell Wilson fanatic, it really is nothing short of incredible, not to mention very, very rare.

5- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor- As skeptical as I was of Griffin before the season based off of the film I watched of him last year, you can’t help but be impressed by the unbelievable statistical start to the season he has had. I’m still skeptical of the offense he operates in, but it’s very clear that he has developed since the end of last season. Due to his arm strength, improving accuracy, fantastic athleticism as well as his reputation for being a very intelligent, disciplined guy as well as a film junkie NFL talent evaluators and Draftniks alike are going to be salivating considering his potential. He still has strides to make in my opinion, but he has definitely progressed since last year. I’d be a fool to try to ignore that, so even if I still need to see more of him I can at least acknowledge that.

Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden are directing two of the most explosive, high-scoring offenses in the nation.

6- Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma- Landry Jones is a talented quarterback with quality size, arm strength and accuracy. His accuracy becomes more erratic when under pressure, however, and doesn’t seem to react well to pass rushers in his face. That is concerning for a NFL draft prospect, and it is the reason I might have him lower on this list than some other people do. He’s a quality prospect, I’m just not a big fan of him personally. He’s got upside, I’m just not sure he will ever be a quality NFL starter.

7- Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State- Osweiler is a junior with only seven games of NFL experience up until this point, and he has a huge test upcoming against Oregon this Saturday. He’s got a fantastic combination of size and arm strength (reminiscent of Ryan Mallett to be perfectly honest) and his accuracy looks significantly improved over last season. He’s not very mobile, but he has a terrific arm and he’s progressing in the mental aspect of the game. He’s got a boatload of upside, and I’m personally a pretty big fan of his. I’d be surprised if he declared this year, especially since he would have a maximum of 16 games of starting experience at the end of this year, but if he did I would definitely expect him to get drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round range. But if he comes back I would be surprised if he didn’t end up in the 1st round discussion for 2013.

Geno Smith is quietly establishing himself as a quality NFL Draft prospect. He may not have had a fantastic game against LSU, but putting up 468 passing yards against that defense is definitely worth mentioning.

8- Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia- Geno Smith was never someone I was particularly high on, but watching him put up 463 yards on LSU’s fantastic defense definitely opened my eyes. He was carving them up with downfield passes and showing off an impressive arm, and even though WVU was losing for most of the game he never stopped coming (even after they had been made into a one-dimensional offensive attack due to their struggling running game and the scoreboard). He wasn’t incredibly efficient as he threw 65 passes and completed only 38 of them (58.5% completion) and threw as many touchdowns as interceptions (2). One of them came on an incredible play by Tyrann Mathieu, but overall I was impressed with Smith. He looks very skinny on film, and I’d be surprised if he declared this season, but he definitely has upside in my opinion.

9- B.J. Coleman, QB, Chattanooga– Coleman definitely has upside, but he needs development. I don’t think he’s ready to step into a starting spot in his first year or two, but he’s definitely worth a mid-round pick. He has a strong arm, quality (but sometimes a bit inconsistent) accuracy, great size and some pocket poise. He just needs coaching and development, but he doesn’t have incredible upside in my opinion.

10- Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State- Weeden is a solid prospect but his age is going to make it hard for him to crack the top three rounds just because of his limited upside. How much better is he really going to get before he’s 30? He will improve with coaching, but at best he has a 5-7 year window as a starter once he gets to the NFL, and that’s assuming he sticks as a starter in the first place which as everyone knows is not guaranteed. He can stretch the field, he’s accurate and has been a key cog in one of the most explosive offenses in college football over the past two years, but his upside is limited due to his age and that makes him a mid-round guy.

11- Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State– Lindley is a guy that I identified as a player with upside that needs to improve in some areas. Right now he’s a mid-round guy with plus arm strength but inconsistent ball placement. He has upside due to his combination of solid size, quality arm strength and his athleticism but his accuracy is only above average at this point. He has struggled with ball placement as a junior and so far as a senior at times. He has a live arm so he definitely has upside, but if his accuracy doesn’t continue to develop then he won’t live up to his potential. He’s a developmental guy at this point with more upside than most mid-round QB’s.

