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Initial 2015 NFL Mock Draft

By Jeff Risdon

I know, college football season hasn’t even started yet. So why put out a mock draft now?

There are a couple of reasons. First, consider this a sort of “watch list” for players who I believe could wind up as first-round picks next May. I haven’t really perused other mock drafts to this point, so the players populating this list are talents I believe are either already highly regarded or will emerge to that level in the ’14 season.

Second, it’s always fun to look ahead and try to project where NFL teams will be nine months from now. What might they be looking for in the ’15 draft? Obviously that’s quite difficult to predict, as several teams will have coaching and front office changes.

The order here is based on current (as of 8/18/14) season win total over/under lines in ascending order. In cases of ties, I broke those ties with my own forecast for which team will win more games. The draft order here is technically impossible, as it does not account for division winners and playoff seeding. Get past that, folks…

1. Oakland Raiders: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Sure they just drafted Derek Carr in the second round. They cannot afford to look past a superior overall prospect and dual-threat weapon like Mariota. He needs some passing polish, but the physical tools are all there for Mariota to be Colin Kaepernick’s equal, if not superior. He’s just a junior, so it’s far from a given that he declares.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon. Ducks go 1-2 in this premature edition. IEO, as he’s known in scouting shorthand, enters the season as my personal No. 1 overall player. He’s got size, speed, vision, instincts and playmaking flair. He has a chance to be the best CB in the NFL at some point, something that cannot be said of any first-rounders in the last 2-3 drafts.

3. Cleveland Browns: Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn. He’s a downfield demon with legit 4.3 speed, impressive for a rocked-up 6’2”, 200+ pounder. Coates is dripping with potential. If he shows he can improve his footwork on routes and concentration over the middle, he’s going to be the first wideout taken. The Browns need every weapon they can get for Johnny Football, and character concerns are going to matter. Coates

4. Cleveland (from Buffalo Bills): Vic Beasley, Edge, Clemson. The booty for dealing the pick that became Sammy Watkins to Buffalo is the top pass-rushing prospect heading into the season. Beasley has a lightning first step and great closing burst to the ball. He fits better as a 3-4 OLB as he appears fairly maxed out at about 245 pounds.

5. Minnesota Vikings: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford. The Vikings already have a solid pair of tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but Peat could be too skilled to pass on here. He’s got outstanding length and quick feet, a natural left tackle. The Vikings do like to trade picks, too…

6. Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DT, USC. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Ndamukong Suh since the Lions stud was dominating at Nebraska. A violently strong interior presence with the athleticism to play anywhere along the line, the rising junior has everything NFL teams want. The Titans have a sturdy young line with Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin and Sammie Lee Hill, but Williams gives them real star potential up front. Have to think that if they’re picking this high they’ll look strongly at a QB, however.

7. Houston Texans: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. It might seem inconceivable for the reigning Heisman winner and field general of the national champs is not a top 5 pick, let alone No. 1 overall. I think he’s a victim of hyper-scrutiny about his character, but also his surprisingly spotty mechanics and accuracy. He can--and I suspect he will--iron the on-field issues out, and that should be enough to convince the Texans to trust him with the keys to the franchise.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa. The Bucs offensive line is in the process of a major turnover, and Scherff has the potential to be the centerpiece of a rebuilt front. Physical and relentless, he’s likely a right tackle at the next level, but could be an awesome one. When I graded him for the ’14 draft he came out ahead of No. 11 overall pick Taylor Lewan, a similar style of player. Scherff isn’t as athletic, however.

9. New York Jets: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State. If you liked Mike Evans in the ’14 draft, Strong is your kind of receiver. Big and strong (no pun intended) with a huge catch radius, the 6’4” junior is a better route runner than Evans already. He’s a viable potential No. 1 receiver, something the Jets could pair nicely with a talented No. 2 in Eric Decker. 

10. St. Louis Rams: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA. If the Rams miss out on the playoffs once again, it’s likely Sam Bradford’s fault. That means it’s time for a change, and that change is the rangy Bruins junior. He’s a divisive prospect already, as some (I raise my hand high) worry about his accuracy as much as they are tantalized by his huge arm and great size.

