By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.
The Denver Broncos take the top slot for the first time this season, which matches up what most NFL observers are seeing with the eye test. The Broncos' defense has been extraordinarily better in 2014 and of course Peyton Manning's offense continues to have no issues scoring points in bunches.
The New Orleans Saints had a convincing victory over the Green Bay Packers and are now the top team in the NFC based on Trench Counter despite a mediocre record.
Week 8 Rankings
1. Denver Broncos: 5.9
2. Baltimore Ravens: 5.8
3. Miami Dolphins: 5.7
4. New Orleans Saints: 5.1
5. Dallas Cowboys: 3.7
6. Indianapolis Colts: 3.3
7. Arizona Cardinals: 3.2
8. San Francisco 49ers: 2.7
9. Seattle Seahawks: 2.6
10. San Diego Chargers: 2.4
11. Green Bay Packers: 2.3
12. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.2
13. Detroit Lions: 1.8
14. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.7
15. New England Patriots: 1.4
16. Cleveland Browns: 1.2
17. Houston Texans: 1.1
18. Chicago Bears: 1.1
19. Buffalo Bills: 0.8
20. Washington: 0.5
21. Philadelphia Eagles: 0.4
22. Minnesota Vikings: -1.1
23. Pittsburgh Steelers: -1.4
24. New York Giants: -2.1
25. Atlanta Falcons: -3.0
26. Carolina Panthers: -3.1
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: -4.7
28. Tennessee Titans: -5.3
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -7.9
30. New York Jets: -8.2
31. Oakland Raiders: -8.6
32. St. Louis Rams: -9.3
Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
$.01--The Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles staged quite a duel in the desert. The Cardinals prevailed 24-20 to improve to 6-1, handing the Eagles their second defeat in a penalty-plagued game brightened by a thrilling finish.
The contest featured over 900 yards of offense, none more impressive that rookie John Brown’s 75-yard basket catch behind two Eagles defenders to put the Cardinals ahead late. The play was the result of Arizona’s relentless aggression. Instead of trying to dink and dunk down the field for a tying field goal attempt, Carson Palmer aired it out on Arizona’s first play. The Eagles blew the coverage, apparently not expecting the quick challenge down the field.
The Cardinals defense also kept attacking once Philly had the ball. It didn’t look promising for them when Nick Foles moved the Eagles within striking distance, but Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles never took his foot off the gas. Blitzing in a situation where most teams fall back into passive “prevent” coverage is something many football aficionados clamor for, and Bowles proved them correct.
On the final play, Bowles brought the house. Foles actually got off a decent throw under duress, but rookie Jordan Matthews couldn’t stick either foot inbounds one play after a player half a foot shorter than him outleapt him to swat a pass away.
The aggressiveness can cost the Cardinals at times, but it’s a great way to inspire the fans. It’s also a great way to inspire the players, who are clearly excited about going for the throat instead of trying to simply hang on. Other teams don’t see it very often, and it causes problems…just as it did for Philadelphia on Sunday.
$.02--At the other end of the spectrum, the New York Jets lost their seventh in a row. Buffalo massacred the hapless Jets 43-23, thanks to four touchdown passes--in just 10 completions--by Kyle Orton and New York’s quarterbacks taking that position to new depths.
Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the first quarter, all within six Jets offensive plays of one another. Rex Ryan yanked him in favor of Mike Vick, and the move initially validated the raucous MetLife cheers. The Jets stormed back into the game with 17 second-quarter points, and that includes a drive Vick fumbled away.
The shot in the arm soon aimed lower down the body. Vick’s final line wasn’t much better than Smith’s:
After the game, Ryan seemed resigned to his fate. He couldn’t offer any thoughts on who will start at QB next week, Scylla or Charybdis. His team sorely lacks impact talent, nowhere more glaringly than at the most important position. GM John Idzik sat on piles of cap room instead of giving Ryan more tools, though it’s hard to know if Ryan could do much better with more talent. He’s a good coach, at times a great coach, but his shelf life in New York has expired. Both sides will be better for his departure after the season, but I believe Rex has done enough in the past to merit surviving the season.
