Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Vikings to Add Blair to Ring of Honor this Season

The Minnesota Vikings–currently preparing to do battle with the tough Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions in the NFC North this season–have plenty of question marks and issues to handle during camp.

Can Christian Ponder carry the heavy load in 2012? Will Adrian Peterson recover from his torn ACL and return to his 2009 All Pro form? Will Percy Harvin finally live up to his expectations and break out as a No. 1 receiver threat? Can Jared Allen continue to slow down the likes of Rodgers, Cutler and Stafford?

Clearly, Minnesota has a lot on its plate in the dog days of summer.

That's why it's so refreshing to hear some positive news out of Minnesota. No, it may not have to do with how the 2012 campaign will unfold, but at least former outside linebacker Matt Blair will have something to look forward to.
On Monday the Vikes announced that during halftime of the October 25 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Blair, now 61 years of age, will be inducted into the franchise's Ring of Honor.

Blair played all 12 of his professional seasons at outside linebacker for the Vikings from 1974-1985. The speedy Blair, a second round pick out of Iowa State (51st overall in '74 draft), started 130 games and was selected to six straight Pro Bowls in addition to one All Pro team.

Though they were not regarded as an official stat at the time of his career, he finished his 12 seasons with the 1,452 tackles, still ranking as second-most in franchise history.

As a vital part of the "Purple People Eaters" defense in the mid-70s, Blair appeared in two Super Bowls, though they were both losses (to the Steelers and Raiders). Blair's versatility led him to franchise records such as most blocked kicks (20) and most sacks (23) and interceptions (16) by a linebacker.

The stingy defense of the Purple People Eaters was a total team unit, but Blair may have had the most decorated career out of any of the linebackers that have ever put on a Minnesota uniform, let alone the 1970s Vikings.

He will be the 20th former player, coach, executive, etc. to be inducted into the Ring of Honor for Minnesota, and maybe one day he'll get a call from the Hall. He'll have to be in consideration to be selected as a senior member, but at least he'd finally get his shot at Pro Football immortality in Canton.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Training Camp Battle to Watch: Sanchez vs. Tebow

With training camps in full swing, the No. 1 thing on everyone's mind at this point is position battles. Every team experiences those battles throughout camp each year and, whether you realize it or not, camp is vital for many of the players.

Proven veterans often use two-a-days to get back in tip-top shape, but it's the young newcomers who take this opportunity to impress peers and coaching staff.

In Tim Tebow's case with the Jets, he's looking to win over the role as starting quarterback. The fifth overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, 25-year old Mark Sanchez has underachieved in the eyes of New York fans and media throughout his first three seasons under center for New York.

Head coach Rex Ryan and New York's front office showed their confidence in Sanchez by signing him to a three-year ($20 million in guaranteed money) extension on March 9, despite numerous teammates coming out and criticizing Sanchez for having a "poor work ethic."
Twelve days later New York traded for Denver's quarterback Tim Tebow.

I don't expect Tebow to come close to winning over the starting job before September, and he has struggled throwing the ball so far during camp, but that does not mean he will not be competing for it anyways.

Here's the bottom line: New York brought in Tebow as an attempt to light a fire under Sanchez, and a possible 1-2 punch at the position. Ryan will be putting in a package of plays that will allow Tebow to see some playing time without starting at the quarterback position. Ryan has been quoted saying that Tebow is a great football player with improving throwing mechanics.

Tebow will be New York's "gadget" player and can play different positions, including H-back.

This will be the only time I address this issue throughout August: Sanchez is the starter in New York, and will be all season. If NY struggles early on, of course the fans will call for the benching of Sanchez. But if they were smart, they'd stick with Mark after throwing all that guaranteed money at him earlier this offseason.

Who has the edge: Mark Sanchez
Who wins the battle: Mark Sanchez

Stay tuned for more upcoming "Training Camp Battles to Watch"

Note: I do not own the above photo. Photo cred goes to the Washington Post.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jaguars, Jones-Drew in a Sticky Situation

Last season the 27-year old, three-time All Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew captured his first rushing title of his six year NFL career with the Jags.

This season, MJD finds himself in a pickle. Unhappy with his current contract, which expires following the 2013 season, Jones-Drew has made the decision to holdout of the start of training camp.

Jacksonville kicked off day one of training camp earlier today without Jones-Drew and rookie wideout Justin Blackmon, the No. 5 overall draft pick in April. Blackmon pleaded guilty Tuesday on a drunken driving charge in Oklahoma on June 3. Blackmon remains unsigned by the Jags and seems to be the least of Jacksonville's troubles at this point in time.

Jones-Drew, however, will likely cause the front office quite a few headaches.

While he does still have two years left on his current five year contract, MJD has shown clear disgust with the franchise and will be pushing for an extension. Reporter Steve Wyche of the NFL Network has reported that Jones-Drew is prepared to holdout throughout the entire training camp.
Bad news for the Jaguars, indeed. But the Jags owner, Shad Khan, has gone out on a limb and basically said that they will not be budging. The decision (on reporting to training camp) is solely up to Jones-Drew, and it looks as if the two sides could be in a stalemate.

In 2009, Jones-Drew signed a contract extension worth $31 million over four years, which made him one of the three highest-paid running backs. The mega-deals that Ray Rice, Arian Foster and Matt Forte signed this off-season may have made an impact on Jones-Drew's stance on his contract.

For this coming season, Jones-Drew is lined up to rake in $4.45 million (with a signing bonus of $3.5 million). Compared to Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, that's more than $4 million less this season alone.

