Bradley and bowl-skipping backs

Gus Bradley is now the former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I applaud that they gave him as much time as they did. We all saw his sacking coming, but the timing of it was just so weird. After the Jags allowed the Tom Savage-led Houston Texans to pull off a comeback that felt inevitable the entire time, Bradley was basically told he was being let go as he boarded the plane back to Jacksonville. This strikes me as a blatant lack of both professionalism and competence on the part of the Jaguars’ organization.

Surely, Bradley is too smart to be surprised by the news of his firing, but for the team to let him know at that point and to condemn him to a flight home with his players and staff during which every coach on the plane was aware of the news seems cruel. And THAT, Bradley hasn’t deserved.

Say what you will about the team’s incompetence on the field during Bradley’s tenure, and there is indeed much to say about it but, as head coach of the Jags, the man has not behaved unprofessionally one time. In fact, his ability to use his upbeat nature to deflect some of the attention off some of the more disgraceful performances of his players, of which there were several, was always amazing to me.

On that front, firing him with such cruel and impossibly illogical timing is a poor way to repay him.

Meanwhile, we have heard players expressing their unhappiness with Bradley’s firing. Personally, I don’t have a shred of interest in what they have to say, and haven’t since the first Tennessee game. Their collective performance on that day, a Thursday night game at that, a.k.a. the only sniff of prime time they were going to get this year, was such a goddamn disgrace that I remain convinced that’s the day the decision on Bradley was made. I was convinced they were trying to get Bradley fired, so lackluster, inept, incompetent, piss-poor, effort-bereft, cowardly was their showing in that game. Every single one of them got a paycheck for that game. Not a single one of them earned it. Not one. So go on with the public expressions of support for Bradley, lads. Just know that from the outside, your support for your coach on the field – where it matters – was, well, less perceptible.

As for the organization, I fail to see what is gained from firing him now, instead of two weeks from now, on the aptly-named “Black Monday.” It’s not as though they get a jump on hiring anybody of any worth. Who is it the Jags want? Jeff Fisher? Otherwise, you can’t communicate with hot coordinators who are still in the playoff hunt unless you do it through their agent, which you could do on the down-lo with Bradley still coaching the team. So unless they’re going to go after a college coach stupid enough to leave wherever he’s having success to try and reboot this mess of a franchise, you’ve only brought further embarrassment to the franchise by firing yet another coach in a way that looks so profoundly improvised.

But owner Shad Khan and GM David Caldwell need not worry about embarrassing the team’s fans. They’re used to it.


Two star college running backs are skipping their respective team’s bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft. After LSU’s Leonard Fournette indicated that he wasn’t going risk injury to play in what amounts to a glorified exhibition game, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey announced that he would do the same.

And from there on, it was a matter of cuing up the predictable reactions. Most members of the media were supportive of McCaffrey and Fournette, although there were exceptions (see ESPN analyst Danny Kanell as well Kirk Herbstreit). Most former players thought Fournette and McCaffrey were making the wrong decision.

Going back to the media, I fully take their point that last year, Notre Dame linebacker had his draft status crushed by the knee injury he sustained in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, an injury which also cost him his rookie season in the NFL and, on aggregate, anywhere between 17  and $19 million. And no, the insurance policy he took to cover for his injury doesn’t cover the money he would have made as a Top 10 pick.

Skipping a bowl game that won’t lead you to the National Championship to preserve your earning power is the rational thing to do. I get it; I really do. I also hope that their draft stock isn’t affected by this, but I doubt that it will. Several columnists have rightly gone on to say Fournette and McCaffrey’s decision puts the bloated NCAA bowl system on trial, although it will survive, but that’s a topic for another day.

So again, the two RBs’ decision completely makes sense. My only issue is when I hear people suggest that they aren’t worse teammates, or that they aren’t placing themselves above their teammates, for making it.

Sorry, but… yes, they are. Don’t tell me anything about their teammates supporting them. Don’t tell me about the power and earning imbalance between the NCAA and its players. All of it may be true (in the case of the power imbalance, we all know it is), but none of it alters the fact that these two players have chosen to desert their team before their respective seasons are over. There can be no disputing this.