$.03--Every team in the AFC North has a winning record. Every team in the NFC South has a losing record. While you ponder that inequity, consider how they’ve arrived at this feat…
The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens in a back-and-forth affair. Andy Dalton came up clutch for the Bengals, who desperately needed a win. Now they’ve swept the Ravens, thanks to a controversial offensive pass interference call on Steve Smith on what would have been a game-winning touchdown bomb. Smith clearly pushed off, but safety George Iloka did his best Vlade Divac impression in selling the contact to the watching eyes of the officials.
Pittsburgh bombed the high-flying Colts 51-34, with Ben Roethlisberger becoming the first QB in NFL history to have two 500-yard passing games. Big Ben threw for 522 yards and 6 TDs, while the Steelers defense picked off Andrew Luck twice in the statement victory. They’re not normally regarded as one of the league’s most explosive offenses, but the Steelers rank in the top 10 in yards per play, first downs per game and plays per game. Their defense isn’t good, but it’s good enough when the offense is humming.
Cleveland struggled for most of its game against Oakland, but some clutch throws by Brian Hoyer (love the pitch-and-catch with Gabriel) and an opportunistic defense allowed the Browns to pull away late. Confidence in Cleveland was shaky after losing to the previously winless Jaguars last week, but the Browns righted the ship and stayed firmly in the AFC playoff mix.
Carolina lost an offensively challenged 13-9 decision at home to Seattle. The final play, a 4th-and-25 situation near its own goal line, saw Carolina attempt a screen pass. Cam Newton bounced it behind the running back, and the ugly game was over. The Panthers defense was impressive in bottling up the Seahawks, but Newton threw for just 152 yards as the heretofore weak Seahawks pass rush harangued him all afternoon.
New Orleans matched Carolina at three wins by blowing away the Packers 44-23 in the Sunday night game. It didn’t hurt the Saints that Aaron Rodgers hurt his hamstring and was clearly hindered the rest of the night, allowing a 16-16 game to evolve into a beatdown. Mark Ingram ran like a man possessed, thrashing a cheesy Packers defensive front for 172 yards, including 8 runs of at least 10 yards. The Saints offense appeared to finally find its stride, and at 3-5 they’re the team with momentum.
I’ll cover the Falcons in a moment, but suffice to say Atlanta is in real trouble. Yet they’re still better than Tampa Bay, which barely topped 200 offensive yards in an overtime game. Their win over the Steelers, the only victory the Bucs have and perhaps the only one they get all year, stands as firm evidence of “Any Given Sunday”.
$.04--Those of us in the East woke up to actual football on Sunday. Atlanta and Detroit kicked off in London at 9:30 AM ET. And befitting the Dickensian location, it was a Tale of Two Halves.
Atlanta dominated the first half, routing the punchless Lions 21-0. Matt Ryan was sharp, picking apart the top-ranked Lions defense with a flurry of precise short passes and smart play calls. Atlanta’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage, a shocking development. The Lions were playing without Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, all three tight ends and their starting right tackle, and it sure looked like they were content to absorb a loss and limp into the bye week at 5-3.
Whatever Jim Caldwell told his team at halftime, it must’ve rivaled William Wallace in Braveheart. Matthew Stafford, awful in the first half, dramatically improved his play. The Lions had five possessions in the second half and scored on all of them, alternating field goals and touchdowns. The defense smothered Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense, holding them to just 75 yards on four drives, none of which produced points. Detroit’s furious rally capped off when Matt Prater made a 47-yarder as time expired, bending it like Beckham inside the left upright.
The Falcons played a major role in their own demise. Ryan threw one of the worst interceptions ever, hitting a wide open Cassius Vaughn with no Falcon within 10 yards in any direction of the Lions backup nickelback. Coach Mike Smith woefully mismanaged the clock, opting to throw when the Lions had no chance to stop the clock and then calling timeouts to help Detroit catch its breath on the final drive. Two dumb penalties, including a blatant defensive holding call, helped the Lions immeasurably.
