Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Running Back

Running back is one of the most easily-replaceable positions in the game of football, due in large part to the short lifespan of such a physical position, and the contributions of the offensive line often "making the back."

Of course, that hasn't stopped teams from spending big money on the position in free agency. But are any of the backs in this year's unrestricted free agent class worth opening the wallet for?

That remains to be seen, but these are my top free-agent five running backs in 2010:

Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks. Released players, like LaDainian Tomlinson or Brian Westbrook, are also not included.)


Chester Taylor, Minnesota Vikings

Taylor obviously took on a secondary role in Minnesota after superstar-in-the-making Adrian Peterson was drafted, but he's still been a contributor in offense because of Peterson's propensity for fumbling and, simply, because Taylor still has something left.

Although he's now on the wrong side of 30, there isn't a whole lot of mileage on his tires and he still has starting ability, making him an ideal complementary or No. 2 back.

Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs

It's amazing how quickly Johnson has fallen from grace, but a lot of that has to do with attitude problems as opposed to lack of talent.

While two straight 1,700-yard seasons may have worn him down a bit, Johnson averaged 4.5 yards per carry as recently as 2008, and still has the talent to be a productive starter in the NFL. Where or not he can avoid pissing people long enough to get back into that position is another matter.

Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers

After three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Steelers from 2005 to 2007, Parker has been phased out of the Pittsburgh offense over the past few seasons due to injuries and the presence of first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall.

Parke is still just 29, and while he may never be a feature back again, he still has talent and can easily serve as a No. 2 back.

Jamal Lewis, Cleveland Browns

Lewis said during the 2009 season that it would be his final year in the NFL, but he's yet to officially call it quits and will hit the market this offseason.

Lewis has been worn down quite a bit during his 10-year NFL career and is not long starting material, but he could be a solid veteran backup and short-yardage back if he doesn't decide to hang up the cleats.

Kevin Faulk, New England Patriots

A long-time jack of all trades for the Patriots, Faulk has never been a feature back in the ground game, but is still an excellent receiver.

At 33, and coming from New England, Faulk seems destined to go elsewhere and fizzle out, as so many players do once they leave the well-oiled Bill Belichick machine.

Still, Faulk could still be worth a flier as a veteran third-down back on one- or two-year deal.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Chris Brown, Houston Texans — Brown is a long way removed from his 1,000-yard, nine-touchdown performance in 11 games with the Titans in 2004, and he's shown little in recent years to indicate he can be a quality NFL starter. He's still just 28 and hasn't been worked to hard though, so he could be a solid No. 2 or 3 back for someone.
  • Ahman Green, Green Bay Packers —Green was surprisingly picked back up by the Packers during the 2009 season and saw some time in short-yardage, but he has little gas left in the tank and will have a hard time finding consistent work.
  • Adrian Peterson, Chicago Bears — The "other" Adrian Peterson, the eight-year veteran has pretty much always been an NFL reserve, amassing career highs with 510 yards and three touchdowns in 2007. He will probably get picked up by someone, but I wouldn't even trust him as my No. 2 back.
  • Aaron Stecker, Atlanta Falcons — Likely signed by the Falcons as a "New Orleans Saints insider" from his time with the team, Stecker has little to offer NFL clubs, and will likely fade into oblivion rather soon.

Who are your top five running backs on the free agent market in 2010? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Wide Receiver

(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)

Every team is looking for that playmaker, that guy who can provide a spark on offense, and often times that guy is a wide receiver.

Teams are often inclined to hang onto the playmakers they already have, however, so the market usually isn't stocked with them.

That being said, here are my top five wide receivers on the free agent market in 2010:


Terrell Owens, Buffalo Bills

Owens' distracting nature has hurt the back end of his career, forcing him to go to Buffalo, where he likely had no desire to play.

Now 35, Owens is coming off his worst statistical season since he played just seven games with the Eagles in 2004, although he was still fairly productive in Buffalo given his supporting cast.

Although he won't be getting any more big-money or long-term deals, Owens is still a physical specimen and one of the more talented receivers in the league, making him a welcome candidate for a short-term fix at receiver.

Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bryant resurrected his career quite a bit in Tampa Bay, showing he still has the ability to be a solid No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

As with most of his past relationships, though, that one too eventually soured, and a team lacking any kind of replacement hasn't shown interest in retaining him.

Bryant isn't going to be handed a long-term contract and guaranteed No. 1 role due to attitude and knee issues, but he has the ability to be that guy, and should have at least a few opportunities around the league.

Derrick Mason, Baltimore Ravens

Although he nearly retired before last season, the 36-year-old Mason is still a quality receiver, amassing over 1,000 yards receiving for the eighth time in nine seasons in 2009.

While he may indeed call it quits this offseason and/or may not have any interest in playing for a team other than Baltimore if he does decide to play another year, he's worth pursuing as a No. 2 receiver and veteran presence.

Nate Burleson, Seattle Seahawks

It's hard to say Burleson earned his big contract when he was signed away from the Minnesota Vikings, but he did have a very strong season in 2009 despite little talent around him on offense, catching 63 passes for 812 yards in 13 games.

Burleson is no lock to start wherever he goes next, but the 28-year-old veteran could be an inexpensive find for a team looking for receiving help.

Kevin Walter, Houston Texans

Despite Texans' quarterback Matt Schaub's breakout season, Walter had his worst production of the past three years in 2009, as he saw his receiving yards drop to 611 and his touchdown total to just two after 12 between 2007 and 2008.

Although he's not that great of a blocker and probably shouldn't start on a good team, Walter is still just 28 years old, offers good size (6-3, 218) and has the talent to be a solid No. 3 receiver in the NFL.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Arnaz Battle, San Francisco 49ers — After starting for the Niners from 2005 to 2007, the former college quarterback has taken an almost nonexistent role on offense the last two seasons, catching 24 passes in 2008 and just five in 2009. He's also not a very good punt returner, making him little more than a No. 4 or 5 receiver in the NFL, if that.
  • Marty Booker, Atlanta Falcons — Booker's production has dropped off a cliff over the past four seasons, and at 33, the one-time Pro Bowler has little left in the tank. He may get picked up during the season due to injury, but it wouldn't be surprising if he's never heard from again in the NFL.
  • Mark Bradley, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — A second-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 2005, Bradley has done little in five years in the league and has never totaled more than 380 yards receiving in a single season. He'll get some more chances being only 28, but he's unlikely to ever have a significant impact.
  • Chris Chambers, Kansas City Chiefs —Chambers had some big games after moving on to the Chiefs midseason, but I'm inclined to think it was a fluke. The 31-year-old doesn't have much left in the tank physically and will likely have to settle for a backup role most of his remaining career.
  • Mike Furrey, Cleveland Browns — A 1,000-yard receiver with the Lions in 2006 (and also a great example of why Wes Welker's production in New England is overrated), Furrey can play both wide receiver and safety, but does neither particularly well. His versatility could keep him around a while longer, but he's not starting material.
  • Joey Galloway, Pittsburgh Steelers —Likely looking to get a Super Bowl ring in stints with the Patriots and Steelers in 2009, Galloway caught just seven balls on the year and unfortunately wasn't able to add any jewelry to his collection. At 38, we've probably seen the last of him.
  • Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos — Once a rising star on some pretty bad 49ers teams, Lloyd's career his floundered majorly since he left the Bay Area in 2005. I actually think he has the ability to start somewhere inside him, but he seems unlikely to put it together at this point.
  • Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina Panthers — "Moose" actually isn't that bad considering he's 36, but he's no long-term solution and there are a lot of better starting options out there. He may be done starting in this league given his age, and could end up calling it quits altogether soon.
  • Kassim Osgood, San Diego Chargers — A quality special-teamer and three-time Pro Bowler, the 29 year old would like a chance to start. Whether he'll actually get it is another matter, but the 6-foot-5, 220-pound veteran is an intriguing prospect that could contribute in many areas.
  • Josh Reed, Buffalo Bills — Reed's always been a bit of a disappointment in Buffalo, never reaching 600 receiving yards or surpassing two touchdowns in any of his eight pro seasons. He has virtually no chance of starting in this league, but could serve as a No. 3 or 4 receiver for a few years.
  • David Tyree, Baltimore Ravens —The hero of Super Bowl XLII, Tyree has had trouble staying healthy and has never really been more than a special-teamer, despite his big-game heroics in 2008. He'll probably never be more than what he already is, and that isn't a contributor on offense.
  • Bobby Wade, Kansas City Chiefs — Wade had a few solid years in Minnesota, but overall he's a below-average starter. He shouldn't be any hire than No. 3 on anyone's depth chart, but he can still contribute a bit on offense and serve as a punt returner.

