Week Two of the 2010 NFL season threw up a lot of surprises. Miami dropped Minnesota. The Cowboys are 0-2. Mark Sanchez had a 70% completion against the Patriots.
But for Titans fans, none of these came close to matching the shock of seeing Vince Young benched for Kerry Collins in the second half of a game the T’s were losing by ten points against one of the league’s best defenses. Young had a bad game, with three giveaways, but Jeff Fisher’s decision to yank Young for a 37 year-old who mustered a disastrous 0-6 start a year ago (which pretty much derailed Tennessee’s entire season) was as shocking as it was disappointing as it was frustrating. Here’s five reasons why.
After the horror show of the 2008 season, Vince Young was due a confidence boost. Coming back into the starter’s role after a horrible 0-6 start last year, VY led the Titans on an 8-2 run that might have landed them a spot in the playoffs had the Chargers not mauled them on Christmas Day.
Young is not, despite what many say, a prima donna. After his torrid 2008 campaign, he worked as hard as any Titan in the last two offseasons to get back on track mentally as well as physically. Earning the starting gig this season will have done wonders for Young’s confidence, and it showed in Week One as he led the NFL in passer rating.
However, Fisher’s decision undermines this confidence horribly. Young was having a bad game, no two ways about it, but this Steelers defense (when Troy Polamalu is healthy) is a nightmare for even the most seasoned signal-caller. The Titans’ O-line had huge trouble with Dick LeBeau’s blitz schemes and Young was feeling the heat from the first snap. Unfortunately, he’d soon feel it off the field too.
VY has earned some leeway. He led the miraculous 99-yard drive to beat the Cardinals last year and had a huge hand in getting CJ2K his nickname, in addition to his impressive career win-loss record (27-14).
Young is going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of the year, thinking about how one bad day at the office could lead to benching. For a player who’s gone through many tribulations, made massive strides in the last two years, and is finally looking like becoming a good NFL quarterback, that simply isn’t fair.
2. Team Chemistry
How can any team succeed without a QB they know will be there every play if he’s healthy? Teams with unsteady QB situations in the last few years – Oakland, Cleveland, Buffalo – have been bad. Really bad. If Young is ‘still the starter’ as Jeff Fisher continues to say, why does he feel the need to pull him out of a winnable situation? Many of the Titans’ squad came to Young after the second INT and gave him a lift, showing that they have faith in him and want him to succeed.
Sure, Young had a few despondent moments, but that’s normal for any player having a bad day. There was no sign of the pouting of yesteryear, and VY stood on the sideline in the game’s final moments, helmet on, clearly showing he wanted to get back in the game.
This is not a sign of a QB who is willing to quit.
NFL players are judged not by how they fall but by how they pick themselves up, and Young showed Sunday he was willing to go all 12 rounds, but Fisher chose to pull him.
Fisher’s post-game conference was all his usual bluster about ‘no QB controversy’ etc., but the moment you voluntarily switch QBs in a game you create a controversy, and any coach who’s been in the league as long as Jeff Fisher surely knows this. He wanted Collins to come in and win that game for him, bringing us to…
3. Double Standards
Jeff Fisher has never been a Vince Young guy. It’s been known in Tennessee since draft day 2006 that Fisher wanted to draft Matt Leinart, and owner Bud Adams stepped in and picked Texas star Vince Young at no.3 instead (bullet: dodged). Does this linger in Fisher’s mind? It seems likely that it does.
Young was never Fisher’s pick, and since, he’s never seemed to be fully behind the QB. Case in point: the 2009 season, where it took an 0-6 record, Bud Adams’ intervention and most of the 59-0 humiliation in the snow in New England before Young sniffed the field. Now granted, Young’s terrible 2008 season bought Fisher some time, but the highs of that 13-3 season were long gone and a change was definitely needed under center. Yet it took a demolition by the Patriots to force Fisher’s hand.
The result was a fantastic run to end the year, 2000 yards for Chris Johnson and a near-playoff berth. Young should be entrenched as the starter, but whereas Collins stayed under center through an historically bad start, one bad game is seemingly enough to send VY to the pine.
It’s an awful double standard to set, especially at the game’s most important position, and shows that Fisher, despite everything, still regrets not getting a pocket passer in the 2006 draft, and this frustration is being taken out on no.10.
Here’s where many pro-Collins Titan fans will make the argument that Collins led the Titans on a touchdown drive and completed 17 passes. This, and Fisher’s that the team needed ‘a spark’, is a fallow argument.
