Monday, February 27, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Running Back

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

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

1. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

A second-round pick by the Ravens in 2008, Rice totaled only 454 yards on the ground as a rookie  before erupting as one of the NFL's elite running backs. Since the 2009 season began, he has totaled three straight 1,200-yard seasons (including two 1,300+ seasons) and 29 offensive touchdowns, wit ha career-high 12 rushing touchdowns this past season. A 5-foot-8 bowling ball, Rice would be the best running back on the market but may very well get the franchise tag from the Ravens. 

2. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears 

Selected 11 picks ahead of Rice in the 2008 NFL Draft, Forte racked up 1,238 yards and eight scores as a rookie but was held under four yards per carry during his first two seasons. Since then, however, he's proved to be among the league's better backs, totaling 1,069 yards on a 4.5 average in 2010. Despite playing in just 12 games in 2011 due to a knee injury, Forte racked up 997 yards on a career-high 4.9 average, while nearing career highs with 52 receptions and 490 yards. The do-it-all back has earned a healthy raise from the Bears or someone else.

3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks 

The 12th overall pick in 2007, Lynch was largely a disappointment in Buffalo despite opening his career with two 1,000-yard seasons. He was shipped to the Seahawks early in the 2010 season and averaged just 3.5 yards a carry in his first season at his new home. However, Lynch is now entering the market coming off his best season yet, having rushed for a career-high 1,204 yards on a 4.2 average. Lynch, who has engineered quite possibly both of the most memorable runs over the past two seasons, is not going to blow anyone away with his speed but is the definition of a workhorse.

4. Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders 

Although he's been in the league five seasons, Bush is just now entering free agency because his rookie year was spent on the PUP list from a broken leg suffered in college. Working as a backup to Darren McFadden for pretty much all of his career, Bush has seen plenty of action thanks to McFadden's durability issues and the league's current two-back nature. Bush set career-highs with 977 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, making him a guy that could go from backup-to-starter in free agency like Michael Turner did a few years back.

5. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots 

An undrafted rookie out of Ole Miss in 2008, Green-Ellis has served as a feature back in the Patriots' multi-headed backfield over the past two years. His numbers dipped a bit in 2011, going from a 1,008-yard, 13 touchdown performance the previous season to just 667 yards and nine touchdowns on 3.7 yards per carry this year. Some of that was due to the Patriots' line injuries, and some of it was due to Green-Ellis' lack of star power. He has the ability to be a productive back and he doesn't have a fumble in 510 pro carries, but he's also not going to light the world on fire.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals  — A former first-round pick of the Bears, Benson struggled in Chicago and briefly looked to be turning things around in Cincinnati, but his numbers are deceiving. He has three straight 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, but hasn't cracked four yards per carry since 2009 and has no burst to speak of. Teams looking for a starter should go younger and cheaper.
  • Ronnie Brown, Philadelphia Eagles — Picked up in free agency last offseason, the former No. 2 overall pick was not needed in Philly thanks to LeSean McCoy's career year. However, I still believe Brown has starting ability and could produce if given the opportunity. The question is how many more opportunities he'll get, because teams just don't go for backs in the wrong side of 30.
  • Kevin Faulk, New England Patriots — A long-time third-down back of the perennial contenders, Faulk was inactive for the Patriots' Super Bowl loss to the Giants earlier this month and has just 38 touches over the past two years. It's likely the 35-year-old is headed for retirement.
  • Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers — After a career year in 2009 that saw him total 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns, Grant was limited to just one game in 2010 and was hardly a factor in the Packers' pass-happy offense in 2011, ranking second on the team with 559 yards. There was never anything all that special about Grant, and my guess is his starting days are about over.
  • Tim Hightower, Washington Redskins — A sexy fantasy pick before the season thanks to Mike Shanahan's apparent infatuation, Hightower was uninspiring in five games with the Redskins before tearing his ACL. The fumble machine is purely a backup candidate at this point.
  • Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns — One of the feel-good stories of 2010 and the subsequent Madden NFL cover boy, Hillis overplayed his hand in 2011 trying to get a big contract, holding himself out of games, losing respect from teammates and killing his value in the process. A one-trick pony that was never going to be a long-term NFL starter, Hillis will have to prove himself all over again in 2012.
  • Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs — Jones really turned his career around after busting in Arizona as a first-round pick in 2000, but his productive has waned since 2009 and he can no longer handle an NFL workload. He's a good presence for the younger backs, but that's about the extent of his contributions.
  • Steve Slaton, Miami Dolphins — It seems like forever ago Slaton rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie with the Texans in 2008, but he's now fallen out of favor with two franchises and has had trouble just getting on the field. There's talent in there somewhere, but it'll take a miracle for us to see it again.
  • Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions — Originally a third-rounder by the Lions in 2008, Smith was out of football in 2011 until rededicating himself and earning a roster spot back in Detroit thanks to some impressive workouts. Although a few minor injuries hampered him, Smith's efforts translated to the field as he rushed for 356 yards and four touchdowns (4.9 average) in just seven games. He's still only 25 and could be a bargain starter if he stays motivated, although durability remains a concern.
  • Mike Tolbert, San Diego Chargers — A bowling ball at 5-foot-9 and 243 pounds, Tolbert has grown to be a fantasy annoyance with 19 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons. He's got value as a goal-line back, but he's not a feature back talent.
  • LaDainian Tomlinson, New York Jets — Arguably the best back of his generation and a shoo-in Hall of Famer, Tomlinson mustered just 280 yards on 75 carriers with the Jets in 2011. He could probably still be productive in a good offense if given the chance, but it seems likely the five-time Pro Bowler will simply call it quits.
  • Cadillac Williams, St. Louis Rams — A former first-round pick, Williams has endured numerous knee injuries in his career and totaled just 361 yards as a backup in St. Louis in 2011. Turning 30 this offseason, he might get a few more chances but will never be handed the keys to the offense or asked to carry the load.

Discuss this article in the comments below or on the forum here!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Wide Receiver

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

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

1. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers

A second-round pick out of Northern Colorado in 2005, the freakishly-sized Jackson (6-5, 230) has established himself as one of the best deep threats in the game. Excluding the 2010 season that limited him to five games due to a holdout, Jackson has posted three 1,000-yard seasons in the last four years and has an impressive 17.5 career average. Jackson recently turned 29 and should be a legitimate No. 1 receiver for at least the length of his next significant contract.

2. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs

The 23rd overall pick out of LSU in 2007, Bowe was briefly a training camp holdout as a rookie. That didn't stop him from coming up just short of a 1,000-yard season, and he's been productive ever since with a career year in 2010 that saw him total 72 receptions, 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns. His touchdown total dipped significantly in 2011 thanks to the Chiefs' quarterback struggles, but that's certainly not a reflection on Bowe. An impressive physical specimen with great hands, Bowe profiles as a No. 1 receiver on many teams.

3. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts

A long-time feature of the Colts' offense, Wayne has spent the last 11 seasons as one of the most consistently productive receivers in the NFL and currently sits at 15th in receptions, 22nd in receiving yards and 30th in receiving touchdowns on the all-time leaderboards. Turning 34 this coming season, Wayne held up well despite the Colts' struggles in 2011 and can still be a productive part of an offense as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. It's possible he could land wherever Peyton Manning does as a package deal.

4. Wes Welker, New England Patriots

Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Welker. He's not going to stretch the field and the nature of his position and the team he plays for inflate his numbers, but he's not truly among the elite receivers in the NFL. That being said, Welker mans the slot better than anyone in the league and has honed his craft well. A prototypical slot receiver that runs good routes and can catch the ball, Welker has four 1,000-yard seasons in the last five years and has topped 120 receptions in a season twice in his career. He's not going to be Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson, but he can absolutely handle the slot and the Patriots might franchise him to keep him off the market.

5. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints

A seventh-round pick out of the now-defunct Hofstra program, Colston topped 1,000 yards as a rookie in 2006 and hasn't looked back, surpassing that market every season but one when he was limited to 11 games in 2008. His knees are bit concerning, but the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Colston is about as reliable as it gets and is a solid No. 1 receiver.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Donnie Avery, Tennessee Titans — A burner, Avery strung together two solid seasons in St. Louis before tearing his ACL in 2010 and failing to make the team in 2011. He totaled just three catches with the Titans in 2011, but he has deep threat potential and could still turn things around as a low-risk signing.
  • Deion Branch, New England Patriots — A former Super Bowl MVP in his first stint with the Patriots, Branch is one of those guys that's better in New England that he is away from there. He's a fairly solid veteran with plenty of experience to offer, but he's done lighting it up as a starter.
  • Plaxico Burress, New York Jets — Once one of the better red-zone threats in the game, Burress was a bit shaky in 2011 after two years of incarceration. He'll probably move on from the Jets and could find a bit more success in the right scheme.
  • Jericho Cotchery, Pittsburgh Steelers — Cotchery was greeted to a soft market in 2011 and managed only 16 receptions on the receiver-deep Steelers, but I've always liked his talent. He may not get too many chances to be a starter turning 30 this spring, but he's a nice backup to have and has the talent to fill in if called upon.
  • Harry Douglas, Atlanta Falcons — A third-round pick in 2008, Douglas has never surpassed 500 receiving yards or scored multiple touchdowns in a season. He's a pure slot receiver and can do well in that role, but he's never going to be a playmaker.
  • Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Colts — Admittedly someone that was close to my top five, the Mount Union product showed nice ability as a deep threat in 2009 and set career highs in receptions (70) and receiving yards (947) despite the Colts' quarterback woes in 2011. I question his upside as a true No. 1 receiver, but he's certainly got talent.
  • Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts — A former first-round pick out of Ohio State in 2007, injuries have limited Gonzales to just 11 games and five receptions over the past three seasons. He seems unlikely to ever reach his potential but could be a low-risk signing.
  • DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles — Jackson has the talent to be in the top five here, but I'm keeping it out because of other reasons. One of the best deep threats in the league, Jackson is immature on the field and extremely irresponsible with money off of it, choosing to pout and slack off rather than motivate himself because he wants (and needs) a new contract. His talent along makes him a worthy venture, but I'd be wary of giving him a lot of money.
  • Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills — Johnson has had some notorious drops in his career, but the former seventh-round pick has certainly exceeded expectations with two straight 1,000-yard seasons and 17 scores during that span. Like Garcon, I question his upside as a No. 1 receiver, but he's certainly been an overachiever to this point.
  • Mario Manningham, New York Giants — Manningham is entering the market on a huge wave after making possibly the greatest catch in Super Bowl history earlier this month, but his overall value is not as great as that would indicate. As the undrafted Victor Cruz has put up serious numbers in the Giants' offense, Manningham has just one season of over 900 yards and totaled just 523 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. The former first-rounder has starting ability, but he's not a clear-cut starter.
  • Robert Meachem, New Orleans Saints — After failing to appear in a single game as a rookie in 2007, the former first-rounder from Tennessee established himself as a solid deep threat in the Saints' high-powered offense with 15 touchdowns and a 16.1 receiving average over the past four seasons. He still hasn't entirely lived up to his draft status, however, and might never be a true No. 1 receiver.
  • Roscoe Parrish, Buffalo Bills — Parrish followed up a career-high 400-yard performance in 2010 with just one catch this past season, but he's never been much of a receiver. He does offer value as a punt returner, however, and should be able to find a home in that role.
  • Laurent Robinson, Dallas Cowboys — After disappointing seasons with the Falcons and Rams, Robinson failed to make the Chargers' roster in 2011 and was signed and released by the Cowboys before being re-added a second time. After that, he broke out with 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games. His knack for finding the end zone should leave him with plenty of suitors.
  • Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos — After posting an impressive 91/980/5 stat line as a rookie in 2008, Royal's production has taken a hit with the Broncos' quarterback struggles and he was never a favorite target of Tim Tebow in 2011, managing just 19 receptions. A good punt returner, has the talent of a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver and could thrive on the right team.
  • Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati Bengals — A second-round pick in 2008, Simpson was largely a disappointment until catching 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns this season. However, he's had issues with marijuana off the field and could be in line for a suspension, and his overall upside and reliability is highly questionable. The man known for his flip into the end zone might have a hard time finding a featured role in 2012.
  • Steve Smith, Philadelphia Eagles — A 1,000-yard receiver with the Giants two years ago, Smith managed just 11 catches with the Eagles in 2011 and has struggled with knee issues. If healthy he could be a solid receiver, but it's fair to wonder he was inflated by Eli Manning's gun-slinging ways in New York.
  • Eric Weems, Atlanta Falcons — Weems has never caught more than 11 passes in a season (which he did in 2011), but he has two career touchdown returns and a 25.6 kickoff return average. He's in the upper half in the league in that department and should continue to work there.
  • Roy Williams, Chicago Bears — After a strong start to his career in Dallas, Williams busted in Dallas and Chicago and continues to be a mediocre receiver with little ability to separate or make plays. At age 30, his starting days might be nearing an end.

Discuss this article in the comments below or on the forum here!

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Tight End

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

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

1. Fred Davis, Washington Redskins

A second-round pick back in 2008, Davis took advantage of Chris Cooley's degenerative healh and experienced a breakout season in 2011, racking up 796 yards on 59 catches in just 12 games. The biggest issue with Davis is maturity, as he was suspended four games this past season for a failed drug test and could be another flunk away from a year-long suspension. Although he's not much of a blocker, Davis is a dynamic receiving threat in fitting with today's trend at the position and he could help any offense.

2. Joel Dreessen, Houston Texans

Some would say he's not even the best tight end on team, but Dreessen is a vastly underrated and very complete tight end. Over the past two seasons, Dreessen has totaled 64 receptions, 871 yards and 10 touchdowns while grading out as one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the game. He's not going to light toe world on fire with size or speed, but the Anthony Fasano-type can do it all and could contribute to a lot of offenses as a No. 2 tight end or starter fill-in.

3. Jeremy Shockey, Carolina Panthers

The 14th overall pick in 2002, Shockey has managed to have a very steady career marred only by a bit of trouble staying healthy. He's never played 16 games in a single season in a decade of pro football, but the 31-year-old is still capable of stretching the field after posting his best yards-per-catch mark since 2005. Shockey is a little risky as your only capable tight end, but he can still contribute as part of a duo and shouldn't be too expensive at this point.

4. Martellus Bennett, Dallas Cowboys

Overshadowed by Jason Witten in Dallas, the 2008 second-rounder never surpassed 283 receiving yards in a season (which he did as a rookie) and doesn't have a single touchdown reception in the past three years. Interestingly, the impressive athlete has become one of the best blocking tight ends in the game, ranking No. 3 in that department in 2010 and at the very top this past season. Bennett's biggest problem has always been maturity and self-motivation, but if he can get his head on straight and commit to the craft, he absolutely has starting ability.