Who do you think are the best receivers in free agency in 2010? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Friday, February 26, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Tight End

While not vital to offensive success, a quality tight end is a luxury many good NFL teams have.

It's not always an easy position to find, however, as the ideal player at the position possesses a blend of size, strength, and athleticism, and is called up to do everything from blocking oncoming pass rushers to beating linebackers and safeties in the passing game.

Unfortunately for those teams without a true playmaker at tight end, the free agent market offers little in that regard.

There are some solid players out there though, and these are my top five free-agent tight ends:

Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)


Benjamin Watson, New England Patriots

Watson has fallen by the wayside at times in a high-powered Patriots offense, but he's always been a reliable red-zone target and solid blocker.

Now 29 years old, Watson has at least a handful of good years left, and could start for quite a few teams in the NFL.

Randy McMichael, St. Louis Rams

Once a rising star with the Dolphins, McMichael never fully realized his potential and was eventually released when the team was unable to find any trade suitors in the 2007 offseason.

McMichael has the talent to be a starting tight end in this league, but injuries and a few run-ins with the law have put a damper on his once-promising career. He may have to settle for a No. 2 job from here on out.

Alge Crumpler, Tennessee Titans

Although he isn't the pass-catching threat he was in his prime with the Falcons, Crumpler has developed into quite a strong blocking tight end.

He's not going to start anymore in his career and won't scare anyone as a receiver, but Crumpler's blocking ability in both the passing and running games should allow him to contribute in this league possibly into his mid-to-late thirties.

L. J. Smith, Baltimore Ravens

The recipient of the Eagles' franchise tag in 2008, Smith has fallen from a promising young tight end to just another guy.

After signing with the Ravens in 2009, probably in hopes oft-injured starter Todd Heap wouldn't make it through the whole season, Smith appeared in only 12 games (no starts) and caught just two passes.

There is still some time for Smith to get back on course at age 29, but his days of starting are over in all likelihood, and lack of valuable blocking skills makes him even less worth picking up as a reserve.

Brandon Manumaleuna, San Diego Chargers

He's never been much of a receiver, but the 295-pound Manumaleuna could always at least be counted on as a strong blocker.

However, he hasn't even done that well lately, and he'll have to settle for a No. 2 or 3 role and improve keep his blocking productivity at a higher level to stick around in the NFL.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Anthony Becht, Arizona Cardinals — Long removed from any kind of productivity in the NFL, the Jets' former first-round pick in 2000 will have a trouble finding consistent work. He may have to settle for an in-season signing as an injury replacement at this point.
  • Ben Hartsock, New York Jets —As with most Colts' tight ends, they go elsewhere and are never really the contributors people expect them to be. He's still a quality run blocker, however, and should have no problem finding work as a No. 2 tight end.
  • Reggie Kelly, Cincinnati Bengals — Now 33 and coming off a ruptured Achilles' tendon that forced him to miss the entire 2009 season, Kelly offers little more than a veteran blocker at this point. He could get another chance or two in the league, but his days of significant playing time and contributions are likely over.
  • David Martin, Miami Dolphins — Technically able to be signed now, rather than after March 5, due to not finishing the 2009 season under contract, Martin had a rebound year with the Dolphins in 2008 and was solid in all facets. If healthy, Martin can absolutely be a No. 2 tight end in the NFL.
  • Sean Ryan, Kansas City Chiefs — Ryan started more games for Kansas City in 2009 than he did in the previous five seasons combined, which just goes to show how bad the Chiefs were hurting for talent last season. Ryan is little more than a blocker, and is a borderline No. 3 tight end.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 NFL Mock Draft: Miami Dolphins Seven-Round Pick Possibilities

I was recently tasked with penning a seven-round Miami Dolphins mock draft for publication on BleacherReport.com and CBSSports.com, and that article was published today.

In in, I look at all nine of the Dolphins' picks in the 2010 NFL Draft, exploring best-case scenarios and likely options for each.

To view the article, which is in slideshow form, click the button below.

Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Mock Draft

As you may or may not know, everything I write and post for my own website is also posted on BleacherReport.com.

I am the most active Miami Dolphins writer on the site, and thus have been a featured columnist for some time now. (Needless to say, it makes me quite popular with the ladies.)

Bleacher Report is currently in the middle of a featured columnist mock draft, where each team writer makes their team's draft pick (in my case, No. 12) based on who the other writers have already chosen.

My pick came up yesterday, so take a look here if you want to see who I chose as the Dolphins' GM for a day! (Or you could look at the tags below this post, but why spoil the surprise?)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Center

Centers aren't extremely hard to find or develop, but they are important pieces to help stop disruptive nose tackles and pave the way for the inside running game.

This year's free-agent market at center isn't extremely deep or loaded with a handful of long-term starting options, but there is some talent to be had here if you need a short-term veteran fix.

These are my top five free agent centers in 2010:

Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)


Kevin Mawae, Tennessee Titans

Even at 39, Mawae still has it. He's a mauler that can handle the big 3-4 nose tackles and is still highly productive in the running game, as indicated by running back Chris Johnson's monster campaign in 2009.

Mawae obviously won't be getting any long-term deals, but a team without a center would be crazy not to look at him as someone that could start for the next year or two.

Casey Rabach, Washington Redskins

A long-time starter for the Ravens and Redskins, Rabach has experience at both center and guard, and is still above average at the first position.

Still just 32, Rabach is certainly someone that can serve as a starter for potentially another three to four years, and be productive doing so.

Rex Hadnot, Cleveland Browns

Although a knee injury limited his action in 2009, Hadnot is still a quality talent and has the ability to start at both guard and center.

Although he can still play guard at a fairly high level, he might be best suited finishing out his career at center, where he can get help from the guys playing on each side of him and hopefully limit his wear.

John Wade, Oakland Raiders

Wade isn't the player he once was in Tampa Bay, and has had durability issues during his two seasons with the Raiders.

Now 35, Wade probably has the ability to start somewhere if healthy, but it seems like that the 32 teams in the NFL will all explore other options.

Ben Hamilton, Denver Broncos

Hamilton is part of a dying blocking scheme, and there isn't much use around the league for a 280-pound lineman.

