Thursday, January 26, 2012

Twenty Best Players in the Super Bowl

With the big game just a week away, I thought I'd count down my list of the top twenty players who will be battling for it all next sunday.

20. Mario Manningham, WR, Giants
- Manningham hasn't made too much noise this year because of a lingering knee injury, but he's just getting back to 100% and is poised for a huge game in the Super Bowl. Since Cruz and Nicks are so good, he'll most likely see a good amount of Julian Edelman, which can't be good for the Patriots. Though I do love how Belichick does that though. I think when you get converted wide receivers and no names of the street playing together, it really builds an us against the world team chemistry. Or it just lets Eli Manning through all over you. We'll see.

19. Devin McCourtey, CB, Patriots
- The Pats wouldn't be here if it weren't for Sterling Moore, but Devin McCourtey is still the best player in their secondary. He's had a bit of a down year, but it's more because of injuries to the secondary than McCourtey's abilities. He's been shuffled around at different spots and asked to do a lot more things, whereas last year he just played man coverage all the way to the Pro Bowl. He played half of his snaps against the Ravens at safety, and against the Giants he's really going to have to control the middle of the field if the Patriots are going to win.

18. Brian Waters, G, Patriots
- Of course Brian Waters had a great year. Typical Belichick washed-up veteran who turns pro bowler signing (he did whiff on Haynesworth though). Waters has been dominant in the Patriots sneaky good running game which could give the Giants problems.

17. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots
- Green-Ellis just seems to get better every time I watch him. He won't wow you with any moves or speed, but he'll also never lose yards. I think it'll be key for the Pats to establish the run in the Super Bowl, and I'd even expect some draw plays to Green-Ellis on third and short or medium when the Giants have their four DE set in.

16. Matt Light, T, Patriots - The veteran left tackle might be getting older (33), and he might not be the dominant player he was in his prime, but he's had a great year in response to the Nate Solder pick, and held Terrell Suggs in check for most of the AFC Championship. He'll be one on one with Osi Umenyiora in arguably the most important matchup of the game between the Giants pass rush and the Patriots protection unit.

15. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots -With the Gronk a little hobbled, Hernandez could be poised for a huge game in Super Bowl XLVI. The huge year by his fellow tight end has really hidden how good Hernandez actually is, and the Pats might need him to make a couple big plays to keep up with the Giants.

14. Antrel Rolle, S, Giants - The Giants safeties versus the Patriots between the
numbers passing game is another huge matchup in the Super Bowl. I think the Giants actually have a chance in this matchup, and Antrel Rolle will obviously play a key part in that. Remember that Rolle was the best press coverage corner in the nation at Miami, and in week nine the Giants felt comfortable with Rolle singled up on both Gronkowski and Hernandez. If the Giants win, Rolle will most likely have a big game.

13. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots- I thought in the preseason that Jerod Mayo had a chance to break out as a possible defensive player of the year candidate this season, but injuries have led to a pretty mediocre year for the young inside linebacker. He's healthy now, and he's still the same talented player who made the pro bowl last season.

12. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants- If the Giants can run the ball effectively with Bradshaw out of their three wide, one tight end set, the Patriots could be in for a long day. Bradshaw is emerging into a top ten NFL running back, and he just seems to have great chemistry with Eli in the passing game.

11. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants - He won't give you much in the run game, but Osi is just a ridiculously talented pass rusher. He played in just nine games this year, and had 9 sacks. He has a storied past with Matt Light, and like I said that matchup will play a key role in the game.

10. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants - Tuck is one of the most complete defensive ends in the game because he's just as good in the run game as he is as a pass rusher. He had a monster game the last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, recording two sacks, a forced fumbled, repeated pressures on Brady, and in this game he'll be going against rookie tackle Nate Solder. Solder will be a great player one day, but Tuck could expose him in this game.

9. Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants - I thought Nicks had a chance to emerge as a top five NFL wideout this year, because he has the skills to do so, but he was injured too much to put up top tier stats. He's also been overshadowed a bit by Victor Cruz, but he had an enormous game against the Packers and will present serious problems to the Patriots porous secondary.

8. Wes Welker, WR, Patriots - Welker "quietly" caught 122 passes this season, as most of the media attention went to Gronk. Welker's still what makes this offense go, though. He'll see a variety of coverages from the Giants, but he'll still get his catches because there just aren't many people who can match up with him in the slot.

7. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants - I'm not sure if there's an NFL receiver playing better than Victor Cruz right now. He's just a big play machine, and apparently the chemistry is so strong between him and Eli that he's allowed to break out of his route if he sees an opening in the coverage. He's also got the best touchdown celebration in the NFL.

6. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants - JPP has emerged into a truly elite player this year. He's the most athletic person I've ever seen at his height and weight, and he's dominant in both the run game and as a pass rusher. The more and more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the Patriots will have a much tougher time scoring points than the Giants should.

5. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots - The Gronk is just unbelievable. He's an unbelievable pass catcher, perhaps the best blocking tight end in the league, and just a savage off the field. I know it's really early in his career, but I think Gronkowski will go down as one of the best tight ends to ever play. The element of his game that truly separates him from the pack is his blocking ability, and if he's at all hobbled in the Super Bowl it will not only take away one of Brady's targets but will really hurt in pass protection. Gronkowski is incredible at chipping and then releasing into his route, and the Patriots will need him to help with Osi, JPP, Tuck and company if they want to keep Brady upright.

4. Logan Mankins, G, Patriots - Mankins is considered by many to be the best guard in the game, and he's really earned his big contract the past two seasons, as he's just been dominant in both the run game and the pass game. He'll have his hands full in the Super Bowl, and I can't emphasize enough how important that o-line d-line battle matchup will be for the Pats.

3. Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots - I got really into the NFL draft two years ago, and I decided to start watching the elite prospects in their college games in September of that year. I saw that one of the top prospects was a defensive tackle from Nebraska named Ndamukong Suh, and I watched him in a Thursday night game against Blaine Gabbert and Missouri. I had never seen a player as dominant as Suh in my life. Casual or even pretty serious fans generally don't know too much about offensive or defensive lineman aside from what Chris Collinsworth or Jon Gruden say about them in the primetime games, but when you watched Suh at Nebraska it was impossible not to notice him despite his defensive tackle position. It's the same thing with Vince Wilfork. You're watching the quarterback like you do on every snap, but then you notice that there is a refrigerator-sized man plowing his way into the backfield. He had one of the best games of his career against the Ravens, and he'll play a huge role in the Super Bowl.

2. Eli Manning, QB, Giants - The scary thing for the Patriots is that Manning played much better this year than he did in his Super Bowl year. He may have had some lucky breaks in that 07 game but I think he has a great chance to beat Brady straight up this time. The most impressive thing about his play to me has been his ability to take hits and not get phased by them, which has been key because his offensive line is aging. The Patriots have a pretty weak pass rush and a porous secondary so there's really no reason Manning shouldn't have a huge game.

1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots - I was tempted to put both Wilfork and Manning in this spot, but I just had to give it to Brady. Everyone's a little down on him right now after his performance against the Ravens, which was the worst playoff performance of his career, but he's still a three time champion, a two time MVP, and the best playoff quarterback of all time. You could even make the case that this has been his best season considering how bad his defense has been and how he's really been beating teams with his mind as well as his arm. He's mastered this two tight end system and seems to make the right read every time. As I think more and more about the match ups in this game, I think the Giants have to have the advantage. I don't see any way the Patriots can slow down their three wide set, while I think the Giants could slow down the Patriots with their incredible pass rush and capable safeties. So if Brady can win this one, I think he has to go down as the best ever. That'll be four titles, two MVPs, the best postseason record ever, the single season touchdown record, and Gisele Bundchen waiting for him at home. If he loses, he'll still be top five all time, and he'll still have Gisele, but people might be more inclined to point out that he had the luxury of the greatest coach of all time on the sidelines for him. Either way, we've got one hell of a game to look forward to next Sunday.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Building a Super Bowl Team: How the Giants and Patriots Constructed their Rosters

by John Huffstetler

An NFL GM might have the most difficult job in sports. So many intricate details interweave to form the structure of an NFL franchise. Each position on the field from Offense to Defense to Special Teams must be at least passable to avoid the opposing coach exposing minuscule cracks in the roster. To put together a playoff-caliber team, an NFL GM must succeed in drafting players, signing free agents, and making occasional trades to fill any voids in the roster. To analyze the question of how the best teams in the league become the best, I examined the roster breakdown of both the New England Patriots and the New York Giants to determine how their acquisitions led them to the Super Bowl this year. Both teams had two major elements in common: 1) the majority of their rosters developed through the draft, and 2) most of their free agents signings were undervalued players added to fill needs on the roster.

Player Acquisition

Here is a complete breakdown of how every impact player (starters and key reserves) joined the team for both the Giants and the Patriots by position. Undrafted Free agents and draft day trades count towards the Draft tally for the purposes of this analysis.

NY Giants


QB- Manning- Draft day trade- 1st rd 2004

RB- Jacobs- Draft- 4th rd 2005

Bradshaw- Draft- 7th rd 2007

Ware- FA from NYJ

WR- Nicks- Draft- 1st rd 2009

Manningham- Draft- 3rd rd 2008

Cruz- Undrafted FA 2011

TE- Ballard- Undrafted FA 2010

FB- Hynoski- Undrafted FA 2011

OL- Diehl- Draft- 5th rd 2003

Boothe- FA from Oak

Baas- FA from SF

Snee- Draft- 2nd rd 2004

McKenzie- FA from NYJ

Offensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 10/14 (71%)

Free Agents- 4/14 (29%)

The Giants offense developed by hitting on early round selections (Manning, Nicks, Snee, and Manningham), and landing several great steals in late round picks and undrafted free agents, notably Victor Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw, and David Diehl. They did not apportion many high draft picks to selecting Offensive lineman (only Snee in 2nd rd 04 and Beatty in 3rd rd 09), opting instead to build their line through moderately priced free agents.

