Is 2016 the Year of the Big Ten QB?

Just before the NCAA season kicks off has always been a prime time to preview the potential candidates for the upcoming NFL Draft, as fans of less promising NFL teams follow the potential top picks to see who they could end with next Spring in the 2016 NFL Draft.

So who are the big names to watch this season?

It would be easy to focus on the Big Ten Conference, as Ohio continues to dominate and the conference has built itself into a football powerhouse. The Big Ten also features the top three prospects for the NFL Draft.

You may be asking yourself why this is so significant. The answer lies in the last Big Ten quarterback to be selected in the first round — Kerry Collins, selected fifth overall by the Carolina Panthers out of Penn State in 1995.

Cardale Jones, Ohio State University

Jones certainly has momentum on his side after taking over for the Buckeyes following injuries to both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Entering the season as part of the Buckeyes’ trio of quarterbacks, Jones made his first career start in the Big Ten Championship Game versus Wisconsin after Barrett’s injury the prior week. Ranked sixth in the country by the AP poll, Jones led Ohio State to a 59-0 trouncing of the Badgers and earned the MVP honors.

Jones then turned around and led the Buckeyes to a 42-35 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in order to advance to the CFP National Championship, where Ohio State took down the Oregon Ducks to make Jones a 3-0 starter as a redshirt sophomore against three very good teams.

So why didn’t Jones go pro with everything going his way? Simply put, three starts doesn’t quite make a player pro-ready. He’s already got the arm and build (6’5″ 250 lbs) that scouts are looking for, but there’s just not enough film for teams to take a shot at him. He needs to show more ability to read defenses and make quick decisions before scouts will determine his value.

Even with his flashy stint last season, Jones isn’t the guaranteed starter and is in the midst of a tough battle with Barrett (Braxton Miller has converted to receiver) to start for Urban Meyer this season. If Jones can win the job —  scouts like CBS’ Daniel Jeremiah think he’s the country’s most talented passer, if not the favorite to start —  he could use the 2015 season to solidify a potential top quarterback spot in the 2016 NFL Draft. If he fails to do so, expect Jones to return to Ohio and try again for 2017.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

It seems every draft class has a quarterback that scouts view favorably who either doesn’t have much starting experience or didn’t perform admirably prior to their final season in school. Logan Thomas was one such talent, viewed as a potential first round quarterback prior to the 2013 season even though he only threw for 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Thomas ended up a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2014 despite an equally pedestrian senior season in 2013.

Hackenberg is in a similar situation to Thomas, as the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback is viewed by ESPN guru Todd McShay as the the potential no. 1 pick next Spring (ESPN insider access required). Hackenberg’s 12:15 TD to INT ratio and 55.8 completion percentage last season leaves much to be desired, but he possesses ideal size (6’4″ 236 lbs) and has quite a game reel of high difficulty completions that scouts love to see.

While last year was not quite what the Penn State staff was looking for, many have attributed Hackenberg’s struggles to a new coaching staff under James Franklin after previous coach Bill O’Brien departed for greener pastures as the new head coach of the Houston Texans. In fact, Hackenberg performed drastically better as a true freshman in 2013 under O’Brien, racking up just under 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air.

Major issues for Hackenberg include a propensity to hold on to the ball too long (see Blaine Gabbert’s disastrous stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the results of that flaw at the pro level) and a tendency to float or plain miss on deep passes. Pro Football Focus went as far as grading Hackenberg as the worst college football quarterback of 2014, taking into account a shocking apparent lack of effectiveness on play action, struggling under pressure and poor accuracy rates when compared to starters of other top teams.

Hackenberg will need to put the tools that scouts claim to see to good use on the field in 2015 to avoid another season of very lack-luster production and gain that high draft spot for next Spring and avoid a free-fall on draft day similar to A.J. McCarron’s 2014 experience (fifth-round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals) after being touted as a top quarterback. As a Junior, he could return to Penn State in similar fashion to Cardale Jones at Ohio State if 2015 doesn’t pan out in his favor.

Connor Cook, Michigan State

A major difference between Cook and the likes of Jones and Hackenberg is that Cook is heading into his redshirt senior year at Michigan State. This means that while the other two could go back and play another year of college ball to raise their stock, Cook is at the end of the line.

While Jones may not have the experience and Hackenberg may not have the numbers, Cook has both. In his past two seasons, Cook has won 23 of the 26 games he has started and thrown for 46 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions. Cook has quite the pedigree heading into the 2015 season, having won the Big Ten Championship and earning the MVP honors in 2013, following that up with a Rose Bowl victory early in 2014 and then a Cotton bowl victory earlier this year.

Cook may not be the most accurate passer out there, but he’s proven to be great at exploiting one-on-one coverage in his time at Michigan State, and, unlike Hackenberg, done very well when blitzed. Pro Football Focus attributed a 128.6 QB rating and 16:1 TD to INT ratio when Cook was blitzed last season.

While Cook has played it smart with match ups at the collegiate level thus far, his tendency to loft the ball to the outside and let the receiver win the battle worries scouts. Single coverage at the pro level is much tougher to pass on, and Cook will need to show scouts he knows when he’s being baited by a corner and avoiding interceptions in similar situations.

Cook is the complete package as a quarterback — 6’4″ 220 lb size, a solid arm and athleticism that may not wow but is more than simply functional — that scouts view as a mature and intelligent player with a very high ceiling. He’s also coming from a school with an solid recent history of preparing passers for the pro level, having produced the likes of Drew Stanton (2007 second-round), Kirk Cousins (2012 fourth-round) and Brian Hoyer (2009 undrafted) in the past nine years.

If Cook can put up another impressive season for the Spartans, he could play his way into a top ten selection in the Spring.

Other NCAA QBs to Keep an Eye On For 2016:

Cody Kessler, Southern California

Jared Goff, California

Carson Wentz, North Dakota State

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State


2015 NFL Draft Round 1 Live Coverage

Welcome to the 2015 NFL Draft!

It’s one of the most exciting parts of the season, so here we go!

11:30 — Patriots select 32nd overall Texas DT Malcolm Brown

Rumor was the Patriots traded down, but those rumors appear to have been wrong. Brown is a solid pick for the Patriots, who need a tackle after Vince Wilfork’s departure. A run-stuffer who can get to the quarterback when asked, Brown will likely slot in as a starter immediately for New England.

11:25 — Saints select 31st overall Clemson ILB Stephone Anthony

Acquired from the Seahawks in the Unger-Graham trade, New Orleans used their extra pick to shore up the middle linebacker position. Originally a day two projection, Anthony is a surprise pick when both Eric Kendricks and Bernardrick McKinney were more highly regarded as 3-4 ILBs. Anthony is athletic and a playmaker, but will need to get a better feel for the game to keep himself from getting removed from plays and getting lost on the field.

11:17 — Packers select 30th overall Arizona St. S Damarious Randall

Last year the Packers grabbed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to man safety, and this year Randall to pair with him. Although Green Bay locked up Sean Richardson, he’ll remain a reserve behind Randall in 2015.

