NFL Draft Top 10 storyline overview, or an exercise in overthinking

The 2016 NFL draft is in 10 days and, as usual, the storylines are legion. Taking up most of the spotlight are the Rams, who have acquired the first overall pick in a blockbuster trade with the Titans that had people thinking back to 2012, when the Rams traded out of the second overall pick and allowed Washington to grab Robert Griffin.

We should be thankful that we’ve heard the last of the Rams telling us they’re confident in their ability to win with Case Keenum at quarterback. They are taking a signal caller with the first pick. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t picked the best season to swing for the fences on a QB. Their choice is between North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, and California’s Jared Goff.

In an ideal world, both of them would sit next year, although we all know that’s never going to happen. Conventional wisdom suggests a significant adjustment period awaits the two of them. Wentz played FCS football, so we can imagine the speed of the game will be another universe for him. However, the system he played at NDSU is recognized by most as rather similar to what he’ll be asked to do in the NFL. Meanwhile, Goff has faced top competition in the Pac-12 Conference, but comes from an Air Raid offence that features very different reads from those he’ll have to make at the NFL level.

Ultimately, there are two lenses through which to view the Goff/Wentz debate. The first is about upside. Here, most people agree the nod goes to Wentz. Goff has terrific pocket presence, a quick release, and a good arm. However, Wentz has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger and Blake Bortles because of his large build, big arm, and sneaky running ability. Some have even made parallels between Wentz and Cam Newton (a strong exaggeration, at least in terms of running ability).

The second is about the aforementioned learning curve. For some, playing in the Pac-12 has prepared Goff to deal with the speed of the NFL. Moreover, the beating he took during three years of bad O-Line play at Cal while still making great throws is an enticing prospect for teams looking to stick him into a bad lineup. On the other hand, Wentz backers care more about the adjustment to an NFL system, which they say, favours the NDSU product. It’s fairly clear Wentz would be the uncontested no.1 in the eyes of most people had he played in the FBS, so how much does the level of competition really matter if Wentz checks out all other boxes? If the passing concepts, the reads, and the audible systems are similar to what he’ll see in the NFL, does the jump in level of play become somewhat overstated?

The information coming out of L.A. seems to indicate it’s going to be Goff. Given that Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, the Rams’ head coach and GM, are trying to save their jobs, picking Goff makes sense if we accept that the Cal pivot is the most pro-ready of the two top quarterbacks. However, smokescreens are key during draft season, and this is just my gut, but I can’t help but think there is an appeal to an all-ball guy like Wentz to someone like Jeff Fisher. As they say on television, to be continued…

The two best players

Meanwhile, the trade at the top of the draft also creates some uncertainty for the draft’s top offensive lineman and my second-rated prospect, Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil. He is the best blend of size, strength, and athleticism to enter the NFL at the tackle position in several years. Before the trade, draft experts were almost unanimous in their belief that Tennessee would take him first overall. Now, it’s a virtual certainty the Rams haven’t traded up to get him, and Cleveland – who owns the second overall pick – isn’t in the market for an offensive tackle unless they trade Joe Thomas.

That leaves the Chargers, holders of the third overall pick, as the likeliest team to pick Tunsil, but it’s not a given. They could very well go in the direction of my favourite player in the draft, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey. I’m not saying this just because I’m an FSU diehard. Ramsey’s ability to play at a high level at both cornerback and safety means that the only potential limit for him will be his defensive coordinator’s creativity. As Charles Woodson retires, Ramsey could become the new Woodson: a guy who redefines how NFL defensive backs are used.

The Chargers are tough to read on the Ramsey front, though, because they have Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett at cornerback, they’ve brought in Casey Heyward as a potential nickel and they have Dwight Lowery at free safety. Stick Ramsey anywhere in there, and he’s an upgrade. Yet, whether San Diego decides to go with him or not depends what the plan for him would be, which is what makes evaluating Ramsey’s draft prospects so hard. Meanwhile, Tunsil would serve as an upgrade over King Dunlap at left tackle. Dunlap’s improvement during his NFL career has been nothing short of spectacular, but he still struggles a bit with the league’s elite edge rushers. If the Chargers go with Tunsil, Dunlap would be an improvement, athletically at least, over Joseph Barksdale at right tackle.

Dallas doesn’t need Tunsil at all, but is a strong suitor for Ramsey given their need for help in the secondary. If they were to go in another direction, Jacksonville would surely have a hard time passing on a player who could help revitalize a secondary that was subpar at best last season. With the release of Sergio Brown, the Jags are likely buyers in the defensive back market. They couldn’t find a better one than Ramsey. However, they are far from certain to get him at five.

