Category:NFL
Posted on: October 12, 2010 6:06 pm
 

Pair of 4th rounders earn Rookies of the Week

The first step in earning Rookie of the Week honors is, of course, to see the field. Because of their perceived greater talent and their signficantly greater salary, high round picks almost always get the better opportunities to start.

Being fourth round picks, however, certainly hasn't slowed down the progress of Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wideout Mike Williams or Tennessee Titans' cornerback Alterraun Verner .

I've highlighted Williams on numerous occasions, including back in training camp (August 1) when he was already turning heads .

I've long been a fan of Verner, one of the feistier defenders in the draft. I listed him among five players heading up the board as the draft approached (April 7) and was surprised, frankly, that he lasted until the early fourth round.

Unless you're living under a rock somewhere you likely already know that Williams has developed an early rapport with Bucs' young quarterback Josh Freeman. The 3-1 Bucs have featured Williams throughout the season and he entered the matchup against a tough Bengals' secondary leading the team in receptions (12), receiving yardage (139) and receiving touchdowns (2) over the team's first three games. An obvious focus of the Bengals defense, Williams was slowed early in the contest, but stepped up big late, leaping over veteran Johnathan Joseph to catch the tying touchdown with only 56 seconds left. Williams finished with seven grabs for 99 yards and the score.

Like Williams, Verner's solid play contributed to an upset victory. Matched up against a variety of talented receivers and facing Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo didn't seem to faze Verner, as he registered eight tackles and stepped in front of a pass intended for tight end Martellus Bennett and tipped at the line of scrimmage by Dave Ball to make the first interception of his NFL career. Verner returned the ball to the one-yard line, where superstar Chris Johnson quickly gave the Titans a touchdown. Playing opposite an established talent like Cortland Finnegan, Verner's tenacious play has earned raves from coaches and scouts throughout the league.

It is interesting to note how closely Williams and Verner went in the fourth round. Williams was the third pick of the round and 101st pick, overall. Verner was selected only three picks later.

** One final note... I considered listing Arizona quarterback Max Hall as my Offensive Rookie of the Week. He certainly made some gutsy plays in the win over the defending Super Bowl champs, but had the Cardinals defense not saved the day by scoring nearly as many points (14) as they allowed to the Saints (20), the interception and two fumbles lost by Hall would be getting more attention than they currently are. Hall was good enough to win -- and that, in itself, is verrry impressive, but all of the comparison between he and Kurt Warner is hyperbole, in my opinion. 
Posted on: October 6, 2010 1:54 pm
 

Viks, 'Hawks win now, but Pats, Bills better off

In our rush to judge the "winners" and "losers" in the trading of former Pro Bowlers Randy Moss and Marshawn Lynch, it is important to realize the impact they'd had so far for the Vikings and Bills, respectively.

Through four games with the Patriots, Randy Moss had continued the big play ways that will one day send him to the Hall of Fame, catching three touchdowns, but those scores came amidst shockingly poor numbers, overall: nine catches for 139 yards.

Through four games with the Bills, Marshawn Lynch had rushed for 164 yards on 34 attempts and caught one pass for seven yards. He had one fumble and zero touchdowns.

This isn't to suggest that Moss and Lynch won't make immediate impacts for their new clubs. There is no denying that the pieces are in place for Moss and Lynch to each make immediate impacts for the Vikings and Seahawks.

However, give the Patriots and Bills credit for recognizing that these two players were not significantly impacting their win totals this season and were not part of either teams' long-term plans. Rather than allow the situation to spiral out of control (like the Chargers have done with WR Vincent Jackson or the 49ers did with S Michael Lewis), each team got valuable draft picks in return.

Some will argue that the Patriots must be looking to the future by trading such a valuable deep threat as Randy Moss. Clearly the team doesn't expect to win now. I'd argue that with slot receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman and rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski controlling the middle, Tom Brady at the helm and the big play potential of Brandon Tate outside, the Patriots' passing offense will be just fine this season.

Brandon Tate isn't just guy who is good at returning kicks. Remember, this is the receiver who started over Hakeem Nicks and Greg Little (who I believe is the most physically gifted senior WR in the country) at North Carolina.

