Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Safeties

Well, training camps are begginning today and what better time to close out my rankings.  Today I look at the last line of defense, the safeties.  A very demanding position the safety is asked to cover a large area.  Set back from the line of scrimmage, safties need to be able to diagnose plas and formations and communicate them to the rest of his secondary.  Some of the most notable defensive players in the league play the safety position.  Safties need to be able to do all tasks on the field. They need to be able to run with recievers as well as tight ends, come up to make tackles, or be responsible for a third or half of the field in deep zone coverage.  The AFC East hosts some very young budding stars at this position.

1) Buffalo Bills- OK, you can say whatever you want but I had to throw them a bone here. It may be the only thign they finish first in, unless you count losses of course.  The Bills have an extremely deep and very talented core of safties which is what warrants them the number one ranking here.  Jairus Byrd busted onto the scene last season with 9 interceptions! Donte Whitner has been a very solid Free Safety for this team for 5 season and his injury last season allowed Byrd to shine.  Whitner, a former first rounder out of Ohio State is a much better coverage guy back there than Byrd, but he lacks the play-making ability of the second year ballhawk.  It will be vey interesting to see what happens with this group, I predict Whitner is moved over to strong safety to start the season because Byrd was the lone bright spot in a forgettable 2009 season for the Bills.  The strong safety for the Bills last season was George Wilson, a 5 year vet out of Arkansas.  Wilson finished second on the team in tackles and contributed with four interceptions of his own last season.  Wilson saw his first season of serious playng time last year and played well.  If Whitner (my presumed starter) has trouble with his transition, Wilson will retain his duties thus making another Bills first round draft pick moot.  The main thing to know about this group for the Bills is that they have three starters, some teams in this division aren’t sure if they have one.

2) New England Patriots- New England couldv’e easily been ranked one with Brandon Meriweather alone.  After struggling with the schemes of the hoodie’s defense early in his career, Meriweather has quickly turned into a star at the position.  The game has started to slow down for the former Hurricane standout and allowed him to fly all over the field making plays.  He is also the reason that the pass defense has not suffered with all of the changes at the corner back slot.  Opposite Meriweather is a bit of a question mark.   James Sanders started the first game of the season only to be demoted to reserve duty for most of the year.  He finished strong and started the last four games which gives him the edge on Brandon McGowan.  McGowan started 11 games for the Pats’ last season but played himself out of that role by week 14.  Both players have shown flashes of promise but whoever is most consistent during camp will liekly get the job.  No matter who wins the job, look to see both 6 yr vets see the field for New England.  The combination of these three talents gain them the two spot, but the inconsistent playat free safety keeps them from top billing. 

3) New York Jets- The Jets are bringing in some new talent ofter the departure of Kerry Rhodes.  Rhodes made soem big plays for this defense during its playof push and his absence will hurt the unit.  Replacing Rhodes will be Brodney Pool who came over from the Browns this off-season.  Pool has good ball skils at the safety position and if I were to label him, he would fall into the; covers better than he tackles category.  Pool has 11 interceptions in his 5 season of play and with great corners on both sides, Pool should have a lot of opportunities to make plays in coverage.  The strong safety for this defense is Jim Leonhard.  Leonhard followed Rex Ryan to New York after becoming the starter during the 2008 season with the Ravens. Leonhard is a high motor guy who always seems to be around the pile.  Extremely undersized, the former badger from Wisconsin plays big.  He hits hard and throws his body around the field.  With Pool’s coverage skills, and Leonhard’s seemingly disregard for his body, this combination has a good chance to gel and be a very solid group for the gang green.  Backing up Pool and Leonhard will be Eric Smith.  Smith managed a few starts last season and has good size (6’1″) for the position, especially wen compard to Leonhard.

4) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins find themselves in the four slot here due to them having no idea who will start at free safety.  Chris Clemons, Reshod Jones, Tyrone Culver, Jason Allen?  Two of those guys are nickle and dime corners in some sets.  Clemons, the second year man from Clemson, will get the first shot at the job in my opinion.  He has good coverage skills and great speed to cover ground.  He lacks physicality that is coveted by this coachign staff and his communication skils are a work in progress.  He showed some signs last season that he had what it takes in the NFl and this coaching staff is putting a lot of pressure on him to follow through.  Yerimiah Bell enjoyed his first Pro Bowl selection last season and is a very solid stonrg safety.  He hits a ton and  has great athleticism to cover both tight ends and recievers.  His tackling skills are above average and he will need to take Clemons under his wing in order for the group to be effective.  This position is no doubt the biggest focus in Dolphins camp this off-season, and it may be the reason this team does not get over the hump and make the playoffs.