For me, it comes down to principle. Football is a team endeavour. As such, each players is responsible for their teammates’ aspirations, and vice-versa. Fournette and McCaffrey were as valuable to their respective teams as any player in the country. By leaving now, they are forfeiting this responsibility and jeopardizing the aspirations of the teammates they agreed to support by accepting team membership for 2016.

The facile argument according to which they have nothing left to prove seems wobbly at best. How is that any different from before the season? Both players were considered as candidates for the Heisman Trophy last year. By that logic, why wait until bowl season to start the draft preparations? Why come back to their respective schools at all?

For me, it’s about principle. Starting what you finish, being there for your teammates, taking pride in helping them achieve their aspirations of winning a bowl game that most likely means a hell of a lot more to them than it means to us as viewers, and so on… You don’t have to lecture me on the arguments to support McCaffrey and Fournette. I didn’t have anything close to their talent. I couldn’t have aspired to playing in the NFL. I don’t have a young daughter (as Fournette does). I know the bowl game is essentially an exhibition game with perks. I also know principle isn’t going to earn Jaylon Smith the money he lost because of the injury he sustained in the Fiesta Bowl last year, and that the NCAA is fully exploiting these young players.

I just struggle with the two RBs’ decision because it would not have even crossed my mind. You can call it outdated, out-of-whack morality (football people have made themselves guilty of that from time-to-time). You can call it naive. Perhaps all of it is true. I get why they did it, and I understand it “makes sense.” But if I were a teammate of Fournette’s or McCaffrey’s, their decision would be hard for me to accept.

 

 

 

 

 

The First Round Mock Draft

So, the draft is today. And since I turned the intro to my mock draft into a separate article, I’m not making you wait any longer, so here goes.

1. Los Angeles Rams (from Tennessee): Jared Goff, Quarterback, California:  I won’t be shocked if the Rams go Carson Wentz, but everything coming out of L.A. points to Goff, who is considered the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. What tips the scales in Goff’s favour for me is the fact that Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead are fighting for their jobs and need to win now.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (From Cleveland): Carson Wentz, Quarterback, North Dakota State: Philadelphia has made no secret that it wants whichever quarterback the Rams don’t pick, so Wentz falls to them here. There is no way the Eagles don’t go quarterback here, even though they have the Sam Bradford saga to begin with.

3. San Diego Chargers: Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle, Ole Miss: This has turned into the draft’s pivotal pick. The Chargers are believed to be looking at Tunsil and FSU’s Jalen Ramsey. We’re also starting to hear the name “DeForest Buckner” lately, which leads me to think smokescreen. I think they go for the franchise left tackle.

4. Dallas Cowboys: Jalen Ramsey, Defensive Back, Florida State: Without a quarterback to tempt them, the Cowboys get back to noticing they have an atrocious defensive backfield. Ramsey can act as an eraser in the secondary who can shift around between corner, nickel and free safey depending on the week. The Cowboys need an edge rusher, but the guy worth picking here is Ramsey.

5. Miami Dolphins (From Jacksonville): Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Ohio State: Word on the street is the Dolphins are looking to move up to get Elliott ahead of other teams who might want him. With Jalen Ramsey gone, there is no one Jacksonville really wants who is worth taking here. Therefore, the trade happens. Elliott is one of the rare running back worth taking so high, and he instantly upgrades the position for a team that lost Lamar Miller and missed out on CJ Anderson.

6. Baltimore Ravens: DeForest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon: The Ravens may be tempted by Ronnie Stanley and Joey Bosa. Compared to these two, though, Buckner is a bigger need than Stanley (Eugene Monroe starting at left tackle is not a liability) and a better system fit than Bosa. Baltimore is the ultimate “Best Player Available” team, so who the hell knows, but Buckner figures to be really close to the top of their board, and he fills a huge need.

7. San Francisco 49ers: Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA: Yes, I know the 49ers have been burned by health concern linebackers. However, the Niners also know that when they were dominant defensively, it started with the inside duo of Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Right now, Gerald Hodges is slated to start next to Bowman. San Fran knows that a healthy Jack is one of the five best players in the draft, and new coach Chip Kelly takes a chance on him here.