Pittsburgh blitzed the Titans all day long until the final quarter. Collins was playing against a very soft ‘prevent’ defense which allows for easy completions underneath, and most of his throws could’ve been made by a high school QB. He was also given twenty-five pass attempts in his limited time, compared with Young’s ten through the rest of the game. Fisher continued to run it with Young at QB even though the Steelers were bottling up CJ2K like no other team has done in quite some time. Not only was this an unfair vote of no confidence in Young’s passing ability (see point one), but also tactically naïve.
The Titans did, in fact, need a spark. But Collins’ spark died after the first 6 games of 2009, and Young proved against Arizona what he can do in the clutch when he has the chance. Young’s dual-threat ability can definitely give your team a spark off the bench, an aging, immobile pocket passer cannot. Collins also turned the ball over twice in far less time that Young turned it over three times, but at no point was Fisher going to pull the former out of the game (see point three).
The Titans’ brief comeback had little to do with Collins, and far more to do with Pittsburgh softening up their defensive scheme in a game they were confident of winning. Young could have led the Titans on a drive against such a slack D, no question, but Fisher’s decision meant that he wasn’t given the chance.
The fifth, and most damning, of these reasons is where it leaves Tennessee going forward. Young is likely going to be afraid for his job. Without Young playing well, the Titans are an ordinary team. Young’s ability with ball in hand is unmatched by any QB in this league apart from Mike Vick, and thus Chris Johnson is at his best with VY in the game.
The risk Jeff Fisher ran with this switch skyrocketed this game’s importance. If Young stays in the game, it was a bad loss against a top defense and nothing more. Now, it could derail the entire year. I (and many other Titan fans) will pray that Young can bounce back yet again and prove Fisher’s decision wrong. If he can’t, the Titans’ playoff hopes fade in less time than MC Hammer’s trousers were in vogue.
Like it or not, Vince Young is Tennessee’s best QB and a born leader in the locker-room and on the field.
With this swap, Fisher has unnecessarily jeopardised the 2010 season for Tennessee. And also raised the question: he’s a good head coach, but is he still the right coach for the Tennessee Titans? It’s a question that the next 14 games will help us answer.
Infamous Five, number 5 – Kansas City Chiefs
2009 record: 4-12
4-12. 2-14. 4-12.
So have gone the last three seasons of the Kansas City Chiefs. The two years previous combined for 19 wins and a playoff berth (in ’06); KC has won as many games from 2007-10 as they did in 2005 alone. Larry Johnson was an NFL stud the last time the Chiefs had a winning season: Johnson’s personal fall from grace has run parallel to Kansas City’s, and it’s hard at this stage to say who’s had the tougher road since Johnson’s 416-carry, 1,789-yard 2006 season.
However, we’re gonna side with the Chiefs on this one. Even though Johnson is having trouble cracking the Redskins’ backfield rotation, the Arrowhead faithful have sat through three dismal seasons, the trade of franchise legend Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons, and even suffered the ignominy of having Damon Huard as their starting QB.
But look hard at the Chiefs’ roster, squint a little, and say Lamar Hunt’s name five times and there emerges a small amount of optimism.
And why do we say that? Three names: Weis, Crennel and Pioli. The reunion of three quarters of the Patriot dynasty quartet alone is cause for much spraying of champagne in KC. Head Coach Todd Haley, whilst now seriously under threat of being totally undermined by more veteran coordinators, has a crack team at his disposal, and if he can even hold the ship steady this year, the Chiefs could come on leaps and bounds.
If we at PaP hear the phrase ‘quarterback-driven league’ one more time we’ll probably strangle any football analysts within arm’s length, but undeniably the fortunes of the Chiefs are going to be hugely improved if Matt Cassel can look more like the 2008 Patriot model and less like Brodie Croyle. For all the hoop-la surrounding Cassel’s arrival in the “Paris of the Plains”, last year was underwhelming.
Although he was playing behind a dubious, young offensive line and had very limited receiver help, especially given Dwayne Bowe’s four-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, Cassel was still a bit disappointing, throwing for less than 3,000 yards and as many TDs as INTs (16).
Bowe and Chris Chambers, who had some flashes last year, should provide a more steady combination at wideout this time around, although behind them there is little to get excited about at the WR position. The other big issue in Cassel’s first year, the aforementioned offensive line, figures to be a lot better.
