Monday, February 28, 2011

Repeat in Chicago? Chances of a Bears NFC North Division Repeat in 2011

Chicago capped off its spectacular 2010 regular season campaign by winning two of its final three showdowns, bouncing back after being embarrassed by New England's high-flying offense in a week 14 matchup (36-7 beatdown at home).

The team's week 17 loss to division foe Green Bay, 10-3 at Lambeau Field, may have been the result of having no motivation (already clinched division) and facing a team battling for a playoff spot.

Quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns for the fourth consecutive season, and while at it he saw his interception total drop from 26 in '09 down to 16. A significant change indeed.

Despite a much improved Cutler and an increased run game led by Matt Forte's 1,069 yards and six touchdowns, Chicago's offense dropped from 23rd overall the year before, to 30th this past season. That's why it was so crucial that head coach Lovie Smith and the Bears' organization revamp the defense.
They did just that over the offseason, adding top tier pass rusher Julius Peppers and promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator. Overall, the Bears' defense went from 17th overall to cracking the top 10 at No. 9 this past season. They allowed just 286 points in 16 games, good enough for fourth in the league.

With a revitalized Brian Urlacher leading the pack, Chicago allowed less than 20 points on 10 different occasions. If the Bears were losing, it was because of a lack of offensive production on Cutler's part. Going 6-2 on the road surely helped the cause, as well.

Beating out the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers for the division title was quite a feat on Chicago's part, but with Cutler's leadership skills and toughness being questioned after his actions in the Bears' conference championship loss to those same Packers, will Chicago still be able to get things together and repeat as division champs?

When you look at the whole picture, I think it's a simple no. I believe they have the ability to return to the playoffs if Forte can get himself together. The offensive line has huge question marks as well, and will certainly need to be addressed through the draft this April. Allowing a league-high 52 sacks of Cutler surely made a difference in how the season played out.
Improving the offensive line and adding a formidable weapon or two to add to Cutler's arsenal should be Chicago's main concern in the draft. As for the defense, replacing defensive tackle Tommie Harris (released earlier today) seems to be the only troubling thing I can see, other than adding another cornerback. If Brian Urlacher remains in health I think the Chicago defense will be okay.

At this point, Chicago's chances at repeating seem very slim. Not because the improvements needed to be made wont be made, but simply because Green Bay is the team to beat. Any time a team wins the Super Bowl, they are automatically the team to beat the following season.

Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers is just hitting his prime, and with most of his weapons likely to make a return in 2011, I think this Green Bay offense is as dangerous as ever. Not to mention the return of running back Ryan Grant. The emergence of James Starks and return of Grant is enough for Green Bay's run game to set up the play-action very nicely for Rodgers in 2011.

Move over, Chicago. Green Bay is back and ready for a fifth Lombardi trophy at Lambeau.

Photo Credit
Jay Cutler: AP Photo/Klichiro Sato
Greg Olsen: Mike DiNovo/U.S. Presswire

Skins cut ties with veteran Portis after Seven Seasons

Earlier today the Washington Redskins cut ties with their Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, according to team sources.

After seven seasons with the team, the recently injury-ridden back--missed a total of 19 games over the past two seasons--has had back-to-back underachieving seasons and has proved he can no longer carry the full workload in D.C.

The two-time Pro Bowler will be 30 by the start of the 2011 regular season, and it's clear that Portis would only be a third-down back at the most.
Luckily for Portis, there are a couple of teams out there that would love to have a player of his caliber to help mentor its group of younger running backs. But, at his age, there's no way he'd get a long-term contract and/or be a feature back in any offensive system.

He will be signed to a short, one or two-year contract with a team that likely already has its feature running back. Despite the fact he's past his prime and had been battling lagging concussion symptoms this past season, someone should make him an offer and hand him a uniform to sport for the 2011 regular season.

Photo Credit
Clinton Portis: AP Photo/Nick Wass

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Closing in on a Decade: Best Players in Houston Texans' History

The first game of the 2011 season--if the NFL lives to see that day, that is--will mark the beginning of the Houston Texans' 10th season of existence.

With the league's youngest franchise closing in on a decade, I think it's about time we take a look at the best players to put on Texan uniform in Houston, Texas. Considering the Texans have yet to make the playoffs in its nine seasons, it was tough to find 10 players that were great throughout their entire careers, meaning a few of them had just a couple great years, if that. I even included a couple of honorable mentions and what I like to call up-and-comers.

If you read to the end I added on a "special guest" appearance, A.K.A. the franchise's biggest draft bust. You likely already know who I'm referring to, but if not you will surely find out soon enough.

Honorable Mentions: 

Steve Slaton, RB

Aaron Glenn, CB

Gary Walker, DT/DE

Up-and-comers: Arian Foster, RB

Foster broke out on to the scene with his franchise single-game record of 231 yards and three rushing touchdowns against the Colts in this season's week one matchup. Taking over after a couple of injuries to the backfield, Foster made 13 starts in just his second NFL season, and ended it with two more franchise records: 1,616 yards, 16 rushing touchdowns in a single-season. At age 24, it looks like Foster will be the guy in Houston for another four or five years.