11:12 — Colts select 29th overall Miami WR Phillip Dorsett

Dorsett is a talented receiver who can play inside and outside, but is a head-scratcher for Indy, who already have T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson and Donte Moncrief at receiver. Dorsett needs some polish but could become an impact receiver similarly to Hilton. However, Indy still has some huge needs on the offensive line and defense — and you have to wonder why they passed up talented offensive tackles, corners, safeties and defensive ends for a receiver.

11:03 — Lions select 28th overall Duke OG Laken Tomlinson

Tomlinson is the top guard on the board, and Detroit’s offensive line could use some help at guard and tackle. Tomlinson could step in immediately at left guard for the Lions, although recently acquired Manny Ramirez could be in play for guard or center as well.

11:00 — Cowboys select 27th overall Connecticut CB Byron Jones

Jones helped himself out in a big way at the draft, leading the cornerback group in nearly every drill. He’s physical, athletic, can cover and fills a need for Dallas. The Cowboys will need to work with Jones to make sure his previous injuries aren’t a roadblock moving forward, but otherwise have an excellent young corner in Jones.

10:54 — Ravens select 26th overall UCF WR Breshad Perriman

The Ravens had a hole to fill after Torrey Smith left in free agency, and picked up a home run receiver in the speedy Perriman. Consistency is a major issue with Perriman, who drops plenty of easy passes, and he’s a very raw route runner, but Perriman could make an impact as a rookie as a depth threat and eventually replace veteran Steve Smith as the no. 1 target for Joe Flacco.

10:47 — Panthers select 25th overall Washington OLB Shaq Thompson

Here’s your first-round reach, a guy people weren’t even sure what position he’d play in the pros since he was a two-way player at Washington, playing running back, linebacker, safety and special teams. It will be interesting to see where Thompson slots in for the Panthers, but don’t be surprised if he gets work as an in the box safety on running downs and as a gunner on special teams as a rookie.

10:42 — Cardinals select 24th overall Florida OT D.J. Humphries

Humphries is a solid selection for the Cardinals, who have need a right tackle for multiple seasons now. With the addition of Mike Iupati in free-agency and now Humphries to man the edge, Arizona should have a solid offensive line for the aging Carson Palmer. Humphries will need to work on his run blocking at right tackle, but is an immediate upgrade over Bobby Massie.

10:36 — Broncos select 23rd overall Missouri OLB Shane Ray

Denver gave up very little to move up five picks and get their guy in Ray (before Arizona grabbed Ray), who is likely the future replacement for DeMarcus Ware. Ray has injury and off-the-field concerns, but is one of the best pass-rushers in the draft class. Look for Ray to redshirt his rookie season (potentially have surgery to land on the PUP list) as Von Miller and Ware man the 3-4 outside ‘backer spots.

10:34 — Broncos have acquired the 23rd pick from the Lions in return for OG Manny Ramirez, the 28th overall pick and fifth round picks this year and next year.

10:30 — Steelers select 22nd overall Kentucky OLB Bud Dupree

Pass rusher was a need for the Steelers and they got a solid guy in Dupree, who many thought would go earlier in the draft. The departure of Jason Worilds (who would later retire) left a hole for Dupree to immediately step into.

10:25 — Bengals select 21st overall Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi

Many saw the Bengals going with a tackle due to left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s age (33) and contract situation after the season, but the raw Ogbuehi was viewed by many as the sixth or seventh best tackle in the draft. Ogbuehi will need to work on run blocking, but he has time behind Whitworth and starting right tackle Andre Smith.

10:20 — Eagles select 20th overall USC WR Nelson Agholor

Out goes Jeremy Maclin (and DeSean Jackson) and in comes Nelson Agholor. One of the better route runners in the 2015 receiver class, Agholor can do it all at receiver and contribute on special teams early on. Chip Kelly is likely hoping Agholor can match up with Jordan Matthews to make up for the loss of Maclin and help out new quarterback Sam Bradford.

10:13 — Browns select 19th overall Florida St. C Cameron Erving

Jameis Winston’s C, LG, LT (you name it) last season, Erving projects as a center in the NFL. It’s an interesting pick for the Browns, as they already have Alex Mack in the fold at center, so Erving will likely slot in at guard at first for Cleveland.

10:06 — Chiefs select 18th overall Washington CB Marcus Peters

Peters is a raw, talented corner, but the big story is his long sheet of off-the-field issues, including being removed from the Washington team in November. Andy Reid’s staff will need to keep a close eye on Peters and make sure he doesn’t go the way of 2014 first round pick Justin Gilbert.

10:00 — 49ers select 17th overall Oregon DE Arik Armstead

The 49ers’ defense needs some help after losing Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Justin Smith all in one offseason, and Armstead will slot in immediately at 3-4 end to take over for Smith. Armstead will need to prove he’s a true player rather than an on and off guy with a low motor, but has the athleticism to stuff the run and rush from the end position.

9:54 — Texans select 16th overall Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson

Considered by some to be a better corner than Trae Waynes, Johnson shores up a Texans corner corps with little depth behind starters Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph while providing a possible successor to the veteran Joseph. Similarly to Waynes, Johnson will need to work on his run support to keep from being exploited as a rookie.

9:47 — Chargers select 15th overall Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

The Chargers jumped ahead of Houston to make sure they got their guy in Gordon, who was seen by many to be a very close second in the running back group behind Gurley. Gordon will need to prove he’s not another product of the Wisconsin system, as Denver is still looking for Montee Ball (Wisconsin’s all time yardage record holder) to prove the same.

9:44 — San Diego has acquired the 15th overall pick from San Francisco for the 17th overall pick and several late picks.

9:43 — Dolphins select 14th overall Louisville WR DeVante Parker

Parker was a highly projected pick for the Dolphins, offering a solid receiver opposite deep threat Kenny Stills. Ryan Tannehill is in a contract season for 2016, so giving him another big target should let the Dolphins figure out in 2015 if Tannehill is their guy moving forward.

9:34 — Saints select 13th overall Stanford OT Andrus Peat

Another surprise pick, Peat offers flexibility for the Saints at tackle. Perhaps the best all around tackle in the draft, Peat could immediately start at left tackle, bumping Terron Armstead into guard opposite Jahri Evans. Peat’s selection should go a long way towards fixing up an offense that struggled in 2014, but they’ll still need a weapon on offense after trading away both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills.

9:27 — Browns select 12th overall Washington DT Danny Shelton

Shelton is a big get for the Browns, not only as a talent — he’s a big guy. Cleveland will slot the 339 lb Shelton in at nose tackle immediately, filling a major hole in their 3-4 front.

9:20 — Vikings select 11th overall Michigan St. CB Trae Waynes

The Vikings used this pick to shore up the defensive backfield, getting a solid sized corner in Waynes. Drawing favorable comparisons to Kyle Fuller, Waynes should also make an immediate impact, but will need to work on his run support to become an all around solid player.

