Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dolphins place franchise tag on NT Paul Soliai

The Miami Dolphins have taken a big step to retaining their biggest free agent, placing the franchise tag on four-year veteran nose tackle Paul Soliai on Thursday deadline to apply the tag.

Under the terms of the franchise tag, Soliai will be offered a one-year deal worth approximately $12.5 million, or the average of the top five NFL salaries at his position. He made $550,000 in the final year of his rookie deal in 2010.

As the Dolphins' non-exclusive franchise player, Soliai retains the right to talk and sign an offer sheet with another NFL team, but the signing team would be required to send two first-round picks to the Dolphins in order to acquire him.

However, the Dolphins would have the right to match any such offer made by another team, and Soliai's agent, David Canter, has already said the nose tackle will sign the franchise tender as soon as possible while they continue to discuss a long-term deal with the team.

Originally a fourth-round pick out of Utah in 2007, Soliai was asked to start for the Dolphins at nose tackle in 2010 after an injury to defensive end Jared Odrick forced converted nose tackle Randy Starks to move back to his old position.

After three years of under-performing, conditioning and motivation issues, and a fairly regular presence in the coach's dog house, Soliai finally began to realize his potential in 2010 as one of the most dominant, run-stuffing nose tackle in all of football and set career highs in tackles (39), sacks (2) and pass deflections (2).

The Dolphins overall defense increased from 22nd in the NFL to sixth in 2010, and the run defense jumped from 18th to seventh due in large part to Soliai's play. Opponents averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and scored just eight rushing touchdowns against the Dolphins in 2010.


Analysis

$12.5 million is a lot of money to give a player with three mediocre seasons and one breakout year, but it's a pretty safe decision as it's only a one-year commitment and the Dolphins really don't want to lose the Soliai they saw in 2010.

Assuming Soliai stays in shape and stays motivated, he will absolutely be worth retaining on the one-year tender, and potentially worth a long-term contract that would make him one of the highest paid nose tackles in the NFL.

Soliai's return likely means the Dolphins will allow versatile lineman Tony McDaniel to leave via free agency, as McDaniel had a breakout season of his own in 2010 and thus will be looking for a more expanded role elsewhere.

With Soliai remaining in the mix, the Dolphins need for a nose tackle in 2011 is entirely alleviated, and it will allow converted nose tackle Randy Starks to remain at the right end spot where he excelled back in 2009.

As for 2010 first-round pick Jared Odrick, who missed most his rookie season with foot and leg injuries, expect him to rotate in with Starks and Kendall Langford just as Phillip Merling did during his first two seasons in Miami.

If and when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached and free agency officially begins, the Dolphins will now have 10 unrestricted free agents hitting the open market, as well as two restricted free agents and three exclusive-rights free agents.


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Miami Dolphins 2011 Offseason Preview: Linebacker

The time has come to begin previewing the Dolphins' position by position entering the offseason (which we all hope officially begins next month with a new CBA). This article focuses on the linebacker position.

The Dolphins ditched veteran outside linebackers Joey Porter and Jason Taylor before the season, opting instead for former CFL superstar Cameron Wake and second-round rookie Koa Misi as the team's primary pass rushers.

The team also added a huge defensive fixture in linebacker Karlos Dansby, as well as a top backup through a draft-day trade in Tim Dobbins and linebackers from the draft itself in A. J. Edds and Austin Spitler.

In this article, 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.


Under Contract
  • OLB Ikaika Alama-Francis — A former defensive tackle in Detroit, Alama-Francis was converted from 3-4 end to outside linebacker prior to the season, but an illness hampered would could have been a significant role on the strong side. He finished the year with 11 tackles in as many games.
  • ILB Channing Crowder — Relegated to the Dolphins' two-down inside linebacker spot with the arrival of Karlos Dansby, Crowder opened 11 games for the Dolphins while battling injuries and recorded 29 tackles.
  • ILB Karlos Dansby — Signed to a five-year, $43 million contact with $22 million guaranteed in the 2010 offseason, Dansby became the leader of the Dolphins' defense and led all linebackers with 95 tackles while adding three sacks and two forced fumbles in 14 games.
  • ILB Tim Dobbins — Acquired in a draft-day traded that landed Miami the pick they used to select Jared Odrick in the first round, Dobbins served as the Dolphins' top backup inside linebacker. He started six of 16 games and recorded 47 tackles and a sack.
  • ILB A. J. Edds — A fourth-round pick out of Iowa in 2010, Edds was slated for a backup role as a rookie before a torn ACL in training camp forced him to miss the entire season.
  • OLB Koa Misi — The Dolphins' second-rounder out of Utah, Misi started 11 of 16 contests, totaling 45 tackles and ranking second on the team with 4.5 sacks. He recovered a Brett Favre fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in his second pro game.
  • ILB Mark Restelli — Signed by the Dolphins in the 2011 offseason, the former Edmonton Eskimos (CFL) linebacker doesn't have the size for the 3-4 at just 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. He'll play special teams in 2011.
  • ILB Mike Rivera — A second-year player out of Kansas, Rivera was signed to the Dolphins' active roster from the Packers' practice squad with one game left to play in the regular season, although he did not see game action. He'll compete for a reserve spot in 2011.
  • ILB Austin Spitler — One of the Dolphins' seventh-round picks in 2010, Spitler split his rookie season between the practice squad and active roster. He appeared in 12 games on special teams and totaled four tackles.
  • OLB Cameron Wake — A former defensive MVP in the CFL, Wake followed up his rookie season with the Dolphins with an incredible 14 sacks and three forced fumbles to go along with 57 tackles. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2011.

Free Agents
  • OLB Quentin Moses (unrestricted) — Originally a third-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, Moses recorded 18 tackles and a sack in 15 games (no starts) in 2010. He has 35 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 44 career games.

Strengths

The Dolphins are halfway set at linebacker, as Karlos Dansby is an elite and complete inside linebacker that should return just as productive, if not more so, in 2010, and Cameron Wake clearly established himself as one of the premier pass rushers in all of football this past season.

The team also has a solid mix and experience behind Dansby at inside linebacker, as both Crowder and Dobbins have extensive game action on their resumes and Edds should return to the field from a torn ACL in 2011.


Areas of Need

While Crowder is serviceable, especially in the reduced role he had in 2010, he is not a playmaker and lacks the ability to play in coverage or chase down some of the league's better offensive talent. Dobbins is also more suited for a backup role, so the Dolphins could use a more long-term solution to play alongside Dansby at insider linebacker.

The Dolphins are also pretty thin in the pass rush beyond Cameron Wake, as Koa Misi totaled just 4.5 sacks in his rookie season despite playing opposite a guy drawing so much attention. Misi, who totaled just one sack after Week 7, heads up a pretty unproductive outside linebacker position for the Dolphins in 2010.


