LEGENDS FOOTBALL LEAGUE
CHICAGO BLISS VS LAS VEGAS SIN
LEGENDS FOOTBALL LEAGUE
CHICAGO BLISS VS LAS VEGAS SIN
Chuck Noll, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Steelers to four Super Bowls in the 1970s, died Friday at the age of 82, according to numerous reports out of Pittsburgh.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Noll’s wife, Marianne, found him unresponsive at 9:45 p.m. ET. She called 911, and paramedics pronounced him dead at 9:55 p.m.
Noll had stayed out of the public eye in recent years with an illness that had been undisclosed.
1) You don’t get to have it both ways. You can tell me that your sexuality is nobody’s business — what you do in your bedroom is between you and whoever you do it with — and I’ll agree. I’ve never taken it upon myself to approach a group of strangers and survey them about their carnal propensities. In my life, I’ve probably had thousands of conversations with thousands of different people. Of those thousands, I can safely say that not once have I begun the exchange by saying, “Hello, my name is Matt. Do you sleep with people of the same gender?”
Seriously, that’s never happened. OK, maybe I can’t say never, but rarely. The point is, I usually don’t grab strangers by their shirt collars and demand that they paint me a vivid portrait of their erotic activities.
Your sexuality is none of my business, right? Yes. Fine. Sounds good to me.
But this “none of my business” shtick is a two way street, friend. What exactly does it mean for a thing to be “none of my business” when you’re holding a press conference and proclaiming it to the entire world?
“Hey, this is personal, man. That’s why I’m throwing a parade, alerting the media, issuing a press release, having t-shirts printed, and booking an interview on 20/20.”
Personal business. You keep using that phrase. I don’t think it means what you think it means.
Michael Sam, apparently, ‘came out’ to his teammates a year ago. By all accounts, they took it well, nobody really cared, and everything continued on as normal. Sam wasn’t hiding in fear and he wasn’t being forced to suppress or disguise anything. But then, mere months before the draft, he decided to declare himself to ESPN and the New York Times.
I remember seeing this headline back in February: “Michael Sam Announces He’s Gay”
My first thought: OK, was anybody asking?
The man pursued national media outlets and, without being provoked or solicited, ‘announced’ his sexual desires to the nation. Why? Because it’s none of our business? Because we should feel nothing and have no opinion on the matter?
No, of course not. We are supposed to feel something, and we are supposed to have an opinion, but they must be the right feelings and the right opinions.
That’s the point here.
If you simply wish to be accepted, perhaps you’d discuss these private details with those closest to you. If you wish to be celebrated, you throw yourself a party and call the press.
Michael Sam chose the latter.
As I said, GO READ IT ALL!
Ryan Shazier – LB – Height: 6’1″ – Weight: 237 – Grade: A-
Stephon Tuitt – DE – Height: 6’7″ – Weight: 313 – Grade: A
Dri Archer – WR, RB, KR – Height: 5’8″ – Weight: 173 – Grade: A+
Martavis Bryant – WR – Height: 6’5″ – Weight: 211 – Grade: A-
Shaquille Richardson – CB – Height: 6’0″ – Weight: 194 – Grade: B
Wesley Johnson – OT – Height: 6’5″ – Weight: 297 – Grade: A-
Jordan Zumwalt – LB – Height: 6’4″ – Weight: 235 – Grade: B-
Daniel McCullers – DT – Height: 6’7″ – Weight: 352 – Grade: A
Rob Blanchflower – TE – Height: 6’4″ – Weight: 256 – Grade: C+
Note: for the following 4 rounds, I have only posted the draft picks of last season’s 4 best teams, which were the Patriots, the 49ers, the Broncos and the Seahawks. Oh, and I’m also including the Steelers’ picks, because PITTSBURGH RULES!
Click HERE for all other draft results from rounds 4, 5, 6 and 7.
Patriots – Stork, Bryan – C – 6’4″ – 315 lbs – Florida State – 5.1
49ers – Ellington, Bruce – WR – 5’9″ – 197 lbs – South Carolina – 5.3
Seahawks – Marsh, Cassius – DE – 6’4″ – 252 lbs – UCLA – 5.2
Steelers – Bryant, Martavis – WR – 6’4″ – 211 lbs – Clemson – 5.3
Seahawks – Norwood, Kevin – WR – 6’2″ – 198 lbs – Alabama – 5.3
49ers – Johnson, Dontae – CB – 6’2″ – 200 lbs – N.C. State – 5.3
Patriots – White, James – RB – 5’9″ – 204 lbs – Wisconsin – 5.1
Seahawks – Pierre-Louis, Kevin – OLB – 6’0″ – 232 lbs – Boston College – 5.1
Patriots – Fleming, Cameron – OT – 6’5″ – 323 lbs – Stanford – 5.3
49ers – Lynch, Aaron – DE – 6’5″ – 249 lbs – South Florida – 5.1
Broncos – Barrow, Lamin – OLB – 6’1″ – 237 lbs – LSU – 5.3
Steelers – Richardson, Shaquille – CB – 6’0″ – 194 lbs – Arizona – 5.1
49ers – Reaser, Keith – CB – 5’10″ – 189 lbs – Florida Atlantic – 5.1
Seahawks – Staten, Jimmy – DT – 6’4″ – 304 lbs – Middle Tennessee State – NR
Steelers – Johnson, Wesley – OT – 6’5″ – 297 lbs – Vanderbilt – 5.3
Patriots – Halapio, Jon – OG – 6’3″ – 323 lbs – Florida – 5.0
49ers – Acker, Kenneth – CB – 6’0″ – 190 lbs – SMU – 5.0
Steelers – Zumwalt, Jordan – ILB – 6’4″ – 235 lbs – UCLA – 5.2
Patriots – Moore, Zach – DE – 6’5″ – 269 lbs – Concordia – 5.2
Seahawks – Scott, Garrett – OT – 6’5″ – 294 lbs – Marshall – NR
Patriots – Thomas, Jemea – CB – 5’9″ – 192 lbs – Georgia Tech – 5.1
Broncos – Paradis, Matthew – C – 6’3″ – 306 lbs – Boise State – 5.0
Seahawks – Pinkins, Eric – FS – 6’3″ – 220 lbs – San Diego State – 4.9
Steelers – McCullers, Daniel – DT – 6’7″ – 352 lbs – Tennessee – 5.6
Seahawks – Small, Kiero – RB – 5’8″ – 244 lbs – Arkansas – NR
Steelers – Blanchflower, Rob – TE – 6’4″ – 256 lbs – Massachusetts – 5.0
Broncos – Nelson, Corey – OLB – 6’0″ – 231 lbs – Oklahoma – NR
49ers – Ramsey, Kaleb – DE – 6’3″ – 293 lbs – Boston College – 5.0
Patriots – Gallon, Jeremy – WR – 5’7″ – 185 lbs – Michigan – 5.2
49ers – Millard, Trey – FB – 6’2″ – 247 lbs – Oklahoma – 5.1
Texans – Fiedorowicz, C.J. – TE – 6’5″ – 265 lbs – Iowa – 5.4
Redskins – Moses, Morgan – OT – 6’6″ – 314 lbs – Virginia – 5.4
Dolphins – Turner, Billy – OT – 6’5″ – 315 lbs – North Dakota State – 5.3
Falcons – Southward, Dezmen – FS – 6’0″ – 211 lbs – Wisconsin – 5.3
Buccaneers – Sims, Charles – RB – 6’0″ – 214 lbs – West Virginia – 5.3
49ers – Martin, Marcus – C – 6’3″ – 320 lbs – USC – 5.6
Browns – Kirksey, Christian – OLB – 6’2″ – 233 lbs – Iowa – 5.2
Vikings – Crichton, Scott – DE – 6’3″ – 273 lbs – Oregon State – 5.5
Bills – Brown, Preston – ILB – 6’1″ – 251 lbs – Louisville – 5.3
Giants – Bromley, Jay – DT – 6’3″ – 306 lbs – Syracuse – 5.3
Rams – Mason, Tre – RB – 5’8″ – 207 lbs – Auburn – 5.8
Lions – Swanson, Travis – C – 6’5″ – 312 lbs – Arkansas – 5.5
49ers – Borland, Chris – ILB – 5’11″ – 248 lbs – Wisconsin – 5.3
Redskins – Long, Spencer – OG – 6’5″ – 320 lbs – Nebraska – 5.2
Ravens – Brooks, Terrence – FS – 5’11″ – 198 lbs – Florida State – 5.3
Jets – McDougle, Dexter – CB – 5’10″ – 196 lbs – Maryland – 5.1
Raiders – Jackson, Gabe – OG – 6’3″ – 336 lbs – Mississippi State – 5.7
Bears – Sutton, Will – DT – 6’0″ – 303 lbs – Arizona State – 5.2
Texans – Nix, Louis – NT – 6’2″ – 331 lbs – Nptre Dame – 5.9
Cardinals – Martin, Kareem – DE – 6’6″ – 272 lbs – North Carolina – 5.6
Packers – Thornton, Khyri – DT – 6’3″ – 304 lbs – Southern Miss – 5.1
Eagles – Huff, Josh – WR – 5’11″ – 206 lbs – Oregon – 5.2
Chiefs – Gaines, Phillip – CB – 6’0″ – 193 lbs – Rice – 5.2
Bengals – Clarke, Will – DE – 6’6″ – 271 lbs – West Virginia – 5.1
Chargers – Watt, Chris – OG – 6’3″ – 310 lbs – Notre Dame – 5.4
Colts – Moncrief, Donte – WR – 6’2″ – 221 lbs – Mississippi – 5.9
Cardinals – Brown, John – WR – 5’10″ – 179 lbs – Pittsburgh State – 5.1
Panthers – Turner, Trai – OG – 6’3″ – 310 lbs – LSU – 5.5
Jaguars – Linder, Brandon – OG – 6’6″ – 311 lbs – Miami – 5.2
Browns – West, Terrance – RB – 5’9″ – 225 lbs – Towson – 5.3
Broncos – Schofield, Michael – OT – 6’6″ – 301 lbs – Michigan – 5.2
Vikings – McKinnon, Jerick – RB – 5’9″ – 209 lbs – Georgia Southern – 5.4
Steelers – Archer, Dri – RB – 5’8″ – 173 lbs – Kent State – 5.5
Packers – Rodgers, Richard – TE – 6’4″ – 257 lbs – California – 5.2
Ravens – Gillmore, Crockett – TE – 6’6″ – 260 lbs – Colorado State – 5.1
49ers – Thomas, Brandon – OT – 6’3″ – 317 lbs – Clemson – 5.4
Texans – Clowney, Jadeveon – DE – 6’6″ – 266 lbs – South Carolina – 7.5
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: An imposing figure, with strength and size to match his speed. Because of that combination, Clowney can keep tackles and tight ends guessing as to how he will attack. When he gets a step around the edge, even the most agile blockers will find it difficult to recover before he disrupts the pocket. When opponents are in solid position, Clowney can extend his arms, drive his legs and power his way where he wants to go. As the blow-up of Vincent Smith proved, Clowney will lower the boom if he gets the chance – that goes for unaware quarterbacks as well as running backs.