11. Washington Ethnic Slurs: Landon Collins, S, Alabama. Washington drafted a pair of safeties in 2013, but Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo have yet to emerge past decidedly average journeymen Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather. Collins is a do-it-all safety with strong tackling skills and solid instincts vs. the pass, giving them a long-term solution at a position of growing importance. Collins is just a junior.

12. Arizona Cardinals: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Fowler is a rising junior with freak closing speed and lateral quickness for a 275ish-pound edge player. He’s not afraid to get physical. If he can clean up his positional discipline and continue to wreak havoc in backfields, he could go a lot higher than 12th. I think the Cardinals are better than this slot, so for them to add another impact piece to their solid defense would be quite fortunate. Fowler and Calais Campbell would be a devastating DE/OLB duo to try and block.

13. New York Giants: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M. Ogbuehi continues the strong line of premium tackles in College Station. He’s not quite as high-end as Luke Joeckel or Jake Matthews, but he’s a high-floor talent who is ready to start right out of the box at either tackle spot. The rebuild of the Giants offense continues by building up the front and adding skill position weapons in the next few rounds.

14. Miami Dolphins: Devante Parker, WR, Louisville. Long and strong, Parker proved he could make the tough catch from Teddy Bridgewater. Now he gets to break in a new QB at Louisville. His projected 4.55 speed waters down his draft stock a bit, but there might not be a better catcher of the football in the next draft. He’d make a great complement for Mike Wallace to help Ryan Tannehill’s progression in Miami.

15. Kansas City Chiefs: Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford. A blazing speedster with reliable hands, Montgomery would immediately upgrade a Kansas City receiving corps that scares Chiefs fans more than it does opponents. In his junior season, he can elevate his stock by improving his footwork and selling his moves better.

16. Carolina Panthers: P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State. A fluid athlete with a very high football IQ, Williams will get a lot of exposure playing for the Seminoles. He can elevate himself higher than this if he makes more impact plays as a junior. He would immediately step into Carolina and be their No. 1 corner.

17. San Diego Chargers: Shilique Calhoun, Edge, Michigan State. He’s a fierce pass rusher with explosive athletic metrics, a perfect fit along a Chargers front that needs more sizzle off the edge. His ability to play both end and 3-4 outside backer gives the defense more options. The junior reminds me of Mario Williams.

18. Dallas Cowboys: Randy Gregory, Edge, Nebraska. Another player who is going to divide the draft community, Gregory has potential to be a dynamic edge rusher with a great first step. If he can even out some truly ugly ’13 game tape (Michigan, among others), the rising junior would bring speed and length to what appears to be a brutal Dallas defense.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Funchess, TE/WR, Michigan. He’s a hybrid receiver along the lines of Eric Ebron or Tyler Eifert, a wideout in a tight end frame. The junior offers great potential as a seam-stretcher and giant slot presence. He could blossom with more consistent QB play, something he would get in Pittsburgh with Big Ben.

20. Atlanta Falcons: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia. The two-year drought of first round running backs ends with the eminently talented Bulldogs junior. He will remind some of Steven Jackson, others of Marshawn Lynch. With Jackson nearing the end, the Falcons could add the local product to bolster and balance the Matt Ryan-centric offense.

21. Detroit Lions: La’el Collins, OT, LSU. A massive and punishing line presence, Collins offers the Lions options up front. LaAdrian Waddle and Riley Reiff are both versatile, which would allow Detroit to find the best combination to help fuel their high-powered offense. Yes, once again the Lions do not take a first-round corner…that’s what free agency is for.

22. Baltimore Ravens: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. With Darqueze Dennard now a Bengal, the Ravens tap his Spartans mate to be their own shutdown corner. The rising junior has size and attitude, two attributes in high demand in the NFL today. Of all the picks I’ve made here, this is the one that is the most likely to actually come to fruition.