Defense/Special Teams

DL- Tuck- Draft- 3rd rd 2005

Pierre-Paul- Draft- 1st rd 2010

Umenyiora- Draft- 2nd rd 2003

Joseph- Draft- 2nd rd 2010

Canty- FA from Dallas

Bernard- FA from Sea

Tollefson- FA from Oak

LB- Boley- FA from ATL

Blackburn- Undrafted FA 2005

Williams- Draft- 6th 2011

Kiwanuka- Draft- 1st rd 2006

Jones- Draft- 6th rd. 2011

DB- Webster- Draft- 2nd rd 2005

Ross- Draft- 1st rd 2007

Amukamara- Draft- 1st rd 2011

Phillips- Draft- 1st rd 2008

Grant- FA from Sea

Rolle- FA from Ariz

Blackmon- FA from GB

K- Tynes- Trade from KC

P- Weatherford- FA from NYJ

Defensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 12/21 (57%)

Free Agents- 8/21 (38%)

Trades- 1/21 (5%)

The Giants allocated both more high draft picks and more money in free agency on Defense than on Offense. 9 of their 19 defensive contributors were selected in the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft compared to just 4 offensively. Further, the Giants also spent heavily in free agency on Defense, signing Michael Boley, Antrel Rolle, and Chris Canty to contracts in excess of $5 million/year. General Manager Jerry Reese and Head Coach Tom Coughlin clearly emphasized the development of a strong defensive unit through their recent moves, and this philosophy worked as their defense keyed their turnaround late in the season after early season injury-related struggles.

New England


QB- Brady- Draft- 6th rd 2000

RB- Green-Ellis- Undrafted FA 2008

Woodhead- FA from NYJ

Faulk- Draft- 2nd rd 1999

Ridley- Draft- 4th rd. 2011

WR- Welker- Trade from Miami

Branch- Draft 2nd rd 2002 (Left in Free Agency and then rejoined the team)

Ochocinco- Trade from Cincy

Edelman- Draft- 7th rd. 2009

TE- Gronkowski- Draft- 2nd rd 2010

Hernandez- Draft- 4th rd 2010

OL- Light- Draft- 2nd rd. 2001

Mankins- Draft- 1st rd 2005

Connolly- FA from Jax

Waters- FA from KC

Solder- Draft- 1st rd 2011

Offensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 11/16 (69%)

Free Agents- 3/16 (19%)

Trades- 2/16 (13%)

The Pats developed more of their roster offensively through high draft picks than the Giants with 6 players drafted in the first 3 rounds, including 3 offensive lineman. Like the Giants, the Patriots hit on some late round picks and undrafted players, including the greatest draft pick and greatest player in NFL history, Tom Brady. They also used a rare NFL trade with success when they acquired Wes Welker from Miami for 2nd and 7th rd picks.

Defense/Special Teams

DL-Wilfork- Draft 1st rd 2004

Anderson- FA from Hou

Carter- FA from Wash

Love- Undrafted FA 2010

LB- White- Trade from Philly

Mayo- Draft- 1st rd 2008

Fletcher- Undrafted FA 2010

Ninkovich- FA from NO

Guyton- Undrafted FA 2008

Spikes- Draft- 2nd rd 2010

DB- McCourty- Draft- 1st rd. 2010

Ihedigbo- FA from NYJ

Chung- Draft- 2nd rd 2009

Arrington- FA from TB

Brown- Undrafted FA 2010

Molden- Waivers from Hou

Slater- Draft- 5th rd 2008

Bodden- FA from Det

K- Gostkowski- Draft- 4th rd. 2006

P- Mesko- Draft- 5th rd. 2010

Defensive Breakdown- Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 12/20 (60%)

Free Agents- 7/20 (35%)

Trades- 1/20 (5%)

Unlike the Giants, the Pats developed less of their roster defensively through high picks and higher priced free agents. Only 4 of their 18 defensive contributors were selected in the first 3 rounds, and the Pats highest paid free agent on defense makes less than $3 million/year. The Patriots defense, however, is not as strong a unit as the Giants D either.

Overall Analysis

Drafted Players/Undrafted FA’s- 45/71 (63%)

Free Agents- 22/71 (31%)

Trades- 4/71 (6%)

The Giants and Pats clearly used different acquisition strategies to form their current rosters, but both teams still acquired roughly 2/3rds of their players through the draft. The Giants allotted the majority of their resources to developing their defense, while the Patriots spent more draft picks on their offensive line and tight ends. Surprisingly, the Patriots have hit on only 12 of 29 (41%) high draft picks (1st- 3rd rounds) so far between 2003 and 2010, but they’ve managed to survive based on their ability to obtain extra draft picks by trading back, and their ability to find undervalued free agents from other rosters. Conversely, the Giants hit on 14 of their 22 (64%) selections during that same period, but only experienced slightly more success because of the Pats additional picks. Both teams found several key players late in the draft and as undervalued free agents, which coupled with their high draft selections propelled them to the Super Bowl this year.

