By Jeff Risdon
May is the slowest month of the year for the NFL, but that doesn’t mean the football world stops. Here are some quick thoughts on some recent developments.
--Geno Smith impresses in minicamp. All reports from the New York Jets' rookie camp were glowing in praise of Smith, who unexpectedly fell into the second round of last month’s draft. Smith appears to be seizing his opportunity, holding players-only meetings in the team hotel and impressing all viewers with sharpness and velocity on his passing reps. The cynic in me wants to say, “well of course he’s impressive compared to Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy”. And there is probably more than a little of that going on here; the Jets' media and fan base knows some bad quarterbacking from recent times, so anything resembling competence is a refreshing change. But I am a more ardent believer that Geno Smith can emerge as a very good NFL quarterback in time. I still prefer that he tutor behind David Garrard for a few games, if for no other reason than to set the bar a little lower, but it sure appears as if Geno Smith will start Week 1 against Tampa Bay.
--Chip Kelly is changing the culture of the Philadelphia Eagles. Gone are Fast Food Fridays, unhealthy eating, and passive practicing. In are customized smoothies, carefully choreographed music during practice sections, and a frantic no huddle offense and practice system.
This is a radical change from the Andy Reid era. After more than a decade of the same routine, Kelly isn’t just rocking the boat, he’s torpedoed it. I happen to think that’s a very good thing. The Eagles appeared complacent and uninspired last year. Kelly is pumping up the intensity, improving the physical fitness and conditioning, and bringing something new and fresh to the NFL. Nobody knows how it is all going to work for Kelly with Philadelphia, but I admire the Eagles for giving Kelly the chance to try such a radical experiment. It’s a far better option than using a retreaded coach with a philosophy that got him fired from some other NFL team recently. Successful coaches instill a defined culture to a team, and that is exactly what Kelly is doing in Philadelphia. It might rankle some veteran feathers, but this franchise was unlikely to fly again without serious changes.
--The Arizona Cardinals released QB Brian Hoyer. Can we finally put an end to the mystique of the Patriots backup quarterback? Hoyer was cut by the Patriots at the end of the 2012 preseason. The Steelers, who were down to Charlie Batch as the starter with no backup thanks to injuries, signed Hoyer in late November but quickly discarded him as soon as bodies became healthy. The Cardinals lapped him up in a desperate attempt to rectify their desperate quarterback situation. In two games he managed to not completely stink, but didn’t show enough to merit any sort of commitment; the Cardinals signed Drew Stanton and traded for Carson Palmer. Now they have chosen Ryan Lindley over Hoyer as the third option.
Let that sink in for a second--the new regime in Arizona feels that Ryan Lindley is a better option than Hoyer. Just as Matt Cassel proved incapable of being a good starter after looking fantastic playing behind Tom Brady, Hoyer is much less desirable once stripped of the Patriots luster. In fact, Hoyer wasn’t as good as Cassel in his limited opportunity. No doubt Hoyer will get yet another chance somewhere, but here’s the plain truth: if Hoyer had never been a Patriot, his career would be over. Sadly, we will go thru this same cycle with Ryan Mallett in another year or two. For the record, I’d take Hoyer over Mallett any day.
--Titus Young gets arrested. Again. I wrote extensively about this at DetroitLionsDraft.com, but here is the Reader’s Digest version: Titus Young needs help. The story is not funny anymore. Here’s hoping that Young can turn his life around, if for no other reason than to be a father to Titus Young Jr. Football is irrelevant at this point.
--There is growing momentum from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that rookie Mike Glennon has a very good chance to unseat incumbent Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers. Glennon had a very strong minicamp and has impressed the coaches with his quick knowledge of the offense. He’s also a competitor and not afraid to show a little emotion, boxes in which Freeman often fails to check off.
Aiding in Glennon’s case is that Freeman is entering the final year of his contract and there is little reason to pay him big money if he continues to plod along. Other than about two months of his four year career, Freeman has been a below-average NFL starter. His penchant for poor decisions and relative apathetic persona has rubbed Bucs fans--and some coaches--the wrong way. Glennon offers change, and does so inexpensively. Don’t think that doesn’t factor into the equation for the spendthrift Bucs, who have ranked in the bottom 5 in payroll for years. I’m admittedly not a Glennon backer; he was my 11th rated QB in April’s draft with a grade equivalent to a 5th-6th round pick. I worry about his sloppy foot mechanics, his alarming tendency to drop his eyes when pressured, his propensity to fabricate pressure, and lack of velocity on his throws. But if he can seize the day with a better supporting cast, the Bucs are better for it. However, I sense the endgame the Bucs really want here is for Glennon to push Freeman into being the guy who nearly wedged the team into the playoffs back in 2010 with a brilliant finish to the season and not the guy with a 3-12 record with 24 INTs in games beyond Week 8 the last two seasons.