Hamilton has experience at both guard and center, but isn't great at either position and probably isn't starter material.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Russ Hochstein, Denver Broncos — A long-time reserve with the Patriots, Hochstein followed his former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Denver in 2009, splitting time between starting and the bench. He has some value as a top backup inside, but there are better starting options out there.
  • Nick Leckey, New Orleans Saints — The 2004 sixth-round pick has had his chances to start in the NFL, but he has never been able to maintain a grip on them. He's a bit undersized and lacks the ideal bulk of a starter, making him pure backup material at best.
  • Seth McKinney, Buffalo Bills — Once a quality center with the Dolphins, McKinney has had serious durability issues in his career, and those don't tend to go away with age. He's worth picking up as a veteran backup at center and guard, but can't be counted on to start.
  • Dennis Norman, San Diego Chargers — The Princeton alum will certainly help raise your team I.Q., but that's about it. Although he can technically "play" almost anywhere on the line, he doesn't do anything well enough to start.
  • Wade Smith, Kansas City Chiefs — A former offensive tackle forced inside due to lack of talent, Smith is nothing more than a backup, and probably always will be.

Who are the top free agent centers in 2010? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Miami Dolphin 2010 Offseason Preview: Safety

The offseason will officially kick off with the signing and trading period March 5, and as I always do prior to the mayhem, I'll be looking at each position on the Dolphins' roster in depth.

I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.

This article focuses on the safety position.


Under Contract
  • SS Yeremiah Bell (through 2012) — The Dolphins' leading tackler the past two seasons, Bell was named a replacement in the 2010 Pro Bowl after recording 114 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three interceptions.
  • FS Chris Clemons (through 2012) — The Dolphins' fifth-round pick in 2009, Clemons played mostly special teams and got some experience at safety later in the season, finishing the year with 13 tackles.
  • S Tyrone Culver (through 2011) — Signed two a new two-year contract last June, Culver is a valued special team player and dime back. He finished the 2009 season with 32 tackles and an interception.
  • FS Nate Ness (through 2011) — An undrafted free agent out of Arizona in 2009, Ness spent most of his time with the team on the practice squad, while spending one game on the active roster but not playing.
  • FS Gibril Wilson (through 2013) — During his first year into a five-year, $27.5 million contract, Wilson started 14 games and recorded 93 tackles, one sack, and eight pass deflections.

Free Agents
  • The Miami Dolphins do not have any safeties with expiring contracts in the 2010 offseason.

Strengths
  • Yeremiah Bell is a bit one-dimensional as a good run-stopper and reliable tackler, but overall he does his job well as a strong safety. He plays well in the box and is more athletic than he seems, and while he's probably above average at best, he's a suitable starter in a good secondary.
  • Tyrone Culver has been a pleasant surprise since being signed mid-season in 2008, and he's shown that he has some ability on defense. He may never be a full-time starter, but he has value as an inexpensive guy that can play anywhere in the secondary and on special teams.

Areas of Needs
  • Gibril Wilson just may have been the single worst aspect of the Dolphins' 2009 season. Inexplicably signed to a huge contract to play at the unnatural position of free safety, Wilson was absolutely horrendous in coverage, giving up big play after big play and failing to force even one turnover all season. He's all but a lock to be released soon after the new league year begins on March 5, which will leave the Dolphins with a glaring hole at free safety.

Free Agency Outlook
  • The restricted free agency market at safety is fairly deep, although the good talent that's there will all likely receive first- or first- and third-round tenders from their former clubs, and thus will cost a bit more than Miami would likely be willing to give up. The creme of the RFA crop includes Oshiomogho Atogwe (Rams), Roman Harper (Saints), Nick Collins (Packers), Atari Bigby (Packers), and Dawan Landry (Ravens). If any of those players were to receive a lower tender, the Dolphins would surely be intrigued.
  • The unrestricted free agent market is significantly barer, with long-time veteran Darren Sharper headlining the class. Although he's still a play-maker at age 34, he's looking for good money and multi-year deal, while the Dolphins would probably prefer a more long-term solution.
  • Beyond Sharper, there are a handful of mediocre players and strong safeties the Dolphins don't need, like Jermaine Phillips (Buccaneers), Sean Jones (Eagles), Will Allen (Buccaneers), and Mike Brown (Chiefs). None of those players will interest Miami, and not just because it might get confusing have two Will Allens in the secondary.
  • One potential roster casualty that could interest the Dolphins is Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle, who may be released in the near future. Rolle would certainly be an upgrade over Gibril Wilson and does have some play-making ability, but the University of Miami alum is overrated and not as good a safety as he would seem. Then again, that kind of thing didn't stop the Dolphins from signing Wilson.

Draft Outlook
  • If the Dolphins want a long-term solution at free safety, the 2010 NFL Draft may be their best bet. Unfortunately for them, the lone player worth taking in the first round at the position—Tennessee's Eric Berry—is a potential top-five pick, and has almost zero chance of falling to the Dolphins at No. 12. USC's Taylor Mays is also technically a free safety, but I just see more of an outside linebacker than anything else when I watch the guy play, and I don't think he is what the Dolphins need.
  • The second and third rounds could be where the Dolphins start to seriously consider the safety, and there are a few appealing options there. South Florida's Nate Allen is, in my opinion, the third-best pure safety in this year's draft after Berry and Earl Thomas (Texas), and is someone to strongly consider in the second round. He has good size, athleticism, and ball skills, making him someone that could be a productive starting safety for a long time.
  • If the Dolphins don't go safety in the earlier rounds, they may not at all, as there is really no reason to replace Culver or Clemons as a backup/project at this point. However, some names to look at around that time are Major Wright (Florida), Kendrick Lewis (Ole Miss), Terrell Skinner (Maryland), Robert Johnson (Utah), and Nick Polk (Indiana).
  • He's also really more of a strong safety, but one player I absolutely wouldn't mind the Dolphins drafting in the mid-to-late rounds is FSU's Myron Rolle. The Rhodes Scholar has a great head on his shoulders, plenty of talent, and a work ethic and commitment that are hard to match. He is what I would call one of the safest bets in the draft, and there's no doubt in my mind he could help any team, possibly even as a starter one day.

Conclusion

Yeremiah Bell might not be a star, but he's more than adequate and is good at his job. There's really no reason to replace him over the next few years as long as he stays healthy, and he'll likely to continue to be productive.

Free safety is another matter, and it's absolutely one of the most pressing issues on the team. The Dolphins' rookie corners had their share of struggles in 2009, but they would have been a lot better if they'd had someone providing any kind of support over the top, which Wilson was unable to do.

The Dolphins will undoubtedly explore all options in trade, free agency and the draft when it comes to replacing Wilson, and they could even toy with moving veteran cornerback Will Allen or 6-foot-4 potential ball-hawk Sean Smith to safety.

No matter what they do, they'll instantly be a better team once Wilson is gone.


How do you feel about the Dolphins' safeties heading into the 2010 offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Guard

This article immediately follows my free agent offensive tackles piece, which needless to say was a pretty pathetic list in terms of talent.

Unlike offensive tackle, however, interior linemen are much easier to find because they don't require quite the same blend of size, strength and athleticism.

That being the case, the guard market will typically feature more overall talent than the tackle market, and things are no different in 2010.

These are my top five free agent guards in 2010:

Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)


Stephen Neal, New England Patriots

Neal has flown under the radar for much of his career in New England playing alongside some great talents and bigger names, but he's held his own as a former college wrestler and undrafted free agent.

At 33, Neal won't be a long-term starter, but he still plays at a high level and can certainly be an upgrade for a lot of teams inside.

Bobbie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

A 10-year NFL veteran, Williams has started every game except three since the beginning of the 2004 season and is still highly productive.

Part of a surprisingly effective Bengals offensive line in 2009, Williams has plenty of experience and great bulk for the position, making him one of the best short-term starters on the market at age 33.

