Draft King Analysis|
August 11, 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.
First things first: I have launched a separate stand-alone @Draft King account for Twitter that will strictly offer updates when I post a new article or update my mock draft on here. I'll retweet them all on my @LouPickney account, but I realize that there are people who aren't interested in everything I have to say on Twitter but who might like to know when something new is up here. I finally made the move on that when I created my work Twitter account (@WSAZLou).
It's like that line from the song Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve: "I'm a million different people from one day to the next" -- which actually isn't far from the truth for me.
The big news of the weekend is the release of the Honey Badger (DB Tyrann Matheu) from the LSU football team. Louisiana State will still be loaded on defense, which is remarkable when you factor in the loss of the Honey Badger along with two underclassmen who were top 15 NFL selections this past April (CB Morris Claiborne at #6 and DT Michael Brockers at #14). Remember how people criticized the LSU 9-6 overtime win over Alabama last year as some sort of sign of inferiority? In reality, both teams were loaded on defense and both will return a wealth of talent this fall, and the front seven for LSU remains a potent threat. But the biggest question for LSU isn't who will replace Matheu, but how QB Zach Mettenberger will do under center.
Late in my process of writing this article, I ran across this article from The Big Lead that backs up my point about LSU's defense. I figure it's worth adding here for anyone who doubts what I wrote about the depth of LSU's 2012 defense.
This is overreaction season for football fans, who have been starved for top-level on-the-field action for the past six months. Most high school football seasons haven't started yet (but there are some that played last night), but every news blurb from training camps or report on Pro Football Talk seems to draw an inordinate amount of attention. The reason: top-tier football is a year-long obsession for many, which is why sites like this one exist.
Besides assessing the impact of severe injuries, trying to draw conclusions from the first weekend of preseason games is an exercise in futility. Extrapolating stats from games that don't count, particularly with some teams putting more effort into winning than others, is not going to usually yield strong results. You might pick up on trends or see signs of pending greatness, like Titans RB Chris Johnson did in the 2008 preseason against St. Louis. But, in general, preseason games are a mirage.
Most team fanbases still have that "we have a shot at the playoffs" mentality at this point, which is part of the genius of the NFL revenue-sharing system with the salary cap that has a subtle gravitational pull toward 8-8 which, in turn, provides hope. And hope can sell a lot of tickets, particularly when melded with such a strong product.
With all of that in mind, here are some general thoughts at this point:
-The NFL is a copycat league, but the best example of how to find long-term success rests with the New England Patriots. They'll gladly trade you a third rounder this year for a second rounder next year, or a second rounder now for your first rounder the following year. The patience that the organization has shown is one of the few successful tactics that has not been emulated en masse across the NFL, in large part because of the constant pressure to win now as opposed to worrying about tomorrow that most coaches and general managers feel.
It's not like the Patriots strike gold every time: they've had plenty of busts. If you doubt that, read this and recall that trades of mid-late round picks for big-name free agents (e.g. Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco) at times haven't worked out. But when you swing enough 3rd-for-a-2nd or 2nd-for-a-1st type deals, you give yourself the flexibility to risk mid-late picks on a veteran who might end up finding a career rejuvenation in Massachusetts. Remember also that the Patriots gave up a 4th round pick to get Randy Moss from Oakland, and he had one of the best wide receiver seasons in the past decade in his first year with the organization. You never know how something like that will turn out with a veteran player.
For this year's version of the Patriots, they look like the closest thing to a playoff lock in the AFC, if not the entire NFL. It's like what Bobby Heenan used to say about Ric Flair: you may not like him, but you had better respect him. And no team overcomes the 8-8 gravitational pull of the NFL better than the Pats. They've only missed the playoffs twice since their shocking run to the Super Bowl in the 2001 season: 2002 (9-7) and 2008 (11-5) -- and you might recall that they made it to 11-5 despite losing Tom Brady for the season in week one in 2008 in that huge fluke of a season where 11 wins wasn't enough to get them into the playoffs.
They're going for a tenth consecutive double-digit win season this year. Will they stumble? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet against them.
-Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should be in position to bounce back in a major way this fall. The easy out was to accuse him of relaxing a bit once he landed a new contract during the past season, but that was just happenstance; his decline coincided with the rib injury he suffered against the Redskins. Look for yourself at his passing percentage game-by-game through Buffalo's win over Washington to what it was after -- he just wasn't the same quarterback after that. The contract is an easy out, and Buffalo's brain trust didn't exactly do much to counter that line of thought until after the season, but the reality is that it's extraordinarily difficult to do anything athletic with two cracked ribs, let alone try playing quarterback in the NFL in that condition.
|Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't the same QB after he suffered a rib injury against the Redskins last October in Toronto. (US PRESSWIRE)|
In defense of the Bills, what were they supposed to do: cop to the truth and put an even bigger bulls-eye on Fitzpatrick's breadbasket for defensive ends and blitzing linebackers? Of course opposing defenses quickly sniffed out the injury (you can't hide that sort of thing for long in a league that is examined as analytically as the NFL is), but the timing worked well for casual fans with the new contract coming during the bye week and the injury coming in his first game with the new deal.
But cracked ribs heal over time, and Fitzpatrick is likely going to bounce back in a big way, particularly with Stevie Johnson signing a long-term deal of his own and Fred Jackson returning from injury to likely split carries with C.J. Spiller, who finally showed that he wasn't the bust that some made him out to be when he had a chance to have a decent number of touches per game -- Spiller averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry last season. If Buffalo's offensive line can get its act together, there is sleeper potential for the Bills, who haven't made the playoffs since the Music City Miracle game, which happened during my first tenure in Huntington, WV more than 12 years ago.