8. New Orleans Saints (From Cleveland through Philadelphia and Miami): Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State: So Cleveland is in asset-stockpiling mode, and the Saints need a quality end to put opposite the excellent Cameron Jordan. New Orleans knows that Tampa Bay needs a quality edge rusher, so they use the fact Cleveland doesn’t need any of the top guys who are available here to come up and grab Bosa, who not only helps in terms of production but also in terms of leadership.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame: With Joey Bosa gone, the Bucs reinforce their offensive line. Donovan Smith was a pleasant surprise last season, but he’s still better suited for the right side. Stanley provides true left-tackle-quality protection for second-year QB Jameis Winston.

10. New York Giants: Leonard Floyd, Edge Rusher, Georgia: OK, I’m not gonna lie… This is one where I’m allowing the media to influence me. I’ve been hearing Floyd to the Giants if he’s still there for the past week or so. This pick makes absolutely no sense to me. Right now, Floyd is an overrated project type of player who reminds me of Dion Jordan, who is warming up the bench in Miami after being picked third overall. I know his athleticism is enticing, but his lack of production really worries me. The question of system also comes to the mind, as Floyd is a quintessential 3-4 linebacker. This might be the draft’s best smokescreen, but if Floyd does go to the Giants, it’s a major risk.

11. Chicago Bears: Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle, Michigan State: The Bears’ roster is really bereft of talent in many places. Among the Bears’ many needs is the left tackle position, following the release of Jermon Bushrod. Thus, the Bears could go in a number of directions, but at this point, Conklin is the best player who fills a need for Chicago, and he fits the Bears’ mentality.

12. Cleveland Browns (From New Orleans): Jarran Reed, Defensive Lineman, Alabama: Last year’s first-round pick, nose tackle Danny Shelton, was not enough on his own to paper over the cracks of Cleveland’s run defence. In a division where everyone can run the ball, Reed is added to one of the end spots and gives the Browns another run-stuffing lineman.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (From Miami through Philadelphia): Vernon Hargreaves III, Cornerback, Florida: The Jags are ecstatic to find a cornerback who can, at worst, give them some kind of depth in the secondary. More likely, Hargreaves is a factor as a starter or as a nickel. For a team whose secondary was a dumpster fire a year ago, this is a terrific catch.

14. Oakland Raiders: Reggie Ragland, Linebacker, Alabama: The Raiders continue to add quality pieces to their defence, this time reinforcing the inside linebacker position. They will give Darron Lee and his athleticism some thought, but the hard-nosed Ragland is another player who fits the Raider mentality, and who fills Oakland’s need for an in-the-box player.

15. Tennessee Titans (From Los Angeles): Taylor Decker, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State: All mock drafts before the Titans traded down to this point had them taking Laremy Tunsil. Thing is, the Titans need more help at right tackle than left, so they’re elated to see Decker drop to them. Pencil him in there at right tackle for the foreseeable future.

16. Detroit Lions: Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle, Louisville: The Lions love upfield rushers, and while Haloti Ngata claims to enjoy the role, he’s not a natural for it. Moreover, since losing Ndamokung Suh, the Lions don’t have a true interior pass rusher. Rankins, an explosive player in the mold of Geno Atkins, fits the bill.

17. Atlanta Falcons: A’Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama: The Falcons could use help at linebacker, but Robinson helps them a great deal because he can either line up on the nose, or at the two-gapping weakside end position in the Falcons’ Seattle-inspired defence. Wherever he plays, he helps with the Falcons’ run defence.

18. Indianapolis Colts: Noah Spence, Edge Rusher, Eastern Kentucky: Someone is going to take a stab at Spence, a talented player with significant character concerns. In the end, though, Spence is the draft’s only true blue-chip edge rusher, and that’ll make him too tempting for Indy to pass up.

19. Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson: After losing Mario Williams, the Bills need to replace the pass rush he gave them before he spent last season looking uninterested. Buffalo will 100% have a discussion about taking Paxton Lynch here, but in the end, they go with the more immediate need, and with the player who has a much higher floor in Lawson.