Chester Pitts, Houston Texans

One of the original Texans, Pitts started the first 114 games of his career a knee injury ended his season two games into 2009.

Pitts hasn't always been consistent and has been part of some pretty bad offensive lines during Houston's early years, but he has lots of experience at guard and tackle and is still fairly young at 30.

Rex Hadnot, Cleveland Browns

A knee injury disrupted most of his 2009 season, but Hadnot has been an above average interior lineman for most of his career since being drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2004.

A versatile lineman that can start at both guard spots and center, Hadnot is still just 28 and could be a potential inexpensive find on the free agent market.

Tony Pashos, San Francisco 49ers

Pashos has actually seen starting time at tackle in recent years, but he's over-matched at the position and really doesn't have any business starting outside.

He does make for a strong backup lineman, however, with experience at guard and tackle and the ability to be a serviceable fill-in on the inside.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Jeremy Bridges, Arizona Cardinals — Bridges held his own one-on-one against Jared Allen in 2009, but is overall a weak tackle and average guard. He's best suited for a sixth lineman job as someone that can play all across the line.
  • Kynan Forney, Jacksonville Jaguars — Forney has bounced around the league a bit after starting for many years in Atlanta, and he'll probably continue to have a hard time keeping a job for as long as he continues to play.
  • Mike Gandy, Arizona Cardinals — A recent starter at left tackle, Gandy is a mediocre talent that really projects better inside. He could serve as a versatile backup, but nothing more.
  • Ben Hamilton, Denver Broncos — The product of a dying scheme, Hamilton is undersized and isn't likely to attract much attention on the open market. The rest of his career is likely to be at center.
  • Artis Hicks, Minnesota Vikings — A starter with the Eagles for two seasons and one with Minnesota, Hicks has taken a backup role the last two years. He has experience at guard and tackle, but shouldn't be starting.
  • Russ Hochstein, Denver Broncos — Hochstein provides value as a guard and center, but isn't starting material.
  • Damion McIntosh, Seattle Seahawks — Overpaid by both the Dolphins and Chiefs, the league has finally figured out that McIntosh is a below average starter no matter where he plays. He has experience all across the line, but is only good enough to be a backup.
  • Kendall Simmons, New England Patriots — Once a quality starter with the Steelers, injuries have derailed Simmons' career and have sucked out most of his talent. The former mauler will likely continue to have trouble staying healthy, and thus, keeping a job.
  • Barry Sims, San Francisco 49ers — A veteran at guard and tackle, Sims is best suited inside and can start in a pinch, although he's better suited for a reserve role at this stage in his career.
  • Keydrick Vincent, Carolina Panthers — After sub-par seasons in Baltimore and Arizona following some solid play with the Steelers, Vincent has maintained a starting job with the Panthers over the past two seasons. Despite the highly productive running game the team has had for much of that time, Vincent himself is pretty average, and shouldn't be handed any starting job.
  • Maurice Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars — Once a promising tackle for the Jaguars, Williams has moved inside due to lack of production and is overall a disappointment. He should come cheap and does have talent in there somewhere, but whether it will ever show itself is another story.

Who do you think are the best guards on the free agent market? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Miami Dolphins 2010 Offseason Preview: Special Teams

The offseason will officially kick off with the signing and trading period March 5, and as I always do prior to the mayhem, I'll be looking at each position on the Dolphins' roster in depth.

I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.

This article, unlike all the subsequent ones, will look at multiple positions—the special teams unit.

Under Contract
  • LS John Denney (through 2010) — The Dolphins' long snapper has a rough season finale in 2008, but was flawless all of 2009 and looks to remain on the team in 2010. He'll be an unrestricted free agent after next season.
  • P Brandon Fields (through 2010) — The Dolphins' seventh-round pick in 2007, Fields had a breakout season in 2009. He'll be a restricted free agent in 2010, and the Dolphins could look to sign him long-term.
  • KR Ted Ginn, Jr. (through 2012) — Ginn's poor play at receiver has called his future with the team into doubt, but his clearly the best home run threat as a returner on the team. His physical tools and upside should keep him on the team, and better blocking on special teams could help him become one of the league's better kickoff returners.

Free Agents
  • Davone Bess (exclusive-rights free agent) — As an ERFA, Bess has no choice to but to re-sign or not play pro football. His receiving prowess will guarantee his re-signing, although his time on punt returns could be coming to an end.
  • Dan Carpenter (exclusive-rights free agent) — The same rules with Bess apply to Carpenter, and he will definitely be back as no other team can sign him. Carpenter was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2009 after converting 89 percent of field-goal attempts.

Strengths
  • The Dolphins really don't need to do much to their special teams unit, as the placekicker (Carpenter), punter/holder (Fields), and long snapper (Denney) should all remain in-place in 2010. All three players are coming off excellent years, and more continuity can only help things.
  • Ginn hasn't been the most consistent returner and has shown a propensity for running out of bounds and avoiding the big hit, but there's no denying his speed and athleticism. Ginn single-handedly won the game at the New York Jets last year, and could be an excellent returner if he gets better blocking upfront and plays a little tougher.

Areas of Need
  • A sure-handed receiver Bess may be, he lacks the speed and moves to be any kind of threat as a returner. Really, the only reason Miami put him back there was because of his hands, but he even struggled with that in 2009. the Dolphins need a serious upgrade at punt returner, and should keep Bess solely on offense.

Free Agency Outlook
  • The top placekickers on the unrestricted free agent market include Neil Rackers (Cardinals), Shayne Graham (Bengals) and Jeff Reed (Steelers), but the Dolphins won't be included to spend any kind of money on a kicker or replace a promising player like Carpenter.
  • Veteran punters Craig Hentrich (Titans), Matt Turk (Texans) and Jeff Feagles (Giants) headline the free agent list, but none have the youth or leg of Brandon Fields. The Dolphins simply are not in the market for a punter.
  • One player the Dolphins would certainly be interested in as both a wide receiver and returner is the Arizona Cardinals' Steve Breaston, although he is likely to receive a high tender from the Cardinals and probably isn't worth the draft-pick compensation it will require to sign him.

Draft Outlook
  • The Dolphins will certainly look for a play-making returner in the draft, although it's unlikely to be in the first round. Clemson running back C. J. Spiller is the only real option there, and the Dolphins have more pressing needs to address at No. 12.
  • More likely, the second round and beyond is where we'll see Miami look for someone that can contribute on offense and special teams. Second round possibilities include Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard and Ole Miss running back/receiver Dexter McCluster, while Clemson's Jacoby Ford could be someone to look at in the third or fourth.
  • A couple of long-shot returner prospects are LSU's Trindon Holliday and Kansas State's Brandon Banks, who measure it at 5'5" and 5'7" respectively. Neither weighs in at more than 155 pounds and thus durability is a huge concern, but their 4.2 speed and athleticism make them candidates for fliers in the seventh round or undrafted free agency.
  • As explained above, the Dolphins are not in the market for a placekicker or punter, and there aren't many to choose from in this draft class anyway. No players at either position should go before the sixth round, and no one really stands out as someone that could be an improvement over the two guys the Dolphins already have.

Conclusion

It's difficult to assess and pick out all the players that are good and bad when it comes to special teams coverage (or long-snapping, for that matter), which is why an article on the "position" of special teams essentially boils down to kickers, punters, and returners.

That being the case, the Dolphins don't really have many needs when it come to special teams. Dan Carpenter and Brandon Fields are both young, quality talents, and they're under control cheaply for at least the next few seasons. Neither one is going anywhere, and that likely means the same for long snapper John Denney.