And with the third round pick they got from the Vikings, the Patriots now have two picks in the first, second, third and fourth rounds of the 2011 draft. Doesn't it seem like New England has multiple Top 100 picks every year? And, as such, they're always reloading and never rebuilding? Exactly.

And the Bills, having used their 2010 first round pick on C.J. Spiller, clearly have other concerns than running back. Considering that they might be the least talented football team in the NFL, acquiring extra picks makes sense -- especially if they scratch out a few wins and have to potentially package them in order to move up to draft their quarterback of the future.

I expect the Vikings and Seahawks to enjoy the spoils of their trades early on. But the NFL isn't just about winning now. It is about winning long term. The Patriots have done that better than any team in the league. The Bills are wise to begin practicing some of the same strategies.




Posted on: September 28, 2010 2:07 pm
 

Bills' Spiller, Hawks' Thomas Rookies of the Week

Each Tuesday I'll list two first year players -- one on offense, one from the defense -- as my official NFLDraftScout.com's Rookies of the Week.

Various rookies enjoyed strong performances in Week Three. On offense, it was tough to look past Sam Bradford's first career win (over the Redskins), the continued stellar play of Kansas City tight end Tony Moeaki (who I've listed as a finalist each of the first three weeks!) and Indianapolis receiver Blair White an undrafted free agent who was signed from the practice squad due to injuries and responded with three catches for 27 yards and his first NFL touchdown.

In the end, however, the versatility and explosiveness of Buffalo rookie C.J. Spiller won out.

Spiller, playing behind veterans Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, didn't get many carries. In fact, he only rushed four times (for 29 yards) against the Patriots. The versatility he showed while starring at Clemson, however, was very much on display against New England, however, as he caught three passes for 10 yards and a touchdown and returned a kick 95 yards for another score. Spiller's ability to make impact plays were one of the reasons that the Bills were able to remain surprisingly competitive against New England, which won 38-30.

It wasn't a particularly strong week for rookies on the defensive side of the ball. Two defensive backs I had high hopes for entering the week -- Bucs' safety Cody Grimm and Broncos' cornerback Perrish Cox -- were torched for touchdowns. Sean Weatherspoon led the Falcons with seven tackles, but other highly touted 2010 linebackers Brandon Spikes (one tackle) and Rolando McClain (four tackles) weren't as statistically relevant nor able to make any big plays in close games.

Big plays, however, was exactly what Seattle free safety Earl Thomas made for the Seahawks, Sunday afternoon in a 27-20 win over the favored San Diego Chargers.

Thomas recorded six tackles, but it was his two interceptions over Pro Bowler Phillip Rivers that helped prove the difference in this game. Thomas' second interception came with only seconds left on the clock and the Chargers in position to tie the score. Thomas read the eyes of Rivers, cut in front of receiver Legedu Naanee and swiped the ball, putting a disappointing end (for San Diego, at least) to Rivers' career-high 455 yard passing day.

Posted on: September 21, 2010 1:43 pm
 

Impressive rookie Lions: Best, Suh tops this week

Each Tuesday I'll list two first year players -- one on offense, one from the defense -- as my official NFLDraftScout.com's Rookies of the Week.

Various rookies enjoyed strong performances in Week One. On offense, Denver wideout Demaryius Thomas had a strong first game to his NFL career against the Seahawks with 98 receiving yards and a touchdown. Dallas' Dez Bryant, who I recognized last week in this space as a "honorable mention" Rookie of the Week, enjoyed a strong second game as well, with 52 receiving yards and a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears. I try to look beyond just the "skill" position players for these awards and I was mightily impressed with the drive blocking of San Francisco left guard Mike Iupati last night against the Saints, as well as that of Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey in the Steelers' win over the Titans.

In the end, however, this week's Offensive Rookie of the Week was a no-brainer.  