Smith might not deserve to have his job when the Falcons land back in the states. On the flip side, Caldwell’s calm perseverance has helped the Lions overcome two double-digit 4th quarter deficits in a row. Stafford is doing his best Andrew Luck 2013 impression with his flair for digging a deep hole for his team, only to triumphantly lead the team back to the shocking comeback victory. It’s a remarkable turn of events for a Lions team with a long history of finding ways to lose games like these.
$.05--Thursday night brought an AFC West showdown between the Broncos and Chargers, both of which entered with legit claim to best team in the conference. Denver emphatically snared that designation with an impressive 35-21 home throttling.
Peyton Manning leapt ahead of Philip Rivers in the battle for MVP in the process. Manning was magnificent, completing 25-of-35 for 286 yards and three TDs. Rivers was no slouch, going 30-of-41 for 252 yards and three TDs of his own. But he made two mistakes, one of which came on San Diego’s first possession of the second half when the score was 14-7 Denver. The Broncos capitalized on Chris Harris’ interception when Manning found Emmanuel Sanders for his third touchdown catch of the night.
This is the beauty of Denver’s attack. San Diego did a great job focusing coverage on the Thomases, Julius and Demaryius. Manning simply shifted his focus to Sanders, and the Chargers--with injury issues in the secondary--had no answer. Sanders had just 6 catches for 79 yards in the prior two games. Yet when Manning looked his way, he delivered. Ditto running back Ronnie Hillman, now with 283 yards on 58 carries in the last three weeks after taking over for the injured Montee Ball. The depth of their skill position talent is overwhelming.
Yet the biggest reason why I place the Broncos atop my mid-year power poll (see the next cent!) is their improving defense. Von Miller is a terror, and with Demarcus Ware on the other side there is balance. Malik Jackson deserves more attention for his improved play up front, while Brandon Marshall (not that one) has emerged as a good cover linebacker. The AFC is clustered, but there’s one clear team above all others and that’s Denver.
$.06--Since every team has now played 8 games, save Dallas and Washington on Monday night, I finally feel comfortable enough to do a legit power poll. Here are my rankings:
1. Denver Broncos
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. Dallas Cowboys (assuming they win Monday)
4. New England Patriots
5. Philadelphia Eagles
6. Green Bay Packers
7. San Diego Chargers
8. Detroit Lions
9. Indianapolis Colts
10. San Francisco 49ers
11. Baltimore Ravens
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
13. Seattle Seahawks
14. Cincinnati Bengals
15. Kansas City Chiefs
16. Buffalo Bills
17. New York Giants
18. Miami Dolphins
19. Carolina Panthers
20. Houston Texans
21. Cleveland Browns
22. New Orleans Saints
23. Minnesota Vikings
24. Washington Ethnic Slurs
25. Chicago Bears
26. Atlanta Falcons
27. St. Louis Rams
28. Tennessee Titans
29. Oakland Raiders
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
32. New York Jets
I know, I know…how can I rate Indy above Pittsburgh, or Baltimore above Cincinnati after their Sunday outcomes. Easy. It’s a cumulative ranking in an Any Given Sunday league.
$.07--The NFL trade deadline comes this week, and we’ve already seen a couple of moves, notably Percy Harvin to the Jets. While there will be speculative articles written by every major publication trying to drum up rumors, there likely won’t be more than a minor move or two for a conditional, late-round pick.
It’s a shame, really. NFL teams should be much more active in making deals. Teams decimated by injuries but still harboring playoff run aspirations ought to try. Here are some teams with pressing needs and some players from likely non-playoff teams who should be available:
New England needs a running back. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin should be available for a warm shower, but another NFC South team could offer something a little more intriguing. How about Steven Jackson in Atlanta, a team heading in the wrong direction and in desperate need of future depth?