5. Kellen Davis, Chicago Bears

Admittedly, Davis only cracks the top five because the Packers re-signed Jermichael Finley this week. That being said, the 26-year-old is a solid blocker with good size (6-7, 267) and became quite a red-zone threat in 2011 with five touchdowns in only 31 total targets on the season. If given the chance, Davis could prove to be a solid NFL starter, but at the very least is a capable No. 2 man.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Anthony Becht, Kansas City Chiefs — A first-round pick by the Jets back in 2000, Becht has bounced around the league since and hasn't surpassed 100 yards receiving in a season in five years. The 34-year-old has no athleticism left and isn't even a great blocker anymore, so his career is probably over.
  • John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks — After two impressive seasons to begin his career, Carlson set career lows across the board in 2010 and missed the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury. Still just 27, Carlson has starting upside if he can stay healthy and focused. He's a low-risk, high-reward guy.
  • Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills — A fourth-round pick in 2007, Chandler bounced around between the Cowboys (twice), Cowboys, and Giants before finally landing in Buffalo in 2010. Entering 2011 with just one career reception, Chandler totaled 38 receptions, 389 yards and six touchdowns. Despite his "breakout," Chandler disappears a lot of the time and isn't much of a blocker. I don't see him with long-term starting potential.
  • Daniel Fells, Denver Broncos — In his first season as a full-time starter, Fells managed just 19 receptions, 256 yards and three scores while struggling as a blocker. He doesn't profile as more than a backup and there's little upside at 28.
  • Reggie Kelly, Atlanta Falcons — Kelly returned to Atlanta in 2011 after eight seasons with the Bengals. Now 35, Kelly caught just one pass in 16 games this season, but did grade out positively as a blocker. That's about all he offers and he's not going to be that appealing on the market.
  • Donald Lee, Cincinnati Bengals — Once a fairly productive starter with the Packers, Lee failed to make the Eagles' roster out of camp and wound up playing in nine games for the Bengals in 2011, totaling 11 catches for 115 yards. Soon turning 32, I suspect Lee will have a difficult time prolonging his career more than a couple years.
  • Randy McMichael, San Diego Chargers — Working as the backup to Antonio Gates for the past two seasons, McMichael has racked up 50 catches for 492 yards and two touchdowns. He had starting potential back in his earlier years, but McMichael is no more than a backup as a soon-to-be 33-year-old.
  • Justin Peelle, San Francisco 49ers — A 10-year NFL veteran, Peelle record his lowest catch total (one) in 2011 while failing to grade out well as a blocker. He's nothing more than a backup at 32 and doesn't offer much as a fill-in.
  • Leonard Pope, Kansas City Chiefs — A third-round pick of the Cardinals back in 2006, Pope has been a major disappointment despite his appealing 6-foot-8 size. Although he posted career highs in receptions (24) and receiving yards (247) with the Chiefs in 2011, he graded out as PFF's 110th tight end (out of 111) and clearly doesn't have what it takes to be an NFL starter.
  • Bo Scaife, Cincinnati Bengals — After a handful of solid seasons in Tennessee, the former sixth-round pick spent his first season with the Bengals in IR with a shoulder injury. He's always had starting potential, but his opportunities might be waning at 31.
  • Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota Vikings — Once a backup with the Giants, Shiancoe was at his best a few years ago with 18 touchdowns and two 596-yard seasons between 2008 and 2009. His production has taken a hit since and he's not much of a blocker, so he's really nothing more than a short-term starting option at this point.
  • Alex Smith, Cleveland Browns — Smith entered the league as a promising tight end with the Bucs in 2005, but he's since fizzles in stints with the Patriots, Eagles and Browns. He's not much of a blocker and not all that appealing a backup either.
  • Jacob Tamme, Indianapolis Colts — Tamme did a nice job filling in for Dallas Clark in 2010 with 67 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns, but he's clearly not the same guy without Peyton Manning throwing to him. Most teams aren't going to view him as a starter.

Discuss this article on the comments below or on the forum here!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dolphins win coin toss, land 8th pick in 2012 NFL Draft

After an 0-7 start to the 2011 season, the Dolphins capped off the year with a 6-3 record in the last nine games, sufficiently ruining any chance of a top-five pick. Fortunately, a bit of luck has improved their draft standing slightly.

Entrenched in a tie with the Carolina Panthers for the eighth pick in April's NFL Draft, the Dolphins won a coin toss early Friday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, meaning they will pick eighth and the Panthers ninth in the draft's first round.

The order will alternate by round throughout the draft, meaning the Dolphins will pick before Carolina in rounds one, three, five and seven, and the Panthers will pick ahead of Miami in rounds two, four and six. (The Saints have the Dolphins' sixth-round pick in a swap for running back Reggie Bush, while the Bears have Carolina's third-round pick in the Greg Olsen trade.)

The coin flip was a result of tiebreaker procedures after the Dolphins and Panthers both ended up with identical records (7-9) and strengths of schedule (.504). Because the two teams are in different conferences, divisional and conference records are not used as tiebreakers.

While the Dolphins' earning the eighth pick is certainly a positive, it won't necessarily affect who they are able to pick in the first round. The Dolphins and Panthers do have some overlapping needs (defensive end, offensive line) but the Panthers could also target cornerback, wide receiver and defensive tackle, while Miami would be more likely to focus on quarterback (or a trade down) if they don't take a pass rusher or offensive tackle.

Where this small victory does come into play a bit more is in trading the pick, as the Dolphins now have slightly better ammo with which to move up or down in the draft. Many of us are holding out hope for a blockbuster deal to land Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III at the Rams' No. 2 pick, but that remains an extreme long shot and a trade down is much more realistic.

The 2012 NFL Draft begins the night of Thursday, April 26, but the Dolphins' draft needs will become much clearer after the free agent signing period, which will open March 13 at 4 p.m. ET.

Discuss this article on the comments below or on the forum here!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Center

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

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

1. Chris Myers, Houston Texans

A sixth-round pick by the Broncos in 2005, Myers was plucked away by the Texans as a restricted free agent in 2008. Since then, he's started all 64 regular season games and been the anchor of the best run-blocking offensive line in recent history, paving way for undrafted running back Arian Foster to rank among the NFL's elite. Myers has gotten consistently better from year to year and is playing better than ever as arguably the best center in the game, which Nick Mangold being the only competition. The Texans will attempt to retain him, but any team would have to have him.

2. Scott Wells, Green Bay Packers

Originally a seventh-round guard in 2004, Wells found a home at center in 2006 and has started 98 games over the past six seasons. He's developed a strong chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, holding up well in pass protection while also being an efficient run blocker for a backfield that has constantly lacked much talent. The 31-year-old doesn't stand out on physical tools, but he could start for a lot of teams.

3. Todd McClure, Atlanta Falcons

Selected by the Falcons in the seventh round all the way back in 1999, McClure has been a mainstay on Atlanta's offensive line for more than a decade. He has 179 starts and 182 regular season games under his belt and is still playing at a high level at 35. He should have three or four more good seasons left as a starter, whether it's in Atlanta or elsewhere.

4. Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis Colts

Easily one of the best undrafted offensive linemen to ever play the game, Saturday entered the league with the Ravens in 1998 before joining the Colts and working his way into the starting lineup a year later. A five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, Saturday has opened 188 of 197 career games played as Peyton Manning's partner in crime for the entire last decade. He'll be 36 next season and might not want to play in a lot of places, but he can still produce at a high level and will find starting opportunities if he wants them.

5. Matt Birk, Baltimore Ravens

A sixth-rounder out of Harvard in 1998, Birk was a six-time Pro Bowler in an 11-year stint with the Vikings before coming over to the Ravens as a free agent in 2009. Although he's nearing 36 years of age, Birk is still a top-10 center in the league and one of the best technicians around. He's started 171 career regular season games and will have more ahead of him if he doesn't opt for retirement.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Dan Connolly, New England Patriots — Perhaps best known for his 71-yard kickoff return in 2010, Connolly has started 28 games over the past three seasons but hasn't graded out particularly well. He's best suited for a versatile backup as a center and guard.
  • Andre Gurode, Baltimore Ravens — A five-time Pro Bowler with the Cowboys, Gurode started only five games in 2011 while playing guard and center. He's best suited for the snapper position and is a capable starter, but the soon-to-be 34-year-old isn't entering the market on a high note.
  • Nick Hardwick, San Diego Chargers — A third-rounder in 2004, Hardwick has started all 32 games over the past two seasons and was a Pro Bowler in 2006. Still just 30 years old, Hardwick has the talent to be a top-10 starting center.
  • Dan Koppen, New England Patriots — The Patriots' long-time starting center, Koppen spent most of the 2011 season on IR with a broken ankle suffered in the season opener. A two-time Super Bowl champion and 2007 Pro Bowler, the 32-year-old can still start in this league and be productive if he's healthy.
  • Will Montgomery, Washington Redskins — After five seasons working primarily as a backup with the Panthers, Jets and Redskins, Montgomery started all 16 games during the 2011 season, with 13 coming at center and the other three at left guard. He graded out fairly well this past season, but is probably better suited for a backup role at all three interior positions.
  • Manny Ramirez, Denver Broncos — A mauling fourth-rounder out of Texas Tech in 2007, Ramirez busted with the Lions and played in just two games with the Broncos in 2011. At 29, it doesn't seem like he's going to be a legitimate starting option.
  • Brett Romberg, Atlanta Falcons — A nine-year veteran since being undrafted out of Miami in 2003, Romberg has had stints with the Jaguars (2003-06), Rams (2006-08) and Falcons (2009, 2011), but has only started 18 career games (all with the Rams). He's undersized and will be 33 next season, so he's extremely unlikely to break out now.
  • Samson Satele, Oakland Raiders — The Dolphins' second-round pick in 2007, Satele has had an up-and-down career and has struggled with the bigger nose tackles in the NFL. That being said, he's coming off a pretty solid year and already had 74 NFL starts under his belt at age 27. He should be able to maintain a starting job in the NFL for quite some time.
  • Casey Wiegmann, Kansas City Chiefs — There have been times where it looked like Wiegmann's career was pretty much done, but the undersized 38-year-old keeps hanging around and is still a pretty good blocker. Wiegmann has missed just one start in the last decade and could probably keep going as long as he wants to play.
  • Tony Wragge, San Francisco 49ers — A long-time veteran with only 15 starts entering the 2011 season, Wragge opened eight of 15 contests in his first season with the Rams in 2011 and graded out very poorly. The 32-year-old just isn't a starting talent.

