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Team Report: Houston Texans

By Ron Marmalefsky

Houston Texans:             

2013 RECORD: 2-14  

2012 RECORD: 12-4   

2011 RECORD: 10-6  

2010 RECORD: 6-10   

TEAM OVERVIEW: Wow!  Houston was the trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl in August, but even a VERY lucky 2-0 start could not prevent a massive collapse.  Last year I posed the question, “How far could QB Schaub take them?”  We all now know the answer.  RB Foster’s injury hurt, but the turnover ratio was -22 thanks to QB issues and a defense which intercepted just seven passes.  There were plenty of close losses, many due to the inability to hold leads and/or a massive number of pick-six turnovers.  Even J.J. Watt and the pass pressure declined, from 44 down to just 32 sacks.  Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips are gone, replaced by Bill O’Brian and DC Romeo Crennel.  There’s often a thin line between winning and losing in the NFL.  Houston does not have to do that much to become a major player in the weaker AFC, so this draft is much anticipated. 

KEY STATS: Our concern with these Texans was that they entered ’13 with a double whammy.  The +12 turnover ratio worked in their disfavor, and coupled with a – point ratio means they had to get better just to repeat what they did in ’12!  The Texans dropped to a -20 turnover ratio and had inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.  Offensively, there were too many interceptions returned for TD’s, leading to a -6 defensive TD ratio.  The run O was mostly without Foster and was average.  The point O was poor at 276 (31st).  Defensively, they were 7th in total yards but gave up big plays, including 29 pass TD’s.  The run D was a bit high at 4.3-122.  These are not #’s normally associated with a 2-14 team but QB play and the big plays allowed on D really hurt.  Another problem was special teams.  The PK was just 26-35.  The kick return D was 28th at 25.7 and the punt return D was 28th at 12.3.  Spread-wise, Houston is 7-12 as a road favorite and 12-23 on turf.  They can’t win at Indy (0-12). 

2013 DRAFT REVIEW: Andre Johnson stated publicly that he hoped Houston would add a solid WR.  In my 5th year of asking for an upgrade, Houston made WR Johnson quite happy with a fantastic person-team fit in Hopkins.  His rating moved up thanks to that.  His 52-2 ledger was a nice debut.  The focus after that was relatively good, with Swearinger much needed and many others highly ranked.  Unfortunately, the Texans gave up a bit early on my 11th ranked DT Chris Jones.  He is currently with New England where he did not sit!  See his stats below!  I wrote last year that “DE Montgomery does not change directions well and unfortunately lacks pass rushing technique.  He’s currently in Oakland’s camp.  I wanted them to double dip at WR, but better talent was available at pick 195.  NOTE: Houston added RB’s Graham (*), D Johnson (NR, but), and Wood (*) after the draft.  All three made the team with the short and very fast Johnson running a bit and averaging 25.2 on eight kickoff returns.

1-27, WR Hopkins: Top peripheral vision, precise in patterns, consistent, with 2nd gear.  Gets off line well.

2-57, S  Swearinger: Big hitter likes to play close to line.  Versatile, with average speed.  71 rookie tackles.

3-89, OT  B Williams: RT with a medical issue, he has some flaws (hand usage, stops feet).  Sat in ’13.

4-95, DE Montgomery: Not endorsed by LSU staffWeight and then drug issues got him cut.

4-124, LB  T Williams: Fast and LB strong, but would be undersized covering TE’s.  30.5 NCAA sacks. Sat.

5-176, OT  Quessenberry: Versatile OL has the feet  but we said he must add some weight/strength.  Broke foot.

6-195, WR Bonner: Short-armed WR with average measurables but can be a return guy!  Did not play.

6-198, DT  C Jones: MAC defensive POY relentless and can play run.  54-6 sacks with well-stocked NE!

6-201, TE  Griffin: Not a natural pass catcher.  Still, 19 rookie catches (Daniels injured) was a surprise.