Free Agency Outlook

With Wake putting up excellent numbers in 2010 and angling for a much-deserved contract extension of his own, you can be sure the Dolphins won't be shelling out big money and/or draft picks for anyone in free agency, like franchise tagged players Tamba Hali (Kansas City) and LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh).

The same can be said for inside linebacker, where we aren't going to see the team surrender multiple first-round picks to add a high-priced franchise-tagged player like the Jets' David Harris, given how much money the Dolphins spent on Dansby in 2010.

The Dolphins have too many bodies at inside linebacker to really make any significant additions in free agency, but a young, developmental outside linebacker could still be an option. Someone like Manny Lawson, who was drafted in the first round during defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's time in San Francisco and has underachieved to date, is one possibility.


Draft Outlook

There are plenty of linebackers that could interest the Dolphins with the 15th overall pick, including Dansby clone Akeem Ayers (UCLA) inside and outsider rushers like Von Miller (Texas A&M), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), Aldon Smith (Missouri), and Justin Houston (Georgia).

That being said, the Dolphins are likely going to attend to trade down in the first round in order to get back the second-rounder they lost in the Brandon Marshall deal, so they eventually may not be in a position to select all or any of the above players.

If that is the case, they could turn their attention to Martez Wilson (Illinois) or Mark Herzlich (Boston College) in the late first or second round as a potential starting inside linebacker. More developmental options inside include Kelvin Sheppard (LSU), Mike Mohamed (California) and Chris White (Mississippi State).

Should the Dolphins not address outside linebacker in the first round and are looking for a rusher to compete with Misi and develop opposite Wake, guys like Brooks Reed (Arizona), Sam Acho (Texas) and Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma) will draw interest in the draft's second day.

Later, long-term developmental options include Cliff Matthews (South Carolina), Markus White (Florida State), Ricky Elmore (Arizona), and Ugo Chinasa (Oklahoma).

With the strong-side spot still unsettled and very little depth to speak of outside, you can be sure the Dolphins will at least address the position one or twice over those three days in April.



Conclusion

The Dolphins' defense was fantastic in 2010, and assuming Dansby and Wake stay healthy and continue to produce like they can, the team can absolutely get by with Crowder as the other inside starter and Misi or someone else starting on the strong side.

Of course, upgrades over those latter two spots would be nice, and the Dolphins might need to invest a little more effort into the positions than seventh-round picks that struggle just to excel on special teams, let alone develop into quality NFL starters.

The Dolphins also need to keep Wake happy by giving him elite pass rusher money, as he has never publicly complained about his contract even after his stellar performance in 2010. Entering year three of the four-year, $4.9 million contract he signed in 2009, Wake is due for a significant pay raise and should receive it sooner than later.


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2011 Offseason Preview: Secondary

The time has come to begin previewing the Dolphins' position by position entering the offseason (which we all hope officially begins next month with a new CBA). This article focuses on the secondary.

The Dolphins lost a veteran corner Will Allen to a lingering knee injury and finally parted ways with 2006 first-round disappointment Jason Allen midway through the season.

Stepping up at the position were second-year players Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, who joined Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones in having increased roles in Todd Bowles' secondary. Veteran Yeremiah Bell also returned to start at strong safety, and a nickel back Benny Sapp was added via trade before the season.

In this article, 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.



Under Contract
  • CB Will Allen (through 2011) — After missing 10 games due to a torn ACL in 2009, Allen's recovery was slowed by more surgery and the Dolphins opted to place him on injured reserve before the 2010 season began. He restructured his deal earlier this month to remain in Miami.
  • S Jonathon Amaya (through 2011) — An undrafted rookie from Nevada, Amaya began the season the Dolphins' practice squad before making a splash on special teams 15 tackles in 10 games.
  • SS Yeremiah Bell (through 2012) — The Dolphins' starting strong safety for the fifth year running (though he missed most of 2007 with an injury), Bell topped 100 tackles for the third consecutive season and added 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception.
  • CB Nolan Carroll (through 2013) — A fifth-round pick out of Maryland in 2010, Carroll served as the Dolphins' primary kickoff returner and played sparingly on special teams. He notched his first career interception in Week 14 off the Jets' Mark Sanchez.
  • FS Chris Clemons (through 2012) — Taking over for Gibril Wilson as the Dolphins' starting free safety, Clemons opened 14 games and totaled 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and his first career interception.
  • S Tyrone Culver (through 2011) — Tyrone Culver once again served as a dime back and reserve safety in 2010, totaling 25 tackles and a pass deflection.
  • CB Vontae Davis (through 2013) — The Dolphins' first-round pick in 2009, Davis started 15 games as the Dolphins' No. 1 cornerback and finished the year with 54 tackles and in interception.
  • FS Reshad Jones (through 2013) — Limited to special teams for much of the season (where he excelled), the 2010 fifth-rounder recorded his first career sack and interception on a single drive against the Titans in Week 10.
  • CB Nate Ness (through 2011) — Originally waived by the Dolphins during final cuts, Ness landed back in Miami after a brief stint with the Seahawks. He appeared in three games for the Dolphins in 2010 and recorded three tackles.
  • CB Benny Sapp (through 2011) — Acquired from the Minnesota Vikings for wide receiver Greg Camarillo during the preseason, Sapp served as the Dolphins' nickel back in 2010 and finished the year with 41 tackles, two interceptions, and 10 pass deflections.
  • CB Sean Smith (through 2012) — After a brief motivational benching early in the season, Smith regained his starting spot from Jason Allen and opened eight of 15 contests. He finished the year with 51 tackles and an interception.

Free Agents
  • The Miami Dolphins do not have any players in the secondary with expiring contracts in the 2011 offseason.

Strengths

The Dolphins have something a lot of teams are desperate for, and that's two talented, young cornerbacks. Both Davis and Smith had their ups and downs in 2010, with a rough second half for Davis and constant dropped interceptions for Smith.

That being the case, both have shown plenty of ability in their first two years in the NFL and have certainly appeared as though they were well worth the early draft picks used to bring them in.

The Dolphins also have plenty of backup options to choose from, including 2010 nickel back Benny Sapp, veteran Will Allen, and a promising athlete in Nolan Carroll.


Areas of Need

The Dolphins are unsettled long-term at either safety position. First, Yeremiah Bell's mobility has always been pretty limited and he's coming off what I would consider his worst overall year to-date in coverage. He's a solid tackler and an in-the-box safety, but nothing more, and he may only have a year or two more of starting ability left.