Discuss this article in the comment below or on the forum here!

Monday, February 20, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Guard

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

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

1.  Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints

A fifth-round pick out of Nebraska in 2008, Nicks has started 61 of 64 contests in four pro seasons. A Pro Bowler each of the past two years, Nicks has done well to protect Drew Brees and pave the way for whatever running back the Saints have trotted onto the field. Nicks will land a monster deal if he hits the open market, but he could get the franchise tag if the Saints can extend Brees before free agency begins.

2. Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles

A bust in his first four pro seasons with the Panthers and Dolphins, Mathis emerged as a quality guard in two seasons with the Bengals and didn't disappoint as a starter with the Eagles in 2011, grading out as the best run-blocking guard and best overall guard in the league. Mathis also hasn't allowed a sack over the past four years and could be a steal for someone if the entire league doesn't realize how good he is.

3. Ben Grubbs, Baltimore Ravens

A standout lineman at Auburn, Grubbs was the 29th overall pick in 2007 and has 70 starts over five pro seasons. Earning his first Pro Bowl selection in 2011, Grubbs helped Ray Rice rank second in the NFL in rushing while grading out as the No. 10 guard in the league despite missing six games. The 27-year-old should be in line for a significant deal from someone.

4. Jake Scott, Tennessee Titans

The starter of 120 consecutive contests between stints with the Colts and Titans, Scott rebounded from his worst season in 2010 to have his best season in 2011, grading out as PFF's No. 7 overall guard. Scott is a fairly undersized guard that isn't going to fit into every scheme, but in the right situation he can be a very good starter and he should have no trouble finding a job.

5. Montrae Holland, Dallas Cowboys

Originally a fourth-round pick by New Orleans in 2003, Holland has been a part-time starter for much of his career with 60 contests opened in stints with the Saints, Broncos, and Cowboys. Although he started only 10 games in 2011, Holland had his best season yet and did well paving way for rookie running back DeMarco Murray. Although he doesn't have a lengthy track record of quality play, perhaps things have finally clicked for the 31-year-old veteran and he can put together a few more seasons as a productive starter.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Jacob Bell, St. Louis Rams — A fifth-round pick by the Titans in 2004, landed a $36-million contract with the Rams in 2008. After three pretty average seasons, Bell is coming off the worst year of his career and will hit free agency after restructuring his deal. He might land a short-term starting job somewhere, but he couldn't have less momentum.
  • Mike Brisiel, Houston Texans — Undrafted in 2006, Brisiel has started 47 games over the past five years, including 13 in 2011 for one of the league's best rushing attacks. His upside is a bit limited, but he could be a bargain starter for a lot of teams.
  • Vernon Carey, Miami Dolphins — Moved inside in 2011 after a career at tackle, the former first-round pick struggled for the most part as an ineffective run blocker. He's only 30 and has experience at tackle and guard, but his conditioning and mobility continue to decline and I'm not sure he has much more starting ability left.
  • Leonard Davis, Detroit Lions — The No. 2 overall pick in 2001, Davis was somewhat of a disappointment at tackle but fashioned a nice career for himself at guard with three straight Pro Bowl selections from 2007-09 with the Cowboys. He'll be 34 next season and spent all of the 2011 season on the Lions' injured reserve list, so his career might be winding down.
  • Ryan Diem, Indianapolis Colts — A long-time protector of Peyton Manning at tackle for the Colts, Diem opened 10 games at guard in 2011 with little success. He's limited scheme-wise and coming off a poor season at 32, so he's not a great bet to continue his career as a starter.
  • Derrick Dockery, Dallas Cowboys — A quality starter for the Redskins from 2003-06, Dockery busted after a monster deal with Buffalo and subsequently struggled to produce during a second stint in Washington. After struggling in nine games (two starts) with Dallas in 2011, the soon-to-be 32-year-old is probably finished as a starter.
  • Trai Essex, Pittsburgh Steelers — A third-round pick in 2005, Essex has primarily been a backup in his career aside from a 16-start season in 2009. During that season, he ranked as PFF's worst offensive guard and third-worst as a run-blocker. The 29-year-old has no real upside and profiles strictly as a backup, although most teams should go younger.
  • Geoff Hangartner, Carolina Panthers — Hangartner spent four seasons (2005-08) with the Panthers before disappointing as a free-agent pickup for the Bills and returned to Carolina two years later. He graded out as a solid starter for the Panthers in 2011, however, and could be a stopgap starter or versatile backup for somebody.
  • Russ Hochstein, Denver Broncos — A two-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots, Hochstein has appeared in 138 regular season games but has just 36 career starts, with none in 2011. The 34-year-old is not a starting-caliber player and profiles as a backup guard and center at best.
  • Nate Livings, Cincinnati Bengals — Undrafted out of LSU in 2006, Livings has started 47 games over the past four seasons, including all 32 since the 2010 season began. However, he's graded out very poorly during that span and doesn't look like a quality starting option.
  • Deuce Lutui, Arizona Cardinals — A behemoth of a guard, the Tonga native had had a rocky career as PFF's worst guard in 2008, a solid starter in 2009, and a sub-par one in 2010. In 2011, Lutui didn't start a game for the first time in his career and played only 45 offensive snaps. The 28-year-old still has ability and could turn into a good starter with the right combination of coaching and effort, but nobody is going to line up to sign him.
  • Mike McGlynn, Cincinnati Bengals — A fourth-round pick by the Eagles in 2008, McGlynn has only managed 14 career starts in four seasons and most of those have come due to other injuries. He graded out as a poor guard in 2011 with the Bengals and will need a huge turnaround to ever be a contributor.
  • Paul McQuistan, Seattle Seahawks — A disappointing third-rounder by the Raiders in 2006, McQuistan didn't start a game between 2008-10 before opening 10 contests in 2011. He's a versatile guy, but the 28-year-old is nothing more than a backup.
  • Chilo Rachal, San Francisco 49ers — Drafted in the second round out of USC in 2008, Rachal had two good seasons from 2009-10 before being replaced by a sub-par Adam Snyder (below) at right guard during the 2011 season. Rachal is still just 25 and has plenty of ability, so someone should be able to get starting production out of him.
  • Adam Snyder, San Francisco 49ers — An on-and-off starter since he came into the league in 2005, Snyder replaced Chilo Rachal (above) as the 49ers' right guard in 2011 but graded out extremely poorly. He might be able to land a starting job on experience and recent team success, but he's not a great talent.
  • Floyd Womack, Arizona Cardinals — An occasional starter with the Seahawks (2001-08) and Browns (2009-10), Womack opened 71 of 119 games played before landing on IR with a shoulder injury in his first season in Arizona. The 33-year-old is versatile and a capable backup, but durability is a concern for "Pork Chop" and cheaper alternatives can probably be found.
  • Bobbie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals — A long-time starting NFL guard, Williams has started 130 games in his 12-year-career and has graded out incredibly well over the past four seasons in Cincinnati. He was limited to just nine games with a broken ankle in 2011 and turns 36 next season, but he can still play at a high level if healthy and could be a quality short-term starter.
  • Jeremy Zuttah, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The 83rd overall pick in 2008, has started 44 of 58 games played in four seasons and has generally played pretty well. He's still only 25 and should have plenty of starting opportunities around the league.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dolphins sign converted defensive back Quinten Lawrence

The Miami Dolphins signed free agent defensive back Quinten Lawrence to an undisclosed contract Thursday, according to the team's official website.