Kellen Moore doesn't have much arm strength, but his other quality attributes make him draftable in my opinion.

12- Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State- Kellen Moore is an interesting guy because even though he is a smaller guy with very average arm strength I still think he has a shot in the NFL. I wouldn’t peg him as a starter in his first two seasons by any means, but he has quality accuracy, he’s very intelligent, he plays well in pressure situations and he’s got a vast amount of experience. He will have to transition from the spread offense that he has played in at Boise State, but because of his intangibles I don’t think that will be as big of a road block as it is for some spread QB prospects that attempt the same transition. He’s a fourth or fifth round pick in my opinion right now but he’s definitely got the upside to stick in the NFL. I’m not sure he will ever be a quality starter, but with his intelligence I think he can be a back-up QB in the NFL. I’m just not sure he has the arm strength to threaten defenses downfield and that can spell disaster at the NFL level.

13- Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State- Cousins is a guy I’ve been paying attention to since he was splitting snaps at QB with Keith Nichol as a sophomore and while he is definitely a NFL prospect I’m not as high on him as I thought I might have been. He hasn’t progressed like I was hoping he would and while he has the potential to stick in the NFL I would not bet on him being a quality NFL starter right now.

14- Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois- Harnish showed some ability when I watched him last year and while I haven’t had a chance to see him this year I definitely think he can stick in the NFL. I would like to see more consistent accuracy and ball placement from him before I would project him as a potential starter in the NFL, but I haven’t seen him play this year so I can’t speak to his progression from his junior to senior year yet.

15- Nick Foles, QB, Arizona- Foles is a prospect that you seem to either really like or completely dislike. I am personally not very high on him and I think that people putting 1st, 2nd or even 3rd round grades on him are vastly overrating him. He’s got good size and arm strength, and he’s accurate on short throws as well as medium throws at times, but the offense he plays in makes him look better than I think he really is. I’m definitely not high on him, but his size, arm strength, experience and production should get him drafted. I just don’t think it will be nearly as early as some people think.

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.

I thought this would be interesting to look at to see how certain players were doing thus far. There are some players who are playing great and exceeding expectations and there are players who are not living up to the hype thus far, just like every year. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at each players’ stat-line now that we are more than halfway through the season. Unfortunately the stats for the offensive lineman that were drafted in the first round are only current through week seven.

NFL Draft Pick Stats:

Sam Bradford- 201/334 (60.2%), 5.76 YPA, 12 TD/8 INT

Ndamukong Suh- 33 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 3 TFL, 1 INT

Gerald McCoy- 21 tackles, 0 sack, 5 TFL

Trent Williams- Only 2 sacks allowed through week 7

Eric Berry- 50 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF, 2 INT, 4 PD’s

Russell Okung- Injured for majority of season

Joe Haden- 34 tackles, 2 INT’s, 7 PD’s

Rolando McClain- 42 tackles, .5 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 PD’s

CJ Spiller- 41 attempts, 164 yards, 4.0 ypc, 18 receptions, 81 yards, 4.5 ypc, 1 TD, 1 fumble

Tyson Alualu- 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 TFL

Anthony Davis- 6 sacks allowed through week 7

Ryan Matthews- 87 attempts, 382 yards, 2 TD, 15 receptions, 92 yards, 3 fumbles (all lost)

Brandon Graham- 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF

Earl Thomas- 47 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 INT’s, 5 PD’s

Jason Pierre-Paul- 10 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PD’s

Derrick Morgan- 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 PD (injured in 4th game)

Mike Iupati- 1 sack allowed after 7 weeks

Maurkice Pouncey- 1.5 sacks allowed after 7 weeks

Sean Weatherspoon- 29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD

Kareem Jackson- 46 tackles, 2 INT’s, 7 PD’s

Jermaine Gresham- 40 receptions, 297 yards, 3 TD’s, 2 fumbles (1 lost)

Demaryius Thomas- 19 receptions, 266 yards, 2 TD’s, 2 fumbles (1 lost)