--Former Chargers RB Chuck Muncie passed away. He was 60 and died of an apparent heart attack. I loved Muncie’s rough and tumble running style, sort of an early predecessor of Jerome Bettis. As a prematurely bespectacled child, I also loved that Muncie wore glasses while he played. Alas, there was more to the Chuck Muncie story than just his powerful running.
Muncie had a couple of very prominent strikes in his NFL career. After toiling for some truly dreadful Saints teams, he pouted and sulked his way into a trade to the Chargers. This was one of the earliest cases I can personally recall of a disgruntled player forcing a team’s hand, and that bothered me as a naïve young fan. A handful of years later, Muncie was banished for a cocaine addiction that cost him his career. He even served prison time for it. That could have been the sad ending to a tragic story, but Muncie chose to write a different ending.
Chuck Muncie became a widely respected advocate and agent of change for troubled youths. His foundation gave kids a chance to avoid the drug-and-thug lifestyle, and did so with compassion and personal commitment by Muncie himself. He mentored scores of young athletes, steering them on the right path and teaching them about making the smart choices he failed to make in his early life. His final years were a source of redemption and virtue, and that is what Chuck Muncie should be remembered for as much as his on-field success. RIP Mr. Muncie.
New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots
By Jeff Risdon
I already broke down the first round action, so this focuses more on the rest of the weekend and overall impressions.
$.01--The biggest winner of the draft? A lot of teams did well, but the Cincinnati Bengals did the most to advance themselves from their current status quo for my money. Their offense lacked playmakers outside of A.J. Green, so with their first two picks Cincinnati lapped up TE Tyler Eifert and RB Giovani Bernard. Both were the first players taken at their respective positions and both figure to play prominent roles right away. The Bengals clearly stuck to their board instead of reaching out for a need early on. Margus Hunt at the bottom of the second is a much better risk than at 37, where I suspected they’d have to take him if they wanted The Eastern Block.
Their two seventh round picks, OT Reid Fragel and C TJ Johnson, both have legit starting potential down the line, and sixth round pick Cobi Hamilton has a chance to play for a long time as a reserve wideout. I thought both Shawn Williams and Sean Porter were taken a round too soon, but Williams fits Mike Zimmer’s defense very nicely and could push for early playing time. Cincinnati is a good team, having made the playoffs two years in a row. I think their moves over the weekend give them a better shot to secure that elusive playoff victory…or two. This team has incredible depth across the board and marquee performers like Green and Geno Atkins, plus strong bookend pass rushers ahead of Hunt. The excuses are gone for Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis. They will be my pick to win the AFC North.
$.02--I know I’m in the minority, but I love Geno Smith going to the New York Jets. New York presents him with the best chance for immediate success to quiet his critics, but it also presents Smith the chance to learn behind a mentor like David Garrard and take his time. Jets' fans seem resigned to the prospect of facing a truly bleak 2013 with a lame duck Rex Ryan at coach, but also not-so-quietly happy about flushing away anything that ever reminds them of 2012. Smith gives them a legit shot at having the franchise quarterback that Mark Sanchez can never become. They didn’t splurge to acquire him, either, patiently waiting for Smith to fall into their laps at No. 39 overall. They used the two first round picks to rebuild the defense with Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson, both of whom are immediate starters.
The Milliner pick actually impacts how Smith will be treated. Milliner has the daunting task of filling the shoes of Darrelle Revis, who was traded to Tampa Bay for the pick that became Richardson. Revis Island was beloved by Jets fans, and it will be almost impossible for Milliner to ever step out of that shadow. Smith simply has to suck less than The Sanchize or Tim Tebow. He’s better than both already, even if David Garrard is the starter for the first half of the season.
$.03--Two players plummeted well beyond any expected drop over the weekend. Alabama DT Jesse Williams, often mocked in the 30-45 overall range, ultimately wound up being the 137th overall pick to Seattle. Louisiana Tech WR Quinton Patton, also widely projected to go in the second round, dropped to the bottom of the fourth round before San Francisco tagged him with the 128th overall selection. These two fell for very different reasons. Williams was somewhat overhyped from the get-go, as there is not a great high-pick demand for defensive lineman that aren’t pass rushing threats (just don’t tell that to Scott Pioli!). He also suffered from a knee injury that wiped out his workout season and is worrisome for a player who absorbs such a beating. Seattle is a very good landing spot for him, as Pete Carroll’s college-style environment should play to Williams’ YOLO mentality, which he proudly wears as a tattoo on his face.