In essence, it's tough to blame MJD for wanting more money when you consider that he's been the bulk of Jacksonville's offense for the past three seasons, and the league's leading rusher is making far less than other running backs of his elite status.

But, at the same time it's easy to understand the front office's stance as well. They already have quite a few other players to worry about who will be unrestricted free agents an entire year before Maurice. And Jones-Drew has already signed one extension on this current contract.

On the surface it appears as though that's all Jones-Drew is worried about in this situation, but I think there's a deeper reason behind it all. Certainty and commitment on both ends could be an additional factor in his plea for an extension, as well as financial stability. Knowing he'll be locked up and provided a fair sum of money would bring happiness and allow for him to fully commit to the Jaguars.

If I was in Khan's shoes, I would ride this one out and see if Jones-Drew caves. The Jaguars have plenty of other things to worry about before the regular season rolls around. MJD will be in uniform prior to the regular season kickoff, you can quote me on that. Although if/when MJD does finally report, the situation will not go away.

We could be in for a wild ride down in Jacksonville. Might as well buckle up your seat belts now, people.

I do not own the above image. No copyright infringement intended.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Deadline Comes and Goes, Three Sign Long-term Deals

The deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to a long-term deal has officially passed (4 PM ET). Three players agreed to new deals just prior to the deadline:

Ray Rice, Ravens: five years, $40 million
Matt Forte, Bears: four years, $31.5 million
Josh Scobee, Jaguars: four years, $13.8 million

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees led the way by agreeing to and signing a five-year, $100 million ($60 million in guaranteed money) last Friday, giving hope to the last couple of players that were seeking deals to avoid being paid under the franchise tag.
With the possibility of a training camp hold out in Rice and Forte's future, Baltimore and Chicago had some motivation to get a new deal done by today's deadline.
Rice's five-year deal, which was reportedly worth roughly $40 million, gives him $17 million for 2012, and $8 million in 2013. Had he not signed the deal, he would have been lined up to make about $7.7 million this season. Smart move for both Rice and the Ravens organization. Rice is happy with his new deal which will likely make him a Raven for life, and smart move for Baltimore in keeping their top offensive player happy.
Had Forte not signed his new four-year deal, I would like to believe that he would, in fact, have held out of training camp. This has been a hot topic for debate in Chicago over the last year or so. Will Forte get a deal he's happy with? Fortunately it has finally been settled, and we can get back to talking football.
Jaguar kicker Josh Scobee was the third and finally name to reach a long-term deal. The 30-year old placekicker signed a four-year deal that was reported to amount to roughly $3.45 million per year (I did the math, which came out to about $13.8 mil overall).
I think it's safe to say that each of the three contracts have a good chance at allowing Rice, Forte and Scobee to stick with their respective teams for the rest of their careers. That's what I'm hoping, at least. Anything can change in the coming years, however.
Now, can we finally get back to football? Training camp is just around the corner, you know!
Note: I do not own the above image (borrowed from NFL.com). No copyright infringement intended.

One Decade Later: Revisiting the 2002 NFL Draft

For years scouts at the professional level have spent countless hours examining and analyzing every facet and every angle of high school and college talents. They use stats, charts and invaluable information to rate and rank every player entering the NFL draft–taking place in April of each year–to give their respective team an edge.

Not only in football, but in every professional sport that involves some sort of amateur or collegiate draft, it's a hit-or-miss kind of deal. So called "can't miss" prospects always have a 50/50 chance at being a bust. Taking a look at names such as Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Courtney Brown, Steve Emtman, Ki-Jana Carter, Tony Mandarich, Curtis Enis, JaMarcus Russell, Art Schlichter.

All of the above names were highly sought after, top five picks. All were considered busts by the end of their respective careers.

The 10 names I listed above are just a small sampling of busts over the last 30 years. If you dig a little deeper, you may be able to pull out closer to a 100 names of first round busts over the last three decades. Half of the names listed are quarterbacks, too. Usually it's the quarterback position that gets the most attention on draft day, which is understandable considering it's the most important position on the field in today's day and age.

In this year's draft there were two quarterbacks selected in the top two picks and both have been titled as "can't miss" by scouts all over the nation. The problem with this title, is that it usually leads to too much pressure being put on those shoulders.

We will not be able to properly examine this year's draft class until about five to 10 years down the road when we can get a better feel for their accomplishments and overall talent on the football field.

Just over 10 years ago, in the 2002 draft, a quarterback was selected No. 1 overall by an expansion franchise–the Houston Texans. He's been labeled a bust much like highly-regarded quarterbacks ahead of him.

I have taken a closer look at the draft that unfolded a decade ago and have broken it down for you, my readers. Before I examine each of the 32 selections, I have gathered some background information and numbers for the first round:

*Only 15 of the 32 players had a roster spot on a team in 2011; of those 15, only nine have a roster spot on a team for this upcoming season (four are free agents and two have retired).

*Just three top 10 picks currently hold a starting spot with their respective team (No. 2 pick Julius Peppers in Chicago, No. 5 pick Quentin Jammer in San Diego and No. 7 pick Bryant McKinnie in Baltimore).

*Six top 10 picks are out of the league, and have been since at least the 2010 regular season.

*No. 1 overall pick David Carr, quarterback from Fresno State, held a starting job for just five seasons, while in Houston.

*Twelve picks were out of the league by the end of the 2009 season, or earlier.

*Just eight players were selected to at least one Pro Bowl during their careers (Peppers, McKinnie, Roy Williams, John Henderson, Dwight Freeney, Jeremy Shockey, Albert Haynesworth, Ed Reed); the eight combined for 36 Pro Bowl selections, averaging out to 4.5 per player, or an average 1.12 per player drafted in the entire round.

*Selections 16-32 produced eight Pro Bowls, all of which came from free safety Reed (selected by Baltimore at No. 24 overall).

*Only six players have stuck with the same team throughout their careers (Quentin Jammer '02-present, Freeney '02-present, Wendall Bryant '02-'04, William Green '02-'04, Bryan Thomas '02-present, Reed '02-present).

*Interesting FACT: There was more talent found in the second round of the draft than the first.

After reading through all of that, doesn't it make you very curious as to who, exactly, was selected with each pick and how many head-scratching picks were made? Well, of course they weren't exactly head-scratching at the time, but 10 years later some of these General Managers seem a little crazy.

Here it is, each pick in the first round:

1. Houston Texans––David Carr, Fresno State QB

Carr's Bulldogs in his college days were a top 10 team, making him a huge favorite to carve up opposing defenses once he hit the professional level. Well, given he was a young kid taking over a team just getting things started in the NFL, he struggled early and often.

In his five seasons at the helm for the Texans, Carr posted a horrific 22-53 record, throwing for 65 interceptions and tossing just 59 touchdowns. Past his Houston career, Carr didn't see much of the field. He's still around, but he hasn't started a game since the '07 campaign, his first year away from Houston.

Carr has bounced from Carolina, to New York (Giants), to San Francisco and now he is back with the Giants as one of Eli's backups.
2. Carolina Panthers––Julius Peppers, North Carolina DE

By far the most talented player out of the top 10, and arguably the entire first round. The Tar Heels defensive end ran a tremendous 40-yard dash in the combine (4.7 sec) considering his size and is one of the most polished pass rushers this league has seen recently.

The two sport standout in college–also played basketball–won rookie of the year, gone to seven Pro Bowls, was named to five All Pro teams and even been to the Super Bowl.

Now with the Chicago Bears, and at age 32, Peppers still appears to have plenty left in the tank and I expect him to add on to his 100 career sacks over the last 10 seasons.

3. Detroit Lions––Joey Harrington, Oregon QB

The second quarterback taken in the top three, Harrington was an almost immediate bust for Detroit. But then again, can you really blame him? He took over a disaster of a team in the Lions, and didn't have much to work with.

At 2-14 the previous season, Harrington led the Lions to just one more victory (3-13) in his rookie season and overall posted an 18-37 record in four seasons as the starter. He spent two more sub-par seasons in the league with Atlanta and Miami before he was done for good.

Carr was considered a bust, but I think Harrington took that term to a whole new level with his six year career. It was an unfortunate turn of events, as Harrington had a lot of potential coming out of college.

4. Buffalo Bills––Mike Williams, Texas OT

The top-ranked offensive lineman out of Texas, Williams, 6'6''/370 pounds, was poised for a largely successful NFL career at the right tackle position. He was later moved to left tackle but was a huge disappointment.

Williams spent four seasons with the Bills, starting 47 games from 2002-05 before losing his starting spot and attempting yet another move to guard, and spot starting on the defensive line in certain goal line situations.

After his release following the '05 season, Williams was out of the league for a few seasons before attempting to make a comeback. He signed with the Redskins on April 24, 2009 but at that time he weighed over 400 pounds and failed to have a successful comeback, starting just eight games and having blood clots near his heart. After missing the entire 2010 season because of this, the Redskins released him last July and he's been out of the league since.

5. San Diego Chargers––Quentin Jammer, Texas CB

Jammer was never a phenomenal talent, to say the least. But there is one thing you could say about him and his playing days in San Diego: reliable. At age 33, Jammer is still going strong with the team that drafted him.

In his rookie season he recorded 58 solo tackles in four starts, but since then he's started all 16 games for the Bolts in seven of his 10 professional seasons. Over that span, he's racked up 654 total tackles, 18 interceptions and six forced fumbles. He's never made a Pro Bowl and his numbers have never been spectacular, but he's been the anchor of San Diego's secondary ever since he was selected No. 5 overall.
6. Kansas City Chiefs––Ryan Sims, North Carolina DT

When on the field Sims was rather productive for Kansas City, racking up 54 total tackles, five sacks, one INT and one pass defensed in 29 starts from 2003-04 at the defensive tackle position. The only problem with this is that other than those two seasons he rarely saw the field.

Herman Edwards took over the head coaching position in 2006, and that season Sims didn't start a single game, making just seven total tackles. Over the offseason he was traded to Tampa, where he recorded 69 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in 19 starts over four seasons.

For the No. 6 overall selection, Sims was the definition of an underachiever. Last offseason the Seahawks signed him on July 31, but released him not even a month later. Sims is still a free agent.

7. Minnesota Vikings––Bryant McKinnie, Miami (Fl) OT

McKinnie started 131 games and was selected to a Pro Bowl (though he ended up not playing in the game) throughout his nine seasons in Minnesota at left tackle. He earned the reputation as a workhorse while protecting the blindside in Minnesota, and gained the attention of the Baltimore Ravens, who signed him last offseason.

Since his second season in the league, McKinnie has missed just four games as he started all 16 for the Ravens in his first season with the team in 2011.

8. Dallas Cowboys––Roy Williams, Oklahoma S

Williams is now out of the league, but while with the Cowboys from 2002-08 Williams made it to five Pro Bowls. Starting out at free safety for the first three seasons, Williams made the transition to strong safety in 2005 and established himself as a heavy-hitting defender.

Though he may have gotten some negative attention for his tendency of making horse collar tackles, Williams was still known as a hard-hitter and was well-respected around the league.

In the off-season prior to 2009 Williams was signed by the Bengals, where he spent his final two seasons and recorded 85 total tackles, one sack and one interception in just 15 starts. Williams is now retired and working as a sideline reporter for Oklahoma games, in addition to making a couple appearances on the show Storage Wars: Texas.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars––John Henderson, Tennessee DT

The recently retired two-time Pro Bowl d-tackle spent eight productive seasons with the Jaguars before playing his two final seasons with the Oakland Raiders. He was never flashy–you can't really expect that type of play from a defensive tackle anyways–but he always got the job done.

Henderson had the ability to plug the middle of the line with his 6'7"/335 pound frame in addition to rushing the passer. In his rookie season alone Henderson sacked opposing quarterbacks 6.5 times in just 13 starts. He finished his 10-year career with 29.0 sacks and 493 total tackles from the defensive line. His numbers declined over his final two seasons, however, starting just five games with the Raiders.

10. Cincinnati Bengals––Levi Jones, Arizona State OT

The third offensive tackle selected in the top 10 that season, Jones started 89 games at left tackle for the Bengals from 2002-08 before finishing up his disappointing career with a season in Washington (started eight games in 2009).

Jones was released by the Bengals following Cincy's selection of Andre Smith with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft. He's been a free agent ever since his lone season with the Skins.

He may be best-known for his scuffle with then-Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter at a Las Vegas casino in March of 2007. He was later reported that Porter and some of his friends had attacked Jones, but that doesn't take away from the amount of negative attention that both Jones and Porter received (as well as a $1,000 fine that Jones was ordered to pay after pleading not guilty).
11. Indianapolis Colts––Dwight Freeney, Syracuse DE

Aside from Peppers at No. 2, Freeney is by far the biggest bargain of the top 15 selections. Freeney made an immediate impact with the Colts, collecting 13 sacks in his rookie season and recording double digit sack totals in seven of his 10 seasons.

The seven-time Pro Bowler has one of the toughest spin moves to defend in the league and is a very strong pass rusher coming off the edge in Indy. Despite battling injuries during his career, Freeney has accumulated 102.5 sacks in 129 starts, and his 43 forced fumbles is just four shy of tying Jason Taylor's all-time record.

His quick success earned him the opportunity to become one of the highest-paid defenders in the league, signing a six-year, $72 million ($30 million guaranteed) contract on July 13, 2007. His Colts are currently in rebuild mode, but I don't expect Freeney to slow up any time soon.

12. Arizona Cardinals––Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin DT

Possibly the biggest snub of the entire round, there's really not much to say about Bryant. He played just three extremely unproductive seasons in Arizona (40 total tackles, 1.5 sacks in nine starts) before being suspended for the entire 2005 season as a result of a third strike for abusing the NFL's substance abuse policy.

He never returned to the league following the suspension, though he was seen playing in the UFL from 2009-10 with the Las Vegas Locomotives and Omaha Nighthawks.

13. New Orleans Saints––Donte Stallworth, Tennessee WR

Stallworth is still around, in fact he will be back with the New England Patriots this season to play his second stint with the team. Stallworth's first four seasons were played with the Saints before jumping from team to team over the next six seasons. He went from New Orleans, to Philadelphia (2006), to New England (2007), to Cleveland (2008), to Baltimore (2010), to Washington (2011) and then back to New England this season.

He's never broken 1,000 yards receiving or 10 TD catches in a single-season, and he's never made it to a Pro Bowl. But he did make a solid third or fourth option while in NO, PHI and NE.

The troubled wideout missed the entire 2009 season because of a suspension handed out by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Stallworth was found guilty on manslaughter chargers after he struck and killed a man while driving under the influence. The only jail time he served was 30 days in County jail in addition to other punishment.

14. New York Giants––Jeremy Shockey, Miami (Fl) TE

A four-time Pro Bowl, Shockey, too, has joined the free agent pool. Though his best days are behind him, Shockey is still a game-changing talent coming off the line at the tight end position. His six seasons with the Giants were successful as he caught 27 TDs and over 4,000 yards through the air with a Super Bowl victory coming in 2007, his final year with the team.

He's never played a complete season, but following his three-season stint with the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers signed him to a one-year deal last off-season. In his 15 games, Shockey caught 37 passes for 455 yards and four TDs from rookie signal caller Cam Newton.

I doubt he'd sign prior to the season starts, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him sign mid-season. He's still got something left in the tank.
15. Tennessee Titans––Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee DT

If Tennessee had known back in 2002 that Haynesworth would turn in to a lazy, underachieving, locker room cancer later on down the road, I can assure you that they'd pass him up despite his two Pro Bowl seasons.

Early in his professional career, Haynesworth appeared to be a workhorse who could finish his career with a Hall of Fame-worthy performance. He had the talent to do so, at least. But then his true colors were exposed. Following his back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in 2007 and 2008 in which Haynesworth combined for 91 total tackles 14.5 sacks, the Washington Redskins dropped a $100 million contract in front of him. Biggest mistake in, possibly, the franchise's history.

