Archive for January, 2018

Adam Shaheen, Bears Tight End – New Bears head coach Matt Nagy was brought in to ‘fix’ or develop young QB Mitch Trubisky. If Trubisky does improve in 2018 the Bears second largest benefactor looks to be tight end Adam Shaheen. A second round pick out of Ashland University, Shaheen was clearly brought in to develop an on field relationship with their young QB. Shaheen has caught twelve of the fourteen passes thrown his way and has three touchdowns in only twelve receptions. Shaheen has a hulking frame even for a tight end at 6’6″, 270 lbs. As Trubisky improves, their biggest target should see more action on the field and in the endzone.

Kevin Dodd, Titans OLB – Dodd, also a second round draft choice with high expectations looks to benefit from a coaching change. Dodd hasn’t burst onto the scene in Tennessee after struggling with injuries. Texans head coach Mike Vrabel, himself a former linebacker, spent time in Houston developing linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, two high level linebackers. Dodd possesses impressive size and height that incumbent starter Derrick Morgan doesn’t have. If Vrabel can mentor and teach Dodd like his former Texans players, Dodd has enormous potential to crack the starting lineup and create consistent pressure on opposing QBs.

Several running backs – Baltimore’s Alex Collins, Green Bay’s Jamaal Williams, Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon, Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones, Miami’s Kenyon Drake, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, Indianapolis’s Marlon Mack.

Some of these players have essentially already broken out. Alex Collins completed more than a thousand yards from scrimmage but his team missed the playoffs and didn’t find the end-zone much. He’s more famous for his Irish dancing than his on-field accomplishments.

Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones in Green Bay both played very well as rookies after Ty Montgomery went down with injury. I foresee them forming a DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart type (see 2008 Carolina Panthers) duo in Green Bay.

Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon finished with an ugly 3.5 yards per carry but finished his last four games looking pretty solid, including a 96 yard performance in a win against division rival Baltimore. Mixon will likely get even more carries next season and should be a solid fantasy pickup.

Derrick Henry is starting to supplant DeMarco Murray as the lead back in Tennessee. The Titans can tell DeMarco Murray to go take a hike this offseason coincidentally when he turns thirty. Henry’s saw more snaps as the season progressed and generally outperformed Murray in 2017. If Henry does gain the full time RB1 job, you can expect him to jump into the 1,200 rushing yard range next season.

Miami traded Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia and watched Kenyon Drake flourish as the next man up. The Dolphins organization looks like a hot mess right now, but Drake should be able hold down the running back role for the foreseeable future. Drake posted a respectable 80.9 score (out of 100) on profootballfocus.com’s website. Drake is a proven runner and receiver evidenced by his 2017 body of work post-Ajayi.

Dalvin Cook has more or less already broken out with a monster performance week one against the New Orleans Saints. He sustained an injury that left him on I/R. Not every player recovers from injuries well so I’d like to see him perform well over a sixteen game stretch before crowning him a fully ‘broken-out’ player.

Indianapolis’s Marlon Mack did the best he could this season. The Colts fielded one offensive lineman that graded out above 65/100 as a run-blocker this season (LT Anthony Castonzo). The 2006 NFC leading rusher Frank Gore is not under contract with Indy for 2018. If Gore does not return, Mack should see starter-number snaps in 2018. Mack’s pass-catching and running has been a spark of positivity on a Colts’ offense devoid of life outside of the occasional Jacoby Brissett mad dash.

Writing this has been exhausting and sometimes I wonder why I am alive.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles QB – Foles will get some offers after a stellar performance against the Vikings in the NFC title game and a Super Bowl berth. Foles could reunite with his former OC Pat Shurmur if the Giants don’t like what Eli gives them at QB. The Arizona Cardinals have a gaping hole at QB now that Carson Palmer has retired. Their starting passer right now is Blaine Gabbert. That’s not a joke. It’s really Gabbert. Foles clearly has talent and can serve as a bridge passer until a team like the Cardinals can develop a rookie like Mason Rudolph or wait to draft U. of Arizona QB Khalil Tate in 2019.

Caleb Brantley, Cleveland Browns DT – Brantley’s been a plus performer on a badly under-performing Browns defense. Brantley plays on a defensive line book-ended by uber-athlete Myles Garrett and the physically imposing Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah doesn’t have the pass rushing stats that Garrett has, but he’s effective against the run and even has several passes defended. Brantley’s been productive as a backup defensive tackle and could break out next year as Garrett and Ogbah improve. Young DT Danny Shelton can swallow up blockers for Brantley to find access to opposing QBs. Brantley has significant potential to form one of the league’s best front fours.