2012 DRAFT REVISITED: Houston made a big mistake trading back from #58.  WR Randle was the correct choice.  WR Posey was selected at #68 and did have 25 catches in ‘13.  OL Brooks made huge strides in ’13 and could start permanently in ’14,  OC Jones had 10 starts at RG in ’12 but shifted around in ’13, starting just one game.  WR Martin adds to the rotation with 22 catches, plus he had solid kick return #’s along with average punt return #’s.  DE Crick has 42 tackles in two seasons.  PK Bullock was 26-35, including 12-17 from 40-49 and 1-5 from 50+.  He needs to be better.  OT Mondek was the only roster cut.

TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: Which strength to pick, the run game, the sack pressure or the pass D%.  Sacks went down in ’13 so we’ll stick with the pass D%, just like in ’13 when the question was originally asked.  Little QB confidence produced negative QB results.  This area needs a complete rebuild.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: Houston seemed more in “purge the roster” mode under their new coach as opposed to striking early in free agency until they signed average DL Jerrell Powe, decent safety Chris Clemons and rotational DB Kendrick Lewis.  Losses include RB Tate, TE Daniels, DL Earl Mitchell, Antonio Smith and Terrell McClain, and four LB’s including Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays.  CB Daniel Manning was recently cut.  Once QB Fitzgerald was signed Matt Schaub was traded to Oakland.  One source has stated that in Defensive Coordinator Crennel’s long career in the NFL (19 seasons) not a single DE has had a double digit sack season.  Can that change with J.J. Watt on this team?  Head Coach O’Brien hired Mike Vrabel as the new LB coach. 

2014 DRAFT NEEDS: QB, 2 DL, 2 LB’s, TE, OL, CB and DB depth, RB.  QB is obvious.  J.J. Watt is lonely along the DL.  The Texans have needed a DT/NT with size for a long time, and now need multiple bodies.  Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton overachieved at ILB.  Both are gone, and Brian Cushing will be off yet another serious injury!  TE Graham was decent but another player needs to be added.  The new regime may scrap the zone blocking scheme, meaning new OL must be added.  Will CB Joseph return?  The other CB’s are Kareem Jackson and Brice McCain.  RB Foster may return healthy but other than the untested Ray Graham and the smaller Dennis Johnson there’s not much else available.

Team Report: Green Bay Packers

By Ron Marmalefsky

Green Bay Packers:           

2013 RECORD: 8-7-1  

2012 RECORD: 11-5   

2011 RECORD: 15-1   

2010 RECORD: 10-6   

TEAM OVERVIEW: Injuries are a part of the game, but it was shocking when THIS QB was sidelined for a significant period of time.  Green Bay played a full 10 points under their Power rating without Rodgers, possibly the most significant player other than Peyton Manning to any NFL team.  Once known for stockpiling QB’s in each and every draft, the current Packers floundered badly without their leader.  Rodgers was rusty in the lucky win at Chicago, and the team as a whole was not good enough to beat San Francisco come playoff time.  The Packers fixed their run game and ’14 should be another banner year for the offense.  Getting back to the top of the NFC however will only be accomplished by improving their run D and point D and preventing big pass plays.  

KEY STATS: Green Bay has forever been the best at keeping opposing offenses under the magic 60% mark.  They allowed 61.2% in ’11, a key reason why even at 15-1 they were (in my opinion) NOT going to the Super Bowl.  The # was 55.1% in ’12.  Last year they slipped back to 61.6%, allowing 30 pass TD’s.  Obviously losing Aaron Rodgers hurt their offense but their run O skied to new levels thanks to rookie RB Lacy.  The #’s were 4.7-133.5.  GB had 44 defensive sacks but allowed 45 of their own.  The run D continues to have issues.  ’13 #’s were 4.6/125.  GB intercepted just 11 passes.  The return D was collectively a major problem as the Packers finished 29th in both kick return D (26.0) and punt return D (13.1).  Spread-wise, GB dropped to 32-16 as a December host but Rodgers was missing in both games.  They are 9-0 after a bye.  They remain 16-7 after a MNF win. 

