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Posted on: August 20, 2011 5:33 pm
Edited on: August 20, 2011 5:36 pm
 

Free-agent Clayton won't be free for long


Last week, former Rams and Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton had a tryout with the New England Patriots. Not only did he pass his physical with the team, but Clayton was able to run routes without issue.

That tryout alone was a huge step for Clayton, who ruptured his patella tendon after five games in St. Louis last year. In those five games, the former Oklahoma Sooner burst for 306 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 catches, showing some of the spark that made him a Fantasy consideration as far back as 2006. Playing with Sam Bradford didn't hurt either.

Clayton said that he was told from Rams personnel before the lockout that he'd return to the team, but such a development never materialized. Josh McDaniels was hired to run the offense after Pat Shurmur left to coach the Browns and the team added two rookies and free-agent receiver Mike Sims-Walker.

Enter the Patriots.

"They called my agent and asked about me," Clayton told CBSSports.com. "They wanted to know what kind of condition I was in. My agent suggested to take a look for themselves and they brought me in."

After going through their standard physical, Clayton hit the field with Patriots personnel to show what he could do. He didn't catch passes from Tom Brady but still left them with something to think about.

"I was able to run some routes and show stability in my knee," Clayton said. "Really, I just had fun running routes again."

Running routes wasn't something Clayton could even think about last winter while getting back into shape. Though the rehab is in his rear view mirror, Clayton recently saw Cardinals rookie running back Ryan Williams fall victim to the exact same knee injury he had, even in the same leg, and knows exactly what he's going through.

"Rehab was tough, monotonous," Clayton said. "When you don't feel like it's getting better, it is. For like four or five months I said, 'Man, when am I going to turn the corner and get better?'

"Suddenly by the sixth month I was showing improvement and making strides. But before then I was showing improvement by doing the little things and that was what became important."

Clayton is sure that with the right rehabilitation, Williams can get back to where he was. He's sure about that because of the journey he's been on since that fateful game in Detroit. He credits his trainers in St. Louis, who also work with running back Steven Jackson, for bringing his game back.

"Right now I feel like I am as fast as I was last year, and I know I have room for improvement," Clayton said. "Now the focus is in building my strength and endurance even more than it is in my leg. I'm the same exact player otherwise."

Clayton is waiting to hear the word from the Patriots, and it's not going to be long before other teams come calling. After succeeding in Shurmur's West Coast offense last year and gaining experience with the Ravens in the mid-2000s, Clayton figures he can adapt to any playbook that's out there. The receiver has the mind of a coach when it comes to football, but he's still got the athleticism of a player, making for a reliable combination for a team to uncover in the near future -- and for Fantasy owners to cash in on during the football season.

Category: NFL
Posted on: May 9, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: May 9, 2011 1:39 pm
 

Early 2011 rookie rank list

Jamey Eisenberg and I will debut our Top 20 rookies for dynasty leagues on the site, but through the process of culminating that list I wound up ranking the 30 most prominent rookies just for 2011.

Now if you're like my boss, you'll say "How many rookies realistically make an impact in their first season?" The answer: Not many. But this year there are a healthy amount of running backs landing in situations where they'll at least split reps, a pair of receivers with really good potential, a slew of mediocre quarterbacks -- many of whom could end up starting before this season is over -- and two fairly non-descript tight ends.

The feeling I have is that we'll have a year where maybe five or six running backs make a decent impact along with one of the two elite receivers. I don't think any of the quarterbacks will be much to write home about, although I do think it will be a QB taken in Round 2 that ends up outproducing the QBs taken in Round 1.