The List:

10. Brian Cushing, LB

There are two things that factor in to my decision at ranking Cushing so low on the list. Reason No. 1: He has played just two seasons. Reason No. 2: He was suspended for four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, meaning he played just 12 games this season. Cushing, the NFL's top defensive rookie in 2009, is already a pretty feared linebacker in Houston, but with just 28 starts it wouldn't be fair to have him ranked any higher than ninth. Give him a few years and he will be top five material.
9. Owen Daniels, TE

Daniels has yet to break 1,000 receiving yards, but as a tight end in the league that's acceptable. Daniels' play has been consistence, when he is on the field, that is. In the past two years he has missed 13 games, but if he can stay healthy in 2011 this team could have a shot at finally making a run at the wild card.

8. Amobi Okoye, DT

Responsible for plugging the middle of the defensive line, Okoye entered the league at age 20 (first round pick in 2007) and made an immediate impact, recording 23 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his rookie season. Now 23, the 300-pound lineman has been anchoring Houston's defensive line for four solid years and still has plenty more in him. If he can make such a great impact at age 20, who knows how great he'll do with five more years of wisdom and experience under his belt.

7. Kris Brown, K

With Houston from the start (in 2002), Brown was Mr. Reliable when it came to the kicking game. In his eight seasons as Houston's placekicker, Brown missed just two extra points in 253 attempts. As the franchise's all-time points leader (767), there's just no way I could have left Kris Brown off the list.
6. Dunta Robinson, CB

No longer a Texan, Dunta surely made a name for himself while solidifying the right side of the field. Drafted by Houston with the 10th overall pick in the 2002 draft, Robinson made a name for himself as a Texan, shutting down great receivers. His six interception, three sack rookie season put him on the scene right off the bat. However, rocky 2007 and 2008 campaigns hurt his chances of being named to a Pro Bowl. Now in Atlanta, Robinson is still known as one of the original Texans by many.

5. Domanick Williams, HB

Formerly known as Domanick Davis when he won NFL Rookie of the Year in 2003, Williams is the Texans' all-time leading rusher (3,195). Williams put up great numbers in his first two seasons with the team, rushing for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in each of the two. This led to a contract extension, but after a disappointing 2005 season (976 yards, two touchdowns), the Texans released him and he hasn't played again in the league since then.

4. Matt Schaub, QB

In just four short seasons as the team's signal caller, Schaub quickly became Houston's all-time passing leader (14,424) with 77 touchdown passes and an overall record of 25-29. The record may not sound great, but for Houston, it really is. Not quite 30 years old yet, Schaub still has time to lead Houston to its first postseason appearance in team history, especially if they get everyone back and healthy in 2011.
3. DeMeco Ryans, LB

A very underrated linebacker, the absence of Ryans in 10 games this season was the main reason why Houston's defense struggled so much (32nd against pass). The 26-year old middle linebacker has just 8.5 sacks and two interceptions in five seasons, but has recorded 86 or more solo tackles from 2006-2009, including 126 in his rookie campaign. One of just three Texans to take part in multiple Pro Bowls, Ryans is a force to be reckoned with in the passing game. Try not to underestimate him too much or you will have to pay the price.

2. Mario Williams, DE

One of the most dangerous defenders coming off the edge (among Dwight Freeney, DeMarcus Ware and a few others, of course), Williams is a nightmare for offensive tackles. The first overall pick in the 2006 draft, Williams has missed just three starts in his five seasons, and even when he isn't getting the quarterback on the ground (his 48 career sacks is by far the most in franchise history), he is at least scaring them in to throwing the ball much earlier than anticipated. I think Williams has proven to Houston's front office that they made the right choice in drafting him over New Orleans' Reggie Bush back in 2006.

1. Andre Johnson, WR

This one is a no-doubter. Johnson is finally getting the credit he deserves for being one of the most gifted and talented receivers in the National Football League. Not only does Johnson have great speed, but his 6'3'' frame makes it nearly impossible for defensive backs to effectively cover him down the field. Schaub has the luxury of just being able to throw a ball up for grabs and knowing Johnson will come down with the pass. His numbers of five Pro Bowl appearances, three First Team All-Pro, 673 receptions, 9,164 receiving yards, 50 touchdown catches are all franchise records and speak for themselves.
Andre Johnson: Greatest Houston Texan of all-time

Special Guest: David Carr, 2002 Draft bust

Ok, now that we have the greatest figured out, it's time to figure out the worst. To me, that's another no-brainer. When you think of Houston Texan quarterbacks, you don't think of how Matt Schaub threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2009. You think of how badly Houston got burned with its first draft choice in the team's history.