The Jags’ fifth pick becomes a real point of interest for the neutral fans (and a point of depression for Jags’ fans) if Ramsey is gone but Tunsil is still there. This situation would force the Jags to think long and hard about their confidence in Luke Joeckel as their starting left tackle. After being picked second overall in 2013, Joeckel struggled mightily early in his career, but has looked increasingly competent ever since. His lack of upper-echelon athleticism will likely prevent him from becoming the force he once was projected to be, but if the Jags think they can win with Joeckel at left tackle, they’re getting into coin-flip territory in terms of whom they pick. Do you go for the draft’s other versatile defensive dynamo, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, who’s coming off a season-ending injury, or bring in even more D-Line help with Joey Bosa? Or do you trade down a few picks with someone who wants to leapfrog Baltimore for Tunsil and try to grab Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in the bottom half of the top 10? (Note: If Laremy Tunsil falls to Baltimore at six, Ozzie Newsome is doing celebratory backflips in the Ravens’ war room.)

The interesting case of Dallas

Dallas sits at four. They need Ramsey… something fierce. Their secondary is atrocious, and if he’s when Dallas pick, it has to be Ramsey.

UNLESS…

Do we know, and I mean KNOW, that Dallas ISN’T in the market for a quarterback in the first round? We know Jerry Jones has said so, but again… draft and smokescreens, brother and sister… The quarterback is such a perfect fit for the Cowboys’ current predicament. With a high draft pick, an ageing-and-injury-prone-but-not-yet-washed-up quarterback, and a roster that’s better than their pick in the draft would indicate, especially on offence, you couldn’t find a better scenario to pick a quarterback that would benefit from sitting out a year or two. Avoiding a dropoff because they’ve prepared Tony Romo’s successor before Romo retires has to be on the cards for Dallas.

One big problem, though: St.Louis trading up, coupled with the increasingly widespread rumour that Cleveland is looking to trade down, is a paradigm changer for Dallas. When Tennessee was picking first, there was no way Goff and Wentz were going one and two. Suddenly, that scenario becomes a probability. Therefore, if Dallas wants the quarterback the Rams don’t take, they very well may have to become Cleveland’s trading partner at two. If you’re Jerry Jones, do you pull the trigger on that trade given your (many) needs on defence?

Besides, that quarterback could be a guy like Michigan State’s Connor Cook or Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg in the second round. Hackenberg’s case is especially interesting. The physical tools are outstanding, but mentally, whichever team takes him will have to rebuild him from the ground up. Dallas may decide they can afford to go defence in the first round and groom a player like Hackenberg behind Romo.

However, the risk with a guy like the former Penn State star is far greater than with Wentz or Goff, both A+ personalities. Some talented college players go through rough patches and never recover, and there’s something about Hackenberg that emits that sort of vibe. As for Cook, there’s no guarantee he’s a better player than Kirk Cousins. I can’t say I’m a fan.

If Cook/Hackenberg doesn’t work out, that means you’re going back to the drawing board and drafting a rookie to start, and we all know the perils of that situation. Take Jacksonville as an example. The Jags were encouraged by the improvement of Blake Bortles last season, but he still made too many mistakes for them to be a playoff contender, and let us avoid reminiscing about his god-awful rookie year. Besides, if Dallas were to put a rookie in Romo’s place two years from now, that rookie may learn on a similar curve to that of Bortles, but he could also be the new Blaine Gabbert.

If they go defence, Dallas could also opt for Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, although the risks of that proposition have been listed by yours truly in a previous post. If neither Baltimore nor Dallas takes Bosa, it could set up the former Buckeye for a mini-fall.

Afterwards…

Baltimore is the ultimate best-available-player team, so the only question is, what does their draft board actually look like? Oregon’s DeForest Buckner makes a lot of sense for them, given their lack of both depth and quality on the defensive line, but projections like this one can go out the window if a player like Ramsey or Tunsil slips to six.

Baltimore could also accelerate the run on offensive tackles (there is a big dropoff after the top four at the position) if they take Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley at six. Tennessee not picking first overall (and likely drafting Tunsil) would seem to hurt the chances of it happening, but if the Ravens do pick the Notre Dame standout, we’re probably looking at Michigan State’s Jack Conklin slipping into the Top 10. That would leave Ohio State’s Taylor Decker as the only tackle worth taking in the teens with several teams picking in that range who could use him. Lots of interesting trade prospects there at that point.

So, 1,800 words later, all I can think of is Stewie Griffin tapping Brian on the leg repeatedly, and shouting, “Oh, this is fun!” I’ll see you in a few days with my mock draft, dear readers.

 

 

Advertisements

Letter to Jameis Winston

Dear Jameis,

I know this is one letter you won’t read, especially since it comes from an FSU fan from Canada. As I write this letter, you have been cleared of misconduct charges in your code-of-conduct hearing at Florida State, and you get to focus on the upcoming Rose Bowl against Oregon. Look at this letter as my way to cope with feelings that I suspect many FSU fans experienced when it comes to you, although they probably would have preferred losing that dumpster fire of a game against Florida rather than admit to it.

See, I watched the 2013 season, and by extension, you, and I loved every moment of it. I loved your 24-of-26 game against Pitt, I loved the big comeback to win the National Championship against an Auburn team that outplayed us for most of the game. But more importantly, I loved that destruction of Clemson in Clemson, and I adored your pregame speech.

I’m sitting there going, “And this is a freshman? Oh, this is going to be fun!” On the field, you were, and have been since then, one of the purest incarnations of leadership and poise I’ve ever seen. And for the first time in a long time, such an incarnation was wearing an FSU uniform. To make the moment even more glorious for me, it came against Clemson, a team I’m fairly sure I despise more than most Noles’ fans. Having to watch this team steal top Florida prospects from us, and then not coach them for four years before they bomb in the NFL is painful. Especially considering that, during Bobby Bowden’s final few years, they beat us pretty regularly.

You have to understand just how desperate we were, as a fanbase, for the arrival of someone like you. We had to endure a long global decline of the program, after Weinke and Warrick’s National Champions, that wasn’t completely erased until you arrived. Though Christian Ponder pulled the program out of the ground and EJ Manuel improved it even more, we could feel it getting better, but we knew we weren’t there yet. And in the meantime, we had to deal with a whole bunch of shit we never had to worry about before. Picture having to ask yourself whether we were going to take one up the chin from powerhouses like Virginia, Wake Forest or Boston College. Imagine having to endure two last-gasp game-winning drives in three years from Russell Wilson’s NC State. But worst of all, think about just how excruciating it was to hear everybody gloat about how amazing those insufferable, gag-inspiring, self-righteous Tebow Gators were.

You allowed us to move on from this dark period as a fan base. You symbolized our return to prominence. Non-sports fans can’t understand just how amazing that feels to us actual fans who usually take this stuff too seriously. 2013 was like a dream, and you were the face of that dream.

So the rape accusations? Man…

In the grand scheme of things, I’m not really concerned about you stealing a bunch of crab legs, though which voice in your head told you this was a good idea is completely beyond me. On its own, it could be dismissed as a youthful error in judgement, And I care even less about the whole “F*** her right in the p****!” incident, which is really quite juvenile, but on the face of it, it’s a mere facepalm moment. It sure wouldn’t have gone down, in any case, as your proudest moment as an ambassador of the program, but the only reason why it’s not seen as almost harmless is because a) it made your lapses in judgement look like the rule and not the exception and b) it happened in the context of rape accusations, giving the story a darkly ironic feel.

You see, Jameis, what I’ve done so far is what we journalists call burying the lede. I did it mostly to establish the context of my anger towards you. I say this because you have put yourself in a position where football should take a backseat to the damage you’re accused of having caused. Stealing crab legs? I can call it an error in judgement. Yelling an obscenity in a public place? Ibid. But if you did rape that girl? That’s not just an error in judgement. Aside from flat-out murder, it’s not a stretch to say it’s the most reprehensible thing one can do to a fellow human being.

And what it looks like from the outside, Jameis, is that you were protected from the consequences of your actions simply because you’re a great football player. Now, the judge’s ruling says you are innocent. However, the stats suggest you did it. Deadspin’s Daniel Roberts calculated that the odds of someone being falsely accused of rape vary between 50,000 and 200,000 to one, and that’s accounting for the fact that 68% of rapes in the United States go unreported. In other words, to say the stats suggest you did it is a strong euphemism. They scream it. Emphatically.

I must reiterate that none of this constitutes actual proof in your individual case. The average person can be forgiven, however, for looking at those stats, along with the interests of the people involved, and coming to the conclusion that two plus two equals four. The ‘Noles are what the otherwise banal city of Tallahassee has for entertainment. Your head coach, Jimbo Fisher, is now the highest-paid public sector employee in the state of Florida in no small part because of you. A successful Seminoles football team is a tremendous source of revenue for Florida State University.