Here's the list of rookies ranked solely for 2011:

Mark Ingram, RB, NO
Daniel Thomas, RB, MIA
Ryan Williams, RB, ARI
DeMarco Murray, RB, DAL
Mikel Leshoure, RB, DET
Julio Jones, WR, ATL
Andy Dalton, QB, CIN
Roy Helu, RB, WAS
A.J. Green, WR, CIN
Cam Newton, QB, CAR
Jake Locker, QB, TEN
Christian Ponder, QB, MIN
Alex Henery, PK, PHI
Taiwan Jones, RB, OAK
Titus Young, WR, DET
Torrey Smith, WR, BAL
Leonard Hankerson, WR, WAS
Stevan Ridley, RB, NE
Rob Housler, TE, ARI
Jonathan Baldwin, WR, KC
Colin Kaepernick, QB, SF
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, ATL
Blaine Gabbert, QB, JAC
Delone Carter, RB, IND
Dion Lewis, RB, PHI
Shane Vereen, RB, NE
Kendall Hunter, RB, SF
Evan Royster, RB, WAS
Alex Green, RB, GB
Kyle Rudolph, TE, MIN


Posted on: March 30, 2011 4:40 pm
 

Jones-Drew will be 'better than ever'

If you're worried about Maurice Jones-Drew not being effective or holding up for the 2011 season because of offseason knee surgery and a perceived "bone-on-bone" condition, get over it.

A source close to the Jaguars' star running back told CBSSports.com on Wednesday that Jones-Drew is ahead of schedule on his rehab from surgery for a torn meniscus and is already running and cutting in what was referred to as "grueling" rehab.

It's worth noting that Jones-Drew began feeling pain in his right knee during the preseason and played through it for 14 of 16 games, including a six-week span late in the year where he had consecutive 100-yard rushing efforts. Rehab is still expected to last through May, but according to the source, Jones-Drew will be "better than ever" when it's time for training camp.

For a player who has been as consistently productive as Jones-Drew has been over his career, that's a lot off our minds.
Posted on: March 10, 2011 11:01 am
 

Making 16 games work for everybody

16 regular-season games? 17 games? 18? Two preseason games? Three? Four? The questions and concerns about the future of the NFL schedule have been batted around for well over a year, yet there seems to be no common ground between the NFL Players Union and the NFL's owners on what's best for everyone.

Here's a thought: Addition by subtraction. And I'm not talking regular-season games. I've got a two-pronged plan on how the league and the union should end this.

Generally speaking, season ticket holders don't pony up the big bucks for the preseason games. If anything, they're a pain. No one likes going because you see an inferior product compared to a regular-season game. Some season ticket holders complain that they can't even give their preseason tickets away.

So Part I of my solution to the schedule snafu is simple: Every team kills one preseason game. Thus, every team will play one preseason game at home and one on the road. The end.

However, in doing so, NFL teams are NOT obligated to reduce their season-ticket prices. Yes, this means they'll still charge patrons their 10-game price for nine games, but it's one of those annoying preseason games they're cutting. Does this mean fans are getting stuck with footing the bill for the owners making more profit? Yes it does. Is it bad P.R.? On the surface it is, but I can't imagine many season ticket holders being up in arms over losing value on their tickets by having one less preseason game to shlep out to. If a good business has a failing or faulty product, they fix or eliminate it, right? That's what the NFL is doing here. If fans are upset and the team wants to do something to make up for it, they could offer some sort of special experience where season ticket holders could meet players, have a banquet with the coaches, spend an afternoon tossing the pigskin around on the field, whatever. Accomodations could be made. 

If a preseason game is chucked, teams would probably schedule a scrimmage with another team in its place, which makes for an opportunity to sell general admission tickets (you know you'd pay $10 or $20 to see your team scrimmage) and perhaps a TV deal or webcast deal for the scrimmage itself. A scrimmage would give coaches a chance to work against opposing teams and players in specific game situations that might not come up (or not come up enough) in a preseason game. For instance, on one side of the field an offense works on third-down plays against a third-down defense and on the other, a goal-line offense works against a goal-line defense.

Playing one less preseason game wouldn't have a tremendous financial impact on the owners -- they wouldn't have the extra stadium operating costs, but they might have to give back some money to local TV stations for their preseason coverage unless the game is replaced by the aforementioned scrimmage. But playing one less preseason game would have an impact on the players as it represents one fewer game for them to incur injuries.

Part II of my solution is equally simple: Expand the Thursday night package and sell it to a network, with the owners keeping the majority of the money gained from the package. Without knowing the specifics, it is believed that both NBC and ESPN paid well over $600 million per season to broadcast one game a week. Under this proposal, the NFL would keep the first $500 million gained from a TV deal for a Thursday package and split the remaining revenues with the players. (Currently the NFL is charging NFL Network $0 million for the Thursday games).

