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The 'What I Would Do 2014 NFL Mock Draft'

By Jeff Risdon

For one time every draft season, I 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.

In this edition, I get to play GM for every team. The picks are my personal choices for each slot.

A lot goes into determining each pick. While I tend to be a “best player available” guy, team needs do matter too. However, in some cases it’s more about future need than the more obvious immediate needs. If a key player is coming up on a free agent year, or if the incumbent starter at an impact position can be upgraded with higher potential, that will impact the decision.

I went through four rounds. There are no trades, because it just complicates the picture too much.

Again, this mock in no way attempts to predict what will actually happen in May. If your comments indicate that you failed to read this admonition, I will publicly flog your lack of reading skills. Don’t be that guy!

First Round

1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville--he’s the highest-rated QB on my board, and he’s also the most NFL-ready. If I’m GM Rick Smith, I know I have the chance to establish a new offense with new coach Bill O’Brien and a new franchise quarterback. The only other player I considered here is Jadeveon Clowney, but this team cannot progress unless it prominently addresses the most important position in pro sports.

2. St. Louis Rams: Jake Matthews, OL, Texas A&M--this is a tricky one, because the Rams already have a lot ($65M) invested in Jake Long and Rodger Saffold at tackle. Yet Matthews immediately projects better than either, and he offers positional versatility. He could even play guard or center for a year, if needed. That’s not the best value for the No. 2 pick, but three years from now he very well might be the best player in this entire draft class. I strongly considered Sammy Watkins here.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, South Carolina--another tough call, because this franchise desperately needs a legit quarterback. But they also desperately need an impact defender, and Clowney’s potential as a game-changing pass rusher trumps any upside that any QB in this class can dream about. I’m confident enough that at least one of the second tier of QBs will be available in the second round. Khalil Mack is tempting, but Clowney’s upside is so much higher it’s worth the greater risk. Johnny Manziel got some consideration.

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M--perhaps no other team is in as favorable a position to roll the dice on Johnny Football. The fans are so hungry for a dynamic franchise QB, and given the never-ending chaos of the front office and coaching staff turnover, the bar of expectations is pretty low. Manziel is unorthodox and very difficult to project to the NFL, but he has that je ne sais quoi that cannot be coached, or easily defended. If it’s going to work anywhere for Johnny Football, it’s Cleveland.

5. Oakland Raiders: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo--the Raiders are in a fairly unique situation: they need upgrades at just about every position on the field. Signing Matt Schaub bought them a little time at quarterback, though relying on him long-term is foolish. Prudent signing of James Jones makes Sammy Watkins less of a priority, though he’s still a strong consideration. GM Reggie McKenzie has a chance to land a versatile, premium defensive weapon in the draft in Mack. The Raiders have to go after the best available impact talent with every pick.

6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn--this is an absolute no-brainer. The Falcons do not have a starting-caliber offensive tackle on the roster. Lamar Holmes might (might!) be a worthy third tackle, that’s it. Robinson can step right in at either tackle spot and immediately provide outstanding run blocking. His pass protection needs some technical work, but the potential for Larry Allen-type domination is there. With Mack and Clowney both off the table, there really is no other option.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson--the most explosive and dynamic playmaking wideout in the draft would make an awesome fit with Vincent Jackson, diversifying the offense and giving the QB, Glennon or otherwise, a much better chance to succeed. I toyed with the idea of both Anthony Barr and Eric Ebron here, but Watkins is too highly-rated to fall any further in a draft I control.

8. Minnesota Vikings: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State--he’s a do-it-all linebacker with athleticism that goes off the charts. His nose for the ball and ability to quickly attack gaps are an ideal fit for Mike Zimmer’s defensive style. This is a bit of a reach on my board, but Shazier has the ability to make it worthwhile quickly. A little too early to tap into the QB market.

9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina--last year Buffalo’s leading receiver was Scott Chandler, and now he’s gone. Adding a speedy seam threat like Ebron will augment E.J. Manuel’s skills and help open up the rest of the young receiving corps. Even though I like Jace Amaro as my top TE, Ebron fits better schematically here with his superior speed.

10. Detroit Lions: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU--Detroit played with just two LBs almost 70 percent of the time in 2013, but that looks to change under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. With the new regime’s public desire to add a versatile, pass-rushing outside linebacker, I’m more than happy to grant that wish with Van Noy. The fact he can play all three downs right away wins out over the higher-end pass pushing potential of Anthony Barr. No defensive backs were even remotely considered for this pick.

11. Tennessee Titans: Zack Martin, T, Notre Dame--it’s not a sexy pick, but with both starting tackles over 30 and showing signs of wearing down, Martin is the top choice. Many project him as a guard, but I’m plenty confident he’ll be a very good left tackle. With the interior of the line overhauled last offseason, Martin can become an integral part of a new line with great potential. I’m not going to lie, I really wanted Darqueze Dennard here to replace Alterraun Verner. That need will be addressed by the end of the draft’s second day.

12. New York Giants: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA--XSF is an XL force in the run game. He has enough athleticism to play right tackle but projects best as a guard. I rate him higher than I did Jonathan Cooper a year ago. For a Giants team in need of an OL overhaul, he’s a perfect fit. That gets him the nod over Aaron Donald or an edge rusher.

13. St. Louis Rams: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State--read this for exactly what it is: a vote of no confidence in Sam Bradford. With the former #1 pick entering the last season of his outrageous rookie deal, it’s time for the Rams to find his successor. Carr has a lot to work with, and I rate him higher than Blake Bortles. One year of getting his feet wet with an offense that challenges him to attack all parts of the field should make Carr ready to take over in 2015, or whenever Bradford suffers his next multi-game injury.

14. Chicago Bears: Anthony Barr, Edge, UCLA--the Bears are off to a flying start in overhauling their toothless defense, adding help up front while trimming away some fat. With Barr, they upgrade the outside linebacker spot with a high-end pass rushing prospect. He’s not ready to contribute much more than as a nickel rusher right away, but has the athleticism and potential to be a force down the line. Safety is the biggest remaining need, but this is too high for any of the available talent in my book.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech--Amaro is a great weapon for the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger, a big, strong target over the middle with presence and attitude. His size and toughness are ideal fits to help foil the physical defenses of the AFC North. It was hard to not go defense here, but the fits just aren’t that strong. Jason Verrett was the alternate choice.

16. Dallas Cowboys: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh--what do you get a team with a decimated defensive line? How about a disruptive interior force that can collapse the pocket and make opposing quarterbacks stress. Donald is a perfect fit. Zero hesitation in running to the podium with this pick.

17. Baltimore Ravens: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU--Verrett fits the Ravens mold of player, a naturally gifted talent with strong work ethic and no fear. He’s not the biggest corner, but his feistiness and sound fundamentals will help shore up the secondary. I pondered an offensive lineman like Brandon Thomas or a safety, but I’m just not crazy about their current corner situation.

18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU--to quote Jim Miller from Sirius NFL Radio, “the 2013 New York Jets had the worst set of offensive weapons in the entire Super Bowl era”. They still need to add talent all over the offense. Eric Decker is a nice start, and a player like OBJ complements him perfectly. His hands, ability to separate, and creativity after the catch would stand out for New York. I wanted Amaro here.

19. Miami Dolphins: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State--the offensive line still needs major work, but this is a grey area for linemen; any here would be a significant reach on my board. Instead, the Dolphins get one of the quickest players I’ve ever scouted to help bolster the passing attack. I had Brandon Thomas here before his unfortunate ACL injury. Can’t use a 1st round pick on a player that can’t play in 2014.

20. Arizona Cardinals: Scott Crichton, Edge, Oregon State--one of the qualities I like in my pass rushers is the ability to win in more than one way. Crichton can press the edge, but he also thrives at getting inside. He can play 5-technique as a rusher or out on the edge in base defense. Quarterback is tempting, though I am higher on Carson Palmer than most.

21. Green Bay Packers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech--this is one of the few picks that might actually happen come May, and that’s for a reason. Fuller has the length, speed, and instincts to contribute right away, and the Chargers sorely need corners with those attributes. I chose his probability of recovery from injury as greater than the chances Bradley Roby extricates his head from his butt, though Roby does have a higher ceiling.

22. Philadelphia Eagles: RaShede Hageman, DT, Minnesota--he’s an extreme boom/bust prospect with tantalizing athleticism but a fuzzy grasp on technique. I like that Hageman brings versatility across the line. I thought about Dee Ford or Jimmie Ward.

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC--Lee offers the potential to create yards after the catch and to get open quickly on hitches, crosses and slants. His knee issue in 2013 does give me pause, but I believe he can be this draft’s Keenan Allen, another talented playmaking Pac-12 wideout who suffered thru a substandard final college season before exploding in the NFL.

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida--I’m racked with indecision here. I really like Kyle Fuller or Bradley Roby to help at corner. C.J. Mosley would fit great as a round-em-up linebacker next to Burfict. Dee Ford offers more speed and sizzle off the edge. Yet I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. I’m far more cautious with Bortles than most, but the best situation for him is to sit and learn for a year or two before taking over for an ineffective starter. That’s the exact “help wanted” sign hanging in the Bengals locker room.

25. San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State--the savvy reader will note that Dennard is my #1 overall corner, yet I purposely selected two others in front of him. Why? Schematic fit. His lack of long speed means the team had better have a rangy, heady safety already in place. Eric Weddle checks that box here.

26. Cleveland Browns: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois--the first safety to come off the board is not the one most expect, but Jimmie Ward has the potential to make the biggest impact of any safety in this class. He’s already a strong all-around talent capable of playing either spot. It’s also seamless to replace TJ Ward with a player of the same last name but far better coverage instincts. Mike Evans sure would look nice too, but again, the depth at wide receiver makes me look elsewhere.

27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, Edge, Auburn--chalk this up as another pick that could actually happen, as the Saints sorely need more depth and skill on the edge. Ford can scream around the corner, but he’s also good at handling back-side duties and chasing down the run. This one did not take very long.

28. Carolina Panthers: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M--so many needs for such a successful team... I really like that Evans has lots of experience playing with an improvisational QB and working free on broken plays. That’s Cam Newton at his best, and Evans’ size can help bail him out when he forces balls. Taylor Lewan is tempting, but I’m not sure he’s a great locker room fit. Ha Ha Clinton Dix was also strongly considered.

29. New England Patriots: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama--this is one of those cases where the “best player available” tile is so much higher than any others left…Mosley does everything at an above-average level, yet he’s not quite the dynamic athlete to go higher than this. A coach like Belichick can maximize what he does well and find roles to make the Bama stud shine. I really wanted either Marqise Lee or Mike Evans to fall here.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State--Adams has the ideal traits to make an outstanding #2 wideout across from Michael Crabtree. He’s big and physical, with strong hands and determination. His game lacks consistency and polish right now, but his upside is high. Adams has the ability to succeed Anquan Boldin’s role in the offense.

31. Denver Broncos: Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State--the Broncos stay close to home in shoring up their center position for the next few years, bringing in the heady, technically proficient Richburg. He’s ready to start at either guard or center and has the kind of intelligence and personality that will remind Peyton Manning of Jeff Saturday. Richburg has that kind of ceiling. He beat out Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or the next tier of corners.

32. Seattle Seahawks: Morgan Moses, T, Virginia--somebody on Draft Twitter compared Moses to Texans left tackle Duane Brown, and I really like that comp. Like Brown, Moses flashed occasional dominance but needs the occasional kick in the pants to play to his potential. His length and strength are outstanding on the edge, and he almost never gets beat inside. He can help on either side right away. He’s a safer pick that the more athletic but volatile Taylor Lewan.

Second Round

33. Houston: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
34. Washington: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
35. Cleveland: Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
36. Oakland: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
37. Atlanta: DeMarcus Lawrence, Edge, Boise State
38. Tampa Bay: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
39. Jacksonville: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
40. Minnesota: Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State
41. Buffalo: JaWuan James, T, Tennessee
42. Tennessee: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
43. NY Giants: Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
44. St. Louis: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
45. Detroit: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
46. Pittsburgh: Joel Bitonio, OL, Nevada
47. Dallas: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
48. Baltimore: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
49. NY Jets: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
50. Miami: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
51. Chicago: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
52. Arizona: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
53. Green Bay: Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana
54. Philadelphia: Trai Turner, G, LSU
55. Cincinnati: Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
56. San Francisco: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
57. San Diego: Brandon Thomas, OL, Clemson
58. New Orleans: Dion Bailey, S, USC
59. Indianapolis: Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
60. Carolina: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
61. San Francisco: Jeremiah Attaochu, Edge, Georgia Tech
62. New England: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
63. Denver: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
64. Seattle: Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming

Third Round

65. Houston: Victor Hampton, CB, South Carolina
66. Washington: Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
67. Oakland: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
68. Atlanta: Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State
69. Tampa Bay: Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State
70. Jacksonville: Billy Turner, T, South Dakota State
71. Cleveland: Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
72. Minnesota: A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
73. Buffalo: Justin Ellis, DT, Louisiana Tech
74. NY Giants: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt
75. St. Louis: Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
76. Detroit: Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
77. San Francisco: Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
78. Dallas: Jon Halapio, G, Florida
79. Baltimore: Cameron Fleming, T, Stanford
80. NY Jets: Shaq Barrett, OLB, Colorado State
81. Miami: Seantrel Henderson, T, Miami FL
82. Chicago: Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon
83. Cleveland: Dakota Dozier, G, Furman
84. Arizona: Preston Brown, LB, Louisville
85. Green Bay: Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
86. Philadelphia: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
87. Kansas City: T.J. Jones, WR, Notre Dame
88. Cincinnati: Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
89. San Diego: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
90. Indianapolis: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
91. New Orleans: Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
92. Carolina: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
93. New England: Marcus Martin, C, USC
94. San Francisco: Terrance West, RB, Towson
95. Denver: Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
96. Minnesota: Chris Watt, G, Notre Dame
97. Pittsburgh: : Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA
98. Green Bay: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
99. Baltimore: Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
100. San Francisco: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon

Fourth Round

101. Houston: Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
102. Washington: A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
103. Atlanta: Jackson Jeffcoat, Edge, Texas
104. NY Jets: Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
105. Jacksonville: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
106. Cleveland: Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
107. Oakland: Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
108. Minnesota: Boseko Lokombo, LB, Oregon
109. Buffalo: Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
110. St. Louis: Trent Murphy, Edge, Stanford
111. Detroit: Khyri Thornton, DT, Southern Miss
112. Tennessee: Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State
113. NY Giants: James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
114. Jacksonville: Keith McGill, CB, Utah
115. NY Jets: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
116. Miami: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, T, McGill
117. Chicago: Dontae Johnson, S, North Carolina State
118. Pittsburgh: Philip Gaines, CB, Rice
119. Dallas: Craig Loston, S, LSU
120. Arizona: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
121. Green Bay: Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
122. Philadelphia: Rashaad Reynolds, CB, Oregon State
123. Cincinnati: Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
124. Kansas City: Brent Urban, Edge, Virginia
125. San Diego: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
126. New Orleans: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
127. Cleveland: Justin Britt, T, Missouri
128. Carolina: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
129. San Francisco: Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma
130. New England: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
131. Denver: Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB/FB, Coastal Carolina
132. Seattle: Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
133. Detroit: Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa
134. Baltimore: Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
135. Houston: Howard Jones, OLB, Shepherd
136. Detroit: Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
137. NY Jets: Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
138. Baltimore: Adrian Hubbard, Edge, Alabama
139. Atlanta: Michael Schofield, T, Michigan
140. New England: David Yankey, G, Stanford

Team Report: Atlanta Falcons

By Ron Marmalefsky

Atlanta Falcons:         

2013 RECORD: 4-12  
2012 RECORD: 13-3   
2011 RECORD: 10-6    
2010 RECORD: 13-3   

TEAM OVERVIEW: Excuses, excuses. Atlanta lost Julio Jones early, but it was clear from the start that this was an incomplete team. “Experts” knew going in that Atlanta was not as good as their ’13 record showed, and Las Vegas agreed, both in their Power # as well as their season win expectations. While the ’13 draft attempted to address head on one of their glaring weaknesses (pass D%), Atlanta was ill equipped to provide the rookies with any pass rush help. NFL sack numbers reached a record high in ’13 but the Falcons were left behind, with just 32 defensive sacks. Offensively, line play suffered as Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times, a far cry from the usual under 30 per season. Atlanta was 36-12 from ’10 through ’12. Can Atlanta return to this level of performance? In the NFC South the answer is usually yes, but to do so the focus of the upcoming free agency period, followed by the ’14 draft must be near flawless. 

KEY STATS: Offensively, the Falcons were still fine but there are holes at RB and along the OL. Losing Jones had an impact but Atlanta allowed 44 sacks in ’13 after allowing 54 combined in ’11 and ’12. The run O was “acceptable” at 3.9 but last in the NFL at just 78 yards per game. Turnovers went from +13 to -7. The defense needs work. The run D was not good in ’12 at 123-4.8. It was worse (31st) last year at 136-4.8. The pass D regressed to 66.1%, the fifth straight year over the magic 60% figure. Atlanta allowed 46% on 3rd down and opponents threw for 31 TD passes. Defensive sacks tied 28th at just 32, which is unfortunately about their norm the past three years. Atlanta began ’13 with – point ratio and when they jogged through the preseason at 0-4, red flags were raised. People can “argue” that the preseason means little but about 9% of teams make the playoffs going 0-4 in August. Spread-wise, the positive is a 21-7 ATS ledger as a dog to the rival Saints, but the team was a rare 0-2 in bounce-back games off scoring 10 or fewer points. They are 5-18 (1-1) on MNF and remain 16-33 off BB SU wins.  What was said last year is still true; Atlanta needs to play better in big games and MUST learn how to finish drives in crunch time.

2013 DRAFT REVIEW: Atlanta needed OL, CB’s and LB’s last year. They failed to address their OL (with major consequences) but double dipped at CB with solid results. Picks after the CB’s mostly sat which was expected given the NR ratings to half their draft. Atlanta added WR Darius Johnson after the draft and he did contribute.  I spoke about him but not about undrafted LB’s Bartu and Worrilow, who combined for 25 starts, 212 tackles and 5.5 sacks.  That’s unheard of, but also speaks to why they needed LB’s in the ’12 draft. Worrilow did carry a * rating. Free agency got them DL Umenyiora (47-7.5) and RB Jackson (6 TD’s, modest running/receiving).  More help is needed in both areas.

1-30, CB Trufant:16 starts, 70 tackles and 2 picks for this solid draft choice.

2-60, CB Alford: FCS defensive POY us older (26 now). He had 4 starts, 40 tackles and 2 picks.

4-127, DE Goodman: Longest DE arms, but low college production and on ground too much.  14 tackles.

4-133, TE Toilolo: Good after the catch. Eleven catches as a rookie. Must overcome injury history.

4-153, DE Maponga: Almost rated, JR project who lacks DE bulk.  5 rookie tackles.

7-243, S   Ishmael: Projected to be not much more than a special teams guy (1 tackle)

7-244, SS Motta: Almost rated, he led ND in tackles in ’12, Plays like a LB. Too slow (10 tackles)?

7-249, QB Renfree: Leader, but lacks QB anticipation skill. 

2012 DRAFT REVISITED: OL was #1 on my ’12 need board and Atlanta hit it twice in the early rounds with Konz and Holmes. Konz had a rough ’13, playing at OC and OG. He’s not a certain starter for ’14. Holmes played 7 snaps as a rookie and started ’13 at RT. He was ineffective at both RT and LT as sacks went up vs. the Falcons. FB Ewing missed ’12 and played in just one game in ’13 before going back on IR. LB Massaquoi is undersized but had 46 tackles and 4 sacks.  Safety Mitchell is gone. NR (not worthy of a position rating) DT Robertson has four lifetime tackles.

TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: The strength remains the pass game with top ten QB Ryan throwing to White and Jones although TE Gonzalez is a huge loss.  The weakness remains the pass rush, which generated 29 sacks in ’12 and just 32 in ’13 when sacks were at a record high! 