The return game, however, could certainly use a boost. I expect the Dolphins not to address this in free agency, but rather the draft.

They will not, however, use a pick on a pure "return specialist," but rather I suspect they will look for a rare athletic talent that can make play on offense and contribute as a returner. There are plenty to be had in this year's draft, and expect at least one such player to hear his name called with Miami on the clock this April.


How do you feel about the Dolphins' special teams heading into the offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Friday, February 19, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Offensive Tackle

Offensive tackle, in particular the one protecting the quarterback's blind side, is arguably the most important position in football after the signal-caller himself.

That being the case, teams rarely let young, top tackles hit the open market, and the free agent pool at the position is really quite bare.

As hard as it was to compile a list of the five best free agent offensive tackles (or perhaps the five least bad?) here there are:

(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)

Chad Clifton, Green Bay Packers


Clifton is a long-time starter at tackle and has had some very good years, but those years are definitely behind him.

While he's still a productive pass protector, he allows a little too many pressures for a starting left tackle and is lacking in the run game.

Clifton is 33 and isn't worth signing to any substantial deal to start long-term, but you could do worse for a short-term starter or third offensive tackle.

Levi Jones, Washington Redskins

Jones ranks this high on the list not because of any recent performance, but rather age and upside compared to the others.

Once a quality starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, Jones has all but faded into oblivion, starting half the season for the Redskins due to injuries after signing with the team last October.

Jones is certainly not worth starting at this point in his career, but he's been very good in the past and is still only 30. He's worth a flier on a minimum contract.

Mike Gandy, Arizona Cardinals


It puzzles me how Mike Gandy has remained a starter in the NFL so long, as left tackle no less. Really, the guy was an average guard for the Chicago Bears.

The Cardinals will almost surely look for an upgrade now that Gandy is a free agent, and he's unlikely to get a starting job elsewhere. At most, he can serve as an experience veteran backup that can play four position on the line.

Mark Tauscher, Green Bay Packers

Unsigned all of last offseason, Tauscher actually improved the Packers' offensive line when he was signed midseason and inserted into the starting lineup.

That's more a reflection of the Packers' entire line than it is Tauscher, however, and he's an average lineman at best at age 32.

Tauscher still has some ability, but his body looks soft and he probably wouldn't hold up well over a full season.

Tony Pashos, San Francisco 49ers

Like Mike Gandy, Pashos is another guy that went from a nobody at guard to a starting NFL tackle. And, like Gandy, Pashos just isn't that good.

As with most guys on this list, Pashos is past his prime, and isn't worth signing as anything more than an experienced and versatile backup.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Cornell Green, Oakland Raiders — Green has been forced into a starting role for the Raiders quite often over the past three seasons, but it is not a role that suits him well. At 33, Green is nothing more than a backup.
  • Brandon Gorin, Denver Broncos — Gorin has bounced around the league since leaving the Patriots in 2005, with little success. His career looks to be approaching the end of the line.
  • Jon Jansen, Detroit Lions — Once a quality starting tackle in the NFL, Jansen's play has dropped off tremendously due to a lengthy injury history. He might even be a better fit inside at this point, but he still has the ability to be a reserve tackle.
  • Barry Sims, San Francisco 49ers — A long-time starter for the Raiders and Niners, Sims has plenty of experience at tackle but is better suited for guard. He's unlikely to find another starting gig at age 35.
  • Ephraim Salaam, Houston Texans — Salaam hasn't started a game since 2007 and had trouble sticking with the Lions before being re-signed by Houston in 2009 due to injuries. The rest of his career looks to be waiting for similar phone calls, which may not even come.
  • Langston Walker, Oakland Raiders — Walker signed a huge deal with the Buffalo Bills in 2007, but was a free agent bust and cut after just two seasons. He's not a great fit at guard due to his height and doesn't have the athleticism for tackle, so he won't be more than a backup for the remainder of his career.

Who do you think are the best free agent offensive tackles? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Defensive Tackle

A team looking for a defensive tackle won't be short of options this offseason, as there are plenty of big names and talented players on the free agent market.

Whether you need a dominant nose tackle for the 3-4 or just your regular 4-3 interior lineman, there are plenty of players to be had.

These are my top five impending free agent defensive tackles:

(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)

Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots

One of the league's most dominant nose tackles for a long time, Wilfork may finally get his chance to his the open market if the Patriots don't apply the franchise tag.

Wilfork has lots of years left and lots of talent, and will be on the radar of plenty of teams in need of that impact nose tackle for the 3-4.

Aubrayo Franklin, San Francisco 49ers

An extremely underrated player in this league, Franklin has gone from being a fifth-round pick and reserve lineman with the Ravens to one of the most productive nose tackles in football.

Everyone likes to fawn over Niners linebacker Patrick Willis, and for good reason, but not everyone realizes that Franklin is one of the biggest reasons Willis is able to be so productive.

Unfortunately for team in need of a 3-4 nose tackle, the 49ers are almost guaranteed to put the franchise tag on Franklin if they can't work out a long-term deal.

Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders


Seymour was a defensive end for most of his career in New England's 3-4, and stayed out there quite a bit despite changing schemes in Oakland.

That being said, Seymour is a prototypical 4-3 defensive tackle and could be highly productive in that scheme, contributing as both a run stopper and pass rusher.

Ryan Pickett, Green Bay Packers

Pickett never really established himself as a first-round pick with the Ram, but he found a home in Green Bay and has been one of the league's better nose tackles.

Despite picking B. J. Raji in the first round of last year's draft, the Packers would wisely love to retain Pickett's services, and other teams would definitely like to nab him as well.

Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pretty much a household name as the long-time anchor of the Pittsburgh defense, Hampton isn't on the same level as the other 3-4 nose tackles on this list.

He's got experience, has played at a high level in the past, and still has a few years left at 32, but he's not going to be a long-term answer for anyone at nose tackle.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Justin Bannan, Baltimore Ravens — Bannan has been a reserve 3-4 end/4-3 tackle for most of his career with the Bills and Ravens, and that's about all he offers at this point.
  • Dwan Edwards, Baltimore Ravens — Edwards has been a 3-4 defensive end for his entire career, but he's capable of playing defensive tackle and could deserve a shot at starting somewhere.
  • Jason Ferguson, Miami Dolphins — Still a very solid nose tackle, Ferguson is 35 and has had trouble staying healthy in recent years. He's worth looking at as a short-term fix or backup and probably wouldn't cost much, but he can't be relied upon to play 16 games.
  • Vonnie Holliday, Denver Broncos — A September signing by Denver, Holliday was one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in 2009. He's got plenty of defensive tackle experience as well and still has the ability to be a productive player in a rotation.
  • Tank Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals — A sub-par player with a history of character issues, Johnson really isn't worth picking up at this point, even as a backup.
  • Cory Redding, Seattle Seahawks — Redding has played plenty inside in his career and had eight sacks with the Lions in 2008, but he doesn't offer much more than a backup now.
  • Fred Robbins, New York Giants — The Giants are likely to let Robbins walk after a mediocre season, and it looks like he 32-year-old veteran is just about out of gas.
  • Hollis Thomas, St. Louis Rams — Thomas has bounced around the league in recent years, and is no longer an effective player. He could get one or two more chances if teams have injuries during the season, but he won't be near the top of anyone's wishlist.

Who are your top five free agent defensive tackles? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Defensive End

The title of defensive end encompasses two very different positions in two different defensive schemes.

In the 4-3, defensive ends primarily rush the passer, with playing the run a secondary task, and in some cases a nonexistent one.