In 2002, they took a young guy by the name of David Carr, coming fresh out of Fresno State. He became starter right away and secured the job for five seasons, making 75 starts for the team. What do they get out of him? A 22-53 overall record, 59 touchdown passes, 65 interceptions and a 75.5 quarterback rating. Talk about BLAH.

David Carr: Biggest Houston Texan Draft Bust of all-time

Photo Credit
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Video of the Day (2/23/11): Spellman Battling Bipolar Disorder

This 10 minute video clip from a piece on former Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions and brief AFL (Las Vegas Gladiators) defensive end talks about how Alonzo Spellman has battled with a major case of Bipolar Disorder throughout his life.

The disorder effected his playing career greatly, and ended up cutting it short. As you watch the video you will discover that he even served jail time because of his manic episodes.

Spellman served jail time again, in 2008, after this documentary was created and shown on television.

Very strong stuff.

Denver Broncos Bring Back Champ Bailey with Four-Year Deal: Smart Move??

Champ Bailey has decided to stay in Denver by signing a four-year deal reportedly worth $43 million, with a guaranteed $11 million in 2011, according to The Denver Post.
The 10-time Pro Bowler, who turns 33 in June, just completed his 12th NFL season, his seventh with the Denver Broncos.
It's clear that Bailey can still play his position well and keep up with the young receivers of the league, but signing him to a brand new four-year deal at his age doesn't seem like a very good idea for this organization.
Yes, it's true that his $15 million per year is below the average for an elite cornerback in the NFL and his $11 million guaranteed is $2 million less than this past season's pay, but his numbers have clearly taken a hit over the last couple of years, and I don't know if he will be able to keep it up for a full four seasons.

If I was Denver, why not save that money and end the Bailey era before he hits the wall completely?
His 41 tackles were a career-low, and in 15 games he picked off just two passes, two below his average (interceptions per season).
Denver's defense was eighth-worst in passing defense and allowed 26 touchdowns through the air last season. Overall, Denver's defense was porous (also allowed most points, and second-most rushing yards), so it's clear that they have more troubles than just the secondary.
Perhaps they should've saved some of that money to address more than one need at one time? Just a thought.
I really thought going after a smaller name (i.e. Antonio Cromartie or Ike Taylor) for less money would have been just as affective as signing a soon-to-be 33-year old to a four-year deal.
Another thought that popped in to my mind after hearing of the deal is, why did Bailey choose to return to the rebuilding Broncos when he likely would have received offers from contenders such as Baltimore and New England.
Questions surrounding both sides of the deal have popped in my head, but the key here is that Bailey has shown confidence in the changes that have been made from the top to the very bottom of this proud franchise.
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The League's Top Receiving Tight Ends

The main job for tight ends in the National Football League isn't to catch passes—it's to block. But coming across a tough guy who can also catch the ball and gain you big chunks of yardage is always an added bonus.
Considering tight ends don't seem to get much credit, here is my list of top receiving tight ends, in no particular order.
Jason Witten, Cowboys
Witten, the only tight end to break 1,000 yards this season (1,002), lost his star quarterback halfway through the season, yet his numbers didn't suffer.
Also leading all tight ends with 94 receptions, Witten is a hard hitter and isn't afraid to catch the ball over the middle. His nine touchdown catches were good enough for fourth among tight ends. Don't expect the 28-year-old to slow down just yet either.
Vernon Davis, 49ers
When he isn't nicked up or throwing tantrums on the sidelines, Davis is one of the most effective tight ends out there. He has yet to surpass 1,000 yards in his five seasons played but has now put up 900 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Davis made the Pro Bowl last season with 78 receptions for 965 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns in San Francisco. This season he didn't match that, but with just 56 receptions he accumulated 914 yards (16.4 YPC) and seven touchdowns. His yards per catch ratio went up nearly four whole yards. Not bad.

Antonio Gates, Chargers
The former Kent State basketball standout caught just 50 passes this season (lowest since he caught 24 during his rookie season in 2003).
But in just 10 games he finished with 782 yards (15.6 YPC), 10 touchdowns and his seventh Pro Bowl selection. Even while battling foot injuries most of the season, Gates proved he can make an impact in San Diego.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
It's obvious that the 34-year-old's glory days are behind him; perhaps he even left them back in Kansas City when he departed for Atlanta after the 2008 season.
Nonetheless, Gonzalez makes this list because the future Hall of Famer caught 70 passes and six touchdowns with the NFC South champion Falcons this past season. He still has yet to win a playoff game, but that's a whole different subject.
With 11 Pro Bowl appearances, five first-team All Pro selections and career numbers like he has (1,069 receptions, 12,463 yards and 88 touchdowns) there's no doubt Gonzalez will see himself in Canton someday.