Patton dropped out of the first two days of the draft for one reason: Titus Young. You might recall the ex-Lions wideout proclaiming that he was better than Calvin Johnson and deliberately sabotaging the offense when he felt like he wasn’t getting the ball enough. His ego wrote checks his talent couldn’t cash. Patton has a similar mentality, and teams grew increasingly concerned that he would not be able to handle not being The Man like he was in college. I heard this from at least three different NFL teams, one directly from an area scout who knows him well and told me to not mock Patton in the first two rounds. Consider it a fear factor, and probably an irrational one. It’s irresponsible to project anyone possibly behaving like Titus Young, who had far more issues than not being able to accept a complementary role. Apparently, the comparisons came a little too easy: prolific wideout from a non-BCS league school noted, very impressive at the Senior Bowl week, not shy about expressing their perceived self-greatness on and off the field. Patton has the game to better assimilate into the NFL than Young did, as he is more physical on shorter routes and more economical with his body movement. The Niners landed someone who could very well be their leading receiver by 2014 in terms of catches, and they did so in the late fourth round.
$.04--The team whose draft I liked least is the Chicago Bears. After reaching at least a round for greenhorn guard Kyle Long with the No. 20 overall pick, the Bears followed that with Florida LB Jon Bostic in the second round. That too is a reach, albeit less of one. A credible argument could be made that Long wouldn’t have lasted to that 50th pick, just as Bostic was unlikely to last to their next pick, No. 117 in the fourth round. So if they truly wanted those players and felt they were the best value on the board at that pick, that’s understandable. What is inconceivable is that Long was the 20th best player on the Chicago draft board, or that Bostic was 50th. I actually graded out Long lower than the team’s fifth round pick, Louisiana Tech RT Jordan Mills. In apple-to-apple comparison between Mills and Long during Senior Bowl practices, it would be hard for anyone to say Long was the better player, and sure as heck not four rounds better. Instead of a project right guard and a maxed out inside linebacker, the Bears could have added any number of very talented defensive linemen or bolstered a very thin secondary.
The rest of the Bears draft featured three players I felt very strongly against: Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene, Georgia DE Cornelius Washington, and ex-Washington State WR Marquess Wilson. Greene probably fits in Chicago better than anywhere else, so I’m okay with the Bears taking him in the fourth round; he aggressively pursues turnovers and has a rare knack for forcing fumbles, which makes him fit right in with the organizational philosophy of the old regime. However, the Bears selected Greene over two backers I rated higher that went in the next three picks, Gerald Hodges and Sean Porter. Washington is a very impressive physical specimen but plays very passively and had no production at all in college despite playing opposite Jarvis Jones. Wilson either quit on Washington State or was dismissed angrily from the program after accusing Coach Mike Leach of abuse, depending on which side of the story you believe. There is decent potential with Wilson if he can handle the physical and mental rigors of the next level, but “quit on team” is a bigger red flag than the one flying over Tianamen Square.
$.05--The biggest story on Saturday was the first pick of that day, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up a couple of spots to draft Matt Barkley. This development very nearly caused heads to explode, as analysis everywhere scrambled to reconcile the rationale that led to the pick. Surely Chip Kelly has to know Barkley is a very limited athlete! No way Barkley can possibly fit the frantic style of offense that Kelly ran at Oregon! They already have Michael Vick and Nick Foles, both of whom have better arms than Barkley! How in the world could this happen?!
While I’m not a big Barkley fan, I think this is a very strong pick for Philadelphia. Barkley might not ever amount to anything more than a functional backup, but for a fourth round pick that’s probably worth the gamble for a team with Vick and his 11-game-a-season max style of play. I believe this is a larger indicator that Chip Kelly is not going to be predictable in the NFL. If there’s one thing NFL coaches hate, it’s unpredictable opponents. Nearly everyone assumes that because Kelly ran a fast break offense at Oregon, he will do the same in the NFL. Maybe he will, but with Barkley he has given himself the ability to use more West Coast offensive schemes. I see this as a sign that Kelly might be embracing my long-held assertion that when a starting quarterback is struggling, it’s better to yank him and try something different than to go down with a clearly listing ship. Only a rare group of QBs ever achieve the “can’t yank” status, and Mike Vick sure isn’t one of those. Let’s say the Eagles are sputtering, Vick fumbles and throws an INT, and Philly trails 20-7 at halftime. Instead of hoping Vick magically improves, why not have a vastly divergent Plan B to fall on? Switching schemes mid-game can be tremendously effective…remember the genesis of the Wildcat, or the 2-man DL in Green Bay? Catching opponents off guard is a tremendous recipe for success, and Matt Barkley provides the Eagles with the chance to do that. I’m not sure he has the talent to do so, but nobody in the NFL knows Barkley better than Kelly and I have to trust his instincts here.