As for you, an immensely lucrative NFL career awaits. Yeah, I know, you’re in for a brutally exhausting interview process at the combine. Teams are going to fire a lot of questions about every transgression you’ve committed, and that doesn’t even include the rape accusations. Some wise-ass coach might even shout “RAPIST WINSTON!” as you enter the room. Some teams will take you off their draft board altogether. But not all of them. And the teams that need a quarterback have very few options at the position in the 2015 draft. Marcus Mariota? He’s likely going first overall, but I can promise you that some, if not all, teams who figure to have a chance to draft him, are going to take a long look at you because you’ve played in a pro-style offence. Consider the atrocious year it’s been for mobile, former spread/option quarterbacks in the NFL. Kaepernick, Cam, RG3, all these guys are going to make teams really nervous about taking Mariota, or any spread/option product. Add that to the fact that the best pro-style quarterback in the draft after you is Michigan State’s Connor Cook (at best a slightly better version of Kirk Cousins), plus that you now have next to zero chance of going to jail, and it’s easy to see how your stock is bound to climb. Teams’ll just bring themselves to consider you and say things such as, “Well… he wasn’t actually convicted of anything. In fact, he was never criminally charged. Plus, he’s a great leader, and the skills are there.” Next thing you know, you’ll be a first-round pick in spite of all this chaos.

All this figures to happen despite the fact that the investigation into your accuser’s claim was so obviously botched that, again, anyone trying to connect the dots can easily come to the conclusion that the botch job was intentional and done solely to protect your team, your school and you. Between the systemic dismissive treatment of rape victims when they do come forward and your importance to the livelihood of many successful figures at FSU, one is on safe ground when saying that you, your head coach, your athletic director and Florida State University as whole, have millions of reasons to lie about what happened while your accuser has next to none.

You can claim your innocence. Your lawyer can come out and say this is the worst attack job in the history of amateur sports. Jimbo Fisher can back you up as unconditionally as he has. But of course all those things will happen. Meanwhile, the mishandled investigation, which, obviously, produced insufficient evidence to warrant any criminal charges, seems far too convenient. It makes you, your lawyer, and Coach Fisher come across as disingenuous. It discredits any FSU fan who attempts to defend you, no matter how valid their arguments might be in theory.

Under no circumstance does the legal system require you to prove your innocence, and I cannot per se hold it against you that you haven’t. But there is a giant difference between a lack of evidence in a properly-conducted investigation and a so-called lack of evidence in an investigation with enough procedural irregularities to make it unbelievable even if you tried to make a crime-thriller movie about it. You can say the investigation produced no evidence of wrongdoing on your part but, given its flaws, you can’t expect people to take it seriously.

In the meantime, I grit my teeth thinking that your situation has made the team so unlikable that everybody keeps fishing for reasons to knock us out of playoff contention. We started the season at number 1, and were dropped as low as number 4. Do we get dropped to 4 without this rape accusations fiasco? I have my doubts. Coach Fisher has spent the year spewing a narrative along the lines of, “our guys use the nation’s hatred to fuel their focus and togertherness.” Fuel their focus? You must joking! You have played like anything but a focused team. You guys are way too talented to have to squeeze out victories in extremis, wrestling-heel style, against the OK-at-best ACC competition you faced this year.

I hate feeling at least a bit unclean at the idea that I might be supporting a (more) morally bankrupt program (than all the others) when I read take-down pieces like this one. Drew Magary can be a blowhard, and he’s being one here, but it becomes harder to dismiss the substance of his argument when I read this from a writer I respect and can’t bring myself to disagree with much of what he says. Here’s what I’ll say in defence-ish of your statement: we should not minimize the gravity of a false rape accusation just to emphasize the gravity of an actual rape, and it seems to me several journalists are guilty of this. But even then, I kinda get their point. You were wrong, morally at least, to pretend that rape and false rape accusations are equivalent in legal or moral terms. They are not.

I’ll never forget 2013, but I find myself wishing you’ll declare for the upcoming NFL Draft not because I don’t like you, not because I think we’d be better on the field without you (an idea so idiotic it should cause anyone to question the sanity of the person who utters it), but because things have reached the point where I don’t want you to be FSU’s problem anymore. But all these admittedly selfish footballing preoccupations are irrelevant compared to the more important one: if you did do it, and the undeniable fishiness of the investigation forces me to keep asking myself the question, then there is a young lady out there suffering not only from the traumatic experience of the rape itself, but from the inevitable slut-shaming she’s probably been facing since she filed the accusation. And this would be both a tragedy and a scandal. So is the fact that she would have faced all of it anyway, from the less reputable FSU fans, even if you HAD been found guilty. This is what you have forced us, as fans of both you and of the Florida State Seminoles, to square our morals with.

So go on and prepare for the Rose Bowl. You’re going to need all the preparation you can squeeze into whatever time you have left before the game. Hell, if you and the team play as you have all year, you’re getting blown out by at least 30 points against this steamroller of an Oregon offence.

Not that this was ever the point.

Regards,

AT

Florida State’s statement

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston took the shotgun snap. As was the case most of the night, he had a clean pocket. He found his receiver Rashad Greene on a little eight-yard hook. “Good work,” I’m thinking. “Get your first down.”

Clemson safety Bashaud Breeland dropped his head trying to make the receiver pay, and Greene made him miss. Then, defensive tackle Kevin Dodd valiantly tried a shoestring tackle, but couldn’t make it. Greene accelerated into the now-open field. It was a footrace. Cornerback Darius Robinson looked like he had the angle, but Greene was going to gain quite a few yards before anyone tackled him.

10, 15, 20 yards. And I’m thinking, “wait a tick… Robinson’s not closing the distance… Holy shit! That’s a touchdown!” This was the first time it occurred me that the two teams on that field in Clemson were not on the same level this Saturday. At that point, it was 24-7 for FSU.

Sure, Clemson had lost a fumble on their first offensive play of the game. Sure, Winston’s first pass of the game was a touchdown to mammoth receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who looks like a faster version of Plaxico Burress. Sure, cornerback LaMarcus Joyner sacked Clemson QB Tajh Boyd and forced a fumble which was recovered and brought back for a touchdown by FSU’s Mario Edwards. Up until Greene’s touchdown, it was already clear FSU were playing better than Clemson.

But the Tigers were showing signs of fighting back. Boyd did find that filthy traitor receiver Sammy Watkins for a touchdown. The defence did intercept Winston as FSU was threatening to score again. I was expecting a back-and-forth affair much like last year’s 41-37 classic. With Clemson trailing by ten but threatening to trim the lead to three, it was looking that way.

But when Greene pulled away from the Clemson defence, all of a sudden, the vibe was different. It wasn’t momentum. It was superiority. When Tajh Boyd, who had himself one miserable night, threw an interception to FSU’s Joyner though the ‘Noles had only 10 men on the field, it dawned upon me FSU might not so much beat Clemson as they might maul them. In typical nervous-fan fashion, I didn’t believe it until Clemson started coming apart at the seams in the third quarter, taking stupid unnecessary roughness penalties and seemingly having every nice offensive play called back for holding. One of their defensive backs was ejected for targeting. It was as if the Tigers were coming to terms with the fact that they were not ready for what the Seminoles had in store for them today. It just wasn’t going to happen for them.

After the game, the only word ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit could muster was “Wow!” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, classy in defeat, observed that “Florida State might be the best team in the nation. You just don’t have a lot of room for error against a team like that.” What was clear, though, was that no one, not Herbstreit, not Swinney, and certainly not me, saw this beatdown coming. No one except, it would seem, Jameis Winston.

Much was said about Winston finally looking like a freshman. This game would have been a logical time for it to happen. Big stage; hostile atmosphere; best conference opponent; third-ranked team vs fifth-ranked team: this is the type of stage where inexperienced youngsters usually fail. Winston, however, is clearly not just any freshman.

If you haven’t seen the highlights from the game, watch them here. Beyond any individual moment (though Benjamin’s touchdown catch is far from banal), what struck me is Winston’s speech to his teammates in the locker room before the game. It shows you what Winston is, in a nutshell. “My brothers,” he says. “Put a smile on your face.” Had I been Dabo Swinney and seen this before the game, I would have been terrified. Winston was sincere. This was not a kid pretending not to be scared. This kid was not scared, period.

“It” factor

One of the usual clichés in sports, especially at the quarterback position, is the so-called “it” factor. WInston is not a walking human highlight reel like Johnny Manziel. There isn’t one ball that had me go “Oh, wow!” Not every throw is spot on target; his mechanics still need work. The kid, it seems, just manages the game, but next thing you know, he’s thrown for 444 yards, three touchdowns and has run for another one. By all accounts, he’s now played himself into the Heisman race.

Another beautiful moment tonight was when he was asked about Heisman consideration and his first, completely spontaneous answer was “it’s all down to my teammates.” And it is.

Even during FSU’s dark period between 2003 (or so) and last year, Florida State always had impressive-looking athletes. They always looked great coming out of the bus. Except unlike some of the overhyped cream puffs with whom FSU embarrassed itself during the final years of Bobby Bowden’s career, this group of guys can really play.

FSU’s dynamic trio of receivers (Benjamin, Greene and Kenny Shaw) chipped away at Clemson’s secondary all day. Tight end, Nick O’Leary, who reminds me of Dallas Clark, except he blocks better, led the team in receiving, including a 94-yarder when Clemson forgot about him on a play action fake. The running game, strangely ineffective in the first two quarters, became a factor in the second half when FSU started running the outside zone play from the gun split formation.

And that defence swarms like that of the FSU of old. 3-technique Timmy Jernigan ought to be a first-round pick, and the front doesn’t appear to suffer too much from losing three ends to the NFL draft. LaMarcus Joyner is a great leader in the secondary, and he had his greatest game as a Seminole when it counted most. And linebacker Telvin Smith is a special player.

Last but not least, offensive line coach Rick Trickett continues to take high school linemen nobody knows about and turn them into zone blocking monsters. I don’t know of anyone who coaches the position better in college ball than Trickett.

But to come back to Winston, it’s not the tangibles that make him great but the intangibles. His personality could not be more conducive to success as a quarterback, but we were waiting to see it on the big stage. There was a blip when he completed 24 of 26 passes against Pittsburgh, but that was the one time. He deep-fried Wake Forest and Maryland, but they’re Wake Forest and Maryland. The Clemson game, however, seems to leave very little doubt as to Winston’s legitimacy. The “it” factor is one of those things that can’t be described; you just know it when you see it. And Winston has it.

The long road back 

I’m sorry for going on and on about this, but you have to understand how emotional this game is for me as an FSU fan. The years of misery I had to go through while the program basically went through seven years of irrelevancy weighed on me.

Years of crappy quarterbacking from Chris Rix, Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee. Years of inept offensive line play, of failing overrated skill position players, of defensive mediocrity. And, of course, enough frustrating games to send me into depression. Between the 30-0 loss to Wake Forest at home in 2006, to the two losses at home to Russell Wilson’s NC State, to four years of not belonging on the same field as Tebow’s Gators, to several upset losses to pedestrian opponents like Boston College and Virginia, I had to watch teams like Clemson and North Carolina out-recruit the Noles in Florida and assume the kind of identity my Noles once had. That Miami took a similar downturn was of no consolation whatsoever.

Things got slightly better with Christian Ponder at quarterback, but the Noles were still a shadow of their former selves. And as I told anybody who would listen last year, FSU were much better under EJ Manuel, but they weren’t quite there yet.

A few years ago, there was a trend of naming “coaches-in-waiting.” Just about everybody hated it; it vanished very quickly. However, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher has to be the most successful test subject of this M.O. The job he has done at FSU is remarkable, the culminating point of which (so far) was this drubbing of Clemson. Don’t let the score fool you, they might be overrated, but Clemson is one talented team, and yet they could seemingly do nothing right against the Seminoles tonight.

FSU might lose a trap game to a team like NC State or the scary fast Miami Hurricanes, but this type of outclassing of a quality opponent is something I hadn’t seen from FSU for a very long time. The lesser Seminole teams found ways to be a tease every once in a while, but they never did anything like this. And so, finally, I think I’m on fairly safe ground when I say it.

The Florida State Seminoles are back.

———————————-

I have to mention another game which made me extremely happy today, which was the victory of my alma mater, les Spartiates du Vieux Montréal, over the hated Vanier Cheetahs. This was Vieux’s second convincing win over “VC” this season. Of course, it won’t mean much if they don’t wrap their great season with a championship, but since the Bol d’Or final is not today, I’m taking a moment to enjoy it.

Between Vieux’s and FSU’s big wins. I don’t want this day to end.

5 football questions for this week

Law studies are a pain in that they hardly allow me to pour countless words into writing about the game, which is annoying at the start of the NCAA, NFL and CIS seasons. However, I do wish to take the time to answer the five questions I’ve been getting the most from friends and fellow members of the Quebec football community. So here goes.

1. What happened to Concordia against UofM?

Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. There was a play when Carabins defensive lineman David Ménard penetrated (again) through the Concordia offensive line and batted down a Reid Quest pass. The way the play happened, however, gave the impression Ménard had punched Quest in the face. That play strikes me as symbolic of the spanking the Stingers took from their Montreal rivals, a beatdown about which the word “embarrassing” comes quickly into the mind. 