Todd Heap, Ravens
Much like Gates this season, Heap missed a portion of the season, as a result of a pulled hamstring, but when he was in (successfully completed 12 full games), Heap was effective.
In his 10 seasons in Baltimore, the two-time Pro Bowler has never broke 1,000 yards, but I think that has more to do with the fact that he's never been a primary target for the Ravens and doesn't quite get the number of passes thrown his way as Gonzalez, Gates and Witten.
This season he did, however, set a career high with 15.0 yards per catch (40 receptions, 499 yards). He has always been a reliable target on third downs as well.
Dallas Clark, Colts
Playing just six games in 2010, I think it's safe to safe Clark's 2010 campaign was a complete failure after he suffered a wrist injury on October 17 against the Washington Redskins.
He ended up with 37 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
With All-Pro Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, expect Clark's numbers to go back up next season as long as he's healthy. With him back in Indy's arsenal of weapons, I wouldn't be surprised if Clark put up 2009-like numbers (100 receptions, 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl appearance).
Others of Note:
Heath Miller, Steelers
Miller seems to get overlooked by opposing defenses. At 6'5" and 256 pounds, the 28-year-old may not be all that fast, but he has great hands and set a career high with 12.2 yards per catch in 14 games this past season.
Dustin Keller, Jets
Just finishing his third pro season in New York, Keller's numbers have sufficiently improved with each passing year. The continued maturity and comfort of young quarterback Mark Sanchez will only help Keller's receiving numbers next season.
Owen Daniels, Texans
At 242 pounds, Daniels is a pretty quick tight end and has shown that he can make an impact on the game. If he can stay healthy (10 starts this season, only eight last season), we could see him return to his 2008 form (70 receptions, 862 yards, two touchdowns).

Jermichael Finley, Packers
Finley hasn't been able to prove much yet in his short career after sustaining a season-ending knee injury and being placed on the IR in October. But the 23-year old has shown flashes of brilliance, including a six-reception, 159-yard playoff performance in 2009, when the Pack fell to Arizona 51-45 in OT.
Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
Tony Gonzalez's heir apparent in Kansas City.
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots
One of New England's two brilliant rookie tight ends.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
The second brilliant rookie tight end in New England.
Jacob Tamme, Colts
Stepped up his game when Dallas Clark went down in Indy.
Photos: No copyright infringement intended

Six Reasons Why Pittsburgh's James Farrior is Most Underrated Linebacker in NFL

In Pittsburgh, football games are won on the defensive side of the ball.
The team thrives on putting pressure on the quarterback and causing havoc, leading to turnovers. Those turnovers are then translated into points on the scoreboard.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's strength on defense has always been the depth-oriented linebacking corps. Pittsburgh has a plethora of young talent on today's roster, including the 26-year old Lamarr Woodley who was just franchise-tagged by the organization.
James Harrison, 32, Lawrence Timmons, 24 and Woodley all seem to receive the credit they deserve for a job well done.
One player in Pittsburgh's defensive backfield thet has received recognition for his prolonged career, James Farrior, only seems to be a fan favorite in Steel City. Outside of Pittsburgh, though? No. The inside linebacker doesn't get the credit he deserves, and I'm here to give it to him.

1. Consistency and Reliability
Farrior hasn't missed a game in five seasons, meaning 80 consecutive regular season starts, and 11 postseason starts over that span.
Having a constant in the lineup over such a long time gives the Steelers' defense a huge advantage, and they have become really reliable on Farrior being in the lineup and wreaking havoc in the defensive backfield.
Since joining the organization in 2002, Farrior has missed just seven games total (four regular season, three postseason), and has had an impact on a majority of the games he's played in. Staying healthy has always been a huge plus with Farrior.
2. Experience
It's obvious that over his 14 professional seasons (four with New York Jets, nine with Steelers), Farrior has gained some precious experience and knowledge.
He is the oldest and most experienced member of the Steelers' linebacking corps and has two Super Bowl rings in three appearances.
3. Longevity
At the age of 35 this past season, Farrior continued to put up respectable numbers from the inside linebacking position.
His 80 solo tackles were 12 more than his 2009 total and his six sacks was just a half of a sack shy of tying his career-high.
4. Leader by Example
Have you ever heard anything bad about Farrior? Any complaints from his fellow teammates? I know I haven't.
Now obviously I haven't been in the locker room to see his impact for myself, but without any negative comments from his teammates and coaches, and limited trash talk coming out of Farrior's mouth, I think it's safe to say Farrior is well-respected by all, and his attitude is reflected by the rest of the team.