Though his Detroit Lions lost to the Eagles Sunday, Jahvid Best was absolutely electric. He had 232 total yards from scrimmage (17 attempts for 78 rushing yards and nine receptions for 154 yards) and scored three more touchdowns. His five touchdowns over the first two weeks of the season lead the NFL. Some anticipated that an athletic and aggressive Philadelphia defense would tee off on Best considering the marginal downfield passing of Detroit backup quarterback Shaun Hill. With the Eagles crowding the line of scrimmage against the run, Hill simply found Best as an outlet receiver. Once in the open field, Best's agility and straight-line speed make him a matchup nightmare. Best is the first rookie to score five touchdowns in his first two NFL games since another Lion, Billy Simms, accomplished the feat 30 years ago.

On the defensive side of the ball, there were again several worthy candidates, though in my opinion this week's award was just as much a no-brainer. Sean Weatherspoon (Falcons), Koa Misi (Dolphins) and last week's honoree T.J. Ward (Browns) were impressive again. I was also impressed with the coverage supplied by Denver cornerback Perrish Cox. His coverage helped shut down the Seahawks reclamation project, Mike Williams, and his interception of Matt Hasselbeck ended any chance of a Seahawk comeback.

However, Ndamukong Suh proved to be every bit the dominant player against the Eagles we projected he'd be in the NFL. Suh posted eight tackles -- second most in the league by an interior defensive lineman -- and recorded his second sack in as many games. The Lions featured Suh and Best on the same play twice Sunday, with Suh lining up as Best's fullback.

Posted on: September 16, 2010 10:09 pm
 

Surprised by Arian Foster's success? I'm not...

By now, everyone with a fantasy football team knows the name of Houston Texan running back Arian Foster.

Tennessee Volunteer (and other SEC) fans knew his name long before his staggering 231 yard, 3 touchdown performance against the Colts in Week One -- second behind only O.J. Simpson (250 yards in 1973) in the history of the NFL for a season-opening performance. 

After all, for all of the talk of Foster onto the scene for the Texans, he was hardly an unknown coming from out of Tennessee. Foster left the Vols second on their career rushing list with 2,964 yards -- more than Jamal Lewis, Charlie Garner, Cedric Houston and Montario Hardesty. Only Travis Henry, with 3,078 yards, was more successful over his career than Foster.

I -- and more importantly NFL scouts were quite high on Foster early in his career. In fact, he was given a second round grade by the NFL Advisory Committee following his junior season.

Entering the 2009 season, in fact, I characterized him among the elite prospects in the SEC and wrote:

"A standout as a freshman, Foster rebounded from a disappointing sophomore year to enjoy his greatest success to date last season, earning Second Team SEC honors with 1,193 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Only 684 yards behind Travis Henry to be Tennessee's career rushing leader, Foster briefly considered leaving early for the NFL and was given a second-round grade by the NFL Advisory Committee. A strong senior campaign could push Foster to the top of the senior running back class."

Rather than enjoy a "strong senior campaign," however, Foster struggled mightily, fumbling often and losing carries to Hardesty (among others).

Foster initially intrigued me as a strong one-cut runner. Though his stock took a major tumble in 2009, I was nonetheless surprised to see him slip all the way out of the draft. Considering Houston's zone-blocking scheme, Foster was an ideal fit.

I recommended him as a potential late round pick for the Seattle Seahawks -- another team that features a zone-blocking scheme up front.

It will be interesting to see if the struggles with ball security that plagued Foster's late career at Tennessee will again show up with the Texans. Though I believe Foster is very much a starting caliber running back in the NFL in a zone-blocking scheme, don't be surprised if he's never able to match his spectacular Week One performance.

There will be few defenses he'll face this season smaller up front than the Colts. Certainly the Washington Redskins -- Houston's opponent Sunday -- should provide a significantly tougher matchups than the Colts were last weekend.


Posted on: September 14, 2010 1:17 pm
 

KC's McCluster, Browns' Ward Rookies of the Week

Each Tuesday I'll list two first year players -- one on offense, one from the defense -- as my official NFLDraftScout.com's Rookies of the Week.

Various rookies enjoyed strong performances in Week One. On offense, the skill position players like St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, Detroit running back Jahvid Best, and a host of receivers -- Cincinnati's Jordan Shipley, Dallas' Dez Bryant and Tampa Bay' Mike Williams certainly deserved consideration. So too did some of the lesser acknowledged players -- such as Kansas City tight end Tony Moeaki and Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams. 