 

Eagles backup QB Nick Foles and Vikings backup QB Case Keenum will square off this coming Sunday at Lincoln Financial field for the NFC Championship.

Though the Vikings had a slightly tougher regular season schedule both teams won their division and finished thirteen and three through the regular season. The Vikings also have had stronger play from their defense (first in scoring for the regular season) and quarterback (A.C., After Carson Wentz).

The Eagles have been very impressive this season with top five performances in the regular season in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They have impressive depth with standout play at less glamorous positions like Guard (Brandon Brooks), Center (Jason Kelce), backup wide receiver (Nelson Agholor), and third string tight end (Trey Burton). One secret weapon that may be the deciding factor this game is Eagles kicker Jake Elliott. Elliott has already kicked a career long sixty-one yard field goal this season. If this game ends up becoming a close game like the Saints/Vikings or Eagles/Falcons the eagles ability to kick a long field may decide the game. The Eagles also get to play this game at home.

Both rosters are relatively fresh to the playoffs and can play the underdog card.¬†Ultimately I expect the Vikings to win a close game in Philadelphia. The Vikings have been even better on defense than Philly and have a quarterback that can throw them back into the game if needs be. The Eagles don’t have this.

Fun Fact: Both Nick Foles and Case Keenum were teammates on the fateful 2015 Jeff Fisher-led St. Louis Rams team.

The Jaguars/Patriots game

Posted: January 17, 2018 in Football, New entries, NFL

Let’s talk about the upcoming AFC Championship game.

The Patriots are favored by nine and a half points in Foxboro Stadium. They have the most playoff-experienced roster in Football. They have home-field advantage. They have evil mastermind head coach Bill Belichick and five time SuperBowl winner Tom Brady at quarterback. They even have tight end Rob Gronkowski healthy, who they did not have last year when they triumphed over Atlanta in the SuperBowl. There are many strong reasons to believe that the Patriots will win this game.

There are also some good reasons to believe the Jaguars can upset them. The Jacksonville Jaguars are structured like the type of team that has foiled Belichick’s Patriots in the past. They possess an elite defense, number one against the pass. Rex Ryan’s New York Jets, Tom Coughlin’s New York Giants and more recently the Denver Broncos of 2015 defeated the Patriots in the playoffs in the past in large part due to their pass rush and high-level secondary play. Tom Coughlin more notably won two SuperBowls against Belichick with a scary defense and stable play offensively. Coughlin, now the Jaguars GM will surely be more involved in this game than in any of his Jaguars games so far.

Ultimately I expect New England to win at home. The Jaguars defensively have been softer against the run and Belichick has never hesitated to hand off to Dion Lewis (who is playing like an all pro according to profootballfocus.com), Rex Burkhead, James White, or Mike Gillislee when the defense has looked soft up front. If either team falls behind, the Patriots are built to come back with Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola all playing effective football. The Jaguars arguably have better wide receivers than New England but Bortles hasn’t been consistent enough for Jacksonville to rely on every week.

By the way, I predicted that Jacksonville would beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs in a previous post, and they did.