Bryan Bulaga- 4 sacks through week 7

Dez Bryant- 41 receptions, 539 yards, 5 TD’s, 14 PR’s- 202 yards, 2 TD’s

Tim Tebow- 1/1, 3 yards, 1 TD

Dan Williams- 16 tackles, 1 TFL

Devin McCourty- 48 tackles, 2 INT’s, 8 PD’s

Jared Odrick- 1 tackle, 1 TFL

Kyle Wilson- 18 tackles, 4 PD’s

Jahvid Best- 124 attempts, 380 yards, 3.1 ypc, 4 TD’s, 45 receptions, 360 yards, 1 TD, 1 Fumble (1 lost)

Jerry Hughes- 3 tackles

Patrick Robinson- 21 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PD’s

Now, obviously stats don’t tell the whole story, but considering the fact that I have not had time to watch all of these guys play individually (much less multiple times) I thought it would be interesting to compare some of their stats. Some guys have been better than others, and it is still far too early to determine who has “panned out” as a prospect and who hasn’t, but there are a few guys that warrant additional conversation: Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, Trent Williams, Eric Berry, Joe Haden, Earl Thomas, Kareem Jackson, Dez Bryant and Devin McCourty.

Sam Bradford- Bradford has definitely outperformed my expectations for him, but my expectations for him were that he would play very badly if he were to start as a rookie. He has certainly played better than I expected, and I can readily admit that I am wrong in that regard. Sam Bradford is not a bust, at least not yet. His stat line looks solid, especially for a rookie QB, but 210 of his 324 passing attempts have been on throws that are 10 yards or shorter as far as distance downfield from the line of scrimmage. He has attempted almost as many passes (54) on throws behind the line of scrimmage as he has on throws 11-20 yards downfield (56). I think it is fair to say that his stat line, therefore, is misleading. He is not being asked to make a lot of tough throws or difficult reads, and that makes sense. He is a rookie QB transitioning from a spread offense to a pro-style offense. I definitely underrated his intangibles which played a significant role in me thinking he was going to be a bust. I didn’t know whether I should believe everyone who said he was smart and made all of the calls at the line of scrimmage or whether I should believe my eyes that seemed to indicate he was taking audibles and calls from the sideline every play. I went with my gut and I was wrong, but I can admit that. However, I am going to be watching him carefully to see how he does when he is under pressure, how well he goes through his progressions and how often he checks down before going through all of his reads this weekend. I am very excited to see him play because I haven’t seen much of him this year.

Ndamukong Suh- Suh has frankly lived up to all of the hype he had going into the draft this year. 6.5 sacks for a rookie defensive tackle is absolutely absurd, especially at this point in the season. It is not unrealistic to assume that he could hit 10 sacks as a rookie defensive tackle on a young, relatively inexperienced defense. He is just an absolute beast, and that is why I had him graded as the top player in the draft this past year. He has played as well as anyone could have expected so far this year from a statistical standpoint, and I have a feeling he is going to be an incredibly disruptive and dominant player throughout his NFL career.

Trent Williams- Williams is another player that I was simply off about. I didn’t think he could stick at LT in the NFL, but it seems I was wrong. Through week seven he had only given up two sacks, which is impressive for a rookie LT (especially one that I thought had Pro-Bowl potential at RT but would only be a solid/pretty good starter at LT). I’m sure some of this has to do with having a veteran QB in Donovan McNabb under center, and though I have not watched him and scouted him specifically he seems to have played well this year. He has certainly outperformed my expectations for him as a LT thus far. I look forward to getting a chance to watch him play more soon so I can see how he plays for myself.

Eric Berry- I have not seen any Chiefs games this year, but Berry’s stat line is awfully impressive for a rookie safety. I think it is safe to say that he is going to be a dynamic playmaker in that secondary for a long time, and while I can’t specifically say how he has been playing in coverage or versus the run I know what he was capable of in college and he was definitely one of my highest rated prospects in last year’s draft class. Thus far, he seems to have been a good selection.

Joe Haden- Haden was a guy who seemed to have some controversy surrounding him. Now, I haven’t scouted him specifically this year, but his stat line is pretty impressive for a rookie corner on an overall bad team. Two interceptions and seven pass deflections speaks to the ball skills that I thought would make him a top corner in this league, but I am very much looking forward to re-watching the Browns-Falcons game so I can see how he played with my own eyes.