5. Perfect fit with Team
The Rooney family prides themselves with recruiting and bringing hard-working and respectable players in to the organization. Discipline is a must for not only the Rooney's, but head coach Mike Tomlin as well.
Farrior has been a workhorse since first putting on the black and gold uniform for the first time in 2002.
With just two Pro Bowl appearances to his name, I'm starting to think it's because he isn't a well-known superstar like the Brian Urlacher's and Demarcus Ware's of the league.
6. Career Stats
Farrior was never much of a pass-rusher, but more of a coverage backer who assisted at stopping the run as well. His 33.5 sacks in 183 starts is three more than former New England Patriot Tedy Bruschi finished his career with and just five shy of Ray Lewis' 38.5 sacks.
He was never really feared by his opponents like Lewis, but his 938 career solo tackles give him an average of 67 per season. He picked off 11 passes, which included four in his lone All-Pro season (2004), the same season he was runner-up for AP Defensive Player of the Year behind Baltimore's Ed Reed.
In Conclusion...
Pittsburgh seems to take the two-time Super Bowl champion for granted. In his nine seasons with the team, he has quietly been the defenses cornerstone and the one piece holding it all together. The captain on the defensive side of the ball should go down as one of the decade's top 10 inside linebackers, at the very least.
He's not the type of guy to demand more money, yet he goes out and puts up very respectable numbers year in and year out. I tip my hat to you, Mr. Farrior, for a tremendous career.
(Photos: No copyright infringement intended)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sanders Era Over In Indy: Colts Release Two-Time Pro Bowl Safety Bob Sanders

The Indianapolis Colts have officially released its 5'8''/200 pound hard-hitting free safety Bob Sanders earlier this morning, according to ESPN and Twitter.
Colts' owner Jim Irsay tweeted:
"We have released Bob Sanders today. We thank Bob 4 all his incredible contributions from his Sup Bowl pic 2 def player of year honors."
The injury-ridden Sanders started just one game this season, and a total of nine games in the past three seasons. The last time the two-time All-Pro (2005, 2007) was an impact player on the Colts' defense was during Indy's Super Bowl run in 2007 when he recorded 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks and picked off two passes in 15 starts.

There's no doubt Sanders is quite the playmaker when in full health, but I think lagging injuries to his ankle, knee, arm and his torn biceps tendon which forced him on to the injured reserve this past season, will prevent him from landing a big-time contract with another team.
Don't get me wrong, Sanders' knack for making tackles in the secondary will get him a short-term contract for the 2011 season (as soon as the owners and players agree to a new CBA), but at age 29 I don't think he will be swarmed with offers. He will likely need to settle with a smaller contract by the time training camp rolls around.
Sanders has yet to play a full 16-game season, but he has had two seasons with 14 or more starts and was named to the All Pro team and AFC Pro Bowl roster in both of those seasons ('05, '07). He's not a guy who picks off a whole lot of passes--just six in his 46 career starts since entering the NFL in 2004--but in both of his "full" seasons he recorded at least 70 tackles.
There's always a chance that Indianapolis brings him back, but it will obviously be a much smaller contract. They have been overpaying him by a lot over the past three seasons. He will likely listen to any offers on the table and take the best suitable contract for his situation.
Whoever signs Sanders, it will likely be in a low-risk situation, meaning if they get a healthy Sanders the risk will be well-worth the end result.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

U-25: Best Running Backs Under the Age of 25

In the game of football, having an effective ground game may be the key to having a successful championship run.

Not every team out there has the blessing of possessing a quarterback of Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers' caliber, meaning a solid ground game is the perfect compliment to a decent passing attack. Despite Aaron's record-breaking performance in four postseason games in January and early February in which he passed for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns, the Packers had a decent ground game without last season's top rusher, Ryan Grant.

Keys to having an elite ground game? Well, first of all having quick, powerful guards who can pull quickly and create openings in the line. But most of all I think is having a healthy group of backs. You, of course, want the one go-to guy who will start games and make solid runs on first and second down. But having a healthy back who can come in on third downs and move the chains is a huge upside as well.

It's been proven that many backs hit a wall at age 30, and production in most cases quickly drops with each passing year once they hit the wall. That's why having young, fresh players is always a great commodity in the National Football League.

Listed below are 15 running backs (age 25 and under) who I see as elite backs in the league, and what makes them so elite. I understand it would make more sense to pick guys who will be 25 and under at the start of the 2011 season (a few of them will be 26 before September), but I just couldn't resist leaving some of these guys off the list.
Arian Foster, 24

Foster broke on to the scene this year with a league-leading 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in just his second professional season. With the preseason injury to rookie Ben Tate, Foster was forced to step up right away and delivered in Houston's week one matchup against Indianapolis with a franchise game-high 231 rushing yards and three touchdowns in their upset win. Foster proved to be a consistent force throughout the regular season and may have been the sole reason Houston got off to such a quick start.

Chris Johnson, 25

One year off his record-breaking 2,006 yard season in 2009, Johnson disappoints the league. By disappointing, I mean he finished the season just shy of 1,400 yards (fourth-most in league) and 11 touchdowns. His explosiveness and speed between the tackles was still there, but the Titans' offense was more one dimensional than it was in 2009, therefore defenses keyed in on Johnson a little more often. Still the most exciting running back in the league, he just didn't have quite as many highlight reels as 2009. Tennessee is currently in the rebuilding process, so hopefully the Titans will revamp its offense and allow Johnson a little bit more to work with in 2011.