While Chris Clemons held his own in 2010 and Reshad Jones has potential, neither player established themselves as the clear-cut answer at free safety. Clemons failed to make many big plays and had a large amount of missed opportunities, while Jones is still largely unproven and may be a better fit at strong safety.


Free Agency Outlook

The Dolphins have no real need to put much money into cornerback in free agency and won't be players for big names like Nnamdi Asomugha. With a young starting tandem in place for the coming years, any signs to the cornerback position will be of the inexpensive, depth variety.

Free agent safeties could draw a little interest for the Dolphins, but I don't see Yeremiah Bell being replaced just yet and the Dolphins are more likely to address free safety (if they don't believe in Clemons or Jones) through the draft.

One starting talent to keep in mind though could be the 49ers' Dashon Goldson, who spent his first two pro seasons playing for Dolphins' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Goldson had a down year in 2010 and could be had a bit cheaper than he would have been in 2009 when he totaled 94 tackles, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles.

Like cornerback, however, the Dolphins' safety additions won't be plentiful and are unlikely to come via free agency outside of the inexpensive training camp competitor here and there.


Draft Outlook

The Dolphins don't have any huge needs in the secondary outside of some potential long-term upgrading at safety, and that's a fortunate thing because the cornerback class drops off steeply after the first few players, and the safety class is pretty weak in terms of potential starters.

If the Dolphins do draft for the secondary, it wouldn't be until the mid or late rounds of the draft, just as they have one with Clemons, Carroll, and Jones in recent years.

One cornerback prospect that could intrigue the Dolphins in the third or fourth round is Colorado's Jalil Brown, who held his own playing opposite likely first-rounder Jimmy Smith. Later prospects include Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker, Chykie Brown of Texas, Cortez Allen from The Citadal, and local prospect Ryan Hill from Miami.

If the Dolphins found themselves in the second round via trade, they'd at least be tempted to consider Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel, who is the draft's best safety with a nose for the ball and a physical style of play. His upside isn't that of an elite prospect, however, and he does have some character concerns stemming from a domestic incident in 2008.

The team could also look in the later rounds for an eventual replacement for Yeremiah Bell, with Jeron Johnson (Boise State), Eugene Clifford (Tennessee State), Nate Williams (Washington) and Shiloh Keo (Idaho) all possibilities on Day 2 or 3.


Conclusion

The secondary's results were mixed, as the team's talented youth failed to capitalize on many opportunities, with Smith and Clemons in particular struggling to hang on to gift-wrapped interceptions.

That being said, Todd Bowles and Mike Nolan have the secondary and defense as a whole on the rise, and that is due in large part to a strong influx of young talent brought in by this regime from the draft.

It's exciting to watch the Dolphins' two corners take their games to the next level and it's a comforting feeling knowing that a starting corner shouldn't need to be on the team's list of needs for quite some time.

With the way the front seven has performed the past two seasons, the Dolphins have more than enough talent in the secondary to get them by. Safety might become an issue in the next year or two if Clemons or Jones doesn't establish themselves and Bell continues to age, but it's not an immediate concern.


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NFL Free Agency 2011 Top Fives: The Best Available Defensive Ends

Nobody knows what the NFL offseason will be like in a month, as the roller coaster that is the media coverage of the CBA negotiations gives us little insight and security in a deal getting done.

That being said, the only way to proceed for us writers is to write as if there will be a free agency and that everything will proceed as normal, which is exactly what I'm doing here.

Over the next month leading up to the ever-important March 4 date that is supposed to be the beginning of the free-agent signing period, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

In this entry, I'll examine the top defensive ends expected to hit the open market next month, as well as some other notable names at the position.



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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NFL Free Agency 2011 Top Fives: The Best Available Defensive Tackles

Nobody knows what the NFL offseason will be like in a month, as the roller coaster that is the media coverage of the CBA negotiations gives us little insight and security in a deal getting done.

That being said, the only way to proceed for us writers is to write as if there will be a free agency and that everything will proceed as normal, which is exactly what I'm doing here.

Over the next month leading up to the ever-important March 4 date that is supposed to be the beginning of the free-agent signing period, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

In this entry, I'll examine the top defensive tackles expected to hit the open market next month, as well as some other notable names at the position.






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Monday, February 21, 2011

Bryan Cox joins Dolphins' staff as pass rush coach

The Miami Dolphins have created a whole new position on their coaching staff for a former player of the team, adding Bryan Cox as the team's "pass rush coach."

A fifth-round linebacker selected by the Dolphins in 1991 out of Western Illinois, Cox was selected to three Pro Bowls in five seasons with the Dolphins, including a 14-sack performance in 1992. Cox also played for the Bears (1996-97), New York Jets (1998-2000), New England Patriots (2001) and New Orleans Saints (2002), finishing his career with 938 tackles, 51.5 sacks, 22 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries, four interceptions, one touchdown and one safety.

After serving briefly as a TV analyst, Cox joined Eric Mangini's staff with the New York Jets as the assistant defensive line coach. The two previously spent time together in both New York and New England, when Cox was a player and Mangini an assistant coach.

After three seasons with the Jets, Cox followed Mangini to the Cleveland Browns, where he spent two seasons as the team's defensive line coach before Mangini and his staff were let go following the 2010 season.

It's probably not coincidence that Cox joins new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as two former Mangini assistants to land in Miami, as the former Jets and Browns head coach was consulting for the Dolphins last month.


Analysis

One of the most colorful and controversial figures in his time with the Dolphins, Cox was a fan favorite as a player in Miami and is a nice addition to Tony Sparano's staff for 2011.

In the all-new capacity of "pass rush coach," I imagine Cox will work primarily with the outside linebackers, but will also assist Bill Sheridan with the entire linebacker unit as well as Kacy Rodgers with the defensive line.

Interestingly, Cox's coaching experience to date doesn't have much connection to rushing the passer, as he has served a defensive line assistant for teams running the 3-4 scheme. In the 3-4, it is the outside linebackers, and not the defensive linemen, that are primarily tasked with rushing the passer.

Nevertheless, It's nice to have a third guy to assist in coaching the Dolphins' front seven, and Cox certainly has a worthy resume from his time as both a player and coach from the Bill Parcells tree.

In particular, defensive ends like Kendall Langford and Jared Odrick should benefit from his addition, as will Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, and any other outside linebackers the team brings on board.


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Friday, February 18, 2011

Former Dolphin Bryan Cox could join Sparano's staff

The Miami Dolphins may be adding a familiar face to their coaching staff, as former Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox reportedly interviewed with the team last week.

Originally a fifth-round pick by the Dolphins in 1991, Cox was selected to three Pro Bowls in five seasons with the team. He also had stints with the Chicago Bears (1996-97), New York Jets (1998-2000), New England Patriots (2001) and New Orleans Saints (2002).