It didn’t take long for one to realize “les Bleus” were superior. The porous ConU pass protection forced them to resort to half-slide protection, which requires the running backs to help slow down backside pursuit, but UofM front seven consistently beat the Stingers offensive line on the frontside and pounded QB Reid Quest anyway. Concordia does have skilled offensive players, including future pro slotback Kris Bastien, but because Quest wore the UofM defensive front between 1 and 4 PM, they didn’t really get to show their skills. 

As for Concordia’s defence, it has a lot to offer, but it cannot be expected to hold opponents off the board (especially not UofM and its excellent running back Rotrand Sené) if it spends the entire day on the field. Coordinator Luc Pelland is a terrific defensive mind, and he had great success running his 3-4 defence while at Vanier College, not to mention that it seemingly makes sense considering that Concordia is short on defensive linemen and heavy on linebackers. The thing is, though, I’m unconvinced star linebacker Max Caron thrives in it. Caron (I can say this having played in front him myself) seems at his best with a full defensive line keeping blockers off him so he can roam freely. The prospect of Caron and fellow star Travis Bent playing together, along with experienced veteran Alexandre Lemire and freaky athlete Mikael Charland, is enticing, but again, Caron doesn’t make the same impact when he has to fight through traffic. This is a kid who shone very brightly as a rookie when this columnist was finishing his CIS career, and was unplayable during his second season, as he went on to win the President’s trophy as the country’s best defensive player. The secondary is talented but young, with both characteristics showing at different points in the game. The Stingers also showed a worrisome propensity to lose the edge on outside running plays, particularly when faced with UofM’s beloved wing back on the right side of the formation. 

That being said, it’s one game. Yeah, yeah, I know it was a real beatdown, but allow me to make two final points. First, should the opposition fail to put as much pressure on the passer as UofM did (Laval might, the rest of the league likely won’t), this Concordia team will score points. Quest is talented, so are the receivers, and I really liked the vision and moves I saw from rookie running back Jamall Hamilton-Hyman. Second, and perhaps more importantly, has anyone looked at the Stingers’ schedule this year? They play McGill and Bishop’s twice and get St-Francis-Xavier at home, all completely winnable games, despite the Stingers’ obvious pass protection issues and striking youth in the secondary. They could lose all games against francophone teams and still finish the season with five wins. And you know what five wins gets you, at the bare minimum, in this conference? Third place.

2. What do you make of Johnny Manziel’s conduct? 

This kid is really starting to worry me. That his personality is already far better suited to the pro lifestyle than to that of college is so self-evident, it’s long been past debating.

Moreover, I frankly couldn’t care less about him taunting the NCAA during A&M’s first game against Rice. The NCAA is an organization so unbearably piss-poor in just about every conceivable way (including the hypocritical rule that led to its scrutiny of Manziel) that it deserves little more than to be treated with ridicule, mockery and contempt. 

That being said, it’s all of Manziel’s other off-season antics that have me worried. The whole time, I kept saying to myself “Il faut que jeunesse se passe”, or, for those whose French is not quite up there, that kids must be allowed to be kids and that when the season started, Manziel would come back focused and ready for an encore. But his unforgivable demeanour when dealing with his head coach Kevin Sumlin, after all the “while drunk” incidents he gave us during the offseason is giving me serious pause. Is this kid’s judgement so poor that he doesn’t realize whatever he suffered during the offseason, he did to himself (save for the NCAA investigation). And is he so hard-headed and arrogant that he can’t even keep a low profile on the field until he reminds everyone he can play football? 

That Manziel will declare for the 2014 NFL Draft is, barring a serious injury, as foregone a conclusion as foregone conclusions get. But if I’m an NFL personnel guy, I’m getting very worried about the kind of character I’d be getting in Manziel. 

3. Is the read option in the NFL to stay? 

People who have Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin on their fantasy teams better pray it is. Remember when Mike Tomlin said it was a flavour of the month thing? If he’s right, the outlook for the season just got very different for a handful of teams, worst of all for the Redskins. 

That being said, I think Tomlin’s wrong and that Niners and Skins fans can breathe easy. Unless you’re going to allow defences to play with 12 men, the coaches who designed read option plays last year did it so cleverly (with lead blockers escorting the quarterback) and the receivers and tight ends in the NFL are such dynamic athletes that I can’t see what tactic defensive coordinators could dial up consistently to stop the read option AND not leave themselves super vulnerable to 1-on-1 matchups with dynamite receivers down the field. Would you care to match your safety or Sam linebacker 1-on-1 against Vernon Davis? Didn’t think so. 