Though dropping him in at a DE spot and leaving him alone might be tempting, Clowney did perform well from various positions up front. He definitely has the strength to drop down inside on pass-rushing downs for a team with multiple outside threats. Much like J.J. Watt, Clowney has the awareness and the length to disrupt aerial attacks even when he cannot break through the line.
Has the athleticism to chase down plays from the backside. Also will be better dropping in coverage than most people expect, should he be tasked with that challenge.
Weaknesses: The concerns regarding his motor and conditioning are overblown, but Clowney can run on fumes at times, which was especially noticeable early in the season versus up-tempo offenses. Rather than come off the field when he was fatigued, Clowney appeared to ease up – thus making himself an easy blocking assignment.
Linebacker skills will need work. Right now, he could handle the most basic of those duties but could be exposed if he somehow winds up in space against a RB or TE. Not going to make many plays on the ball if he’s not at the line (though, the same could be said for most DE-types).
Mentally, can he handle the expectations?
Rams – Robinson, Greg – OT – 6’5″ – 332 lbs – Auburn – 7.4
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Regardless of position, there is no better run-blocker in this draft class than Robinson – he uses a devastating combination of size and leverage to maul the defenders he’s blocking over and over. When he gets under the pads of the man he’s blocking off the line, it’s not pretty for that poor opponent, because at his best, Robinson can make those one-on-ones look positively comical. When he pushes defenders back, he keeps his hands inside the pads and blows the opponent off to one side, leaving huge lanes. And even when he doesn’t use optimal leverage, he’s strong enough to get away with it – he won’t frequently lose traction based on poor technique.
Didn’t get a lot of tight end help to his side in Auburn’s offense, and he doesn’t need it — especially in the run game. Moves his feet well from gap to gap — though he’s not incredibly fast in a straight line, Robinson is impressively agile in the box. Has the will to assert physical authority over his opponents – he’s not a gentle giant, and any team looking for an ass-kicking offensive lineman should start right here. Will occasionally use a club move as a defensive lineman would to move through lines; Robinson plays very aggressively.
Weaknesses: Where Robinson falls short at this point is in any blocking scheme that requires to do more than fire straight out – in delayed blocking, he struggles to keep his feet under him and can be beaten by quickness and agility. He will occasionally lunge at ends who are looking to cover or move around him, and his hit percentage in those instances is not exceptional. Has the speed to get to the second level quickly but tends to mince his steps at times, and he takes a while to zero in on his target. Basically, in open-field situations, he’s very much a work in progress.
In pass protection, he has a decent straight-back kick step, but he could stand to be quicker with it, and he’s not exceptionally quick to adjust from side to side against edge rushers. And he won’t be able to get away with as many technique flaws in the NFL – at the pro level, you can’t always just bull your way around mechanical issues. Not especially adept with combo blocks and certain zone principles – tends to stay in his lane.
Jaguars – Bortles, Blake – QB – 6’5″ – 232 lbs – Central Florida – 6.2
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Almost every pro-Bortles argument you hear will start with his size. Even though the Seahawks just won a Super Bowl with the comparatively diminutive Russell Wilson running the show, many teams still want QBs who fit Bortles’ 6-5, 232-pound build. He takes advantage of that height, keeping his eyes downfield and using a steady release to avoid having passes swatted at the line. Bortles also moves better than one might expect, both inside and outside the pocket.
Touch is there, especially in intermediate windows and to the sideline. Bortles really has no issues stepping up and resetting to throw, or sliding to his left or right and throwing with zip. Intangibles all are there, at least if his interviews and comments by his former teammates/coaches are to be believed – all of the latter speak glowingly of Bortles. He was not rattled by any situation, from road games at Ohio State and Penn State to the BCS bowl stage against Baylor.
Weaknesses: Decision-making needs to improve, as his INT numbers (16 total over the past two years) easily could have been higher. Sometimes drifts into a gunslinger-style approach, attempting to thread the needle, and he does not necessarily possess the arm strength to pull off all of those gambles. Can float some deep balls, too, a problem most noticeable when a pass rush rattles him. UCF’s offense will slow his adjustment to the NFL; it did not require him to make a ton of progression reads.
O’Leary’s comments about Bortles as a pro QB will be taken with a grain of salt, but we cannot dismiss completely Bortles’ college coach doubting his abilities to start as a rookie: remember, O’Brien (whose team has the No. 1 pick) has worked with O’Leary, so he is likely to pick the UCF coach’s brain.
Bills – Watkins, Sammy – WR – 6’1″ – 211 lbs – Clemson – 7.3
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: One of the things that makes Watkins so captivating as a player is that he is a legit weapon to make a big play from anywhere – from the backfield to the slot to any position in trips or bunch formations. Tremendous after-catch player on bubble screens, and he’s very dangerous on end-arounds. As a backfield weapon, he looks and thinks like a running back with his foot-fakes and acceleration. Has the pure speed and second gear to outrun college cornerbacks to the end zone, but will also gain separation with an estimable array of jukes off the line and in space. Tremendously effective in motion plays, especially out of the backfield – this is how he often creates separation – and his understanding of formation spacing and timing serves him well. He’s very tough to cover when he’s hitting the line with a full head of steam, and his NFL team would do well to use him in these types of “waggle” plays. Blocks with above-average effort and form, though not a lot of power.
Weaknesses: Watkins’ height creates concerns with regards to jump balls and contested catches; he’s simply not big enough to grab some of the balls that more physically imposing receivers might. And while he’s strong, he needs space to operate – he’ll get taken down on first contact a lot if the first contact is a form tackle attempt, though he’ll drive his helmet in and try to gain extra yardage. Watkins said at the combine that he’s comfortable with all manner of route concepts, but he was a quick up-and-out and vertical target at Clemson, and there are times when he appears a step slow on some more angular routes – especially curls and comebacks or anything with really quick cuts. Has the physical talent to master the techniques required and shows it at times, but that could be a process.
To his credit, Watkins addressed specific route issues from the podium at the scouting combine.
“I’ve become a pretty good route runner, but there are areas I can still improve in with getting out of my routes,” he said. “What I’m really focused on is my curl routes and my comebacks. I’ve got to get my transitions, and know when to run full speed or not, and sync my hips and get out of my routes.”
Raiders – Mack, Khalil – OLB – 6’3″ – 251 lbs – Buffalo – 7.2
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: A 3-4 OLB spot might be ideal, but Mack’s versatility makes him a fit for any scheme – he mentioned at the combine that he had been telling NFL coaches he could play with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 end if they wanted. Creates constant problems for offensive linemen because of the variety of ways he can get to the quarterback. Speed’s (4.65) a real selling point, but Mack also plays with strong hands at the line, enabling him to get through blocks.
Rarely, if ever, pancaked or driven into the second level. Not a defender who can be chop-blocked either, due to steady balance. Mack does not mind creating contact at the point of attack, an approach that he brings over to an aggressive tackling style.
His three interceptions last season point to competency in pass coverage. Especially when the play develops in front of him – screens, short passes to tight ends, check-downs – Mack reacts rapidly and closes on the football. Confidence is there to succeed, as is that chip-on-the-shoulder intangible that teams will not fail to notice.
Weaknesses: Will need to improve his coverage techniques; even with his speed, he will be a little touch-and-go early when it comes to covering NFL tight ends and RBs. Players like Mack from mid-major schools always will have to answer for the competition level they faced, and Mack had two of his least productive games against Baylor and in that bowl loss to San Diego State.
If Mack is going to play along the line, either as a DE or stand-up rush linebacker, he has to get quicker jumps off the snap. Everything he does when pass-rushing can take a little longer than it needs to, either because of slow reaction time off the snap or because he allows himself to be pushed too wide by a blocker.