A converted wide receiver, Lawrence gives the Dolphins eight cornerbacks currently under contract. That does not include veteran Will Allen, who is an unrestricted free agent when the market opens on March 13.

The Dolphins have 52 players on their 80-man offseason roster and 15 free agents, not including exclusive-rights free agents Jeron Mastrud and Austin Spitler that cannot sign with other teams if tendered a contract offer.


A Lafayette, La. native, Lawrence lettered in football, basketball and track in high school before attending McNeese State. A two-way player for the Cowboys, Lawrence totaled 99 receptions for 1,905 yards and 15 touchdowns as a receiver, returned 22 kickoffs for 419 yards and took a punt back 70 yards for a score.

Lawrence (6-0, 184) was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the sixth round (175th overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft. He did a little of everything as a rookie, spending about a month on the practice squad but appearing in six games with one start at receiver. In all, he totaled one catch for nine yards, two rushes for 42 yards, 16 kickoffs for 317 yards (19.8 avg.) and five special-teams tackles.

In 2010, Lawrence was inactive for his only two games on the Chiefs' active roster while spending most of the season on the practice squad. It was during this time that he began working on the defensive side of the ball. By 2011 training camp, Lawrence had converted to cornerback full-time. He totaled 10 tackles in the preseason but spent the entire regular season on the team's practice squad.


The Dolphins probably aren't in the market for a starting cornerback and Lawrence isn't going to fill that role anyway, but they could certainly use more depth with Will Allen nearing the end of the road and youngsters Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson still largely unproven. 

According to my source inside the Chiefs' organization, Lawrence took well to the cornerback position and overcame the lack of a full offseason to work on defense during the lockout to impress the coaching staff. My source says of Lawrence, "he came into camp and did a really good job...great tackler and not afraid to hit."

Lawrence obviously doesn't have much bulk at 184 pounds, but he seems like he has an aggressive personality and physical style of play as a defender. At his best he boasts 4.3 speed with a track background and has some skills as a returner as well, so versatility can't hurt his quest to make the team.

That being said, Lawrence has never seen the field as a defender during the regular season, so it's hard to say he's close to making the roster or having an impact on the field. At this point, he'll have to make his mark on special teams (and potentially compete in the return game) before hoping to stick as a reserve defensive back.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Offensive Tackle

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

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

1.  Jared Gaither, San Diego Chargers

A supplemental pick out of Maryland in 2007, Gaither had an up-and-down career in Baltimore that was marred by a back injury toward the end. Signed to a one-year deal by the Chiefs in 2011, Gaither was disaster in 10 games in relief before being picked up by the Chargers and starting five games at an extremely high level. He's a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to performance, by Gaither (6-9, 340) has rare size and is entering the market on a high note, so he should be able to land a starting job.

2. Demetrius Bell, Buffalo Bills

A seventh-rounder back in 2008, Bell became a full-time starter in last season after opening eight games in 2009. Bell struggled quite a bit in 2010, allowing 10 sacks in 16 starts while grading out as Pro Football Focus' No. 52 offensive tackle. Much improved in 2011, Bell was limited to seven games but allowed just one sack and graded out positively. Still just 27 with a nice body of experience, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone should have some starting opportunities available.


3. Jeff Backus, Detroit Lions

A first-round pick by the Lions in 2001 (and an alum of yours truly's own high school in Norcross, Ga.), Backus has opened 176 straight games since entering the league. However, he's never really been more than average as a blocker and his presence on this list says less about him and more about a week class of free-agent tackles. Backus, 34, might have a few more years of starting left in him, but he's not a great talent and any team with him as a starter should be thinking about upgrading. 

4. Max Starks, Pittsburgh Steelers

Originally a third-round pick out of Florida in 2004, Starks has been an on-and-off starter for much of his career, opening double-digits contests five times and 80 of 107 games played in eight seasons. He hasn't graded out positively since 2009, but he's still a serviceable short-term starter at age 30.

5. Adam Goldberg, St. Louis Rams

Undrafted out of Wyoming in 2003, Goldberg spent three seasons with the Vikings before playing for the Rams for the last six years. He's opened 66 of 112 contests in his nine-year career games, playing both tackle spots as well as guard. He's a below average starter—especially on the blind side—but he's a serviceable fill-in and would be a nice veteran to have off the bench.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Khalif Barnes, Oakland Raiders — A former second-round pick by the Jaguars in 2005, Barnes has 78 starts under his belt but allowed nine sacks from the right side in 2011 while grading out horribly as a run blocker. He's not an ideal starter for anyone.
  • Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals — Collins has started at least two games in all four of his pro seasons, but never more than seven in one year and only 18 of 39 overall. He's still just 26 and he's graded out well when he has played, so there might be hope for him to start yet either outside or eventually at guard.
  • Marc Colombo, Miami Dolphins — Of 133 offensive tackles graded in the NFL this past season, Colombo ranked 126th after allowing nine sacks and 35 pressures on the season. I saw every snap he played this season and I can say without a doubt that the former first-round pick has no business in the NFL anymore.
  • Oniel Cousins, Cleveland Browns — A third-round pick by the Ravens in 2008, Cousins busted in Baltimore and didn't fare much better in Cleveland with only 96 snaps in 2011. He's worked at both guard and tackle and is still only 27, but he need some serious coaching if he's going to turn it around.
  • King Dunlap, Philadelphia Eagles — Undrafted out of Auburn in 2008, Dunlap spent his rookie season on IR and has started seven of 38 contests. He's limited talent-wise and is no more than a backup.
  • Stephon Heyer, Oakland Raiders — Heyer actually started five games for the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2007 and has opened 35 of 61 games total in his five pro seasons. He's a natural tackle and can also play guard, but he doesn't have much upside as a starter.
  • Artis Hicks, Cleveland Browns — A long-time NFL veteran, Hicks has started 71 of 118 games played in stints with the Eagles, Vikings, Redskins and Browns. He's a suitable fill-in at guard or tackle, but the 33-year-old is not an ideal starter.
  • Sean Locklear, Washington Redskins — A third-round pick by the Seahawks in 2004, Locklear has opened 82 games in his career, but started fewer than 10 in 2011 for the first time his rookie season. He's a versatile guy that can play tackle or guard, but he's a mediocre starter.
  • Kareem McKenzie, New York Giants — What a difference a year makes. After grading out as the No. 3 tackle in the game in 2010, McKenzie fell off a cliff in 2011 by allowing nearly twice as many pressures (25 to 47) and grading out as one of the worst in the league at his position. He's obviously got talent, but he's coming off a bad year and at 32 it's unclear what kind of player you're going to get.
  • Ryan O'Callaghan, Kansas City Chiefs — A fifth-round pick by the Patriots in 2006, O'Callaghan has started 20 of 51 games played, but missed all of the 2011 season with an undisclosed injury. When healthy, the 28-year-old a pretty sub-par starting tackle but a solid backup.
  • Quinn Ojinnaka, Indianapolis Colts — Taken three picks after Callaghan (above) in 2006, Ojinnaka has bounced around with the Falcons, Patriots, Rams and Colts while starting 15 of 56 career appearances. He lacks ideal bulk and profiles as a versatile backup.
  • Barry Richardson, Kansas City Chiefs — A solid prospect coming out of Clemson four years ago, Richardson has started all 32 games for the Chiefs over the past two seasons with weak results, allowing 13 sacks and 68 pressures in that span. He's a better run blocker than he is pass protector, but I'm not sure how he'd fare inside at 6-foot-7.
  • Dennis Roland, Cincinnati Bengals — Originally undrafted out of Georgia in 2006, Roland eventually started 12 games for the Bengals in the 2009 and 2010 seasons before opening just 3 of 16 contests in 2011. The 6-foot-9 Roland profiles only at right tackle and isn't a very good pass protector, so there's little upside here.
  • Guy Whimper, Jacksonville Jaguars — Whimper spent three seasons with the Giants and another with Jacksonville in 2010 before finally becoming a starter for the Jaguars in 2011, opening 15 games (one at left tackle and 14 at right tackle). He allowed league-worst 14 sacks, and while some of that can be attributed to the deer-in-the-headlights quarterback in Blaine Gabbert, it's not exactly a great endorsement for Whimper's starting abilities.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Report: Dolphins to sign CFL running back Jerome Messam

UPDATE (2/15): The Miami Dolphins officially announced the signing of Jerome Messam via twitter on Wednesday, February 15.