In 165 career games over 12 seasons, Cox totaled 938 tackles, 51.5 sacks, 22 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries, four interceptions, one safety, and one touchdown.

Following his playing career, Cox spent two years as a TV analyst before joining Eric Mangini's staff with the New York Jets as assistant defensive line coach. He followed Mangini to Cleveland in 2009 and served two seasons as the team's defensive line coach before Mangini and his staff were let go.


Analysis

A highly-productive player and a fan favorite during his time with the Dolphins, Cox is well-respected throughout the game for his playing career and has built a solid start in the coaching ranks as well.

The Dolphins announced a handful of changes to the coaching staff in late January, and though they have not said the staff is finalized for 2011, there are no immediate openings.

It's possible, however, that Cox could join the staff in a new assistant role, such as that of a generic "defensive assistant" or possibly as an assistant to a position coach.

One option would be an assistant linebackers coach alongside Bill Sheridan. However, Cox has never coached linebackers despite that being his position as a player, and it's quite possible he could become an assistant defensive line coach with Kacy Rodgers.

With more control over his staff this offseason, Sparano has already hired a few former NFL players from the 90s and 00s, including assistant wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard and tight ends coach Dan Campbell.

A former Dolphins great like Bryan Cox, with plenty of playing experience to draw upon and some solid work as an assistant coach as well, would make another nice addition to Sparano's staff for 2011.


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Monday, February 14, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Linebacker

Perhaps at no position was the Miami Dolphins' youth movement more prevalent than linebacker, where the team ditched veterans Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor and let free agents Joey Porter and Jason Taylor walk in the 2010 offseason.

Step into significant roles at outside linebacker were second-year CFL import Cameron Wake and second-round rookie Koa Misi. The team also drafted two linebackers—Chris McCoy and Austin Spitler—in the seventh round of the draft.

In free agency, former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby was the Dolphins' most prized acquisition, signed to a five-year, $43 million contract with $22 million guaranteed.

Despite the dip in starting experience among the Dolphins' top four linebackers, the team's defense shot to the top 10 of the league thanks to the arrival of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, continued dominance by the defense line, and the emergence of Wake as one of the NFL's best pass rushers.

So how did the Dolphins' linebackers grade out individually? Continue on to find out...






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Saturday, February 12, 2011

NFL Free Agency 2011 Top Fives: The Best Available Cornerbacks

Nobody knows what the NFL offseason will be like in a month, as the roller coaster that is the media coverage of the CBA negotiations gives us little insight and security in a deal getting done.

That being said, the only way to proceed for us writers is to write as if there will be a free agency and that everything will proceed as normal, which is exactly what I'm doing here.

Over the next month leading up to the ever-important March 4 date that is supposed to be the beginning of the free agent signing period, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

In this entry, I'll examine the top cornerbacks expected to hit the open market next month, as well as some other notable names at the position.

1. Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders

Can a four-time Pro Bowler be underrated? That's probably the case for Asomugha, who has just three interceptions in his last four seasons, including zero in 2010, after pulling in eight in 2007.

The reason for that is simple—opposing teams have just completely decided to stop throwing his direction. He's just that good at his craft, and other teams would rather eliminate his half of the field and lose the receiver he's covering than try and challenge him.

At 29, Asomugha has plenty of good years left and is well worth a mega-money deal as arguably the best pure cover corner in the NFL. (Sorry, Darrelle Revis.)

2. Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos

A shoo-in for the Hall of Fame once he finally calls it quits, Bailey has built up a stellar résumé over his 12-year career, racking up 48 interceptions, 120 pass deflections and four touchdowns.

Bailey is no longer the best cornerback in the league, but he's honestly not that far behind. Nobody in the league understands the position better and he still has the speed and athleticism to compete with any receiver.

While he's probably not going to cash in like he did with a $63 million contract in 2004 now that he's 32 years old, he could theoretically start for the next three or four years and has showed no signs of slowing yet.

3. Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati Bengals

A first-round pick out of South Carolina in 2006, Joseph has gained plenty of starting experience with the Bengals and has teamed with Leon Hall to create one of the better cornerback tandems in the NFL.

Joseph has totaled 14 interceptions and 76 pass deflections in five seasons, including a career-high six picks in 2009.

While he's play dropped off a bit in 2010 and he missed four games due to an ankle injury, he's got plenty of starting experience and production and is still just 26 years old.

Joseph is a candidate for the Bengals' franchise tag (and would be a much more reasonable recipient of it than Cedric Benson), but he'll be a hot commodity on the open market if the Bengals let him walk.

4. Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets

The 19th overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2006, Cromartie has had his highs and lows. At times he has been a dominant corner and tremendous playmaker, but at others he has suffered from DeAngelo Hall syndrome, i.e. a guy who gets picks and a lot of hype, but really spends his days getting burned by receivers.

Cromartie has also had his share of attitude problems and has gotten into trouble off the field due to his well-documented aversion to contraceptives and his unwillingness to pay child support.

Despite all the drama, Cromartie had a great season with the Jets in 2010 and certainly has starting-caliber talent. If a team is willing to take on his baggage and coach him up a bit, he can be an excellent player for a while.

5. Carlos Rogers, Washington Redskins

Rogers' place on my top five over some of the players on the next slide may surprise some of you, but the ninth overall pick in 2005 is a talent and underrated player at his position in the NFL.

An Auburn alum, Rogers has started all six years in the NFL and has racked up eight interceptions and 73 pass deflections in 78 games.


Rogers' biggest issue has been durability, as he missed four games in 2005, one in 2006, nine in 2007, and four in 2010. He suffered a fractured thumb in 2006 and torn his ACL and MCL in his knee in 2007, causing him to miss more than half the season.

If he can stay healthy, Rogers should continue to start and play at a high level. He could command big money on the open market, but would be a steal for a team if they could get him cheaper due to his injury history.