In the end, however, my choice for Offensive Rookie of the Week was Moeaki's teammate, running back/receiver/returner Dexter McCluster.

McCluster was limited to only two receptions (for nine yards) and one rushing attempt (no gain), but his dazzling 94-yard punt return in the second quarter of the Chiefs upset victory over the Chargers was among the biggest plays of the opening weekend. His touchdown provided the Chiefs with the momentum (and, ultimately the deciding points) that helped them hold on to beat the AFC West favorites. 

On the defensive side of the ball, there were again several worthy candidates. Philadelphia safety Nate Allen had five tackles and an important interception of Aaron Rodgers. Pass rushers Koa Misi (Dolphins), Greg Hardy (Panthers), and Tyson Alualu (Jaguars) all made big plays for their teams.

The consistency of Cleveland safety T.J. Ward, in my opinion, was the most impressive of the week, however. Ward led all rookies with 11 tackles Sunday in the Browns 14-17 loss to Tampa Bay. He also forced a fumble and essentially an interception with a strong blitz that forced Bucs' quarterback Josh Freeman to throw earlier than he wanted, resulting in a pick by Browns' teammate Mike Adams.
Posted on: September 8, 2010 9:06 pm
 

'Tis the season, so here are my NFL predictions

My CBS collegeagues Clark Judge and Pete Prisco made their NFL predictions here and here .

I thought I'd chime in with my thoughts, as well.

AFC East: Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Bills
AFC North: Ravens, Bengals*, Steelers, Browns
AFC South: Colts, Texans*, Titans, Jaguars
AFC West: Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos

NFC East: Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Redskins
NFC North: Packers, Vikings*, Lions, Bears
NFC South: Saints, Falcons,* Panthers, Buccaneers
NFC West: 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams

*Wildcard teams

Super Bowl pick: Packers over Ravens

MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers. Most talented combination of QB, skill position and OL. He's a strong, strong favorite in my mind.
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings. Favre struggles this time, so Viks are forced to rely on AP (who gets over the fumblitis). 
Defensive Player of the Year: ILB Patrick Willis, 49ers: When Willis leads the league in tackles this time (he did in 2010), fans will notice as the 49ers will run away with the NFC West (and potentially a bye).
Offensive Rookie of the Year: RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers. Mathews has talent and Norv Turner is going to give him every opportunity to be a star.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: DE Brandon Graham, Eagles. Perfect fit for this defense. Watch out for Oakland MLB Ro McClain too. Another perfect fit.
Comeback/Breakout Player of the Year: WR Mike Williams, Seahawks. Remember this guy? Pete Carroll does. I've seen it myself . Williams is back.
Stepback Player of the Year: RB Brandon Jacobs, Giants. I considered Favre, but he's too easy of a target with Sidney Rice's injury. Jacobs looked washed up last year and in the preseason. With the Giants giving Ahmad Bradshaw the nod, Jacobs could disappear in 2010.
Team on the Rise: Dolphins. Solid running game, Henne has the arm to keep Brandon Marshall focused, and DC Mike Nolan is among the best in the biz.
Team on the Decline: Bears. Spent their free agent millions on positions of relative strength, rather than their gaping weakness (OL).
Best Free Agent Pickup: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lions. Love this player for this team. Steady vet helps Suh make this D formidable.
Worst Free Agent Pickup: WR Antonio Bryant, Bengals. Considering he's already off the team, how can there be a worse move?
Posted on: August 31, 2010 10:49 pm
Edited on: August 31, 2010 11:50 pm
 

Five breakout NFL players

On draft day each year, amid the excitement and bustle, I always find one aspect of scouting to be, well, bittersweet.

Follow along with me a moment.

It is impossible in this business to not develop favorite prospects through the course of a year. Often, I've characterized some of these favorites in an article that we, NFLDraftScout.com, affectionately refer to as Rang's Gang .

The players featured in Rang's Gang aren't supposed to be the best. In fact, the only real rule is that they aren't supposed to be first round prospects. Considering I write each year's article a month or so before the draft, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised that a club feels as highly about the player as I do and my "rule" is broken.