Why is this important? Because then the owners could simply give the players what they originally wanted: Take $1 billion off the top of the league's $9 billion in revenue and split the remaining $8 billion. Now, the league would conceivably land closer to $10 billion in revenue with a Thursday night TV deal and take $1.5 billion off the top. With $8.5 billion remaining, that's more money for all parties involved. Would it be a problem selling the NFL to a network for $500 million? I think we both know the answer to that question.

Players keep 16 games, lose two preseason games (one per team) and still get the same slice of pie (if not bigger) they've been served for years. Owners keep the ticket revenue they've been accustomed to while picking up significantly more non-union revenue. Fans and networks ultimately end up paying more, but not an exhorbitant amount -- in the case of the fans they'll just pay what they have been paying all along. A network will see the chance to buy the Thursday package as a business opportunity. The rookie wage scale, health care issues and retirement fund dilemmas would fall into place.

The league and its players would ultimately have a Collective Bargaining Agreement without much disagreement. Fantasy Football leagues wouldn't be in peril, nor would our normal Sunday rituals in the fall and winter. Life would be good again.

Posted on: March 8, 2011 5:26 pm
 

Tiki, Tiki, Tiki

Leave it to Tiki Barber to make some NFL headlines during a week where no NFL transactions are allowed while a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is hammered out.

Barber announced Tuesday that he will attempt a comeback after being out of the league since retiring four years ago. He will be 36 years old when the season starts.

The Giants, his old team who still hold his rights, responded to this news with the following statement:

"We wish Tiki nothing but the best, and when we are able to make the transaction, we will release him from our reserve/retired list."

So there's one team that we can scratch off the potential suitors list. And frankly, 31 more should follow.

Let's consider the facts: Barber hasn't played a down of football in four years. Sure, he claims he's still in great shape and is reinvigorated by watching his twin brother Ronde play while he's been out. But you can't help but think that even with his body getting all of that time off, he still pales in comparison to backup running backs on league rosters now, running backs who are free agents as of the new CBA and running backs available on Draft Day.

Even the most logical reunion -- Barber joining ex-Giants assistant coach John Fox in Denver -- doesn't make sense. The Broncos are looking for a back to help Knowshon Moreno out, but would they take on Barber or stick with someone like Correll Buckhalter, who's been playing ball all this time, is in game shape, has been productive and knows the offense?

I wouldn't be surprised to see Barber join a team for training camp, with the Broncos a possibility and the Buccaneers (Tiki and Ronde together) a potential fit. I would be surprised to see Barber make a final roster. And I would be even more surprised to see Barber earn a part-time role. You'd have to pop my eyes back into my head and pick up my jaw from the floor if Barber was starting somewhere and relevant in Fantasy again.

And the bottom line is that with his chances of taking on a decent role and being a Fantasy option, even a backup, beyond slim to none, no one should consider him draft-worthy. But it might be an interesting story following him through his career ressurection.

Remember, not many people thought Ricky Williams could come back and be significant, yet it was two seasons ago he had over 1,100 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Barber can only hope he can deliver a percentage of that.




Posted on: February 11, 2011 9:53 am
 

An 18-game solution?

Leave it to someone associated with Tom Brady to come up with an intriguing solution to the 18-game season. No, not his hair stylist.

The Associated Press has the story:

 

Tom Brady's agent thinks he has a solution for an 18-game NFL regular season: Limit how many games each player can suit up.

The players' union opposes expanding the season by two games, one of the main sticking points in negotiations with the league for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Though agent Don Yee believes 18 games mean more bodily punishment, leading to shorter careers and possibly shorter life spans, he had these suggestions for making the change more acceptable:

-Increase the roster from 53 players to 58, and make all eligible to play on game day; currently, only 45 can play.

-Institute a rule that prohibits any player from appearing in more than 16 games.

"This compromise will create even more interest from fans," Yee said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "What two games will the head coach sit the starting QB? That's a discussion that will set sports talk radio airwaves afire.

