Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyStalter.
- LaDainian Tomlinson hasn’t rushed for over 1,000 since 2008 but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the best running back of the last decade. He’ll retire with 13,684 rushing yards and 145 touchdowns on 3,174 carries throughout his Hall of Fame career. He also set a single-season record with 28 touchdowns in 2006 and ranks fifth all-time in yards from scrimmage with 18,456. On top of his outstanding career, LT was a class act, too. I had an opportunity to meet him during an event in New York City and there was nothing fake about him. He was a competitor right through his final carry.
- When Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars agreed on a five-year, $30.95 million deal back in April of 2009, both sides assumed that he would live up to his contract. It’s not surprising that he went out and rushed for over 1,300 yards in his next three years, including his league-leading 1,606-yard performance in 2011. But what is surprising is that MJD now wants more money. It’s not like the Jaguars stiffed him on his ’09 contract. Both sides agreed that it was a fair deal and now that MJD has lived up to the contract he wants more? Yes, teams can cut players at any point and players need to make as much as they can, when they can. But this was a bad move by MJD and his agent, who are highly unlikely to sway the Jags into paying them more.
- It’s only June but John Harbaugh has to be concerned about his offensive line. Jah Reid, who spent most of this week’s mini camp at right tackle because the Ravens told Bryant McKinnie to focus on his conditioning instead of practicing, was carted off the field on Thursday with a leg injury. Center Matt Birk also missed camp after undergoing surgery to repair a varicose vein in his leg and former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs is now in New Orleans after signing a free agent deal with the Saints. Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda are entrenched at their spots but the rest of Baltimore’s O-line is a major question mark right now.
- The Falcons will wind up regretting not bringing in outside options at left tackle. The hope is that new offensive line coach Pat Hill can restore Sam Baker back to his early days, but what does that entail? Baker was a second-round prospect back in 2008 but the Falcons drafted him in the first because GM Thomas Dimitroff panicked when he saw all of the tackles flying off the board. (And he needed a left tackle to protect his prized position in the ’08 draft, quarterback Matt Ryan.) Since then, Baker has been average at best and a complete disaster at worst. He’s in a contract year so maybe he’ll play well, but “well” for him at this level hasn’t been nearly good enough. The Falcons should have at least kicked the tires on Demetress Bell, King Dunlap or Anthony Collins this offseason.
+ Assuming the Cardinals defense makes significant improvements from last season (and it should), Ray Horton will become one of the hotter names in head coaching circles next offseason. His defensive influences come from Dick LeBeau’s scheme in Pittsburgh, so the system works if every player understands his role. As I wrote last week, there was a ton of confusion among Arizona defenders last year in Horton’s first season as coordinator. But now that everyone has a better grasp of the system, Horton will likely become a sought after commodity next year.
- Speaking of the Cardinals, Arizona Republic’s Kent Somers writes that he “couldn’t make a clear call on” the competition between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. That’s not good for the Cardinals, who don’t want to have competition at quarterback. They acquired Kolb and paid him all of that money so that he could solve their issues at the position. Instead, he’s only added to the problems.
- If I were the GM of a team that needed an upgrade at backup quarterback, I wouldn’t hesitate to send Cleveland a sixth or seventh rounder for Colt McCoy. The Browns did what they had to do in drafting Brandon Weeden. McCoy doesn’t have the arm strength to win in Pittsburgh or Baltimore in late December with the playoffs on the line. But he isn’t without ability. He’s mobile, accurate (or at least he was accurate at Texas), and he can run a NFL offense. Looking around the league, many teams could do worse than add McCoy as a backup, especially for the low cost of a late round pick.