Earl Thomas- Thomas was another one of my favorite prospects from last draft. I had him in my top 10 on my Top 100 Big Board and for good reason: the guy is really talented. I loved the Seahawks draft last year with Russell Okung and Earl Thomas, but unfortunately Okung has been injured and has not had much of an impact yet. Thomas, however, is a different story: 47 tackles, four interceptions and five pass deflections? That is pretty incredible for a rookie defensive back, especially on a defense with as many issues as Seattle’s. He seems to be playing very well so far, and I hope he continues to make me look smart.

Kareem Jackson- Jackson was a guy that I thought was a very quality early 2nd round pick at corner, but he went #20 and that was a little earlier than I thought he would go. He has had his ups and downs this year, but overall he has been impressive for a rookie corner. Corners playing this early in their career are going to get beat, and he has had those experiences, but 46 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass deflections is a stat line you shouldn’t scoff at for a rookie corner. I liked him as a corner coming out of Alabama, and he seems to be playing well for the Texans thus far.

Dez Bryant- Ah, Dez Bryant. The “prima-donna” WR with bad work ethic and serious character concerns. What a joke that has turned out to be. I thought Dez Bryant had top 10 talent and pro-bowl potential written all over him, and so far it looks like I (and many other people who didn’t get sucked in by the media’s bullshit) were right. He is a dynamic playmaker as a receiver and as a punt returner and he is one of the only reasons the Cowboys are still worth watching at this point.

Devin McCourty- McCourty was a guy that I thought was a little overrated when the draft finally came around, but I was pretty surprised to see him get selected in the 1st round. He seems to be playing well though and I can admit that I was off on him. 48 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass deflections is a nice stat line, and the Patriots are one of the best teams in the NFL at drafting players that make quick impacts and transition well to the NFL. Clearly they saw something I didn’t in McCourty, but they seem to have made the right choice so far.

I would love to go through every draft pick and write a blurb about them, but it would take a really long time and I am so long-winded that this would easily be a 3,000-5,000 word blog post, so I am going to stop it here. I am going to get to work on a new mock draft as well as some RB rankings shortly, but I thought that it would be interesting to see how some of the most highly publicized draft picks have performed thus far. Later on I might talk about some guys who were not drafted in the 1st round who are having a significant impact if I have time.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Last night I got to thinking about this, and I finally wrote down some of my thoughts and it inspired me to write this post up. I know you all would probably rather hear my thoughts on individual prospects, see my rankings or read through my thoughts on recent happenings that pertain to the draft. However, my greatest aspiration in my life as far as my career is concerned is to not only be a general manager of a NFL team, but to ultimately win a Superbowl as the GM of a team. So naturally I have given some thought to what I would do if I ever got a job as a GM, and it inspired me to write this blog post articulating some of the conclusions I have come to at this time. This is mostly focused on player personnel, though I have some thoughts about how to look for a good coach also. But this is going to be long enough without any of those thoughts. Enjoy!

Ron Wolf hoists the Lombardi Trophy with his Head Coach Mike Holmgren

First, you have to consider what schemes you think you want to run so you can hire coaches who shares similar views on how a team should be constructed. Personally I prefer a team that is tough, has a big, strong offensive line and can overpower teams up front. I can’t stand the ZBS because I think it makes it hard to have a lot of success in short yardage situations and on the goal-line, and those are the areas that I want my team to capitalize on. I want one or two receivers who have impressive size, are physical after the catch and attack the ball in the air. They don’t have to be burners, but I’d like them to be able to stretch the field and go up and get the ball. Also, having the kind of toughness that enables them to go across the middle and make a catch in traffic is essential to me. And naturally the QB has to have a quality arm to stretch the field, make accurate passes, etc. However he has to stand tall in the face of pressure and he needs to have the toughness and poise to step into a throw and take a hit. How he reacts in the face of pressure will be incredibly important, plus he has to be a great leader. These quarterbacks are hard to come by, but I am convinced that the best way to prepare your team for a Superbowl is to have a good leader at QB.