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Corner Backs

In my opinion corner back is one of the toughest positions to play in the NFL.  Most positions you can be aggressive and at the snap get right after the ball.  When you’re out there on an island you have to sit back and use your instincts to diagnose routes and react off of a number of factors.  Film study is crucial to get a read on what your weekend foe will be doing.  When a receiver runs an out does he cut it at 6 or 7 yards?  How well can he get off of a jam?  Can he out jump you?  There are a ton of keys that a defensive back has to look for and when he makes up his mind he had better be right, or he could be on the wrong end of a highlight reel.  Let’s not forget he could be subject to a pulling guard or tackle on a screen play with no help. 

It’s a bit of bang or bust when it comes to corners, and for this reason you see teams address the position all over the draft board and in free agency.  There are so many different schemes and zones that you may see a player succeed in one defense and fail miserably in another.  Think of covering a guy who runs a sub 4.4 that is 6′- something who can jump through the ceiling… sounds like dating a girl with 13 brothers and a minister for a father.  It is not a fun position unless you are playing against Jamarcus Russell every week (shout out to the Purple Drank), seeing as he will eat and drank’ his way out of the NFL it doesn’t look good. The AFC East as you should all know by now has the best corner and arguably the best football player in the league, yeah I said it.  The season that Darrelle Revis had last season against the players he faced is almost as impressive as Tom Brady’s bludgeoning of the NFL in 2007.  I digress with the rankings…

1) New York Jets- When you have someone like Revis on one side of the field it wouldn’t matter who was alongside for the Jets to achieve the top ranking here.  However, when you add someone with the pure athleticism of Antonio Cromartie, you cause fits for offenses and coordinators across the league.  I will throw some numbers at you in case you have forgotten what Darrelle Revis did last year; here is what the best receivers in the world did against him: 

Andre Johnson- 4 catches 35 yards 0 TD

Randy Moss (2 games)- 9 catches 58 yards 1 TD

Marques Colston- 2 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Steve Smith ( the real one) -1 catch 5 yards  0 TD ( Revis picked off two passes headed Smith’s way and returned one for a 67 yd TD.

Rhoddy White -4 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Reggie Wayne (shouldn’t count but it supports my point) -3 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Chad Johnson (I don’t call him a Spanish numeral)- NOTHING!!! In fact, the Bengals only threw for 31 yards the whole game!!

So in 8 games the best recievers in the world averaged about 3 catches and 25 yards a game!!!  Revis is one of the few players that will be worth the contract they sign, no matter how much it is.  There is also some solid depth at this position for the Jets.  Dwight Lowery has played starters minutes at that position and has been productive.  Then when you think they are set at the position, they draft Kyle Wilson, arguably ( and in my opinion) the best corner in the draft at the 29th overall spot.  These four players make up the best corner back unit in the league!

2) Miami Dolphins- Call me biased if you want but this young tandem in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith reminds me of the Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison dominance of the late 90’s.  Both players are entering their second year in the league and received on the job training last season playing in every single game their rookie year.  Vontae Davis is an extremely physical player, at 5’11 Davis can jump with the best of them ( ask Randy Moss who Davis jumped over for an interception at New England this season) and is a very strong tackler at the edge.  Sean Smith is a converted wide receiver and stands 6’3″ tall! This gives him a great advantage in jump ball situations and when he improves his tackling he will be a complete corner in this league.  Then you have the veteran in Will Allen.  Allen’s season was cut short last year due to an ACL tear.  Before the injury Allen was having his best season yet.  He needs to get used to playing the Nickel position because the two sophomores will play ahead of him.  Adding depth to the defensive backfield is Jason Allen.  A former first round pick out of Tennessee, Allen has been a disappointment given his draft position.  He was shuffled back and forth from safety to corner with the different coaching staffs he experienced, and he has settled into a solid Nickel and Dime package defensive back that is also a special teams standout.  Rounding off this group is rookie Nolan Carroll out of Maryland.  I throw his name into the mix here because I value high character guys and Carroll has a great pedigree.  If it weren’t for a broken ankle in his senior season he would’ve been drafted much higher than the fourth round and the Dolphins feel like they got a steal with him.  I see Carroll competing and possibly winning the 4th slot in the middle of this season. 