- The Panthers are another defense that should improve upon last year’s effort (although how could it not, after last year’s Carolina team gave up the most total yards, passing yards, points and touchdowns than any squad in its 17-year history). Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was at such a disadvantage last offseason because of the lockout but players are starting to get a better feel for his scheme in Year 2. Getting Jon Beason (Achilles’ surgery) back certainly helps and Luke Kuechly was viewed as one of the safest picks in his year’s draft. Granted, outside of Chris Gamble (who was solid in coverage last season) the secondary is a major question mark but there’s little doubt that Carolina’s outlook is bright for 2012.
- I truly believe Jeff Fisher will not be a bust hire for the Rams, but he’s got issues at outside linebacker. They missed an opportunity to land Mychal Kendricks, Zach Brown or Lavonte David in the second round of this year’s draft and while they gave the impression that they were fine with Lo-Jonn Dunbar starting, they just signed free agent Rocky McIntosh on Thursday. A combination of Dunbar, McIntosh and Mario Haggan doesn’t scream reliability and chances are outside linebacker will be atop their needs list next offseason.
- The Titans avoided a major scare earlier this week when Kendall Wright’s X-rays showed no structural damage to his shoulder. Because of Chris Johnson’s struggles and Kenny Britt’s knee injury, this is a team that lacked playmakers last season. After investing a first-round pick in him this April, the Titans can ill-afford to lose Wright.
The Browns’ run defense just got much worse.
The Browns were brutal against the run last season and that was with 6-foot-3, 334-pound Phil Taylor plugging the middle of their line. With Taylor on the shelf for the next 4-6 months (if not the entire season) with a torn pectoral, Cleveland’s run defense figures to get worse. The Browns drafted Cincinnati DT John Hughes and Boise State’s Billy Winn last month, but neither is suited to be a starter. (Winn is the better bet to make an immediate impact, but his work ethic was questioned coming into the draft.) Opposing running backs should find plenty of open running lanes when playing the Browns again next season.
Randle already impressing.
Second-round pick Rueben Randle is already reportedly impressing the Giants. He went up high to catch a pass along the sideline during Friday’s mini-camp and then burned third-round selection Jayron Hosley on a go pattern later in the day. I said it immediately following the draft and I’ll say it again: Randle is the perfect replacement for Mario Manningham in the Giants’ offense because of his deep threat ability. He’ll work the seam just like Manningham did the past two seasons in New York.
Wright never had a playbook at Baylor.
File away as interesting: Receiver Kendall Wright never had a playbook in college. Baylor coach Art Briles used practices, film study and meetings to teach Wright over 300 plays. The Titans’ playbook will be the first-rounders first ever.
No need to worry about 49er rookies being out of shape.
One of the first things out of head coach Jim Harbaugh’s mouth on Friday was that the 49ers’ rookies looked out of shape, specifically first-round pick A.J. Jenkins. But one thing to keep in mind is that all rookies are out of shape at this point. It’s up to the coaching staffs to bring the players along slowly and show them what NFL speed looks like so that when training camp rolls around, they can be in stride with the veterans. Plus, it’s important for these youngsters not to get hurt tweaking a hamstring that could potentially affect them all year.
Burfict the perfect low-risk player for Bengals.
Former Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict says he has a chip on his shoulder after being undrafted last April. That should be music to the ears of the Bengals, who signed Burfict as a free agent following the draft. Burfict doesn’t lack talent, he just bombed pre-draft workouts and was an undisciplined player in college. If he winds up making the roster (and don’t be surprised if he does), then it’s a perfect low-risk, high-reward situation for Cincinnati. Maybe all he needed was a wake up call and some motivation.
Young to eventually be Bills’ starter?
Vince Young was brutal as Michael Vick’s backup last year in Philadelphia and seeing as how he just signed a seven-year, $62 million contract in October last year, Ryan Fitzpatrick will remain Buffalo’s starter. That said, Chan Gailey has always loved mobile quarterbacks so if Fitzpatrick struggles early in 2012, don’t be surprised if Young finds himself in a starting role again.
Jets latest to turn down “Hard Knocks?”