23. Chicago Bears: Derron Smith, S, Fresno State. Smith is a playmaking cover safety, something the Bears desperately need. He lacks size but doesn’t lack punch when he’s flying all over the field. He’d make a great fit for Chicago in the pass-happy NFC North, a division I think they win in 2014 despite a still-leaky defense.

24. Philadelphia Eagles: Noah Spence, Edge, Ohio State. The rising junior performed at his best against top competition, and he’s an impact player against both the run and pass. His game is similar to Kyle Van Noy from the ’14 draft, and Spence has the similar lack of power and strength that he can build up to improve his stock.

25. Cincinnati Bengals: Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina. Bengals fans are used to a former SEC behemoth anchoring the offensive line. As Andrew Whitworth approaches his mid-30s, Cincinnati reloads with the 6’7”, 330ish Robinson. He’s still fairly raw with his technique, but you can’t coach his length and brute power.

26. Indianapolis Colts: Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA. The junior’s upside is similar to the good Nick Fairley, a disruptive gap penetrator with both power and quickness. McCarthy has to be reminded he’s big at times, but guys his size (6’4”, 325) with his movement skills from a major program typically don’t last long on draft boards.

27. New Orleans Saints: Ramik Wilson, ILB, Georgia. A tightly-wound tackling machine with decent range, Wilson would make a great fit in Rob Ryan’s aggressive, oft-unconventional defense. He could lead the nation in tackles in 2014, but his best NFL attribute might be his cover skills in the short and intermediate range.

28. San Francisco 49ers: Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston. Every year there are a couple of surprise first round picks, and it’s often the 49ers who make one. Greenberry is a long, speedy monster along the lines of Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas. He needs to show his strength more frequently, and then the junior can take the NFL draft process by storm.

29. Green Bay Packers: Alvin Dupree, Edge, Kentucky. Dupree is a player I think will blossom going forward as he gets stronger and learns how to better use his hands. He’s already physical and has nifty feet for a 260-something pound edge rusher, and he’s also shown he is fluid in space. Great fit for a zone blitzing team like Dom Capers’ Packers, who can use him opposite Clay Matthews.

30. New England Patriots: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. This is probably lower than you’ll see the talented Cooper in most mock drafts, but his lack of any elite trait will water down his stock. That doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t be getting a potentially great receiver, as his sticky hands, route savvy and professional polish are all already evident.

31. Seattle Seahawks: Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State. The player Greene most reminds me of is former Seahawk Golden Tate, who took the money and ran to Detroit. He’s comfortable lining up in the slot or outside, has superb hands and body control and he can make tacklers miss. He’s not as fast at Tate, but the reigning Super Bowl champs can use his NFL-ready game.

32. Denver Broncos: Josh Shaw, CB, USC. The onetime Florida star recruit has the traits of a hybrid corner/safety a la Kenny Vaccaro or Calvin Pryor, two recent first round picks. His high football IQ and great burst out of breaks should translate well to the NFL. Denver needs to keep reloading secondary talent. 

Next 10 players picked: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington; Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State; Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami; Ty Smabrailo, OT, Colorado State; Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland; Jordan Jenkins, Edge, Georgia; Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Christian Covington, DT, Rice


Miami Dolphins 2014 Season Preview

By Jeff Risdon

2013: 8-8, t-2nd in AFC East

2014 Over/Under: +/- 8 wins

Why the over

If the Miami Dolphins are going to top last year’s eight wins, it’s going to come from the defense. There is strong talent at all three levels--potentially. Turning all that potential into consistently effective play is the trick.

The pass rush is in great shape. Cameron Wake is a dynamo as the left end, producing 46 sacks in the last four years. He’s got great burst off the line but can also win with his impressive ability to transfer speed into power.

Miami found a strong complement to him in Olivier Vernon, who bagged 11.5 sacks off the right side last year. The local product took a major leap forward in his second season, and he should push double-digit sacks again. In fact, the duo could net 25 combined sacks with a little luck.

The Dolphins are also in good shape inside up front with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. They’re both solid all-around tackles. Odrick has some consistency issues and takes himself out of too many plays, but he can also make life very difficult for opposing offenses. They even have depth up front with Derrick Shelby and Earl Mitchell. It’s a deep and functional front.