3) Buffalo Bills- The Buffalo Bills edge out New England because they have a good blend of experience and youth at this position.  They also have a very physical group of corners, it seems to be a theme with the franchise.  Reggie Corner and Drayton Florence finished 4th and 5th in tackles on the team.  Both players like to stick their nose into plays and be physical.  They are almost the same in that they can tackle but have hands like feet and they will let a few interceptions slip through their hands.  Terrence McGee is a pesky defender who is an absolute ball hawk.  In seven seasons he has 17 interceptions and 83 deflections.  McGee is an undersized corner who will lose a jump ball and in phone booth situations with larger receivers.  Leodis McKelvin is going into his third season and is coming off of a broken leg that ended is 2009 campaign.  McKelvin is most notably remembered for fumbling a kick off return that set the tone for an awful season for his Bills.  However McKelvin is considered a play-making corner that has excellent ball skills and when it is in his hands has the potential to take it to the house every time.  Expect McKelvin to work slowly back into the starting role and knock out one of the veterans in front of him.  Ashton Youbooty is the fifth corner on the squad that will see the field in limited action.  .

4) New England Patriots- I can hear Pats fans getting their pitchforks ready and sounding the homer alarms.  The bottom line with this ranking is that there is too much flux at this position and not enough talent.  Another contributing factor to this ranking is the lack of pass rush forcing them to cover longer, which will hurt them. Leigh Bodden is a very solid corner and this ranking does not reflect him as much as it does the supporting cast.  Bodden is a very instinctual corner who, if I were an English teacher, I would give him a B+.  The problem is he isn’t getting younger and his supporting cast maybe needs to be a bit older.  Darius Butler, a very young player is maybe a year away and Jonathon Wilhite is way too inconsistent to be called anything more than serviceable.  Wilhite allows receivers’ get too much separation when running down the field and he lacks the size and speed to dictate a route.  Butler will no doubt start this season and should begin his ascension to being a productive starter.  I think he has the potential to be a solid corner in this league I just don’t know when it will be.  He is very athletic and can jump through the roof.  His development will be critical to this group’s success this season.  Devin McCourty was the very unpopular first round pick from the Patriots in this years draft.  He will compete for the Nickel position and may blossom into a starter, you never know at this position.  Terrence Wheatley was a 2nd round draft choice in 2008 and he could work his way into the 4th cornerback slot.  He suffered a broken wrist last season against Indy and will figure in at the bottom of this rotation.  The biggest difference with this team as it always is, is the coaching.  Bill Belichick has won super bowls with what has seemed like a lack luster defensive backfield and his scheme has proven time after time that it can be effective.  Maybe the youth at this position will get a chance to play together for a long period of time and gel to crate a solid unit.  Maybe they draft another 7  with their plethora of picks next year.  No one knows what the hoodie is thinking.

Just Pay Them Already

The Heisman trust is now putting Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy under consideration.  The Florida Gators are battling rumors that former offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey received $100,000 from a player agent.  Mike Garrett just lost his job as the USC athletic director because of a number of instances similar to the ones that I have just mentioned.  Nick Saban was forced to defend Alabama, and scrutinize agents in a press conference because of questions swirling around the USC and Florida football programs.  Gene Wojciechowski wrote an article on ESPN.com today proclaiming that the Heisman Trophy that Reggie Bush won should be in a trophy case in Vince Young’s house.

I have some advice for you, Mr. Wojciechowski…stop running your mouth.  Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy because of his performance on the football field.  The Heisman Trophy isn’t given out because of the car Reggie Bush drives, the house that his mom lives in, the brand new sneakers that he rocks around campus, or the thousand dollar watch around his wrist.  Reggie Bush is Heisman Trophy winner because he is an exceptional football player and he should be rewarded properly if he was the best player in college football during the 2005 season.

As for the rest of these investigations/allegations, I think it is about time we remove ourselves from the 1950’s and realize that we are living in a time where college athletics, and football in particular is a business that’s sole effort is to make money.  This is the exact reason why there is no playoff in college football, because sponsors pay way too much money to put their name on a bowl game. During the 2007-2008 college football bowl season alone, over $240 million was paid out to the participating teams.  So while the NCAA, and the schools that participate in college football are bringing in huge sums of money, the players are receiving a free education (which I think we all can agree that in many cases that gift is not taken advantage of) while ruining their bodies on the field for no compensation.  I would argue that Reggie Bush generated several million dollars for the USC Trojans during the three seasons that he was a member of the team.  He has been repaid with them wiping his name from their record books.

Would it be overly outrageous to pay college athletes, oh I don’t know, maybe $100,000 a year (amount variable based on the popularity of the sport and team success) to sacrifice themselves for the school colors?  I think that even a seemingly minute (compared to professional athletes) salary such as that would go a long way towards eliminating the draw that boosters and agents have because of promised compensation.  With schools raking in the dough that they are because of these superstar college athletes, it is about time we consider compensating these athletes properly.