9:13 — Rams select tenth overall Georgia RB Todd Gurley

If you’re confused by this, you’re not alone. Gurley has all the making of a dominant NFL runner, but joins a crowded backfield with Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy. Presumably the Rams will return to ground and pound under Greg Fisher, but they dearly need an offensive line to block for Gurley.

9:06 — Giants select ninth overall Miami OT Ereck Flowers

Flowers is a big, strong tackle who will step in immediately at right tackle for the G-Men, bumping Justin Pugh to guard. Flowers will need some work on his pass blocking technique, but has experience at both tackle positions and could shift inside if he proves to have issues blocking outside at the pro level. With a mean streak and brutal punch off the snap, Flowers makes a valuable mauling blocker from day one.

9:01 — Falcons select eighth overall Clemson OLB Vic Beasley

A heavily predicted selection, Beasley is regarded as many as the best rusher in the draft and will make an impact immediately for Atlanta. Size could be an issue, as Beasley will have trouble with tackles if he can’t put on some weight and learn to play towards technique rather than simply utilizing his speed.

8:53 — Bears select seventh overall West Virginia WR Kevin White

White is a great pick for Chicago, who dearly needed an offensive threat opposite Alshon Jeffrey after the trade of Brandon Marshall to New York. White has an impressive height/speed combination, but is still mostly a potential player and some have predicted him to bust a la Darrius Heyward-Bey with the Raiders.

8:47 — Jets select sixth overall USC DE Leonard Williams

What an interesting pick…the already stacked defensive line gets a very talented player that many considered the best player in the 2015 class. Will Muhammed Wilkerson get traded now? Passing up the likes of Randy Gregory, Shane Ray and Bud Dupree leaves the Jets with a need at pass rusher that could be addressed with a later pick.

8:39 — Redskins select fifth overall Iowa OT Brandon Scherff

An interesting pick for the ‘Skins, Scherff can play inside or outside. It should be interesting where he plays come opening day. Trent Williams is quite the building block at left tackle, so right tackle is an option, or guard as well. Either way, the ‘Skins run game just got a ton better.

8:34 — Raiders select fourth overall Alabama WR Amari Cooper

It seems the draft is progressing without trades with the only surprise being Leonard Williams’ continued fall. Cooper will team up with Derek Carr in Oakland as an early impact player. Cooper may never be a truly electric player, but he’s a solid receiver right out of the gate with the potential to be a dominant possession receiver with additional upside.

8:27 — Jaguars select third overall Florida DE/OLB Dante Fowler, Jr.

It will be interesting to see what Jacksonville does with Fowler, who reminds some of Kahlil Mack and Von Miller in the possibility of playing 4-3 end, 3-4 rusher or maybe even 4-3 sam linebacker. Fowler may be perfect for the Leo role, although Jacksonville just shelled out in free-agency for Dan Skuta ostensibly to fill that role.

8:20 — Titans select with the no. 2 overall pick Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Mariota goes no. 2 off the board. Don’t set him in stone with the Titans, there’s no reason he might not be traded before the season starts ala Eli Manning. If Mariota stays, you can bet Zack Mettenberger will be on the block. Mariota is so much hype and potential right now that it would be interesting to see if Tennessee chooses to go with Mariota for week one. Mettenberger’s agent is already reportedly looking into trade options for his player, while Chris Mortenson claims the Titans will not trade Mariota.

8:13 — Buccaneers select with first overall pick Florida St. QB Jameis Winston

Predictably, the Buccaneers go with Jameis Winston. With that, Mike Glennon is likely on the block, although it would be interesting to see if TB can get any takers after his poor play last season. Winston’s a sort of home town quarterback with his tenure at Florida State, and should be an excellent ticket seller for the Buccaneers if nothing else.


NFL DR Mock 2.0

It’s draft day, everybody! Rejoice!

NFL DR Mock 1.0

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Florida St. QB Jameis Winston

Winston has been the odds-on favorite to go first-overall for months now, and while some draftniks believe the Bucs could pull a fast one and surprise everybody by selecting Marcus Mariota, we’re confident Tampa Bay falls in line with popular opinion come draft day.

2. Cleveland Browns (trade): Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

With multiple first-round picks and the apparent flop of 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel, the Browns are in excellent position to jump up to the no. 2 pick and grab their franchise passer. Sacrificing no. 12 and no. 19 may hurt, but Cleveland has the talent to compete now and just needs a solid quarterback at the helm to make a playoff run.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: USC DE Leonard Williams

The Jaguars get to reap the benefit of Tennessee trading out of no. 2 by grabbing a dominant defensive lineman in Williams. Touted as the top defensive prospect by many, Williams has a deadly combination of strength and speed that will make both opposing tackles and interior lineman struggle. The versatile Williams could play a number of roles for the Jaguars in Gus Bradley’s ever-shifting defensive front.

4. New York Jets (trade): Florida OLB Dante Fowler

As the dominoes fall, the Jets are the next team to trade up in what could be a very fluid draft should a team jump up the board to grab Mariota, bumping the Raiders down to no. 6 with some future compensation. With an aging (and declining) duo of Calvin Pace and Jason Babin paired with underwhelming former first-round pick Quinton Coples at outside rusher, the Jets dearly need to upgrade and look forward at outside rusher. Fowler is a dynamic player that reminds scouts of Kahlil Mack and Von Miller, who can work on his raw abilities as he works into the rotation.

5. Washington Redskins: Clemson OLB Vic Beasley (Previously Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory)

By trading up to no. 4, the Jets effectively scoop up the player the Redskins have been coveting at no. 5 (Fowler). However, Fowler isn’t the only big name pass rusher in this year’s draft. While we had previously projected Randy Gregory as a top-five pick, his off-the-field issues have tanked his draft stock in recent weeks. One worry with Beasley is his size (246 lbs), which will present a problem if he can’t put on some weight and learn to attack offensive tackles rather than beating them with athleticism.

6. Oakland Raiders (trade): Alabama WR Amari Cooper

Cooper may not be the most flashy receiver in the draft, but he’s built solidly at 6’1″ 211 lbs and has plenty of speed to complement his size. A strong receiver not afraid to make blocks and with both the vertical ability and awareness to win jump balls, Cooper has all the pieces to be a true no. 1 in the NFL. The ghosts of Darrius Heyward-Bey very well may influence the Raiders in taking the surer bet in Cooper than speedster Kevin White.

7. Chicago Bears: West Virginia WR Kevin White

The Raiders’ loss is the Bears’ gain. The trade of Brandon Marshall to New York leaves a hole at receiver for a team that’s trying to turn it around quickly under veteran coach John Fox. White is a size/speed freak (6’3″, 4.35 40-yard dash) and has the both the ability to stretch the field and come down with contested passes, but showed a tendency to drop passes at West Virginia. Pairing Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett with White gives whoever is under center a shot at success.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Kentucky OLB Bud Dupree (Previously Clemson OLB Vic Beasley)

New head coach Dan Quinn has been connected to both Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Kentucky’s Bud Dupree in recent weeks, and it’s obvious why — Atlanta’s high-powered offense has to compensate for a lack of talent in the defensive front seven. While Atlanta misses out on Beasley in this situation, Dupree offers a potentially destructive pass-rusher with already good size for the position.