Beyond the Top Five
  • Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers A mainstay at corner for the Bucs since 1997, the 35-year-old Barber no longer has the speed to keep up with NFL receivers. His best option is retirement.
  • Chris Carr, Baltimore Ravens Once just a return specialist with the Raiders and Titans, Carr has actually developed into a solid starter with two interceptions and three forced fumbles in 2010. He's good enough to compete for a starting job on a lot of teams.
  • Drew Coleman, New York Jets Coleman had a huge year as the Jets' nickel corner in 2010, forcing five fumbles and notching four sacks. He lacks starter ability, but is an excellent role player a lot of teams could use.
  • Drayton Florence, Buffalo Bills He has had his ups and downs, but Florence has been a solid starter at times in the NFL. At 30, he might not get many more opportunities to be a starting corner, though.
  • Corey Graham, Chicago Bears While Graham has never been a good starter and struggled in that role in 2008, he is without question one of the league's best special-teams players. Every team in the NFL could use his services in that department.
  • Ellis Hobbs, Philadelphia Eagles Once a good corner for the Patriots as well as a great returner, Hobbs' play on defense has dropped off and neck issues may force him to retire.
  • Chris Houston, Detroit Lions Despite blazing speed, Houston has never lived up to expectations as a former second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons. He's still 26 and might be salvageable, but he's not a starter right now.
  • Kelly Jennings, Seattle Seahawks Jennings hasn't been nearly enough of a playmaker since being taken by Seattle 31st overall in 2006. He has talent and might have room to grow, but he shouldn't be handed a starting job.
  • Richard Marshall, Carolina Panthers A highly-regarded second-rounder in 2007, Marshall allows way too many balls to be caught and gets picked on far too often. He has a lot of ability and is still young at 26, but he needs some good coaching before he should start any more.
  • Dimitri Patterson, Philadelphia Eagles After toiling as a backup with four teams over five seasons, Patterson actually performed pretty well in 16 games (nine starts) for the Eagles in 2010 with four interceptions and 11 pass deflections. He lacks ideal speed or experience, but he's a good backup to have and maybe start in a pinch.
  • Stanford Routt, Oakland Raiders An underrated player who has held his own as a starter, Routt could be a could be a bargain for a team on the open market.
  • Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers A six-year starter for the Steelers during some of their great runs, Taylor is a good but not great NFL cornerback. He'll get starting chances wherever he goes, but he's not a shutdown guy and may end up being overpaid.
  • Nathan Vasher, Detroit Lions Once a promising starter for the Bears, Vasher's career has taken a nosedive with a brief stop in San Diego and unspectacular season in Detroit. He's one of those guys that has the physical tools but just doesn't have the other characteristics of a great cornerback.
  • Fabian Washington, Baltimore Ravens Washington has become a solid cornerback in the NFL, but he's never lived up to his draft status as the 23rd overall pick in 2005 and is probably best suited as a veteran backup.
  • Brian Williams, Atlanta Falcons A veteran with experience at both cornerback and safety, Williams isn't all that great in coverage and lacks ideal speed. He's purely a backup at 31, and teams would probably be better suited finding a younger player to develop with his roster spot.
  • Josh Wilson, Baltimore Ravens  — Despite being dealt by the Seahawks just before the season, Wilson is a talented corner with starting ability and youth at age 25. He shouldn't be handed a starting gig, but he's worth signing to let him compete and he may end up being a steal.
  • Eric Wright, Cleveland Browns — Wright's overall game leaves something to be desired, but he's young and has all the physical tools you look for. He's a worthwhile project to keep developing.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Defensive Line

After ranking 18th against the run in 2009, the Miami Dolphins' defense finished 7th in the NFL and helped opponents to just 3.6 yards per carry.

Already with a wealth of talent on the defensive line, the Dolphins used their first-round pick in 2010 on defensive end Jared Odrick, who looked promising before the season but was lost for the year with foot and leg injuries.

Despite the loss of Odrick and the torn Achilles' of Phillip Merling in the offseason, the Dolphins' defense got even better in 2010 thanks to the emergence of backups Paul Soliai and Tony McDaniel, as well as the continued play of Kendall Langford and Randy Starks.

So how did each player grade out in 2010? Continue on to find out...




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Thursday, February 10, 2011

NFL Free Agency 2011 Top Fives: The Best Available Safeties

Nobody knows what the NFL offseason will be like in a month, as the roller coaster that is the media coverage of the CBA negotiations gives us little insight and security in a deal getting done.

That being said, the only way to proceed for us writers is to write as if there will be a free agency and that everything will proceed as normal, which is exactly what I'm doing here.

Over the next month leading up to the ever-important March 4 date that is supposed to be the beginning of the free agent signing period, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

In this entry, I'll examine the top safeties expected to hit the open market next month, as well as some other notable names at the position.

1. SS Dawan Landry, Baltimore Ravens

The less-heralded brother of Redskins safety LaRon Landry, Dawan has been a starter for the Ravens since being drafted in the fifth round out of Georgia Tech in 2006.

Excluding the 14 games he missed in 2008 due to a spinal cord injury, Landry has appeared in all 64 possible games his other four pro seasons, starting all but two of them.

Often overshadowed by the other stars of the Ravens' elite defense, including fellow safety Ed Reed, Landry has pretty quietly accumulated 362 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, nine interceptions, and 24 pass deflections in just over four full seasons.

Landry is still just 28 and appears to have his injury problems behind him, making him an appealing starting strong safety option on the open market.

2. SS Gerald Sensabaugh, Dallas Cowboys

A fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2005, Sensabaugh spent his first three seasons in Jacksonville primarily as a backup before opening 13 of 16 contests in 2009. He totaled 70 tackles and four interceptions in his lone season of starting before becoming a free agent.

Signed to a one-year deal by the Dallas Cowboys in 2009, Sensabaugh battled through numerous injuries to start 15 games, recording 66 tackles and an interception. He was re-signed the following offseason and went on to experience a career year with highs in tackles (71), sacks (2), interceptions (5) and pass deflections (10).

Sensabaugh has proved to be a good run defender from the strong safety position and is above average in coverage as well. His durability is somewhat of a concern, but he's a good all-around player that can play both safety spots and is still just 27 years old.

3. FS Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers

A fourth-round pick out of Washington in 2007, Goldson spent two seasons as a backup safety for the 49ers before replacing Mark Roman as the team's starting free safety in 2009.

Goldson immediately made an impact that year, finishing the year with 94 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, four interceptions, and six pass deflections.

His numbers fell off a bit in 2010, as Goldson recorded 80 tackles and just one interception on the season.
That being said, the 26-year-old Goldson has nice coverage skills and good play-making ability, making him a very appealing addition for any team in need of a starting-caliber free safety.

4. SS Abram Elam, Cleveland Browns

Elam has certainly had a rocky road to becoming an NFL starter, having been kicked out of Notre Dame and being convicted of sexual battery for his part in an alleged gang rape scandal. He spent two seasons out of football before playing one year at Kent State, but subsequently went undrafted in 2005.

After failing to stick with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2005, Elam spent 2006 as a special-teamer for the Dallas Cowboys and later split time as a starter with the New York Jets in 2007-08.

Acquired by the Browns and reunited with his former Jets coach Eric Mangini in 2009, Elam started all 16 games in his first year with the team and recorded 91 tackles.