Falcons – Matthews, Jake – OT – 6’5″ – 308 lbs – Texas A&M – 7.2
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Matthews is the most technically sound and polished offensive lineman in this draft class, and that shows up on tape in all kinds of ways. As a pass-blocker, he is fluid and consistent in his kick-slide, and he establishes a solid arc of protection back to the pocket with his footwork and low base. Gets his hands inside a defender’s pads and generally keeps them there — he’s very tenacious. As a run-blocker, he excels not with tremendous root strength, but with an understanding of angles and leverage that makes him appear functionally stronger than he really is. Does outstanding work in slide protection because he’s so good at keeping his feet active but efficient – there aren’t a lot of wasted steps for Matthews, and he doesn’t usually have to recover from his own mistakes. Understands and does well in zone concepts like combos and pass-offs – he keeps his eyes forward and his hands moving, and when he has to jump quickly to handle a second defender, he has no problem with that. Gets out of his stance in a hurry off the snap and moves to block, meaning that he gains the advantage of striking the first blow most of the time.
Matthews is a very quick and agile player, and I think this is an underrated aspect of his game – he has the ability to execute tackle pulls to any gap, and all the way across the line, and he’s great when asked to head to linebacker depth and pop a defensive target in space. Matthews would be an especially great pick for any team with a mobile quarterback, because blocking for Manziel trained him to maintain his protection as long as the play is alive.
Weaknesses: Matthews isn’t a dominant physical athlete – he’s not going to physically overwhelm opponents with brute power, and he has to stay straight with his technique as a result. Occasionally gets too high in his stance, and can be moved back and aside as a result. And if he doesn’t get his hands out first, he’s not prone to re-directing after he’s beaten, meaning he’ll lose battles with more aggressive defenders. This is a core strength issue, and something that his NFL team will want him to correct.
Buccaneers – Evans, Mike – WR – 6’5″ – 231 lbs – Texas A&M – 6.4
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Perhaps Evans’ greatest strength is his ability to get free in short spaces on a number of routes – he doesn’t just win vertical battles; he’s also very good at quick cuts for his size (6-foot-5, 231). And with his length, he’s able to expand his catch radius to bring in balls most receivers simply can’t. Catches with his hands – Evans doesn’t wait for the ball to hit him in the chest, which allows him to reach for catches when falling away. He’s also surprisingly fast on straight vertical routes – Evans gets a head of steam going quickly and has a clear extra gear in the open field. He’s not a big, lumbering player; he has outstanding stride length and he knows how to use it. Evans will be a great help to any mobile quarterback, because he’s learned from playing with Manziel that you always have to keep focused on the extended play. When Manziel was running around, Evans was moving with him and getting opening with his physicality.
Excellent blocker who gets his long arms extended and seems to enjoy mixing it up. In that same vein, he’s very comfortable breaking tackles and throwing stiff-arms. Tremendous threat on in-breaking routes (in-cuts, slants, posts) because it’s so hard to keep up with his speed and still deal with his height. Could be a dominant situational slot receiver; more NFL teams are taking their No. 1 targets and looking to create mismatches in this way.
Weaknesses: Focus is an issue at times – Evans drops balls he should catch, and he had to be talked back into the Chick-fil-A Bowl by Manziel after a couple of personal fouls. And like most bigger college receivers, Evans will need to expand his route tree in the NFL. His game, like Manziel’s, was based a great deal on improvisation, and his pro team might not like that prototype. Played against a lot of off-coverage designed to react to his quarterback; Evans will need to develop his foot fakes and hand moves against more aggressive press corners in the NFL.
Browns – Gilbert, Justin – CB – 6’0″ – 202 lbs – Oklahoma State – 6.3
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Gilbert’s raw speed allows him to cover a ton of ground, plus helps him recover from any mistakes he may make. As he stated at the combine, with the ball in his hands he’s a constant threat to go the distance, be it off an interception or on a kick return. Receivers almost never blow past him on straight-line routes, further evidence that he’s as fast as the 40 time made him look.
Height and leaping ability make Gilbert a menace in the air – the pick-six he pulled off versus Texas came after he planted, then leaped toward the sideline in front of a receiver. Takes advantage of his size when playing in press coverage (though, not always effectively, as we’ll touch on shortly). Tough to beat over the middle because because how well he can get his foot into the ground, then transfer to top speed.
His ability to step in as a return man will earn him extra points. Barring an injury, the worst-case scenario for Gilbert heading into camp is that he competes for a No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback job while contributing heavily on special teams. He is very smooth with the ball in his hands, and made catches on interceptions that some receivers might have struggled to make.
Weaknesses: As with another projected Round 1 cornerback, Darqueze Dennard, Gilbert almost invites officials to flag him with his contact in coverage. Dennard can get himself into trouble attempting to maintain a jam; Gilbert has more issues downfield, where he’ll lunge and put himself in tough positions on deep balls. Some of that could be rectified if Gilbert continues to improve reading plays – right now, he can hang himself out to dry on well-run routes because he’s constantly hunting for an interception.
Effective as a tackler, but not overly eager to get involved, especially in the run game. Considering how physical he can be in man-coverage, it would be nice to see him translate that edge over to tracking ballcarriers. As with a quarterback who tries to overcompensate for poor reads with a strong arm, Gilbert puts almost too much faith in his speed, which may not fly quite as comfortably in the NFL.
Vikings – Barr, Anthony – LB – 6’5″ – 255 lbs – UCLA – 6.5
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Spectacularly quick off the edge, and flashes the ability to bend well when trying to turn the corner around blockers. Puts his speed to use once he works free of blockers, closing on QBs in a hurry. Chases the ball well – 83 tackles in 2012 and 66 in ’13, many coming with Barr pursuing to the far side of the field. Deceptive strength both as a tackler and in fighting off blocks.
Barr’s willingness to shift from running back to receiver to H-back and finally to linebacker highlights his coachability, a factor NFL teams pay very close attention to during the draft process. Barr also speaks honestly about the areas in which he needs to improve.
Coveted size for an edge player. Once he develops a little better feel for his timing, Barr will be difficult to throw passes over or around because of his length. Some room to add bulk, though he said at the combine that he feels most comfortable at his current weight.
Weaknesses: Must become far better utilizing his hands to shed blockers, as he can be dominated at times right now. Along the same lines, Barr has to improve his repertoire when rushing the passer, because a straight speed rush will be less effective in the NFL than it was at UCLA.
By his own admission, Barr’s coverage skills leave something to be desired. UCLA did not ask him to drop with much regularity, but it will be a key component of his game from here out, especially if he lands as a LB in a 4-3 scheme. He also misses more tackles than he should while gunning for the big hit. Barr will run himself out of position against play-action and misdirection, an element of his game that NFL offenses will exploit until he hones his awareness.
Lions – Ebron, Eric – TE – 6’4″ – 250 lbs – North Carolina – 6.2
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Speed really sets him apart as compared to other tight ends in the 2014 class. Can turn upfield after short-to-intermediate routes but is most dangerous darting into the seam. Even talented slot corners and adept safeties will find it tough to turn and run with him; linebackers can be left in his wake. Improving blocker with a decent amount of experience playing in-line. Better suited to get out into the slot and create mismatches. Can be far more of a red-zone threat than he was in college. Confidence bordering on cockiness, a positive when he can reel it in.
Weaknesses: Dropped nearly 12 percent of the passes thrown his way, an unexpectedly high number that means he’ll leave folks frustrated from time to time. By his own admission, must improve as a run blocker, especially if the team that drafts him wants to use him as a No. 1 tight end. Should be better than he is making grabs in traffic, which could help explain to some extent his very low TD total. Will he be OK with playing a complementary role?
Titans – Lewan, Taylor – OT – 6’7″ – 309 lbs – Michigan – 6.3
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Moves extremely well for a man of his size. Lewan drops very well to protect the passer, while his quick feet could make him a fit in either a man- or zone-blocking scheme. Clears to the second level in a hurry, picking out and hunting down linebackers to block. Plays through the whistle with venom – nearly faced discipline for a series of scraps, including Lewan twisting an opponent’s helmet during a game versus Michigan State. Recovers well when he’s jolted by a push to his chest. Vocal and outspoken leader of the Wolverines offense for multiple seasons.
Weaknesses: Penalized too much… and, honestly, easily could have been flagged for about two or three more holding penalties per game. Can be caught leaning and off-balance, most noticeable when Lewan is trying to push forward late in plays; occasionally shows up when a speed rusher gets a step on him. Carrying some red flags he no doubt has had to answer for during meetings with teams. Lets emotion get the best of him, sacrificing his technique to look for a big hit. Blitzes can cause him problems.
Giants – Beckham, Odell – WR – 5’11″ – 198 lbs – LSU – 6.1
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Beckham can excel either outside or in the slot, and his primary attribute is his pure game-breaking speed. In the slot, he drives off the snap with quickness from the first step and can simply outrun safeties to his assigned area. Forces defenses to assign a deep defender and can take the top off a coverage. On the outside, Beckham moves smoothly downfield on routes to the sideline and the numbers, and he exhibits terrific change-of-direction skills. In addition, Beckham has an innate understanding of route concepts that will help him greatly at the NFL level – he has outstanding body control, looks the ball into his hands, gets open in small spaces and is elusive enough to juke defenders who try to grab him after the catch. And if he gets past those defenders, it’s off to the races again.
Kills defenses with comebacks and curls. Can take quick slants and bubble screens upfield in a hurry – he’ll be a great yards-after-catch asset at the next level. Dynamic return man who will change direction and doesn’t need much of an opening to make a big play or take it to the house.
Weaknesses: Beckham’s only real limitations are related to his size – he won’t win a lot of jump-ball battles, he’s not a physical blocker, and though he’s tough in traffic, it’s possible that he’ll be limited by bigger and more physical cornerbacks at the NFL level. Though he’s improved a great deal in his command of the little things, he will occasionally regress and miss a ball he should have caught. However, this isn’t the issue it used to be, and Beckham’s clear tendency to work hard and improve will serve him well when coverages get more complex.