9. New York Giants: Iowa OG/OT Brandon Scherff

Scherff is a flexible selection that could play tackle or guard at the professional level, having played both on the left and right sides of the line at Iowa as a tackle. New York could plug Scherff in at right tackle and allow Justin Pugh to bump to left guard, or do the same with Scherff and keep Pugh at tackle. Either option drastically improves a weak offensive line.

10. St. Louis Rams: Louisville WR DeVante Parker

The Rams are another team well set on defense but in need of help on the offensive side of the ball. Parker gives the Rams another option for new starter Nick Foles. Parker would likely be a higher prospect in other draft classes, but the 2015 class is ripe with receivers. With excellent size (6’3″) and speed (4.45 40-yard dash), Parker combines exceptional athletic ability with an already developed ability to run routes — making him a sure bet for quick production.

11. Minnesota Vikings: Stanford OT Andrus Peat (Previously LSU OT La’el Collins)

Peat has beaten out the likes of LSU’s La’el Collins and Florida’s D.J. Humphries to be considered the draft’s best pure tackle. Grabbing Peat would allow the Vikings to bump recently re-signed Mike Harris into a swing tackle role and further give flexibility with left tackle Matt Kalil’s contract situation looming in 2016.

12. Tennessee Titans (trade): Michigan St. CB Trae Waynes

The addition of Brian Orakpo shored up a need at pass rusher, but Tennessee is still searching for a corner even after the addition of Perrish Cox in free agency. Waynes has a ton of upside and has been favorably compared to Kyle Fuller coming out of college. Waynes can afford to learn behind Jason McCourty and Cox until he can step in as a starter.

13. New Orleans Saints: Washington NT Danny Shelton

The Saints, who seem to be in a rebuilding mode, dearly need to upgrade on the aging Broderick Bunkley at nose tackle. Shelton would anchor the Saints’ defensive line for years to come in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme.

14. Miami Dolphins: Texas DT Malcolm Brown

While the Dolphins may have signed a big name in Ndamukong Suh, they still have a major hole at no. 2 tackle in their 4-3 defense. Brown offers a big body who can stuff the run and by all means seems to have a high ceiling. A high motor player, fighting throughout plays and making a concentrated effort to bat down passes, Brown’s lone hole is pass rushing. If he can develop technique for interior rushing, Brown will be quite the force for Miami.

15. San Francisco 49ers: Oregon DE Arik Armstead

San Francisco suffered some surprising losses this offseason, with Patrick Willis and Chris Borland both prematurely retiring. However, another huge loss was in the form of veteran defensive end Justin Smith to retirement. Armstead can step in immediately as a 3-4 end and take over for Smith. The 49ers have other options at linebacker and can afford to look there later in the draft.

16. Houston Texans: UCF WR Breshad Perriman (Previously Missouri OLB Shane Ray)

Andre Johnson’s departure for a more desirable situation in Indianapolis leaves a hole for the Texans that Cecil Shorts won’t quite fill (if he’s even healthy). Perriman has the size and speed combination to make him a star, but will need seasoning to reach his potential.

17. San Diego Chargers: Georgia RB Todd Gurley

Although Gurley comes with some injury concerns (November 2014 ACL tear), the Georgia product is about as legitimate of a running back prospect as you’ll get. He has an impressive build at 232 lbs but flashed quickness and a knack for finding the hole in college ball, and in the pass game is not only a capable pass catcher but also well versed in pass protection. Gurley is a high risk, high return prospect, but could be a superstar at the pro level.

18. Kansas City Chiefs: Florida St. C Cameron Erving

Erving played all over the line at Florida St., but Kansas City’s true need is at center as of right now. With a mean streak and capable at both run and pass blocking, Erving would step in at center and could help out elsewhere in the future, giving the Chiefs flexibility with their offensive line. Erving may not be the sexy pick, but neither was Travis Frederick in 2013 — who now anchors Dallas’ line.

19. Tennessee Titans (trade): Missouri OLB Shane Ray (Previously Kentucky OLB Bud Dupree)

The Titans may have added Brian Orakpo in the offseason, but they’re not done improving the outside ‘backer position just yet. Veterans Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley offer a buffer for Tennessee while they coach up Ray, but ultimately both aging players have seen their best days already and Ray offers a solid (albeit risky) value in the late teens.

20. Philadelphia Eagles: Alabama SS Landon Collins

While Nate Allen departed in the Chip Kelly exodus this offseason, the Eagles failed to bring in any serious competition for the strong safety position to compensate. Collins would step in immediately as the starting strong safety opposite free safety Malcom Jenkins, easily surpassing unimpressive late round pick Earl Wolff and Jacksonville throw away Chris Prosinski.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Florida OT D.J. Humphries (Previously Stanford OT Andrus Peat)

Peat’s earlier selection shakes things up a bit. Cincinnati is well known for letting veteran tackles walk in free-agency, and starting blind side blocker Andrew Whitworth is entering the final year of his contract at 33-years-old. Humphries is already an accomplished blocker, but needs to work on run blocking and handling power rushers in his transition to the NFL — and the Bengals can afford to have him learn behind Whitworth and Andre Smith as a rookie.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson

It’s no surprise that many draftniks have the Steelers selecting a corner with the 22nd-overall pick when their pass defense was 27th in the league last season. Johnson is an excellent cover corner, with quickness and size for an ideal starter. He needs some work in tackling technique and will need to tone down the aggressiveness when going for picks instead of staying in coverage, but offers Pittsburgh a solid upgrade over B.W. Webb as a starter from day one.

23. Detroit Lions: Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings (Previously Florida OT D.J. Humphries)

The Lions need help at tackle, and Clemmings offers a solid pass blocker to immediately jump in at right tackle. La’el Collins could also be a choice at this latter point of the first round if the Lions decide they can overlook his legal issues.

24. Arizona Cardinals: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

The Cardinals thought they might be getting a future starter in 2013 sixth-round pick Andre Ellington, but 2014 proved he’s little more than a backup with a measly 3.3 yards per carry. Gordon may carry the stigma of past Badgers runners (Montee Ball, James White) performing highly in college only to flop in the NFL, but he flashes speed that Ball doesn’t have and shows excellent balance as a runner. While he’ll need work in the passing game, Gordon offers a home run back if he can develop an eye for the hole.

25. Carolina Panthers: Miami OG/OT Ereck Flowers (Previously Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings)

Flowers may need some work in his pass block technique, but it already a mauling run blocker with great size and strength. A mean streak and authoritative blocking could make Flowers a cornerstone to build a revamped offensive line around and offers an immediate upgrade for the Panthers, especially with the likes of Nate Chandler and Michael Oher projected to start at tackle for Carolina in 2015.