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Middle Linebacker

 Well, I’m back from vacation and am long overdue for a rankings column.  This article will focus on the men in the middle.  The middle linebackers in the 3-4 defense need to work together to be effective.  In order to do so, you need to find a unique type of player.  Strength and athleticism are crucial traits for any player in the NFL, but to be an efficient “mike” linebacker, you have to be extremely intelligent too.  Throughout the course of a game middle linebackers are likely to see every different lineman and tight end on the opposing team at one point or another.  Because of this, they need to be able to read and react very quickly or face the risk of being totally blown up on any given play. 

 At this position, you have to rely on your teammates a lot, none more important than your defensive tackle.  The nose needs to occupy one, if not two blockers, allowing you to move freely in the middle.  Both middle linebackers need to work together and feed off of one another.  Think of volleyball, one guy needs to set and the other needs to spike.  Depending on where the run is headed, the middle linebacker’s job is to force flow to the opposite linebacker to clean up.  In the passing game middle linebackers need to communicate on crossing patterns and know their responsibilities both in man and in zone.  When rating a defense, whether it is a 4-3 or 3-4, you always look the player in the middle of it all. You can gauge a defenses success off of how strong they are up the middle, and there is no position more crucial than the middle linebacker.

  1) New York Jets-  The New York Jets led the NFL in 7 defensive categories; yards per game, yards per play, passing yards per game, passing yards per play, first downs allowed, 3rd down conversions allowed, and points allowed.  Remember that line about gauging a defense by the guys in the middle, I’d say the #1 spot is a good fit for this duo. Bart Scott and David Harris are one of the best combinations in the entire league let alone the AFC East.  Last year was a bit of a breakout season for Harris and the schemes of Rex Ryan’s defense certainly helped.  In Ryan’s defense he uses an assortment of blitz packages geared to both pressure the quarterback, and to free up his linebackers.  Harris finished the season with 142 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles.  In his fourth year out of Michigan, Harris really set the tone for the best defense in the NFL.  Bart Scott played the “will” (weak side middle linebacker) position in the same defense he was in at Baltimore.  Following his coordinator from the Ravens was a great move for Scott.  He is comfortable with all of the calls and terminology, and he is able to talk all the smack he wants when a microphone is anywhere near his vicinity.  Scott was able to amass 107 tackles alongside Harris and was no doubt the vocal leader of this defense.  The Jets have a veteran backup in Ryan Fowler who comes over from the Tennessee Titans in case tragedy strikes.  He’s is a serviceable vet but is in no stretch Harris or Scott on a bad day.

  2) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins could’ve found themselves at the bottom of this category without the signing of Karlos Dansby, but they did sign him and that is why they are at the #2 position.  Karlos Dansby could prove to be the best free agent signing in the league depending on his and this defense success this season.  Dansby is one of those guys that seems to always be around the ball.  In 6 seasons he has deflected 25 passes, intercepted 10, and forced 12 fumbles.  He will no doubt help the abysmal tackling of former Dolphin Akin Ayodele and allow Channing Crowder on the other side to flourish.  Crowder is becoming the elder statesman of the Dolphins defense and he is only 26 years old.  Channing has received rave reviews from his head coach about his intelligence and athleticism, but he isn’t a playmaker like Dansby.  Best known for his verbal feud with Rex Ryan, I feel that Crowder has a chance to really produce with a quality linebacker next to him.  The Miami front office loves having depth at key positions inside linebacker is no exception.  Tim Dobbins was acquired from San Diego in the draft day trade that allowed Miami to regain its 2nd round pick lost in the Marshall deal, and San Diego to get Ryan Matthews.  Dobbins is a special teams stud and has performed well enough in Dolphins camp to start the grumblings of a position battle between him and Crowder.  I doubt it will get that far but the fact that he is putting pressure on the vet certainly doesn’t hurt.  Another inside linebacker that should see the field this season is rookie A.J. Edds out of Iowa.  Jeff Ireland projected Edds into the starting Nickel “coverage linebacker” position the day he drafted him.  As a senior at Iowa Edds picked off 5 passes…..as a linebacker!  This is a solid unit for the Dolphins and it will be interesting to see if there is in fact a battle for a starting position.