Chiefs fans will still recall the glory days of Will Shields and Willie Roaf up front, paving the way for the likes of Priest Holmes to carve NFL defenses apart. With Branden Albert entering his second year, the addition of former Colts guard Ryan Lilja and the draft selection of mauler Jon Asamoah, KC should be able to lean on its rushing attack this year, allowing Cassel to get more comfortable and operate effectively off of play action, one of the many things Charlie Weis is a master of (NB: coaching Notre Dame is not one of these things).
What will also help that development is the Chiefs’ excellent backfield. Thomas Jones may be getting on a little, but showed with the Jets that he still has gas in the tank, and Jamaal Charles looked superb last year, both as a rusher and a receiver. Throw second-round selection and gadgety curveball Dexter McCluster into that mix, and a dangerous trio is plain to see. If the Chiefs can run the ball as effectively as we think they can, the rewards will be huge.
The 3-4 defense the Chiefs will sport is now being called by one of the game’s most creative defensive minds in Romeo Crennel, and with a front seven including Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and Tamba Hali, pressure on opposing QBs looks to be a real prospect. On the back end, cornerbacks Brandons Carr and Flowers are both entering year three and look like becoming a solid, physical tandem, and fifth overall pick Eric Berry, perhaps the most complete athlete in this year’s draft, will add some ball-hawking skills and run support to help beef up a D which finished a dismal 30th in the NFL a year ago.
We’ve got reasons to believe in the Chiefs. However, this year will go a long way to either allaying or reinforcing the concerns surrounding Arrowhead. Is Cassel just a one-year-wonder? Can the Patriot triumvirate reinvigorate? Will Todd Haley have a Dennis Green moment of his own?
All interesting questions, but in a relatively easy division, where nothing except Charger dominance is certain, KC could be a real surprise package. If either a) Matt Cassel or b) the D and rushing offense performs, .500 is an achievable goal (though not one we’ll be predicting any time soon).
Any schedule which includes matchups against Buffalo, St. Louis, Oakland and Cleveland presents some very winnable football games, and we’re cautiously predicting the Chiefs to, if not awaken, then at least start to stir from their forgettable three-year slumber, and move a couple of games towards evens.
2010 prediction: 6-10
Infamous Five, number 4 – Washington Redskins
2009 record: 4-12
Another day, another ill-advised Albert Haynesworth comment. So has gone much of the offseason of the Washington Redskins. But, for perhaps the first time in our ongoing ‘Infamous Five’ series, there are a lot of positives for this NFL franchise, Haynesworth notwithstanding. Some lucky people saw this kind of crushing disappointment coming a while ago,but unfortunately we don’t work in the Skins’ front office, so the maroon-and-gold days of Haynesworth look to be coming to a swift and acrimonious end, the big man walking away with league-wide infamy as well as well-stocked pockets.
But, enough is enough. Much as we at PaP have deliberately ignored the (inhales deeply) BRETT FAVRE UNRETIREMENT NON-SHOCK, so too must we move on from the (second) most reported story of the NFL offseason. Besides, I’m almost sure we’ve written about Favre retiring before (note amusing belief that he was actually retiring – what fools we were to think such thoughts)….
So, what does 2010 hold for the Washington Redskins apart from incessant questioning regarding an unhappy cohort? Well, quite a bit of hope, really.
After finishing a disastrous 4-12 in 2009, the Jim Zorn era (if you can call less than two years an ‘era’) was brought to a final halt. Dan Snyder, perhaps the most meddlesome NFL owner outside of Al Davis, went straight after a big name and recruited two-time-Super-Bowl-winner Mike Shanahan to DC. And, Snyder being Snyder, he was not done with the big names; a remarkably reasonable (even, dare we say it, bargainous) trade for unwanted Eagles QB Donovan McNabb went down. The names brought in thereafter – Larry Johnson, Willie Parker, ‘Sexy’ Rexy Grossman – are still household ones, although the shine on those three careers appears to be dulling: while they’d make Washington a shoo-in for the 2006 NFC East, it’s uncertain what they’ll do for the 2010 incarnation of the ‘Skins.
With the addition of McNabb (and subsequent trade of Jason Campbell), the franchise finally has a proven QB under center. Whilst ‘Super 5’ has never won the whole shebang, he carried the Eagles (often on his own) to five NFC title games and only lost the Super Bowl to the dynasty of the 2000s, Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. Already well-accustomed to working with a subpar supporting cast – Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, we’re looking at you – McNabb should of the ‘Skins underperforming receiving corps; Dan Snyder has to hope at least one of 2008 second-rounders Malcolm Kelly (perennially injured) and Devin Thomas (perennially lazy) comes good with McNabb at the controls.
