Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Breakout Player: OT Levi Brown (Cardinals)

"Intense" would be an excellent word to use when describing the 6'5'' 323 pound OT Levi Brown. After starting all four of his collegiate seasons at Penn State, earning All-Big Ten and All-American honors numerous times, Brown was selected in the 1st Round with the 5th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Here he signed a 6-year $62 million contract with at least $18 million guaranteed. It's safe to make the assumption that Levi Brown will have to become an anchor on the offensive line for years to come.

In 2007, the rookie played in 13 games with 11 starts. He was a major reason that RB Edgerrin James rushed for 1,222 yards on 324 carries last season. While Brown played mostly the coveted left tackle position in college, with Arizona he will be the other bookend playing as a right tackle next to starting OG Deuce Lutui.

When watching Brown, he displays very quick feet for a big man and does an excellent job on sliding out to block an explosive pass rusher. He is a naturally tough player who blocks aggressively on every play. He has no problem getting to the 2nd level and is smooth in picking up the double team. Brown pass blocks with good leverage and has very long arms, good for the tackle position. Sometimes he can be caught standing up too much though and can get beat on the inside rush. He needs to do a better job of staying with his blocks longer, especially from a power rush. His strength is in quick pass protections has be has a ferocious first punch on defenders. He has picked up a lot of experience in only one year in the league has has gradually improved during every game.

What are some factors that will lead Brown to have a breakout season in 2008?

1. Russ Grimm One of the best offensive line coaches in the entire game, Grimm is known for turning talented young players into Pro Bowl powerhouses, such as Chris Samuels (Redskins), Jon Jansen (Redskins), and Alan Faneca (Jets). He won a Super Bowl ring as the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005. Brown will continue to thrive in Grimm's blocking schemes and is an excellent fit for Arizona's offense.

2. Natural Talent Levi Brown is one of those tackles that could be a good left tackle but a great right tackle in the NFL. He is hard nosed, intense and shows the strength to become a dominant player for the next decade if he continues to play well. He has not had an injury history at all and can make a name for himself in a weak NFC West division playing against strong defensive ends such as Patrick Kearney (Seahawks), Chris Long (Rams), and Justin Smith (49ers).

Monday, July 28, 2008

San Diego Chargers Training Camp

I was able to attend the afternoon practice for the San Diego Chargers today. This is the 3rd practice in full pads since the team started camp last week. Here are some observations from the live session:

-The team started the practice with "Oklahoma Drills". The defense dominated the offense and won each of the three competitions. The players were going crazy in support of the winning players. (Note: According to Wikipedia.com the Chargers and Jaguars are two of the only NFL teams that still run this tackling drill).

-WR Chris Chambers was catching everything. He ran crisp routes and made some tough catches. A few of QB Phillip Rivers passes were thrown behind the receiver but Chambers still got them. A full offseason with the team this year should help Chambers in this offense.

-LB Shawn Merriman loves to play to the crowd. He noticeably goes harder in drills to get a reaction from fans watching the play. He is also much bigger physically when seen in person (especially compared to the other backers).

-Rookie RB Jacob Hester (LSU) looked solid running the football. He was able to get around the corner and ran tough inside. Expect him to be a short yardage back and make some plays catching the ball out of the backfield.

-QB Phillip Rivers threw a good ball in individual drills, but was struggling in the team scrimmage. His passes fluttered and there were a few blown plays where he held the ball too long. Despite this, Rivers is still a very vocal player/leader on the field.

-The offensive line looks tough and very aggressive.

-CB Antonio Cromartie continues to make plays all over the field. He also worked a lot at the punt returner position during special teams drills.

-The tempo of the practice seemed kind of slow. The players looked tired and exhausted despite it being a rather cool afternoon weather wise.

Overall there is a lot of talent on this football team. I will be attending more practices in the future and will have more extensive evaluations on players and team progress.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Early Looks: QB Curtis Painter (Purdue)

Throughout his tenure at Purdue University, one could say Head Coach Joe Tiller has coached some decent quarterbacks. Quarterbacks such as Kyle Orton (Bears) and of course, Saints QB Drew Brees (2000 Maxwell Award winner for the nation's most outstanding player and finalist in 1999 and 2000 for the Heisman Trophy), are two players who have had notable to remarkable success at the NFL level, respectively, under the tutelage of Tiller. Heading in to his 12th and final season at West Lafayette, Tiller yet again has another quarterback prodigy to add to the list in Senior Curtis Painter. Entering his third season as the Boilermakers starting QB, the 6'4'' 223 lb. Vincennes, Indiana native appears ready to carry the mantle for Purdue as they look to capture their first Big 10 title since 2000.

Painter first appeared on the radar screens of the NFL GM’s and scouts after the impressive numbers he put up his Sophomore season in 2006. Since then he has only elevated his draft stock, particularly with the blistering start he had to the ’07 season (tossing 19 TD's and only 3 INT's in the Boilermakers' first six games). Though unfair, many love to compare Painter with Brees. While in many ways, both share similar skill-sets, Painter is much bigger and much stronger than the aforementioned Brees, while Brees held an edge in the more cerebral aspects of the game. It’s also worth mentioning that, compared to Painter, Brees was the beneficiary of a much better supporting cast throughout his career at West Lafayette. Painter possesses a big arm and good mobility, making him a threat standing in, or rolling out of the pocket. Painter has also markedly improved his throwing accuracy and general field awareness and decision making from season to season. In ’06, Painter completed less than 60% of his passes (59.4%), while in ’07, he sat comfortably above 60% (62.6% to be exact). Has a much better understanding of Tiller’s offense going into his Senior season and appears to be dictating what opposing defenses do, instead of reacting hap-hazardly to pressure.

The major criticism of Painter is his history of being a bit turnover-prone. While demonstrating improved decision-making skills in 2007, Painter threw almost as many interceptions (19) as he did touchdowns (22) in 2006. Is a confident player who sometimes exudes too much faith in his arm, thus leading to forced passes into coverage. Painter has also put up the majority of his impressive numbers against the weak competition on Purdue’s schedule. In ’06, against quality teams such as, #19 Iowa, #21 Wisconsin, and Penn State, Painter was a combined 64/125 for 620 yards, 1 TD and 5 INT’s. In 2007, Painter once again failed to demonstrate that he could play with better confidence and poise against stiff competition. Though he didn’t turn the ball over as much, he wasn’t nearly the catalyst he needed to be for his team in the big games, going a combined 103/181 for 917 yds., 1 TD and 3 INT’s against the likes of '07 bowl teams, #4 Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Indiana.

Outlook: Painter has been riding a steady trend of improvement from '06 to now, thus there's no reason to believe he won't be even better in 2008. In this his third year as the starter, Painter must continue to put up impressive numbers while demonstrating increased moxie and poise in the big headline games on Purdue's schedule. If he can accomplish that, Painter could legitimately solidify himself as the top QB prospect in what forecasts to be a weak 2008 QB draft class.

Noteworthy games: Sept 13th vs. Oregon; Oct. 11th at Ohio State; Nov. 1st vs. Michigan

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What is the A-11 Offense?

Head Coach Kurt Bryan of Piedmont High School in Piedmont, CA (next to Oakland, CA) could be changing the game of football as we speak. He has developed a new kind of offense that is sure to make defenses head spin. It's called the A-11 Offense.

The base formation involves a center flanked by two tight ends, with three receivers to the right and three to the left. And two quarterbacks in the backfield.

According to the website A11offense.com (HERE), it describes the offense as:
"An innovative offense blending aspects of the spread option, West Coast & Run-and-Shoot. Your team can use the A-11 as a 'package' to supplement your offense & feature up to eleven players as potential threats, and even two Quarterbacks in the shotgun."