Rams – Donald, Aaron – DT – 6’1″ – 285 lbs – Pittsburgh – 6.3
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Not only experienced at lining up in multiple spots, but productive everywhere. Donald brings a smart, varied rush to the table, which allows him to work with effectiveness from the one-tech spot on out. Most of his victories up front come as result of an explosive first step off the snap. The quickness he flashed for a national audience at the combine was no fluke. Donald also can win with power, if he cannot break through immediately. In that regard, his stature actually can play to his advantage – being a little lower to the ground allows him to get his hands into a blocker’s chest naturally, allowing him to push opponents back.
True to the praise for his work ethic, Donald can stay on the field as a three-down player and rarely downshifts in intensity. He’ll chase the ball whistle to whistle, sideline to sideline, showing enough recognition to keep locked on the right target despite misdirection.
Weaknesses: Can be neutralized when he does not get the first step, with his size occasionally proving problematic against strong guards. Though he more than held his own as a nose tackle at Pittsburgh, his lack of girth makes it difficult to project him there in the pros, potentially limiting his role. Only average arm length plus 6-1 height means that he will not swat many passes at the line if he fails to get home on a rush. May have a tough time if asked to anchor versus the run as a two-gap player.
Bears – Fuller, Kyle – CB – 6’0″ – 190 lbs – Virginia Tech – 5.9
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Fuller is really good with his feet – he can stick with a receiver through any stutter or foot fake, and he transitions fluidly to coverage. Backpedals well and turns his hips in time to stay on his target. Fuller plays off-coverage like a pro and understands pattern reading, which makes him great outside or in the slot. He might be the best at his position in this draft class when it comes to closing on routes and following through to break up the play. Fuller is fast anyway (ran a 4.49-40 at the combine), but his awareness of technique and his quick closes on angles make him look even quicker on the field. Not a dominant tackler per se, but will sell himself out to stop a play and excels at inline and slot blitzes.
Plays well in the slot and has the size (6-0, 198) to deal with bigger receivers and some tight ends. Extends to inside position and can trail receivers in the slot and outside. Gets vertical very well and knows how to time his jumps. Recovery speed isn’t Olympian, but it’s good enough. Played linebacker depth against Georgia Tech in 2013 and split through different gaps with pass and run blitzes.
Weaknesses: Due to the aggressive nature of his play, Fuller will occasionally bite on play-fakes, play-action and double moves, but this isn’t a major problem. And he addressed the injury concerns with his combine performance.
Steelers – Shazier, Ryan – OLB – 6’1″ – 237 lbs – Ohio State – 6.3
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: From the line back to linebacker depth and from any gap, Shazier has tremendous closing speed, and he’s very aggressive when looking to stop run plays. He moves through trash very deftly and uses an understanding of angles and tackling technique to stay with backs. Generally patient at the line before he moves to tackle; seems to have a really good sense of play recognition and he tends to overrun plays more than he’s fooled. More impressive is Shazier’s range in coverage; he’s a legitimate asset when dealing with backs, slot receivers and tight ends and can get this done from inside or outside positions. Shazier has the speed to chase from sideline to sideline, and he spies quarterbacks well while reading for possible throws. Tremendous vision and redirection ability allows him to peel off from coverage to tackle at the second and third levels. High-quality blitzer as long as he has space to move – if put on the edge in passing situations he could reward the Steelers with a 10-sack season. By all accounts, a high-quality player and person who will lead and help greatly with defensive calls.
Weaknesses: Shazier’s size shows up as a negative when he gets blocked out pretty consistently in power situations, especially when offensive linemen are plastering him inside or outside on run plays. While he plays inside more than credibly, Pittsburgh may want to keep him outside to allow him to make more plays in space – he’s not a pure “thumper” in the traditional vein. Wraps up well at times, but relies on the potential kill shot too often and misses opportunities to stop plays as a result. Will lose play discipline at times and get misdirected.
Cowboys – Martin, Zack – OT – 6’4″ – 308 lbs – Notre Dame – 6.2
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Outstanding drive blocker who rises up from a three-point stance quickly, gets his hands inside the defender and uses leverage to push people back. Excellent upper-body strength, which he uses to get his hands forward and in a striking position to keep opponents on their side of the line. Finished his blocks by lifting defenders off their own power. Understands combo blocks and can peel off his first defender to help with a second defender seamlessly and with no trouble. Keeps a low center of gravity and places his feet properly to give himself a wide base. Good speed to the second level when asked to block in space, and Martin has an excellent sense for his targets – if he whiffs, it’s generally more about lack of speed than any awareness issues.
Weaknesses: In pass pro, Martin’s kick slide is a work in progress – he’s more choppy than smooth with his steps. Establishes protection against turning pass-rushers more with technique than fluidity, and can be susceptible to defenders who change directions quickly. Needs an extra split second to come out of his stance to the outside, and you’ll occasionally see speed rushers blow right by him. In a general sense, better when blocking people in front of him than to either side – plays best in the proverbial phone booth. Hasn’t pulled a lot, which he’ll have to do if he switches to guard in the NFL, but seems to have the skills to do so.
Ravens – Mosley, C.J. – LB – 6’2″ – 234 lbs – Alabama – 6.4
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Earned those lofty tackle numbers by showing an exceptional ability to find and chase the football. Moves well sideline to sideline, diagnosing plays quickly while avoiding blockers. Rarely misses a tackle; form is very solid there, with Mosley seldom lunging unless it’s a last-ditch effort. Can take on playcalling/audible responsibilities if the team drafting him so desires – displays great awareness and football intelligence.
Fluid enough to drop into coverage, particularly in a zone look or when tracking a RB out of the backfield. Should be able to move around in a defensive alignment if need be, making him a reliable three-down option. Very few mysteries in Mosley’s game as he heads to the next level.
Weaknesses: If Ravens fans are expecting a pass-rushing linebacker, they’ll have to lower their exectation as Mosley failed to record even a half-sack last season and does not really have those attributes in his arsenal, save for an occasional blitz. Needs to add some bulk – or at least functional strength – if he’s going to play in the middle of an NFL defense. Right now, he has a hard time shedding blockers if he fails to find a free release toward the football.
Better against the run than against the pass; he’ll need to show the ability to cover more ground than he currently does in coverage. Mosley also should be better than he is at getting in front of passes, given his quickness. Size (6-foot-2, 234 pounds) probably will be an issue if he finds himself matched up against tight ends. It may be problematic on the whole, too, if Mosley continues to get banged up as he did at Alabama.
And on those injuries… they’re a clear potential headache. A team will draft Mosley to lock down a starting LB spot from Day 1 through Week 17. Is he physically capable of handling that responsibility?
Jets – Prior, Calvin – S – 6’2″ – 207 lbs – Louisville – 6.3
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Pryor has tremendous field speed, and he’s able to use it to great effect in all areas of his game. There are times when you simply wonder how he got from here to there so quickly. When he breaks out of coverage to run support, he flies to the ball and is a willing and violent tackler. Sifts through trash pretty well and doesn’t give up on plays – even if he misses the tackle the first time around, he’s a good bet to help pick it up later. Understands angles and leverage as a tackler. When he is asked to cover half-field, he does so with ease – his sideline-to-sideline speed is as good as anyone’s in this draft class at any position. Will move seamlessly from the line to linebacker depth to the back half, which allows him to keep his eyes on his assignments and avoid over-correcting. For such a fast player, Pryor doesn’t get fooled often.
In coverage, Pryor can mirror everything from short angle routes to comebacks to deep vertical concepts, and he has an excellent sense of when to break for the ball. Plays slot receivers very well because of his tenaciousness and agility, and he can break outside to cornerback positioning in a pinch. Has the vertical length and timing to stick with receivers bigger than him, even on jump balls. Sneaks in and breaks on routes as you would expect a better cornerback to do. Legitimate center-field defender on deep posts and other vertical concepts. Comes off the line like a scalded dog on blitzes and can bring a lot of pressure when put in that position. Gives full effort on every play – you just don’t see dropoffs on his tape.
Weaknesses: There are times when Pryor’s size works against him – he will get blocked out of plays, and as aggressive as he is, he may want to peel back a bit and understand that he’ll make even more plays if he avoids contact at times as opposed to putting himself in disadvantageous situations. And he’ll have to watch his physical style of tackling when he hits the NFL, because officials are conditioned to overreact at the best of times.
Dolphins – James, Ja’Wuan – OT – 6’6″ – 311 lbs – Tennessee – 5.7
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Absolutely fits the part of an NFL tackle at 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds. When he is able to control that size by driving it into opposing defenders, he can be a menace up front, both in the run and pass games. Advanced his game enough to project as an early NFL starter, with room to continue growing as a blocker once he gets to the next level. And speaking of the next level, James is quick-footed enough to throw his weight into a defensive lineman, then release to find a linebacker as well. On a team that wants to run the ball, James should be a definite asset.
Weaknesses: There’s work to be done here, mainly with technique. James can be caught too high, allowing defenders to shove him off-balance. He also will have to become more consistent in all aspects of his game – the flashes of dominance up front only come every so often, with some misses on his chart. Almost certainly will have to open his career as a RT, which is where he played throughout college. It’s hard to envision him being able to make the move to the left side with any regularity.
Saints – Cooks, Brandin – WR – 5’10″ – 189 lbs – Oregon State – 5.9
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Prolific receiver who gets the whole route tree and has experience in a pro-style offense. Cooks can make plays from just about anywhere in the formation – wide, in the slot, different points in trips and bunch concepts, and as a runner on jet sweeps and quick screens. Tremendous after-catch runner who can break a play wide open with a small opening off a short pass. Cooks has great straight-line speed, and he’s very hard to cover on angular routes (slants, drags, posts) because he’s able to maintain his speed from side to side. Has the downfield quickness to flat-out beat better cornerbacks on all kinds of vertical routes from the seam to the sideline.