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: As of March 24th. OG Asamoah and swing OL Carimi arrive on offense and DT’s Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai hope to solidify a less than solid DL. Devin Hester could jump start the return game.  The only meaningful loss thus far is the retirement of elite TE Tony Gonzalez. Scott Pioli is the new Assistant GM. His overall track record is not that impressive.

2014 DRAFT NEEDS: Draft Needs as of March 20th: Impact DE 1-2 OL, including a LT, impact LB, safety, long term RB, extra TE, back-up QB.  Atlanta has work to do in reshaping this roster.  No team needs DE Clowney more than this one.  Can they make it happen?  Sam Baker is hardly an elite LT and he’s coming off surgery.  The entire OL underachieved in ’13 and needs rated talent. A pair of undrafted rookies made their mark at LB in ’13.  That’s nice, but this unit needs a statement LB.  Even before the release of FS Thomas DeCloud an upgrade was necessary. Atlanta needs to find a younger, every down RB. ’13 rookie Toilolo is the new #1 TE but he was injury prone in college and every NFL team needs at least two options at this position.  Dominique Davis is the back-up QB.  

$.05 On NFL Free Agency

By Jeff Risdon

We’re almost a week into the NFL free agency period, and many teams have been prominent for one reason or another.

Here are some thoughts on a few of the moves.

*All salary info is courtesy of Spotrac.com

$.01--The best move of the first day, when by and large the pricing was wildly out of control, was when the Chicago Bears signed former Oakland Raiders DT Lamarr Houston. This was a great marriage of fit and opportunity, and it kicked off a strong week for the Bears.

The Chicago defense realistically needs to replace nine starters from a year ago within the next two offseasons. Signing the most effective interior pass rusher on the market to a five-year/$35 million deal, which will really be for no more than four years before a rework or release, is a savvy and cap-friendly move. Chicago’s defensive line was downright awful last season, and Houston immediately makes them much better.

Chicago also added former Detroit Lions DE Willie Young to help replace overpriced, overrated end Julius Peppers. While Young isn’t much of a finisher (just six sacks in four seasons), he is a good disruptor and progressed nicely against the run a year ago. He’s also an upgrade over 2012 first-round bust Shea McClellin, who still does not have a position. Bringing back corner Charles Tillman was a worthwhile gamble, too. While he very well may be done with age and injuries, it’s worth the shot to bring him back.

$.02--Rodger Saffold initially agreed to terms with the Raiders for an ungodly sum of $42.5M for five years, an astronomical figure for a slightly above-average offensive lineman. That harsh reality slapped them in the face the next day, when the team failed the former St. Louis Rams tackle on his physical exam. That voided the contract, but not the shame.

The Raiders are a complete train wreck. General Manager Reggie McKenzie has tried to clean up the anachronistic mess left behind by the senile final years of Al Davis, and he’s done a fine job of clearing cap room. But his choices are downright ponderous.

Instead of signing, or using a franchise tag on either the aforementioned Houston or stud offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, McKenzie let both walk despite having tens of millions in cap room. These are arguably the two best players on the team, and certainly are part of a positive future more than a wretched past.

But McKenzie let them both depart, instead choosing to shower an absurd amount on Saffold. The two recognizable free agents they did sign, Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, are both declining veterans purposely let go by significantly better teams. This comes on the heels of a draft class where McKenzie risked the 12th overall pick on a CB who nearly died and couldn’t make it through his rookie season. His second round pick, Menelik Watson, barely even practiced and was considered a major reach by many. His fourth-round pick, quarterback Tyler Wilson, didn’t make it through the preseason before being cut despite a massive black hole at QB.

McKenzie needs Tuck and Woodley to both turn back the clock to 2009 and for every draft pick to not only stick, but make a significant impact. Otherwise, his era of mismanagement will end up being compared to the Ted Stepien-era Cleveland Cavaliers, arguably the biggest disaster in modern pro sports history (as well as unfortunately being the team of my youth). 

$.03--The Dallas Cowboys released defensive stalwart DeMarcus Ware, ending the potential Hall of Famer’s career in Dallas. Ware is the latest, and most prominent, victim of the salary cap hell that owner/GM/majordomo Jerry Jones has created for his franchise.

How badly will they miss Ware, even though he’s coming off injuries that have definitely slowed him down?