I thought the Eagles rallied to finish strongly in the draft after a very shaky first two days. I found Lane Johnson overrated and overhyped as the fourth pick, and Zach Ertz was a major reach at No. 35 for a team that already has a better version of him in Brent Celek. Bennie Logan in the third is a solid fit, but he very well could have been there for the Barkley pick. Interestingly, the players the Jaguars selected with the bounty from the Barkley trade are also strong choices. Ace Sanders brings an athletic dynamic to the slot and return games, while Demetrius McCray is a good late-round sleeper to stick as a press-man corner after a year on the practice squad. I love it when trades seem to work out for both teams.
Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears
By Jeff Risdon
The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft on Thursday will be remembered as the Year of the Lineman, as nine of the 32 picks were offensive linemen. Other intriguing developments caught my eye as well, some positive and some negative.
-- To the wild unpredictability of this year’s draft. I’ve said it many times but it bears repeating: I have better contacts with more teams than ever before, yet this is the year I knew what fewer teams were going to do than ever before. Once I got past the professional humiliation of having a wildly inaccurate mock draft, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not knowing what was going to happen was titillating, like riding a roller coaster with a blindfold. I run a Detroit Lions' draft website and I honestly had very little idea who the team was going to pick until about 15 minutes before they were on the clock. Beat writers for just about every team fumbled and balked on answering direct draft questions because they had no clue either. It made for the most exciting first night of the draft I can remember.
-- To the Kansas City Chiefs for opting on Eric Fisher as the #1 overall pick. I like Luke Joeckel and I think he’ll be a very good tackle for a long time, but Fisher offers the chance of Joe Thomas-esque greatness. When you have the #1 pick, you have to go for greatness. The Chiefs made the correct choice, even if it scuttled what my team (the Lions) had planned.
-- To only having one quarterback in the first round. Never mind that it was E.J. Manuel, a player I graded out as a fifth round prospect. The bellyaching over the relative lousiness of this quarterback class led everyone to histrionics about how big of a mistake some teams were going to make in selecting Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, and Ryan Nassib in the first round. Guess what…it didn’t happen. Either the teams listened or they knew it on their own. Either way, it’s a positive for both the teams and the quarterbacks themselves, who are now in a much more favorable position to succeed with a lot less pressure to do so off the bat.
-- To the Carolina Panthers, who made what I believe to be the best pick of the first round by taking Star Lotulelei at No. 14 overall. Star fills what is by far the biggest need on the team, and he was a top 3 overall talent before the pesky heart issue at the Combine. He’s also an outstanding foil to Mark Ingram, Steven Jackson, and Doug Martin within the division.
Other picks I liked: Cleveland Browns/Keke Mingo, Cincinnati Bengals/Tyler Eifert, the Dolphins trading up for Dion Jordan, Lions/Ziggy Ansah, San Diego Chargers/D.J. Fluker and the St. Louis Rams trading up for Tavon Austin and down for Alec Ogletree.
-- To the early run on interior offensive linemen. I’m actually okay with the Cardinals taking Jonathan Cooper at 7, because the North Carolina guard is an immediate above-average starter and it fills what is unquestionably the weakest position on the team. I would like him a lot better at 14 instead of seven, but the Cards did what they had to do. Chance Warmack is one of the few guards worthy of top 10 consideration as well, but he goes to the Titans, who broke the bank to import free agent Andy Levitre. Now Tennessee has a massive investment at the guard position, traditionally the one spot on the field where teams skimp to save money for the skill position players. They have what should be the best guard tandem in the AFC, but they still don’t have a passing game that scares anyone but their own fan base or the ability to stop any other team’s passing game with a pass rush. But what really points the thumb down is the later picks. Justin Pugh, Travis Frederick and especially Kyle long (more on him below) are all horrible value picks in the first round in descending order. Yes, the teams who took them (the Giants, Cowboys, and Bears respectively) absolutely needed help at the positions. But first round interior linemen are supposed to be players with such overwhelming and obvious talent. None of these guys fits the bill, and none really help their teams as much as other players available could have in the long run.