Has a great natural ability with route cuts – Cooks can put his foot in the ground, change direction, and get right back up to speed in a big hurry. Very tough to cover on comebacks and curls. He’s practiced with stutters and foot fakes at the line, and at times, that’s all he’s going to need to get free for a long play. Excellent boundary receiver who keeps his eye on the sideline. Quick, gliding runner on sweeps; he could really befuddle defenses with this as Reggie Bush and Percy Harvin have. Doesn’t have the size to win vertical battles, but he’s always up for trying. Despite his size, Cooks hasn’t been injury-prone. Wasn’t asked to be much of a return man in college, but certainly has all the attributes to make that happen.
Weaknesses: Cooks’ size is an obvious limitation in a few ways – he will lose a lot of jump-ball battles against larger defensive backs, he’s not going to out-muscle defenders in traffic, and he can be edged out of erratically-thrown passes – it’s harder for him to fight to avoid interceptions because he’s not built to mix it up. And he’s going to get most of his NFL touchdowns from the field as opposed to beating people in the end zone and red zone. Could suffer when pressed at the line at the next level; Cooks will have to get separation in those situations with short-area quickness as opposed to muscle.
Packers – Clinton-Dix, Ha Ha – FS – 6’1″ – 208 lbs – Alabama – 5.9
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Clinton-Dix has the two things every NFL free safety needs – great feet and impressive quickness. He backpedals and redirects smoothly and with little trouble, which allows him to stick and stay on all kinds of routes. And he’s remarkably quick when it comes to driving down in run support, as well as moving to either sideline. Keeps the action in front of him, and does his best to avoid getting shaken on any kind of misdirection, despite his generally aggressive playing style. Has the size (6-1, 208) and speed to square up on running backs and receivers and bring them down. Understands how to deal with blockers – will rarely take a hit straight on and bounces off to make a play. Tackles with excellent form; looks to wrap more than he goes for the kill shot, and he does a terrific job of extending his body to catch quicker opponents. Gives tremendous effort at all times; he’s never really eliminated from a possible tackle as long as the play is still going. Can play well everywhere from true center field to the slot.
Weaknesses: Though he’s a generally disciplined player, there are inevitable aftereffects of Clinton-Dix’s style that show up on tape. He will flat-out miss tackles at times because he’s trying so hard to get where he needs to be, and better play-fake quarterbacks might have a field day with him at the NFL level. Will occasionally lose track of his target on quick angle routes unless he’s in position to redirect.
Browns – Manziel, Johnny – QB – 6’0″ – 207 lbs – Texas A&M – 6.1
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: With all the folderol about his on-field escapades and off-field persona, it’s quite possible that Manziel is still wildly underrated as a pure quarterback – but he has all the tools to succeed at any level. First, he’s not a run-around guy. He looks to pass first on designed pass plays, even when he’s flushed out of the pocket. He’s very light on his feet in the pocket, and when he has to run, he’s incredibly good at resetting and driving the ball downfield. Has an unusual feel for throwing accurately out of weird positions, which is both a positive and negative. When he drives the ball, he can make any throw from the deep fade to the skinny post to all manner of short and intermediate timing throws. Has a plus-arm, though it’s not a Howitzer, and he’s learned to put air under the ball to help receivers with their timing. He’s a master at extending plays beyond their logical conclusions and directing receivers along the way. Has an innate sense of how to create holes in pass coverage with motion and redirection, and he’s coming into the NFL at a time when this attribute is far more prized than it used to be.
Manziel isn’t just a scrambler, he’s an outstanding pure runner – when he calls his own number on draws, he gets up to speed quickly, reads gaps patiently and has an extra gear in the open field. He’s very quick to set and throw – once he makes his decision to throw, there’s very little delay or wasted motion. Can make deep, accurate throws across his body, even when on the run. In general, he’s a rare thrower when under duress.
Manziel showed specific and impressive improvements at his pro day, which proved that he’s been working hard in the offseason, and taking what performance coaches George Whitfield and Kevin O’Connell are teaching him very seriously. Clearly has the desire to improve, and seems to have an inherent chip on his shoulder when doubted. Despite all the talk about his personality, Manziel appears to be a born on-field leader who can rally his teammates. With words and actions, he seems to inspire belief.
Weaknesses: Manziel’s greatest strength is absolutely tied to his biggest weakness. His improvisational ability, while as impressive as any I’ve seen in a collegiate quarterback, has allowed him to get away with random and unrepeatable plays that won’t have the same shelf life in the NFL. Part of the problem is that he isn’t consistent with his mechanics – when he drives through the throw with his body, he’s as good a passer as there is in this draft class. But there are other times when he’ll miss wildly because he’s throwing off his back foot or off both feet, which limits how much torque he can generate. And though he can go through multiple reads at times, he’ll have to do that more at the NFL level. Right now, there’s a sandlot quality to his field vision that produces compelling results at times, but isn’t sustainable against more complex concepts. At times, his deeper throws hang in the air, which could lead to more picks in the NFL.
Played almost exclusively in shotgun and pistol formations at A&M, and though he displayed an ease with dropping back when playing under center, the NFL team that takes him as a dropback guy would have to cross its fingers at first. Being away from the center gives him a timing edge at the snap and helps him see the field.
Tends to arch back when he throws longer passes with arc – not necessarily a problem, but it’s unusual. It may be an adaptive strategy to counter the issue related to his height; at just under 6-feet tall, Manziel has to work his game in the same ways everyone from Fran Tarkenton to Drew Brees to Russell Wilson has. There are simply some throws he will not be able to make in the pocket because he can’t see what’s happening until he either creates line splits by running, or waits for them to open up. And at 207 pounds, there will be legitimate concerns about how well and how often he’ll be able to make plays on the run in designed situations. If that part of his play is reduced, that puts the pressure on him to do more as a passer – which he has the potential to do, but he’ll have to change some things about his modus operandi to make that happen.
Chiefs – Ford, Dee – DE – 6’2″ – 252 lbs – Auburn – 5.7
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: As a pure pass-rusher, Ford comes off the snap with great velocity, which he’s able to turn into impressive power for his size (6-2, 252). Can bring a nascent bull-rush against tight ends and tackles from time to time, and will generally come up well in power battles as long as he gets his hands on blockers quickly. Ford has light feet and will jump gaps to stunt and use an inside counter to stay active and bring pressure. Forces offenses to align their blocking schemes to him pretty frequently; he faces a lot of tight end chips and double teams. Has the bend around the edge (dip-and-rip) to get under the pads of tackles and move quickly to create pocket disruption.
Ford shows estimable body control and discipline when he’s asked to read run plays and cover in short areas – he follows the action well and will adjust as a true linebacker (as opposed to a one-dimensional pass-rusher) might. Wasn’t asked to drop into coverage a lot, but has the potential to do so. Unlike a lot of outside linebacker conversion projects, Ford didn’t get washed out when he wasn’t given free space – he can excel in close quarters. Has long enough arms to pop blockers right off the snap.
Weaknesses: Ford could stand to use his hands better and more effectively – as active as he is, he’d be more purely disruptive if he had the ability to consistently redirect blockers with rip, spin and swim moves. And though his inside moves are decent, he will need to get quicker with his feet on those quick inside cuts and counters. Ford will lose blocks if he doesn’t gain quick leverage, such as plays when he’s chasing opponents. And he’ll need to develop his coverage technique at the next level – he tends to follow, and doesn’t turn his head.
Bengals – Dennard, Darqueze – CB – 5’11″ – 199 lbs – Michigan State – 6.1
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Receivers have to work to get off the line against Dennard, because he often plays up tight against them and prevents clean releases with his size and strength. Used his hands right up to the line of drawing penalties – jammed well, plus knew when he could and could not latch on downfield. Flips his hips quickly when he needs to. Dennard shows an impressive knack for knowing when to turn for the football, then rarely hesitates in making a play on it. Even when receivers do manage to find openings against him, Dennard can make their lives miserable. He contests passes through the catch, swatting and ripping at the football.-
Plays almost like an extra linebacker against the run. When there was not a receiver on his side of the field, he walked down to the edge of the line pre-snap and threw himself into the pile. If he was engaged on a run play, Dennard worked until the whistle to fend off his blocker. He tackles well for a cornerback, too, eschewing that shoulder-first approach for a shoulders-squared technique.
Dennard is clearly a confident defender, no matter what he is tasked with on the field.
Weaknesses: Clocked in just north of 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and that speaks to lingering concerns over his speed. Physical NFL receivers may not be as bothered by Dennard’s press coverage. So even if he shows the continued ability to smoothly turn and run, Dennard may lose some battles on deep balls. The average speed also all but eliminates the possibility that Dennard could work into a lineup as a slot guy (not that any team necessarily would want to play him there).
Issue No. 2 with Dennard’s game concerns his experience with Michigan State – the Spartans utilized almost exclusively man-to-man defenses, so the jury is out on how well Dennard would transition to a zone-heavy approach.
May unfairly be knocked for playing behind the aforementioned, dominant Michigan State front seven. As is often the case with college players who enjoyed such benefits, some will wonder if Dennard can provide the same type of supremacy if he lands on a team less imposing up front.