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The 10 Most Overrated Players in the NBA

by John Huffstetler

The average fan overvalues the number of points a player scores dramatically. Newsflash, a player who shoots at a poor rate and scores over 20 points per game isn't a good player. The NBA All-Star Game is littered with overrated players who get voted in by clueless fans who vote for the flashy high-volume scorer (see the careers of Vince Carter and Allen Iverson). Essential elements of the game, such as passing, defense, and rebounding go largely undervalued. Below is my list of the 10 most overrated players in the league using advanced statistics that measure a player's ability to shoot efficiently, defend, rebound, and pass the ball.

10) Derrick Rose
- Chicago Bulls- I know this will be the most controversial addition to this list. After all, he is the reigning MVP of the league, but it is because he’s the MVP that Rose must be held to a higher standard. An MVP should be a top 5 player in the league…minimum. Rose, although still improving as a player, is not at that level and the statistics don’t lie. Rose ranks 37th among qualifying PG’s last year in Assist rate at 29.4. Assist rate basically measures how selfish a player is with the basketball with lower the rate indicating more selfish play. To give a comparison, Chris Paul had a rate of 61.34 and Rajon Rondo had a 79.00. He was also average shooting the basketball with an effective fg% of 48.5 (league average 48.2) and a true shooting 55 (league average 54.2). Other elite, high volume shooters still manage to shoot at higher percentages (True Shooting %- Dirk 61.2, Lebron 59.1, Steph Curry 59.2, DWade 58.1, and Durant 58.9 to name a few). Rose is a very good player that is still improving, but he is far from great at this point. Most of his teammates (Deng, Brewer, and Noah) are dramatically underrated adding to the misconception that Rose somehow carries his team. His shooting will continue to improve, he will learn to pass the ball better, and in a few years, he will reach the elite level handed to him undeservedly by so many at this point in his career.

9) Andray Blatche
- Washington Wizards- This one is almost too obvious, but he is the captain of the Washington Wizards after signing a 5 year, $35 million deal, and he has averaged around 18 points and 8.5 rebounds the last two seasons. In every aspect of the game of basketball, however, Blatche ranks below average for his position. Last year, his effective fg% was 44.7 and his true shooting % was just 49.7, both well below average for his position of PF. Although he grabs over 8 rebounds/game, his rebounding % is just 13.8, which ranked 103rd in the league last year. By comparison, teammate JaVale McGee finished 51st at 16.5%. Blatche's defense is disgraceful, with a defensive efficiency of 108 (league average is in the low 100's and lower is better). His wins produced for the Wizards so far this year is -0.2, which means the Wizards would be better this season statistically if Blatche took a nap on the sideline every game, and HE IS THEIR CAPTAIN!! Their entire mission this season should be to trade him to whatever team is clueless enough to accept him.

8) Joe Johnson- Atlanta Hawks- After other teams showed interest in the veteran swingman before the 10-11 season, the Hawks panicked and resigned their 3rd best player to a 6 yr, 119 Million dollar deal. Johnson is a pure volume scorer who doesn't shoot at an efficient rate, ranking slightly below league average in both true shooting % (51.7) and effective fg% (48.1). Taken alone, these stats are forgivable, even for a player with his lofty salary (5th in the NBA), but his defensive acumen is also questionable. His defensive efficiency consistently hovers around 1.10 point per possession, while, by comparison, teammates Josh Smith rates at 1.02 and Horford at 0.97. This statistic indicates that the Hawks play better defense when Joe Johnson is on the bench. Sometimes the right move is just to let a player leave; unfortunately for the Hawks (and myself as a Hawks fan), they are stuck with an overrated, aging swingman who will be 35 by the end of his absurd contract.

7) Chris Bosh- Miami Heat- Post players who tend to hang around the perimeter usually struggle for their position in two ways: 1) Their shooting suffers (Bosh's TS% is 56.9 and Eff FG% is 49.9), and 2) they fail to help their team gain extra possessions by hitting the boards (Bosh grabs just 13.6% of available rebounds). Inexplicably, Bosh, who is a career 28.8% 3-pt. shooter, is shooting 4 times as many 3's this season compared to last year and he continues to shoot a low rate. Prior to joining Wade and Lebron in Miami (two of the better on-ball defenders in the league), Bosh allowed 1.11 points per possession defensively while on the floor. Bosh clearly benefits right now from being surrounded by the top two players in the league.

6) Metta World Peace (aka Ron Artest)- Los Angeles Lakers- World Peace (hilarious to call him that) continues to earn significant playing time on a Western Conference contender based on his reputation as a defensive stopper; however, he's been at best an average defensive player for 5 of the last 6 years. His rebounding rate has tailed off dramatically as well, reaching a pathetic 6.3% last season. His true shooting % of 48.5 and effective fg % of 46 are significantly below league average as well. To summarize, he isn't rebounding, he's shooting terribly, and he's defending at an average level. It's time to retire, World Peace.