On defense I think that I would want to run a 3-4 scheme. I like the options that the scheme gives as far as blitz packages. However I would like to run a base 3-4 with players who are versatile enough to play in a 4-3 in obvious passing situations. That would enable us to take the NT off the field, play the two 3-4 DE’s inside at tackle and the two OLB’s would move to DE to rush the passer. That would give the front line a lot of pass rushing potential, plus we could potentially drop a lot of players back in coverage. But mostly I like the toughness of a 3 man defensive front because each defensive lineman has to be big, strong and smart enough to be responsible for 2 gaps. I’d like each defensive lineman to be able to stand up to a double team because that would make the linebacker’s job easier. I’d like my corners to be able to play man coverage and zone coverage, but being able to play man coverage is more important because the most intricate blitzes in the scheme will leave the corners on an island. Being able to trust them in man coverage will be critical. But if they can play zone effectively it opens a lot of options up as far as zone pressures and overloads.

But first and foremost I would want to build a tough team that can run the ball effectively anywhere on the field, and I’d want to build a team that has a great defense that can go toe to toe with any offense in the NFL and at least slow them down. I have subscribed to the defense wins championships mantra for a long time, and even if your offense is a great unit you need a defense that either creates a lot of turnovers or one that bends but does not break when opposing offenses start to move the ball. I believe stopping the run is the first thing you need to establish before you can have a great defense. Stopping the run makes the opposing offense entirely one dimensional and puts them in a difficult position: Do I continue to attempt to maintain a balance in play-calling even though I know I’m not going to get anything out of the run plays? Or do I abandon the run and become one dimensional and predictable? Neither is a good option for the offense, which gives the defense a significant advantage. Particularly because the team does not have to bite hard on play-action fakes because the run has been stopped so effectively.

I wouldn't have tied the fate of my franchise to Sam Bradford even if God had told me to.

Plus, by dedicating yourself to building a winning defense it means you won’t feel pressured to draft a QB in year one of your regime. This is an extremely common practice, but I think it backfires more often than it usually works. You have to be absolutely sold on the QB you are picking, and usually that means spending a 1st rounder on him. I personally would not have picked any of the QB’s in this draft. I would hate to have the fate of my franchise tied to Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy or anybody else. If I had an established QB already I would have considered taking Tebow just because his intangibles are off the charts and I think his work ethic is too good to discount him as a NFL QB. However, other than potentially picking Tebow I wouldn’t have tied the fate of my franchise to any of those QB’s. Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and possibly Joe Flacco in round 2 are the guys that I would have tied the fate of my franchise to, particularly Ryan and Sanchez. In the upcoming draft I think Jake Locker has a lot of potential, but I need to see more development. I would, however, gladly spend a mid-1st or higher on Christian Ponder at this point. I also think Matt Barkley has franchise QB potential like Ryan and Sanchez did in college.

”]A QB who can win games for you is key in my opinion. Finding a special QB who gives his team a chance to win just by stepping on the field is hard to do because they are so rare. Brett Favre is one, Matt Ryan is one, Tim Tebow could potentially be one but his intangibles have never been in question. I also think that Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and Matt Barkley fit this bill. Those are the guys that I like as QB’s, guys who are great leaders and to quote Ron Wolf: “Players who give their team the advantage simply from stepping on the field.” Ron Wolf and Thomas Dimitroff are two of my idols when it comes to GM’s that I have allowed to influence me. I also really like Ozzie Newsome, the current GM in Baltimore. They all draft efficiently, fill needs well and really preach depth throughout the team. They also didn’t take over, clean house and bring in “their people.” I think that is a mistake that is far too common in the NFL, but people still continue to get jobs and wipe out everyone because it was a losing organization. But just because someone was employed by a losing organization does not make them a loser themselves. It means they were in a bad situation. You have to take the time to not only evaluate the coaches and scouts, but other staff members and especially the players to see if they are capable of helping you build a winner. If you just fire everyone then you are throwing away potentially valuable resources that could have sped up the rebuilding process, and it’s all because you were too lazy to evaluate their performance during the previous season.