Green Bay needs an inside linebacker. The Jets have David Harris, a quality player in the final year of his contract who at 30 shouldn’t be part of New York’s future. The Jets make an interesting trade partner because they can absorb a bad contract or two in return…perhaps Brad Jones, a decidedly inferior player to Harris? Green Bay could sweeten the pot by offering a 3rd rounder to rid themselves of Jones instead of the normal 5th-6th Harris would cost them.
Carolina could use a wideout. Don’t snicker, they’re a first-place team at 3-4-1. Anyhow, Tennessee’s Nate Washington is withering away in Nashville in the final year of his contract. He’d make a quality mentor for Kelvin Benjamin, but more importantly is a player who can reliably get open quickly for Cam Newton.
The Dallas Cowboys could use some reinforcements along the defensive line. The Rams can offer either William Hayes or Kendall Langford, either of which would make a great third tackle for the Cowboys. St. Louis has so much invested at that position it makes sense for them to sell one off for a 4th-5th round pick. Dallas would have to do something to absorb a new contract, however.
None of these will happen, unfortunately. That’s too bad because some teams could really help themselves by making a move or two.
--Oakland attempted a fake field goal, which morphed into backup QB Matt Schaub lined up in the shotgun. He fumbled the snap and proceeded to throw a panicked strike directly to Tashaun Gipson…who plays for Cleveland. It didn’t quite end in a pick-six, but no matter. Schaub should never see the NFL field again.
--Tennessee started 6th-round rookie Zack Mettenberger at quarterback against Houston. He led the Titans to one drive lasting more than 6 plays in a 30-16 loss that looks closer than it was thanks to a garbage-time TD pass. He was 10-for-17 or 78 yards and an INT when the game was still competitive.
--As ineffective as Mettenberger was, check out what the Rams did…
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Between opening TD drive, and garbage time yards on final two possessions, Rams had exactly 65 yards over three-quarter span.</p>— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) <a href="https://twitter.com/jthom1/status/526482482229956610">October 26, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
--Wembley Stadium in London was packed to the gills and enthusiastic, but the playing surface was horrible. Large clumps of long turf repeatedly flew up as if Phil Mickelson was hitting flop shots instead of NFL players cutting and planting.
--Minnesota took some heat for drafting Anthony Barr with the 9th overall pick last May. Their gumption paid off Sunday, as Barr stripped Austin Seferian-Jenkins and ran back the fumble for the overtime game-winner. The UCLA product has been impressive all year, even more so considering this is just his third year playing defense.
--spent Friday night watching South Alabama vs. Troy, with the spotlight on Jaguars (that’s USA) QB Brandon Bridge. The 6’5” Canuck by way of Appalachian State is getting major buzz and Colin Kaepernick comparisons. His first TD throw easily calls Kaep to mind, extending a play with his long legs but keeping his eyes down the field and firing a cannon shot behind the defense.
Unfortunately he is wild with the ball. There is very little touch, and his ball placement is often reminiscent of none other than Tim Tebow. Even his completions, and his percentage while playing in the lowly Sun Belt hovers around 52%, often require great effort and concentration from his receivers. Bridge got hurt late in the first half, but did return. I need to see more of him than this and the one other game I’ve watched, but at this point he’s not anywhere close to NFL ready and should be drafted as such.
--when USA/Troy was on, I was also watching Gunner Kiel and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Kiel is much more pedigreed and a more accomplished passer even though he’s just a redshirt sophomore. He showed his downfield accuracy and polished mechanics, and also flashed some agility. Unfortunately he too left his game early, suffering a rib injury before halftime. If he declares--and there are some hints he will--Kiel could very well be in the top 25. NFL coaches will love his arm, style and total-package talent.
--thought it was weird when I heard Kansas State scheduled Texas for its homecoming game. The Wildcats shut out the Longhorns thanks to another strong effort from stud CB Danzel McDaniel, yeoman DE Ryan Mueller, and just enough offense from Jake Waters and the offense. They’re not pretty but they’re also not a team anyone wants to play.