One thing McNabb will be able to count on is a solid backfield. The aging triumvirate of Johnson, ‘not-so-fast’ Willie Parker and Clinton Portis have a lot of tread on the tires, but between the three of them should muster something resembling a rushing attack. Also exciting for the ‘Skins O is the return to health of Pro Bowl TE and all-round hero Chris Cooley, who along with legendary oversleeper Fred Davis should offer a potent pass-catching duo.
The offensive line should also be better, creaky tackles Chris Samuels and Stephon Hayer replaced by 4th overall pick Trent Williams and ex-Saint Jamaal Brown. Despite the now-customary lack of a receiver who’s not Santana Moss, the Skins look far healthier on offense than they did a year ago.
Defensively, it’s a trickier proposition; LaRon Landry has moved to his natural position of strong safety and should get exposed less in coverage, Brian Orakpo is a terrifying force at outside linebacker, and London Fletcher should, as usual, be one of the NFL’s best and most underrated linebackers (seriously, he and Keith Bulluck should get jackets made).
It’s on the corners that we find the biggest problem. In a division with a wide receiver depth chart including Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith (the other one), Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant, Roy Williams and Jeremy Maclin (not to mention TEs like Brent Celek and Jason Witten), you need rock-solid coverage from your corners, something the Redskins haven’t had consistently since they traded Champ Bailey to the Broncos in 2004. DeAngelo Hall can bring big plays, but still gets blown past too often, and Carlos Rogers has just six interceptions five NFL seasons. In the NFC East, pass D is key, and it’s a serious weakness for the Redskins.
The Redskins, in sum, would look good for a winning season were it not for two factors: one, the aforementioned secondary, and two, the NFC East. It’s a brutal division which consistently ranks as one of the league’s toughest: factor in 2010 games against the AFC South and NFC North to this year’s schedule, and .500 seems far more plausible for DC’s burgundy brigade.
In 2011, with a healthy McNabb and a year in the Shanahan system, Washington could be poised for a playoff run. In 2010 the wildcard is a possibility, but not one to entertain with conviction.
Finally, nay necessarily, Albert Haynesworth is unhappy with the Washington Redskins over allegations about his health, desire, and fitness. There, we said it.
2010 prediction: 8-8
Infamous Five number 3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2009 record – 3-13
The last ten years in the history of Tampa Bay football have been somewhat difficult to fathom. Just seven years ago, the team was summarily whupping the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl, and now they’re coming off a season of general regression. Jon Gruden, for all his contrarian and hardline positions, guided the team to a 9-7 record in 2008. Raheem Morris, a surprise appointment as head coach in ’09, could only muster a 3-13 finish, but in his defense, he was lacking many of the tools Gruden had at his disposal, namely defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin and a roster burgeoning with Pro Bowl talent.
Gone are Warrick Dunn, Jeff Garcia and Antonio Bryant, and even further gone are the stalwarts that took Tampa to the summit at the end of the ’02 season, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch. Defense was what won that championship for the Bucs, and now Morris faces the tough proposition of rebuilding what was arguably the best group in the league.
Morris, a former DBs coach, has got some talent to work with though, especially in the secondary. Ronde Barber is up there in years but continues to be fairly reliable (and offers invaluable tips to the rest of this emergent unit), Aqib Talib is living up to his first-round buzz, and safety Tanard Jackson, despite his run-in with Commisioner Goodell last year, is one of the finest young ball-hawks in the NFL. Longtime heavy-hitter Jermaine Phillips is gone, and this opens the door for Sabby Piscitelli, a solid if unspectacular filler-in last year, to add some muscle to the defensive backfield.
So in the secondary at least, there is cause for some hope down Florida way. However, a couple of seriously problematic areas are apparent to even the untrained eye, most noticeably on offense.
The team’s been playing a game of duck-duck-goose on their depth chart for a lot of this offseason, and there seems to be precious little certainty surrounding such a youthful group. At wide receiver, the phrase ‘whodat’ could be applied to pretty much the entire corps, and the TE group contains an up-and-down Kellen Winslow and candidate for ‘least likeable NFL player’ Jerramy Stevens. In the backfield, Derrick Ward has not had the dynamic impact the Bucs hoped when they plucked him from free agency, Earnest Graham looks more like a situational back and Cadillac Williams has had 2 major knee surgeries.
At least the two major offensive positions are locked down. Josh Freeman will be entering the season as the unquestioned starter and looked to make a few mental strides last year to catch up with his imposing frame. Excellent left tackle Donald Penn is also now locked up for the foreseeable future, so the Bucs have filled the two most difficult-to-fill positions on the offensive side of the football.
The problem is that outside of these two players, the franchise is mired in uncertainty: Raheem Morris has the respect of the squad, but can he tactically match up to the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South, not to mention the AFC North who the Bucs have to face this year? Can Josh Freeman prove to be a shrewd choice at QB? Who’s he going to throw the ball to? And will the addition of Gerald McCoy improve the pass rush and run defense?
The sheer number of questions in Tampa without answers is cause for concern, not to mention the fact that some of them are pretty important ones. If this young defense takes a big leap forward then there’s cause for cautious optimism, but without that occurring it’ll be a tough season, because the Bucs’ O doesn’t look like it’ll outscore many people. Could be another tough year for Bucs fans, and we’d be surprised if they’re not picking in the top 5 of the 2011 NFL Draft.
2010 prediction: 4-12
Infamous Five, number 2 – Detroit Lions
2009 record – 2-14
It’s about time for some optimism in the Motor City, isn’t it? After decades without any playoff wins, one of the longest championship droughts in professional sports and, well, the Matt Millen era, fans in Detroit haven’t had a lot to cheer about (deja vu). After last year saw a step forward (admittedly a step forward from the worst season in the history of the NFL), a young nucleus of talent has emerged. If the Lions are going to improve, however, much work is still to be done.
Head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew’s approach seems to owe a lot to the Millen days – namely, they wrote down every Millen transaction and tried to do the complete opposite.
The Lions draft history has been traditionally horrible, from Andre Ware to Mike Williams. But finally, it seems like the Lions have finally stumbled upon sensible draft practice: it’s a discovery which is sure to pay dividends. The first pick of the Mayhew era, QB Matthew Stafford, looked good in limited time last year, showing guts by throwing a game-winning TD pass with a dislocated shoulder and displaying the leadership and skill that made him such a prized asset coming out of Georgia. This year, the Lions traded back into the first round to grab running back Jahvid Best, who had an injury-plagued final year at California, but has the potential to be a home-run hitter at the next level. Add him to a backfield with bell-cow Kevin Smith and you have that oh-so-fashionable NFL commodity – the backfield committee.
Schwartz, we all know, is a defensive guy. So when the Lions made Ndamukong Suh (name meaning ‘House of Daggers’ = awesome) the second overall pick in the draft, it was no big surprise. For all the rumblings about Russell Okung, Suh was always the pick and should shore up what has long been one of the worst run defenses in the league. Schwartz knows how to use a big, athletic D-tackle – just look at what he did with Albert Haynesworth in Tennessee.
Schwartz himself should also be much improved in 2010, having had a full season under his belt in his new role as head coach. He seems to have the measure of the organisation and the respect of his staff and team, two key features to most successful head coaches’ careers.
The Lions have really borne the brunt of some horrible records – the last three years combined offer a paltry 9 wins – but much of that also comes from playing in a tough division, and at least two of the Bears, Packers and Vikings almost always reach the playoffs. The last time Detroit won this division (1993), it was still called the NFC Central and the Buccaneers were in it: the Bucs have also won this division more recently than the Lions, despite not having played in it since the 2002 season.
Looking at history, as is evident from the above, is a tremendously painful exercise for Lions fans. But it seems like they’re on the mend for the first time in a decade. Schwartz is trying to establish the run-first, power defense style of play he learned under Jeff Fisher in Nashville, and Mayhew’s savvy player acquisitions are cheap and un-flashy – Jon Jansen, Julian Peterson, etc. The Lions are trying to build through the draft, and only bring in outside talent if they can do so cheaply (see also: Tony Scheffler).
The problem facing the 2010 Lions will most likely be pass defense: when Favre returns, the QBs in the division are Cutler, Rodgers and Favre, a talented triumvirate. These three QBs threw for 14 TDs and just 1 INT (Aaron Rodgers in week 6) against the Lions a year ago. In such a pass-happy division, the Lions will need to markedly step up in the secondary. Emerging safety Louis Delmas has the tools, but starting corners Chris Houston and Eric King are big question marks, and no starting strong safety appears to have yet emerged.
Of course, with the burgeoning talent on offense – we have hitherto failed to mention the downright frightening ‘Megatron’ Johnson – some problems may well get covered up, but sooner or later the Lions’ defense is going to have to really improve. Schwartz will get the best out of his roster, but his defense on paper leaves a lot to be desired.
We’d be thrilled to see the Lions escape the NFC North basement because, frankly, it’s about time. However, with a really gruelling schedule (they play the NFC and AFC East, even games against the Rams and Bucs can’t make up for that) and a lot of uncertainty on the defensive depth chart, Lions fans might have to wait until 2011 to clamber out.
2011 prediction: 5-11
After a lengthy spell on the sidelines (PaP failed its conditioning test several times after an acrimonious positional dispute), the fabled Play Action Post blog is back, and we wanted to resume our service in the style we enjoy the most – lambasting continually bad franchises.
So, ‘The Infamous Five’ series begins today, a quintet of posts detailing the worst five NFL franchises from a season ago: how their offseason has fared, what issues still plague them, and what realistic goals can be set heading into the 2010 NFL season. We’ll be breaking down the unfortunate teams in their draft order – Rams, Lions, Buccaneers, Redskins, Chiefs – and debate whether they’re heading for a 2008-Dolphins-esque rebound or a Dennis Green meltdown.
Infamous Five, number 1 – St. Louis Rams
2009 record: 1-15
How do you solve a problem like Missouri? This question, and many others, are facing the Rams heading into the 2010 season. Just ten years ago, the Rams were a dominant offensive powerhouse coming off a Super Bowl victory (against your author’s beloved Titans) and scoring points at will. Back then, the offense was Warner, Holt, Bruce & Faulk. Since that brilliant quartet went their separate ways, all has come apart at the seams for the Rams.
The main problem, as is consistent with many struggling franchises, is an inability to find a decent starting quarterback. Here’s a list of QBs who have started at least one game for the Rams since Kurt Warner got benched in 2003:
Trent Green, Marc Bulger, Jamie Martin, Scott Covington, Chris Chandler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gus Frerotte, Brock Berlin, Kyle Boller and Keith Null.
Out of those QBs, only Bulger ever performed at a level even vaguely comparable to Warner, and that stretch ended in 2007 (side note: bonus points if you even remember Covington/Berlin and aren’t related to them). Bulger is now a backup for the Ravens. Even worse? The Rams had the first overall selection in this year’s draft, the last before the end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and took Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, who was the best signal-caller available.
Why is that bad? They are now (probably) the last team to shell out megabucks to the first overall pick, and have to pay Bradford, who has never taken an NFL snap and is coming off pretty major shoulder surgery, 50 million dollars. The new CBA will almost certainly include provisions for a rookie pay scale, but the Rams were one year early and have given more guaranteed money to a totally unproven rookie than any player has ever received in the history of the league.
The Rams have picked in the top 2 in each of the last 3 years, so now have countless millions tied up in three players – Bradford, OT Jason Smith and DE Chris Long. Add to this the fact that St. Louis is one of the NFL’s smaller markets, and you get a problem: how in the world can you attract free agents without a big market or big money?
Well, the Rams have had to answer that question this offseason. Coach Steve Spagnuolo is in his second year, and must be listening to Yazz’s classic ‘The Only Way Is Up’ pretty much daily just to try and stay a little positive, since the (literally and otherwise) biggest free agents he’s snared are DTs Chris Hovan and Fred Robbins, both now deep in their 30s and hardly top-end acquisitions: it also hammers home the disappointment of numerous first-round DTs in the last decade, from Jimmy Kennedy to Adam Carriker.
The best thing the Rams did this offseason was to retain O.J. Atogwe, who is now locked up for the forseeable future. Spagnuolo is a defensive whiz, and another year in his system will do wonders for everyone, including the talented safety. The Rams must generate more pressure on the QB to help out a weak secondary, so the development of Chris Long will be key to any defensive improvement: last year St. Louis’ pass rush had less bite than a goldfish with just 25 total sacks, third worst in the league.
The Rams will also need some instant rookie production from their solid draft class outside of Bradford, notably from talented tackle Rodger Saffold and hair-obsessed wideout Mardy Gilyard. Of course, any offensive dreams the Rams have go through man-beast-monster Steven Jackson, who’ll have to rebound from back surgery for St. Louis to have any shot of more than five wins.