This is one reason that I would love to be brought in during the NFL season so I could see how everyone operated during the season. This way I wouldn’t have to predict how they would operate based off of how they conduct themselves during the offseason. Ron Wolf had this opportunity and made the most of it by evaluating everyone by watching tape, talking to current employees and seeing if they had the guts to tell him what they really thought, not what they thought he wanted to hear. That is exactly how I would run my organization. Namely, I want you to tell me what you think. Stick to your guns, stand up for what you truly believe and sell me on a prospect if you think he is good. If he’s good we could use him, but if we look at tape of him and he’s not as good as advertised then we won’t pick him. Simple as that. I have no tolerance for “Yes Men” who just pat you on the back and tell you that you are right all the time. That makes no sense to me because, to put it simply: You aren’t right all the time. You are human and you will inevitably make mistakes. That is why you have a team working with you so they can work to balance you out and keep mistakes to a minimum. Yes Men don’t limit mistakes, and I actually think they only serve to give you a big ego. And I have always believed that the only thing a big ego is good for is impeding current progress by getting in the way. So no “Yes Men,” they are a waste of time.

Thomas Dimitroff did a great job of keeping a core of stop-gap players intact while "trimming the fat" and bringing in an influx of new talent when he arrived in Atlanta.

After you evaluate your team you should have an idea of how many quality players you have, how many are just average, and how many are below-average. If you can trim the fat and cut players who won’t help turn you into a winner you should do it. Ron Wolf did this when he took over the Packers and Thomas Dimitroff did this same thing when he got to the Falcons. He released fan favorites Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman and just recently he released Keith Brooking as he was no longer serviceable as a WLB. This is the way you must approach these moves. These situations are delicate since they are popular players, but when they are a hindrance to you when you play them you need to cut them unless they will take less money to be a back-up. That rarely happens, so you must cut ties with them in my opinion.

Then you need to look at the key positions and determine which need to be upgraded soonest. For me, QB, LT, NT, OLB, ILB and CB are the most important positions to fill with quality players. Having a great leader at QB and ILB is extremely important in my opinion, as they are the heart and soul of their respective units more often than not. That is why they are so integral to me. You also need a good LT to protect your QB’s blind side from elite speed rushers throughout the NFL. NT is integral for the 3-4 defense that I would want to run. The NT will clog up both A gaps (the gap on either side of the Center) and if he does his job well he will draw a double team and make it difficult for the opposing RB to find anywhere to run up the middle and he should be forced to try to cut-back or bounce the ball outside. Then I want two very good pass rushers at OLB. The more guys you have who can get after the QB the better, but having an OLB who can rush the passer really well is an extremely useful asset. If they can get after the QB standing up and with their hand in the dirt they would be ideal. I want to be deep at this position especially, same with NT and corner.

I personally believe that if the heart of your offense or defense goes down you are likely to be in trouble regardless of the back-up you have for him, but at positions that demand a quality player but not an elite player or leader depth is critical. At those positions the players are replaceable and rotatable. Having a quality back-up at NT means you can keep your starter fresh and not have a significant drop-off should he get injured or if he rotates out. The same can be said at OLB and CB. Like I said, the more OLB’s you have that can get after the QB the better off you will be. You will absorb injuries easier, you will keep your starters fresh and you will have opportunities to create match-up problems if you two or three OLB’s who warrant playing time. And the deeper you are at corner the better because so many teams use three, four or sometimes even five WR sets. If you can match-up with those sets with corners who are capable of playing man or zone coverage your defense will be in a much better position to slow or stop the opposing offense.

”]So, once you evaluate the quality of players in those key positions you can look to sign a potential impact free agent if there is such a player available that would fill a need, would not hinder the development of a young player at the same position and that would help speed up the rebuilding process. Michael Turner was such a player for the Falcons, and Reggie White was such a player for Ron Wolf and the Packers. Then you should look to bring in other veterans who can be stop-gaps at positions of need while you look to the Draft to fill those voids more permanently with a younger, better player. I don’t like rushing rookies into playing time before they are ready, and these veterans who you can usually sign for a reasonable price give the rookies a good mentor and they give them time to adjust instead of forcing them to play immediately.

I would probably focus my efforts to find a stud QB, LT, ILB and NT early in the draft. If there is a QB I am comfortable tying the fate of my franchise to available at my pick or that I could potentially trade up to get then I will go after him and solidify that position for the next decade with a great player and leader. Otherwise I will wait until I am confident enough in a QB in another draft. Rushing into a selection with this position can set your team back three, four or even five years, so I refuse to rush it.