Ladies and gentlemen, the Cowboys just had the worst defense in NFL history and they had to let go of the two best players on the defense in Ware and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (a nice signing by the rival Ethnic Slurs).

Interestingly, Ware quickly resurfaced in Denver, where the Broncos are trying their best to emulate Jones’ willful obliteration of the salary cap. Take a look at what Denver has done in the last week:

- DeMarcus Ware, three years/$30M, $23M guaranteed

- Aqib Talib, six years/$57M, $26M guaranteed

- T.J. Ward, four years/$22.5M, $14M guaranteed

- Emmanuel Sanders, three years/$15M

The Broncos now have over $160M in salary committed to the 2015 season. While the cap is going to rocket upwards, John Elway is clearly spending to win now. It’s a smart strategy with Peyton Manning’s advancing age, but it could result in a Lakers-like cratering once Peyton hangs up his cleats. Broncos fans would happily accept that for another Super Bowl title or two in the meantime.

$.04--Speaking of Emmanuel Sanders, his agent is a despicable sleazebag.

That’s unusually harsh language, but I do not parse it without merit. Steve Weinberg is a complete embarrassment to the agent profession, a vocation already commonly associated on the level of private used-car dealers and Congress.

Weinberg initially negotiated a deal for Sanders with the Kansas City Chiefs, and they agreed in principle to terms. That should be the end of the story; once a deal is agreed to, the only remotely acceptable other course of action is to go back to the player’s original team (in Sanders’ case the Steelers) and give them a chance to match.

But Mr. Weinberg cares not for professionalism or ethics or common decency. After agreeing to a deal with the Chiefs, Weinberg then went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and tried to negotiate a deal for Sanders with the Bucs. He never hinted that he already had a deal in his pocket.

He wasn’t done. Weinberg also went to Kansas City’s rival, the Broncos, and agreed to terms with Denver as well. Apparently Denver’s offer was better, because that’s the deal that Sanders ultimately signed. In the process, he also blew off a scheduled visit with the 49ers, who could have desperately used Sanders’ skills. For the in-depth story, check out Ian Rapoport’s initial piece on NFL.com.

Weinberg was barred and decertified back in 2003 for some shady dealings with his clients’ funds. Sanders is his vehicle back into the game, but he drove that off a cliff with a trunk full of TNT. NFL teams operate on a certain level of trust and good faith in negotiations. No team in its right mind will ever consider dealing with Weinberg again. Granted some teams (hello Oakland and Dallas!) are not of sound mind, but given the very public hullabaloo over what happened here it’s hard to see Weinberg having any future as a NFL agent. I hope the $900K commission check was worth it for Weinberg to napalm any bridge back into the NFL’s good graces. Beware football karma with Sanders too, Denver fans…

$.05--Quick analysis on deals I liked and deals which I did not like…

The dislikes:

--Tight end Dennis Pitta staying in Baltimore for five years, $32M. The next-best TE on the market, Brandon Pettigrew, re-signed in Detroit for half of that on one less year…and the Lions overpaid for him.

--Offensive tackle Branden Albert fills a major hole in Miami, but at 5 yr/$46M he’s the sixth-highest paid tackle in the league. You’d have a hard time finding anyone who ranks him as a top-15 tackle.

--Denver paid a fortune for Aqib Talib, a talented but troubled corner who hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season since 2009. High risk/reward.

--Jacksonville paid guard Zane Beadles, the weak link on Denver’s line, for $30 million over five seasons. I understand struggling franchises need to overpay to lure free agents, but that’s ridiculous money to go from lousy to merely not good at a position.

--Green Bay showed its desperation for filling gaping holes on the defense by showering Julius Peppers with the same contract Ware got: three years and $30 million. Ware is two years younger and generated more QB hits and hurries while playing the exact same position in the same base defense as Peppers, and he did so with a bad leg. Now the Packers are going to ask him to play a new position (3-4 OLB), where his aging legs will be more relied upon, not less. They also overpaid to keep CB Sam Shields, who would not have received four years and $39 million on the open market. By way of comparison, Brent Grimes is a better player and he got $7M less from the equally desperate Dolphins.