The AP reports that the Jets have turned down a “Hard Knocks” sequel because the team wants to limit distractions during training camp. The Falcons essentially gave the network the same reason as to why they didn’t want to appear on the show, and it’s saying something that HBO can’t even get Rex Ryan to say yes to attention. That said, hopefully the network can find a suitor because the show is great for fans.
A retractable roof for Minnesota? What would the “Purple People Eaters say?”
Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have hinted that the team’s new stadium will have a retractable roof because they want to make the stadium as attractive to fans as possible. But I say get your ass out in the cold, Minnesotans, and enjoy the game how it’s meant to be viewed: Out in the elements.
The 49ers surprised observers last Thursday night when they selected Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins with the 30th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But now we know that if the Niners hadn’t snagged Jenkins at No. 30, the Rams probably would have taken him at No. 33.
Yahoo! Sports’ Michael Silver was actually in the war room with Jeff Fisher and Les Snead in St. Louis last weekend and observed the Rams’ 2012 draft. He was on 101 ESPN sports radio in St. Louis today and filled hosts Randy Karraker, D’Marco Farr and Chris Duncan in on the Rams’ draft strategy when it came to selecting a receiver.
In response to whether or not he knew the Rams would take Appalachian State receiver Brian Quick with the 33rd overall pick, Silver responded:
“Yeah, I sort of knew their thinking on the receiver position. And I think the thinking was this: Blackmon at No. 6, we love it. We’re not going to trade up to do it but we love it at No. 6. If we don’t get him we pretty much have to get one of the five that we worked out, and I think the order was Blackmon first, with Quick and Jenkins right there with him. Then it went down to (Michael) Floyd or (Kendall) Wright after that. Once the four were gone and Quick was left, they did not want to mess around.”
It’s interesting that, at least according to Silver, the Rams had Quick and Jenkins rated ahead of Floyd and Wright because many people speculated that St. Louis would have taken Floyd at No. 14 had Arizona not selected him at No. 13. But that was never the case. The Rams had Trent Richardson ranked first, Blackmon ranked second and LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers ranked third. Brockers, whom Silver believes the Rams would have taken at No. 6 even if they hadn’t traded down, ultimately went to St. Louis at No. 14.
Getting back to Jenkins, it’s always interesting to hear about how things played out in teams’ war rooms after the fact. I’m sure plenty of Niners fans thought Jenkins was a reach at No. 30 but there’s a strong possibility that the Rams would have taken him at No. 33, so clearly the Illinois’ receiver was ranked higher on teams’ draft boards than people thought.
This is just one more example of how far off the media and fans are when it comes to projecting what teams are thinking on draft night.
Which teams emerged from the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft as winners?
Honestly? Who knows. It’ll be at least three years before we can answer that question.
That said, based on draft strategy, trades, value based on pre-draft projections, here are my thoughts from Thursday’s first round, including moves that I liked and didn’t like.
- The Vikings traded down one spot, collected three extra picks, and still landed the player they wanted at No. 3. While I bought into the rumors that Morris Claiborne was the top player on their board, Matt Kalil made the most sense for a Minnesota team that needs to protect young quarterback Christian Ponder. GM Rick Spielman did a great job not only landing the top left tackle in the draft, but also acquiring three extra picks. (Albeit they were late picks, but extra picks nonetheless.)
- While the Cowboys could stand upgrades at safety and along both lines, they didn’t have any pressing needs coming into this year’s draft. Thus, for them to nab a top 5 prospect when they came into the draft with the No. 14 overall pick was impressive. At the end of the day, giving up a second rounder to pair Morris Claiborne with Brandon Carr was an opportunity that Jerry Jones couldn’t pass up. And say what you want about Jones, he usually lands impact players in the first round.
- Based on his potential alone, Fletcher Cox should have gone in the top 10 and could have gone in the top 6 based on some of the pre-draft reports that emerged about his soaring stock. So for the Eagles to land him at No. 12 was huge, especially considering how porous their run defense was last season. Cox is still raw in some areas but his skill set is a perfect fit for Philadelphia’s aggressive defense.