The base offense consists of:

  1. A center and two tight ends surrounding the football,
  2. Three receivers split right,
  3. Three receivers split left,
  4. Two quarterbacks standing behind in a shotgun, one of whom has to be at least 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
All eleven players must be an eligible receiver, i.e wearing numbers 1-49 or 80-99. The formation is legal (much like a scrimmage kick formation). By spreading the potential receivers across the entire field, it forces defenses to cover every player on each play. Only 5 receivers are eligible to go down field to catch a pass and the rest stay put, but which 5 can always differ.

To view game film of the A-11 offense, click HERE

Note: Piedmont High School won 7 straight games using this formation in 2007.

Outlook: Who knows what effect this could have on the collegiate and professional levels of football. Can you imagine QB Tom Brady or QB Peyton Manning with ten possible targets on every play?! We'll keep you updated on the offenses progress...

NFL Strength of Schedule- 2008

Quick, who has the easiest schedule entering the 2008 NFL Season? Dolphins? Nope. Rams? Sorry. Falcons? Wrong again.

Answer: The New England Patriots

What?! How that be?! Seriously?! You're telling me that the 17-1 Boston based team led by QB Tom Brady, WR Randy Moss and Head Coach Bill Belichick has the easiest schedule in the NFL?!

Answer: Yes

The combined winning percentage (based on 2007) of the teams on their schedule is .387; the opposing team's combined record is 99-157. Also, the second easiest schedule goes to the team the Patriots beat in the AFC Championship last season, the San Diego Chargers (.422; 109-148 record).

Rounding out the rest of the top 5 easiest schedules:

3. Raiders .438 112-144
4. Broncos .445 114-142
5. Saints .449 115-141

Which teams have the top 5 hardest schedules?

1. Steelers .598 153-103
2. Colts .594 152-104
3. Jaguars .559 143-113
4. Vikings .551 141-115
5. Ravens .551 141-115

To check out where your favorite team ranks, click HERE

Early Looks: WR Sammie Stroughter (Oregon State)

Regardless of where your allegiances lie, it's hard not to root for a guy like Oregon State WR Sammie Stroughter. After coming off a brilliant Junior season in 2006, one in which Stroughter earned second team All-Pac-10 honors both as a wide receiver and punt returner, 2007 was supposed to be a banner year for the multi-faceted pass-catcher out of Sacramento. Instead, '07 was marked by excruciating personal tragedy and a bizarre injury that ended up sidelining him for the rest of the year after only four games into the Beavers' season. Over a 6-month period prior to the beginning of the '07 season, Stroughter lost three family members--all of which were uncles--and missed most of fall camp and the season opener vs. Utah as he dealt with the emotional anguish. He returned for the Beavers' second game at Cincinnati and played in the following two before he went down with a season-ending kidney injury suffered in a loss at Arizona State. Upon Stroughter's injury, he was displaying flashes of his old self, exploding for 262 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in only three appearances.

At 6'0'' and 186 lbs., Stroughter isn't the most physically imposing receiver in the country, but he just may be the most explosive. Beginning his career as a true freshman returning punts, Stroughter staked his claim in 2006 as successor to the throne of Oregon State WR Mike Hass, who was the '05 recipient of the Fred Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best wide receiver. In '06, Stroughter shredded the Pac-10 like a chef at Benihana, slicing and dicing the competition to the tune of 1,741 all-purpose yards (1,293 of which were receiving yards) and 8 total touchdowns (3 of which came on punt returns), averaging 15.7 yards per punt return, ranking him third in the country. Endowed with ridiculous initial burst, it's Stroughter's speed and agility which sets him apart from most receivers. His ability to start and stop, change direction, then reach top speed is second to none. A breathtaking athlete who can gash an opponent in a myriad of different ways, Stroughter is a legitimate threat to take it the distance everytime he touches the ball. Is at his best when he can run short and intermediate routes and use his speed and quickness to gain big yards after the catch, possessing good hands and a solid understanding of coverage in order to efficiently exploit the defense. He's also a high character guy who earned the respect of the coaching staff and his teammates early in his career; an unquestioned leader in the Beaver locker room.

The biggest knock on Stroughter is his lack of size. Listed at 6'0'', Stroughter is probably closer to 5'10'' or 5'11'', making it difficult for him to be a consistent deep threat at the NFL level. While no one will argue with his speed to get behind a defense, his ability to go up over defenders and reel in jump balls is severely marginalized by his size. He's not necessarily a technician as far as route-running goes either. No, he isn't an atrocious route-runner by any means, but he doesn't maintain the same kind of consistent crispness going in and coming out of his routes as some of the other wide receiver prospects heading into the '09 Draft.

Outlook: Despite enduring a treacherous 2007, which was supposed to be his final season in Corvallis, the NCAA granted Stroughter a redshirt based on medical hardship that allowed him to return to the team for the 2008 season. With that, one should expect Stroughter to be primed and ready for another outstanding season. When projecting him to the NFL, he reminds me a lot of WR Steve Smith (Panthers). A lofty comparison to be sure, but he's undersized like Smith, maintains a similar build, and has the same effect on special teams coaches who go to DEFCON 5 alert levels when they see him back fielding punts. At first glance, Stroughter appears to fill the role as a quality slot receiver who will specialize in the return game at the next level, though I would not be surprised to see him exceed these expectations. While we don't project him to go during the first day of the draft, it's reasonable to assume at this point that he could be selected as early as the fourth round come April '09.

Noteworthy games: Sept 6th at Penn State; Sept 25th vs. USC; Nov 29th vs. Oregon

Google Maps takes over Training Camp

A fan "Jon" from Downingtow, PA created a cool Google Map of all of the 32 NFL Training Camp locations for ESPN analyst Mike Sando.

Note: Only eight teams practice west of Kansas City, MO

To view the map, click HERE

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Training Camp Battles: NFC West

Out on the "left" coast, one of the NFL's weaker divisions has been the sole property of the Seattle Seahawks; winning the division title the past four years in a row. Entering the 2008 season, they will be the favorites again, but look to have a tighter competition with young improving teams like Arizona and San Francisco. Can HC Mike Holmgren finish on top again during his last year as head coach or will 'hot seat' coaches like Mike Nolan (49ers) or Scott Linehan (Rams) turn things around?

What are the key training camp battles to look out for entering this season?

Seahawks:
Running Back- Julius Jones vs. TJ Duckett vs. Maurice Morris

Seattle will be without former MVP RB Shaun Alexander for the first time in eight seasons. Both Jones and Duckett were brought in via free agency to challenge the incumbent Morris for playing time. The team never recovered from the loss of Pro Bowl OG Steve Hutchinson (Vikings) and hope the signing of OG Mike Wahle (Panthers) will improve the O-line. Look for Holmgren to run the ball more this season, with Duckett using his big body in short yardage situations.

Projected Winner: Maurice Morris

49ers: Quarterback- Alex Smith vs. Shaun Hill

Smith is a former #1 overall draft pick in 2005 and commands a whopping $49 million contract. After suffering a serious shoulder injury in Week 3 of last season, Smith could not get back to form. Six year backup QB Shaun Hill stepped in towards the end of the season and played well enough to warrant starting consideration. Enter new OC Mike Martz to take control of the league worst offense. Smith has the better tools, the experience, and smarts to take hold of this position, and been getting most of the reps this off season.

Projected Winner: Alex Smith

Rams: Center- Andy McCollum vs. Brett Romberg

QB Marc Bulger
is back under center after an injury filled 2007, but who will be snapping him the ball? Starter McCollum had a tough year blocking for St Louis and suffered a season ending knee injury with three games to go last year. Backup Romberg came in and did well filling in for the injured center. Most players don't lose jobs due to injury, but look for the younger Romberg (28) to up seat McCollum (38) to help improve a questionable offensive line.