I think the read option is here to stay. Probably not as a full-scale system, but as an offensive package. Ready to eat your words, coach Tomlin? 

4. How’d you like Jameis Winston’s debut at quarterback for Florida State?

Very much indeed. Winston stood out in a fairly easy 41-13 win against Pitt by completing 24 of his 26 passing attempts. But that wasn’t what made me happiest about the kid’s debut on Monday.

First, FSU finally has a QB with enough sense to look for tight end Nick O’Leary. O’Leary would be a unanimous selection as the most un-stylish player in College Football, but he also happens to be really good. Winston found him three times in the end zone. How’s that for a start for the big tight end?

Winston, and this makes me smile from ear to ear, was also so incredibly poised it was almost disconcerting. After FSU had seemingly become a breeding ground for happy-footed quarterbacks, from Chris Rix to Drew Weatherford, and even Christian Ponder at times, it’s refreshing to see a young QB keep his cool when a bit of pressure is headed his way. 

Winston maneuvered effortlessly around the pocket, making veteran throws on the run with the kind of accuracy you’d expect from a fifth-year senior. Obviously, it would be ludicrous to expect this kind of performance every single week from him; after all, freshmen, talented though they may be, are often inconsistent. But one thing is clear. FSU has its most talented QB since Bobby Bowden’s glory years. Whether he’ll become the best remains to be seen. But I like what I see so far. 

5. Name one team you expect to surprise and to disappoint this year in the NFL.

My surprise team is the Tennessee Titans. With some clever offseason additions, the Titans are a functional performance from Jake Locker away from becoming a really good team. I loooooooooove the Chance Warmack pick in the 2013 first round, which, along with the signing of Andy Levitre, gives them a really good offensive line. Both their receivers, if they can stay healthy (looking at you, Kenny Britt) are first round talents. Delanie Walker, while not as physically gifted as departed starter Jared Cook, might give them more production at the tight end position. And we haven’t even mentioned Chris Johnson, who figures to benefit from improved offensive line play. 

They are solid defensively, especially if Kamerion Wimbley can give them any kind of pass rush. I like those linebackers a lot and the defensive backs are talented as well. Moreover, the schedule is fairly merciful. They do get an unpleasant first half of October with a long trip to Seattle followed by a visit from the all-powerful 49ers. However, the rest of the non-division schedule includes the Chargers, Jets, and Chiefs at home as well as an opening-day visit to a diminished Steelers team. If Locker is so much as decent, they have a real shot at a Wild Card berth as the AFC South is weak with the Texans winning by default, the Jags still in reconstruction and the Colts poised to crash back down to earth. Which conveniently leads me to…

My “incoming disappointment” team is the Colts. They do have Andrew Luck, who figures to be a Top 5 quarterback for years to come. However, I hated their offseason moves. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated their moves. First of all, they have a much tougher schedule this year. Secondly, they’re still not good enough to overtake the Texans. Thirdly, both the Jags and the Titans will be tougher confrontations this year.

And last but certainly not least: when was the last time you saw a team succeed after deciding to pay middle-of-the-road starters like stars and fringe players like starters? Needing to protect Andrew Luck, the Colts decided to pay decent-at-best tackle Gosder Cherilus a fairly monstrous contract to keep opposing speed rushers off Luck. Not against elite opposition he won’t. 

But the truly shocking part was the contracts they gave to the newest most expensive journeymen defensive starters in the league. They added some beef to their defensive line by giving a whopping 4-year, $22-million contract to Ricky “never-lived-up-to-the-years-and-years-of-hype” Jean-François, who hasn’t been more than a bit part player since high school. 

And then Jim Irsay outdid himself… the boy turned around and gave Eric Walden $16 million. Eric Walden, 16 million dollars. 16 million dollars to Eric Walden. For those who don’t know, Walden is (a) the man meant to replace departed Dwight Freeney (an idea which in and of itself is cause for hilarity) and (b) essentially known as the revolving door around which Colin Kaepernick ran circles while Walden was playing for the Packers in last year’s playoffs. 

Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne isn’t getting younger. They don’t have a really scary threat opposite him (though I love their young tight ends, Fleener and Allen). Their running back squad consists of disappointing first round picks and journeymen. Their offensive line is nothing to write home about. They still lack a dominant nose tackle for their 3-4 and the secondary is still rather unconvincing. At least, they still have Adam Vinatieri, right? 

So here I am having spent much more time on this than I should have. See you soon, football fans. I’ll try my best to keep the territory busy. 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.