As has become standard operating procedure for the Miami Dolphins during the Jeff Ireland regime, the team is expected to sign yet another CFL player to its offseason roster.

Reports Sunday indicated the Dolphins are attempting to sign Edmonton Eskimos running back Jerome Messam, and a tweet by Eskimos radio analyst Dave Campbell says Messam's representatives "expect a contract to be signed with the Dolphins within the next 24 hours."

The 26-year-old Messam would give the Dolphins 51 players on their offseason roster, excluding the 17 free agents with contracts that will expire on March 13. He is also the second running back the Dolphins have plucked from the CFL this year, joining former Hamilton Tiger-Cats scat back/returner Marcus Thigpen, who was inked a month ago.

The Dolphins have consistently shown interest in players from our neighbor to the north. In addition to signing Messam and Thigpen this offseason, the team also expressed interest in guard Jovan Olafioye and nose tackle Khalif Mitchell. Olafioye worked out for more than half the teams in the NFL and signed with the Rams last week, but was released and returned to Canada when he failed a physical. The Dolphins offered Mitchell a $97,000 signing bonus in January, but he declined and opted to return to the BC Lions.

Messam becomes the 10th former CFL player signed by the Dolphins' organization since Ireland arrived in 2008 as the franchise continues to look for diamonds in the rough. However, only one of those players—Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake, who was signed in 2009—has ever played in the regular season with the Dolphins.


A Toronto native, Messam was a standout running back at North Dakota State College of Science in 2005-06. He rushing for 993 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior at Graceland (Iowa) University in 2007, but subsequently missed the 2008 season after tearing an ACL in spring camp with the New York Giants (participation allowed by the NAIA.) As a senior in 2009, Messam racked up 1,075 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground to earn all-conference honors.

After going undrafted, Messam was signed as a free agent by the CFL's BC Lions. Working primarily as a backup running back and special-teams player as a rookie, Messam totaled 92 yards and two touchdowns rushing, 57 yards receiving, and eight special-teams tackles.

Messam was acquired by the Edmonton Eskimos in exchange for a 2013 fifth-round pick prior to what would become his breakout season. In 18 games, Messam led the team and ranked third in the CFL with 1,057 rushing yards and six touchdowns, becoming the first Canadian since 2000 to top the 1,000-yard mark. The recipient of the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian Award, Messam was a also added 248 yards receiving and CFL All-Star. He suffered a torn meniscus near the end of the season and a torn calf muscle during his rehab, but has since recovered.

Off the field, Messam has encountered a handful of issues that raise concerns about character and maturity. Although he stayed out of trouble in 2010, he was involved in an altercation at an Ontario nightclub and broke the jaw of a Lions teammate in a locker-room brawl.


A powerful north-to-south runner, Messam is a semi-truck of a running back at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. He's not going to cause anyone to mistake him for Barry Sanders with his moves, but he certainly runs with power and can hit the hole hard. (That's what she said?)

That being said, it's important to not get too excited about the Messam signing. He's clearly got some ability, but the NFL is an entirely different beast and there's really no telling how he'll fare during his time in the States. Reggie Bush is entrenched as the Dolphins' starting tail back, and I highly doubt Messam has comparable talent to 2010 second-rounder Daniel Thomas. As someone suggested on twitter yesterday, the signing might be used to light a fire under Thomas, but Messam remains a long shot to make the team.

As of now, Messam is an intriguing prospect that proves backfield depth with free agent Steve Slaton unlikely to return and Lex Hilliard (a restricted free agent) lacking much ability. Though he will primarily focus on special teams, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Messam competes with Hilliard for a fullback/short-yardage back job, as Joe Philbin's Packers often carried a ridiculous three fullbacks on the roster at one time.

You also have to worry about the character concerns attached to Messam. It seems he has a bit of a temper that has gotten him into trouble in the past, so he's certainly not going to last long in the NFL as an unproven player that doesn't have his head on straight and he didn't even receive a signing bonus from the Dolphins. I'm not one to say a guy can't change or mature, but there's no question Messam brings some baggage with him to Miami and he's not going to have a long leash off the field.

The Dolphins haven't had much luck north of the border aside from Cam Wake, but I commend them for consistently utilizing other leagues to build their offseason rosters and see if they can hit on an unknown player. A good organization turns over every rock it can find, and Messam is certainly a rock worth turning over.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dolphins complete coaching staff, announced four more assistants

New head coach Joe Philbin's staff is now complete, as the Dolphins announced a handful of additions Sunday. Among the new additions are Blue Adams as assistant defensive backs coach, Charlie Bullen as a defensive assistant, and Ben Johnson as an offensive assistant.

Other announced moves that I'd previously addressed include the addition of Chris Mosley as the assistant offensive line coach, and the retention of running backs coach Jeff Nixon. The final staff also confirms that pass rush coach Bryan Cox was not retained.

Interestingly, one title that was not handed out was quarterbacks coach, as it was revealed that new assistant head coach Zac Taylor will work with offensive coordinator and father-in-law Mike Sherman in tutoring that position. Previous quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell was recently hired in the same capacity with the Houston Texans.

In all, Philbin's inaugural coaching staff (which you can see here) breaks down into a dozen new additions and eight retained from Tony Sparano's 2011 staff, although only two of those retentions—Nixon and tight ends coach Dan Campbell—is on the offensive side of the ball.

Blue Adams

A Miami, Fla. native, Adams played college football at the University of Cincinnati was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He later joined the Jacksonville Jaguars and played in eight games as a rookie, amassing four tackles in special teams.

After attending training camp with the Jaguars followed by a brief stint with the Chicago Bears prior to the 2004 season, Adams signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005 and was an All-NFL Europe selection that offseason. He went on to appear in 29 games for the Buccaneers over the next two seasons, totaling 32 tackles and a forced fumble.

Adams signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2007 and appeared in 13 games, recording 15 tackles and his lone career sack while playing for then-defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, who is the Dolphins' new defensive coordinator. He had a preseason stint with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 and the CFL's Montreal Alouettes in 2009 before ending his playing career.

In 2010, Adams spent a season working with the secondary at Purdue under new Dolphins' defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo. Most recently, he was the secondary coach at Northern Iowa.

Charlie Bullen

A former quarterback at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., Bullen spent the past two seasons as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa, working with the Hawkeyes' defense. Before that, he spent two years assistant new Dolphins' offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe, who was Iowa's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the time.

In addition to his experience with O'Keefe, Bullen was also an assistant under Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who is a long-time friend of Joe Philbin and employed the Dolphins' new head coach as an offensive line coach from 1999 to 2002.

Ben Johnson

Johnson spent four years (2004-07) as a walk-on quarterback at the University of North Carolina, but he never attempted a pass during his collegiate career. After working as a software developer in 2008, Johnson was a video graduate assistant for the Boston College football team. He spent the past two seasons as an offensive graduate assistant.

I can't find any connections between Johnson and other members of the Dolphins' staff, as offensive line coach Jim Turner and assistant offensive line coach Chris Mosley were only at Boston College in 2007 before Johnson seemed to have arrived.


First off, I'd like to say that I like the Dolphins' decision to retain Nixon as the running backs coach. While he came in as a relatively inexperienced assistant coach, you certainly can't argue with the results he got from Reggie Bush in what was easily the former No. 2 overall pick's best season as a pro. Between Bush and the development of 2011 second-rounder Daniel Thomas, it's nice to have some continuity here.

I also like that the Dolphins have hired a number of young coaches to assist with some of the more experienced vets on the staff. The more sets of eyes on this team the better, and it's obvious that Joe Philbin believes strongly in developing coaches from a young age. Some of these assistants like Adams, Bullen and Jonson don't have a whole lot of experience and won't be asked to do much initially, but they obviously have potential that Philbin likes.