2013 DRAFT REVIEW: For some unknown reason, the Packers wanted to stockpile day three picks.  They traded DOWN three times in rounds 2-3, mostly unnecessarily.  Was there really any reason to not just take Lacy at 55?  At one point GB held picks 88 and 93 but traded them both.  When will they learn?  In the end, GB traded picks 55 and 88 and turned them into picks 61, 109, 216 and 224.  Clearly the trade downs did no good as draft picks 216 and 224 were poor ones.  As strongly hinted in my 2013 Draft Preview, WR Dorsey was going to land here in GB.  Considering how strong a season Lacy had it would have been further embarrassment had Lacy been selected before pick #61.  Many picks did work out, but Jones did not help the run D (as predicted) and Franklin had fumbling issues.

1-26, DE D Jones: Speed to seal edge, but lacks upper body strength to take on blocks.  10-3.5 as rookie.

2-61, RB Lacy: Patient, productive runner ran 1,178-4.1-11 and caught 35 passes

4-109, OT Bakhtiari: Surprise underclass entry also surprised by starting at LT all season.  How good is he?

4-122, OG Trotter: Can pull and trap, with light feet.  Not strong enough yet/has never played inside.  Sat.

4-125, RB Franklin: As previewed, fumbles a bit!  Lightly used after he cost them a game.  Tandem RB?

5-159, CB Hyde: 55 tackles with a knack for finding ball.  Good special team results as well.

5-167, DE Boyd: Production regressed in ’12.  Willing but not fast enough.  16 tackles, 9 games played.

6-193, LB Palmer: Practice squad candidate with 17 sacks after leaving Illinois.  Not bad with 17 tackles?

7-216, WR C Johnson: Fast enough, but raw.  Three colleges and now two NFL teams (Browns).

7-224, WR Dorsey: 18 receptions with sub-standard QB play (Maryland).  Better was available.  No action.

7-232, LB  Barrington: Productive OLB seems too slow for NFL.  Not a sacker.  7 games played, 2 tackles.

2012 DRAFT REVISITED: GB did what I asked them to, tuning 12 picks turn into 8.  DT Worthy, CB Hayward and sleeper pick LB Manning all came to the Packers on these moves.  GB went defense in a big way, covering a variety of positions.  They all made the roster in ’12.  Only RB was ignored as a possible draft need.  Perry went 28-4 in ’13.  Worthy and Heyward were banged up most of the year and did little.  Hayward was 53-6 picks as a rookie.  Undersized, but * rated DT Daniels was decent with a 23-6.5 sack ledger.  Safety McMillan has 42 tackles in two seasons.  LB Manning is on the SD practice squad.  OT Datko could not overcome a college injury and is gone after being on the practice squad in ’12.  QB Coleman was cut prior to ’13. 

TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: Aaron Rodgers.  Along with Peyton Manning he’s the best in the NFL right now.  The Packer run game got fixed in ’13.  Now it’s time to fix the pass protection.  

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES:  This area is usually blank, but Green Bay signed DE Julius Peppers and he will likely feel revitalized (i.e. motivated) in ’14.  LB’s Guion and Chase Thomas add depth.  The losses include serviceable WR James Jones, occasionally productive OG Newhouse, OC Dietrich-Smith and safety M.D. Jennings.

2014 DRAFT NEEDS: Safety (preferably a “cover” safety) and DB depth, TE, #3 and #4 WR, 1-2 pass blocking OL, LB, late round QB.  The Packers need to stiffen up their pass D% and add some meaningful depth to this critical area.  Green Bay used to have multiple TE’s.  They are likely to move on from injured Jermichael Finley, which leaves them just the erratic Andrew Quarless.  The Packers completely whiffed on their ’13 WR draft selections.  It would seem impossible to do the same in this deep WR draft.  Most of the elite QB’s other than Big Ben in Pittsburgh are ones who are well protected.  Rodgers seems like the exception.  Clay Matthews is an upper tier LB but the rest of the group could use an upgrade, even with the steady Hawk and the hopefully someday healthy Nick Perry.  It’s time for the Packers to revisit their one time technique of drafting a QB late in the draft. 

Team Report: Detroit Lions

By Ron Marmalefsky

Detroit Lions:                

2013 RECORD: 7-9  

2012 RECORD: 4-12  

2011 RECORD: 10-6   

2010 RECORD: 6-10   

TEAM OVERVIEW: Thanksgiving night! Detroit settled down to a Turkey dinner after having dismantled a Green Bay team missing Aaron Rodgers 40-10. They led the NFC North, a Division where both Rodgers and Chicago’s Jay Cutler were injured. They were making playoff plans. Amazingly, these same Lions were eliminated before week 17!  They collapsed in the snow at Philly, turned the ball over too much in a 2-point loss hosting Baltimore and then lost in OT hosting the vulnerable NYG. Yes, Stafford threw in excess of 4,600 yards but he also threw 19 interceptions, leading to a -12 turnover ratio. Amazingly, the Lions had the lead in the fourth quarter in each of their last six losses! The undisciplined Lions fired their head coach, and demoted their past his prime DC (Cunningham). The Lions entered ’13 with a + point ratio and a -16 turnover ratio from ’12, plus a 4th place schedule in ‘13. Technically, they did improve their overall record from 4-12 to 7-9, but teams with this triple plus situation are normally capable of much more. Detroit has more than enough talent to compete for the NFC North title. Isn’t it time for these Lions to take the next step, instead of watching Carolina and others pass them by?

KEY STATS: Stafford hit just 54.1% in the 2nd half of the season with a 13-13 TD-int ratio. That’s not good enough. Detroit had a -12 turnover ratio (-8 fumbles) which needs to be corrected.  RB’s lost 10 fumbles, worst by three in the NFL. Reggie Bush lost five of those fumbles. They fumbled 19 times, worst by seven! Despite these #’s, time of possession was +4:15, they had a +60 figure for 1st downs, and the OL allowed just 23 sacks.  Defensively, the only poor figure was a low 33 sacks (28th).  The 3rd down D was quite impressive at a 30% conversion rate.  Now for some amazing news!  For the 1st time since about 1960 (just kidding) the pass D% was under the magic # of 60, at 59.1%. We did not see that coming. Is that sustainable?  It’s an indictment to the previous coaching staff that with all these #’s, (and Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush) the team missed the playoffs!  The kick return D was 30th (26.4).  Spread-wise, the Lions are now a poor 12-26 after playing rival GB, and 3-15 as a road favorite.  They dipped to 17-8 in their last home game and went 1-0 as a road dog off a loss (now 18-8 in that role). 

2013 DRAFT REVIEW: Like Chicago, The Lions used their 1st pick to draft a talented, but lightly used DE.  He was solid, and did not bring the character issues other team members possess.  My “beloved” readers pointed out a CB was drafted.  He was lower rated however, and is clearly a work in progress.  Decently rated OG Warford started all 16 games!  DE Taylor filled a late need and has rotational value.  Teams like Detroit have bigger needs at pick #165, but Punter Martin was solid.  No other drafted players mattered, including LB Hepburn, the president of the Rattlers Association of Chemists who had recently contributed on a project that researched the cancer-fighting properties of cooper.  He also found a way to kill cancer cells in rats during a summer internship.  Undrafted OT Waddle started eight games at RT.  Is that a good thing?  Undrafted TE Fauria has zero speed but became a red zone monster, with seven of his 18 receptions going for TD’s.  The Lions may have lost a bit more than they gained in free agency. Bush was often dynamic, but had too many fumbles.  Safety Quin was their best DB and a bargain.

1-05, DE Ansah: 32-8 stat line for the raw, high character DE

2-36, CB Slay: 34 tackles but as expected, looked lost at times.  There is some upside.

3-65, OG Warford: Graded as a sloppy run blocker but he anchored well in NFL and overperformed 

4-132, DE  D Taylor: 14-2.5 stat line for the try-hard DE who lacks flexibility and strength. 

5-165, P    Martin: Solid rookie season

6-171, WR Fuller: Fast one year starter raw, especially as a route runner.  Did not play as a rookie.

6.199, RB  Riddick: Good 3rd down receiver but isn’t Reggie Bush here?  Saw minimal action.

7-211, TE  M Williams: Non-factor as receiver but great football IQ and a solid blocker.   No action in ’13.

7-245, LB  Hepburn: Not instinctive but can he kill cancer on this team?  If so, he’s a 1st rounder!!!  

2012 DRAFT REVISITED: OT Reiff dropped and filled a critical need.  WR Broyles was someone I liked in college but the Lions needed to address CB, not WR at the time.  Broyles continues to fight serious knee injuries.  CB Bentley went at #85 but had mixed reviews from scouts.  He reminded the Lions of current starter Aaron Berry.  SO WHAT!  He had 29 tackles.  The trio of LB’s taken combined for 15 tackles in ’13.  That’s great.  CB’s Greenwood and Green combined for 15 tackles in ’13.  Ditto! 

TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: Stafford to Calvin Johnson is all readers need to know.  When Calvin was drafted we called him a top three ALL-TIME WR before he ever took a NFL snap.  You know the weakness!

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: The biggest addition was reliable WR Tate from Seattle.  Ryan Broyles could have been their #2 option but devastating knee injuries have hampered his development.  Depth was added along the DL, but not impact.  This area is still one of their deepest even with the loss of emerging DE Young.  Injuries stunted the performances of WR Burleson and safety Delmas and both players were released.  Safety James Ihedigbo was signed.  Detroit lost back-up QB Shaun Hill.  Jim Caldwell is the new Head Coach.  Joe Lombardi (ex-Saints QB coach) is the new Offensive Coordinator.  Teryl Austin is the new Defensive Coordinator.

2014 DRAFT NEEDS: 209 CB’s (finally this number has been reduced!), OL, safety, LB, late WR, return specialist, PK.  My long time readers know all about what I think of the Lion’s not drafting a highly rated CB.  Maybe this will be the year?  Is undrafted rookie RT Waddle good enough to start?  The Lions needs to figure this out.  Maybe Detroit can upgrade at LG, where Rob Sims resides.  Glover Quin needs a partner at safety.  Is Ohedigbo enough?  LB’s Levy and Tulloch are not household names, but it’s Ashlee Palmer and the other LB’s who could be supplanted by better talent.  A number of great options at WR will be available for the Lions.  The Lions have not had much success of late returning kicks.  PK Akers is expendable.

Team Report: Denver Broncos

The good news is that Peyton Manning is of course elite. The even better news is that few, if any teams can replicate how Seattle plays defense. The pieces are in place for another Super Bowl run, proving that key areas are addressed between now and opening day.

2014 NFL Draft Big Board: Wide Receivers

Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Marqise Lee, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Davante Adams are on the top of our wide receivers big board.

Team Report: Dallas Cowboys

There is plenty of talent at the skill positions but whether it's coaching (yes) or miss-judged talent at other key positions such as OL, DL and in the secondary (also yes), something is preventing these Cowboys from winning a Division that has been there for the taking. What are realistic expectations for '14?

Team Report: Cleveland Browns

The Browns begin 2014 with yet another new coach, as beleaguered owner Jimmy Haslam never gave Rob Chudzinski and his decent coordinators a chance. Cleveland is 26-70 the past six seasons. Can the new regime make the right moves and close the gap in the AFC North?

Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton is the field general of a Bengals team that is as deep as it's ever been thanks to an incredible (for them) run of solid drafts. Almost no position is below the level of average and this team is young and still has upside.

The 'What I Would Do 2014 NFL Mock Draft'

For one time every draft season, we do a different kind of mock draft. Instead of trying to forecast what players are going to what teams at what picks, this one is all about personal preference.