The Rams in 2010 don’t promise a lot, especially not with a rookie QB under center and no real offensive talent outside Jackson and speedster WR Donnie Avery. If they muster more than 5 wins, St. Louis should paint a goatee on its logo.
Prediction for 2010: 3-13
So here we are, the final chapter of the PaP ‘What You Should Do But Won’t’ mock draft, and after picks 1-10 and 11-20, we are delighted to conclude our advisory mock draft, starting with Cincinnati at no.21.
With the twenty-first overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals should select: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma
With the twenty-first overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals will select: Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma
The Bengals have clearly put improving the offense at the heart of their offseason plans. They were reportedly interested in signing Terrell Owens, picked up Antonio Bryant and re-signed starting guard Bobbie Williams. Carson Palmer had a down year in ’09, and the brass in Cincy are clearly set on amassing talent around him: Gresham fits that mould. Had it not been for a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last year, Gresham could’ve been a top 10 pick. As it stands, there is no better TE in the draft – he can catch, block, run routes and run after catch – and he looks to be the best pick, one which the Bengals will likely make.
With the twenty-second overall pick, the New England Patriots should select: Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State
With the twenty-second overall pick, the New England Patriots will select: Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State
There has been a huge groundswell in the rumours of the Patriots taking Tim Tebow in this draft the past week, and that would certainly make an interesting pick, but it seems more likely that the savvy Bill Belichick will address a defense which struggled hugely last year. Odrick is a huge figure (6-5, 295 pounds) who can line up at D-tackle or end in the Pats’ constantly shifting defense. A smart young man with solid fundamentals, he’s a Belichick-type player on defense who may remind the coach of Richard Seymour.
With the twenty-third overall pick, the Green Bay Packers should select: Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State
With the twenty-third overall pick, the Green Bay Packers will select: Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
This, it should be noted, is not a stupid pick, but still an oversight for our money. Whilst the Pack struggled mightily in pass protection last year, they still racked up points (and improved on O-line as the season progressed), and the opportunistic defense got gouged by Arizona in the playoffs. Al Harris was injured a lot last year, and although Charles Woodson was the league’s defensive MVP, these guys are old. Kyle Wilson is a perfect fit in GB’s man coverage scheme – great ball skills, quick feet, physical at the line of scrimmage – and should be picked. Davis is a great prospect but will be a backup in ’10 barring injuries to starting tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.
With the twenty-fourth overall pick, the Philadelphia Eagles should select: Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida
With the twenty-fourth overall pick, the Philadelphia Eagles will select: Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida
Philadelphia, in case you hadn’t noticed, has spent the entire offseason in a state of flux. Trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins put huge trust in Kevin Kolb, and the Eagles should use this pick to solidify the interior offensive line and protect their new starter. Pouncey can play guard or center very well, fill in for Jamaal Jackson as he recovers from an ACL injury and take the reins in the middle eventually. However, it seems more likely that the Eagles will go with the erratic Dunlap, whose size is intimidating but who has some questions surrounding him regarding consistency. The pass rush is a glamour position nowadays, but once again, a solid interior lineman would be more sensible (the Ravens’ Ben Grubbs, Jets’ Nick mangold and Patriots’ Logan Mankins were all first-round guard/centers and all are still starting).
With the twenty-fifth overall pick, the Baltimore Ravens should select: Everson Griffen, DE, USC
With the twenty-fifth overall pick, the Baltimore Ravens will select: Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama
Having retooled the offense with the additions of Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, the Ravens should look to defense with their first overall pick in the 2010 draft. Having lost Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan to free agency, the line is a priority. We think that the athletic pass rusher Griffen would be the best option here, but it seems more likely that the Ravens will go with Mount Cody. With Haloti Ngata already a beast in the middle, Cody will bring back memories of Baltimore’s Super Bowl-winning squad, which had Sam Adams and Kelly Gregg taking up men in the middle. Whilst it makes some sense, we think there are way too many concerns with Cody – weight and work ethic mainly – to take him in round one.
With the twenty-sixth overall pick, the Arizona Cardinals should select: Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
With the twenty-sixth overall pick, the Arizona Cardinals will select: Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama
It’s a perfect storm for Arizona if the draft pans out like this. Having lost Karlos Dansby to the Dolphins, there’s a big need for a thumping middle linebacker to organise and disrupt. McClain is a great physical specimen, a natural leader and an intelligent player who’s been well prepared by Nick Saban’s defensive mind. There’s a good chance that McClain will have gone by now, but if the Giants opt for the more vocal Sean Weatherspoon, he could very well slide, and he’d be a perfect pick for the Cards.