Haynesworth and the Skins had a couple of disagreements and Haynesworth gained weight and refused to show up to practice a couple of times. The disagreements and petty feuds led to Haynesworth sticking around for just two seasons (54 tackles, 6.5 sacks). He spent 2011 with New England and Tampa Bay, starting just six games and making 26 tackles.

Haynesworth is without a 2012 team so far this offseason. No surprise.

16. Cleveland Browns––William Green, Boston College RB

Green showed potential in his rookie season, rushing for 887 yards and six touchdowns for the 9-7 Browns. In Cleveland's 36-33 Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh that season, Green was completely shut down, rushing for 30 yards on 25 carries and a TD (1.2 YPC). It was his only career postseason game.

Three seasons later and his career appeared over. He missed a majority of the 2005 campaign due to injuries as he was placed on the season-ending IR after just 78 yards on 20 carries in eight games. He made a failed comeback attempt in the 2008 offseason, but the 2005 season proved to be his final one in the National Football League.

17. Oakland Raiders––Phillip Buchanon, Miami (Fl) CB

Buchanon proved to be a dual threat throughout his 10+ year career, working as both a cornerback and a punt returner.

Currently a free agent, Buchanon proved himself a great runner, earning All-America honors as a return specialist while playing his college days in Miami. Throughout his professional career with five different teams, Buchanon accumulated five interception touchdowns and three punt return touchdowns.

His most recent stint was with Washington from 2010-11, where he started just five games.
18. Atlanta Falcons––T.J. Duckett, Michigan State RB

Duckett was not brought in by Atlanta to be the No. 1 back, he was brought in to accompany the then-27 year old Warrick Dunn, who had rushed for 1,000 yards in two of his five prior seasons. With Dunn rushing for just 447 yards in 2001, Atlanta was looking to have a RB-by-committee approach in 2002 with Duckett.

And that's exactly what they got with the selection. Dunn ran for 927 yards and seven TDs while Duckett added 507 yards and four TDs in his rookie campaign. Atlanta 9-6-1 on their way to a playoff berth. He managed just 50 yards on 19 carries with a TD in two postseason games that season, however.

Duckett's career plateaued the following season, 2003, when Duckett had career-highs in yards (779) and touchdowns (11). From 2006-08, Duckett played for three different teams (Washington, Detroit, Seattle) before his career ended at the age 27. He is still currently a free agent, but lets face it, he's not going to be getting any calls at his age of 31.

19. Denver Broncos––Ashley Lelie, Hawaii WR

Throughout his seven-year career Lelie was always seen as a deep threat, leading the league in yards per reception in back-to-back seasons in '04 and '05 (20.1, 18.3). He was never seen as the type of No. 1 target as the Broncos were hoping when they drafted him with the 19th pick. Lelie set career-highs in his only full season (2004) with 54 receptions, 1,084 yards and seven TDs.

Much like Duckett, Lelie's final three seasons were spent with three different teams and is officially retired from the game.

20. Green Bay Packers––Javon Walker, Florida State WR

Walker was a one-time Pro Bowler (2004 season: 89 Rec., 1,382 yards, 12 TDs) and showed flashes of brilliance, but never quite lived up to expectations. He spent his first four seasons with the Packers before virtually becoming Lelie's replacement in Denver, where Walker played for two seasons in 2006 and 2007.

Still listed as a free agent, Walker has been out of the league since he ended his two-year stint with Oakland in 2009.

21. New England Patriots––Daniel Graham, Colorado TE

Graham, winner of the John Mackey award while playing college ball in Colorado, was never much of a threat in the passing game during his pro career. In one of his best seasons, 2004, he caught a career-high seven touchdowns from Tom Brady on their way to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl championship.

He of course won two Super Bowl rings and was named to the Patriots' All-2000s team, but aside from that he produced 10 average-at best seasons while in the league. He is currently listed as a free agent after spending the last five seasons with Denver and Tennessee (four in DEN, one in TEN).
22. New York Jets––Bryan Thomas, UAB DE

He has relatively quiet throughout his 10-years and counting with the Jets, but Thomas has been nothing but productive at the defensive end position. Probably not the type of production I'd like to see from a first round pick, but Thomas has racked up 417 total tackles, 31 sacks and six forced fumbles in his 94 starts.

Drafted as a defensive end, Thomas made the permanent switch to outside linebacker prior to the 2007 season and is battling to keep his starting position after he suffered a season-ending torn achilles tendon last October.

23. Oakland Raiders––Napoleon Harris, Northwestern LB

In college at Northwestern Harris started out at outside linebacker before making the switch to defensive end for his senior year. During his pro days he played middle linebacker for Oakland, Minnesota and Kansas City.

Harris was always a tackling machine and, in his short-lived seven year career he posted 483 total tackles and just 8.5 sacks and four interceptions. He was a workhorse, but wasn't able to keep up his sideline-to-sideline mentality for very long and has been a free agent since Oakland cut him just five days after bringing him back in August of 2009. He was apparently out of shape, according to the team.

24. Baltimore Ravens––Ed Reed, Miami (Fl) FS

In terms of his success at the pro level, Reed should have been a top 3 pick right alongside Peppers and Freeney in the 2002 draft. Reed's borderline Hall of Fame career includes over 500 tackles, 57 interceptions (six returned for TDs), six sacks and 11 forced fumbles in 143 starts for Baltimore.