20. New York Jets: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis: Is anything the Jets do these days NOT a tactic to pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick into signing at a discount? Even if Fitzpatrick returns, he is not a long-term solution. However, the Jets could use him while they groom Lynch, who has much to learn in order to be a functional pro quarterback. Besides, when he does mature, he can allow the Jets to avoid the struggles typically experienced by teams who throw a rookie quarterback to the lions.

21. Washington: Darron Lee, Linebacker, Ohio State: Washington can’t quite believe Lee has made it this far, but they won’t complain. Their inside linebacker group could use his athleticism, and he figures to become one of the leaders of a unit severely lacking in star power.

22. Houston Texans: Corey Coleman, Wide Receiver, Baylor: The Texans are crying for a receiver to help out All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins. Coleman runs a very limited arsenal of routes, but has blazing speed, a trait that complements Hopkins’ all-around game. Brock Osweiler will love having the speedy Coleman in Houston.

23. Minnesota Vikings: Josh Doctson, Wide Receiver, TCU: Receiver is one of the rare holes on the Vikes’ roster, and while they may hesitate between Doctson and Laquon Treadwell, they end up going with the TCU product because he posted better timed speed than Treadwell, and he’s the best receiver in the draft at pulling down jump balls.

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss: This is a dream come true for Cincinnati. A receiver of Treadwell’s quality will benefit from AJ Green’s defence-stretching ability, and will work his magic on short-to-intermediate routes, which is what he’s best suited for anyway. Treadwell is the perfect complement to Green home run ability, and will be a far superior second option to Marvin Jones or Mohammed Sanu.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Eli Apple, Cornerback, Ohio State: This is just a Steelers kind of pick, isn’t it? Apple fits the rugged Pittsburgh mold of defensive back, and since Pittsburgh now plays much more Cover 2 than they did under Dick Lebeau, Apple’s tendency to give up the occasional big play figures to be hidden better than it was at Ohio State.

26. Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Kelly, Centre, Alabama: If Seattle wants Russell Wilson to play longer than six years, they are going to have to start taking better care of him. Before last season, the Hawks dealt star centre Max Unger to the Saints, and their offensive line never really recovered. This pick is a great opportunity to start fixing a problem they have been neglecting for some time.

27. Green Bay Packers: Vernon Butler, Nose Tackle, Louisiana Tech: It seems the Packers are drafting a D-Lineman every year. BJ Raji’s departure leaves them extremely thin at the nose tackle position, and the help Butler can bring is sizable in every sense of the word.

28. Kansas City Chiefs: William Jackson III, cornerback, Houston: After losing Sean Smith to divisional rival Oakland, the Chiefs pick Jackson to give themselves a top pair of young cornerbacks along with last year’s outstanding rookie Marcus Peters. Throwing against KC figures to be mighty inconvenient.

29. Dallas Cowboys (From Arizona): Kevin Dodd, Defensive End, Clemson: With no one they especially like here, the Cardinals trade back to the early second round, thus enabling Dallas to come up and grab the pass rusher they decided to skip at #4 when they picked Jalen Ramsey over Joey Bosa. Hopefully for the Cowboys, they don’t have to give up too much.

30. Carolina Panthers: Will Fuller, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame: Sure, he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. Sure, he’s very reminiscent of Ted Ginn in that his deep speed is about his only calling card. But he’s the top player on Carolina’s board at this point, and the Panthers would do well to remember that their receiver group overachieved last year. It can’t hurt not to go all-in on it happening again. Cam Newton can certainly benefit from having a new weapon to work with.

31. Denver Broncos: Andrew Billings, Nose tackle, Baylor: As critically-acclaimed as that Denver front was last season, it was bereft of a true nose tackle. Billings still being there at 31 is the ideal opportunity add such a player to the roster. Billings, a powerful player who can get off the ball and push the pocket, can serve as a setup man for Wade Phillips to run his crazy blitzes and twists.

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.