  3)- New England Patriots- The Patriots could very well take the #1 spot by the end of this season with its youth at this position.  Jerod Mayo is on his way to being a possible elite middle linebacker and Brandon Spikes seems to have all the tools to be a solid player in the NFL.  2 years removed from his defensive rookie of the year Mayo looks primed to put the defense on his back this season.  His teammates made him a captain in his second season and he didn’t disappoint.  After tearing his knee on opening night, Mayo returned in only 3 games and still was able to tally over 100 tackles to lead the team in the category for a second straight season.  Brandon Spikes will start alongside Mayo and hopes to follow the same path as his teammate.  Coming out of Florida Spikes was only criticized for his lack of speed (ran a 5.0 40 at his pro day).   What Spikes may lack in speed he makes up for with his strength and sure tackling.  It’s no secret that Belichick and Urban Meyer are bff’s, and with the hoodie watching over Spikes he should develop just fine in this defense.  Both Eric Alexander and Tyrone McKenzie will serve as backups with Alexander most likely getting the first shot.  Mckenzie, if healthy, could challenge for a starting role but his development has been stunted due to a knee injury during his rookie camp. 

  4) Buffalo Bills- One of the stronger position for the Buffalo Bills is middle linebacker.  There are a few quality players in this group.  If Paul Posluszny could stay healthy he would be a real force for this defense.  The former Penn State standout had 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 1 sack last season despite missing 3 games with an injury. Going into his fourth season with the Buffalo Bills Posluszny will be playing a different role than he is used to.  The play calling duties for this defense have been awarded to veteran Andra Davis.  Davis is an eight year vet at the position and has played in the 3-4 scheme mostly his whole career. It makes sense for the coaching staff to award Davis with this responsibility because even though Posluszny played some middle linebacker in the 3-4 at Penn State, it is nothing like the scheme George Edwards intends to run with the Bills. Davis will bring some stability to this defense and looks to lead a solid corps for the Bills.  There is great depth at this spot with veterans Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor.  Both players played for the New York Giants and Torbor was just recently signed after being released by the Dolphins.

Sorry Cleveland…You Just Couldn’t Get It Done

I’m just off of a great trip with my buddies down in Myrtle Beach.  Apparently no one decided to hold up the blog while I was gone, so I apologize for the gap in posts but now I’m back in action.

Dear Cleveland Cavaliers,

LeBron James provided you a seven year window to provide him the necessary level of talent to win an NBA Championship.  But, instead of giving King James a bit of support, you decided to try and let him prove that he was the best player in the NBA by attempting to win a championship on his own.  Now don’t get me wrong, LeBron by his lonesome got you guys pretty close, but the supporting cast was never present.  Throughout LeBron’s seven years in Cleveland, his best co-stars consisted of Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes, Mo Williams, an old Shaq, and half of a season with Antawn Jamison.  If you put all of those players on a team with LeBron at one time, then you have a realistic shot at winning an NBA Championship.  But, spreading that motley crew out over a seven year span really provided James with barely any supporting cast in his quest for a title.

That being said, I believe that the new super team formed in Miami is an amazing thing for the NBA.  Not only will fans be interested in the Miami Heat throughout the entire 82 game season, but can you imagine how many people would tune in to watch a Miami vs. Orlando or a Miami vs. Boston Eastern Conference Finals series.  I don’t know if one could even predict the television ratings a Miami vs. Los Angeles NBA Finals would receive.  I personally am looking very much forward to seeing the fourth quarter of a close game with the Heat this upcoming season.  LeBron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh have all shown the ability to dominate games when time is winding down and the score is tight, but putting all of those players on one time is going to make for some very exciting basketball, and some astonishing fourth quarters.  I am very supportive of LeBron’s decision and actually believe that it is a rarity in today’s sports world.  All players say that they want to win, but if that was true, then why don’t more players make decisions like this.  Why wouldn’t MLB/NFL/NHL players take a bit of a pay cut and join fellow All-Star’s to create super teams?  When it comes down to wins or paychecks, the vast majority of the time players choose paychecks.  LeBron is one of the few superstars ever to ignore the biggest paycheck and make a decision based solely on the opportunity to win championships.  Good job, LeBron, your decision is a good one in my book.

On a side note, the Trail Blazers traded for Ryan Gomes on draft day, and to free up some cap space have recently waived him.  If Gomes does not end up back in Boston, the men in green have officially lost me as a fan forever.  Not to mention they drafted the biggest bitch in Notre Dame history.

And by the way Cleveland fans, I understand your bitterness, but are you seriously burning LeBron James jerseys?  This guy just left it all on the court for your city for the last seven seasons and you can’t be happy at the success he brought your previously dreadful team?  You drafted LeBron James because you were the WORST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE!  Your team had the best record in the NBA over the past two seasons.  If Tom Brady left New England, or Peyton Manning left Indy, or Albert Pujols left St. Louis I would never expect those fans to act in such a disrespectful way.  To all the Cleveland fans acting like BABIES, you are pathetic and don’t deserve to have a winning team for the rest of your lives.