- Rams fans are no doubt frustrated that their team didn’t land either of the top two receivers in this year’s draft. But once the Jaguars traded up for Justin Blackmon and Les Snead was presented with the option to trade back, he took it. As you would imagine, the 2-14 Rams have a ton of holes to fill so acquiring as many picks as Snead did was impressive. Plus, they land the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in Michael Brockers, who will look great playing alongside Kendall Langford…
- …that said, the Rams had a golden opportunity to land a top 5 prospect had they just stayed at No. 6. Granted, St. Louis did sign Cortland Finnegan in the offseason but this was a team decimated by injuries in their secondary last year. Having a chance to add Claiborne opposite Finnegan would have been an opportunity I would have jumped at, but Snead weighed that option against potentially acquiring one more starter (i.e. that second round pick he acquired from the Cowboys). Time will tell if he should have went with the impact player instead of the opportunity to address another need in the second round.
- Three years ago A.J. Smith whiffed on Larry English in efforts to beef up the Charges’ pass rush. He should have more success with Melvin Ingram, who could be an impact defender if San Diego can get creative with his skill set.
- There’s no doubt that the Titans’ selection of Kendall Wright was a surprise but it’s hard to argue with the pick. Wright is a playmaker with outstanding run-after-the-catch ability and he’s a great add to an up-and-coming offense.
- It’s amazing that one of the safest picks in the draft fell into the Steelers’ laps at No. 24. David DeCastro has the talent to be a top 15 pick but since guards aren’t viewed as impact players he fell into the middle 20s. The Steelers always seem to draft well and this is why – they continue to select players at the top of their position class.
- The Bengals did well to land two players in Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler that not only addressed needs, but could also make impacts in their rookie seasons. Kirkpatrick helps the Bengals get younger and more physical at corner, while Zeitler is a mauler in the running game that helped Wisconsin finish eighth in the league in rushing last season.
- Just like the Eagles and Steelers, the Packers had a very good prospect fall into their laps and they didn’t over think the situation – they just pulled the trigger. Nick Perry should have been off the board well before No. 28 based on his explosiveness and ability to rush the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He’ll look great opposite Clay Matthews in Dom Capers’ defense.
- Bruce Irvin looks like a reach in the first round. He gets swallowed up by offensive lineman because he relies too much on his speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback. He’s also undersized as a 4-3 defensive end and isn’t thick enough to shed blockers as an outside linebacker. With Quinton Coples still on the board at No. 15, I’m surprised the Seahawks went with Irvin.
- With how many trades transpired in the first round this year, I’m surprised that the Bears weren’t able to trade back and still land Shea McClellin. Not to knock the highly productive, high-motor defensive end/outside linebacker out of Boise, but you’re telling me the Bears couldn’t trade back, acquire more picks and pick him in the 20s? I didn’t have the luxury of being in the war room with Phil Emery and Lovie Smith so maybe McClellin was at the top of their board and they just pulled the trigger on their guy. But again, with how many times teams moved back and forth tonight, I’m shocked the Bears stood pat and took McClellin at No. 19.
- Neither Ryan Tannehill nor Brandon Weeden look like first-round prospect in my eyes, but I can understand why the Dolphins and Browns felt the need to take each quarterback where they did. Weeden can make all the throws but he played in a college offense, he doesn’t fare well under pressure and he’s already 28. Tannehill has limited experience, he’s a major work in progress and he wouldn’t have been a top 10 pick in most other drafts. But we’ll see if either quarterback can prove doubters wrong in a couple of years.
- Dont’a Hightower is just a pure football player in every sense of the word. He’s going to make a ton of plays in Bill Belichick’s system and while I don’t know enough about Chandler Jones as Mike Mayock, he’s an intriguing talent on paper. No surprise – the Patriots did well in another draft.