Projected Winner: Brett Romberg

Cardinals: Quarterback- Matt Leinart vs. Kurt Warner

While head coach Ken Wisenhunt has stated that Leinart is the Arizona starting QB, don't count out the former 2-time MVP Warner just yet. After only playing five games before suffering a season ending collarbone injury, Warner came in and threw for 3,417 yards and 27 touchdowns; 14 more TD's than Leinart has thrown in his entire career. Even before he got hurt, both QB's were rotating in and out of the offense. Look for Leinart to start the season, but be kept on a very short leash.

Projected Winner: Matt Leinart


Early Looks: S Patrick Chung (Oregon)

"Everybody Wang Chung tonight!" Once an oft-quoted phrase throughout the 80's by uber-fans of the British New Wave band, Wang Chung, it has new meaning for friends and foes of Oregon S Patrick Chung during these more contemporary and less-florescent times. Bursting on to the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2005 as the starting rover for the Ducks, Chung has since asserted himself as one of the most exciting and productive players to ever play defense at Oregon. Hailing from Rancho Cucamonga, California, the 6'0'' 210 lb. Chung was a bit of a late bloomer, not really registering on the recruiting radar of most Pac-10 schools coming out of high school as a precocious 16 year old. Going into this, his Senior season, Chung has overwhelmingly exceeded expectations, accounting for virtually 300 career tackles (292 to be exact) and 8 career interceptions, earning All-Pac-10 honors (2005, 2006, 2007) and second-team All-America honors (2007) along the way.

Chung's greatest strength could be his outstanding versatility. A jack of all trades who is capable of playing all four positions in the secondary, Chung is blessed with not only great speed and athleticism, but impressive ruggedness and tenacity in run support. His pursuit to the ball is uncanny and when he arrives to deliver a hit, he's like actor Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men, usually reaching his destination angry and with ill intent. Understands angles very well and is a tremendous form tackler, registering in the top three in team tackles in each of his three seasons in Eugene (lead team in tackles in '07). Possesses terrific range at the rover position in Oregon's defensive scheme and always appears to be in the middle of the action during every play; a consummate play maker. In addition to being a defensive stalwart, Chung is also a terror on special teams, both as a return man and as a threat in punt block situations.

One particular area where Chung could stand to improve in is his overall cover skills, specifically in man-to-man. While he excels in zone coverage due to his unparalleled freelancing abilities, he definitely seems to struggle in one-on-one situations where he's asked to blanket a receiver or tight end of comparable athleticism. Doesn't track the ball especially well in flight, particularly when he's forced to turn his head back toward the ball while maintaining close contact with the receiver, and in general, Chung lacks the overall ability to flip his hips and turn and run with receivers consistently.

Outlook: With the way the 2007 season ended for Oregon, Chung has to be motivated for a monster Senior campaign. After coming within literally minutes of foregoing his final season in Eugene, Chung is back patrolling the secondary at Autzen alongside returning All-Pac-10 corners, Walter Thurmond III (Jr.) and Jairus Byrd (Jr.). Headlined by Chung, the trio helps shape what should be one of the most formidable secondaries in the entire country. If Chung is at all able to duplicate the kind of performance he put together last season, he should expect to go no later than the second round of the '09 Draft.

Noteworthy games: Sept 13th at Purdue; Oct 4th at USC; Oct 25th at Arizona State

Breakout Player: FS Reggie Nelson (Jaguars)

With the 21st overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected free safety "The Eraser" from the University of Florida. The 5'11'' 198 lb Reggie Nelson earned his nickname because of his ability to erase mistakes and blown assignments on defense. After two years starting for the Gators, Nelson became a team captain and finished his junior year with 51 tackles and 5 interceptions; leading his team to their first SEC title in six years and their first BCS National Championship with a 41-14 victory over #1 ranked Ohio State.

The Jaguars had a huge gap to fill in the secondary after losing starting defensive backs Deon Grant and Pro Bowler Donovan Darius entering last season. Nelson earned the starting job Week 2, playing for one of the best defenses in the league and finished with 63 total tackles (58 solo), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 5 interceptions. His INT total tied him for the most in the league by a rookie. Nelson also played a key role to both of the Jaguars playoff games with a combined 9 tackles (7 solo) in the win against the Steelers and the loss to the Patriots.

When watching Nelson, he is a very good athlete who is able to make plays all over the field against the run and pass. He uses quick feet and good instincts to act a center fielder in the defense and loves to lay a hit on the offensive ball carriers. He has great closing speed and is able to understand his role in various defensive coverages. He is patient on the point of attack yet aggressive and possesses the hands to make tough interceptions. While Nelson rarely makes any big errors, hence the nickname the eraser, he can sometimes be too aggressive in his tackling techniques and lose extra yards. He lacks ideal size to be your prototypical NFL safety but has proved his critics wrong by consistently making plays in a tough AFC Conference. Overall he is a competitive football player that will continue to make an impact on the Jaguars defense.

What are some factors that will help lead Nelson to a breakout year in 2008?

1) Jaguars Defense Nelson had the luxury of seeing significant playing time in his rookie season for a well experienced defense. A full offseason to prepare as the returning starter will do wonders for a player that needs time to fully learn and digest defensive schemes. While the team lost starting DT Marcus Stroud (Bills) and DE Bobby McCray (Saints), they added CB Drayton Florence (Chargers) and top draft picks DE Derrick Harvey (Florida) and LB Quentin Groves (Auburn). The Jaguars finished 10th in the league in total defense and 4th in total interceptions (20) in 2007.

2) New Defensive Coordinator With DC Mike Smith taking the Head Coaching gig with the Atlanta Falcons, the Jaguars signed veteran defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (Redskins) to lead the defense in 2008. In five of the last eight years, Williams' defenses have ranked in the top 10 in the league - including three top three's in the past five years - with three different teams. He is a major factor in the success of the late FS Sean Taylor and current Redskins SS LaRon Landry. Williams will bring an aggressive outlook to the Jaguars secondary, which should fit in well with Nelson's skills and mindset. Williams will help turn Nelson into one of the elite safeties in the league.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Early Looks: TE Chase Coffman (Missouri)

From the moment he arrived in Columbia from little Peculiar, Missouri, Chase Coffman has done virtually everything in his power to become one of the most decorated offensive players to ever don the black and gold at the University of Missouri. Standing at 6'6'' and 245 lbs., Coffman is your prototypical NFL tight end, demonstrating a terrific skill-set which has translated to great production. A mainstay on All-Big 12 and All-American teams since his Freshman year, Coffman is looking to capitalize on a Junior campaign that saw him net 52 receptions for 531 yards and 7 touchdowns, earning him AP All-Big 12 Second Team honors and a second consecutive semifinalist finish for the John Mackey Award (given to the nation's best tight end).

Coffman is a player who combines great athletic ability with an impressive football IQ. When watching him on film, it's hard not to compare Coffman's skills to that of NFL TE, Todd Heap (Ravens). Like Heap, Coffman possesses outstanding leaping ability and ball skills while the ball is in flight. He displays unbelivable hands and concentration going up and making difficult grabs in defender saturated areas and is an absolute nightmare for defenders in the red zone. Flashes very adequate NFL-level tight end speed with a tremendous understanding of man and zone coverage and how to exploit it.

One of Coffman's biggest weaknesses is the fact that he doesn't possess the kind of great breakaway speed compared to '08 tight end prospect Dustin Keller (Purdue) or fellow '09 tight end prospect, Travis Beckum (Wisconsin). Lacks the ability to blow by defenders and doesn't stretch the field quite to the extent of those aforementioned athletes. Additionally, when utilized as a blocker in running situations, he is simply adequate. While he may have been a better receiving option compared fellow Tiger tight end, Martin Rucker (who graduated and was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 4th round of the '08 Draft), he wasn't nearly as skilled close to the line of scrimmage and at the point of attack and will need to improve in this area during the '09 season. Lastly, since Coffman's arrival at Missouri, he has always had the pleasure of playing along side exemplary playmakers such as Rucker, and dynamic WR Jeremy Maclin (Soph.). Though Maclin remains, the void left by Rucker will shift additional attention Coffman's direction. With this, Coffman must prove that he can deal with increased focus he'll receive and demonstrate a high level of success in doing so.