The only thing missing from the eight-time Pro Bowler's resume is a championship ring. At age 33, a neck injured has slowed Reed down as of late, and may even lead to his early retirement from the game. But for now, I'll leave you with this: Reed was the best player taken in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft. All there is to it...Peppers and Freeney are a close second and third.
25. New Orleans Saints––Charles Grant, Georgia DE

Though he was never handed any awards or voted to any Pro Bowls during his eight years in the NFL with New Orleans, Grant did win a Super Bowl with the Saints and was a vital part of that defense for a couple seasons.

In his first three years as New Orleans' defensive end, Grant piled up 27.5 sacks in his 38 starts. His team, however, was a subpar 25-23 over that span. He never really started to see real success until towards the end of his tenure when they finished first in the NFC South in 2006 and then managed to capture a Vince Lombardi in 2009.

He was on the Omaha Nighthawks' (of the UFL) very briefly in 2010 before signing a contract with the Dolphins. Just over a month later he was cut by Miami, and he ended up spending a couple of weeks with Chicago in October before he was cut once again. He is still listed under free agents as it appears his career may be over.

26. Philadelphia Eagles––Lito Sheppard, Florida CB

Sheppard didn't start any games and made just 10 tackles in his rookie season in Philly, but his stretch from 2004-07 was rock solid. Sheppard was selected to two Pro Bowls and one All Pro team during his career, both of which came during the aforementioned stretch of play.

At times he was great, intercepting five passes in '04 with two of them going for touchdowns, and then six more in 2006, including one that was returned a league-high 102 yards for a touchdown. But inconsistent play and the emergence of fellow cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown eventually led to Sheppard's departure from Philadelphia following the 2008 season.

Sheppard has spent the last three seasons jumping from team-to-team. First it was a trade to the New York Jets, Minnesota then signed him to a two-year deal for the 2010 season. Oakland signed him for 2011 and, after playing in nine games for Oakland his contract expired. He is a free agent and may not even find a team for 2012.

27. San Francisco 49ers––Mike Rumph, Miami (Fl) DB

Rumph played both corner and free safety during his short-lived career, but wasn't productive at either position. In four years with San Fran, Rumph started 19 games and put up a very thin stat line of 120 tackles, three INTs and two sacks.

San Francisco traded Rumph to the Redskins on August 14, 2006 for wideout Taylor Jacobs. Seven games and 11 tackles later, Rumph was without a team once again as Washington waived him that December. St. Louis signed him in March 2007, but released him in August. Rumph announced his official retirement the following offseason, in July of 2008.

28. Seattle Seahawks––Jerramy Stevens, Washington TE

Stevens' best season, which comes as no surprise, happened to be the same year that Seattle made a run at a Super Bowl championship. In 2005, Stevens caught 45 passes for 554 yards and five touchdowns––all career highs. Stevens' numbers were never spectacular as he was seen as an underachiever.

He may be best known for something that doesn't have to do with his on-field performance: trash talking at the Super Bowl. Him and Steeler linebacker Joey Porter got into a war of words at the Super Bowl's media day, exchanging words back and forth via the press. It wasn't his best idea, as Stevens caught 3 passes for 25 yards and Seattle's lone TD in the game, but dropped three passes in his team's 21-10 defeat.

Stevens is now a free agent after spending the 2007-10 seasons underperforming for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not the best decision for Seattle to select Stevens at No. 28, I'd say.
29. Chicago Bears––Marc Colombo, Boston College OT

The last of the still-actives (until his recent retirement) in the first round of the '02 draft, Colombo's Chicago career got off to a rough start. His first two seasons he started just seven games and was then waived by the Bears at the very beginning of the 2005 season after playing in their season opener.

It wasn't until the 2006 season when Colombo finally saw an entire season's worth of playing time, starting all 16 games for Dallas in three consecutive seasons. Colombo was signed by Miami on August 1, 2011 and he quickly became the 'Phins' starting right tackle. Following the season, however, Colombo rejoined the Cowboys so that he could officially retire as a Cowboy on April 20, 2012.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers––Kendall Simmons, Auburn G

Right away Simmons served as Pittsburgh's starting right guard for the next five seasons before suffering a season-ending achilles tendon against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2008 season. After starting just four games, Simmons missed the rest of the season due to the injury and was later released by the Steelers despite the four-year extension he signed at the beginning of the '07 season.

Simmons was never the same following the injury, as he was signed to a three-year contract by New England on September 6, 2009. Two months later he was released, and again signed by the Buffalo Bills on November 24. Not even a month later he was placed back on the injured reserve due to a shoulder injury and saw his release following the season.

Simmons has yet to sign with another team and likely wont be able to make a comeback to the NFL.

31. St. Louis Rams––Robert W. Thomas, UCLA LB

While linebacking at UCLA, Thomas' list of accomplishments seemed never-ending. First-team All Pac-10, First Team All American, Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus Award finalist, Butkus Award semifinalist, Lombardi Award semifinalist, Second-team All Pac-10, etc.

He just barely slid in to the first round, and big things were expected from him in STL. Instead, Thomas spent just three seasons with St. Louis following the signing of his five-year, $5.75 million contract. Thomas' 163 tackles and two sacks were the best of his seven year career as his underachieving continued in his four seasons with Green Bay and Oakland. He's been out of the league since being signed and released by Washington following the last game of the 2009 season.

32. Washington Redskins––Patrick Ramsey, Tulane QB

Ramsey was the third and final quarterback selected in the first round, and he was the third and final quarterback bust selected in the third round. Unlike Carr and Harrington, Ramsey actually finished his career with more touchdowns than interceptions (35 TD, 30 INT), but his career record stood at 10-14 in four seasons with the Skins.

The rest of his career was served as a backup quarterback for numerous teams. From 2006-08 he played with the Jets and Broncos, and in 2010 he appeared on four different teams rosters (Saints, Jags, Dolphins, Vikings) but never once step foot on the football field during the regular season.

Ramsey rounds out a very disappointing draft class.

_ _ _ _ _

After taking a closer look at this 2002 draft class, it's been clear that there are truly only about 10 players who were truly worth selecting in the first round.

To further prove my point about the weakness of the round, lets take a look at all of the players taken in the later rounds whose careers panned out better than some of the guys listed above:

Clinton Portis--Broncos rd 2, pick 51

Antwaan Randel El--Steelers rd 2, pick 62

Deion Branch--Patriots rd 2, pick 65

Brian Westbrook--Eagles rd 3, pick 91

Chris Hope--Steelers rd 3, pick 94

David Garrard--Jaguars rd 4, pick 108

Larry Foote--Steelers rd 4, pick 128

Scott Fujita--Chiefs rd 5, pick 143

Aaron Kampman--Packers rd 5, pick 156

Justin Hartwig--Titans rd 6, pick 187

Chester Taylor--Ravens rd 6, pick 207

Raheem Brock--Eagles rd 7, pick 238

Brett Keisel--Steelers rd 7, pick 242

*There were 15 players in the first round who held a roster spot in 2011; there were 15 players taken in rounds 5-7 who had a roster spot in 2011 as well.

The moral of the story? It's a tough job being a General Manager of a professional football team. Just ask Matt Millen.

There is no such thing as a "can't miss" prospect. Keep that in mind while watching Luck and RGIII this season.

Note: I do not own any of the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

National Football League Dominates ESPYs

The 20th Annual ESPY Awards aired last night and, naturally, were dominated by the National Football League. The ESPY Awards, for those uninformed, are the equivalent of a Grammy or an Emmy. It's the awards show that has been put on by ESPN since the year 1993.

We live in a country that is surrounded by football. It has become easily the biggest sport in the country, so it shouldn't have come as any sort of surprise that five of the major awards were handed out to NFL players/coaches or "moments."

This year is the 20th year since it was created and was hosted by actor Rob Riggle and I have included a 14 minute video of a few of his jokes from the program last night.

But, before you watch the video here's a rundown of the awards handed out to the NFL:

Record Breaking Performance: Drew Brees' 5,476 passing yards

This is a record that I think will be broken a couple more times, at least, with the way the NFL has been changing. Before the 2011 season, a quarterback has thrown for 5,000 yards in a single-season just twice (Dan Marino and Brees), but that number is now up to five (Marino, Brees twice, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford).

Although I believe this record will not stand for very long, it's still a well-deserved victory for Brees when you take into consideration the fact that he broke Marino's record by nearly 400 yards.

Other nominees:
*Coach K, career wins
*Mariano Rivera, career saves
*Lexi Thompson, youngest LPGA Tour winner

Game of the Year: 49ers over Saints, NFC Divisional Playoff

You know it had to be good in order to edge out Game 6 of the MLB World Series. And it really was.

With 34 combined points and four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone, the 2011-12 cinderella team (well, almost) pulled off the improbable upset over Brees' Saints thanks to a late 14-yard TD throw and catch from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis. The touchdown turned emotional as Davis ran over and hugged coach Jim Harbaugh. That was the icing on the cake for San Francisco, advancing to the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants.

Other nominees:
*Mizzou at Kansas, CBB
*Rangers at Cardinals, WS Game 6

Best Moment: Tim Tebow's 80-yard GW touchdown pass in OT

No doubt it was a great moment, but I think there were a couple more deserving than this one (*ehem* last day of MLB regular season). But of course it was the finishing touch on a miraculous upset pulled off by Tebow's Denver squad that "stood no chance" against a defense of such gratitude–No. 1 overall Pittsburgh Steelers. Not to mention it was in the postseason and gave Denver the fastest overtime victory in history.

Ok, ok, fine. Tebow's moment deserved to be recognized with an ESPY. Congrats, Tebow. Enjoy it now, because I don't see it getting too much better since you joined the circus in New York.

Other nominees:
*Derek Jeter's 3,000 hit
*Last day of MLB Regular Season
*Bubba Watson's Masters win

Best Coach/Manager: Tom Coughlin, New York Giants

Considering that, yet again, Coughlin was forced to shut his critics up by beating out tough teams in the postseason and Super Bowl to prove to everyone he is a more than capable head coach, I'd say he's pretty deserving of this award.

Haven't people learned by now that Coughlin seems to be best when backed up against a wall? Early in the season he was on the cusp of being flogged by Giants fans and run out of town, but once February rolled around these same fans started praising him and practically crowned him king.

Just goes to show that you're only loved when you're winning.

Other nominees:
*Coach Calipari, Kentucky basketball
*Kim Mulkey, Women's Baylor basketball
*Patrick Murphy, Alabama softball
*Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
*Darryl Sutter, LA Kings

Best Comeback: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

This really was one for the books. In just 13 starts in two seasons prior to 2011, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 had been less than stellar (19 TDs, 21 INTs, 3-10 record as starter). But this past season was a whole different story.