 

 

Entrée before the Mock Draft: the Marcus Mariota conundrum

Here we go. The NFL Draft is less than a week away. Most NFL-driven sites start popping out mock drafts months in advance, which makes no sense from a football perspective given that teams try to solve part of their needs with free agency, not to mention the fact that we have to give time for the legitimate rumours to separate themselves from the pure smokescreens. My mock draft is coming up on draft day, by the way, but until then, there are still lingering questions, namely those surrounding the number two pick.

The Titans figure to have at least a few attractive options for the pick. Are the Chargers going to press the reset button for a quarterback who doesn’t mind playing in L.A.? It’s a hell of a risky proposition, given that the quarterback in question is likely to be Marcus Mariota. There is no overstating just how much the current draft situation sucks for Mariota. I don’t think an Aaron Rodgers-esque free fall is happening. There simply aren’t enough good starting quarterbacks in the NFL for so many teams to skip on him. However, rough seasons from mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin have put teams even more on edge about taking spread option quarterbacks than they already were. Even a guy like Cam Newton, whose accuracy remains sporadic at best, doesn’t help Mariota’s cause, either.

What sucks even more is that much of the criticism aimed at these guys is unfair. Griffin hasn’t been the same athlete since the injury he suffered at the end of his rookie season, but here are a few things to consider: 1. He had already missed significant time at Baylor due to a knee injury before ever entering the NFL. 2. If you’ve paid attention to Griffin’s career so far, you’ll have seen a guy who has very much made the mistake of buying into his own hype. 3. The one offensive coordinator who’s been willing to adjust his scheme to Griffin’s strengths got a great season out of him. Hell, Skip Bayless was driving the Griffin-over-Luck bandwagon at about 175 miles/hour after their first season, and he wasn’t alone.

Something really bugs me about this entire mobile quarterbacks discussion. Yes, in most cases, fitting them into conventional pro-style offences is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. However, as goes the coaching maxim, you adjust the system to the players, not the players to the system, and it’s amazing to witness how completely these words of wisdom are lost on NFL offensive coaches. I’m not suggesting NFL coaches should grab 2011 tapes of Oregon’s offence and implement it overnight. However, it really makes me laugh to see the NFL community, change-averse as ever, claiming that the read option is dead in the NFL because coaches have figured it out. What complete and utter drivel! Defences haven’t “figured it out,” offences have stopped running it. I was in pain watching Kap, Griffin and Newton operating under centre last season, going through the motions of offences not at all suited to their skills.

To me, the Niners’ situation is the most puzzling. It’s as if they got together in their offices and had a discussion that went something like this (we’ll avoid mention names, so as to avoid embarrassing the individuals in question; look them up if you like) :

– Head coach: Alright, let’s get this started. Guys, I wanna get your take on the offence.

– Defensive coordinator: Sure thing, coach.

– Head coach: Now, I was watching tape. And it got me thinking… you know… this whole Kap running the ball thing is just working way too well!

– Linebackers coach: Aye, aye! The way we moved the ball against that unplayable Seattle defence in the playoffs…They just didn’t have a solution for Colin’s foot speed. I’m like, ‘Thank God we went to Crabtree against Sherman with the game on the line. Otherwise, this might have been the opening of a real Pandora’s Box!’

– Defensive coordinator : Plus, you have to think that DCs around the league are going to spend the offseason working on a solution to defend it. Right ? Tomlin said that the other day.

– Head coach: Good point. Where would you start?

– Defensive coordinator: No idea. But I’m sure someone will come up with something.

– Offensive coordinator: Well, in any case, we’d best not take any chances. I’m thinking we get Kap back under centre, run a regular offence. If it works, we’ll look like geniuses. Plus, as a bonus, we get the rest of the league to fool themselves into thinking you can just turn any spread QB into a dropback passer, so we weaken the opposition. If it doesn’t work, then we’ve proven our point.

– Head Coach: Sold! Let’s do this!

I’m being a tad facetious, but this spread quarterback discussion shows just how much of an ol’boy network NFL coaching is, and its consanguinity is costing potential starting quarterbacks careers. And I’ve got news for these coaches: spread quarterbacks aren’t going away. It just makes too much sense to take your best athlete and put the ball in his hands on every play, which you can do at no position except quarterback. High school and college teams are glad to take prototypical dropback passers when they get them, but such players are hard to find. Used to be, NCAA coaches would try to scheme their way past a lack of talent with a running quarterback. That’s still happening, but now, even top programs are going for these dual-threat athletes and are incorporating running plays for them. And they’re going to keep doing it because it works. We even see guys who could fit in “pro-style” offences in college, but who simply don’t play in them (see: Bortles, Blake).