Ray Lewis has been the heart and soul of the Ravens defense for years.

Next I would look for an elite leader and playmaker at ILB. If there is such a player available (such as a player in the Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis mold) then he would certainly warrant an early selection. I think Brandon Spikes was such a player for the Patriots, and I think that the trio of Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo gives the Patriots the best combo of a NT and an ILB in the NFL. Running up the middle of their defense is going to be extraordinarily difficult with those three guys lined up against you. That is what I want for my defense, a team that is extremely tough up the middle and extremely athletic on the outside to rush the passer and defend the pass. But most importantly you need a terrific leader, and Spikes has been called the Tim Tebow of Florida’s defense. That speaks volumes about his leadership capability. Plus he hits extremely hard, has great instincts and is big and strong enough to attack and shed blocks from offensive linemen. If there is a player in that mold available early in the draft, like the 1st or 2nd round, I will make sure I get him if it possible.

Next I have to look at LT and NT. Both are equally important to their respective units in my opinion, so the order in which I acquire one is not important as long as I get a good one. Picking a guy early just to fill a need is not an interest of mine, and I would rather sign a stop-gap guy, draft someone in the mid-rounds and develop them into a potentially solid starter rather than reaching for someone that I don’t think will be able to play early or ever develop into a quality starter.

If I have either filled these four need positions or if there is not a quality player that I think warrants that early of a pick at those positions then I will look to strengthen my offensive and defensive fronts, or to grab a playmaker at RB, WR or a CB or S who can add depth and potentially develop into a starter. More or less, I look for a BPA. When your team is severely lacking in talent the more talent you can stockpile the better. And I have always considered the dilemma of:

Patrick Willis was the BPA for the 49ers at #11 and he has had the vastly superior career to most of the players selected ahead of him.

“Do you pick the best player even if he doesn’t fill a significant need or do you take a lesser player that fills a big need?” I would personally pick the better player nine times out of ten. Settling for a decent or solid player when you could get a good or even great player at a position of relative strength makes little sense to me, especially if your team is hurting for playmakers as the team you are now working to rebuild probably is. Imagine if the Falcons hadn’t picked Matt Ryan, and instead picked Glenn Dorsey because he would have filled a huge need. They would have been lucky to win five games in 2008, instead they went to the playoffs. Imagine if they hadn’t moved up to get Sam Baker, or if they hadn’t drafted Curtis Lofton? Those three players were terrific additions for that team, and they came at three of my key positions that I would seek to upgrade.

After the first year I would ideally have a team with a few quality players and a couple pillars of the team intact from my four key positions. If I have my franchise leaders at QB and ILB then that would be perfect, but that is a hard feat to accomplish. But like I said, you can’t be pressured to draft a QB in the first year of your regime. If you don’t think there is one that can lead you to a Superbowl and win it, don’t pick one. That is exactly how I felt about Sam Bradford this year, and that is why I think he and the Rams are going to be bad for a long time. Mark my words, if Bradford starts from day one he will be a bust and the Rams will regret picking him.

I know this was a long-winded post, but I think that it was good for me to get some of this down on some kind of word-processor and I think it should make for an interesting read. I think my blueprint for building a franchise is pretty solid even though I have no experience making personnel decisions in the NFL yet. Obviously this is just an outline, and you can’t force selections of my four key positions of QB, ILB, LT and NT. If there aren’t good players available in those classes, or if all the good ones are gone when you are picking, you are definitely better off moving on down the list and looking for another position. And if there is a player at another position, particularly one that is a need, that slid and you didn’t think he’d be available and you think he can help you win a Superbowl, go ahead and pick him. I suppose I subscribe to the BPA state of mind, but only to a certain extent. I’m not going to pick three QB’s in a row because I think they can all win me a Superbowl, that makes no sense. I would look for a BPA at another position and ignore the quality QB available early in the draft if I already had one.

So, hopefully you enjoyed reading this. If you have a comment feel free to leave one and I will make sure I respond to it.

Thanks for reading!

— Tom Melton