Finally, I wouldn't worry about the lack of an anointed "quarterbacks coach." Between Philbin, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, assistant quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, and wide receivers coach Ken O'Keefe (who tutored quarterbacks for a decade at Iowa), the position is certainly going to receive the attention it deserves.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Defensive Linemen

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.
It should be noted that this series focuses only on players that will become free agents in the next league year, and not players that are released by their teams (ex. Peyton Manning) before it begins.

Although this article is called "defensive linemen," it pretty much excludes pass rushers and examines the "big-bodied" defensive linemen, which includes 3-4 defensive ends and nose tackles as well as 4-3 defensive tackles. Many of these players translate into either scheme, so it makes no sense to split them apart because of their position's name.

In this entry, I'll examine the top defensive tackles (and 3-4 defensive ends) expected to hit the open market next month, as well as some other notable names at the position.

1. Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals

A second-round pick in 2008, Campbell has exceeded every expectation since he become a starter in his second season. He's missed only two games over the past three years and has totaled 21 sacks in that span despite not being primarily tasked with rushing the passer. Arguably the best 3-4 defensive end in the league in 2011, Campbell also profiles as a 4-3 tackle or even a defensive end in the 4-3. He's in line for a monster contract.

2. Sione Pouha, New York Jets

The Jets' defense wasn't nearly as good 2011 as it had been in the past ,but it certainly wasn't Pouha's fault. Easily one of the top nose tackles in the game, Pouha is stout at the point of attack and can anchor the line as good as anyone. The Jets would obviously like to keep him, but any team in the league could use him and he's not going to be cheap.

3. Brodrick Bunkley, Denver Broncos

A first-round pick by the Eagles in 2006, Bunkley was largely a disappointment in Philadelphia and was shipped to Denver in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Something must have clicked this season, however, as he totaled 43 tackles and graded out as the second-ranked 4-3 defensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus. Now that he's proved himself, he should have no shortage of suitors.

4. Paul Soliai, Miami Dolphins

A fourth-round pick back in 2007, Soliai didn't really emerge until the 2010 season, when he played like one of the best nose tackles in the league. He played under the franchise tag in 2011 and wasn't quite as good, but he still performed well and has rare size. Plenty of teams are going to be willing to pay Soliai to anchor their 3-4 scheme, although he could play in a 4-3 as well.

5. Kendall Langford, Miami Dolphins

A bit of an underrated player around the league, Langford has never missed a game in four years since being drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. His tackle total fell significantly in 2011, but he remains one of the better 3-4 ends in the league and could play tackle in a 4-3 as well. He deserves a significant raise and could bring in a four-year deal for $3-5 million per year.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Rocky Bernard, New York Giants — A 10-year veteran, Bernard hasn't been a full-time starter since 2008 with the Seahawks, but he did appear in all 16 games and rack up 30 tackles for the Super Bowl champs this past season. He still grades out as a productive player and makes an ideal veteran backup or short-term starter at age 32.
  • Red Bryant, Seattle Seahawks — A mountain at 6-foot-4 and 323 pounds, Bryant started all 16 games in 2011 and actually played defensive end in a 4-3, which is a pretty odd fit. In addition to his defensive prowess, Bryant also blocked four kicks in 2011 to become a special teams superstar. He has the versatility to play in either scheme from end to tackle, but he profiles best as an interior lineman regardless and has some upside.
  • Adam Carriker, Washington Redskins — The No. 13 overall pick by the Rams in 2011, Carriker struggled to perform in two seasons in St. Louis before missing the entire 2009 campaign with a torn muscle in his shoulder. After being shipped to the Redskins in 2010, Carriker performed well in his first season as a 3-4 end but struggled this past season. As a former first-round pick, Carriker should get a few more chances to prove himself as a long-term starting option.
  • Fred Evans, Minnesota Vikings — Evans has spent the past five seasons as a rotational lineman for the Vikings, but has just two career starts to his name and none since 2008. He's learned from some quality players in Minnesota, but the 28-year-old doesn't appear to be more than a career backup.
  • Aubrayo Franklin, New Orleans Saints — I was personally shocked when Franklin was only able to land a one-year deal in free agency in 2011, because he had emerged as one of the best nose tackles in the game in San Francisco. New Orleans didn't even use him right and I don't know how many chances he'll get at age 31, but he still has a lot of ability.
  • Antonio Garay, San Diego Chargers — A carer backup up to the 2010 season in stints with Cleveland, Chicago, and San Diego, Garay emerged as a starter for the Chargers two years ago and has maintained the role since. He graded out extremely well in 2010 before a bit of a dip this past season, but he's clearly a short-term starting option at 32.
  • Gary Gibson, St. Louis Rams — A former undrafted free agent in 2005 who bounced around the league and even spent time in NFL Europa, Gibson found a home in St. Louis with 16 starts in 2010 and a rotational role this past season. He's actually graded out surprisingly well, but I question his long-term upside and how much attention he'll draw from around the league.
  • Amon Gordon, Kansas City Chiefs — Gordon is the epitome of a journeyman, with stints in Cleveland, Denver, Baltimore, Tennessee, Philadelphia, New England, Seattle, Tennessee (again), Seattle (again), and finally Kansas City since being drafted in the fourth round in 2004. He set career highs with 16 games played, 23 tackles, two sacks, and a pass deflection in 2011, but he's not likely to emerge as a starter at age 30.
  • Kelly Gregg, Kansas City Chiefs — A long-time starter for the Ravens, Gregg moved on to Kansas City in 2011 and was tasked with anchoring the Chiefs' 3-4 defense. The 35-year-old wasn't that effective for the league's No. 26 run defense and he might be nearing the end of the line.
  • Tommie Harris, San Diego Chargers — A three-time Pro Bowler with the Bears, Harris quickly fell out of favor in Chicago after signing a $40 million contract in 2008. He fizzled in a 2010 stint with the Colts and finally landed in San Diego as a 3-4 end for the first time in his career, playing well as a rotational player. He's always had talent and could certainly turn his career around, but it remains to be seen if he can get the opportunity.
  • Vonnie Holliday, Arizona Cardinals — Playing for his fourth team in as many years in 2011, Holliday once again had a fairly good season despite only being a backup in Arizona. He's better than his playing time would indicate, but nobody is committing much to a 36-year-old. He might bounce around a bit more or simply hang it up, but he can still be effective if given the chance.
  • Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears — I could have easily put him in the pass rusher section, but Idonije is so well-rounded and versatile he fits here too. Idonije can get to the quarterback and play the run at either end or tackle in the 4-3. He's started the past two years after spending the seven before as a backup. He'll be 32 next season and I'm not sure how much interest he'll generate league-wide, but he has found a niche in Chicago.
  • Derek Landri, Philadelphia Eagles — A fifth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2007, Landri failed to establish himself in two-year stints in Jacksonville and Carolina. Though he appeared in only 12 games in 2011 and started none, he graded out extremely well and might be in line for more playing time going forward. However, the 6-foot-2, 290-pounder won't fit in all schemes.
  • Amobi Okoye, Chicago Bears — The youngest player to ever be drafted, Okoye was the No. 10 overall pick in 2007 but struggled after a good rookie season with the Texans. He was released as a bad fit for their new 3-4 scheme and landed in Chicago, where he had a pretty good season as a rotational lineman. Still just 24 despite having 59 starts under his belt, Okoye still has plenty of upside and can be a long-term starter if he stays committed and proves himself.
  • Cory Redding, Baltimore Ravens — A long-time starter for the Lions, Seahwaks and Ravens, Redding isn't that great of a pass rusher (he had a career-high eight sacks in 2006) but is one of the best run-stuffing ends in football. He probably has a couple more years to start ahead of him and won't be all that expensive.
  • Shaun Rogers, New Orleans Saints — Although he hasn't been a full-time starter since 2009, Rogers remains one of the monster nose tackles in the game. He's had an up-and-down career, but there's no denying the impact he can have. If he stays motivated, he could play another 5-6 years in the league similar to a Keith Traylor or Ted Washington.
  • Marcus Thomas, Denver Broncos — A fourth-round pick in 2007, Thomas has seen significant time as a starter in 2008 and 2011. He offers nothing as a pass rusher but is a stout run defender, so the 26-year-old might be able to find a starting job.
  • Gerard Warren, New England Patriots — The No. 3 overall pick in 2001, Warren has had a solid but unspectacular career. He can still be a productive lineman in a rotation, but he'll be 34 next year and is probably a year or two away (at best) from retirement.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 Free Agency Top Fives: Pass Rushers

Over the next month leading up to the free-agent signing period on March 13, I'll be taking a look at the best players slated for free agency this offseason.