5) Amare Stoudemire- New York Knicks- Although Stoudemire is a great high volume scorer in the league, he doesn’t rebound well and his defense is atrocious. Last year, Amare’s team scored an amazing 109 points per possession when he was on the floor; however, they allowed a pathetic 108 points per possession. His rebounding rate is abysmal at 12.7, which ranks 32nd among PF’s last year with at least 20 minutes played/game. This statistic is baffling given his size and the fact that before 2008, his rebounding rate was well above average, meaning he’s become significantly worse at rebounding the ball. He also used to be a much more efficient shooter, with an effective fg% consistently above league average and peaking at 59.2 in 07-08. Last year, his eff fg% dipped to 50.5 and he’s down to 42.5 so far this season. The only explanation for these two statistical declines is that Amare is spending more time outside the paint taking low percentage shots and is then unable to gather rebounds. If he can rediscover his strong post game again he will be off this list.

4) Brook Lopez- New Jersey Nets- Any big man who doesn’t rebound well or shoot at a high percentage is a major liability for his team. His total rebounding % of 10 is dismal for a center and ranks 2nd to last in the league for the position. His true shooting % is 54.9 and his effective fg% is 49.2, both below the league average, despite having the 19th highest usage rate (% of offensive possessions used) in the NBA. He also struggles defensively, allowing 110 points per possession when he is on the floor (compare to teammate Kris Humphries at 105). Lopez is merely an average big, yet there is talk of him being the major piece in the trade for Dwight Howard, should Howard go to New Jersey. Orlando should think twice about that move.

3) Carmelo Anthony- New York Knicks- Anthony sits on this list mainly because, like his teammate Amare, he plays deplorable defense with a 108 defensive rating. For a player considered top 10 in the league by many, this simply isn’t good enough. He also doesn’t shoot that efficiently with a 47.4 Eff Fg % and at 54.7 TS%. To compare with other players considered stars at SF spot in the league, Lebron has a 54.2 and 59.4 respectively, while Durant is 50.9 and 58.9 in these categories. To consider Melo elite is simply incorrect and that is why he is overrated.

2) Tyreke Evans-Sacramento Kings- Evans, like Rose, is still developing as an NBA point guard, which takes time. Unlike those Rose, however, I don’t think Evans will ever be a great point guard in this league. He shows no desire or willingness to pass the ball to his teammates as he has the 6th lowest assist rate among PG’s getting consistent minutes at 24.9%. His shooting from the field is borderline atrocious with a 43.2 eff fg% and a 49.9 true shooting %. His offensive wins produced last year was actually negative, which means Sacramento would have been better offensively had he never touched the floor. Instead, he led the team in usage rate (how many possessions out of 100 a player takes the shot) at 25.3. His defensive numbers weren’t much better as he had defensive rating of 109. Evans is a shooting guard playing out of position who lacks the ability to score efficiently and he will never succeed in the NBA.

1) Andrea Bargnani- Toronto Raptors- Statistically, Bargnani is the worst rebounder in the NBA for his position, securing just 8.6% of boards when he’s on the floor. Despite improving his ppg to 21.6, Bargnani dropped in both True Shooting % and Eff FG% to 53.3 and 48 (both below league average), respectively. His defensive rating of 115 last year ranks second to last among all qualifying players in the league. He rarely passes to set up his teammates, averaging only 1.8 assists per game. His complete lack of any intangible abilities on the basketball court make him my choice for the most overrated player in the NBA.

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Explanation of all Statistics Used- True Shooting %- A more accurate depiction of a players shooting value than fg% that weighs 3-pt fg's more and incorporates points earned on free throws as well.
Effective FG %- Similar to True Shooting %, except it measures only 3-pt fg's. It measures a player's ability to score from the field only.
Rebounding Rate- The % of available rebounds a player grabs while on the floor. Measures rebounding acumen more accurately than rebounds per game because it accounts for players on the floor missing a high volume of shifts.
Win Score- A measure of a player's value to a team using advanced statistics that quantifies the amount of wins a player produces for his team.
Offensive/Defensive rating- The # of points per 100 possessions a player's team scores/allows while he is on the floor. Accurate measure of how a player contributes to his team defensively or offensively while he is on the floor.
Assist Rate- # of scoring plays out of 100 that a player assists the score. Good measure of how well a point guard involves his teammates in the offensive flow.