Stafford put up the fifth-most passing yards in NFL history (5,038) and a personal-best 41 TDs on his way to a record-season while leading Detroit back to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. With a little help from Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, Stafford put Detroit back on the radar...but this time, it was through the air that Detroit was making plays.

Going from starting three games one season due to a shoulder injury to a full 16 games the next season is a difficult enough task to accomplish as it is. But to not only accomplish that, but to pull a historically losing team out of the dark and into the light of the postseason? That is truly a noteworthy accomplishment.

Other nominees:
*Sidney Crosby, PIT C
*Johan Santana, NYM pitcher
*Maria Sharapova, women's tennis player

Best NFL Player: Aaron Rodgers, Packers quarterback

He was already voted the 2012 season's No. 1 player by NFL Network after posting a 15-1 record this past regular season in Green Bay. Now he receives an ESPY for his spectacular play under center.

What's next for Rodgers, another Super Bowl ring? Perhaps.

Other nominees:
*Drew Brees, Saints
*Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
*Calvin Johnson, Lions
*Terrell Suggs, Ravens

Best Male Collegiate Athlete: Robert Griffin III

Normally I wouldn't include this category on an NFL-based article. But, come on. We all knew this was coming. If RGIII didn't win it, then it likely would have been former Stanford Cardinal, now Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Andrew Luck.

Luck was the No. 1 overall pick, but it appears RGIII may get the last laugh as the flashy quarterback is awarded the ESPY over his counterpart Luck, in addition to three other deserving nominees.

Other nominees:
*Andrew Luck, Stanford football
*Anthony Davis, Kentucky basketball
*Jack Connolly, Minnesota-Duluth hockey
*Mike Zunino, Florida baseball

~ ~ ~

Host Rob Riggle, everyone!

Note: I do not own any of the above images (or video). No copyright infringement intended.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

It's July 4th, which means it's America's birthday. What better way to celebrate our Nation's 236th year of existence than with beer, beach and football!

Unfortunately there is no football to be played until preseason gets kicked off, but I decided to share with you some patriotic photos. Perhaps those will suffice, and maybe put you in the NFL mood (which I happen to be in 24/7)..

Note: I do not own any of the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Denver Shows Place Kickers do Matter, Sign Matt Prater to Four-year Deal

In today's National Football League, placekicker is a thankless position and is often the scapegoat for losses.

Make kicks, and they are "just doing their job." But miss a kick? Well, you better hope you have an understanding and forgiving fan base.

Yesterday the Denver Broncos made the decision to lock up 27-year old Matt Prater for the next four years. Prater jumped from Detroit (2006) to Miami (2007) to Atlanta (2007) until he finally caught on with the Broncos in the middle of the 2007 season.

After having the franchise tag placed on him by Denver this off-season, the team made it obvious that they wanted to make Prater their guy for the next four years. The deal could reportedly end up being as much as $14.05 million.
It's not often that you see kickers stick with one team for a long period of time. Matt Stover did so for Baltimore, putting in 13 solid seasons as the team's Mr. Reliable, following five years with the Cleveland Browns (1991-1995; Cleveland made the move to Baltimore after the '95 season). He finished his polished, 19-year career with a season in Indianapolis.

Kicker Jason Elam was able to put up a Pro Bowl career in 17 years, spending 15 of those years with the Denver Broncos. He finished his impressive career with two subpar seasons in Atlanta. Adam Vinatieri is another noteworthy placekicker in today's game of football.

Vinatieri may be the exception to my rule, noted in the first sentence. Vinatieri, for the majority of his career, was well-known for his big-time kicks. Adam is responsible for two game-winning field goals in New England Patriot Super Bowl victories. Leaving New England in 2005, Vinatieri (at the time) had a career kicking percentage of 81.9, which was good enough for fifth all-time.

The four-time Super Bowl champion, 39, is still kicking for the Indianapolis Colts and has hit 82.9% of his 467 field goal attempts over the last 16 years. That's what I call productivity at the kicking position.

Others that have been able to pull this off for a significant period of time include Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski, San Francisco's David Akers (with Philadelphia), Detroit's Jason Hanson, New Orleans' John Kasay (with Carolina) and Cleveland's Phil Dawson.

So, why exactly is kicking a lost gem? Well, that could be because people seem to take placekicking for granted. Thinking of it as an easy task, not many teams have really focused on locking up their franchise leg, and spend each season jumping from kicker to kicker until one latches on for the remainder of that given season.

Missing kicks, as you could imagine, is the No. 1 reason a kicker would lose his job and see himself get cut from the team. Seems rather obvious, you don't do your job and you get fired. But the trick here is that no matter how reliable you have been in the past, a cold streak could just as easily land you on the street without a job.

Prater, replacing somewhat of a Denver kicking legend in three-time Pro Bowler Elam after his departure in 2007, has converted 80.4% of his kicks throughout his five years in Denver. But it has always been his strong leg that has received attention from opposing teams, as well as his own teammates.

Throughout his young career, Prater has attempted 13 kicks from 50+ yards out. Of those 13, 10 of them have been converted for three points. That's a remarkable percentage when you consider other kicking greats of his era (Stover, Vinatieri, Elam, Janikowski) have been unable to put up that kind of 50+ yard convert percentage.

If he can keep up his success over these next four years, and avoid hitting a cold streak such as long-time Pittsburgh Steeler Jeff Reed (nine seasons with team before struggling to kick straight in 2010), we could see the strong-legged Prater turn in a 18-20 year career at his position.

Note: I do not own any of the above photos. No copyright infringement intended.