With the twenty-seventh overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys should select: Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland
With the twenty-seventh overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys will select: Taylor Mays, S, USC
Dallas is in dire need of a new left tackle. Flozell Adams is at the end of his career (there were reports he was going to retire this offseason) and whilst they’ll give Doug Free a shot at the job, it’s doubtful he can be trusted to protect Romo’s blindside. Campbell was the star of the combine (we think the Raiders might even grab him at no.8), and can be tutored by the excellent Adams for a year before starting full-time at LT. However, we think that Jerry Jones won’t look an athlete in the mouth and pass on him. Mays can smash people in the mouth but has questionable coverage skills, and the ‘Boys really need a safety who can play the pass effectively after a couple years of bad play at the position. Mays is a talent, sure, but plays more like a linebacker than a safety.
With the twenty-eighth overall pick, the San Diego Chargers should select: Jahvid Best, RB, California
With the twenty-eighth overall pick, the San Diego Chargers will select: Jahvid Best, RB, California
If it wasn’t for injury, Best could have been the first running back off the board in this draft. Arguably the most complete player at the position this year, he can pound it between the tackles and has home-run speed to boot. Darren Sproles can only really ever be a situational guy, he lacks the stocky build of another smaller back like MoJo Drew, and he’s only still in San Diego with a franchise tag. With LaDanian Tomlinson now gone, the Bolts will look for their runner of the future, and Best fits the bill in spades.
With the twenty-ninth overall pick, the New York Jets should select: Everson Griffen, DE, USC
With the twenty-ninth overall pick, the New York Jets will select: Everson Griffen, DE, USC
Having acquired he crime-prone Santonio Holmes from the Steelers, the Jets can move their focus from offense to defense, and search for a pass-rusher. While Rex Ryan’s crazy-complex defense means that everyone gets sacks, you still need a good rush from the defensive front. At 273 lbs., Griffen is stout enough to set the edge against the run, but also has the athleticism to stand up at outside linebacker on occasion. Vernon Gholston looks bust-tastic, so Griffen’s addition should help banish the ghosts of yester-draft to the locker.
With the thirtieth overall pick, the Minnesota Vikings should select: Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State
With the thirtieth overall pick, the Minnesota Vikings will select: Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State
Should Brett Favre decide not to return, clearly this pick’s ramifications would be far different. But we at PaP expect this yearly rigmarole to inevitably result in ‘one more year’ until sometime in the 2029 offseason. We feel that the secondary is the biggest area of need for Minnesota; Antoine Winfield started to show his age toward the end of last season, and when he and Cedric Griffin were injured there was a talent vacuum at the position. Wilson is smart, tough and a great cover man, and this would be like an April Christmas for the Vikes if he slips down to them.
With the thirty-first overall pick, the Indianapolis Colts should select: Daryl Washington, LB, TCU
With the thirty-first overall pick, the Indianapolis Colts will select: Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida
Everyone seems to think that the best pick for the Colts is Pouncey, an excellent center/guard who can replace Jeff Saturday down the road. These people have seemingly forgotten that the Colts used a second-rounder on guard/center Mike Pollak in the 2008 draft for this exact reason. That said, Pouncey is a better player than Pollak and they can mix and match at guard or center depending on need. But we think that the best pick for Indy is a physical, speedy linebacker from Texas Christian. Washington is a relentless tackler, and behind starters Clint Session and Phillip Wheeler, there are no other quality players at the outside ‘backer position. At a spot where injuries are commonplace, adding a versatile, hostile talent can only help your defense.
With the thirty-second overall pick, the New Orleans Saints should select: Daryl Washington, LB, TCU
With the thirty-second overall pick, the New Orleans Saints should select: Daryl Washington, LB, TCU
If no high-end pass rushers are available at this spot (and we think that none will be), the Saints’ best option is to go with an outside linebacker. Scott Fujita is no longer with the team, and Washington could be a force on the outside for years to come. He’s got a good overall game, combining speed with strength and pass rush skills with coverage ones. The Saints’ linebacking core is thin at best, so the selection of Washington (which we think should and will be made) will solidify and improve a big area of need for the defending champs.
So there you have it, the full rundown of the ‘What You Should Do But Won’t’ mock draft. Now we can all sit back on April 22nd and revel in our own sanctimoniousness. Bring on the Offseason Superbowl!