Early Look at the Top 10 NFL Draft Prospects

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
-There's no question Luck is the clear-cut top prospect in the 2012 draft. He possess all the traits you look for in a franchise QB and is all but penciled in as the Colts selection. With incredible athleticism, accuracy, and knowledge for the game Andrew Luck has the makings of a future All-Pro.
2. Trent Richardson, RB. Alabama
-I think the world of Richardson and think he is a can't-miss prospect. If the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning wasn't in the draft, Richardson would be in serious consideration for the top selection. While not the fastest running back, Richardson has excellent vision and never goes down on first contact. I'll put my money on the Pro Bowl for Richardson in 2012.
3. Matt Kalil, OT, USC
-Kalil is a bona-fide franchise left tackle who will play at a high level for 8+ seasons. At 6'7'' 295 lbs, Kalil has the size you look for along with tremendous athleticism. Kalil did not allow a sack in 2011 while protecting future number one draft pick Matt Barkley's blindside. Oh yeah, and his brother, Ryan, is an All-Pro center for the Carolina Panthers.
4. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
-Claiborne began his college career as a freshman backup to 2011 5th overall pick Patrick Peterson and has since lived up quite favorably to the former Tiger. Claiborne is a better pure cornerback than Peterson and also can help out in the return-game. At 6'0'', Claiborne can match up with most receivers and will make many jaw-dropping, highlight reel plays.
5. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
-Oklahoma State fans quickly forgot about Dez Bryant when Blackmon burst onto the scene in 2010. In just two seasons, Blackmon accumulated 232 receptions for 3304 yards and 38 touchdowns, and was named the 2012 Fiesta Bowl MVP after catching 8 passes for 186 yards and 3 touchdowns in a victory over Stanford. Blackmon is a legit number one WR.
6. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
-Like Kalil, Martin has all the makings of being an elite LT. He has great size at 6'6'' 304 lbs and has protected Luck's blindside the past two seasons. Martin has good technique and doesn't take plays off. Look for Martin to rise up the draft boards and eventually be a top 10 selection.
7. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
-The "sexiest" prospect in the draft and Heisman Trophy winner, Griffin is a very interesting QB prospect. Griffin broke Texas state records in the 110 meter and 300 meter hurdle and has an extremely strong arm. The thing I worry about Griffin is durability issues and the fact he played in a shotgun-spread offense in college, but the potential is too great and Griffin will be a very high selection.
8. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
-There are some character concerns with Floyd, but I believe he has moved past them. Floyd had an extremely productive career at Notre Dame and will be an impact player at the next level. For me, he is a similar receiver to Hakeem Nicks and Larry Fitzgerald- tremendous hands and very physical, but won't blow you away with his speed. Floyd could be picked as high as 7 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
9. Mark Barron, S, Alabama
-Barron is one of my favorite prospects in the draft and will rise up the draft boards in the coming months. Playing under Nick Saban, Barron was very well coached and was one of the leaders on a defense, which consistently ranked among the best in the nation. Though there may never be another player of Sean Taylor's caliber, I see a bit of Taylor in Barron's physical play. Some team will be very happy adding Barron to their defensive secondary come April.
10. Andre Branch, OLB/DE, Clemson
-Branch is my sleeper prospect who will eventually rise up the draft boards. The Clemson product has great length at 6'5'' 260 lbs and is athletic enough to possibly make the transition to a 3-4 OLB. He reminds me of DeMarcus Ware coming out of Troy, but has a lot to prove in the NFL to garner further comparisons.

Super Bowl Preview: Quarterbacks

Two of the best quarterbacks in the league are squaring off in the biggest game in the world, which is not surprising considering the burden put on the quarterback position every week in the NFL. Both Eli Manning and Tom Brady have played at an extremely high level all season, so who has the edge?

Brady has more experience in the big game, but both Brady and Eli played in the 2008 Super Bowl, so experience is not a factor. In fact, since the Giants have beaten the Patriots the last two times they've played, let's give the psychological edge to Eli Manning.

Statistically, Brady had the better season, and he has been the better quarterback for his career. He plays very well within the New England scheme, and he uses short passes to open up seams down the field, only taking what the defense gives him. Manning has also had a fantastic season statistically, and he has been incredibly clutch all year long. His passing in the fourth quarter and on third down has been the best in the league, which is a big reason why the Giants are in this position.

But as we've seen a few times this year, Eli has thrown some duds. While they haven't happened recently, they have happened, which is a cause for concern. Brady, on the other hand, has been great all year, if not for a four interception effort against the Bills early on. In terms of playing ability and overall scheme of the offense, the edge has to go to Brady.

Intangibles, which I am going to define as their ability to adapt when situations don't go the way they expect, are the decisive aspect in picking the better quarterback. Manning has the ability to make plays by standing tall in the pocket, taking a hit, and throwing the ball up for grabs. While this sounds like a bad trait, Eli has so much faith in his receivers, and rightfully so, that he trusts them to make a play on the football. And it has paid off, both with David Tyree in the last Super Bowl and with Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half against the Packers.

Brady, meanwhile, has incredible mobility. You may be laughing about that statement, but it's true. While Brady moves slowly, he moves within his pocket very efficiently. He steps up at the right times, and his movement in the pocket actually sets up blocks for his linemen, effectively making them better blockers. This will be very important against a strong Giants pass rush with several playmakers on the defensive line.

Brady has the better intangibles, and there really isn't much of an argument that Manning is a better quarterback. While Giants fans would like to believe he is, Manning would have to win this game to even start making his case for being better than Tom Brady or his brother Peyton. Until then, the edge goes to Brady and the Patriots at the most important position in football.

Predicted Statistics:

Brady: 21-31, 285 yards, 2 tds, 0 ints

Manning: 32-47, 350 yards, 2 tds, 2 ints

Look for Manning to have inflated statistics, as I expect the Patriots to come out of the gate quicker, and Manning will make some mistakes. Brady, on the other hand, will play nearly flawless football, making him a potential MVP candidate if the Patriots pull this one out. Check back tomorrow for both running back and receiver analysis.

Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 NFL Mock Draft: Second Edition

With the playoffs nearing an end, we finally know the NFL draft order, at least for all but the last two picks.  A few people have declared for the draft since our last edition, and others have had incidents that have dropped their draft stock.  Let's get to the draft picks.

1) Indianapolis Colts- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

This pick is already set in stone.  Andrew Luck will be a Colt next year, but the future of Peyton Manning is in question.  We heard Rob Lowe come out earlier this week saying Peyton would retire later in the day, but Jim Irsay expelled those rumors quickly.  I still believe Manning will be the Colts' starting quarterback for one more year, but teams like Washington, New York, and Miami will all be interested in the All-Pro quarterback.

2) St. Louis Rams- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

The Rams should, and probably will, trade this pick to the Cleveland Browns for both of their first rounders, and they will take Blackmon at 4.  Blackmon is a strong receiver with reliable hands that can immediately become Sam Bradford's favorite target.  Alongside Danario Alexander and Lance Kendricks, Bradford would have some solid weapons at his disposal.

3) Minnesota Vikings- Matt Kalil, OT, USC

This one is a no-brainer.  The Vikings' first priority is to protect second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.  If he has time to throw in the pocket, Ponder could develop into a very solid starter in the NFL.  Kalil will be protecting Ponder's blindside for their entire careers.  It's a match made in Heaven.

4) Cleveland Browns- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

A few weeks ago, I thought the Redskins would be the ones trading up to snag Griffin III.  But the Browns have more to offer to the Rams than the Redskins do, and they will get their quarterback of the future in the 2012 draft.  Griffin has great deep ball accuracy, and while I don't see him as a perfect fit for the current Cleveland offense, they will definitely tailor the current offense to fit his unique skill set.

5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Devon Still, DT, Penn State

It's tough to say who the best defensive tackle in the draft is, but this is a pressing need for the Buccaneers defense.  Haynesworth is obviously not a solution, and Gerald McCoy has struggled in his first two years.  I could see Still adding consistency and versatility to the middle of this line.

6)  Washington Redskins- Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

Claiborne is very high on a lot of draft boards, but I could see him slipping to 6th, and the Redskins will draft him with no hesitation.  The Redskins need a top cornerback after Deangelo Hall's struggles this year, and Claiborne will immediately fill that void.  Hall is under contract for two more years, but I see Claiborne and Josh Wilson as a better duo than Hall and Wilson.

7) Jacksonville Jaguars- Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

The Jaguars desperately need help at wide receiver, but Jeffrey, Floyd, and Wright would all be reaches with the 7th pick.  They could trade back and load up on draft picks, especially since teams might want to move up to take Trent Richardson here, but I think they will be perfectly fine with drafting Coples, helping with a struggling pass rush.

8) Carolina Panthers- Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Brockers is rough around the edges after starting just one season in college.  The Panthers have time, however, to let him develop, as they are not quite ready to make the next step.  While the offense is already great, the defense needs to improve immensely if this team wants to get to the next level.  The Panthers have a bright future, and Brockers has unlimited potential, as long as he is not rushed into anything.

9) Miami Dolphins- Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

Upshaw is a great talent, who could potentially take a nosedive in this draft.  I think the Dolphins are going to fall in love with this guy, and they will make him a top-10 pick.  If he doesn't get picked here, he could slip down to the 15 or 20 range, but he is a perfect replacement for the retiring Jason Taylor

10) Buffalo Bills- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Bills want Coples here, but he's too good, and I feel that he is going to have a fantastic combine.  That being said, the Bills will still be able to fill a need, grabbing a premier left tackle to protect Fitzpatrick.

11) Kansas City Chiefs- Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

This might be a bit early to pick Adams, but he is a talented lineman, and the Chiefs need right tackle help.  Adams is a solid draft pick, and the Chiefs will be happy to have him.

12) Seattle Seahawks- Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina

Despite being lower on some boards, I think Jeffrey will separate himself as the clear number-two receiver in this draft.  He played great in South Carolina's bowl game, and despite concerns about his speed, he can go up and get the ball better than anyone in this draft.  The Seahawks need help at receiver, and Jeffrey would be a great fit and a solid redzone target.

13) Arizona Cardinals- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

The value of running backs has declined in recent years, especially now that the NFL has shifted to a pass-happy league.  Richardson is very talented, but it goes to show you just how easily someone can drop 10 spots.  The Cardinals drafted Ryan Williams last year, but he has already given them reason for injury concerns.  Beanie Wells is not the answer, so Richardson is a logical pick.  The Cardinals could use help on the offensive line, but Richardson is too talented to pass at this point in the draft.

14) Dallas Cowboys- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Kirkpatrick's recent behavioral issues have almost assured himself a spot on the Cowboys' roster next season.  They need help in the secondary, and they love players with character issues.  I don't think Kirkpatrick has behavioral issues, but NFL scouts hate taking risks, and he will certainly fall on draft boards because of his latest incident.

