Feeling Drafty #4: Cincinnati Bengals

March 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Sports) (, , , , , , , , )

You may not have heard of Carlos Dunlap, but he earned Cincinnati Team MVP awards, by getting 9.5 sacks, second among rookies.

When rumors started going around that Terrell Owens might be joining the Cincinnati Bengals, I was more than a little worried.  The combination of Owens and “The Artist Formerly and Soon-To-Be Known As” Chad Johnson sounded like it would bring as much egotism to the table as a wrestling tag team.

I didn’t think the Bengals needed any more help at WR.  Johnson (then Ochocinco) was coming off a career year (because Laveranues Coles wasn’t helping out much), and it seemed like Ocho was hitting his prime.  So, the two diva-est WRs of our generation duking it out for playing time.  Not a good idea.  So, imagine my surprise when I turned out to be exactly correct.

Owens ended up having a comeback campaign, nabbing 72 receptions, 983 yards, and 9 touchdowns, outdoing Ochocinco in every statistical category.  But after the 4-12 season that led to the release of long-time offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, both Owens and Ochocinco look like they both want out of Cincy.

And what happened to Cincy’s defense?  At the end of 2009, they both ranked in the top 7 in both pass defense and rush defense.  2010, however, was a completely different story.  14th in passing, and 19th in rushing.  Not terrible, but not what it was in ’09.  So, as a result, the defense isn’t the main problem.

With at least half of the T.Ocho Show leaving Cincinnati, the Bengals need a new WR, and they don't come much better than Georgia's A.J. Green.

By the time the 2011 season begins, either Owens or Ochocinco will be out of Cincinnati, maybe even both.  So the WR need is one that Cincy needs to address now.  And they can do that if they pick up Georgia WR A.J. Green.  Green put 57 receptions for 848 yards and nine touchdowns in just eight games this season.  Green is far-and-away the best receiver in the draft, and it would be an absolute shocker if Green fell outside the top half-dozen.

A case could be made that the Bengals need to address their QB problem.  But in my opinion, Carson Palmer isn’t going anywhere.  He will be the starting QB for Cincy next season.  And if he does leave, well, Jordan Palmer is right behind Carson on the depth chart.  That could be an interesting transition.

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Feeling Drafty #3: Buffalo Bills

March 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Sports) (, , , , , , , , )

The Harvard-grad, Ryan Fitzpatrick kept Buffalo competitive and had a breakout year, enough to earn Buffalo Team MVP honors.

When a team’s performance is undermined by the team’s record, that could potentially be a positive down the road.  That means most of the pieces are there, the team just needs to stop blowing games (see last year’s Chiefs).  The Buffalo Bills have a fairly potent offense that can win games, they just need some playmakers on the defense to make themselves a contender in the AFC East.

The Bills had a knack this season of taking great teams to the limit.  They lost by eight to New England, three to Baltimore, three to Kansas City, three to Chicago, and three to Pittsburgh.  And not many teams were able to put up the 49 points that Buffalo racked up against Cincinnati.

Their offense is pretty good.  Ryan Fitzpatrick had a nice season, especially when you consider his last five seasons with St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Buffalo.  He established career highs in games started (13), completions (255), attempts (441), passing yards (3,000), passing TDs (23), and passer rating (81.8).  Fred Jackson backed up his 2009 breakout season with a respectable 927 yards, while putting up career highs in TDs, and 20+ yard runs.  Stevie Johnson had a breakout season of his own, going for 82 receptions, 1,073 receiving yards, and 10 TDs.  And going for 1,000 receiving yards in Buffalo isn’t an easy task; it’s only been done three times since 2003.

It's sort of odd that the team's MVP is the same position as their projected first round pick, but that's the case with Cam Newton.

But, unfortunately, Fitzpatrick may not have done enough to keep his job intact.  With the NFL’s “win now” philosophy and the fact that Buffalo hasn’t had a big star that could attract people to Ralph Wilson Stadium since Thurman Thomas.  The Bills will probably pick up Auburn QB Cam Newton.  Let’s recap this guy’s last season at Auburn.  6’6″, 250 lbs., 4.42 in the 40 yard dash, 2,854 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, seven picks, along with 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground, and one Heisman Trophy.  Absolutely crazy.

It’s not likely that Cam Newton will fall past this point, so about ten teams will leave the first round disappointed (most notably Cincy, who is right after Buffalo, and Minnesota, who need a replacement to Brett Favre).  If Cam Newton can be the same guy he was at Auburn, we could be looking at one of the most exciting players in NFL history.  Personally, I think that Cam will either get hurt or limit the exciting runs like all dual-threat college quarterbacks do when they enter the NFL, but, hey, that’s just me thinking.

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Feeling Drafty #2: Denver Broncos

March 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Sports) (, , , , , , , , )

Brandon Lloyd shocked the world by leading the NFL in receiving yards and earning Denver Team MVP.

With all of the big events happening to the Denver Broncos this year, you wouldn’t think that they would have the #2 overall pick.  But, inconsistency and the inability to close out games had the Broncos staring down the barrel of a 4-12 season and the midseason release of head coach/mad scientist Josh McDaniels.  But they did have their high points.