Elam's coverage skills developed greatly in 2010 as he started 15 of 16 games and recorded two interceptions and 10 pass deflections in addition to 79 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.

While Elam does have somewhat of a checkered past and doesn't have a whole lot of experience as a productive starter, his 2010 performance was quite promising.

5. FS Michael Huff, Oakland Raiders

The seventh overall pick out of Texas in 2006, Huff got off to a pretty unimpressive start despite serving as a starter for both of his first two seasons.

Huff was benched for Hiram Eugene partially through the 2008 season, and has reportedly been on the chopping block each of the past few offseasons.

His play has indeed picked up though, as Huff finished 2010 with 94 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, three interceptions, and seven pass deflections on the way to his first All-Pro selection.


Huff has always had the natural talent and has flashed play-making ability at times in the NFL, so he's a very intriguing prospect for a coaching staff that could get him to realize his potential.


Beyond the Top Five

  • SS Atari Bigby, Green Bay Packers — He appeared in only four games in 2010 after an ankle injury landed him on the PUP list before the season, but he was a play-making strong safety in both 2007 and 2009 and still has starting talent.
  • SS Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints — Harper got torched by the Seahawks in the playoffs and coverage is not his strong suit, but he's a good tackling strong safety and forced an incredible six fumbles in 2010. He's still just 28 and has starting ability.
  • FS Danieal Manning, Chicago Bears — A dangerous kickoff returner, Manning has never quite developed into the quality safety the Bears had hoped he'd be when they drafted him in the second round in 2006. He has the physical tools and is still an intriguing prospect at 28.
  • SS Quintin Mikell, Philadelphia Eagles — Mikell has been a solid yet unspectacular starting safety for the Eagles over the past four seasons. At 30 and without any standout abilities, he primarily profiles at a short-term starter or veteran backup.
  • SS Paul Oliver, San Diego Chargers — A supplemental draft pick out of Georgia in 2007, Oliver has seen increased playing time in each of his four pro seasons and continues to get better each year. He started eight games in 2010 and has more growing to come.
  • SS Bernard Pollard, Houston Texans — His whopping 213 tackles over the past two seasons is not all that impressive when you realize the guy is the worst starting safety in the NFL when it comes to coverage. It won't take long for teams to figure it out either, and he probably only has a few more years of starting before the entire league realizes he's just complete enough.
  • FS Brodney Pool, New York Jets — Concussions have always been his big issue, but he's always been a solid safety and did a solid job in Rex Ryan's defense in 2010. He should be able to compete for a starting job elsewhere and still has room to grow.
  • FS Darren Sharper, New Orleans Saints — Talent-wise, Sharper should easily crack the top five mentioned previously in this article. But the long-time playmaker is 35-year-old and missed much of last season with knee issues, making him only a short-term fix for any team.
  • FS Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers — Weddle offers a good blend of hard-hitting, run-stuffing ability and some decent coverage skills. He's an underrated and versatile safety with the intangibles to get even better.
  • SS Donte Whitner, Buffalo Bills —Whitner racked up a ridiculous 140 tackles in 2010 and was one of the biggest culprits in Buffalo's 24th-ranked defense in 2010. He has never really lived up to where he was drafted and will have to fight for chances to start elsewhere.
  • FS George Wilson, Buffalo Bills — A converted wide receiver, Wilson was relegated to a backup role in 2010 after totaling 103 tackles and four interceptions as a starter the year before. He's worked extensively at both safety spots, but it doesn't bode well for him the team started Whitner over him and Wilson probably profiles more as a backup and special-teamer.

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Dolphins restructure contract of CB Will Allen

Less than a month after it was reported the Miami Dolphins planned to release him this offseason, veteran cornerback Will Allen has agreed to restructure his contract and remain with the team.

Allen was slated to make $5.5 million in 2011 in the final year of a three-year, $16.2 million extension signed in the 2009 offseason. The deal also included $10 million in guaranteed money.

The 32-year-old Allen has missed the team's last 22 regular season games after initially suffering a torn ACL in Week 7 of the 2009 season against the New Orleans Saints.

Apparently unable to fully rehab in time for the 2010 season, the Dolphins surprisingly put the veteran cornerback on season-ending injured reserve just before the season on Sept. 5.

Originally drafted by the New York Giants in the first round in 2001, Allen signed a four-year deal with the Dolphins as a free agent in 2006. In 125 career games (124 starts), Allen has totaled 484 tackles, five sacks, seven forced fumbles, 15 interceptions, and 106 pass deflections.

Allen will once again be coached by Dolphins secondary coach Todd Bowles, who will not be leaving the team after the Arizona Cardinals hired Ray Horton as their defensive coordinator.


Analysis

Quite simply, this is good news for the Dolphins and their fans, but bad news for 2010 nickel cornerback Benny Sapp.

Despite getting up there in years and having some concerning knee issues, Allen was a fantastic cover corner in past years for the Dolphins and is an excellent veteran to have around for depth.

While Allen isn't going to supplant the Dolphins' two up-and-coming players at the position in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, he could be an outstanding nickel back while providing a nice mentor for the pair.

Such an arrangement would make Benny Sapp expendable, especially considering he is in the last year of his current deal and is slated to make $1.9 million in 2011, which is pretty steep for a fourth cornerback.

If Allen can prove he is healthy and can be counted on to play in 2011, the Dolphins will likely trade or release Sapp before the season and go with 2010 fifth-rounder Nolan Carroll as their fourth cornerback.

For a secondary that ranked eighth in the NFL against the pass in 2010, the re-addition of Allen coupled with the continued development of Davis and Smith can only mean good things in 2011.


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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

NFL Free Agency 2011: The Top 20 Players With Game-Changing Talent

I hate to sound like a broken record, because every football piece written in the last two months says something about free agency with the condition that it will only happen if the league and the players' union come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreementThat is the reality of the situation, however, and the teams have until March 4 to work out a deal that will allow free agency to operate as normal, because that is the date when the new league year (and free agency) would officially begin.

After a year with no CBA and a pretty shallow pool of free agents thanks to the accrued seasons requirement for unrestricted free agency increasing from four years to six, we could potentially go back to the old system of just four years if a new CBA is reached.

In that event, a very large and talented class of players will hit the open market, which is sure to excite fans of all teams at the prospects of landing a game-changing talent.

Of course, some of these players might be retained by their old clubs with the franchise tag (which itself is another matter of contention regarding the new CBA).

That being said, here are the top 20 players in the NFL with expiring contracts in 2011—all of which could go a long way in turning a franchise's fortunes...


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2011 First-Round Mock Draft v1.0

The Super Bowl is officially in the books, and that means we can turn our attention fully to the offseason. A big part of that offseason is the draft, where teams look to restock their depth with young talent and find the missing pieces for their championship hopes.