15) Philadelphia Eagles- Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

This is the perfect fit for Philadelphia.  We had them taking Kuechly in our first mock draft, and every mock I've seen since has had him going to Philadelphia.  I'd bet the farm on this pick come April, as long as Kuechly is around for the Eagles at 15.

16) New York Jets- Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

Wayne Hunter was the worst player on the Jets this year.  Yes, worse than Mark Sanchez.  He was exposed game after game, and he should not be starting in the NFL.  Martin is a smart lineman who I could see getting very comfortable at right tackle.  The transition from left to right tackle is harder than advertised, but a player like Martin should have no trouble.

17) Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)-  David Decastro, OG, Stanford

Back-to-back Stanford lineman picks here.  Decastro is the more talented of the two, but the Jets interior of the line played well enough to pick Martin instead of Decastro.  The Bengals need help on the interior of the line, and they will take as many linemen as they need to protect their franchise quarterback, Andy Dalton.

18) San Diego Chargers- Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

I would rather see the Chargers use this pick for help in the secondary, but they could use more weapons on offense, especially at receiver.  Antonio Gates is constantly injured, and Vincent Jackson is as inconsistent as they come.  Give Rivers a consistent, durable target like Floyd, and see what the Pro Bowl quarterback can do.

19) Chicago Bears- Mark Barron, S, Alabama

The Bears would've loved to grab Floyd with this pick, but they will "settle" for an athletic safety like Mark Barron.  Barron has that "ball-hawk" label, and he could complete what already is a very talented defense.

20) Tennessee Titans- Nick Perry, DE, USC

Tennessee's most glaring need is defensive end, and Perry has the potential to shoot up draft boards after the combine.  The Titans come away with top-15 talent here, and they also fill a big void on the defensive side of the ball.

21) Cincinnati Bengals- Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

A lot of experts said Dennard was better than Prince Amukamara last year.  While I disagree, I think they will be picked at similar spots.  The Bengals need help in the secondary alongside Leon Hall, as they already have a very solid front seven.  Dennard is the type of polished cornerback that the Bengals have been known to draft in recent years.

22) Cleveland Browns (from Atlanta)- Chris Polk, RB, Washington

The Browns could definitely use help at running back, and Polk will be a great every-down back in the NFL in the future.  But, as I said before, the Browns will probably have to trade this pick to the Rams to get RGIII, in which case the Rams would draft Janoris Jenkins in a second.

23) Detroit Lions- Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

The Lions need help in the secondary.  There is no doubt that this team can score points, but they have trouble stopping passing teams from scoring.  In their last two games of the season, they allowed almost 1,000 yards passing and 9 touchdowns through the air.  Not exactly promising heading into 2012.

24) Pittsburgh Steelers- Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State

Osemele is versatile enough to play both guard and tackle, and the Steelers need help across the line.  This seems like a good fit, and they fill a void at arguably their most pressing need.

25) Denver Broncos- Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Last week, I was in love with the idea of Denver taking Dwayne Allen, giving Tebow a safety valve at tight end.  But Wright has such big play ability, and other talented tight ends will be available later in the draft.  Wright has the most boom-or-bust potential of the wide receivers in this draft, and an upstart offense like Denver's could take a risk on him.

26) Houston Texans- Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

There is no denying Houston's need for offensive weapons in the passing game.  Andre Johnson is incredible, but he has been more injury-prone in recent years, and he can't do it all.  Sanu is a talented receiver who could start climbing up draft boards, and this seems like a great fit opposite Andre Johnson.

27) New England Patriots (from New Orleans)- Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina

This would be a fantastic pick for the Patriots, as they have had issues the last few years rushing the passer.  Ingram is very talented, and he could immediately make an impact on the outside for New England.

28) Green Bay Packers- Brandon Thompson, DT, North Carolina

Thompson is a big body that could join BJ Raji in the middle of the Packers line.  The Packers struggled mightily rushing the passer against the Giants, allowing Manning to tear apart this defense.  They need to address this issue if they want to get back to the Super Bowl next year.

29) Baltimore Ravens- Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

The Ravens need to replace the aging Matt Birk.  Even if Birk doesn't retire, Konz could sit behind him for a year or two, or even shift over to one of the guard spots.  But either way, this pick makes a lot of sense.

30) San Francisco 49ers- Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

The 49ers would love some help at receiver or cornerback, but they would have to reach for both of those positions.  With Poe, the Niners have a chance to beef up that front 3 even more, allowing for the linebackers to make plays.

31) New York Giants- Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

The weakest part of this Giants defense is the linebacking unit.  Chase Blackburn has filled in nicely this season, but they could still use some more speed and intensity, which is exactly what Burfict brings to the table.

32) New England Patriots- Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska

I don't know why, but I have a feeling that Jared Crick is destined to become a New England Patriot.  They need help in the front seven, and Crick is a perfect 3-4 defensive end.

Check back in two weeks for our next mock draft.  There should be plenty of movement in the coming weeks, as players have Senior Bowls and individual workouts to look forward to.