Outlook: After flirting with the idea of foregoing his Senior season, Coffman was wise to return to Mizzou due to the plethora of tight end talent that made itself available for the 2008 Draft. Comes in to the '08-'09 season as one of the nation's premier tight ends. If he continues to improve his blocking skills and displays escalated success as he emerges from Martin Rucker's shadow as a primary weapon in Missouri's high octane offense, Coffman could easily be one of the top three TE's selected come April of '09.

Noteworthy games: Aug 30th vs. Illinois; Oct 18th at Texas; Nov 29th vs. Kansas

NFL Training Camps now OPEN

It's that wonderful time of year again, when the dog days of summer can officially begin: NFL Training Camps are now OPEN! It's been 6 grueling months since we saw New York Giants' WR David Tyree make that acrobatic catch from QB Eli Manning to upset the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. It's been 3 long months since we saw OT Jake Long become the #1 overall pick for the Miami Dolphins in the 2008 NFL Draft. And it's been only 4 days since we've heard anything remotely new on the status of QB Brett Favre.

It's time for football again...

Over the next six weeks, we will have: players fighting for their jobs, teams trying to find their starting quarterbacks, rookies getting hazed, meaningless preseason games, fantasy football drafts, season ending injuries, and enough speculation to make your head spin!

Gone are: QB Steve McNair (Ravens), DT Warren Sapp (Raiders), DE Bryant Young (49ers), DE Michael Strahan (Giants), OG Larry Allen (49ers), and OT Jonathon Ogden (Ravens)

New faces in new places: DE Jared Allen (Vikings), OG Alan Faneca (Jets), WR Issac Bruce (49ers), WR Bernard Berrian (Vikings), DE Jason Taylor (Redskins), TE Jeremy Shockey (Saints), DeAngelo Hall (Raiders), LB Zach Thomas (Cowboys), LB Jonathon Vilma (Saints), DE Justin Smith (49ers), CB Asante Samuel (Eagles), TE Alge Crumpler (Titans), and CB Adam "Pacman" Jones (Cowboys)

Teams unsure of the QB position: Chiefs, Ravens, Bills, Jets, Dolphins, 49ers, Cardinals, Vikings, Bears, and Falcons

Teams with new Head Coaches: Ravens, Falcons, Redskins, and Dolphins

The 2008 NFL season is finally here....

Click HERE for a list of each team's Training Camp schedules

Monday, July 21, 2008

Giants Trade TE Shockey to Saints

Jay Glazer of Fox Sports is reporting that the Giants have agreed to trade tight end Jeremy Shockey to the Saints for second- and fifth-round draft picks in 2009. He will become the Saints’ No. 1 tight end, and will undoubtedly be used as a wide receiver in some packages in Sean Payton’s offense.

Last year Shockey played in 14 games; collecting 57 catches for 619 yards and 3 TD's before missing the rest of the season, playoffs and Super Bowl with a broken leg.

Note: Sean Payton was Shockey's offensive coordinator his rookie season with the Giants, where Shockey had a career best in catches (74) and yards (894).

Breakout Player: TE Owen Daniels (Texans)

In 1999, I had the option to move with my family to a small suburb outside of Chicago, IL. The High School where I would have played my senior year of football that year was led by QB Owen Daniels; who ended up leading his Naperville Central Redhawks to an undefeated 14-0 season and the Illinois Class 6A state football title.

After switching to the Tight End position at the University of Wisconsin, Daniels played in 43 games; registering 62 catches for 852 yards. He also was a star special teams player and logged time in at flanker, split end and wingback. In the 2006 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans picked the 6'3'' 246 pound Daniels in the 4th round (98th pick overall).

Playing his rookie season for a dismal Texan offense, Daniels recorded 34 catches for 352 yards and 5 TD's. He showed the ability to get open in the middle of the field, had great ball handling skills and was a presence in the red zone. His best game came against the Tennessee Titans where he made 9 catches for 99 yards and 2 TD's.

Owen Daniels completed the 2007 NFL season starting all 16 games with 63 catches for 769 yards and 3 TD's. He was consistent all season, runs good routes, understands zone coverages and has excellent hands. He is very athletic, does a good job getting off the line of scrimmage and can find the open window/passing lane. He has decent speed but will not burn by defenders. Daniels is best when having to catch the ball in traffic and is not afraid to go up and get the ball over the middle. he plays with a lot of confidence and is a leader on the field.

What are some factors that will lead Daniels to have a breakout season in 2008?

1) Healthy Offense Daniels will benefit from having starting QB Matt Schaub back healthy to start the season after missing 5 games last year. Schaub led the way as the Texans ranked 14th in overall offense, including a No. 11 overall ranking with the team’s improved passing attack. Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson will also be full strength, helping take some of the pressure off the rest of the offense. Johnson played in only 9 games in 2007 but still racked up 60 catches for 851 yards and 8 TD's. Daniels will still be a go-to receiver on 3rd down and clutch plays.

2) Running Game The Houston Texans will have an improved running game this season with a healthy RB Ahman Green, free agent RB Chris Brown (Texans) and rookie RB Steve Slaton. This should open up the passing game more and control the clock. Daniels displays good blocking ability and can line up all over the field to give opposing defenses different looks.

Fantasy Outlook: Daniels enters this season as one of the Top 10 TE's in Fantasy Football. He gets a lot of catches, is great in the red zone and has potential to have a 1,000 yard season. He will be a household name soon and should be a mid level draft selection.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Breakout Player: DT Tommy Kelly (Raiders)

There are $50.5 million reasons why DT Tommy Kelly will need to have a breakout season in 2008. The 6'6'' 300 pound defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders signed a 7-year contract with at least $18.125 million in guarantees. That's a lot of money for a player that only played 7 games in 2007, recording 30 tackles and 1 sack before suffering a season ending knee injury (torn ACL) in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans.

Did I mention that this new contract was the largest contract given to a defensive tackle, ever?

Kelly is slated to start this season in place of the recently retired DT Warren Sapp. He can play any position on the defensive line but will best be used in the three technique spot in the Raiders 4-3 defense. He moves extremely quick for a player of his size but has a difficult time against the run. He has under performed in his first three seasons but is expected to have a huge impact on an improved defense.

What are some factors that will lead Kelly to having a breakout season in 2008?

1) Pressure Kelly has to have a big season. He is taking over for a future Hall of Fame player in Sapp and will be making way more money than the 8-time Pro Bowler. Despite paying him the contract, Oakland still has fellow starter DT Terdell Sands, DT Gerald Warren, and newly signed free agent DT William Joseph (Giants) to contend with. Kelly is recovering from a torn ACL and will need to 100% when training camps hits or else look for these other veterans to step in and play well.

2) Raiders Defense Despite having one of the leagues worst run defense (gave up an average 145.9 yards/game), they finished as one of the best defenses against the pass (195.8 yards/game avg). There will be much improvement in the secondary with the additions of CB DeAngelo Hall (Falcons) and FS Gibril Wilson (Giants). Combine that with stud linebackers Kirk Morrison and and Thomas Howard, the Raiders will have a lot of support playing behind Kelly this season.

3) Al Davis If team owner Al Davis felt good about paying Kelly that unprecedented amount of money, based on potential alone, then expect Kelly to have a lot of support from management and be put in a position to succeed.

Fantasy Football: 2008 Preview

Throughout the past month, we have been breaking down which 2008 NFL rookies will make an impact in Fantasy Football this season. With training camps starting this week, football magazines hitting the stands, and marketing groups trying to figure out what can top the "Housmanzadah C-H-A-M-P-I-O-N-S-H-I-P" commercial; its time to break down the big boys and list who we think are the top 10 players to draft at every position.