Chargers – Verrett, Jason – CB – 5’9″ – 189 lbs – TCU – 5.9
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Excels at finding and playing the football, using those instincts to make up for any height or strength deficiencies. Drives on shorter routes, also gets his head around when running deep with receivers. Almost impossible for receivers to blow past him – Verrett ran a 4.38 40 at the combine, and might be the best CB in this draft when it comes to flipping his hips and breaking downfield. No issues moving around on defense, as TCU used him both in the slot and outside. Plenty capable of helping against the run, too, a nod to his physical nature. Welcomes matchups with star receivers.
Weaknesses: As if his size did not already pose a question mark for NFL teams, Verrett was banged up through much of last season. His willingness to enter the fray as a run defender worked to his detriment in that regard. Likely will have a very difficult time if asked to jam NFL receivers at the line, because of limited strength. Can be blocked out of plays with ease if a receiver/tight end manages to square him up. High-points the football, but will lose jump balls to taller receivers simply because of his limitations.
Eagles – Smith, Marcus – DE – 6’3″ – 251 lbs – Louisville – 5.6
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Smith has the size to succeed off the edge and to move inside in certain defensive packages, but his primary value lies in his array of pass-rush moves. He can dip-and rip, move with inside stunts and provide surprising run defense for his size. He can also cover in space decently.
Weaknesses: As with most LEO ends, Smith will struggle against double teams and bigger defenders – he’ll need to stay free in space to be productive.
Cardinals – Bucannon, Deone – SS – 6’1″ – 211 lbs – Washington State – 5.7
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: May rack up some flags in the NFL simply because of how heavy a hitter he is. Bucannon stands 6-foot-1 and just north of 210 pounds, and he brings the full force of that stature whenever he can from the safety spot. He ran a sub-4.5 40 at the combine, too, so there’s more to his game than just the highlight-reel hits. Bucannon can get to the ball, sideline to sideline, and make the necessary plays from the safety spot. He finished 2013 with six interceptions, and it appeared that he improved as the season went along – a good sign, no doubt, for the team that picks him.
Weaknesses: Bucannon makes more plays on the football than ex-Lion and current Dolphin Louis Delmas, but he plays with a similar mentality, in that his No. 1 goal appears to be to lay the boom. That’s well and good when he does so, yet the approach can leave him out of position and whiffing on tackles. He’s not great dropping, either, a trait that can be problematic for a deep safety, if he spends time there as opposed to in the box. Though his speed allows him to cover a lot of mistakes, faster receivers who run sharp routes will be able to get past him.
Panthers – Benjamin, Kelvin – WR – 6’5″ – 240 – Florida State – 6.1
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Benjamin has prototypical dimensions (6-5, 240) for the position, and he understands how to use them – he will simply overwhelm defenders at times with his size, leaping ability and strength. And for his size, Benjamin has impressive straight-line speed. He’ll blast off the line quickly, he accelerates smoothly, and he has an extra gear downfield. Snatches the ball quickly and moves upfield just that way for extra yards after the catch, and he’s a load to deal with when he gets a full head of steam. Dominant red zone and end zone target who makes it nearly impossible to cover him in those situations, because all he has to do is get vertical and fight for the catch – and he does those things very well.
Outstanding blocker at all levels when he gives top effort. Can be a special player on simple slants and drags because he combines movement and strength when he does cut to an angle correctly. Played with quarterbacks who struggled to see the field and find him open at times; which could lead some NFL teams to (rightly) consider that he’ll have far more opportunities at the next level.
Weaknesses: For all his physical attributes, Benjamin is far from a finished product. He should be stronger with his hands in traffic than he is; even when he wins physical battles, he can be beaten after the catch with aggression, and he drops too many passes in general. Needs a lot of work on the overall route tree – ran a lot of straight go routes and simple angle concepts. Not always an aware player in space. He’s a bit logy when asked to cut quickly in short areas; this is where his big body (big butt, specifically) works against him. Agility is a question. Doesn’t always dig his foot in and make clean cuts, and as a result, he isn’t always where he needs to be when the ball is thrown with anticipation. Struggles with jukes and foot fakes because he’s still learning body control.
Will probably struggle with option routes for a while, because the ability to time his physical movements to the directions in his head is a process under development. Needs to learn to create separation. The little things – catching the ball with his hands instead of his body; waiting to turn upfield until he’s got the ball securely – are not quite there yet.
Patriots – Easley, Dominique – DT – 6’2″ – 288 lbs – Florida – 5.3
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Easley’s most prominent attribute is that he can play convincingly and at a starter level in so many gaps. There are multiple examples of him blowing up protections everywhere from 1-tech (between the center and guard) to 3-tech (between the guard and tackle) to end. He even has the speed and turn to disrupt from a wide-nine stance. For his size (6-foot-2, 288), Easley flashes tremendous upper-body strength – he plays 20 or 30 pounds heavier than he is in that sense, but he has the field speed and agility of a linebacker when he’s in space or covering in short areas. Gets his hands on blockers right off the snap and uses his hands very well – will use hand-strikes, swim and rip moves, and pure bull-rushes to drive through or get past to the backfield. Didn’t do a lot of stunting and looping for the Gators, but he clearly has the skillset to do so.
When lined up in a stunt formation (at a 45-degree angle against the line), Easley is just about unblockable because he gets through with such explosive speed. Understands leverage and will get under a blocker’s pads, adding to his strength advantage – it’s uncanny how often he’ll push a guy back who seriously outweighs him. Can split and move from gap to gap with great agility; he’s always looking for an opening. And when he gets in the backfield, Easley is very balanced and disciplined – he doesn’t fall for foot fakes and agile moves. At his best, he’s a play destroyer.
Weaknesses: Where Easley’s size shows up in a negative sense is when he’s asked to take on double teams, especially against bigger blockers – he tends to get eaten up and can’t always get through even with all his attributes. And if a blocker gets his hands on Easley first, it’s tough for Easley to recover consistently – his hand quickness is clearly an adaptive strategy, and it works well, but he’s got that issue.
Injury issues will hold him back, to be certain. Though he recovered well from the 2010 ACL tear, the fact that he’s now had serious injuries to each knee will certainly present a red flag that will drop him at least a full round from where he would go otherwise.
49ers – Ward, Jimmie – SS – 5’11″ – 193 lbs – Northern Illinois – 5.4
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Plays well everywhere in the defensive backfield – from deep center field to slot cornerback. Ward has tremendous range and can cover a lot of ground in a big hurry, and he’s on point when he gets there – he doesn’t overreach as much as you’d expect for a player who’s going all-out at all times. Makes plays in the passing game from inside the seams to outside the numbers and can roll back into deep coverage from linebacker depth. Times his hits exceptionally well to deflect and break up passes. Ward plays a lot of slot coverage, and this may be his most appealing value to NFL teams. His footwork is outstanding, and his backpedal speed really shows up on tape. Doesn’t allow a lot of yards after the catch – if a receiver grabs a catch in his area, Ward is quick to end the play.
Weaknesses: Gets a bit stiff in coverage situations where he needs to turn his hips and run quickly in a straight line; not a natural mover in those circumstances. Though he can get vertical, Ward will be challenged by tight ends and bigger receivers – with his height, there’s only so high he can go. Takes on blockers fearlessly at the line of scrimmage, but needs to put on functional weight to deal with them – he’s a thin guy who struggles in physical battles and needs to shoot through gaps to tackle or blitz. Will occasionally bite on play-action and play-fakes because he’s so aggressive to the ball.
Broncos – Roby, Bradley – CB – 5’11″ – 194 lbs – Ohio State – 6.1
Chris Burke’s analysis:
Strengths: Extremely physical player for his size (5-11, 194) who makes life particularly nightmarish for slot receivers. Uses a long wingspan and terrific timing to move in and bat the ball away just as his receiver is about to make the catch. That physicality extends to his tackling ability, which starts in the backfield – Roby heads to the running back like a missile and understands how to bring bigger players down. He would be an excellent option on cornerback blitzes from the slot because he times them perfectly, and his coverage abilities place him there very nicely. As a pure press cornerback, Roby excels because he can follow his receivers wherever they go, and he also reads the running game as he’s covering. Has the straight-line speed to catch up with just about any runner and make a stop.
Weaknesses: Roby needs work on his off-coverage – it could have been a product of scheme at Ohio State, but he allowed far too many easy completions underneath when in off-coverage by giving up too much of a cushion. Though he has legitimate sub-4.4 speed, Roby struggles with recovery quickness when he’s been beaten; he needs to learn to hit corners and angles with more acceleration. Doesn’t turn his hips as fluidly as he should when playing bail technique. Height disadvantage shows up when he’s playing trail coverage and tries to get vertical against bigger receivers – unless he times it perfectly, he’s going to get out-jumped. Occasionally tries to bat the ball away when he should stick and stay with the target.
Vikings – Bridgewater, Teddy – QB – 6’2″ – 214 lbs – Louisville – 6.1
Doug Farrar’s analysis:
Strengths: Of all the quarterbacks in this class, Bridgewater has the best and most comprehensive command of the little things that help signal-callers at the next level. He is a true multi-read quarterback who doesn’t have to rely on his first option. He takes the ball cleanly from center, and his footwork on the drop is clean and variable – that is to say, he can drop straight back or seamlessly head into motion throws. And on the move, Bridgewater runs to throw. He keeps his shoulders squared and his eyes active, allowing him to make some difficult deep and intermediate throws on boot-action left, when he’s throwing across his body on the run. And when under pressure in and out of the pocket, he still looks to get the ball out – he’ll elude and throw his way out of trouble (again, for the most part). In a general sense, Bridgewater is a very resourceful player – he looks to make the most of what he’s got. Sees the field peripherally – Bridgewater has a good sense of converging coverage, and he understands the timing of the throw. And though his deep ball is nothing to write home about, he does have a nice arc in his deeper timing throws when he needs to.