Typically, however, these are mid-round players who have legitimate NFL talent and have demonstrated some intangible (e.g., instincts, determination, physicality, technique, etc.) that caused them to stand out (at least to me) from their peers.

Now the bittersweet part.

Unfortunately, on draft day, I sometimes see these "favorites" placed into tough situations. There are prospects, for example, who I feel are best suited to one scheme but are drafted into another. Or, talented players drafted behind starters in their primes, potentially meaning limited playing time. Or, players, who after interviewing them, I've felt might do best working for a "player-friendly" coach -- and then are drafted into a team with a strict disciplinarian.

Some players are so talented all they need is an opportunity.

Others, toll in relative anonymity until a change in scenery, scheme, coaching staff or a veteran moving on give them a freer lane to NFL success.

Here are 5 players I think find that lane this year.

CB Josh Wilson, Ravens: A second round pick by the Seahawks in 2007, Wilson has started 23 games the past two seasons, demonstrating true playmaking ability on a struggling defense. His lack of height (5-09) made him an immediate tough fit in Pete Carroll's scheme that prefers taller corners, so his trade to the Ravens, however, wasn't shocking. Wilson has returned three of his six INTs the past two years for touchdowns and is the Seahawks' all-time leader in kickoff return average (25.76) with a TD scored his rookie year. His height is obviously an issue -- especially considering the big receivers of the AFC North. Wilson plays bigger than his height due to physicality and pure speed. He was "officially" clocked at 4.39 seconds at the 2007 Combine. Here's the thing. If Wilson was able to make this many plays for the Seahawks' anemic pass rush (more on this later), imagine how much more effective he could be with the Ravens' defense around him. 

RB Peyton Hillis, Browns: Characterized by some as little more than a throw-in for the Browns in the trade that made Brady Quinn a Denver Bronco, Hillis, I believe, will emerge as one of the league's best young fullbacks this year. Hillis' overall athleticism and versatility intrigued me back when he played at Arkansas. This guy played fullback, tailback, H-back, tight end and wide receiver in the SEC. Not only that, the 6-2, 250 pounder was the Razorbacks' punt returner at a time when Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were the supposed future NFL stars. In fact, Hillis already has seven touchdowns in only two NFL seasons. Seven not so impressive, you say? Jones has scored six touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys, thus far. McFadden, for the Raiders, has only five.

DE Chris Clemons, Seahawks: Clemons, entering his seventh NFL season, is older than the others on this list. He is an example of a player whose new environment is going to help him tremendously. Clemons, originally an undrafted free agent out of Georgia who signed with the Redskins, has flashed as an outside pass rusher with the Raiders and Eagles. Those two defenses featured other talented pass rushers during Clemons' tenure, limiting his opportunities for production. He was fast off the edge; just not fast enough on teams featuring Derrick Burgess, Warren Sapp and Trent Cole. Clemons has had success before. He, opposite Burgess in 2007 with the Raiders, collected 8 sacks. He's never topped four any other year of his career. Unless injured, he should have no problem rejuvenating his career this season with Seattle. Clemons is quicker upfield than anyone else on Seattle's front four. With the noise generated at Qwest Field, Clemons could push his career numbers simply because someone, sometime has to register a pass rush for the Seahawks.

WR Jacoby Jones, Texans: Some of you will claim I'm jumping on the bandwagon with Jones, as it is no secret he's been a preseason star this year for the Texans. In reality, I've been driving the bandwagon (as well as changing the oil and fixing the brakes ) with Jones long before he ever teamed up with Matt Schaub. Jones has been making big plays as the Texans' third wideout, but his production this year could rival most team's No. 2.

QB Kevin Kolb, Eagles: This is what it comes down to for me in regards to Kolb. Sure, it was a risk by Andy Reid to trade Donovan McNabb, but consider this. Mike Holmgren, who was Bill Walsh's QB coach from 1986-1988, knew Matt Hasselbeck could run his offense when he left Brett Favre and Green Bay for Seattle. Andy Reid, Holmgren's QB coach in Green Bay in 1997-1998, obviously feels that it is Kolb's time. That's good enough for me -- (especially when I scouted Kolb in the preseason ). Kolb's poise, accuracy and quick release could make him a quick star in this offense.




 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com