Check back regularly for a breakdown of which players are: sure bets, sleepers, busts, and those who should never leave the wavier wire.

Will anyone top QB Tom Brady this year? (4806 yards passing, 50 TD's 8 INTs and don't forget 98 yards rushing and 2 TD's!) When should he be drafted? Find out here...

Early Looks: DE Michael Johnson (Georgia Tech)

When looking up the term "freakish athlete" in the Webster Dictionary, Georgia Tech's senior Defensive End Michael Johnson is listed. The 6'7'' 260 pound player decided to pass on the 2008 NFL Draft last April and return to the Yellow Jackets for his senior season. He is looking to improve on his 21 total tackles (11 solo), 3 forced fumbles, 4 sacks and 2 blocked kicks that he recorded last year.

Originally recruited out of high school as one of the top Tight Ends in the nation, Johnson made the transition to defensive end as a true freshman in 2005. He is a tall, athletic player with tremendous pass rushing ability. He is quick off the snap and plays the game with a high motor. The biggest knock on Johnson has been his inability against the run, often giving up the interior lanes and not shedding off blocks. He possesses all of the physical tools to be a defensive end in the NFL but will need to improve his production this season. He compares to former DE and 3-4 Outside Linebacker Manny Lawson (49ers) with his athletic frame, quickness and play making ability. Expect him to be one of the top draft picks in the 2009 NFL Draft.

(Note: We are still in the process of evaluating Michael Johnson and will post a more accurate analysis and breakdown as the 2008 seasons rolls on).

Noteworthy games: Sept 6th at Boston College; Oct 18th at Clemson; Nov 29th at Georgia

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breakout Player: OG Justin Blalock (Falcons)

The 2007 season was the first without QB Michael Vick behind center for the Atlanta Falcons. The end result was an offense ranked 29th in the league in points scored and an offensive line that surrendered 47 sacks. Struck with injury after injury throughout the year, the offensive line was inconsistent and did not do much to help the revolving door of quarterbacks. One constant though, was the improvement of rookie starting left guard Justin Blalock, drafted in the 2nd round (39th pick overall) from the University of Texas.

The 6'3'' 320 pound Blalock is a very strong and powerful blocker. He started 51 games at right tackle in college for the Longhorns, but due to his lack of size and arm length, is molded much better to play guard in the NFL. Despite having a weak offense, Blalock helped usher a 3.9 yard per carry average for the Falcons running backs, not bad for a team lacking a true #1 ball carrier and the elusive Vick in the backfield.

When watching Blalock, he is a tough and competitive blocker, can move quickly in his 320 pound frame, and displays excellent agility in pass protection. He keeps good balance, has a powerful jab punch, and strives at finishing blocks on run plays. While he doesn't always use proper techniques, he can rely on his physical skills to make up for it and will stay consistent. He needs to continue to adjust playing the guard position and work on using more than just a strong first punch to take on defensive tackles. Overall he played well as a rookie for the Falcons and will improve after another year in the system.

What are some factors that will lead Blalock to having a breakout year in 2008?

1) Sam Baker The Falcons used their 1st round pick in last April's NFL Draft on the 6'5'' 305 pound left tackle from University of California (USC). Baker should be the opening day starter next to Blalock and will create a strong 1-2 punch on the left side of the offensive line. He uses great technique and is known for being an excellent pass blocker. He needs to add some more weight but has very quick feet. In any case its an improvement to the Falcons offense.

2) Michael Turner The Falcons also signed this free agent running back (Chargers) to become their #1 player in the backfield. Turner is an explosive runner with big play ability that should take some stress off the offense. With a questionable QB situation, between veteran QB Chris Redman and rookie QB Matt Ryan, it will be extremely important for the offense to have an established running game.

3) New OL Coach The Falcons brought in successful offensive line coach Paul Boudreau (Rams) to help mold a better unit in 2008. Boudreau has 21 years experience in the league and has coached lines that blocked for eight 1,000-yard rushers; including Pro Bowl RB Fred Taylor (Jaguars), Pro Bowl RB Curtis Martin (Patriots), Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders (Lions) and Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson (Rams). He will be a huge upgrade and make an immediate impact in Atlanta, especially with a young talented player like Blalock.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Breakout Player: WR Sidney Rice (Vikings)

For many seasons, Minnesota fans were spoiled at the wide receiver position, led by Pro Bowl players such as Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Years later, after numerous different draft picks, free agents, and 'bust' players, the team has still yet to find their go-to receiver. With the 44th pick overall in the 2007 NFL Draft the Vikings selected young WR Sidney Rice from the University of South Carolina.

After red shirting his freshman year, the 6'4'' 202 pound Rice played only two years of college ball, but amassed a career total of 142 catches 2,233 yards receiving and 23 TD's in those two seasons. In one game alone in 2006, Rice caught 5 TD's against Florida Atlantic, breaking a school record.

In his rookie season in Minnesota, Rice had a respectable 31 catches 396 yards receiving and 4 TD's; while still missing 3 games with an injured ankle and hamstring. In a week 11 game against the Oakland Raiders, Rice threw a 79-yard TD pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe after taking a reverse and hitting the wide open TE down the field.

Rice is a lanky receiver with very good hands and decent speed. He displays solid ball skills, and adjusts nicely to the ball while it's in the air. He also shows nice field awareness, and does a good job of battling defenders for jump balls. He is a good athlete that possesses quick feet, doesn't explode off the line of scrimmage but picks up speed as he gets down field. Rice aggressively goes after the football and uses his body to position himself well against defenders. He is tall, but not thick, and often times struggles getting out of physical jams by defensive backs and lacks overall playing strength. He runs the deep pattern well but has difficulty getting in and out of cuts quickly on short, quick hitting routes.

What are some factors that will lead Sidney Rice to have a breakout year in 2008?

1) Vikings Offense Whether its the rumored QB Brett Favre (Packers) or QB Tavaras Jackson leading the team, the Vikings will have a good offense this season. The team believes in Jackson, who should be much improved after playing last year and acquiring much needed help at the WR position. Opposing teams will also be focused on trying to stop RB's Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, opening up many opportunities in the passing game. Throw in one of the best offensive lines in the game, giving the QB plenty of time to get rid of the ball.

2) The Defense Minnesota enters the season with potentially one of the best defenses in the NFL. Ranked #1 against the rush, adding top sack man DE Jared Allen and an improved secondary, look for the defense to give great field position to the offense. More Red Zone opportunities mean more TD's for the 6'4'' Rice, who should be a top target when looking for a score.

3) The Receivers Rice will be playing alongside newly signed free agent WR Bernard Berrian, who adds experience and a deep threat to the passing attack. Teams will play their #1 cornerbacks on him creating mismatches for Rice on the opposite side. Veteran WR Bobby Wade and 2nd year WR Andre Allison will also contribute.

Fantasy Outlook: Look for Rice to be a steal in the mid to late rounds of a fantasy draft. He has big play potential and is consistently active on the field. Expect him to put up big numbers if QB Jackson starts playing well and become a legit threat in the Red Zone.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Early Looks: FS William Moore (Missouri)

8 Interceptions is all it took emerging star FS William Moore to lead the entire nation last year in picking off the quarterback . This 6'1'' 224 pound free safety from Missouri enters the 2008 season as one of the top defensive play makers and potential top draft choice in the 2009 NFL Draft. In his final six games alone, he recorded 5 INT and 2 forced fumbles. Moore finished the season with 117 tackles. He consistently made plays and was a leader on the field for the Tigers defense.

When watching Moore, he is an absolute force on the field. He plays the safety position like a true center fielder and is constantly around the ball. He possesses great natural instincts, is very athletic, and can accelerate to full speed very quickly. He is also not afraid to lower his shoulder and deliver a blow to the ball carrier, using good form tackling and is explosive upon impact. Moore has decent size and a solid build. He is aggressive, has smooth fluid hips, and does a good job of positioning his body to make a play on the ball. Sometimes he can be a little too aggressive and over shoot a play, but more times than not he makes good decisions. He usually takes very good angles on the ball but can over pursue on deep routes and coverages.