I myself have mocked the draft's first round every year beginning in 2005, and even expanded things to the first two rounds last year. My final mock of 2011 will also have two rounds, but for now, I'm focusing on the first 32
picks.

For this keeping score at home, here are how many first-rounders I have correctly predicted to their drafting teams since 2005:
 2005: 11
2006: 7
2007: 9
2008: 8
2009: 10
2010: 8

Now, on to the picks...

1. Carolina Panthers — DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
After suffering the terrible bad "luck" of having Andrew Luck return to Stanford, the Panthers are left without a sure-fire quarterback prospect worthy of the No. 1 pick. The 2-14 Panthers unsurprisingly have plenty of holes to fill, however, and Fairley would be a great addition to their defensive line.

2. Denver Broncos — CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
The Broncos have made little progress in new contract talks with Champ Bailey, and they have little young cornerback depth behind him. Peterson is a talented playmaker that would fit in nicely in Mile High.

3. Buffalo Bills — LB Von Miller, Texas A&M
Buffalo ranked just 27th in sacks in 2010, and former first-rounder Aaron Maybin has been a monumental bust. (Called it.) Miller has extraordinary pass-rushing skills and has a much better head on his shoulder than Maybin.

4. Cincinnati Bengals — WR A.J. Green, Georgia
With Terrell Owens unlikely to return and Chad Ochocinco doing his best to make a working relationship with Marvin Lewis impossible, the Bengals will need a new No. 1 wideout. Green is the clear-cut best receiver in this draft and could revive Carson Palmer's career (if Palmer stays, of course).

5. Arizona Cardinals — QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
The Cardinals seemed poised to go after veteran Marc Bulger with youngsters Max Hall and John Skelton not ready for the big show, but Bulger isn't the long-term answer. Gabbert is the best quarterback prospect in this draft and could start in 2012 after sitting for a year.

6. Cleveland Browns — DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
The Browns look destined to switch to the 4-3 under new head coach Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, which completely shuffles their personnel needs. Bowers would be an excellent addition as the top 4-3 pass rusher in the draft.

7. San Francisco 49ers — QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
There's no telling whether or not Alex Smith will re-sign, or if he'll ever be a quality starter anyway. Mallett is an underrated prospect by some but is a legitimate top-10 talent at quarterback. Michigan man Jim Harbaugh would be wise to consider the quarterback that once played for the Wolverines.

8. Tennessee Titans — LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
Vince Young is all but gone and free agent Kerry Collins has little left, but there aren't really any signal-callers worthy of the Titans' pick here. They are also in need of a quality linebacker with David Thornton and Stephen Tulloch slated for free agency, and Ayers fits the bill.

9. Dallas Cowboys — DE Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher, and Marcus Spears are all slated for free agency in 2011, and Dareus is the top 3-4 defensive end in this draft with plenty of experience in the scheme under Nick Saban.

10. Washington Redskins — CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Undrafted second-year player Reggie Jones is currently the only player at the cornerback position under contract with the Redskins. Amukamara would be a boost to fill the void left by starters Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall, both of whom may walk in free agency.

11. Houston Texans — LB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
The Texans desperately need a cornerback for their league-worst pass defense, but unfortunately, the top two cornerbacks are already off the board. They next turn their attention to a pass rusher for their new 3-4 scheme under Wade Phillips.

12. Minnesota Vikings — QB Cam Newton, Auburn
While I don't believe Newton to be worthy of a first-round pick as he's not an elite quarterback prospect, someone is going to roll the dice on the guy because of his physical tools. Minnesota needs a quarterback of the future and reportedly may pass on Vince Young, which means they could look to Newton in the draft.

13. Detroit Lions — OT Nate Solder, Colorado
Jeff Backus has been a pretty mediocre left tackle for a while, and Gosder Cherilus has been unspectacular as well. It's time the Lions found a long-term guy to protect Matthew Stafford's blind side.

14. St. Louis Rams — WR Julio Jones, Alabama
Sam Bradford had a pretty decent rookie season with one of the league's worst receiving corps. It's time the Rams got him a true No. 1 threat in Julio Jones, who would be an excellent pairing with Donnie Avery.

15. Miami Dolphins — LB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
I fully expect the Dolphins to trade out of this pick to re-acquire a second-rounder, and I don't think they are specifically targeting a pass rusher. I would hope, however, they are smart enough to not waste the pick on Mark Ingram, and they typically draft the best available player on their board.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars — DE Aldon Smith, Missouri
Derrick Harvey busted and Aaron Kampman is recovering from a torn ACL. The Jaguars need another quality pass rusher bad, and Smith fits the bill.

17. New England Patriots (from Oakland) — DE Cameron Jordan, California
A lot of people could see the Patriots taking Mark Ingram here, but I don't think they are that desperate for a non-elite running back. Jordan is a tremendous 3-4 defensive end prospect, and the Patriots are always about adding depth and beefing up the lines.

18. San Diego Chargers — DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Both Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson are free agents, making another defensive end a pretty big priority. Watt is excellent at his craft and blends solid pass-rushing skills with great bulk and strength, so he'd be an excellent fit.

19. New York Giants — OT Athony Castonzo, Boston College
The Giants don't have many gaping needs, but adding a potential long-term prospect at tackle might not be a bad idea with both David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie over 30.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DE Allen Bailey, Miami (Fla.)
The Bucs spend the 2010 Draft upgrading their defensive tackle position, but they could still use a game-changing play-maker at defensive end and have little talent there currently. An in-state prospect with the physical tools of Bailey would be a good pick.

21. Kansas City Chiefs — DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Tyson Jackson has been a monumental bust, and Glenn Dorsey isn't a great fit for the 3-4 scheme even if he has been playing better. Clayborn would be a great addition to the Chiefs' defensive line.

22. Indianapolis Colts — OT Tyron Smith, USC
The Colts still haven't found a long-term replacement for left tackle Tarik Glenn, and the raw but athletic Tyron Smith fits the Colts' blocking scheme and could be the answer.

23. Philadelphia Eagles — OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
Jason Peters got better after struggling the past two seasons, but both Winston Justice and King Dunlap look overmatched in pass protection. Carimi is a strong left tackle prospect that would be a valuable addition the Eagles' line.

24. New Orleans Saints — RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
Reggie Bush hasn't shown he can be a feature back in the NFL, while Pierre Thomas isn't worth the money he wants. Ingram would be a great addition to a talent offense that has both of its running backs slated for free agency this offseason.

25. Seattle Seahawks — WR Titus Young, Boise State
Mike Williams emerged as a reliable receiver in 2010, but he doesn't stretch the field or make many big plays. A baby DeSean Jackson, Young really flashed at the Senior Bowl and would be an excellent guy to pair with WIlliams given his deep-play ability.