26. Baltimore Ravens: USC WR Nelson Agholor (Previously Arizona St. WR Jaelen Strong)

The departure of Torrey Smith in free agency and encroaching end to storied Steve Smith’s career means the Ravens dearly need a receiver for the present and future. Agholor may not be the flashy receiver that fans are looking for after Torrey Smith’s departure, but he is a solid route runner and dangerous after the catch. The USC product could also contribute early on as a returner.

27. Dallas Cowboys: Florida St. DT Eddie Goldman

With Josh Brent and Terrell McClain as the current starters in Dallas’ 4-3 defense, Goldman is a no-brainer to shore up the interior tackle position. Goldman’s versatility should keep him on the field for most packages, serving as a stout run stuffer and ability to drive interior lineman back into the pocket to disrupt quarterbacks.

28. Denver Broncos: Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory (Previously Miami OT Ereck Flowers)

The offensive line may be a major need for Denver, but head honcho John Elway does not have a history of drafting for need in his tenure with the Broncos. Gregory is a risky pick, both due to his identity as a project player and legal issues, but offers a high-ceiling replacement for DeMarcus Ware down the line, who can work on his technique behind the likes of Ware and Von Miller as a rookie.

29. Indianapolis Colts: Oklahoma NT Jordan Phillips

Phillips is a big body who would dearly help one of the worst defensive units in the NFL at the nose tackle position. GM Ryan Grigson would be hard pressed to pass up some a talented player to man the nose tackle position when Indy has failed to fill that need since moving to a 3-4 defense in 2012.

30. Green Bay Packers: Minnesota TE Maxx Williams

The one glaring hole in the Packers’ offense right now is at tight end, where sub-par starter Andrew Quarless sucked up snaps in 2014 and Richard Rodgers is more of a project player. Williams is a monster after the catch, jumping over and pinballing off of defenders, while a threat to come down with contested passes. While Williams could use some work as a blocker and a route runner, he could make an immediate impact if in tune with Aaron Rodgers.

31. New Orleans Saints: Miami WR Phillip Dorsett (Previously UCF WR Breshad Perriman)

The Saints defense suffered last season as a result of failing to give quarterback Drew Brees true receivers instead of gadget players. Jimmy Graham’s trade to Seattle only makes an offensive weapon more important. Dorsett is a big play receiver who could become an instant hit in Sean Payton’s offense.

32. New England Patriots: Connecticut CB Byron Jones

The Patriots could very well use some help at cornerback following the departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. There’s little bad to say about Jones, who has excellent size at 6’1″, anticipates routes and sticks with receivers. Jones does have some injury concerns, but his athleticism and team-centered attitude make him an excellent pick for a Patriots team needing a solution at corner.

How do we match up against the experts?

Stay tuned tonight for live coverage of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft!


NFL DR Mock 1.0

It’s April and the draft is less than a month away. So, it’s about time we here at NFLDR got our mock drafts done!

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Florida St. QB Jameis Winston

Winston has been the odds-on favorite to go first-overall for months now, and while some draftniks believe the Bucs could pull a fast one and surprise everybody by selecting Marcus Mariota, we’re confident Tampa Bay falls in line with popular opinion come draft day.

2. Cleveland Browns (trade): Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

With multiple first-round picks and the apparent flop of 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel, the Browns are in excellent position to jump up to the no. 1 pick and grab their franchise passer. Sacrificing no. 12 and no. 19 may hurt, but Cleveland has the talent to compete now and just needs a solid quarterback at the helm to make a playoff run.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: USC DE Leonard Williams

The Jaguars get to reap the benefit of Tennessee trading out of no. 2 by grabbing a dominant defensive lineman in Williams. Touted as the top defensive prospect by many, Williams has a deadly combination of strength and speed that will make both opposing tackles and interior lineman struggle. The versatile Williams could play a number of roles for the Jaguars in Gus Bradley’s ever-shifting defensive front.

4. New York Jets (trade): Florida OLB Dante Fowler

As the dominoes fall, the Jets are the next team to trade up in what could be a very fluid draft should a team jump up the board to grab Mariota, bumping the Raiders down to no. 6 with some future compensation. With an aging (and declining) duo of Calvin Pace and Jason Babin paired with underwhelming former first-round pick Quinton Coples at outside rusher, the Jets dearly need to upgrade and look forward at outside rusher. Fowler is a dynamic player that reminds scouts of Kahlil Mack and Von Miller, who can work on his raw abilities as he works into the rotation.

5. Washington Redskins: Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory

The ‘Skins have some major holes to fill on the depth chart, but perhaps the biggest is the result of the departure of prominent pass rusher Brian Orakpo for greener pastures in free-agency. Gregory raised some flags by failing a drug test at the NFL combine earlier this offseason, but exhibits both the pass rush ability and explosiveness that teams look for in 3-4 pass rushing linebackers. If Gregory can put on some muscle and better use his strength to power through defenders, he very well could develop into an elite pass rusher a la Aldon Smith.

6. Oakland Raiders (trade): Alabama WR Amari Cooper

Cooper may not be the most flashy receiver in the draft, but he’s built solidly at 6’1″ 211 lbs and has plenty of speed to complement his size. A strong receiver not afraid to make blocks and with both the vertical ability and awareness to win jump balls, Cooper has all the pieces to be a true no. 1 in the NFL. The ghosts of Darrius Heyward-Bey very well may influence the Raiders in taking the surer bet in Cooper than speedster Kevin White.

7. Chicago Bears: West Virginia WR Kevin White

The Raiders’ loss is the Bears’ gain. The trade of Brandon Marshall to New York leaves a hole at receiver for a team that’s trying to turn it around quickly under veteran coach John Fox. White is a size/speed freak (6’3″, 4.35 40-yard dash) and has the both the ability to stretch the field and come down with contested passes, but showed a tendency to drop passes at West Virginia. Pairing Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett with White gives whoever is under center a shot at success.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Clemson OLB Vic Beasley

Whereas the Falcons have a high powered offense, their defensive front has been weak for several seasons now. Beasley is perhaps the best pure pass rusher in the draft and would make an excellent piece for new head coach Dan Quinn in rebuilding the defense.

9. New York Giants: Iowa OT Brandon Scherff

While some consider Scherff a true guard, the Iowa product is has size and athleticism that should let him succeed as both on outside and interior blocker. Scherff’s selection would allow the Giants to bump former first-round pick Justin Pugh to a better fit at left guard while Scherff anchors the right side of the line.

10. St. Louis Rams: Louisville WR DeVante Parker

The Rams are another team well set on defense but in need of help on the offensive side of the ball. Parker gives the Rams another option for new starter Nick Foles. Parker would likely be a higher prospect in other draft classes, but the 2015 class is ripe with receivers. With excellent size (6’3″) and speed (4.45 40-yard dash), Parker combines exceptional athletic ability with an already developed ability to run routes — making him a sure bet for quick production.