Mechanically, there’s nothing that really beguiles Bridgewater on a consistent basis – he’s generally decisive, he has a very quick overhand release (used to have a problem with sidearm, but he’s clearly working on it) and he uses his lower body to gain velocity. Even when he’s throwing off-angle from weird spots, he’s trained himself to keep proper mechanics, which is something you can’t yet say about Johnny Manziel.
Weaknesses: Bridgewater’s desire to make plays on the move occasionally results in needless sacks, as he will at times hold onto the ball too long. Occasional mental and mechanical lapses will lead to erratic throws, and though too much has been generally made of this in the media, it’s an issue that his NFL coach will have to clean up. This is especially true on his deep passes, which will sail wildly at times. And though he’s functionally mobile, he’s not a true runner – he’s going to make a difference as a quarterback, not a slash player.
The NFL has gotten too big for its own good in my opinion, so this is welcome news
The National Football League has implemented a new stadium policy that would ban off-duty police officers from carrying guns into games…except in the state of Texas.
According to the NFL memo, “off-duty officers who attempt to bring firearms into an NFL facility will be denied entry.”
But a Texas state law overrides the NFL policy. As long as officers attending the game check in at a specific gate and inform Security where they are sitting – they can have their gun.
Ron Pinkston of the Dallas Police Association says that the Texas law is sensible.
“Our officers are 24/7, on or off duty, and if they run into a critical incident – they are required to take action” says Pinkston. “Our officers will be allowed to carry their weapon into AT&T Stadium and other football stadiums in the State of Texas due to Texas law.”
Hey Roger Goodell, Don’t Mess With Texas!
Well the Raiders DID move back to Oakland, and to be honest I still say LA Rams sometimes. Anyway, Donald Douglas seems excited at the possibilities
The owner of the St. Louis Rams has bought a large piece of land in Inglewood that potentially could be used for an NFL stadium, multiple individuals with knowledge of the transaction have told The Times.
Within the last month, billionaire Stan Kroenke bought a 60-acre parking lot located between the Forum and Hollywood Park, according to individuals who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on behalf of the buyer or seller.
Wal-Mart originally owned the land but sold it after failing to get public approval for a superstore. Madison Square Garden Co., which owns the Forum, had planned to buy the lot for an estimated $90 million in order to acquire more space for parking and possibly additional development. However, MSG was informed by Wal-Mart at the end of 2013 that the land had already been sold to an unnamed party. The individuals confirmed the buyer is Kroenke, a former Wal-Mart board member and husband of Ann Walton Kroenke, daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton. For years, Kroenke has owned a substantial amount of land in Southern California. The Rams neither confirmed nor denied that Kroenke had purchased the land and declined to comment on the situation.
Here is a bit of trivia for you. What city did the Rams leave to go to LA originally?
After clinching home-field advantage in the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks took advantage of a golden opportunity to make a Super Bowl run. With its win against NFC West rival San Francisco on Sunday, Seattle won the NFC Championship and will move on to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Seattle trailed the 49ers heading into the second half, but they put up 20 points to take a 23-17 lead once the San Francisco offense started to stall out. Colin Kaepernick couldn’t run the ball anymore, and Marshawn Lynch started to get the running game going for Seattle. In the end, it was the defense coming up with two huge plays to seal the win, with Kaepernick getting intercepted on both of San Francisco’s final two possessions.
The game ended at 23-17, with Wilson kneeling out the remainder of clock.
Seattle came up just short in the playoffs last year, blowing a lead in the final 30 seconds against Atlanta. Had the Seahawks held on, they would have played San Francisco for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Despite the missed opportunity, the Seahawks returned one of the most talented rosters in the NFL this season. Unlike last year, when Seattle lost a few games it probably shouldn’t have, the Seahawks took care of business during the 2013 regular season, clinching the NFC West and the No. 1 seed. That meant that NFC foes would have to advance through the playoffs by beating Seattle at CenturyLink Field, a very tough place for opponents to win as New Orleans found out last week and San Francisco this week.
Although the run to the Super Bowl shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, it is still a rarity for the Seahawks and Seattle fans. The game on Sunday was just Seattle’s third appearance in a conference championship, and the franchise will advance to its second Super Bowl. The 2005 Seahawks rode home-field advantage to Super Bowl XL, eventually losing to Pittsburgh. That loss still aggravates Seattle fans nearly 10 years later. The current crop of Seahawks will have a chance at redemption and an opportunity to bring the city its first major sports championship since the Seattle SuperSonics won the 1979 NBA Championship.
The Seahawks made the playoffs in eight of the last 11 seasons. This season, however, is only the second time they have advanced past the Divisional round during that stretch. While making the playoffs isn’t anything new for Seattle, having success – and being favored to win – is a drastic change. This season was just the fourth in franchise history that the Seahawks won more than 10 games. The 2005 team was often regarded as the best in franchise history, but the 2013 team may have already taken that mantle. It has advanced as far as any team, won as many games and has the opportunity to finish with the Super Bowl victory the 2005 team couldn’t capture.
There will be a bit of history on the line in the Super Bowl. Seattle hired Pete Carroll away from USC, and he and general manger John Schneider have assembled one of the deepest and most talent-laden rosters in the league. With one more win, Carroll will join Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win an NCAA and NFL championship.
While they had the benefit of playing at home, the Seahawks’ path to the Super Bowl was not an easy one. Nine of their 18 games came against teams with at least 10 wins. Seattle beat San Francisco twice, New Orleans twice and Carolina once. In total, the Seahawks won six games against teams with double-digit wins. The Seahawks now need just one more such win to cap the season with the Lombardi Trophy.
Peyton Manning had an answer for everyone. What’s new? For Tom Brady. For the New England defense. For anyone who thought he couldn’t win the big one.
Manning is taking the Denver Broncos on a trip to New York for the Super Bowl after another of his impeccably crafted victories – this time, a 26-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC title game.
Less than three years after being unable to throw a football because of his surgically ravaged neck and nerve endings, Manning will get a chance for his second ring. He’ll try to become the first quarterback to win one with two different teams, at the Meadowlands on Feb. 2 against Seattle or San Francisco, who play later Sunday for the NFC championship.
After taking the final knee, Manning stuffed the football in his helmet and ran to the 30-yard line to shake hands with Brady. The Indy-turned-Denver quarterback improved to 5-10 lifetime against New England’s QB but 2-1 in AFC title games.
It was far from a fireworks show in this, the 15th installment of the NFL’s two best quarterbacks of their generation. But Manning, who finished 32 for 43 for 400 yards and two short touchdown passes, set up four field goals by Matt Prater and put his stamp on this one with a pair of long, meticulous and mistake-free touchdown drives in which nothing came cheap.
Manning geared down the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that helped him set records for touchdown passes and yardage this season and made the Broncos the highest-scoring team in history. The result: A pair of scoring drives that lasted a few seconds over seven minutes; they were the two longest, time-wise, of the season for the Broncos (15-3).
Manning capped the second with a 3-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas – who got inside the overmatched Alfonzo Dennard and left his feet to make the catch – for a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
From there, it was catch-up time for Brady and the Pats, and they are not built for that.
A team that averaged more than 200 yards on the ground the last three weeks didn’t have much quick-strike capability. Brady, who threw for most of his 277 yards in comeback mode, actually led the Patriots to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. But they were a pair of time-consuming, 80-yard drives. The second cut the deficit to 26-16 with 3:07 left, but the Broncos stopped Shane Vereen on the 2-point conversion and the celebration was on in Denver.
The trip to New York, where it figures to be at least a tad cooler than Sunday’s 63-degree reading at kickoff, will come 15 years after John Elway rode off into the sunset with his second straight Super Bowl victory.
The Broncos have had one close call since – when they lost at home to Pittsburgh in the 2005 title game – but what it really took was Elway’s return to the franchise in 2011. He slammed the door on the Tim Tebow experiment and signed Manning to a contract, knowing there were risks involved in bringing to town a thirtysomething quarterback coming off multiple operations to resurrect his career.
Even without Von Miller on the field, Elway put enough pieces in place around Manning to contend for a championship.
And Manning knows how to make the most of them.
This game started getting out of hand at about the same time Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib went out with a knee injury. Nobody else could cover Thomas and Manning, who finds mismatches even under the toughest of circumstances, found this one quickly.
Thomas finished with seven catches for 134 yards, including receptions of 26 and 27 yards that set up a field goal for a 13-3 lead before the half.
Denver got the ball back to start the third quarter – working the plan to perfection after winning the coin toss and deferring the choice – and Manning hit Thomas for 15 and 4 yards as part of the 80-yard, 7:08 touchdown drive that gave Denver the 17-point lead.
The thought this week was that the Patriots were playing with house money, having well exceeded expectations for a team that lost a number of stars – Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski – and has been plagued by injuries all year.
But a loss is a loss and facts are facts. Bill Belichick is stuck on three titles and hasn’t won one since the NFL busted him for the Spygate videotaping scandal.
The Broncos, meanwhile, got over a big hump last week by beating the Chargers in the divisional round, which is where last year’s trip fizzled unexpectedly against Baltimore.
Manning insisted the showdown against Brady was more Broncos vs. Patriots than Manning vs. Brady. He lets others decide who’s the greatest at this or that.
But he earned a chance to improve on his already-sterling legacy, one that figures to include a fifth MVP award come Super Bowl week.
A win at MetLife Stadium would put him in the same company as his brother, Eli, along with Elway, Roger Staubach and others as a two-time Super Bowl winner.