"This compromise will also be popular with coaches and general managers who want a greater opportunity to develop younger players," he said. "The NFL doesn't have a minor league, and this compromise will force meaningful participation by younger players on the roster.

"Players also would endorse this because each would effectively get two bye weeks during the year. Bye weeks afford important healing time and personal time away from the game."


 

Obviously this specific solution would wreak havoc with Fantasy owners. Would we know in advance when a player would be sat down, or would it come in on Sunday morning that all of a sudden Peyton Manning is taking the week off? Yee is right in that it would cause plenty of interest, but not necessarily the good kind.

The ideal solution is to agree playing a 16-game schedule, just as the league has done for years. An 18-game season means more Fantasy games for us, which is great, but it also means more injuries, roster maintenance, etc. Some people who play aren't into such a challenge.

I still think the league and the union have an agreement by June 1, if not May 1. I doubt Yee's solution is a valuable one, especially since I doubt Pats owner Robert Kraft would want to pay Tom Brady to sit for two games.
Category: NFL
Posted on: January 4, 2011 2:00 pm
 

QB Fantasy points by team

You know the quarterbacks who did well in Fantasy Football in 2010. But you might not know how a team's cumulative quarterback performance fared.

Well, now you do.

TEAM FPTS
PHI 415
GB 379
NE 369
DEN 345
IND 345
NO 330
SD 330
DAL 326
DET 306
TB 300
ATL 294
JAC 286
HOU 285
NYG 283
BAL 271
KC 271
PIT 270
CIN 264
WAS 256
NYJ 245
BUF 238
SF 238
CHI 235
TEN 233
OAK 230
STL 216
MIA 205
SEA 200
MIN 174
CLE 169
ARI 132
CAR 104

Why is this information relevant? Consider the performance of the Broncos, Cowboys and Lions. Had the starters for those teams stayed on the field (or in the case of the Broncos, had the rookie seen more playing time sooner), they would have conceivably been Fantasy superstars and key components to an owner's title run.

The quarterbacks on those teams didn't finish in the Top 10 in standard scoring, but their teams did. So something those teams did went right for their QBs to total so many Fantasy points. That's real good news for Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford, who will continue with their current offenses; the Broncos won't run the same scheme so there is some concern about what Tim Tebow will be asked to run next year and if he can run it successfully.



Posted on: October 13, 2010 11:31 am
 

Brady not a safe bet vs. Baltimore

In my rankings this week you'll find something rather startling: Tom Brady is not in my Top 12. It's not an attempt to be "out there" or to draw shock value. Based on the matchup, as well as Brady's receiving corps, as well as his history against the Ravens' defensive scheme, I don't think Brady will have a great week.

Brady's stats over his last 40 starts will tell you that he is a Fantasy stud, but a big reason for those numbers was the presence of wide receiver Randy Moss. Never once did Brady play a game without Moss from 2007 through Week 3 of this year, and his numbers were mostly excellent. Before Moss, Brady was pretty good but not a 300-yard bomber. In fact, from 2001 to 2006 -- a five-year window where he won three Super Bowls but didn't play with a talent like Moss -- Brady had 17 300-yard games over 108 starts, including the postseason. That's one every six games or so, which is pretty good. But that pales in comparison to the 15 300-yard games he had over 40 starts with Moss (including the postseason) -- one 300 yarder every 2.67 games!

I contend that those days are over, as they have been this season: Zero 300-yard games while Moss was playing in a seemingly limited role (22 targets over four games).

Brady's receiving corps added Deion Branch this week, a receiver who easily had his best years with Brady in New England, including a career-best 2005 when he averaged 62.3 yards per game and less than one touchdown every three games. Those are Branch's best numbers as he finished '05 with 998 receiving yards and five scores. The Branch playing for New England now is not the same as the 2005 Branch: Since the Patriots smartly traded him away for two first-round picks, Branch has had multiple knee surgeries and has clearly lost his speed as his receiving average dropped from 13.7 yards per catch in his first three years in Seattle to 9.5 over his last 18 games there. Branch, who is expected to help replace Moss, will be a good source of receptions but not a gamebreaker, which some people will say he never was.