Linebacker Koa Misi has developed nicely. He’s a reliable tackler with solid range, and he offers some juice as a blitzer too. There is stability with fellow backers Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, both of whom can also bring some heat on the blitz. Of course they are shuffling the deck a bit, moving Misi inside to try and spark a rebound from Ellerbe.

The secondary offers some promise. Brent Grimes was quietly great in his first season in Miami. Grimes was strong in coverage but just as importantly, when he ceded receptions he immediately cleaned them up with sure tackling.

I was a big fan of Jamar Taylor out of Boise State, the team’s second-round pick in 2013. He was never 100% and struggled as a rookie, but I really like his potential to step up and emerge as a quality starter in his second season. The team did bring in some insurance with Cortland Finnegan, though that’s more of a longshot gamble than anything to rely upon.

Adding safety Louis Delmas could be a boon, if he can stay healthy. He’s a hard-hitting playmaker with infectious confidence and brings a real presence to the back end of the defense. He proved more durable in his last year in Detroit, though that came at the expense of not practicing. He and Reshad Jones are big variables. Both are Pro Bowl-potential safeties if they click together and bring the consistency.

Offensively, it’s hard to imagine the line being any worse. At least four new starters will play, perhaps five if center Mike Pouncey isn’t healthy. The bigger issue here is that Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin are both mercifully gone. That’s the best example of addition by subtraction in the NFL.

There is some skill position talent on the roster. I like Ryan Tannehill as a quarterback, though he must take better care of the ball than his 30 INTs in the last two seasons indicates. Some of that was a function of being under constant duress from a truly awful offensive line, too. Tannehill was the most-sacked QB in the league last year--by double digits--and that comes on top of finishing second in throwaways. When he had time, he showed he could find the correct option and deliver a strong-armed strike. Matt Moore is a solid veteran backup who doesn’t get enough credit for how well he played during his periodic starts over his career.

Mike Wallace offers high-end potential. He and Brian Hartline could be a decent tandem. Wallace must live up to his lofty free agent contract, something he did not do in his first season with Miami. They even added a couple of rookies I like in Jarvis Landry and Matt Hazel, so there is some youthful potential. Charles Clay is a useful tight end/h-back with some giddyup. The receiving cast has the makings of a group that can emerge as better than the sum of its parts, yet has a couple of very nice parts too.

The Dolphins are entering camp with about 10 running backs competing for spots. I like the addition of Knowshon Moreno, although he could begin on PUP and miss several games. Lamar Miller does a solid job of eking out yards after contact and has some open-field elusiveness. He projects as a better fit in the new offense. Daniel Thomas is an effective short-yardage back who can break some tackles. If that troika is all healthy, Miami has a very strong, versatile backfield with some playmaking dynamics. That’s a great thing to have when the receiving corps is questionable.

The specialists are top notch. Caleb Sturgis finished his rookie campaign poorly but should rebound. Meanwhile, Brandon Fields is one of the better punters in the league.

Why the under

Before even getting to the players, just browse the above “positives” section. Notice how many of those have conditionals attached.

Tannehill “should” improve. Wallace and Hartline “could be” a solid wide receiver duo. Knowshon Moreno could begin on PUP. Lamar Miller “projects” better. Louis Delmas “could be” a boon if he’s healthy. Jamar Taylor has “potential” to step up.

There is very little positive certainty other than the defensive front, half the secondary and the punter. Uncertainty is opportunity for gamblers, but it’s a real tough way to approach a NFL season.

The biggest variable is Tannehill, now entering his third season. It’s just his fifth season playing quarterback, and that inexperience often rears its ugly head. He has very good mobility but doesn’t use it with discretion, appearing to scramble without an end game in mind. He throws a pretty deep ball but often aims it instead of throwing it. At times he creates pressure on plays where his offensive line is holding up well.