26. Baltimore Ravens — OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
Free agent Jared Gaither is questionable to return, while Michael Oher had his struggles during his first full season at left tackle. Sherrod would be a nice addition and is someone that could also project at guard as well.

27. Atlanta Falcons — CB Brandon Harris, Miami (Fla.)
The Falcons' pass defense did them in the playoffs against the Packers. Dunta Robinson was disappointing in his first season in Atlanta, while Brent Grimes is solid but isn't a true No. 1 corner. Harris would be good pick to develop in the secondary.

28. New England Patriots — RB Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
The Patriots opted against taking a defensive end at No. 17, but it works out well as they get arguably the 1b to Mark Ingram's 1a here. LeShoure is a very talented back and would be a huge boost to a backfield with mediocre parts like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead playing significant roles.

29. Chicago Bears — OT DeMarcus Love, Arkansas
The Bears swung and missed in the first round with Chris Williams a few years ago, so it's time to find that franchise left tackle again. Love is the best tackle on the board and would be a god fit in Chicago.

30. New York Jets — DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
The Bears obviously don't have many glaring needs, but Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce are free agents and the young depth currently under contract doesn't impress anyone. Heyward would be a good fit at end in the Jets' 3-4.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers — OG Mike Pouncey, Florida
Mike Pouncey isn't an elite prospect like his brother was, but he's a good guard in his own right and would be a nice fit alongside center Maurkice in Pittsburgh.

32. Green Bay Packers — LB Justin Houston, Georgia
Clay Matthews is an absolute beast, but he could be even better with a good pass-rushing threat on the other side. Houston presents a big upgrade over the likes of Erik Walden and Frank Zombo with 17 sacks in his final two seasons at UGA.


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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Offensive Line

The Miami Dolphins' offensive line looked quite different in 2010, with only tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey remaining as starters from the previous season.

The Dolphins used the uncapped year to get rid of the bloated contracts of productive but injury-prone guard Justin Smiley and Jake Grove, who had a combined $50+ million on the books.

The team also gave up on 2008 sixth-rounder Donald Thomas, who missed all but one game of his rookie season with a foot injury after winning a starting job in camp. He started most of the 2009 season, but was benched due to performance at one point.

I completely understand the Dolphins' moves. Smiley and Grove weren't reliable health-wise and weren't worth the money they were making. Of course, the Dolphins can be blamed for handing out those contracts in the first place.

I also fully expected the release of Thomas all preseason and know it to be the right move. Fans loved the guy because of the potential he showed as a rookie in 2008 camp, but he never played like a starter and was actually a free agent for most of the 2010 season before joining the Detroit Lions in late November.

That all being said, the Dolphins made these moves without the talent to replace them, and it cost the offense and the team greatly in 2010

While Jake Long continued to play like a Hall of Fame tackle, the interior line made up of hot-headed left guard Richie Incognito, journeyman center Joe Berger, and rookie John Jersey was horrendous.

That kind of play killed the Dolphins' two-headed rushing attack, which in turn put far too much pressure on the passing game. Essentially, the line held back the offense in 2010.

So how did each of the Dolphins' linemen grade out in 2010? Let's take a look:



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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl XLV prediction

The Super Bowl is finally here, and for some strange reason, the facts that the Miami Dolphins beat the NFC champion Packers on their home turf, and essentially beat the AFC champion Steelers save for a controversial fumble call don't quite make me feel any better today.

I've been predicting the games all year, with moderate success, but now there is only one game left. A game that, if I predict correctly, will erase all the time I picked the Dolphins to beat superior teams.

Last week's record: 2-0
2010 season record: 174-92 (65.4%)*

*Gained .3 percentage points by picking the Packers and Steelers two weeks ago in the conference championships. Boom, roasted!

Objectively, I can say that this is definitely one of the best Super Bowl matchups we've had in a long time. Ignoring all the crap about them being storied franchises, Vince Lombardi, Terry Bradshaw, blah, blah, blah, this game matches up two of the best offenses and defenses in the NFL and should make for a hell of a game.

What's interesting here is that the Steelers have the defensive advantage and the Packers the offensive advantage, but we all know that the Steelers' offense can torch you as well as anyone at times, and the Packers' defense can be quite dominant in their own right.

I'm not sure how much Maurkice Pouncey's absence will hurt them, but I don't expect it to swing the game totally in Green Bay's favor. Both teams' rosters are so good from top to bottom that they will recover from any missing pieces today.

I don't, however, put much stock into the Steelers' six Super Bowl titles to the Packers' three, nor do I put much stock into the fact that some of the Steelers' players have "been there before." Plenty of players and teams haven't won Super Bowls...until they won them, and today could easily the Packers' day.

I don't expect many big, game-changing plays today, but rather just a hard-fought, back-and-forth game. In the end, I like Aaron Rodgers to toss a few touchdowns in a solid performance and come out as the slightly boring quarterback pick for MVP.

Packers: 23
Steelers: 17


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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Senior Bowl 2011: The South's Most Intriguing Prospects For The Miami Dolphins

Last week, I looked at some draft prospects from the North roster of the 2011 Senior Bowl that may be of interest to the Miami Dolphins.

The Senior Bowl came and went last week with the South's 24-10 victory, and now, I'll take a look at some of the top talent on the South squad.

Last year, two of the Dolphins' top three draft picks—first-round defensive end Jared Odrick and third-round guard John Jerry—were among the 20 players mentioned in my articles.

Keep in mind, these articles are not top 10 lists based purely on talent and potential. Rather, they are tailored to the needs and schemes of the Miami Dolphins.

Therefore, elite prospects at positions that are not of need to the Dolphins are not discussed here.

Now, on to the South prospects...



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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Tight End

When Joey Haynos suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in training camp and veteran David Martin's second tour of duty failed to last beyond the preseason, the Miami Dolphins opted to go with disappointing 2009 fifth-rounder John Nalbone as their lone backup tight end.

Nalbone failed to last a month into the regular season, and the Dolphins proceeded to utilize a mixture of two seventh-round rookies and an undrafted free agent as Anthony Fasano's No. 2 man, with no success.

While Fasano posted career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2010, he was unable to lift the entire position up to a productive level with no quality counterpart.

Just two years after the Dolphins' backup tight ends combined for 33 receptions, 472 yards, and four touchdowns, Nalbone, Jeron Mastrud, Mickey Shuler totaled just two catches for 28 yards. Both were by Shuler.

Prepare to shake your heads in disappointment, because I'm about to hand out individual grades for the Dolphins' tight ends in 2010.




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