2018 NFL Mock Draft (top ten)

Posted: January 11, 2018 in Football, New entries, NFL
  1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold, USC QB – Darnold’s considered by some to have the highest ceiling in this draft class. The Browns will have options to bring in free agent passers this offseason to give Darnold time to develop. The Browns are bottlenecked so badly by their offense Darnold or Rosen make the most sense here.
  2. New York Giants – Josh Rosen, UCLA QB – Rosen has polished mechanics and projects to become relevant on this offense faster than other quarterbacks in the draft. The Giants are deeply talented on defense and will look to compete in the NFC East right away rather than rebuild for a year plus.
  3. Indianapolis Colts – Bradley Chubb, NC State DE – The Colts have one of the most ineffective pass rushes in all of Football. Chubb is an elite senior pass rusher who can improve a substantial area of need for Indianapolis. The Colts also need a running back and better pass protection for Andrew Luck.
  4. Cleveland Browns (through Houston Texans) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS Alabama – New Browns GM Jon Dorsey has shown a preference for defensive players in the draft. Fitzpatrick might be the best player in the draft period, defense and offense. Fitzpatrick was winner of the Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe award for nation’s top defensive player and defensive back for 2017. Fitzpatrick’s been a key cog for Alabama’s national championship team and number one defense in scoring for all of DI NCAA Football.
  5. Denver Broncos – Josh Allen, Wyoming QB – CBS Sports network analyst Brady Quinn said he likes Josh Allen more than any QB prospect in this year’s draft class. Allen posted stronger numbers in 2016 than 2017 but showed up well in his bowl game against Central Michigan. Allen has impressive size and arm strength and John Elway might think he can craft Allen into an accurate NFL passer.
  6. New York Jets – Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB – Coach Bowles is used to having a strong secondary which the Jets are entirely lacking having whiffed on several early round cornerbacks in the past. The Jets need a QB but run a west coast offense. If they can’t get Darnold or Rosen they will likely wait until later rounds to draft a passer. Ward has excellent speed and has been part of an elite Ohio State defense replacing Marshon Lattimore.
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers¬†– Orlando Brown, Oklahoma OT – The Bucs need to protect Jameis Winston better. Ryan Fitzpatrick started three games last season because of Winston injuries. The Buccaneers also need help in pass rushing but their whole game-plan doesn’t work without effective pass blocking. Brown is a colossal left tackle who was integral to Oklahoma’s playoff berth this season.
  8. Chicago Bears – Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame OT – The Bears could use some offensive weapons but will return Kevin White who can contribute in a big way. Trubisky will need more time to find open receivers and scan the field. Left tackle McGlinchey excels as a run blocker which will also help Jordan Howard and that Bears run game.
  9. Oakland Raiders – Kolton Miller, UCLA OT – Jon Gruden will likely look to groom QB Derek Carr. The Raiders have other needs but QB focused Gruden will look at either a receiver or blocker here. Newhouse has not done his job as a starting tackle. Miller’s an LA guy who will give Carr plenty of time to find the open man.
  10. San Francisco 49ers – Courtland Sutton, SMU WR – The 49ers need a true number one wideout. Garcon and Goodwin are solid players, but they lack height and top speed to stretch the field. Sutton was teammates with 49ers wide receiver Trent Taylor who’s been surprisingly effective out of the slot. The 49ers could also look at cornerback or inside linebacker here.

I went 2-2 last week with playoff predictions. I expected a motivated, experienced Falcons team to beat the Rams in L.A. which happened. I expected Kansas City to handle Tennessee, and witnessed an inexplicable Titans comeback. I expected Buffalo to handle Blake Bortles and they could not contain the Jaguars overwhelming offense (final score 10-3). I expected the Saints to edge the Panthers by a slim margin because of their defense (Saints won 31-26 at home).

Scrappy Atlanta visits the Philadelphia Eagles in a game they should be able to win with Nick Foles starting at Quarterback for Philly. The Falcons won a tough contest against the Panthers to secure themselves a playoff spot to close out the season. Their veteran  defense exposed an inexperienced Rams team last week in Los Angeles.

The New England Patriots host the Tennessee Titans. This matchup may end up a little closer than it looks on paper. The Titans aggressive ground game proved too tough for Kansas City to handle and Belichick’s squad will have to treat the Titans’ like every other playoff foe in order to avoid Kansas City’s fate. I expect New England to finish the game with a victory against a capable but inconsistent Titans team at Foxboro in the cold of January.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field. Like they did in October when Jacksonville smashed Pittsburgh 30-9. Pittsburgh is favored at home, even though they return the same roster that lost to Jacksonville earlier this season, sans stud linebacker Ryan Shazier. Pittsburgh’s a talented group but Ben can’t do anything to that defense. Bortles played awful during their last game and they still won thirty to nine. I expect a Jacksonville victory, even if Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t throw five interceptions.

In what should be the closest matchup of the week, Minnesota hosts a veteran Saints roster Sunday evening. Minnesota handed the Saints a loss in a week one home game for Minnesota. The Vikings week one QB and lead RB, Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, will not be playing in this contest. Bradford, who I typically think of as an under-performing passer, actually delivered a phenomenal performance against the Saints. Bradford finished with twenty-seven completions on thirty two attempts, 346 yards, and three passing touchdowns with no turnovers. That’s a ridiculous 10.8 yards per attempt, eighty-four percent completion, and 95.2 (out of 100) QBR. Cook himself accounted for 130+ yards of offense. Minnesota still fields an extremely stingy defense finishing number one in scoring for the regular season and Case Keenum’s been a revelation as a fill-in at QB. Ultimately the Vikings have a much more impressive schedule performance, beating strong teams week after week even with a backup QB and RB. I’m expecting the Vikings to win at home.