--one week after West Virginia WR Kevin White staked his claim to the top wideout spot, Alabama’s Amari Cooper answered. Cooper had 6 catches for 194 yards and two TDs…with about 7 minutes to go in the first half. He flashed his open-field ability on his 80-yard TD catch and run, something I believe he has improved from last year.
--TCU hung 82 on Texas Tech. 82. Nothing more needs to be said.
$.10--Since the NBA tips off this week, I’ll provide my brief thoughts on what I think happens in my second-favorite league. Frequent readers will note I’m a Cavaliers lifer with a son who loves his Houston Rockets, and we are salivating at the possibility of a Cleveland-Houston finals…
That’s not going to happen. I think the Cavaliers will make it, under two conditions:
1. Kyrie Irving can handle being Lebron’s accomplice and not the featured player
2. Anderson Varejao stays healthy
There’s an awful lot of guys in Cleveland who need the ball. Nobody handles that better than Lebron, and I’m optimistic that Irving & Love’s USA National Team experience helps out.
The team that worries me the most is Chicago, which nicely addressed their horrendous outside shooting. Derrick Rose is the key; if he’s close to his old self, they can beat Cleveland in a 7-game series. Can. Doesn’t mean I think they will, however.
Toronto is the only other team in the East that wins more than one playoff game against either of those top two if the Cavs and Bulls are healthy. As is their annual lot in life, the Atlanta Hawks will win 43 games and capture the 7 seed before falling in five in the first round.
Detroit will chase after Miami and Brooklyn for the 8th seed but winds up 9th, just ahead of the Knicks. The Bucks will lose at least 58 and still be 8 games better than the 76ers, who will threaten the worst record in NBA history. I can’t name more than two Sixers and I’m a pretty big NBA fan.
The West is more competitive. San Antonio’s age makes them vulnerable, but no team plays better together than Duncan, Parker & Co. Oklahoma City will remain a top contender, but I’m quite concerned at how they integrate Kevin Durant back into the lineup once he’s recovered. Russell Westbrook will have full control of the team in his absence and I’m not sold he will relinquish that happily.
Golden State and the Clippers will be fun to watch. I think the Warriors defense will help them pull off a first-round upset, perhaps the Thunder if it’s the 3-6 matchup. Portland always has a chance with Lillard and Aldridge, though their depth isn’t strong enough.
My son’s Rockets will fall back. They’re going to miss Chandler Parsons more than expected, and until James Harden at least tries to play defense or run an offensive play that doesn’t end with him going to the free throw line the offense will have major stagnant patches.
Houston and Dallas will be the 7th & 8th seeds and quickly dismissed. I can see Goran Dragic--the best player you’ve never heard of--sneaking the Suns into the playoffs if anyone in Phoenix can rebound or protect the rim. The Lakers…nope, not gonna happen.
My prediction: Lebron leads our hometown Cavaliers to the first major sports title in Cleveland in 50 years, taking MVP honors as the Cavs beat the Spurs 4-2. And that sound you hear will be me bellowing in pure joy as I sprint around my neighborhood with tears of joy pouring down my face.
Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
This is the first in-season edition this year. The preseason version can be found here.
The draft order here is my projection of how the NFL season will play out. Try to not get caught up in that if you dispute where a team might be picking here.
This is a projection more about where I think the players will wind up being slotted than any team/player marriages. This does not necessarily match up with my player ratings or where I think a player should be drafted; two players listed here in the first round will not be in my top 75 prospects. Give yourself a pat on the back if you can ascertain which ones they are. You can ask me on Twitter @JeffRisdon or comment at the bottom of the page here.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Williams, DT, USC
It’s rare when the team picking first doesn’t need a QB, but the Jaguars tabbed Blake Bortles last draft. Now they must load up one of the worst defenses in NFL history. Williams is a great place to start, a scheme-versatile impact rusher with outstanding athleticism but also a high football IQ and motor.
2. St. Louis Rams: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Sam Bradford experiment has to be over. The Jeff Fisher experiment probably should be over too, as his strategy of spending multiple first-round picks on defensive linemen has miserably failed. A new coach gets to start fresh with Mariota, the clear-cut #1 QB in this class. He’s still not a complete product but has a sky-high ceiling with his arm, legs and brains. If the Rams, Bucs or Jets wind up picking #1 I strongly believe Mariota will be the pick, even though it’s only October.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
The 6’8”, sculpted Oakman is the player Lovie Smith sees in his dreams, an impact athlete on the edge of his anemic defense. He’s improved his leverage and field vision this year. Many will project a QB to the Bucs, but I can see them waiting for a certain player to fall a la how Cleveland wound up with Johnny Football last year.
4. Oakland Raiders: Brandon Scherff, T, Iowa
There will be a big debate about who will be the top tackle in this draft, with some favoring Scherff, others Cedric Ogbuehi and maybe a few who like Andrus Peat. Scherff offers the nastiness and ability to play either side right away, a nice trait to have for a team that figures to do lots of shuffling up front. He and Gabe Jackson would make a formidable duo in front of Derek Carr.
5. Washington: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
One of the easiest marriages between primary need and best available talent as you’ll ever find in a mock draft. Collins is head and shoulders above all other safety prospects, and that position has been Washington’s biggest need for the last 2-3 years. I will not change this pick if Collins is available when the Slurs pick in any other mock draft.
6. New York Jets: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
A new coach and GM, which seems a certainty if the Jets are indeed picking this high, will want to remake the team. It starts at QB, where the new regime will have no loyalty to Geno Smith…nor should they. Cook is the most ready of the pro-style quarterbacks, drawing comparisons to Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan. It might surprise you to see him going this high, but funny things happen when teams are desperate for quarterbacks.
7. Tennessee Titans: Dante Fowler, Edge, Florida
Fowler is an intriguing pass rusher with great bend and the ability to play standing up or in-line, depending on the situation. The Titans certainly need a quarterback but it seems forced to take one here. Building up the defense to handle other quarterbacks takes precedence in this spot.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
Wide receiver is not Minnesota’s biggest need, not by a longshot. Yet White is such a desirable talent that he becomes too tempting to pass up with his size, strength and positive swagger. My trusted colleague Justin Higdon compares him to Larry Fitzgerald and it’s hard to disagree once you get past the shock value of the statement. Linebacker and left tackle are bigger needs, however.
9. New Orleans Saints: Randy Gregory, Edge, Nebraska
Gregory engenders lots of divisive thoughts amongst the draft community. His positives--an explosive burst, great length, finishing ability--are exactly what the Saints need to bring more defensive heat at outside backer. His negatives--poor field sense, subpar strength, lousy play vs. strong competition--could be enough to make him fall this far.
10. Atlanta Falcons: Shane Ray, Edge, Missouri
Atlanta has serious needs along both lines, though with Jake Matthews and Lamar Holmes they’re okay at tackle on offense. That means it’s time to address the anemic pass rush. Ray fits the bill, as he will sit atop some draft boards at pass rusher. His ability to play standing up or inline allows creativity in bringing pressure. I have to think they’re Landon Collins’ draft floor at this point.
11. Chicago Bears: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
The defensive overhaul continues in Chicago, where the run defense remains abysmal and the pass rush strictly from the flanks. Shelton is quite light on his feet for a 335+ pound tackle, but he plays like a hungry bear fighting for breeding prowess. They need safety and outside linebacker (much) more, but none fit the value here.
12. Houston Texans: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Give the Texans even an average quarterback and they’re a playoff team in the AFC. Alas, they have Ryan Fitzpatrick. Hundley has some real issues, but he’s also a crafty, elusive field general with a rocket arm. A QB mentor like Bill O’Brien will be tantalized by what could be with Hundley.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers: Markus Golden, DE, Missouri
Golden has taken over the Kony Ealy role in Mizzou’s defense, playing SAM backer, end and even tackle within the same quarter. He’s at his best attacking gaps and using his hands to create space for himself. Pittsburgh must continue to rebuild the defense from the front to the back, and Golden figures to be a riser in the draft process.
14. Kansas City Chiefs: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The annual rite of passage of mocking the Chiefs a legit playmaking wideout continues. At some point they’ll listen. Cooper has improved his burst at the top of his routes and still has his amazing body control and hands. I really don’t see them going QB here, though if they’re picking this high it’s in no small part because Alex Smith isn’t the answer.
15. Cleveland Browns: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Speaking of playmaking wideouts, Strong showed the general populous what the draft community has known awhile in the USC game, snatching the Hail Mary for a game-winning touchdown. He compares to Julio Jones, though not quite as top-end fast. The Browns can either pair him with Josh Gordon or use him as insurance form further knucklehead behavior from their current, troubled star.
16. New York Giants: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Someone is going to draft Gurley in the first round, period. It might as well be New York, which has lost David Wilson and can certainly use Gurley’s power, vision and finishing ability as an inside-out runner. He’ll be the highest-rated runner in the draft since at least Trent Richardson, perhaps going back to Adrian Peterson.
17. Cleveland Browns (from BUF): Bud Dupree, Edge, Kentucky
Dupree doesn’t get as much publicity as many of his SEC brethren, but he’s perhaps the most NFL-ready in terms of getting to the quarterback and knowing what to do when he gets there. His best spot is at strong outside backer in a 3-4, and Cleveland happens to need more help there. Most teams do.
18. San Francisco 49ers: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
This has been a rough season for Ifo, as teams have opted to pick on his lack of height with surprising success. He’s still got his outstanding ball skills and sure tackling, but being 5’9” (maybe) really impacts the draft stock. The 49ers figure to covet someone with his playmaking ability and propensity for playing inside and out.
19. Miami Dolphins: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Thompson is essentially a safety playing linebacker, and that’s a role which projects usefully to the next level. His speed, range and comfort playing in space would allow the Dolphins to use him in multiple roles, from blitzing to man coverage on tight ends and bigger slot wideouts.
20. Green Bay Packers: Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
The Packers have not had much luck drafting defensive front 7 talent in recent years, and McKinney strikes many as a boom/bust prospect. Yet if he hits as a player as well as he hits collegiate running backs, the Packers finally have some teeth to the middle of their soft defense. They’ll have to coach out his freelancing tendencies, however.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Cincinnati’s starting outside corners are both in their mid-30s, so it’s no stretch for them to go after a technically sound outside man corner. He’s an aggressive, confident talent but needs someone to reign in his intensity and attitude, which has caused him issues with both teammates and coaches. The Bengals have as much experience with those type of talents as anyone.
22. Carolina Panthers: Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
First off, allow me to dispel the antiquated notion that Funchess is a tight end. Having seen him up close in both August and October, he’s visibly shrunken enough that he’s likely in the 220-225 pound range. He and Kelvin Benjamin would give Cam Newton a duo like White/Jones in Atlanta or Marshall/Jeffery in Chicago, though Funchess is more natural going over the middle than any of those talents.
23. Detroit Lions: Ty Sambrailo, T, Colorado State
The regression of Detroit’s offensive line in 2014 has been a disturbing development. One way to fix it is to draft an agile, crafty left tackle like Sambrailo and slide Riley Reiff inside to left guard. Sambrailo just might wind up my top-rated tackle even though he’s under the radar at this point. I’m a believer that one of Fairley and Suh will return at DT, though taking one here to rebuild the depth certainly makes sense too.
24. Seattle Seahawks: Spencer Drango, T, Baylor
Tackles with his length and natural agility don’t come around often, and the Seahawks haven’t been shy about drafting players who fit their mold even if it seems like a reach to most. As long as his back and knees check out, Drango would be a good value here as someone who can help protect Russell Wilson as well as roaming with him on the move.