Adrian Peterson, 25

It's a bit of a stretch adding AP on this list considering he will be 26 in a little over a month (March 21), but Peterson has been in an elite running back for four straight seasons now. In fact, Peterson has ran for 1,200 yards and 10+ TDs in all four of his seasons in the league. Aside from last year, when Johnson took over the spotlight, Peterson has always been known as the most explosive and powerful runner since entering the league out of Oklahoma in 2007. The only downside in Peterson's game is fumbling in key situations. But after six lost fumbles last season, he worked on that problem over the offseason and limited himself to just one fumble in 2010. Looks like he is once again the most complete back in the league.
Maurice Jones-Drew, 25

Jones-Drew and his 5'8'' frame seems to get overlooked quite a bit by fans and analysts alike. He has consistently produced great results on the ground for the Jaguars, but a lack of a potent passing attack has been holding the Jags' offense back lately. Jones-Drew only got the ball in the end zone a grand total of seven times in 2010 (five on ground, two through the air), but has run for 54 touchdowns in five complete seasons in Jacksonville, while accumulating over 5,200 yards rushing. The production has been there for the shifty little man, and his ability to break tackles has yet to leave him after five hard-working seasons. A guy of Jones-Drew's size will likely hit the "age 30 wall," but he still has a good 4-5 seasons until Jacksonville will start to worry about him in that sense.

Jamaal Charles, 24

Charles, one of the NFL's fastest men coming out of the backfield, broke out on to the scene with his 1,467 yards (second-most behind Foster) and five rushing touchdowns. One of Jamaal's biggest upsides is his ability to come out of the backfield as a viable weapon for young gun quarterback Matt Cassel. Charles caught 45 passes for 468 yards (10.4 YPC) and three additional touchdowns this past season. Charles' shiftiness and breakout speed is what has put him near the top of the running back list in 2010, and that's exactly what is going to keep him there for the next several seasons.

Darren McFadden, 23

Considering McFadden is a former fourth overall pick in the NFL draft (2008), I've expect much more from the former Arkansas Razorback. But, after two underachieving seasons in which he started a total of just 12 games, McFadden finally broke-out for a career-high 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 starts. Carrying the ball just 223 times, McFadden posted an astonishing yards per carry average of 5.2. Not quite as impressive as Jamaal Charles' 6.4, but it's still up there.
Matt Forte, 25

Much like guys such as Jones-Drew and Charles, Forte is always a threat to catch passes out of the backfield and break out for sizable gains. Forte barely eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground (second time in his three year career) in 2010, but he added on over 500 receiving yards. One of Forte's upsides is he doesn't take too many hits and has managed to stay healthy and start all 16 games in each of his three pro seasons.

Ray Rice, 24

Despite a maturing Joe Flacco in Baltimore, and an added Pro Bowl wideout to his arsenal in 2010 (Anquan Boldin), Rice saw his carries rise this past season as he broke 300 attempts for the first time in his short, three-year career. Though he was less productive (1,220 yards and a career-low 4.0 YPC average), Rice's presence was still felt on offense. With opposing defensive coordinators better aware of Rice's ability to break out long runs, they keyed in on him a little more, but with Flacco on the brink of elite status, Rice may not be the center of attention in 2011. This could only mean one thing for Ray: more production.

Rashard Mendenhall, 23

Mendenhall is on the minds of every defensive player after his 1,273 yard, 13 touchdown regular season performance. Add on his 230 yard, four touchdown postseason performance and you've got yourself a rising star in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger still has plenty of time left in his career, but I do think his best days may be behind him. With a rebuilding offensive line, it looks like the only direction the young Mendenhall is headed is up.
LeSean McCoy, 22

McCoy hasn't really impressed too many fans with top-tier speed or bruising strength, but his perfect combination of the two has certainly given him a little fortune and fame. Averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 207 attempts was enough to get him over the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. McCoy's 78 receptions and 592 yards made him a respectable option for quarterback Michael Vick, who often dumped the ball off to him to avoid defensive pressure. McCoy can certainly take pride in being one of the youngest on the list.

Ahmad Bradshaw, 24

Bradshaw is, in my eyes, one of the most underrated backs in the league. Starting just one career game in his three seasons prior to 2010, the bruising back broke out for a career-high 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns after the Giants benched his teammate Brandon Jacobs. The 5'9'' back, just under 200 pounds, has a great combination of speed and power. He has the ability to run through, or around defenders. I would expect him to add on to his success in 2011, and maybe breakout with double-digit touchdown totals.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 25

What made Green-Ellis' season so great was New England's heavy use of him while in the red zone, particularly in goal-line situations. Green-Ellis ran for a career-best 1,008 yards on 229 carries but, more impressively than that, found the end zone a team-high 13 times on the ground in just 11 starts. The Pats, of course, were a pass-heavy offense like usual, but Green-Ellis' successful campaign allowed Tom Brady's attack to be a little more two dimensional than most defenses expected. Brady's best days may be behind him, so look for more carries to come BJGE's way in the coming years.
Jonathan Stewart, 23