Ah yes, the O-line. Some of the new additions are major upgrades, notably left tackle Branden Albert. I was a Dallas Thomas fan in his draft class and he could be a solid left guard. Yet the line will need time to develop chemistry and cohesion. They’re starting an overdrafted rookie in Ja’Wuan James at right tackle and a career backup in Shelley Smith at right guard. I do like James’ potential but it would look a lot better if he had a more reliable presence flanking him.

Pouncey at center is a mixed blessing. No doubt he’s a skilled player, but he was more than casually involved in last year’s ugliness and continues to make ponderous off-field choices. It’s hard to envision him as the anchor and leader of this eclectic young group. It’s even harder since he’ll miss a few weeks with a torn labrum. There is not one snap of proven depth anywhere on the interior of the line, and oft-injured Jason Fox represents the depth at tackle.

Mike Wallace has to become the player he was in Pittsburgh. In his first year in Miami his catch rate, yards per catch, YAC and touchdowns all fell off. Some of that is attributable to working with a developmental QB in Tannehill, but Wallace just didn’t look as dynamic or strident. He’s a player at his best when loaded with swagger, but that effusiveness was missing for prolonged stretches. Without him blazing down the field on deeper sideline routes or creating havoc after a quick slant or bubble screen, the passing offense lacks a real difference-making threat.

The shuffling of the linebackers has to work. Ellerbe and Wheeler were major downgrades from the men they replaced, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. That 2013 offseason exchange turned out to be a Gob Bluth-like huge mistake. One of them should bounce back and have a decent 2014, but the odds that both play at an above-average level are about as good as Kentucky winning the Sugar Bowl. There is nothing but later-round rookies and street free agents behind them, though Jordan Tripp could turn out to be a great 5th round find.

I’m not crazy about the addition of Cortland Finnegan, who has been absolutely wretched on the field in two of the last three years.

Then there’s the complete waste of a top 3 pick that is Dion Jordan. He is a 3-4 OLB being used incorrectly by the Dolphins, who are trying to turn him into a rush end. That takes away from his best attribute, his ability to cover ground in space. After a miserable rookie season, he now will miss the first month of 2014 under suspension for PEDs. I have credible sources who advised me the team couldn’t even bring back a 2nd round pick as they begged other teams for a Jordan trade during draft weekend.

Organizational discord is another problem, albeit an abstract one. It starts at the very top with majority owner Stephen Ross, who has a unique way of running his team. Axing controversial GM Jeff Ireland is a positive, but failing to dump meh coach Joe Philbin with him is a major mistake. In order to move forward from chaos, all vestiges of said chaos need to be purged. Philbin will (rightly) be seen as a lame duck under new GM Dennis Hickey, and the change of coordinators is mere temporary plugging of serious cracks in the dam with duct tape and bubble gum. Hickey was a great hire but keeping Philbin undermines his authority. You’d better believe players know that.

Dumping offensive coordinator Mike Sherman could be a real negative in Tannehill’s development. Sherman was his coach at Texas A&M, his biggest advocate and his trusted mentor and support system. Did he perform well as coordinator? Absolutely not, but there is some major risk involved here.

Forecast

Miami is a scary betting proposition. They finished 8-8 last year and in the middle third of the league in many statistical metrics, so the target 8 wins seems logical. They have many key questions, but so does the entire AFC East.

I’m leaning strongly towards the under here. It’s just hard for me to envision all those variables coming up roses. I’m legitimately worried about Tannehill’s progress at this critical juncture, and the offensive line chaos and him learning a new system exacerbate those fears. There is so much uncertainty around him, too.

The schedule doesn’t help. There’s a good chance this team opens 0-2, facing the Patriots and then travelling to Buffalo. The non-divisional slate features the tough NFC North and brutal AFC West, which put three teams in the playoffs last year. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers et al represent serious passing attacks that will take aim at the Miami defense. Outscoring all those potent offenses will be a challenge.

I don’t think this unit is up for that challenge. It’s going to get worse before it gets better in Miami. These Dolphins finish 6-10 in 2014.


Quick NFL Hits For The Fourth of July

By Jeff Risdon

This is the NFL’s slow season. Minicamps and OTAs are done, and training camps don’t kick off for another couple of weeks.