Meanwhile, the 3-4 defensive end is essentially a defensive tackle, playing on the ends of a three-man line and being asked to clog the holes of the offensive line and allow the linebackers to make tackles.

There are plenty of each available in this year's free agent class, but how many can be significant contributors to an NFL team?

These are my top five defensive ends on the free agent market:

(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)


Julius Peppers


Already listed atop my outside linebackers list for his potential in the 3-4, Peppers is easily the best defensive end on the open market this season.

During his eight-year career, Peppers has recorded 81 sacks (more than 10 per season) and 30 forced fumbles.

Peppers has disappeared at times during his career (only 2.5 sacks in 2007), but he's been extremely dominant at others, has plenty of years left, and is a great all-around talent.

Jason Taylor

An outside linebacker in the Miami Dolphins' 3-4 scheme in 2009, Taylor has played most of his illustrious career at defensive end in the 4-3.

Despite being 35, Taylor is still a very productive and reliable player, making positive impacts as a pass rusher as well as against the run.

Still in great physical condition, Taylor has a few good years left and can still help any one of the 32 NFL teams.

Richard Seymour

A different kind of "defensive end" than the first two players on this list, Seymour is one of the NFL's best defensive tackles/3-4 defensive ends.

Still just 30 years old, the three-time Super Bowl champion is stout against the run and is an excellent pass rusher for someone that plays his position. He could play all over the defensive line in any scheme and will be highly sought after.

Aaron Kampman

Kampman struggled a bit in the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker in 2009, recording just 3.5 sacks in nine games with the Packers before tearing his ACL.

He's not the flashiest pass rusher and doesn't change games, but he has a great motor and is at least above average in all areas. If his rehab is on track, he should earn a starting gig somewhere in 2010.

Kyle Vanden Bosch

After racking up 31 sacks during his first three seasons with the Titans, including two 12+ sack seasons in 2005 and 2007, Vanden Bosch has fallen off lately with just 7.5 sacks over the past two years, including just three sacks in 2009.

The 31-year-old is still a solid all-around defensive end and clearly has the talent to put up good sack numbers, so he would be worth picking up as a starter on a two- or three-year deal.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Justin Bannan, Baltimore Ravens — A rotational defensive end in Baltimore's 3-4, Bannan has been a reserve for most of his career. He doesn't offer any more upside at age 30, but he's an inexpensive and experienced backup.
  • Dwan Edwards, Baltimore Ravens — It's been a bit of a slow development for the Ravens' second-round pick in 2004, but Edwards has become a solid 3-4 end and is someone that could deserve a chance to start somewhere at age 28.
  • Jarvis Green, New England Patriots — Green has been a reliable backup defensive end in the Patriots' 3-4 for a long time, but he's shown to be mediocre when called on to start. He should continue to be a backup, but nothing more.
  • Vonnie Holliday, Denver Broncos — Let go by the Dolphins last offseason and unsigned until Denver picked him up just before the 2009 season, Holliday was an excellent reserve for the Broncos with five sacks and good run defense playing about half the time. He won't get handed any starting gigs or long-term deals at age 34, but he's still got some gas in the tank and is worth picking up at a low price.
  • Leonard Little, St. Louis Rams — Little was once a premier pass rusher, but he's fallen off in recent years and has just one double-digit sack season since 2003. He can still contribute to many teams, but at 35 is probably not starter material.
  • Adewale Ogunleye, Chicago Bears — Ogunleye isn't a dominate pass rusher, but he's a solid overall end against the pass and the run. He's still just 32, and though he's coming off an injury, he could serve as a starter for another year or two.
  • Cory Redding, Seattle Seahawks — Redding was a long-time starter in Detroit before arriving in Seattle in 2009, and he's more of a defensive tackle-type player. He did rack up eight sacks in 2006, but profiles more as a backup at this point.
  • Mike Vrabel, Kansas City Chiefs — A long-time 3-4 outside linebacker in Pittsburgh, New England and Kansas City, Vrabel does profile as a 4-3 defensive end. A position switch seems unlikely at age 34, however, and he doesn't have much left as a pass rusher.

Who are your top free agent defensive ends? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Miami Dolphins Feb. 13 News & Notes

  • Word came yesterday afternoon the Miami Dolphins had finally released troublesome linebacker Joey Porter, much to the joy of the team's fan base. Unfortunately, due to salary cap constraints (while there is still a cap), the Dolphins cannot release Porter until the next league year begins in March 5.
  • Less year after retiring and going back to school, offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers has been activated from the reserve/retired list and returned to the Dolphins. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Houston in April, Rogers left the team on August 6. He'll compete for a backup offensive tackle job or practice squad spot if he makes it to training camp, but he'll have a hard time beating out Nate Garner, Andrew Gardner, or Lydon Murtha.
  • The Dolphins have assigned jersey numbers to their 2010 signings, and they are as follows: wide receiver Ryan Grice-Mullen (17), fullback Rolly Lumbala (46), linebacker Brian Johnston (57), and guard Dimitri Tsoumpas (73). Coincidentally, newly re-added offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers wore 73 last season before he left the team, so he'll need a new number.
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports running back Ronnie Brown "wants to stay in Miami," but it's unclear if the feeling is mutual and the Dolphins hold his rights through 2010. Brown will 29 next offseason and has had his share of injuries, so he seems an unlikely candidate to get a huge long-term deal.
  • Mel Kiper looks at what positions and players could interest the Dolphins in the first three rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft. He likes Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 12, as many of us do. He also expects the team to look for an playmaker (running back, wide receiver, returner) and a nose tackle early on, which are both solid bets as well.
  • Dolphins reserve defensive end Tony McDaniel was arrested for domestic battery, and has a bit of a history of problems with this female companion. He didn't contribute much in 2009, so this incident probably pushes him off the roster next season, if his play already hadn't.
  • Las Vegas has the Dolphin at 50:1 odds to win Super Bowl XLV.

Discuss this article on the forum here!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dolphins waive WR Brennan Marion

In their first transaction in more than a month, the Miami Dolphins have waived second-year wide receiver Brennan Marion.

An undrafted free agent out of Tulsa in 2009, Marion tore his ACL at the beginning of training camp in early August last year.

The all-time single-season NCAA leader in yards-per-reception, Marion had torn the same ligament during his final collegiate game with the Golden Hurricane in December 2008.

After suffering the injury with the Dolphins, Marion was waived/injured (not just waived, as reported by some) and spent the season on the team's injured reserve list.

Unable to part ways with him in 2009 due to the potential of a grievance, the Dolphins were finally able let Marion go after he failed his offseason physical in 2010.

Marion's release gives the Dolphins 61 players on the active roster, excluding all upcoming free agents. The team currently has seven wide receivers—Greg Camarillo, Ted Ginn Jr., Ryan Grice-Mullen, Brian Hartline, Taurus Johnson, Julius Pruitt, and Patrick Turner—under contract, with Davone Bess an exclusive-rights free agent in 2010.


Discuss this article on the forum here!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Inside Linebacker

Whether a team runs the 3-4 or 4-3, the inside/middle linebackers are tasked primarily with making tackles, stopping the run, and covering backs and tight ends.

A lot of teams need upgrades to this area, but is there much talent to go around in free agency?

These are my top five inside linebackers on the market in 2010:

(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)


Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals

Arguably one of the players available at any position this offseason, Dansby is a great, young talent that could help any one of the 32 teams in the National Football League.

Just 28 years old, Dansby is an excellent tackler, cover linebacker, and pass rusher. His versatility is difficult to match, as he could feasibly play any linebacker spot in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.