Because different players play different positions in certain schemes, it's difficult to compare all defensive ends or all outside linebackers. Therefore I'm splitting up my rankings into non-rushing linebackers (3-4 inside linebackers and all 4-3 linebackers) and pass rushers (3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends.)

It should also be noted that this series focuses only on players that will become free agents in the next league year, and not players that are released by their teams (ex. Peyton Manning) before it begins.

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

1. Mario Williams, Houston Texans

When Williams was taken first overall in 2006, the Texans were widely panned for not taking quarterback Vince Young or running back Reggie Bush. Turns out the Texans were right all along, as Williams has become a well-rounded defensive end with two Pro Bowl selections and multiple double-digit sack seasons under his belt. Williams also showed incredible versatility in 2011, grading out well as a 3-4 outside linebacker despite measuring in at at around 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds. He missed much of the past season with a torn pectoral muscle, but he has elite talent and fits into either scheme so he should have no trouble landing a second monster contract.

2. Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys

A first-round pick out of Purdue in 2007, Spencer has spent the past three seasons as the bookend to DeMarcus Ware at outside linebacker in Dallas. He's averaged about six sacks per season and has eight total forced fumbles in that span while playing some of the best run defense in the league at his position. Spencer is not a huge pass rusher but is extremely well-rounded and capable of starting in either defensive scheme, so he's sure to have plenty of suitors.

3. John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons

Even approaching 34 years of age, Abraham is showing no signs of slowing down. He's coming off a 9.5-sack season in which he graded out as the No. 3 defensive end in football, and the four-time Pro Bowler has 112 sacks and 36 forced fumbles for his career. He's not going to get a huge long-term deal at his age, but he should be able to land a two- or three-year contract with elite money as a start for someone.

4. Andre Carter, New England Patriots

A bit of a disappointment as a first-rounder in San Francisco back in 2001, but he's emerged as one of the more reliable and consistent linemen around. He's shown the versatility to play in the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, but he's best suited for defensive end in the 4-3. He's stout against the run and is coming off a 10-sack season, so he should have no trouble finding a starting gig.

5. Jeremy Mincey, Jacksonville Jaguars

A sixth-round pick by the Patriots in 2006, Mincey bounced around the league a bit and didn't start a game until the 2010 season, when he opened eight games for the Jaguars. 2011 was a breakout season for Mincey, as he totaled 57 tackles, eight sacks and four forced fumbles as the No. 14 defensive end according to Pro Football Focus. He's a bit of a risk in that he could be a one-year wonder, but there's no denying the productivity of this past season so plenty of teams should be interested.

Beyond the Top Five
  • Jamaal Anderson, Indianapolis Colts — The No. 8 overall pick by the Falcons in 2008, Anderson was a massive bust in Atlanta with just 4.5 sacks in 60 games. He totaled 24 tackles and three sacks as a backup with the Colts in 2011 and doesn't appear to have what it takes to be a starter in this league.
  • Mark Anderson, New England Patriots — After a 12-sack rookie season with the Bears in 2006, Anderson struggled to produce consistently and ended up fizzling in stints in Chicago and Houston. Although he started just one game in 2011, Anderson notched 10 sacks as a situational pass rusher for the Patriots. He clearly has the talent to fill that role in the NFL, but asking for anything more isn't advised.
  • Antwan Applewhite, Carolina Panthers — Applewhite started 13 games for the Chargers in 2010, but has failed to show much as a pass rusher with just five sacks over the past two seasons. He's a backup at best.
  • Kroy Biermann, Atlanta Falcons — An excellent special teams player, Biermann has just one starting season and didn't impress all that much when he got the chance in 2010. He's best suited covering kicks and punts and backing up on defense.
  • Dave Ball, Tennessee Titans — Ball has been an on-and-off starter for the Titans over the past four seasons, totaling 15.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in that span. He's not starting material, but he's a nice guy to have in the rotation even at 31.
  • Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers — A supplemental draft pick by the Bengals in 2006, Brooks didn't become a pass rusher until arriving in San Francisco a few years ago and didn't become a starter until 2011. He totaled 50 tackles, seven sacks and a forced fumbles while grading well against the run and rushing the passer. Now that he's flashed some starting ability, the 27-year-old should be able to maintain a full-time job.
  • Derrick Harvey, Denver Broncos — A first-round pick by the Jaguars in 2008, Harvey was a huge bust in Jacksonville and hasn't been much better since leaving, playing in only five games and recording four tackles with the Broncos in 2011. He's still just 25 and has some physical tools so he might get a few more chances, but the outlook isn't good.
  • William Hayes, Tennessee Titans — A surprise fourth-round pick out of Winston-Salem in 2008, Hayes fizzled as a starter in 2009 and has just eight sacks to his name, including 1.5 in 2011. Some teams might give him a shot, but he doesn't appear to be starting material.
  • Jarret Johnson, Baltimore Ravens — Johnson is a bit out of place on this list, because he's much more of a run-stopper than pass rusher. A 4-3 outside linebacker in the body of a defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, Johnson has started every game for the Ravens over the past five seasons. He's a bit one-dimensional, but his run-stuffing prowess can't be denied.
  • Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans — A two-year starter for the Titans, Jones has played both end and tackle and has 15.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 49 games. He has nice versatility and has starting potential, but as worst he's a nice rotational lineman.
  • Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts — One of the smallest defensive ends in the league at 245 pounds (if that), Mathis has been a great pure pass rusher for the Colts since 2003. He has 83.5 sacks to his name and four double-digit sack seasons. Coming off a 9.5-sack performance in 2011, the 30-year-old should generate interest from plenty of teams and could even stand up in the 3-4 of the first time.
  • Jarvis Moss, Oakland Raiders — Just like Harvey (above), Moss is another pass-rushing bust from Florida. He has a career-high of 2.5 sacks in 2008 and has struggled with motivation at times, but the 27-year-old probably isn't out of chances quite yet.
  • Juqua Parker, Philadelphia Eagles — A start for the Eagles over the previous three seasons, Parker was relegated to 12 reserve appearances in 2011. He's still a capable run-stuffer, but he's not going to be handed any starting jobs nearing 34 years old.
  • Joey Porter, Arizona Cardinals — A four-time Pro Bowler, Porter had just one sack in six games this past season. Turning 35 this offseason, Porter can no longer cover or get to the passer, so his career is pretty much over.
  • Matt Roth, Jacksonville Jaguars — Limited to just nine games due to lingering concussion symptoms in 2011, Roth has only played two full seasons in the NFL. He doesn't get to the quarterback all that much, but he grades out as an excellent run-stuffer and is capable of starting when healthy.
  • Trevor Scott, Oakland Raiders — After totaling 12 sacks during his first two seasons in Oakland, Scott totaled 1.5 sacks in 10 starts in 2010 and didn't start a game or record a sack this past season. Barring some kind of breakout, he's pure backup material.
  • Jason Taylor, Miami Dolphins — One of the best to ever play the position and a likely future Hall of Famer, Taylor is still a serviceable, well-rounded starter. However, it seems he's content to retire after his third stint with the Dolphins, so any interest is likely to be spurned by the 37-year-old.
  • Bryan Thomas, New York Jets — A first-round pick in 2002, Thomas has been a serviceable player but has never registered a double-digit sack season and is coming off a torn Achilles'. He might be able to land a starting job if healthy, but he's nobody's long-term option turning 33 this spring.
  • Erik Walden, Green Bay Packers — Walden had a few great games in the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010, but he bombed as a full-time starter in 2011 and should be limited to special teams and backup duties.

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