An off-year for Stewart? Try 770 rushing yards (two touchdowns) in just seven starts. With both Stewart and teammate DeAngelo Williams battling injuries in 2010, the previous season's greatest running back duo had limited playing time, but that didn't stop Stewart from breaking tackles and having big games against formidable opponents (had just two 100-yard games, but added on two 90-yard performances in losing efforts for the lowly Panthers). Lack of a consistent quarterback may have been a factor in Stewart's down year, but either way I expect both him and his teammate to make a strong recovery in 2011 and hopefully we'll see Stewart back in his 1,110 yard, 10 touchdown form next season.

Peyton Hillis, 25

Denver gave let Hillis slip away, and all they got in return is a third-string caliber quarterback in Brady Quinn. Not exactly a deal I would be willing to tell people about. The bruising 6'1''/240 pound Hillis caused many to scratch their heads as he broke out with 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 starts with Cleveland. The former seventh round pick of the Broncos uses his brutal power and elusiveness to bowl over defenders, making him a solid goal-line and short-yardage option.

LeGarrette Blount, 24

As a rookie filling in for former AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Blount impressed me with his outstanding late-season performances. He showed his speed and athletic ability by jumping completely over a defender not once, but twice, this past season, making Sportscenter's Top 10 Plays in both instances. Blount was my pick for Offensive ROY (1,007 yards, 6 rushing TDs in seven starts), but the Associated Press awarded it to Sam Bradford instead. I would expect Blount to remain Tampa's go-to running back in 2011 and for him to improve on his four 100-yard games from this past season.
Just missed the Cut...

There's so many backs under the age of 25, that I just couldn't figure out where to put these guys. They haven't quite proven they belong on the list of top 15, but some of them haven't been given a real shot yet. Next season will be their chance to show me they belong.

*Felix Jones, 23
*Knowshon Moreno, 23
*Tim Hightower, 24
*Ryan Mathews, 23
*Shonn Greene, 25

It's rare to find a consistently effect running back over the age of 30.
Here's a few guys who are considered feature backs and haven't hit the (age 30) wall just yet. But some are getting mightily close to that time in their careers, and may already be on the downfall.
Michael Turner, 29
Steven Jackson, 27
Frank Gore, 27
Cedric Benson, 28
Joseph Addai, 27
DeAngelo Williams, 27
Clinton Portis, 29
Ronnie Brown, 29  
Already hit the wall (no longer able to carry the team's workload)
Ladainian Tomlinson, 31
Thomas Jones, 32
Ricky Williams, 33
Brian Westbrook, 31

Photo credit
Arian Foster: AP Photo/Reinhold Matay
Maurice Jones-Drew: Perry Knotts/NFL
Darren McFadden: AP Photo/Tony Avelar
LeSean McCoy: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Jonathan Stewart: AP Photo/Chuck Burton
LeGarrette Blount: AP Photo/Nick Wass

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011: Sanders, Faulk Headline First-year Eligibles

In August 2011, the NFL preseason will be kicked off with the induction of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's newest members, just like every other season.
As announced the Saturday before Super Bowl XLV was played, there will be seven members enshrined in to Canton that afternoon. Among the seven are two first-year eligibles, Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk, both very well-deserving.
Here's my breakdown of all seven soon-to-be HOFers and even a couple of guys who were snubbed this year and will likely be enshrined in 2012.

Snubs: Bettis, Brown, Carter, Reed among others

With a very deep core of receivers and running backs who are eligible for entry into the Hall and only so many that are chosen each year, of course there are going to be well-deserving players left off that final ballot. Jerome Bettis (fifth all-time leading rusher), Tim Brown (fourth all-time leading receiver) and Cris Carter (eighth all-time leading receiver) were among the many that didn't receive the nod from voters.
Others include receiver Andre Reed, offensive tackle Willie Roaf, center Dermontti Dawson and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy among others.
I would expect to see Tim Brown and Curtis Martin get the spotlight, and if not Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, then 2013 will certainly be his year to put on the tan jacket. August 2011, the NFL preseason will be kicked off with the induction of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's newest members, just like every other season.


Richard Dent, DE

The 15-year veteran defensive end finished his prolonged career with 137.5 sacks, currently tied with fellow Hall of Fame defensive end John Randle for sixth all-time. Dent, playing in Chicago for 12 seasons, played on the Bears' 1985 Super Bowl championship team and was a key component in what is known as the Monsters of the Midway (Chicago's fierce defense). In fact, Dent was named the game's Most Valuable Player with 1.5 sacks.
The four-time Pro Bowler captured his second of two Super Bowl rings as a 49er in 1994, despite recording two sacks in two games that season. A year later Dent returned to Chicago before finishing his career with the Colts (1996) and Eagles (1997).
Dent's sack total, and role on Mike Ditka's Chicago defense in the 1980s, are the two big reasons why the voters decided Dent deserved the shot at becoming immortal in Canton, OH.