11. Minnesota Vikings: LSU OT La’el Collins

While the Vikings may have re-signed Mike Harris, Collins would offer the Vikings with a starter at right tackle and allow Harris to fall back into a better suited swing tackle spot. Aggressive and with the strength and mean attitude to back it up, Collins may struggle with elite pass rushers on the outside, but he gives the Vikings a dominant run blocker who can move inside later on if deemed he isn’t a fit at tackle.

12. Tennessee Titans (trade): Michigan St. CB Trae Waynes

The addition of Brian Orakpo shored up a need at pass rusher, but Tennessee is still searching for a corner after the addition of Perrish Cox in free agency. Waynes has a ton of upside and has been heavily compared to Kyle Fuller coming out of college. Waynes can afford to learn behind Jason McCourty and Cox until he can step in as a starter.

13. New Orleans Saints: Washington NT Danny Shelton

The Saints, who seem to be in a rebuilding mode, dearly need to upgrade on the aging Broderick Bunkley at nose tackle. Shelton would anchor the Saints’ defensive line for years to come in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme.

14. Miami Dolphins: Texas DT Malcolm Brown

While the Dolphins may have signed a big name in Ndamukong Suh, they still have a major hole at no. 2 tackle in their 4-3 defense. Brown offers a big body who can stuff the run and by all means seems to have a high ceiling. A high motor player, fighting throughout plays and making a concentrated effort to bat down passes, Brown’s lone hole is pass rushing. If he can develop technique for interior rushing, Brown will be quite the force for Miami.

15. San Francisco 49ers: Oregon DE Arik Armstead

San Francisco suffered some surprising losses this offseason, with Patrick Willis and Chris Borland both prematurely retiring. However, another huge loss was in the form of veteran defensive end Justin Smith to retirement. Armstead can step in immediately as a 3-4 end and take over for Smith. The 49ers have other options at linebacker and can afford to look there later in the draft.

16. Houston Texans: Missouri OLB Shane Ray

Some expected Ray to be a top 10 pick with the predicted fall of Randy Gregory (due to off-the-field issues). Ray is an exceptional athlete that exhibits both quickness and strength that teams look for in a 3-4 pass rusher. While his pass rush abilities are still a work in progress, rusher is a need for Houston and Ray has the the tools to make him a solid mid first round pick.

17. San Diego Chargers: Georgia RB Todd Gurley

Although Gurley comes with some injury concerns (November 2014 ACL tear), the Georgia product is about as legitimate of a running back prospect as you’ll get. He has an impressive build at 232 lbs but flashed quickness and a knack for finding the hole in college ball, and in the pass game is not only a capable pass catcher but also well versed in pass protection. Gurley is a high risk, high return prospect, but could be a superstar at the pro level.

18. Kansas City Chiefs: Florida St. C Cameron Erving

Erving played all over the line at Florida St., but Kansas City’s true need is at center as of right now. With a mean streak and capable at both run and pass blocking, Erving would step in at center and could help out elsewhere in the future, giving the Chiefs flexibility with their offensive line. Erving may not be the sexy pick, but neither was Travis Frederick in 2013 — who now anchors Dallas’ line.

19. Tennessee Titans (trade): Kentucky OLB Bud Dupree

While pass rusher isn’t a true need for the Titans, Dupree is a solid value pick in the late teens and offers a long term solution opposite Orakpo. A nature rusher with quickness, Dupree will need to add some muscle so he can play stronger and shed blocks at the pro level. Luckily, the Titans have a combination of Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley opposite Orakpo who can allow Dupree to essentially red-shirt as a rookie.

20. Philadelphia Eagles: Alabama SS Landon Collins

While Nate Allen departed in the Chip Kelly exodus this offseason, the Eagles failed to bring in any serious competition for the strong safety position to compensate. Collins would step in immediately as the starting strong safety opposite free safety Malcom Jenkins, easily surpassing unimpressive late round pick Earl Wolff and Jacksonville throw away Chris Prosinski.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Stanford OT Andrus Peat

Something many have noticed over the years with the Bengals is that they do not like to shell out for departing players in free agency. To this point, Cincinnati has two contract year tackles in Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth, and can take this opportunity to secure a blind side blocker in the well versed Peat.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson

It’s no surprise that many draftniks have the Steelers selecting a corner with the 22nd-overall pick when their pass defense was 27th in the league last season. Johnson is an excellent cover corner, with quickness and size for an ideal starter. He needs some work in tackling technique and will need to tone down the aggressiveness when going for picks instead of staying in coverage, but offers Pittsburgh a solid upgrade over B.W. Webb as a starter from day one.

23. Detroit Lions: Florida OT D.J. Humphries

Humphries is already an accomplished pass rusher, and fills a big need for Detroit at right tackle. While Humphries needs some work at run blocking and could use some added muscle to help deal with power rushers, he fills a huge need and overs a ton of upside.

24. Arizona Cardinals: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

The Cardinals thought they might be getting a future starter in 2013 sixth-round pick Andre Ellington, but 2014 proved he’s little more than a backup with a measly 3.3 yards per carry. Gordon may carry the stigma of past Badgers runners (Montee Ball, James White) performing highly in college only to flop in the NFL, but he flashes speed that Ball doesn’t have and shows excellent balance as a runner. While he’ll need work in the passing game, Gordon offers a home run back if he can develop an eye for the hole.

25. Carolina Panthers: Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings

While some may criticize Clemmings’ run blocking chops, Carolina should be just itching to get their hands on a blind side protector for Cam Newton. With the likes of Nate Chandler, Jonathan Martin and Michael Oher in the mix for tackle, Clemmings fills a need at perhaps the most tackle-needy team in the NFL.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Arizona St. WR Jaelen Strong

The departure of Torrey Smith in free agency and encroaching end to storied Steve Smith’s career means the Ravens dearly need a receiver for the present and future. While Strong may not be a burner, he has a knack for coming down with jump balls, strong physical presence to out muscle defenders and a hard working attitude that will make the Ravens coaches love him.

27. Dallas Cowboys: Florida St. DT Eddie Goldman

With Josh Brent and Terrell McClain as the current starters in Dallas’ 4-3 defense, Goldman is a no-brainer to shore up the interior tackle position. Goldman’s versatility should keep him on the field for most packages, serving as a stout run stuffer and ability to drive interior lineman back into the pocket to disrupt quarterbacks.

28. Denver Broncos: Miami OT Ereck Flowers

An aging Peyton Manning requires protection to stay productive, and that’s exactly what Denver failed to do in their playoff run in 2014. Flowers would prove to be an immediate upgrade on either Chris Clark or youngster Michael Schofield at right tackle, while allowing Louis Vasquez to play his true position at guard. While Flowers may be a bit of a work in progress, Denver has few missing pieces on a playoff ready team — and RT is a big one.

29. Indianapolis Colts: Oklahoma NT Jordan Phillips

Phillips is a big body who would dearly help one of the worst defensive units in the NFL at the nose tackle position. GM Ryan Grigson would be hard pressed to pass up some a talented player to man the nose tackle position when Indy has failed to fill that need since moving to a 3-4 defense in 2012.

30. Green Bay Packers: Minnesota TE Maxx Williams

The one glaring hole in the Packers’ offense right now is at tight end, where sub-par starter Andrew Quarless sucked up snaps in 2014 and Richard Rodgers is more of a project player. Williams is a monster after the catch, jumping over and pinballing off of defenders, while a threat to come down with contested passes. While Williams could use some work as a blocker and a route runner, he could make an immediate impact if in tune with Aaron Rodgers.

31. New Orleans Saints: UCF WR Breshad Perriman

Perriman flashed up boards after posting a sub 4.30 40-yard dash, with some even projecting the 6’2″ receiver to go in the top 15 on draft day. Perriman is raw and will need work to develop into a superstar, but has the strength, size, speed and hands to make it big at the pro level. Expect big things from Perriman early on with a lack of receivers in New Orleans.

32. New England Patriots: Connecticut CB Byron Jones

The Patriots could very well use some help at cornerback following the departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. There’s little bad to say about Jones, who has excellent size at 6’1″, anticipates routes and sticks with receivers. Jones does have some injury concerns, but his athleticism and team-centered attitude make him an excellent pick for a Patriots team needing a solution at corner.

How do we match up against the experts?


Draft Profile: Marcus Mariota

It’s been a while since I’ve been active on here, so I decided to start up once again as we wind towards the 2015 NFL Draft with a big topic: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Mariota is near unanimously considered the second best passer entering the draft this season, behind only first-overall projected Florida State product Jameis Winston. A redshirt junior, Mariota amassed enough awards to fill a trophy case in 2014, including the Heisman Trophy and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP as he led the Ducks to a 13-2 season in which they were edged by Ohio State for the national title.

Where do we start with Mariota? Well, he’s an athletic freak for the position. Mariota led quarterbacks in every combine drill, including an impressive 4.52 second 40-yard dash time. At 6’4″ and 222 lbs, Mariota is also sized like a prototypical quarterback.

The Strengths

While Mariota’s athleticism is obvious, he follows this up with a very strong arm. However, unlike many cannon armed passers coming out of college, he also possesses a solid touch on his passes, lofting the ball when necessary and throwing bullets when needed. Mariota also has a quick delivery with sound mechanics. He’s been very careful with the ball in his time at Oregon, only throwing more than one interception in a game three times in his 41 starts for the Ducks.

Perhaps what he’s best known for are his Tebow-esque skills of improvisation, making would be tacklers miss and extending plays with his legs — keeping his eyes on the field for a play in the process. Similarly to 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel, Mariota also has a solid feel for passing on the run and handles off balance throws well.

The Weaknesses

Mariota’s first and foremost criticism is that he did not play in a pro-style offense at Oregon, something that tipped the scales for Winston over Mariota in many profilers’ minds as the top passer in this year’s draft class. The reasoning behind this is solid, as Mariota took few chances as a passer and was not asked to anticipate routes and defenders or throw into tight spaces often in the Ducks’ offense.

In addition, Mariota showed a tendency to sail passes when throwing down the field and overall has some questions about accuracy. His pocket presence is something that needs to be worked on, as he’s quick to pick up rushers and abandon the pocket rather than step up into a pass. Mariota also showed a lack of protection for the ball, coughing up 27 fumbles as a three-year starter.

The Take-Away

While Mariota may not be the favorite for many at the quarterback position as a high potential, medium risk candidate, he’s a much more sure thing than Johnny Manziel coming out of school last season. Mariota will need to prove he can adapt to a pro-style offense and silence doubters by holding on to the football and working on both his overall accuracy and ball placement in tight windows.

The combination of arm, athleticism and improvisation has made some compare Mariota favorably to Robert Griffin III circa his rookie season, but I’m much more inclined to the Colin Kaepernick comparisons due to Mariota’s quick release and abilities outside the pocket.

Mariota is a sure-fire first round pick, and likely to be a top five selection as well, with the Jaguars, Raiders and Redskins (picks three through five) all dearly in need of talent on their rosters and the possibility of a team trading in front of the quarterback needy Bears and Jets (picks six and seven) to ensure they get their guy.

As the 2015 quarterback class is fairly thin and many teams looking for both a short and long term solution, teams will likely scramble over the opportunity to land Mariota, giving him a solid chance to land in the top five next month.


ICYMI: Trent Richardson Traded to the Colts

Late Wednesday, Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson decided to pull an ace out of his sleeve and make a rather cavalier move in trading the Colts’ first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft for former first-round running back Trent Richardson.

Perhaps the most surprised person in this whole situation is Richardson himself, who found out about his trade via the radio when going about his everyday life outside of football. The third-overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2012, Richardson tallied just under 1,000 rushing yards and scored 11 times on the ground in a Browns uniform prior to the trade. Cleveland had originally traded up to the third pick to select Richardson under previous GM Tom Heckert.

It’s a very interesting move, as current GM Mike Lombardi made it abundantly clear that the Browns are in a rebuilding mode by trading arguably the most talented player on the offensive side of the ball. Not only is Richardson gone barely over a year after the Browns traded up for him, but the first-round pick that Cleveland will receive could be a late pick if Indianapolis manages this season to match their playoff-worthy record in 2012.

For the Colts, Richardson’s addition fills a hole left when Indianapolis placed running back Vick Ballard on the injured reserve with a torn right ACL suffered in practice prior to the Colts’ week 2 game. Prior to the trade, Indianapolis was left with free-agent acquisition Ahmad Bradshaw and draft bust Donald Brown, who has tallied under 2,000 rushing yards since being made the 27th-overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. Richardson gives the Colts a new dynamic to play with, especially since the recent injury to tight end Dwayne Allen has removed a favorite target of Andrew Luck.

The Browns filled the void left by Richardson’s departure quickly by bringing in free-agent runner Willis McGahee, ostensibly to start over Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey. Cleveland may ease McGahee back into the game following an offseason of inactivity due to a broken leg, but the 31-year-old should contribute as a solid runner between the tackles.  McGahee is also valuable to the passing game as a blocker and veteran receiver, seen last year in his time as the feature running back for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos prior to the leg injury.

So what do the Browns plan to do with the future pick? If Cleveland continues their losing course this season, they’re likely to have an early pick and a late first-round pick — offering the Browns flexibility in moving up and down in the first-round. If Brandon Weeden doesn’t pan out this season, the Browns could look at drafting one of many quarterback prospects and adding another piece later in the round, or trade around for more picks.