That doesn’t mean America’s premiere sports league is shut down. Enough news continues to matriculate out to keep the NFL prominent even in the midst of the World Cup and the NBA draft and free agency in full swing.

Here are some of the latest news blurbs, and my snap reaction to them.

--Kiko Alonso out for the season

Buffalo’s top tackler as a rookie, Alonso will be missed in the heart of the Bills defense. He tore his ACL whole working out on his own.

This is a major blow to Buffalo. Alonso’s range and technical proficiency covered a lot of holes on their defense. Even though his tackle numbers were inflated by some generous scorekeeping, Alonso still shows up making plays everywhere on game film. He certainly belonged in strong consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Buffalo will try to replace him with rookie Preston Brown, a player I liked a lot more than most in the draft process. The Louisville product doesn’t have Alonso’s amazing lateral range, but he offers the same kind of versatility and ability to move in any direction.

In the debate in my mind about who will be missed more between Alonso and Cowboys LB Sean Lee, who will also miss 2014 with a torn ACL, I think it will be Lee. Even though the Cowboys have more experience playing without him, the relative talent around Lee is thinner. The Bills have a better front and don’t depend on Alonso to carry so much of the burden.

It’s still a critical loss, however. Don’t believe me? Ask the bookmakers, who dropped the Bills prospective season win over/under total a half-game within 12 hours of the injury, from 7 to 6.5. I’ll take the under.

--Dion Jordan suspended four games for PEDs

The Miami Dolphins defensive end has certainly not had the career many of us draftniks envisioned. Miami traded up to the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft to pick Jordan, a long, athletic, versatile hybrid end/linebacker talent from Oregon.

Jordan was a misfit in Miami’s defense. The Dolphins deployed him as a 4-3 end, which takes away from his best asset--his ranginess. He’s not a power rusher, and keeping him with his hand in the dirt and tight to the formation doesn’t allow him to use his great agility or litheness in space.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required for premium content), Jordan managed just 2 sacks and 24 total QB pressures in his rookie year despite playing over 200 snaps in a rushing capacity.

There were lots of trade rumors this offseason, some of which (to Arizona for the Cards’ 2nd & 4th round picks was a popular one during Combine time) made too much sense not to happen.

Maybe now we know why they didn’t happen. Jordan will miss the first four games, putting him even further behind and making a sophomore turnaround all that much more unlikely. Per the initial report from ESPN, Jordan claims the suspension is for a banned stimulant.

It’s always a shame to see a talent go to waste. It’s even worse when the squandered talent wastes his own opportunity. The Dolphins were close to being a legit threat in the AFC East a year ago, but swinging and missing on a top-5 pick really sets them back. Between Jordan’s failure and the offensive line saga, it’s hard to see Miami rising up past third place in 2014.

--Lavon Brazill suspended for the entire 2014 season

This one really hurts. Brazill, the shifty Colts wideout, is the most prominent Ohio University Bobcat in the NFL. As a fellow Bobcat, it gave me great pride to see someone from our meager program (Ohio won 9 games in my five falls in Athens) to succeed, although the team has found recent prominence under Frank Solich.

Brazill got the Jordan treatment a year ago, missing four games for a positive test. He apparently did not get the message, as another positive test has ended his 2014 season before it even began.

On the field, the Colts will miss him only a little. He caught just 12 passes last year, and he was projected by most to be the fifth wideout. The team has impressive rookie Donte Moncrief and free agent signing Hakeem Nicks, both of whom are much bigger and more dynamic options. While Nicks has some injury issues, Moncrief could very well be an instant star.

He’s the second Colt to get whacked for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Pass rusher Robert Mathis, a much more significant contributor, will miss the first four weeks for his sin. Considering the owner is facing a suspension for being caught with all sorts of illicit substances during a DUI, the Colts appear teetering on the precipice of some real character issues. It won’t help a team that is already held together largely by the miraculous comebacks of Andrew Luck.