Marshall Faulk, RB
Faulk is best-known for being an important factor in the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" and winning Super Bowl XXXIV alongside future Hall of Famers Kurt Warner, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
After putting up nearly 1,400 yards and leading the league with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2000, Faulk won the league MVP award, and was selected to one of his seven career Pro Bowls.
Faulk will go down in history as one of the best dual-threat running backs. He is currently 10th on the all-time rushing yards list (12,279) and has the most career receiving yards among running backs (6,875). When you combine his 100 rushing touchdowns and 36 receiving touchdowns he cracks the top five in overall touchdowns--rushing and receiving combined.
If you need any more evidence that Faulk is by far the best receiving running back of all-time, then just look at his yards/reception: 9.0 yards. If you throw Faulk the ball every play, you will score rather quickly as Kurt Warner learned throughout his time with Faulk.

Chris Hanburger, LB
Standing alongside the other inductees during the ceremony the 69-year former Redskins linebacker will likely look like an antique. But, nonetheless, the nine-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All Pro has finally gotten his call.
Hanburger has only been waiting since his retirement in 1978. He's so old that there isn't even any record of his tackle and sack totals throughout his 14-year career in Washington. But, he did pick off 19 passes and earn the nickname "hangman" because of his ferocious tackling.
Hanburger was named the Skins' defensive captain and started 135 consecutive games early on in his career. Hanburger was known as a nitty-gritty, hard-hitting linebacker with the Redskins. And though he didn't win any Super Bowls, this selection has been a long time coming.

Les Richter, G/LB/K
Unfortunately Richter, a guard, linebacker and kicker for the L.A. Rams, didn't live to see himself inducted in to the Hall as he passed away this past summer at the age of 79.
Richter, elected to eight Pro Bowls in his nine-year career, may have only made a little over half of his field goal attempts (52.7%, to be exact), but Richter picked off 16 passes and recovered 12 fumbles at the middle linebacker position in the 1950s and early '60s.
Richter and Hanburger were both selected as Senior candidate for the Hall.

Ed Sabol, NFL Films
With the NFL Network basically being powered by NFL Films, which was co-founded by the 94-year old Sabol in 1962 (then known as Blair Motion Productions), of course Sabol deserves some credit. His son, Steve, 68, was the other co-founder of the project and has since become known as the face of the company.
The NFL Films changed the game, and fans, forever. More and more games started to be broadcasted and NFL Films allowed fans to feel as though they are in the middle of the action.
Sabol, retired from the company since 1995, has been elected as a contributor to NFL Films.

Deion Sanders, CB/Return specialist
Perhaps the biggest name of the draft class, the enshrinement of "Prime Time" was inevitable. In his first year eligible, there was no way the flashy Sanders was going to be denied entrance in to Canton.
There's no question that Deion is the most well-known figure of his era, and not only was he a spectacular athlete, but he also entertained fans with his antics, and signature end zone dance. Which I'm not real sure how to explain other than mentioning that it's his own way of "high-stepping" in to the end zone.
His signature bandannas and flashy fashion statements helped him attract fans, and then it was his speed and elusiveness on the football field which had fans coming back for more. His nine combined kick/punt return touchdowns, and nine interception return touchdowns gave him the play-maker title. While playing corner, the eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champ intercepted 53 career passes (tied with Ty Law for 23rd all-time) and made a name for himself as a coverage back in his 13 career seasons.

Shannon Sharpe, TE
Last but not least, one of the most successful tight ends in league history. When it comes to Super Bowl rings, at least.
In 14 professional seasons (12 in Denver, two in Baltimore), Sharpe won three Super Bowl titles and was elected to eight Pro Bowls while proving to his critics that he belongs in the "best tight end of all-time" debate. Now I'm not necessarily saying he is the best-ever TE--that's a whole different topic up for debate--but his 815 career receptions (most among TE's) will surely give him a strong argument.
With over 10,000 yards and 62 receiving touchdowns, Sharpe certainly made his presence felt against opposing defenses. He had Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway throwing him passes in Denver, but in Baltimore the best he had was Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer for two seasons.

2012 First-year Eligibles:
Curtis Martin: 14,101 yards, 90 rushing TDs, 4.0 yards/carry in 11 NFL seasons
Tiki Barber: 10,449 yards, 55 rushing TDs, 4.7 yards/carry in 10 NFL seasons
My take: Martin, the fourth all-time leading rusher is bound to get the nod, despite the heavy load of eligible position players. As for Barber? If, and I mean if, he gets in it will not be for a couple of more years. It's possible he gets voted in, but it would have to be once the likes of Martin, Bettis, Brown, Carter and Reed (all skilled position players) get in.

Photo Credit
Marshall Faulk:
Deion Sanders: