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Draft King Analysis
December 10, 2012
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

Reader feedback is always welcomed here on Draft King. Sound off with your thoughts on Twitter (@LouPickney) or via email at LouPickney@gmail.com.


Some thoughts rattling around in my head prior to tonight's Texans/Patriots game:

-There are some who still talk about Monday Night Football in reverent tones, as if it still features huge marquee games. Yes, sometimes ESPN lucks into a good game, but it's NBC's Sunday Night Football that gets the pick of the litter. It's usually the B-level games that ESPN used to get when it had the Sunday Night package that end up on Monday night now, but this way makes much more sense as people typically are going to be more tolerant of a so-so matchup on a Monday when there's only one game all day versus having spent several hours watching the NFL and perhaps wanting a break. The way it is now, the NBC Sunday Night game feels like the main event, something that has been built up to all day. It's one of those rare changes that benefits all involved.

-On the flip side... there is an NFL game this Thursday (Bengals/Eagles) but not one on Saturday. Late-season Saturday games have been common in the NFL for quite some time but, save for one on 12/22 (to avoid playing on Christmas Eve night 12/24), there won't be any this year. This Saturday you can look forward to this: the New Mexico Bowl (7-5 Arizona vs. 7-5 Nevada) and the Non-Humanitarian Potato Bowl (10-2 Utah State vs. 9-3 Toledo). That's it. And while Utah State and Toledo is an interesting matchup, it's not an NFL game.

It's one thing to protect 12/8 because of the Army/Navy game -- I get it, that's something unique and special and one of the last bastions of legitimate student-athlete competition on the Division I-A/FBS level. But to not have any NFL games on 12/15 to protect a couple of third-tier bowl games on an otherwise wide-open Saturday? Something is not right about that at all -- especially given that there's a Thursday night game that would make much more sense in that slot.

Unfortunately, contractual obligations and deals force things to sometimes happen a certain way secondary to sound logic and booking. It's like how, due to NFL rules, the NFL RedZone Channel has to sign off by 8 p.m. ET, even if the afternoon games aren't over yet. Sometimes things don't happen the way they should. Such is life.

-The free-fall of the Arizona Cardinals has been fascinating to witness, though not entirely unexpected. Their 4-0 start despite a subpar offensive line and lack of quality at quarterback stunned most NFL pundits and couldn't be written off as a fluke, not after their win over the mighty New England Patriots in Foxboro in week 2. But the same issues that made their hot start so improbable quickly lead to their downfall, with an inability by its offensive line to open holes for RB Ryan Williams (who ended up lost for the season for a second consecutive year due to injury) and limited time for their marginal quarterbacks to throw the ball.

Larry Fitzgerald
This photo sums up the 2012 season for Arizona.
(Debby Wong - USA TODAY Sports)
It's hard not to feel sorry for Larry Fitzgerald. He didn't trade away Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie *and* a second-round pick for Kevin Kolb. Yes, he is being well compensated for his time, but a healthy Fitzgerald would post 1,500 yards and 10+ TDs on most teams. In Arizona's case, opposing defenses know they can focus their efforts on containing Fitzgerald and take their chances with the likes of John Skelton and Beanie Wells and, odds are, end up on top... which is exactly what has happened for Arizona's opponents since week 4.

Arizona's early start is a reminder of how close the talent level is for most teams in the NFL, the desired effect of the carefully crafted system that allows struggling teams to add talent and have a chance to catch up with stronger opponents. It's part of the reason why there is so much turnover in playoff teams from year to year in the NFL -- a vital part of the league's business model, since opportunity creates hope and hope sells tickets.

The challenge now for Arizona: how do you add a bona fide starting QB and a legit elite offensive tackle? Trading for Kolb didn't work out so well. You could argue that the Cards wouldn't let Matt Barkley slide past them in round one, even after his 2012 decline without Matt Kalil protecting his blind side, though there is also the question on if what happened with Matt Leinart has soured the team on USC quarterbacks, fair or unfair.

What might be the best plan is to go after a proven accurate veteran passer like Chicago QB Jason Campbell, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and then potentially have your pick of the offensive tackle class in the draft, including the current leader on most scouts boards, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel. If Joeckel goes back to A&M for 2013 there will be other guys to choose from, and there is always the potential to trade down, even out of the top five, thanks to changes in rookie salary structure that went into effect in the 2011 NFL CBA.

Ultimately, though, the Cardinals clearly have to do something to fix their subpar QB and OT situation. When you are counting on the disappointing Levi Brown to anchor your offensive line you have problems... and when you lose him for the season, your problems get even worse. Arizona needs some problem solvers.

-With three regular-season games remaining for all teams after tonight's action, slotting is becoming more evident. In no particular order, you can pencil in at least some of the teams for the 21-32 slots: New England, Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Green Bay, and probably Chicago and Seattle. Pittsburgh will likely grab the final AFC wild card spot (though that's hardly a given after their uninspired home loss to the Chargers yesterday) and it's likely that the NFC East winner will be in as the #4 seed, be it the Giants or Cowboys or Redskins.

Where it gets tricky is in the mix of non-playoff teams in the 4-to-5 win logjam range: 10 of the league's 32 teams are either 4-9 or 5-8. Only three teams have worse records: Jacksonville and Kansas City at 2-11 and Oakland at 3-10.

If it ends up being some mix of Chiefs/Jaguars/Raiders in the top three spots, it's plausible the top three picks will consist of West Virginia QB Geno Smith and two defensive players, likely speed-edge types such as Georgia DE/OLB Jarvis Jones or, in Oakland's case, perhaps an interior defensive tackle to replace Richard Seymour, who is almost sure to leave as a free agent after the season. It wouldn't be entirely surprising to see something like this:

1. Kansas City Chiefs - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia
3. Oakland Raiders - Star Lotuleiei, DT, Utah

You could swap Texas A&M DE Damontre More for Jones, or Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins for Lotuleiei, but if it played out as drawn out above it wouldn't be terribly surprising. Where the real intrigue rests is in that pick 4-15 range, and with so many variables still in play it's hard to know who will be picking where, which will have a direct impact on team needs and possible runs on various positions.

There's also the giant question mark around Notre Dame ILB Manti Te'o, who I will likely be moving down in my next 2013 mock update. It's nothing against Te'o, but more a recalibration relative to the reality that has become the norm in the NFL: if you can directly impact a team's passing game or pass defense, you have more value than ever. And, while Te'o has had seven interceptions this season, the team targeting him will be for his all-around play and leadership, not because of his inordinate volume of interceptions from the middle/inside linebacker position.


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