--Jimmy Graham ruled a tight end

This ruling came in the wake of Graham protesting the Saints labeling him as a tight end for franchise tag purposes. Graham, with the support of the NFLPA, argued that because he played more than 2/3 of his snaps split from the formation he should be classified as a wide receiver.

The Saints won the case. Graham did himself no favors by calling himself a tight end on his Twitter profile, however trite that might seem. As a result, the dynamic pass catcher will lose about $5M in 2014.

Other players have struggled to win similar cases. It calls to the forefront the need for the franchise and transitional tag concepts to adapt to today’s changing NFL.

Players like Graham, Vernon Davis in San Francisco and rookie Eric Ebron in Detroit are all hybrid tight end/wide receivers. Call them what you want, a hybrid or a joker or a flex, they all play a role that is defined by their ability to catch passes deeper down the field than the traditional tight ends. While they all do have blocking responsibilities, that’s not why they’re making millions.

The same is true on the defensive side of the ball, where not all defensive ends or linebackers are the same. Some are exclusively pass rushers, while others are run-stuffing forces. Lumping them all together is like saying every cheese is cheddar. The league needs to adapt. The NFLPA needs to push them more firmly but also without the acrimony that predominates their interactions with Commissioner Goodell.

It’s important to note the two sides are working to try and hammer out a long-term deal before it comes to Graham playing under the tag. My guess is they will meet somewhere in the middle, rewarding Graham for being the third-most prolific target in the league over the last three years. Tight end or wide receiver doesn’t matter to Drew Brees and New Orleans’ record-setting offense.

--Johnathan Franklin forced to retire

One of the bigger downers in being a NFL talent evaluator is when a player you like fails to pan out due to injury. Such is the case with Green Bay Packers RB Johnathan Franklin, who was forced to retire because of a neck injury.

Franklin played just one season for the Packers after being their 4th round pick in 2013. He’s 24 and his promising career is over. His final stat line is 19 carries for 107 yards and Franklin scored exactly one touchdown.

On one hand, it’s great that the medical evaluations caught the neck injury, which he likely suffered in Week 12 last year. It’s better to be overly cautious with a neck injury than to let Franklin continue playing and possibly suffer an even worse, life-altering casualty.

On the other hand, it’s hard to see a young man’s legit NFL dreams go away in an instant. Franklin was my 2nd-rated running back in the 2013 draft, and I loved the fit or the former UCLA Bruin in Green Bay. His niftiness out of the backfield and ability to cut hard off the crease were natural skills that fit the Packers offense perfectly. Paired with 2nd round pick Eddie Lacy, they were poised to be an effective thunder and lightning package for years.

Now Franklin is like Jahvid Best, the Lions RB who was forced from the game by 25 due to a series of concussions. He’s also like former Packer Sterling Sharpe, who was forced to retire far too early because of a neck injury. Franklin never came close to their level of accomplishment, and that’s sad. Here’s hoping his post-football life is a promising, productive, and healthy one.



$.05 On OTAs

On the desperate situation for the Cowboys after losing Sean Lee, troubles for Will Hill, first round picks signing under the new CBA, Dan Marino and the bottom of teams' rosters.


The Best Pick For Every Team

The Texans may have picked the LeBron James of the NFL, Vikings had a jackpot pick in Teddy Bridgewater, a potential new No. 1 WR for the Saints and the other best picks for each team.


Post Draft Report – Way Too Early First Impressions (AFC Edition)

The Browns, Bills, Texans and Jaguars made the most noise in the draft.


Round 1 Thoughts, Looking Ahead At Round 2

This was indeed a deep draft, with more prospects than ever evaluated as worthy of being drafted, but it was still filled with surprises.


Rules Of Thumb Following The First Round

Great first rounds for the Rams, the NFC North as a whole, Bengals and Chargers, while the Eagles and Patriots received thumbs down, while Cleveland had the most intriguing night.


Final 7-Round NFL Mock Draft

The two extra weeks of NFL Draft season have led to way too much smoke and speculation. It's one of the most confusing drafts ever, with beat writers for the same teams often wildly differing in their own projections and information.