Moore has an uncanny ability to make plays. He is an energetic leader and has that special presence when on the field. He compares favorably to Ed Reed (Ravens) and can be labeled as a game changer. He heads into the 2008 season as a preseason favorite for numerous college awards but is recovering from an off-season shoulder surgery he suffered from the last year's Cotton Bowl 38-7 victory over Arkansas (Moore was named the Defensive MVP of the game). He registered 13 Tackles, an INT returned for a TD and a forced fumble against a Razorback offense led by recent 1st round draft picks RB Darren McFadden (Raiders) and RB Felix Jones (Cowboys).

Outlook: If Moore has another dominant season for the Tigers, expect his name to be listed among the top 10 prospects for the 2009 NFL Draft.

Noteworthy games: Aug 30th vs. Illinois; Oct 18th at Texas; Nov 29th vs. Kansas

Breakout Player: RB Lorenzo Booker (Eagles)

2878 yards rushing, 50 TDs; 16 catches 300 yards receiving 3 TDs; these were the numbers that RB Lorenzo Booker put up in his senior year at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, CA. Ranked as one of the top 5 prospects in the entire country, on a nationally televised press conference, Booker chose a full-ride scholarship to Florida St over Notre Dame and University of Southern California (USC).

After four mediocre years plagued with injuries and bad offenses for the Seminoles, the 6'0'' 195 pound running back was selected in the 3rd Round (71st pick overall) to the Miami Dolphins in the 2007 NFL Draft. Hoping to be a impact behind RB Ronnie Brown and used significantly on special teams, Booker only saw action in 7 games posting a total of 28 carries for 125 yards rushing but did collect 28 catches for 237 yards receiving. That is an impressive number playing only a limited number of reps a game, but not the 'big play wow factor' that the Dolphins had hoped for.

In a surprising move, new Miami GM Bill Parcells traded Booker to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 4th round 115th overall selection in last April's 2008 NFL Draft (44 picks lower than where he was drafted a year ago). While, no one knows for sure why this trade was made, Eagles fans should be excited for the potential that Booker brings to the offense.

Watching game film, the first thing that jumps out at you is the pure athleticism that Booker possesses. He is very quick and has an excellent burst of speed, displays elusiveness when directing through blocks and tackles, and shows toughness by fighting for every last yard he can get. He does an excellent job blocking on pass plays, picks up the blitz well and looks like he knows what he's doing on the field. Booker uses good natural instincts and is constantly showing great change of direction and cutback abilities. His biggest question mark is his size and durability. He is a small RB that lacks playing strength to break tackles and has a series of injuries in his career that could be an issue. He needs to learn to wait for plays and his blocking to develop as often times he will hit the hole too quickly, negating potential opportunities.

What are some of the factors that will lead Booker to having a breakout year in 2008?

1) Philly Offense Lorenzo Booker is a 'clone' of starting RB Brian Westbrook, a fellow small back that possesses speed and excellent hands. While Booker will have to fight for playing time, also with RB Cornell Buckhalter, if/when he does get an opportunity he will fit in well with how the Eagles use Westbrook. Expect to see some 3rd down situations and at least 4-5 plays a game where Booker will make a big play for the team.

2) YAC 'Yards After Catch'; with the Eagles questionable at the WR position, expect Booker to be a huge option out of the back field and in slot situations. He has great hands and will get a lot of catches in this offense, much like Westbrook. Booker has already impressed Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg this spring in Mini-Camp and OTAs, opting to create more plays to utilize his speed and various talents.

Fantasy outlook: Booker is a great insurance pick for owners that have Westbrook. If something happens to the Pro Bowl RB, expect Booker to make an immediate impact in the offense, even over Buckhalter. Overall, he is a late round fantasy pick or wavier wire selection, but is posed for a breakout year in Philly if given the chance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Early Looks: QB Cullen Harper (Clemson)

Leading the Clemson Tigers into 2008 is returning QB Cullen Harper, field leader of one of the top offenses in the all of College Football. The 6'4'' 220 pound Senior established 21 school records last year, throwing for 2,991 yards 27 TD's and only 6 INT's in 13 games. The offense averaged 403 yards/game and ranked in the Top 5 in the nation in both rushing and passing.

Harper will have plenty of targets this season as 7 of 11 starters return, including RB James Davis (1,064 yards rushing, 10 TD's) , RB C.J Spiller (1,723 'all-purpose' yards), WR Aaron Kelly (88 catches 1,081 yards receiving, 11 TD's) and WR Tyler Grisham (60 catches 653 yards receiving, 4 TD's).

When behind center, Harper makes good decisions, displays leadership on/off the field, and has excellent speed for a QB. He lacks arm strength but makes up for it with accurate throws underneath allowing his receivers to make big plays. He has good size and a big frame, shows toughness by standing in the pocket and will take big hits. He likes to get rid of the ball quickly and uses good technique in his 3 step drops. Occasionally he will throw off his back foot causing the ball to sail over the middle and he likes to work primarily out of the shot gun formation.

Look for Harper to have a big year in the ACC this season. While he has solidified himself as the QB and captain of the team, keep an eye out on Freshman QB Willy Korn to see some snaps throughout the season as well. If the Tigers build on their 9-3 record, expect some Heisman Trophy consideration and early 2009 NFL Draft hype for Harper.

Noteworthy games: Aug 30th vs. Alabama; Nov 1st at Boston College; Nov. 8th at Florida St

Friday, July 11, 2008

Brett Favre's next team is...?!?!

If you are reading this, then more than likely this is the 1,802,343 time in the past two weeks that you've heard that future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre wants to play football in 2008. According to Chris Mortensen ESPN, Favre is seeking an unconditional release from the Packers.

This begs the question, out of the remaining 31 teams in the NFL, where does Favre end up?

Factor: You'd have to assume that he wants to be a starting QB, ruling out teams with Pro Bowl QBs or already solidified roles:
(Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Bengals, Titans, Saints, Cowboys, Rams, Giants, Steelers, Seahawks)

Factor: Teams with large salaries invested in 1st round QB's will not be interested, ruling out:
(Cardinals, Redskins, Falcons, Ravens, Browns, 49ers, Raiders, Broncos)

Factor: The Packers would never release him without prior knowledge he would not join an opposing NFC North team, ruling out:
(Lions, Vikings, Bears)

Factor: His best chance at making it to the Super Bowl is in a weaker NFC Conference, ruling out:
(Chiefs, Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars)


That leaves the remaining three teams:

Eagles: While Head Coach Andy Reid has the Green Bay connection with Favre, I don't see Philly jumping at the chance to land the QB, especially with recently returned QB Donovan McNabb from injury and promising young QB Kevin Kolb in the wings. The Eagles do need to win now in a tough NFC East division, but I think they pass on the gunslinger.

Buccaneers: There are already reports that Tampa Bay is interested in Favre if he's available, adding to the arsenal of QB's at Head Coach John Gruden's disposal. QB Jeff Garcia is unhappy, Brian Griese and Luke McNown are backups, Chris Sims is in limbo, and rookie Josh Johnson is a project. Gruden loves tough, old, experienced players like Favre and does have the Green Bay connection. The NFC South is also up for grabs this year.

Panthers: This would be the ideal spot for Brett. This is a very talented team on offense, veteran WR's in Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad, a sound running game and a smash mouth defense led by DE Julius Peppers. Head Coach John Fox is an a must win situation, the QB position is still undecided with Jake Delhomme coming back from injury and an untested Matt Moore. Favre would be close to home, get to play the majority of his games in the south, and Carolina fans would welcome him with open arms just as they did Hall of Fame DE Reggie White from Green Bay years ago.

Projected Winner: Carolina Panthers

Breakout Player: LB Paul Posluszny (Bills)

26 Tackles; (17 solo and 9 assisted). Thats all that Buffalo Bills LB Paul Posluszny registered in his rookie season. Granted, that was only the totals after the first 3 games of the season (ranking 3rd in the league at the time) before suffering a season ending broken left forearm Week 4 against the New England Patriots.

The 6'1" 238 pound linebacker from Penn State was drafted in the 2nd Round (38th overall) in 2007 by the Bills in hopes of revamping its defense after losing players such as LB London Fletcher (Redskins) and LB Takeo Spikes (Eagles; now free agent). He made an immediate impact in his first training camp, being named a starter as a rookie, one week before the season started.

Coming from "Linebacker U" (Penn St; known for producing excellent linebackers), Posluszny was a four-year starter and captain, winning numerous All-American honors and was a two-time winner of the prestigious Chuck Bednarik Award (2005 & 2006) presented to college football's best defensive player. In his Senior season, he registered 116 total tackles and helped solidify himself as one of the best linebackers ever to play for Penn St.

Posluszny combines very good athleticism, instincts and quickness while playing the Outside Linebacker position. He possesses a tough, aggressive attitude, makes good decisions, is a leader on the field and plays with consistency. Despite not being the ideal size for a LB, he uses his ability to read/react to get a fast jump on the ball, and is very smooth and fluid when dropping into pass coverage. He showcases excellent strength when taking on blockers and has a knack for always being involved or around the ensuing tackle.

What are some of the factors that will enable Posluszny to have a breakout year in 2008?

1) Health Paul showed durability throughout his college career, displaying toughness by playing through pain and recovering quickly from a knee injury suffered in 2006. While it was difficult to miss most of last year, (he tried relentlessly to play a week after he broke his arm until the team put him on the Injure Reserve), Posluszny is entering the new season with a year of understanding the defense under his belt and a clean bill of health.

2) Bills Defense Buffalo's defense is underrated, mostly because they do not put up great numbers. The last couple of years they have been a bend-but-don't-break defense, forcing offenses to play conservative and not give up the big play. They made some vast improvements this offseason. They traded for three-time Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud (Jaguars), a huge addition (6'6" 310 lbs) to an undersized line. He commands double teams, which will allow other players (like Pozluszny) to make more plays. LB Kawika Mitchell (Giants) and DE Spencer Johnson (Vikings) were also added and should make an immediate impact.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Early Looks: WR Brandon Gibson (Washington St)

Cougars fans rejoiced when they heard that WR Brandon Gibson was returning to Washington State to play his Senior season in 2008. The 6'1 202 pound star wide receiver led the Pacific 10 conference last season with 67 catches for 1,180 yards (averaging 107.3 yards/game) and 9 TD's.

In his final four games alone, Gibson tallied receiving totals of: 136 yards at CAL; 153 yards vs. Stanford; 135 yards vs. Oregon St; and 137 yards at Washington. He is expected to be the go-to receiver for new Head Coach Paul Wulff (Eastern Washington University), who has stated that they plan to focus a majority of the offense around Gibson and reward him for returning for his senior year.

According to New Era Scouting, Gibson is ranked in the 2008 senior class as the 9th best WR prospect and 88th best player overall, heading into the 2009 NFL Draft.

(Note: I do not have enough game film/tape to give an accurate analysis on Gibson's play, strengths and weaknesses. He will be featured heading into the new season and we will post specific information on him as the games go on).

Breakout Player: WR Drew Bennett (Rams)

In March 2007, the St Louis Rams signed free agent WR Drew Bennett to 6-year $30 million contract with at least $10 million in guarantees. The 6'5 206 pound ex-UCLA college quarterback had played the previous 6 seasons as an undrafted wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans.

Last season, Bennett had only 33 catches for 375 yards and 3TD's; starting only one game out of the fourteen he played. Granted, the Ram's offense struggled for most of the season with injuries to QB Marc Bulger, RB Steven Jackson and LT Orlando Pace. While St Louis paid starter money for Bennett, they did not see the same production on the field, lacking the presence in fill in for former third WR Kevin Curtis (Eagles) and competing with starters WR Torry Holt and Issac Bruce. In 2004, starting with the Titans, Bennett amassed 80 catches, 1,247 yards receiving and 11 TD's.

What are some of the factors that can lead Drew Bennett to a breakout year in 2008?

1) Starter With Issac Bruce heading for San Francisco, the door is wide open for Bennett to step into the #2 starting spot opposite Holt. He now has had a whole year of working in this offense and will only have to ward off fellow WR Reche Caldwell and rookie WR Donnie Avery for the role. Expect Bennett to be exclusively used in Red Zone opportunities, utilizing his excellent hands and ball skills with his his 6'5 height and frame. If Holt goes down with his lingering knee problems, Bennett will be the #1 target for QB Bulger.

2) Rams Offense Everyone is finally healthy. Look for an improved running game, offensive line blocking, and a healthy QB to take advantage of Scott Linehan's aerial attack. A veteran TE Randy McMichael will help open up the field for additional passing lanes for the receivers. While I don't expect the Rams to be the greatest show on turf this season, expect a much improved team offensively from a year ago.

3) NFC West Looked at by the rest of the league as a mediocre division, there have been plenty of top wide receivers showcased against a weaker set of cornerbacks. Playing the 49ers, Cardinals, and Seahawks each twice should open up some opportunities for Bennett to put up some numbers.

Fantasy Outlook: Early in the season expect Bennett to be a late round draft choice and option as a 3rd/4th receiver. He will be inconsistent in his numbers but could field some big payoffs, especially in TD's if the Rams get going. Keep an eye on him and he will be a good option to have on your bench if one of your starting wide receivers go down mid season.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Offspring Unite

What do Hall of Fame football player Joe Montana, Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky and Academy Award winning Actor Will Smith have in common?

According to the VenturaCountryStar, all three of their sons will be playing Varsity football for Oaks Christian High School in Westlake, CA this upcoming season.

Nicholas Montana just transfered from San Francisco Bay Area powerhouse De La Salle High School (Concord, CA) to the Southern California school. He will compete for the starting QB position with Trevor Gretzky, son of the hockey legend.

Whoever wins that battle will get the opportunity to throw TD's to WR Trey Smith, son of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air himself.

(Too bad you couldn't throw in Hannah Montana as a Cheerleader and I'd smell the makings of a great reality TV show!)

Breakout Player: FS Eric Weddle (Chargers)

Anyone who watched the 2007 Divisional Playoff game between the San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts will remember this play: On 3rd down and 3 yards to go, sitting on the Chargers 4 yard line (about to score the go ahead touchdown) QB Peyton Manning's short pass over the middle intended for RB Kenton Keith is miraculously intercepted by a 'one-hand-grab' from falling #32 FS Eric Weddle. This was a huge momentum change that helped lead to a Chargers 28-24 upset victory over the Defending Champion Colts.

In the 2007 NFL Draft, the Chargers traded the 62nd pick (2nd), 93rd pick (3rd), a 2008 3rd rounder and 2008 5th rounder to the Chicago Bears for the right to move up to the 37th overall pick and select Weddle, the 5'11 200 pound free safety from the University of Utah. In 48 games for the Utes, Weddle started 45 times (9 at right cornerback, 12 at left cornerback, 6 at nickel back, 18 at strong safety). He even played offense with stints at quarterback, running back, punter and holder; scoring 5 rushing TDs and 1 receiving TD in 2006 alone. He was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year twice (2005 and 2006) and earned All-American honors.