First of all, who would’ve thought that the combination of Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd would be as amazing as it was.  Orton had career games against Indianapolis (476 yards) and Kansas City (four touchdowns).  For a good portion of the season, he led the league in passing yards.  As for Lloyd, he had a turnaround that would make Michael Vick blush.  After seven seasons of ineptitude with four different teams, Lloyd shocked the world by going for 77 receptions, 1,448 yards, 11 touchdowns, six 100+ yard games (including two games with 169 yards each), and his first Pro Bowl appearance.  Even more shocking is that he nearly doubled his previous career high in yardage.

And then, there’s Tim Tebow.  The former Heisman Trophy winner was controversially picked with one of Denver’s two first-round picks.  He was on the bench for the first 14 weeks, getting sporadic playing time and an occasional rushing touchdown.  He finally got to start in Week 15 with mixed but generally positive results:  four passing TDs, three rushing TDs, three interceptions, one fumble, and one come-from-behind victory against Houston in the last three games of the season.

But, the big problem for the Broncos was the fact that they were completely one-dimensional.  Knowshon Moreno was utterly ineffectual through the first half of the season.  He only rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns in the first eight games.  Laurence Maroney was brought in from New England to try to jumpstart the rushing game, but not only didn’t it work (124 total yards, zero touchdowns), but Maroney was later arrested on drugs and weapons charges.  However, the running game isn’t main focus that Denver needs to address.  Moreno had a pretty good second half, so the running game is OK at the moment.

Marcell Dareus is the best defensive lineman in what may be the best defensive line draft class in recent memory. Denver would love to have him at #2.

The big problem is at defensive tackle.  With John Fox coming in, the Broncos will be switching to a 4-3 defense.  That means that they need someone to plug up the middle.  And the biggest plug is still on the board, Alabama DT Marcell Dareus.  He was the main component in Alabama’s National Championship winning defense.  He racked up 6.5 sacks in two fewer games than his teammates.  He’ll be ready to play right away.  Paired with Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos defensive line, will be monstrous.

I’ve heard some people say Cam Newton for Denver, to which I would ask, why would you say this terrible, terrible thing?  Tim Tebow may not perfect, but give him a year as a starter, and I will bet you that someone big will say that he is the best mobile QB in the NFL. (Yes, better than Michael Vick.  That’s right, I said it.)

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Feeling Drafty #1: Carolina Panthers

March 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm (Sports) (, , , , , , , , )

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Charles Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks for the down-trodded Panthers, and was named Carolina Team MVP.

Wow.  How did so many things go so wrong for Carolina?

They weren’t preseason Super Bowl favorites or anything, but nobody thought they would be THIS bad.  They had the most dynamic running duo in the league in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (trio if you include Mike Goodson).  They had one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game in Steve Smith.  Their quarterback situation was ideal:  let Matt Moore play in “game manager” mode until Jimmy Clausen is ready to play.  And they had one of the most underrated talents at linebacker in Jon Beason.  So, what happened?

What happened was the injury fairy came to Charlotte.  Williams spent most of the season on the bench nursing a foot injury and was placed on IR just a few weeks before he would be ready to play.  Moore, Clausen, third-stringer Tony Pike, and journeyman Brian St. Pierre played starting QB musical chairs before Moore went on IR, in turn, throwing Clausen into the fire.  Smith was plagued with injuries of his own and a horrible relationship with Clausen.  Other notable IRers included two-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, both starting TEs Jeff King and Dante Rosario, and starting CB Richard Marshall who was their third-leading tackler.  So, yeah.  This entire team is about as sturdy and unbreakable as balsa wood.  Is it any wonder that there’s an opening for a new strength and conditioning coach for Carolina?

So, how can this team turn around?  Well, most of their problems will be resolved by returning veterans coming off of the IR list.  A case could be made for a wide receiver, but a general consensus is WRs don’t go #1.  Only two WRs have ever gone #1, Irving Fryar and Keyshawn Johnson, and those guys have gone to a combined nine Pro Bowls, and are both potential future Hall of Famers.  Besides, that’s a problem that can be resolved with the second-round pick.

I really didn’t want this to happen, but it looks like Carolina is going to go quarterback with their first-round pick.  I would’ve much rather preferred Carolina pick up one of the many excellent defensive linemen in this season’s draft.  But, if the lockout continues, that means that there won’t be free agency.  That means that teams won’t be able to solve their key problems with free agents.  They’ll have to solve them through the draft.  Plus, I think if Carolina doesn’t replace Jimmy Clausen, the fans may riot.

I don't like it, but the Carolina Panthers will probably go with Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert with the #1 overall pick.

And with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select…

Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert.  He may not be perfect.  He doesn’t have the cannon attached to his shoulder like some other quarterbacks in the year’s draft.  But he’s smart, he’s accurate, and he’s athletic enough to make defenses conform to him.  I still think that Gabbert will be a bit of a project, and we won’t see his true potential right away, but he is still the best quarterback in this year’s draft, and that’s what Carolina wants right now.

It’s not what they need, but it’s what they want, and it’s what the fans want.

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