--Indianapolis had a pair of awful signings on the first day. While defensive end Arthur Jones (from Baltimore) and corner Vontae Davis (a re-signed player) are quality players, the Colts lavished ridiculous sums of money upon them. Jones got five-year, $33 million deal for producing 8.5 sacks in four seasons playing inside Terrell Suggs. Davis, who is indeed one of the better cover men in the league, got the same deal Shields did at four years and $39 million. Davis is a better player--he was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked corner, Shields was 52nd in 2013--but he’s battled injuries and inconsistencies throughout his career. Colts GM Ryan Grigson continues to make ponderous decisions with player acquisitions.

The likes:

--New England landing Darrelle Revis for one year and $12 million after he was dumped by Tampa Bay, which had no use for the best corner east of Seattle. It’s a “prove it” deal that gives the Patriots control over Revis Island for the next two years, as they can franchise tag him. Revis is perennially demanding new contracts, so putting him on a one-year deal places the full emphasis on him to prove he deserves it. Brilliant move by the Patriots. They overpaid for fellow corner Brandon Browner, however.

--The Eagles landed safety Malcolm Jenkins for three years and $15.5 million, a great move for Philly. He’s a perfect fit for what they needed, a rangy coverage safety with ball skills and playoff experience. He came at almost half the rate six years and $54 million that the Saints paid Jairus Byrd to replace him in New Orleans. I like Byrd a lot, but that’s pretty steep in comparison.

--Tampa Bay replaced Revis with former Titan Alterraun Verner on a four-year, $25.5 million deal. He’s a definitively better player than Shields or Grimes, both of whom got millions more. He’s not Revis, but that’s not what new coach Lovie Smith wanted for some reason.

--Cleveland replaced ILB D’Qwell Jackson, who went to the Colts for a fairly reasonable (for them) four years and $22 million, with Karlos Dansby at a rate of four seasons at $24 million. While Jackson is a good player and his presence will be missed in the locker room, Dansby is a much better schematic fit and has more sacks, turnovers forced and passes defended over the same time frame as Jackson. The Browns also fared well in importing RB Ben Tate from Houston for two years and $7.5 million. He’s the back they drafted Trent Richardson to be…if he can stay healthy.

--Detroit paid a premium to get former Seahawks WR Golden Tate at a five-year, $31 million deal, but given some other prudent moves (Darryl Tapp, Joique Bell, Vaughn Martin and the impending budget-friendly deal with safety James Ihedigbo) it works. They filled their biggest need with the best available fit and didn’t kill a limited budget to do so.

--Houston smartly kept young tight end Garrett Graham in the fold while jettisoning aging Owen Daniels. Their new QB--I still strongly believe it will be Blake Bortles with the #1 pick--will need a reliable tight end that can work the seams and make catches in traffic. Graham does that well enough that three-year, $11.25 million deal might seem cheap next offseason.

--Arizona lured away Jared Veldheer from Oakland to fill their longstanding chasm at left tackle. He’s healthy once again and his five-year, $35 million deal is a fair market rate for a 26-year-old pass blocking specialist.

2014 NFL Mock Draft, Version 5.0 (Post Combine Edition)

Now that the Combine is over, it's time for a slightly more educated mock draft. It's still way too early to accurately project targets (free agency will have a BIG say in that), but it's now easier to place players into more proper draft ranges.

2014 NFL Mock Draft, Version 4.0 (Post Senior Bowl Edition)

Blake Bortles goes first overall, while Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Khalil Mack round out the top-5.

$.05 After Championship Weekend

On the convincing win by the Broncos, the epic physical battle between the Seahawks/49ers, Cleveland's mess, a quick mock draft, and an ungainly scouting 5th cent. 

$.10 For Week 17

On the big wins by the Packers/Eagles, losses by the Bears/Cowboys, Peyton's historical season, the end for Chud, college notes and more.

NFL Team Rankings, Week 17

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks finish the season ranked first, with the other top-11 teams all in the playoffs and the Packers at No. 14.

Football Meteorology For Week 17

Predicting the final 16 regular season games of 2013 while also handing out MVP and the unsung player for all 32 teams.