Entering into the Draft, Weddle was thought to be too short and too slow to make it in the NFL. Many felt he did not possess the speed and quickness to be a Cornerback and was too small to be a Safety. Yet he is a high-character player, has big play potential, rarely leaves the field and has a tremendous workout ethic; doing well at the Combine and Pro-Day workouts. He has great instincts and reads the QB well, has good hand and ball skills, plays the run like a linebacker, uses good angles in pursuits, and brings intensity on every snap. He struggles a bit on man-to-man coverage but his athleticism makes up for it.

In his first season, the Chargers used Weddle in as the 'Dime' Safety, playing mostly on 2nd/3rd downs. He saw action in 15 games; posting 53 tackles (42 solo), 1 sack, 6 pass deflections, and 1 INT.

Some of the factors that will enable Eric Weddle to have a breakout year in 2008:

1) Starter After stepping up big at the end of last season and the playoffs, Weddle will take over this season as the starting Free Safety for the recently departed FS Marlon McCree (Broncos). The Chargers believe he has potential to become a great player at the safety spot in line with fellow players such as Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Ed Reed (Ravens) and John Lynch (Broncos).

2) Chargers Defense San Diego enters the 2008 season with high expectations and is viewed as one of the elite teams in the NFL in terms of talent level and playing ability. Their version of the 3-4 defense will allow Weddle to make a ton of plays in coverage and in zone blitz opportunities. His versatility brings a rare combination of DB and LB skills to the field and he will not lose a step when interchanging between pass coverages.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Early Looks: OT Michael Oher (Ole Miss)

One of the top Offensive Tackles in the nation last season, three year starting OL Michael Oher decided to forgo the 2008 NFL Draft and instead return to Ole Miss for his senior season. Many projected this 6'6 322 pound athlete as a mid to late 1st round pick this year where he would have competed with an NFL record 7 offensive tackles selected in the 1st round last April.

Oher is best known as the centerpiece of author Michael Lewis's 2006 book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game which chronicles Oher's upbringings (a murdered father, a drug addicted mother, and countless foster homes) to his eventual success late in High School athletics and becoming one of the top college football prospects in the nation. He turned down full-ride scholarships to: Tennessee, LSU, Alabama, and N.C. State to play for his adopted family's alma mater University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).

After starting for the past three seasons, in 2007 Oher was an AP and coaches first-team All-SEC selection and named to numerous All-American teams. While Ole Miss struggled on offense, Oher was a key component in helping RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis rush for over 1,000 yards.

Oher posses a massive physical frame and has excellent foot work for a OT. He can control the line of scrimmage, is forceful in run blocking and can get to the second level to attack pursuing linebackers. He needs to work on his pass protection and can quit on blocks too soon. He uses good technique and plays with aggression. Oher is quick enough to play the highly coveted Left Offensive Tackle position in the NFL and has shown consistency and durability in starting 34 consecutive games.

After an extensive training program this off season (increasing his bench press by more than 70 pounds and improved conditioning), according to Oher, he is entering the 2008 season in the best shape of his life. Look for him to have a huge year and solidify himself as one of the Top 15 overall picks in the 2009 draft.

Noteworthy games: Sept 27th at Florida; Oct 18th at Alabama; Nov 22nd at LSU

Monday, July 7, 2008

Breakout Player: WR Bryant Johnson (49ers)

True or False? WR Anquan Boldin was the 1st Wide Receiver selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2003 NFL Draft?

If you picked 'True' than you are wrong. With the 1st Round 17th pick overall in that draft, the Cardinals selected 6'3 216 pound standout WR Bryant Johnson from Penn State (Bolden went in the 2nd Round 54th pick overall). Johnson is a big, physical receiver that plays the slot position, can make plays across the field and has decent hands. He creates good separation on the line of scrimmage and has steadily improved with his route running skills.

After 5 seasons in the NFL though, Johnson never had a breakout season and instead played 3rd fiddle to fellow teammates: Pro Bowl WR's Anquan Bolden, and Larry Fitzgerald. Despite playing in 77 career games, he has only started 39. His best year came in 2006 when he had 40 catches 740 yards receiving and 4 TDs. In 2007, Johnson had only 46 receptions for 528 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals did not make a serious run to re-sign Johnson and he instead signed a one-year deal as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers..

What are the factors that will lead Johnson to having a breakout season in 2008?

1) Mike Martz The 49ers went out and signed offensive guru Martz to revamp their league worst offense. He has a proven track record of highly utilizing his WR corps including WR's like Issac Bruce (Rams), Torrey Holt (Rams), Kevin Curtis (Eagles), Roy Williams (Lions), and Shaun McDonald (Lions). Johnson fits the mold physically of what Martz likes in his receivers, emphasizing timing routes, ability to go over the middle, and possessing sure hands. Johnson is also reunited with his rookie WR coach Jerry Sullivan in SF; who is rated one of the top WR coaches in the entire league. Martz will give Johnson plenty of opportunities to catch the ball and put up big numbers.

2) #1 Receiver The 49ers have not had a true #1 WR since WR Terrell Owens left in 2003. While the 49ers have a lot of options with WR's Issac Bruce, Ashley Lelie, and Armaz Battle; Johnson has been getting the majority of reps in the starting slot this off season. He came to OTA and mini-camp well conditioned and has demonstrated the work ethic and production of a top receiver. While he has yet to tap his star potential of being a 1st Rd draft pick, Johnson could use this opportunity to showcase what he learned behind Pro Bowlers Bolden and Fitzgerald and make an immediate impact.

3) Money Johnson signed a one-year deal to play for the 49ers, thus establishing this upcoming season as a 'contract year'. Players in the NFL tend to work extra hard knowing full well that their production will generate a wealthy and lengthy multi-year contract worth millions of dollars. While Johnson is not viewed as a selfish player or teammate, the 49ers better hope that they can lock him up quickly if the production starts to come as the season goes on or risk losing him to another team.

Each of these factors are crucial in making an intriguing argument for a big season from WR Bryant Johnson in 2008. Finally, for Fantasy Football purposes, I slot him as a mid to late round 'sleeper' pick.

Breakout Players in 2008

Over the course of the next few weeks leading into the new NFL season, we will spotlight a young player from each of the 32 teams that has potential to have a 'breakout' year in 2008. This doesn't necessarily mean that said player is the next future Hall of Fame candidate or NFL superstar, but rather that they are in a good position to have a huge impact for their team.

To give you an idea of what we're looking for, here is an example of someone who stepped it up in 2007:

Pictured: RB Ryan Grant (Green Bay Packers)

A week before the season started, Grant was the odd man out at the running back position for the New York Giants. Only giving up a 6th round draft pick, Green Bay acquired the 6'1 218 pound RB, who later moved into the starting role mid season and had a breakout year. He finished with 956 yards rushing (five 100+ yard games) and 8 TDs. Displaying good field vision, a tough running style and an explosive burst, Grant solidified himself as a top back when rushing for 203 yards and 3 TDs against the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year. He is now the undisputed starting RB for the Packers and a key component heading into 2008.

Early Looks: DE Tyson Jackson (LSU)

Deciding to return for his Senior season in 2008 will prove beneficial for DE Tyson Jackson of the defending NCAA Champions Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers. This 6'5 292 pounds left defensive tackle started all 14 games last year and registered 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a Junior. Despite having high expectations heading into the 2007 season, many believe that Jackson underperformed, crediting 15 less tackles than as a sophomore and showing inconsistent play on the field. His 15 'quarterback hurries' was a team lead, but he was usually overshadowed by fellow Tigers defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey; the nations top DT and 5th overall pick (Kansas City Chiefs) in last April's NFL Draft.

Jackson heads into the 2008 season as one of the nation's top Defensive Ends. He possesses tremendous speed around the corner, has a long wing span, and demonstrates the combination of size, strength and quickness needed to become either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme DE in the NFL. He will provide leadership on the field for the defending champs but must increase his production and become a more dominate player if he intends to be among the top choices heading into the 2009 draft.

Noteworthy games: Sept 20th at Auburn; Oct 11th at Florida; Oct 25th vs. Georgia

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