With the Cardinal unlikely to place the franchise tag on him for the third consecutive year, Dansby is poised to finally hit the open market and receive a huge pay day.

Larry Foote, Detroit Lions

After seven total seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers that included five as a starter and two Super Bowl rings, Foote returned to his hometown of Detroit as a free agent in 2009.

Foote was one positive producer for the lowly Lions last season, recording 99 tackles and two sacks in 14 games played.

An experienced linebacker in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, Foote isn't a playmaker, but is a more-than-capable starter and should find a home this offseason.

Gary Brackett, Indianapolis Colts


An undersized tackling machine, Brackett has recorded at least 99 tackles each of the past five seasons, including three years with over 115 stops.

Brackett (5-11, 235) will be 30 during the 2010 season and isn't much of a playmaker, but offers plenty of experience and is at least an average starter.

Danny Clark, New York Giants

Clark recorded back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons with the Oakland Raiders in 2005 and 2006, but he hasn't come close to matching that production since as a part-time starter.

He has just two interceptions in 154 games, but he recorded two sacks with the Giants in 2009 and is still a quality tackler. He's probably best suited for a No. 2 inside linebacker job, but you could do worse for a short-term starter in the middle.

Scott Fujita, New Orleans Saints

Although he played outside in New Orleans, Fujita has experience inside and certainly has the size (6-5, 250) for the job and has played there before.

He's never been a tackling machine, but he's solid against the run and has plenty of experience. His best role at this point in his career is probably that of a fourth linebacker that can back up all the three positions in the 4-3 scheme.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Chris Draft, Buffalo Bills — An experienced veteran at all of the 4-3 linebacker positions, Draft hasn't been a full-time starter since 2006. He has two 100+ tackle seasons to his credit, but he's strictly a backup at age 33.
  • Nick Greisen, Denver Broncos — Now 30, Greisen is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2009 season. He's well below average as a starter, though he has experience in multiple defensive schemes and should latch on somewhere as a backup and special teamer.
  • Paris Lenon, St. Louis Rams — Lenon is a solid tackler, but that's about it. He has experience as a starter, but most of it has been overall poor play. He profiles as a backup, and may not last much longer in the NFL even in that role.
  • D. D. Lewis, Seattle Seahawks — Lewis hasn't been a full-time starter since 2005 and has never recorded more than 65 tackles in a season. At age 31, Lewis is strictly a special teams player, and probably doesn't have much of an NFL career left.
  • Jeremiah Trotter, Philadelphia Eagles — Re-signing Trotter was a sign of desperation for the Eagles, because he really doesn't have a place in this league anymore. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Trotter is still a solid tackler, but has an extensive injury history and is a big liability in coverage. Expect him to resume his full-time job as major of Oblivion in 2010.
  • Matt Wilhelm, San Francisco 49ers — It was just three seasons ago that Wilhelm racked up 97 tackles, a sack, and three interceptions as a starter for the San Diego Chargers, but he's had trouble keeping a job since. An adequate tackler that can also play special teams, Wilhelm is strictly an inside linebacker in the 3-4 or 4-3, and isn't starter material.

Who do you think are the best inside linebackers in free agency? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

2010 Free Agency Top Fives: Outside Linebacker

Teams always need outside linebackers, regardless of what defensive scheme they run. They may be asked primarily to rush the passer in the 3-4 scheme, or play the run and cover in the 4-3.

These are my top five free agent outside linebackers, including all potential 3-4 outside linebackers (possibly current 4-3 defensive ends) as well as your traditional 4-3 linebackers.

(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)


Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers

While it is true that Peppers has never played linebacker in the NFL, he does project at least somewhat as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and expressed interest in playing such a position with a new team last offseason.

Holding him back could be his size (roughly 6-7, 280), which is pretty big even for a 3-4 linebacker, and the fact that he'd be asked to drop back in coverage quite often.

That being said, there is no better sack artist hitting the free agent market this offseason, and every 3-4 team will at least consider Peppers as an outside linebacker prospect.

Jason Taylor, Miami Dolphins

In his second stint with the Dolphins, Taylor played his first full season at outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 defense. (He played some linebacker in Nick Saban's hybrid defense in 2005 and 2006.)

To the surprise of some given his age and injury troubles in Washington the season before, Taylor was absolutely fantastic in all facets for the Dolphins in 2009.

Even in his mid-30s, Taylor is still a productive pass rusher and plays the run very well too. The Dolphins got him cheap on a one-year deal last offseason, but teams around the league might be willing to reach deeper in their pockets after the way he played this past season.

Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers

Kampman struggled with the transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker in 2009, recording just 3.5 sacks and one forced fumbles through nine games before being lost for the season with a torn ACL.

That being said, he was still an overall productive player for the Packers' defense in 2009, and his sheer talent and work ethic make him a worthy pickup no matter what scheme you run. Although he'll probably land with a 4-3 team so he can return to end, 3-4 teams will surely be interested in him as an outside linebacker as well.

Tully Banta-Cain, New England Patriots

After flashing as a situational pass rusher with the Patriots between 2003 and 2006, Banta-Cain was a free agent bust during two subsequent seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.

Banta-Cain was as productive as ever in his return to New England in 2009, however, with 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in just over 500 defensive snaps.

While he's already shown he's not really full-time starter material, Banta-Cain is still just 29 and has the skills to be a highly-productive situational pass rusher.

Keith Bulluck, Tennessee Titans

A model of consistency for a good part of the last decade, Bulluck has recorded over 100 tackles six of the past eight seasons, and hasn't tallied fewer than 88 tackles in a season since he was a second-year player in 2001.

Bulluck now enters free agency coming off a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2009 season, and he will be 33 by the time the 2010 season rolls around.

While he is no longer the pass rusher or cover man he was in his prime, Bulluck is still a reliable tackler and experienced veteran that can handle leadership responsibilities in a locker room. If he's not brought back by Tennessee, he should find a new home that will allow him to start for at least the next year or two.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Jason Babin, Philadelphia Eagles — A former first-round pick by the Houston Texans in 2004, Babin has bounced around with little success as both a linebacker and defensive end. He's pretty much peaked and the fact that he doesn't contribute on special teams hurts his value, but he has the talent to be a reserve pass-rusher.
  • Derrick Burgess, New England Patriots — A two-time Pro Bowler and the NFL sack leader in 2005, Burgess' transition to 3-4 outside linebacker did not go smoothly in New England, as he started just six of 16 games and recorded only five sacks. He's clearly better suited for 4-3 defensive end, and still has some juice left at 31.
  • Scott Fujita, New Orleans Saints — Fujita is a fairly average linebacker that projects outside or inside in the 4-3, and inside in the 3-4. He is a serviceable starter at age 30, but is unlikely to maintain a starting job in the NFL for much longer.
  • Leonard Little, St. Louis Rams — A career 4-3 defensive end, Little has always projected very well to 3-4 outside linebacker. A position change this late (he'll be 36 in October) seems unlikely though, and he's notched double-digit sacks only once since 2003.
  • Adewale Ogunleye, Chicago Bears — Ogunleye has never stood up in the NFL, but like a lot of guys on this list, he at least projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's had some durability concerns and was at his best when playing opposite Jason Taylor in Miami, and is really just an average starter at this point.
  • Chike Okeafor, Arizona Cardinals — Okeafor struggled mightily for the Cardinals in 2009, and the soon-to-be 34-year-old doesn't have much left in the tank. He might latch on somewhere as a backup defensive end or outside linebacker, but he'll likely be out of the league within the next year or two.
  • Pisa Tinoisamoa, Chicago Bears — Tinoisamoa topped 90 tackles three times during a six-year span with the Rams, but injuries have always prevented him from staying on the field year in and year out. He's a strict 4-3 player that really doesn't offer much more than an experienced backup at this point.