25. New England Patriots: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
If the Patriots opt to reload for one more run with Tom Brady, getting a physical freak like DGB to roam the sidelines and red zone makes a lot of sense. He’s got baggage to deal with, not playing at Oklahoma after being tossed from Missouri, but he also has the athletic ability to be a star in the NFL.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
The Ravens have started to find some offensive balance with Justin Forsett, but he’s a journeyman. Gordon is bigger, stronger and probably faster in the open field, but what makes the Badgers star a great prospect is his uncanny vision. Worries about his ability in the passing game--which Wisconsin seldom uses him--could cause him to fall out of the first.
27. Arizona Cardinals: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
The Seminole pipeline at cornerback continues with the lanky Williams, who appears to be a natural fit as a hybrid CB/S in the manner of a Kenny Vaccaro or Antrell Rolle. No matter who picks the junior, they’ll want to be patient as his football ability lags behind his athleticism. The Cardinals continue to build the professional version of the Desert Swarm defense.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Waynes brings great length, competitiveness and a natural ballhawking ability to the table. He suffers from bouts of inconsistent intensity, but if the coaches can keep him focused he makes the improved Dallas defense much more dangerous. Stocking up more defensive line talent makes a lot of sense here too.
29. San Diego Chargers: Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
He’s drawn comparisons to Calais Campbell, though Armstead isn’t as twitchy (not a negative). As a long, strong 5-technique, Armsted has already shown his worth against both the run and pass at Oregon. He and Corey Liuget together up front would make a pretty darn good Chargers defense even better.
30. Indianapolis Colts: Andrus Peat, T, Stanford
The Colts go back to Stanford for another first-rounder, selecting the giant left tackle to help reinforce the protection in front of Andrew Luck. Peat has not played to expectations in 2014, and that’s an understatement. Still, this is an athlete with outstanding physical traits once widely regarded as a top-10 lock. I doubt he falls further than this, right or wrong. GM Ryan Grigson has never shied from controversial moves.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Speaking of controversy, you might have heard more about Winston off the field than on it this year. Focusing strictly on the field, the reigning Heisman winner offers outstanding potential with his anticipation, ability to read the defense and agility. Yet there are significant character concerns, ones which dwarf what Cam Newton went through a few years ago. I can see Winston going in the top 5 or falling out of the first entirely. If not Philly taking him here, a trade up from a team like Tampa Bay or St. Louis if they haven’t already sated their QB thirst seems realistic.
32. Denver Broncos: Leonard Floyd, Edge, Georgia
He’s pretty one-dimensional, but Floyd is extremely good at what he does best--rushing the passer off the edge. He’s shown an improving ability to mix up his moves and get free from blockers. Testing could wind up elevating him well above this slot, but for now the Broncos would have to be happy to land a player with his potential.
Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Draft, Draft Misc
The NFL kicks off Week 8 with its best game of the weekend on Thursday in Broncos/Chargers, while the Saints look to salvage their season against the Packers, and the rest of the week's games.
The Dolphins recorded an impressive win at Chicago and now rank No. 2 in the Trench Counter, behind the Ravens and ahead of the Packers, Chargers, Broncos, Cowboys, Colts and Cardinals.
The Cowboys avoid a let down, Seattle loses again, Jaguars get their first win, Denver dominates San Francisco, an interesting day for the NFC North and the Percy Harvin trade.
The Broncos host the 49ers in the matchup of the week, while other intriguing games include Lions/Saints, Bengals/Colts, Bears/Dolphins, Chargers/Chiefs and Cowboys/Giants.
The Chargers and 49ers moved into the top-3 behind the Ravens, while the Cowboys' big win moved them into the top-10 and dropped Seattle from No. 1 to No. 9.
Sunday provided one of the more entertaining days of NFL action in a long time. Several games came down to final possessions, including one where neither team won.