For the NFL, terminally stuck in the 80s, the traditional pocket passer remains such an ideal that teams are willing to settle for mediocre ones instead of actually trying to model their offence around a spread system alum with rare skills. “Golly, Andy Dalton might not be able to throw more than 30 yards, and he might have an anti-clutch gene, but at least he goes through a West Coast read progression!” Think I’m exaggerating? The prohibitive favourite to be the first overall pick this season, Jameis Winston, threw 18 interceptions last season (many of which were down to mistakes by freshman receivers, but still…) Count ’em! 18. He had a potential sexual assault case against him dropped in supremely fishy circumstances and now faces a civil suit from the alleged victim. This is me talking about one of my Florida State boys. While I do think his off-the-field issues outside the potential sexual assault have been overstated and that recent comparisons to JaMarcus Russell are patently ridiculous, if I’m a Bucs executive and I know we’re about to pick him, I’m nervous on about 100 different levels right now. But hey, the other guy played in a spread-option offence, so there goes that debate!

The end result is a strange paradox: the league is more pass-oriented than ever, but it hasn’t had as few truly competent passers since, like, the seventies. And it’s not because there is less quarterbacking talent. It’s because more and more players are not used correctly. How many teams can say they are not at all in the market for an upgrade, or an update, at quarterback? People still talk about “the Big Four” of Rodgers, Manning, Brees and Brady at quarterback. Newsflash for all: Three of these four are older than 35, and Aaron Rodgers, while still in his prime, is 31. In the younger generation, we have Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson (one of the rare mobile QBs who’s actually allowed to use his legs) and if you can spot the other sure things, you’re a better talent scout than I am.

So as far as feeling safe with their quarterback situation, how shall we divide them? I propose the following categories, which go in descending order of quality:

  • Absolutely set for several more years barring a crucial injury: Green Bay, Indianapolis, Seattle, Atlanta
  • Pro Bowl-to-Hall-of-Fame hopefuls on their last bits of mileage (or balking at a move to L.A): New England, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Diego
  • “Not quite” guys on far too much money: Baltimore, Detroit, Dallas, Kansas City
  • Still waiting on promising young guys: Jacksonville, Oakland, Minnesota, Tennessee
  • Caught in average-to-mediocre veteran no man’s land: Chicago, New York Giants, St.Louis, Cincinnati, Arizona
  • Slightly (or not-so-slightly) freaking out about guys who should be coming of age: San Francisco, Carolina, Miami, New York Jets, Houston, Washington (In the case of the Panthers, Niners and Washington, I put 80% or more of the blame on the coaching)
  • Who the f— knows? : Philadelphia
  • Jameis Winston: Tampa Bay (Oops! That was supposed a… ahem!.. surprise!) 
  • Complete, total, unmitigated disaster: Buffalo, Cleveland

The first two categories involve guys who we know can win the Super Bowl. In fact, of those nine teams, six have quarterbacks who HAVE won a Super Bowl. But then, the second category carries guys for whom you cannot make long-term projects. (No, Ravens fans, Flacco doesn’t belong in category 1. Yes, he tends to excel in the playoffs, but he doesn’t play that way consistently enough to be a true franchise guy.)

So we have a league in which the quarterbacking is not especially healthy, but coach after coach sends quarterback after quarterback to the bust bin. So yeah, Marcus Mariota is a very big risk, but that has as much to do with the lethally inflexible coaching he’s likely to receive in the NFL as it does with his spread background. In his book Swing Your Sword, Washington State head coach Mike Leach said that the level of football at which one coaches is not really a reflection of their ability. I agree with him more every day I spend coaching and watching football. When I consider the inability to adjust to players’ strengths displayed by so many NFL coaches, I’m starting to think it might not be the quarterbacks teams ought to replace.

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