Which free agent outside linebackers do you like best? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Miami Dolphins 2009 Position Grades: Special Teams

Seemingly one of the easiest areas to grade, special teams is perhaps the hardest.

To really capture every aspect, you'd have to grade field goal and extra point kicking, punting, long snapping, kick and punt returning, kick and punt coverage, and kick and punt blocking.

I'm not going to go that in-depth with it, particularly because some of those things are really hard to quantify.

I will however single out some of the Dolphins' best and worst performers on special teams this season.

These are my individual and overall grades for the Miami Dolphins' special teams in 2009:

John Denney: A

How do you grade a long snapper? He didn't botch any snaps, and the Dolphins' placekicker and punter both had very good seasons. Bravo, John Denney.

Brandon Fields: A-

Fields has always had a great leg, but he finally put it all together in 2009, setting career highs in punting average (46.3), net average (39.8), and punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line (25).

Consistently one of the better punters in the NFL this year, Fields ranked seventh in punting average, 10th in net average, and 12th in punts downed inside the 20. Had his coverage teams been better, his rankings would have been even higher.

Dan Carpenter: B


The Dolphins didn't hand anything to Carpenter entering his second season with the Dolphins, bringing in Connor Barth during training camp to push him for his job.

Carpenter held on, however, and rewarded the Dolphins with an extremely productive season. Carpenter converted on 25 of 28 field goal attempts, with his 89.3 percentage ranking fourth in the conference and seventh in the NFL.

Where Carpenter did struggle a bit was on kickoffs, where he ranked 20th in the NFL in kickoff average and 17th in touchbacks.

Although the Oakland Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski probably should have replaced Nate Kaeding in the 2010 Pro Bowl over Carpenter, there's no denying the Dolphins' kicker had a fine year in his second pro season.

Ted Ginn, Jr.: B

Despite his propensity to run out of bounds and avoid contact as a returner, Ginn still posted a 24.9 average despite poor blocking most of the season.

Ginn received a lot of flack from Dolphins fans in 2009, much of it deserved. He tied for the NFL lead in drops and really regressed in his third NFL season as a receiver.

That being said, Ginn did make his mark on special teams, at times in a huge way. His two kickoff returns of over 100 yards against the New York Jets in Week 8 set an NFL record, and was pretty much the only reason the Dolphins won the game, as the offense did absolutely nothing.

Davone Bess: F

To be quite frank, there was simply nothing good about Bess' punt returning in 2009. He averaged a measly 7.5 yards per return, muffed a number of punts, and provided absolutely no threat the the coverage team.

Bess might be a fine possession receiver, but he's not a home run threat as a returner and doesn't strike fear into the hearts of anyone on special teams.

The Best in Coverage

Some of the standouts on special teams include cornerback Nathan Jones, who led the team in special teams tackles with 16, and former 2006 first-round pick Jason Allen (14). Also excelling in the department were Lex Hilliard (13 stops), Tyrone Culver (nine) and Cameron Wake (nine).

Overall Position Grade: B

The Dolphins' special teams was a bit two-faced in 2009, with good performances by the placekicker, punter, and kickoff returner.

John Bonamego's unit did have its struggles as well, as Carpenter's kickoffs were sub-par, Davone Bess was absolutely horrible returning punts, and the kickoff and punt-return coverage has been poor for a few years now.

All in all, however, the Dolphins' were able to rely on their key special teams players throughout the season, and the unit can even take large credit for a few of Miami's seven wins.


How would you grade the Dolphins' special teams in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV prediction

I'm here with my last prediction of the season, picking today's Super Bowl XLIV matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.

It's a tough game to pick, with both teams having high-powered offenses and improved defenses.

One thing I consistently did in hard to pick games involving the Colts during the regular season was side with Peyton Manning. He's simply the best quarterback to ever play the game, and it's really hard to pick against someone that knows the game so well.

That's why, once again, I'm siding with Manning and the Colts in a fairly high-scoring affair.

Final Score

Indianapolis Colts: 34
New Orleans Saints: 27

Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning
Least Valuable Player: Hurricane Katrina (apparently not disastrous or recent enough to inspire the New Orleans to victory)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Miami Dolphins 2009 Position Grades: Safety

Safeties are the last line of defense in football, and when they aren't playing well, it spells big problems for the rest of your team.

Tasked to help against the run, coverage of tight ends, and back up the cornerbacks on deep passes, the Miami Dolphins' safety played consistently sub-par football in 2009.

Although one of the Dolphins' three Pro Bowl selections came from the position—Yeremiah Bell was named Antoine Bethea's replacement after the Colts made the Super Bowl—he was rather one dimensional, and the unit as a whole struggled.

Here are my individual and overall grades for the Dolphins' safeties in 2009:

Yeremiah Bell: B-

While he does have the occasional missed tackle, Bell is probably the most fundamentally sound tackler on the team and is usually reliable in that department. Bell led the Dolphins in tackles for the second straight season in 2009, and actually amassed 21 more than anyone on the team this season.

Bell also added 1.5 sacks on the year, while his three interceptions quadrupled his career total over the previous six seasons.

That being said, Bell did struggle in coverage once again, as he has for most of his career. He's more of a hard-hitting safety that can tackle, but isn't your ideal guy for chasing down the fastest offensive players.

Tyrone Culver: C+

Culver has been a pleasant surprise since being added in the middle of the 2008 season, establishing himself as a reliable special teams player, while also making the occasional contribution on defense.

In addition to his nine special teams tackles, Culver also played over 300 snaps on defense and amassed 16 tackles, an interception, and three pass deflections.

Culver's was solid in coverage during limited action, though it's hard to imagine he has much of a future starting in the NFL. More likely, he'll continue to serve as a third safety and special-teamer.

Chris Clemons: D+

Super-Agent Drew Rosenhaus recently signed Clemons as a client, likely in anticipation of big things to come from the Dolphins' 2009 fifth-round pick.

Those big things aren't here yet, as Clemons didn't do much during his first pro season. While he did record six tackles in special teams, Clemons struggled in both coverage and run defense at safety and gave up a few big plays in limited duty.

Gibril Wilson: F

Although he finished second on the team with 93 tackles beyond only fellow safety Yeremiah Bell, there isn't much good to say about Wilson's performance during his first season with the Dolphins.

Wilson epitomized the term "free agent bust" in 2009, performing horribly in coverage and tackling while not making one big play all season. Despite playing 943 snaps on defense for the Dolphins, Wilson didn't force one fumble or intercept one pass, while knocked down only eight.

Although Wilson can certainly be blamed for his own shortcomings, it's really the Dolphins who should take the heat for his presence in Miami in the first place.

There was simply no logic to signing a guy to a big-money deal and making him play a position for which he wasn't best-suited—free safety—especially after he was released just one year into an even bigger deal with the Oakland Raiders.

The Dolphins have certainly learned their lesson after 16 painful games with Wilson playing safety for the team, and they will almost certainly cut ties with him in the next month.

Overall Position Grade: D+

While it's true that Bell and Culver did have their good moments, Wilson's horrendous play simply brings down the average too much for other guys to make up for it.

The Dolphins can make do with Bell at strong safety despite his inadequacies in coverage, but they need an upgrade at safety when Wilson inevitably gets the ax. It's unclear if either Clemons or Culver could be that guy, and if not, they'll have to look in the draft or free agency for a long-term solution.


How would you grade the Dolphins' safeties in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forum here!