-It's not happenstance that the two points above were about teams from the AFC East; I had started a long write-up about each of the 32 NFL teams, but I couldn't even finish my first division before what I wrote was dated with the Dolphins losing QB David Garrard for what looks to be an extended period of time with a knee injury. Here's an actual line from my now-shelved write-up about the Dolphins:
In an era where QB accuracy is more important than ever, if 2012 Garrard can turn into 2007 Garrard (18 TDs vs. 3 interceptions) and stay healthy, he has a chance to make a difference.
|The injury bug bit David Garrard even before his red jersey came off in training camp with Miami. (US PRESSWIRE)|
Alas, for Miami and Garrard, there was no rejuvenation.
-There is only one bona fide holdout at this point: Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew. The $30,000 a day fine meter has been running since the start of camp in Jacksonville, but most players figured out quickly last year than the new CBA makes it decidedly expensive to refuse to report to camp while under contract, with the likes of DeSean Jackson and Frank Gore quickly ending their holdouts and only Titans RB Chris Johnson parlaying a successful holdout into a new contract. MJD is under contract for two more years, and while the Jaguars could *really* use him, time is on their side.
As this article reveals, between missing the team's June mini-camp and holding out until this point, MJD has reached $600,000 in fines through today. Tomorrow it will be $630,000 and counting. $30K a day adds up fast.
I've complained plenty on here about it before, but to call an unsigned player a holdout is bunk. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe is a franchise tagged player who is under no obligation to sign his one-year tender and show up for camp. Ditto for restricted-rights free agent WR Mike Wallace in Pittsburgh. In both cases there is no contract from which to hold out.
-I realize this isn't exactly breaking news, but the NFC North is absolutely loaded. Just look at the offenses alone in that division and it's a stacked group. The Packers are coming off a 15-1 regular season last year and a Super Bowl win two seasons ago. Detroit has a talented QB and the best wide receiver in the NFL, Calvin Johnson aka Megatron. Chicago gets Jay Cutler from injury and now has Jason Campbell as a more-than-capable backup, plus they traded for Brandon Marshall at wide receiver and locked in Matt Forte to a long-term deal after several months of acrimony related to his contract situation. Minnesota has the best running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson.
-There has been plenty written today about the strange decision by Carolina to sign RB Jonathan Stewart to a long-term contract after breaking the bank to keep DeAngelo Williams last year, and I certainly don't get it from a salary cap standpoint. Yes, Stewart is a talented running back and provides a one-two RB punch to go with the most electrifying player in the NFL today, Cam Newton, but from a financial standpoint it seems like a bit much to invest at a position that is less valuable now than ever before due to the rule changes to protect wide receivers from the kinds of hits that cause severe brain damage (another story for another time) which, in turn, has transformed the NFL into a pass-first league.
In many ways it's like Panthers GM Marty Hurney is back in Brewster's Millions mode again, but the counter-argument is to look at what Newton did last fall despite having a lack of strong talent at WR beyond Steve Smith but with two strong RBs rotating to keep opposing defenses honest against the run. I can hear it now regarding Newton: "What, 4,000+ yards passing and 700+ yards rushing as a rookie who faced an inordinate amount of scrutiny and criticism despite doing the near impossible with Auburn in 2010 wasn't enough? Were you not impressed with him rallying his team from a 24 point deficit at Alabama, something that had NEVER been before, and doing so against a stacked defense with Marcell Dareus and Dre Kirkpatrick and Courtney Upshaw and Mark Barron and Josh Chapman and more, in one of the biggest rivalry games in all of college football?"
Of course, the reality is that Steve Smith is 33 years old and suffered a knee bruise in camp this past week, and there is the lingering under-discussed reality that Hurney made a major mistake in trading Carolina's 2011 second-round pick, which ended up being the #33 overall selection, to obtain the 2010 third-rounder they used on Armanti Edwards, a college QB at Appalachian State (who started for the Mountaineers in their landmark upset win at Michigan in 2007) who the team is still trying to turn into an effective NFL wide receiver. Who did Carolina make that trade with? The Patriots, of course, showing yet again how you can beat the NFL's 8-8 magnet if you have long-term patience.
Time will tell if Brandon LaFell is poised to make "the leap", particularly with him (and Edwards) entering their third season, the usual breakout year for wide receivers if they are going to break. And I realize that there is great potential for Carolina in 2012 fourth-round pick Joe Adams, an explosive wide receiving threat out of Arkansas. But to give Jonathan Stewart $22.5M guaranteed after giving DeAngelo Williams $21M guaranteed a little more than one year ago seems risky, if not reckless. But what's done is done, and now Panthers fans will have to hope that it all works out for them.
-Don't ask me what will happen in the NFC East because I simply don't know. The Giants are flying under the radar as much as a defending Super Bowl champion in the New York market could possibly hope to do, but don't forget that they were 9-7 last year. 9-7 got Jon Gruden fired in Tampa Bay. Hell, as referenced above, 11-5 didn't even get the 2008 Patriots into the playoffs. But the Giants made it in after doing bizarre things earlier in the season (like losing at home to Seattle) and caught fire at the right time, and with TIM TEBOW topping the headlines so much in the New York City papers after being traded to the Jets, the Giants are laying low like a crafty contestant on Survivor or Big Brother.
RG3 in Washington will be fascinating to watch, Jerry Jones is growing impatient (again) in Dallas, and the Eagles loom as potential monsters ready to tear things up with a retooled defense. It will be a fun division to watch, if nothing else, and you can expect to see plenty of fireworks there this year. It's almost always the favorite division of the TV networks since it represents a strong mix of historic rivalries and major markets (NYC, Philly, Dallas and DC).
Coming soon: an update to the Draft King 2013 NFL Mock Draft.