The shocker of a trade was met by mixed receptions by Cleveland fans, as some looked at the trade as getting above market value for Richardson while others looked at it as yet another poor move by a team that has stayed in the NFL’s cellar for years now. However, the trade received almost unanimously positive reviews from NFL analysts, with CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco citing the trade as the jettison of an overvalued runner (Richardson has only managed 3.5 yards per carry since his selection) while he still has trade value and Jason La Canfora cited the devaluation of running backs in recent years as making a first-round pick an excellent haul for a team like the Browns.

In other news, The Colts promoted practice squad receiver Da’Rick Rogers to the active roster in the wake of Allen’s placement on injured reserve. Rogers was considered to be a borderline first-round prospect heading into the 2013 NFL Draft. Rogers was signed as an undrafted free-agent by Buffalo prior to his release in August.


Ravens/Broncos: What to Watch For

Today marks the first regular season game of the 2013 NFL season, and it’s a good one: the rematch of last year’s AFC divisional round thriller between Peyton Manning and the Broncos and Joe Flacco’s Ravens.

Although tonight’s game is effectively the Broncos’ first step to redemption after the double-overtime loss that cost their playoff run, both teams have been involved in roster movements that have drastically altered the names players that will be on the field. Among these moves are the Elvis Dumervil fax-gate incident, Von Miller’s suspension, and the departure of veterans Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard, and, above all, Ray Lewis in the offseason. As such, let’s take a look at some of the key players to watch in tonight’s game.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie/Tony Carter

By now, it’s clear that Champ Bailey will not take the field for the Broncos in week 1. The absence of Bailey is not something to be scoffed at, even if memories of poor play persist in the mind following last year’s heart-breaking defeat. Bailey is a team leader and still one of the most talented corners in the NFL, and it’s up to offseason acquisition Rodgers-Cromartie to step up in his absence. Look for DRC and Chris Harris to start in base sets, with up-and-coming Tony Carter taking over for Harris outside while Harris bumps inside for nickel and dime packages. Carter saw plenty of time with Denver last season in sub-packages, and is a quality corner, if inconsistent at times. If Rodgers-Cromartie and Carter can hold their own against the depleted Ravens receiving corps, then Denver has a chance to shut down Flacco’s passing attack.

Torrey Smith/Jacoby Jones/Ed Dickson

The Ravens are expecting big things out of the receiver duo of Smith and Jones following last year’s playoff performances, and signaled as much with the Anquan Boldin trade that left Baltimore with a glaring lack of depth at receiver. When the loss of Dennis Pitta is added in to the equation, it’s quite clear that Smith and Jones will have to perform if Joe Flacco is going to make an impact on the field. While it was expected that Flacco would rely heavily on the emerging Pitta as a safety net in the passing game, it’s up to fourth-year tight end Ed Dickson to fill that role for the majority of the season as Pitta recovers from right hip surgery. Expect the speedy Smith to be matched up with Broncos speedster Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie throughout the game, while Chris Harris and Tony Carter handle Jones.

Wesley Woodyard/Nate Irving/Shaun Phillips/Derek Wolfe

The six-game suspension of Von Miller to start the season is a decidedly big hit to the Broncos’ defense early in the season. Miller was arguably one of the league’s best defensive players and had the biggest impact last year of any Broncos defensive player not named Champ Bailey. Replacing Miller’s production is simply something the remainder of the Broncos’ linebacker corps cannot do, and as such it’s up to Woodyard not only to make an impact, but also act as a leader on the field with Bailey on the bench. Veteran Shaun Phillips will look to disrupt Joe Flacco in the pocket as primarily a pass rusher, while Nate Irving (17 career tackles) will be seeing the first significant playing time of his career at the Mike position this season. Linebacker has quickly gone from a strength for the Broncos to a weakness with the loss of Miller. Additionally, Denver’s coaching staff will be relying heavily on second-year lineman Derek Wolfe to create a pass-rush from both the end and tackle positions to make up for the loss of Elvis Dumervil in the offseason.

Michael Huff/James Ihedigbo

The Ravens are looking at an almost entirely new defensive backfield from last year’s Super Bowl winning squad. The departures of Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard have led to James Ihedigbo’s promotion to starter and the acquisition of versatile Michael Huff to man the other safety position. While the Ravens’ coaching staff would have liked 32nd-overall pick Matt Elam to make an impact in his rookie season, it’s likely he’ll only play sparingly barring injury to either Huff or Ihedigbo. Peyton Manning has an abundance of offensive weapons at his disposal to throw the Ravens’ way, including prolific slot receiver Wes Welker and a talented duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to boot. Huff and Ihedigbo will be responsible for handling Welker in base packages and relatively unknown tight end Julius Thomas, who is expected to draw the start due to Joel Dreessen’s absence. Thomas’ athleticism could make for a tough match up out of base packages for Baltimore’s safeties and linebackers alike.

Manny Ramirez/Ronnie Hillman/Montee Ball

It’s a well-known fact that the path to success in a Peyton Manning offense is to keep no. 18 on his feet. While rushing has complemented Manning’s passing attack throughout his career, it’s important to protect the star quarterback and to keep up with Peyton’s play calling and quick thinking audibles prior to the snap. Manny Ramirez, who saw time starting at guard in Peyton’s first year with Denver due to Chris Kuper’s continuing injury problems, is now the starting center following injuries to both J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen. With a new upbeat no-huddle offense intermixed with Peyton’s standard air-it-out offensive style, Ramirez’s impact at center will be important in keeping up with Peyton’s line audibles. Ronnie Hillman will have a tough task in protecting Manning and holding onto the football, as poor ball protection almost led to Hillman’s demotion from starter in the preseason and pass protection problems in the past have led to a reliance on Montee Ball for clear passing downs to increase protection for Manning. Expect Haloti Ngata to push the pocket against Ramirez on the interior line, while the duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil challenge whichever running back remains in the backfield to protect Manning, whether it’s Hillman or Ball.

Daryl Smith/Josh Bynes/Arthur Brown

The loss of a future Hall of Fame player in Ray Lewis is something that may haunt the Ravens for seasons as the team attempts to find an heir at the middle linebacker position. It was thought prior to the offseason that Danelle Ellerbe would take a step forward in Lewis’ absence, but it’s quite clear that the only impact Ellerbe will make this year concerning the Ravens will be in a Dolphins uniform when Baltimore heads to Miami in week 5. The next man in line was Jameel McClain, who was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list last week — meaning he’ll miss the beginning of the season. Instead, free-agent acquisition Daryl Smith, a nine-year veteran with 114 games as starter under his belt as a 4-3 outside ‘backer with the Jaguars, will start at middle linebacker with the Ravens for the early part of the 2013 season. Opposite him will be third-year reserve ‘backer Josh Bynes (34 tackles in 2012). Second-round pick Arthur Brown and Albert McClellan (49 tackles) will also be in the mix for snaps as the Ravens’ coaching staff scrambles to fill the hole at middle linebacker. If Denver’s offensive line can handle the Ravens’ stout defensive line, the Broncos running backs could be looking at an ideal match up in the middle of the Ravens’ linebacking corps.


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