Other picks I didn’t like: I really like DJ Hayden, No. 12 overall is too high for the Oakland Raiders. The Atlanta Falcons traded up for the wrong cornerback, taking overrated Desmond Trufant instead of Jamar Taylor or either Mississippi State player, Johnthan Banks or Darius Slay.
-- To the Minnesota Vikings, who made three picks in the twenties. Holding onto their original selections at 23 and 25, they took Florida DT Sharrif Floyd and Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes. Not content to call it a day, GM Rick Speilman engineered a trade with the (who else?) New England Patriots to move back into the first round. Every single person covering the draft presumed the move was made to acquire Manti Te’o, including the team’s own beat writers, who Tweeted out that Te’o was the pick. Except the Vikings took Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Pattterson instead. Believe it or not I actually like the picks in inverse order; Patterson has game-changing potential at should have gone at 23, while Rhodes is one of the more overhyped players in this draft. Rhodes benefitted from fitting the physical profile of the big corners in Seattle, never mind that he is a holding machine with iffy instincts. Floyd is an intriguing player who will be widely seen as one of the perceived “fallers” in this draft, though 23rd is about where he belonged. However, they selected Floyd over Sylvester Williams, a better player and a better scheme fit. And they passed on Te’o, who for all the criticism he’s taken would have been an excellent fit for the Vikings as well. This is a “chips all in” move for the Vikings to try and win with Adrian Peterson still in his prime, and it made them a better team for sure. I’m just not sold that they couldn’t have made themselves even better with some savvier choices.
-- To the pick “spoilers”. I applaud both the NFL Network and ESPN for refraining from revealing the selections before Roger Goodell announces them at the podium, eliminating the cutaway shots of players on the phone. The vast majority of viewers didn’t want to see that, and the networks responded. Good for them. But at the same time I admit to harboring curiosity about who really knew what was about to go down. I also get Jay Glazer’s point about wanting a 100 percent accurate mock draft but then complaining about having to wait an extra minute to find out if it’s really correct. Guys like Jason LaCanfora are just doing their jobs by tweeting out the names before they are delivered to the podium. I like that both options are available, but if you are someone who must know the pick before the tension and suspense are broken by the Commissioner, well, I just don’t understand why you want to eat the dessert before the steak.
-- To the Chicago Bears, for taking Oregon guard Kyle Long with the 20th overall pick. This pick is the second-biggest reach in terms of value that I have ever seen. The biggest also happens this ear with EJ Manuel, a fifth round talent, but at least he’s a quarterback and even his harshest critics acknowledge that if the light bulb ever turns on, he could be very good. Plus he plays a premium position where reaches are not uncommon.
If Manuel is a 100 watt bulb, Long is the 40 watt soft white light. Long wound up with the 114th highest grade of the nearly 200 players we graded out at detroitlionsdraft.com, a solid 4th round value at what is arguably the least-coveted position on any football team. The Bears got caught up in the run on offensive linemen and name value (he’s Howie Long’s son and Chris Long’s brother) and executed a ridiculous reach. Even if Long becomes a serviceable starting guard, which he probably will, there is no value at all in taking him at 20. Teams cannot panic for an interior lineman.
The Dallas Cowboys did the same with Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, but they at least traded back to do so and I also had Frederick rated a lot higher (63rd) than Long. A team with a decrepitly aging defense ignores some excellent talent (Bjoern Werner was a perfect fit, Sylvester Williams or Datone Jones also made great value sense there) and makes a huge reach for a guard who started less than 10 games at the BCS level and was not real impressive during Senior Bowl week. That is a horrible fail by GM Phil Emery and the Bears staff.
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, 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, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons
This is one of the strangest drafts ever. It's two days before the draft and we still don't know who will be the No. 1 pick. Enjoy the unexpected twists and turns and embrace the fact that nobody knows what is going to happen!
On Chance Warmack, Falcons moving up, Arthur Brown's potential drop, identifying first round surprises, D.J. Hayden and more.
Some of these have basis in legitimate info gathered. Some are reading between some lines that may or may not exist. Some are wild figments of imaginary vision of the draft.
Dion Jordan, Eric Fisher, Tavon Austin, Shariff Floyd, Jonathan Cooper, Keenan Allen, Robert Woods, Gavin Escobar and Ryan Swope make this year's list.
People are always seeking out Jeff Risdon with their draft questions. In this edition, he answers several of the more intriguing ones.
Luke Joeckel at the top of the draft, Ezekiel Anash at No. 2, two quarterbacks in the top-10 and more in an uncertain draft.