The rest of Brady's receiving corps is good but much, much easier to defend against now that Moss is gone. And that's music to the ears of the Ravens defense.

Baltimore's secondary has been lights-out this year: The only touchdowns they've allowed were to Benjamin Watson in Week 3 and two to Brandon Lloyd last week, one on a sensational deep-ball grab and another late to pad the Broncos' stats. They've shut down Mark Sanchez and Carson Palmer, each of whom threw for multiple touchdowns against the Patriots, by the way. And even with the Broncos throwing for 314 yards on 38 attempts last week, the Ravens' secondary is still yielding just 156.6 passing yards per game.

Next, I want you to check out Brady's career numbers against the Ravens' defense as well as against Rex Ryan's Jets defense. Ryan previously coordinated with the Baltimore D and did a pretty good job of scheming against Brady until recently. But even after Ryan left the Ravens, Ray Lewis & Co. have done a pretty good job containing Brady while Ryan's bunch in New York have begun to fizzle out.

vs. BAL (11/28/04): 15 of 30 passing (50.0 pct.), 172 yards (5.73 yards/att.), 0 TDs, 0 INT

at BAL (12/03/07): 18 of 38 passing (47.4 pct.), 257 yards (6.76 yards/att.), 2 TDs, 1 INT

at NYJ (09/20/09): 23 of 47 passing (48.9 pct.), 216 yards (4.59 yards/att.), 0 TDs, 1 INT

vs. BAL (10/04/09): 21 of 32 passing (65.6 pct.), 258 yards (8.1 yards/att.), 1 TD, 0 INT

vs. NYJ (11/22/09): 28 of 41 passing (68.3 pct.), 310 yards (7.6 yards/att.), 1 TD, 0 INT

vs. BAL (1/10/10): 23 of 42 passing (54.8 pct.), 154 yards (3.7 yards/att.), 2 TD, 3 INTs

at NYJ (9/19/10): 20 of 36 passing (55.6 pct.), 248 yards (6.9 yards/att.), 2 TD, 2 INTs


Keep in mind, Brady had some good numbers and some bad numbers against this aggresive version of the 3-4 scheme designed to attack him, but all except the 2004 numbers were done with Moss in the lineup. Again, notice just one 300-yard game and three games with more than one touchdown through the air.

I'd also like to point out that the Ravens specifically have done a good job limiting Wes Welker. In two games against Baltimore, one in December, 2007 and one in October, 2009, Welker totaled nine catches for 66 yards and no scores. In the interest of full disclosure, it's worth pointing out that Welker's replacement in the team's playoff game last year, Julian Edelman, scalded the Ravens for two scores while catching six passes for 44 yards. It's conceivable that Welker would have those numbers, especially since both of those touchdowns were hard-earned on broken plays. Or maybe the Ravens didn't take Edelman as seriously as they do Welker.

There's another issue even the most ardent of Patriots fans will take with this: The team is money after the bye week. Brady scorched Miami for 332 yards and a touchdown last year after the bye; in 2007 he hung five touchdowns and 373 yards at Buffalo. And the Patriots have only lost once following the bye with Brady as their quarterback.

Clearly, giving Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare for an opponent has done wonders for the Pats. But how much of that time has been spent reinventing the offense this year? It's been a while since we've seen the Patriots without Randy Moss. Are they going to seamlessly perform without him (they sort of did that in Week 4)? There's also a question of what role the running game will have post-Moss; do not put it past the Patriots to try using the run against Baltimore. Remember, this vaunted Ravens defense was picked apart by Peyton Hillis and Rashard Mendenhall -- who's to say Belichick won't scheme his offense to attack Baltimore the same way? You can't just say he's going to have Brady throw like crazy -- the guy will find wrinkles anywhere and has shown in the past that he will tailor his offense to attack the weaknesses of the opponent.

I know sitting Brady is a tall order, and some of us can't do it because we don't have a backup. But playing without Moss against a strict defense doesn't seem to suggest a big game for Brady. Don't be surprised if he underwhelms against the Ravens, even with the extra week to prepare.


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