The San Francisco 49ers are off to the divisional round of the playoffs, and while there are tons of factors that went into their 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, quarterback Colin Kaepernick stands out. In fact, Kaepernick has stood out every time the 49ers have played the Packers in recent seasons.
San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh is 4-0 against the Packers and Kaepernick has been his quarterback for three of those games. On Sunday, Kaepernick had a so-so game throwing the football, with 16 completions on 30 attempts for 227 yards with one touchdown and an interception. But he made a difference on the ground.
Kaepernick kept the ball seven times and put up 98 yards on the ground. On three of San Francisco’s final four drives, Kaepernick rushed for 16 yards on a first down, converted a 3rd-and-short with a 24-yard rush and converted a 3rd-and-long for 11 yards to extend the final drive, which ended with a game-winning field goal.
Sure, he underthrew some passes – he missed a wide open Vernon Davis on more than one occasion — but Kaepernick came through when the game was on the line, and that’s what was important. On the aforementioned last drive of the game, Kaepernick also used his legs to escape the pressure and find Michael Crabtree for a 17-yard reception and a first down.
Extending that final drive to give that field goal more of a chance was a huge deal given the conditions that game was being played in.
Earlier this season, the 49ers bested the Packers in Week 1, though that time it was Kaepernick’s arm that made the difference. Green Bay, having spent the offseason in a highly-publicized search for methods to beat the read option, was locked onto the run and Kaepernick only rushed for 22 yards in that game. But he found Anquan Boldin 13 times for 208 yards and completed 27 of 39 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
In fact, there was actually very little read option in that game. Maybe the Packers’ tough talk worked, or perhaps Harbaugh and San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman didn’t want to take the chance. Whatever the case, Kaepernick shredded the Green Bay secondary and got the 49ers’ regular season started with a win.
His biggest game against the Packers was in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs, though. In that game, Kaepernick threw for just 263 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but broke the single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 16 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Searching for pictures of that game will bring up tons of snapshots of Kaepernick holding the ball and running, with three or four Packers players chasing him from behind. It certainly felt like that was all that game truly featured in the end.
In all, Kaepernick has accounted for 301 rushing yards against the Packers in three games. In total with rushing and passing, he’s put up 1,203 yards and eight touchdowns. Do keep in mind that Kaepernick grew up a Packers fan.
The Chargers, after making it to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2009, are moving on.
San Diego went into Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, where the Bengals had a perfect record at home this season, and came out victorious, 27-10. They will now face Denver next Sunday at 1:40 p.m. local time.
It was a game where turnovers mattered, as expected. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw 20 interceptions in the regular season, lost the ball three times (once on a fumble and twice on interceptions). Cincinnati running back Giovanni Bernard was stripped of the ball in the second quarter by linebacker Donald Butler.
Big plays happened when big plays mattered.
In a game where it was supposed to snow — (it didn’t, just rained in the fourth quarter) — the Chargers silenced the critics who didn’t give them a chance all week, who said they didn’t really deserve to be in the playoffs.
Here’s how it went:
The Chargers lost the coin toss and the Bengals deferred, giving San Diego the ball first. Rivers was sacked five plays into the opening drive and the Bengals took the ball, but stalled on their first possession.
On the next drive, the Chargers did what they do best — they controlled the clock on an 11-play methodical drive that was punctuated by a Danny Woodhead run up the middle for a touchdown.
In the second quarter, the Bengals tied the game, marching 60 yards down the field in 10 plays.
Chargers linebacker Donald Butler made a big play at the end of the second quarter when he stripped Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard near the red zone, forcing a fumble. Cornerback Richard Marshall recovered the fumble and the Chargers received the ball with less than two minutes before halftime.
The Bengals forced a three-and-out on the next drive and, on the following possession, kicker Mike Nugent converted a 46-yard field goal. The Bengals led the Chargers 10-7 going into halftime.
The Chargers didn’t pick up a single first down in the second quarter.
But adjustments were made in the locker room.
In the third quarter, Rivers finally connected with a wide receiver for the first time in the game, hitting Keenan Allen for nine yards. The offense found a rhythm and a few plays later, Eddie Royal caught a 33-yard pass. On the next play, Rivers threw a touchdown to Ladarius Green and the Chargers took the lead, 14-10.
After attempting only six passes in the first half, Rivers went 6-for-6 for 68 yards and a touchdown in that third quarter drive.
On the Bengals’ next drive, Andy Dalton fumbled the ball on a head-first slide, giving San Diego possession at Cincinnati’s 46-yard-line. The Chargers capitalized this time with a 25-yard field goal by Chargers kicker Nick Novak, making it a seven point margin.
Dalton turned the ball over again on the next drive, picked off by cornerback Shareece Wright for the third turnover in five drives. The Bengals held San Diego to a field goal, but the Chargers were up by two scores.
Another interception by Dalton on the next drive (this time, picked off by linebacker Melvin Ingram) made it near impossible for the Bengals to come back, and a touchdown by Chargers running back Ronnie Brown with a little more than two minutes to play sealed the win for San Diego.
Andrew Luck has been held in contrast to Peyton Manning since entering the league in 2012, but the second-year quarterback cemented his own legacy on Saturday when he lead the Indianapolis Colts to one of the largest comebacks in NFL history against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Indianapolis looked dead and buried when the team trailed by 28 points early in the third quarter. Luck was out of sync with his receivers, throwing three interceptions. The Chiefs’ defense got regular pressure and the Colts lacked a reliable run game to steady their quarterback.
Suddenly things started to change.
A 10-yard rushing touchdown by Donald Brown was quickly followed by a sack-fumble and another Colts touchdown. The Chiefs answered back with a field goal, only to see Indianapolis score two more touchdowns in five minutes – the first came on a pass to Coby Fleener and the second on a wholly remarkable fumble recovery by Luck.
The reeling Chiefs needed offensive consistency, but only were met with injuries. The losses of Jamaal Charles, Donnie Avery and Knile Davis forced the team to lean on rookies and depth players to get them through the team’s most important game in three years. A 64-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton was the backbreaker, and the Chiefs couldn’t match it.
Indianapolis’ 28-point comeback is second only to the 1993 Buffalo Bills, who came back from 32 points against the Houston Oilers. Now there’s a new chapter in Luck’s NFL story in one of the most dramatic playoff wins in recent memory.
The New Orleans Saints earned their first road playoff victory in franchise history on Saturday with a 26-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. They’ll advance to the divisional round of the playoffs, where they’ll take on the Seattle Seahawks in what might be the league’s toughest and most hostile environment.
While the Saints will surely be underdogs in Seattle, this is a big milestone for the New Orleans organization. Before Saturday, the Saints had lost all five of their previous playoff games on the road.
A couple of those losses were close – a 36-32 game against the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 season, and a 41-36 loss to the aforementioned Seahawks in the 2010 season – but the rest were fairly one-sided games. New Orleans fell twice to the Chicago Bears, 39-14 in the 2006 and 16-6 in 1990, its first ever road playoff game. The Saints had a 36-16 loss in Minnesota in 2000.
This is significant today because this team has been notably better at home. This has been discussed for some time, with particular emphasis on quarterback Drew Brees and how he performs better in the conditions of a dome. New Orleans put up a 3-5 record on the road this season, while sporting a perfect 8-0 mark at the Superdome.
Brees struggled early in Saturday’s game, throwing two interceptions in the first half. Whether or not he would have thrown those picks at home isn’t really the point, though. What matters is that the Saints won this one, and now have the ultimate road test ahead of them in Seattle.
In 2004, Peyton Manning set the record for the most touchdown passes in a single season, throwing 49 of them that year with the Colts when he was 28 years old. Tom Brady would break that record in 2007, completing 50 touchdown passes.
Now 37 years old and in his second season with the Broncos, Manning has reclaimed the record. His fourth touchdown Sunday in an AFC West-clinching win against the Texans, a 25-yard completion to tight end Julius Thomas with 4:28 left in the game, gave Manning 51 touchdowns for the season.
Manning still has one more game to add to that total at Oakland in Week 17. The Broncos also clinched a first-round bye with the victory.
Never one to call too much attention to himself, Manning said it was a “team record” and expects it to be broken, but he will savor it for now.
“I’m sure it’s just a temporary record, but I will enjoy it,” he said
Manning received a standing ovation at Reliant Stadium after breaking the record and got plenty of love from his teammates and coaches on the sideline.
“It was very special,” Manning said of the reaction, according to the team’s website. “Very rarely during an NFL game do you get to have a moment like that. Having some of my teammates come onto the field, having some defensive players coming out and high-fiving me – and I was telling them thanks back, thanks for all of their help. That is certainly a moment I’ll remember. Lots of Broncos fans in the stands today. That was pretty unique as well. Certainly a moment I’ll remember because of just the team bonding that went on during that time.”
Entering Sunday, Manning had already set a career-high for passing yards in a season, and for the first time he eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark. He entered the game with 4,811 and went 32 of 51 for 400 yards, his fourth game of at least 400 yards passing this season. Drew Brees holds the single-season passing record with 5,476 yards set in 2011. With 266 yards against the Raiders, Manning would break the record.
In a video posted on the team’s website, Broncos coach John Fox is shown presenting Manning with the game ball in the locker room and Manning was ready to walk away before his teammates implored him to make a speech.
“Like coach Fox said, the best news I heard all day, we won our division today,” Manning told his teammates. “That’s a heck of an accomplishment. Let’s keep it going next week. I just can’t thank you guys enough. A lot of people contributed to this (record.) I really think this is a team accomplishment – defense getting us the ball back, receivers catching a lot of passes.”
Manning tied the record with 6:57 left in the game on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker.