NFL News & Notes: Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan & “Free Hernandez”

McNabb was shortsighted with comments about Stafford.
Donovan McNabb recently said that he didn’t think Matthew Stafford was worth top 5 money in the NFL and while it’s hard to argue with his logic, he was also being shortsighted with his comments. Before the Lions selected Stafford with the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, they suffered through the likes of Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton. And while Kitna did have one productive season under Mike Martz, there’s not a franchise quarterback among that group.

You see, it doesn’t matter what you, me, or McNabb thinks about Stafford as a player. The Lions firmly believe that he’s a franchise signal caller and thus, they were justified to pony up for his prime years. There have been exceptions to the rule but generally speaking, if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a Super Bowl contender.

Are there flaws in Stafford’s game that he needs to fix? Undoubtedly. But he’s a strong leader, a hard worker, and is dedicated to his craft. If he weren’t, the Lions wouldn’t have signed him to an extension with two years remaining on his rookie deal. Besides, he didn’t receive as much guaranteed money as Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco or even Tony Romo, who only has one more career playoff win than Stafford. Plus, had the Lions chosen to make Stafford prove he deserves a new long-term deal, what’s to say he wouldn’t have led them to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance and demanded more than what they wound up paying him? It was a good deal for both sides.

When will Ryan sign?
There’s zero reason why the Falcons shouldn’t sign Matt Ryan to an extension before the season starts. Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford all have new deals, which means Atlanta has a baseline to use to structure Ryan’s new contract. No matter what you think about Ryan’s ability (or inability) to lead a team to the Super Bowl, the Falcons know what they have in their franchise signal caller. In his five seasons, he’s led Atlanta to the playoffs four times and has posted a winning record in all five years he’s been in the league. And while he only has one playoff victory to show for his efforts, anyone who watched him operate in Dirk Koetter’s vertical-based offense last year knows that he’s on the fringe of becoming elite. (Granted, he did have Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez at his disposal, but Ryan posted outstanding passing numbers last season despite playing behind an inconsistent offensive line and an unproductive running game.) It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” the Falcons finally pony up and get a deal done.

Discretion apparently isn’t a word that the Pouncey brothers are familiar with.
It’s great to see Maurkice and Mike Pouncey express their freedom of expression by wearing “Free Hernandez” hats to a nightclub over the weekend. After all, they do hail from the same University of Florida that Aaron Hernandez attended before he was selected by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. But seeing as how the two brothers’ names were mentioned in the 2007 incident report stemming from a double shooing that also may have involved Hernandez, one would think the Pouncey twins would want to bring as little attention to themselves as possible. Not to mention, a man is dead and another is awaiting trial after he was charged with murder. This is hardly the best time to make a statement via wardrobe.

The Broncos were wise to lock up Clady.
The two most valuable players on the Broncos’ roster are Peyton Manning and Von Miller but if you were to rank a top 3, left tackle Ryan Clady would nestle into that third spot. Denver handed Clady a new five-year, $52.5 million contract on Sunday night and they were wise not to wait a minute longer. According to Pro Football Focus, Clady was ranked as the fourth-best left tackle in all of football last year and his extension ensures that Manning’s blindside will be protected heading into this pivotal 2013 season. The Super Bowl window isn’t going to stay open for forever in Denver, so it was vital that the Broncos locked Clady up long-term. Handing him $33 million in guaranteed money also proves that team doctors must be confident that Clady is fully recovered from season off-season surgery.

New quarterback but O-line will still hold Arizona back.
There has been a handful of positive reports to come out of Arizona this week about Carson Palmer, who has drawn praise from teammates like Larry Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell. Palmer is a good fit for new head coach Bruce Arian’s vertical passing game, as he still has enough arm strength and velocity to move the chains through the air. That said, he has no mobility inside or outside of the pocket and that’s likely to hurt him behind Arizona’s shaky offensive line. Granted, the Cardinals did select Jonathan Cooper with the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft and getting a healthy Levi Brown back will definitely help. But the bottom line is that the Cardinals still have question marks at four out of the five positions along their O-line and Brown is only two years removed from being considered the worst left tackle in all of football. At his age, Palmer will need plenty of functional space within the pocket and it’s unlikely he’ll receive it on a consistent basis. The Cards will be improved this season, but don’t expect them to make a huge leap with Palmer having to play behind that line. Besides, the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams are going to be tough to beat.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

The top five best, worst and most improved offensive lines in the NFL

There’s a secret that most good fantasy football owners don’t want you to know: Knowing how good (or how bad) an offensive line is could be the difference between you making the playoffs in your league, and winning the whole damn thing.

The bottom line is that the offensive line is the key to whether or not an offense is going to be successful in any given season. They’re the reason why guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brews are able to rack up terrific passing yards year in and year out, and why Brandon Jacobs, Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson continue to be solid fantasy backs. So knowing which O-lines are quality and which act like revolving doors to their team’s backfield will give you an edge on draft day.

Below is a ranking of the top five best lines, the top five most improved lines and the top five worst lines in the NFL heading into the ’09 season. Use these rankings as a tool to help you make better decisions on draft day and to also aid you when you’re stuck between a couple of players in later rounds.

Granted, we’re not advocating bumping certain players to the top of your pre-draft rankings just based on these rankings. The Lions offensive line is the worst in football, but if Kevin Smith is there for the taking in the 5th round, by all means jump on him. This article is purely meant to be a helpful aid; obviously you still have to use solid judgment on draft day.

Read the rest of this entry »

2009 NFL All-Spectator Team: All Pros, No Playoffs

Granted, guys like Peyton Manning, Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu had wonderful seasons. But don’t they already get plenty of love? With our third-annual NFL All-Spectator Team, we want to shine the spotlight on the players that had great seasons, but for one reason or another, missed the postseason.

So there won’t be any Steelers, Cardinals, Eagles or Ravens on this team. Nor any Giants, Panthers, Vikings or Falcons. They’ve had their opportunity to shine. We’ll recognize those great players that spent the postseason on their couch, or maybe on a beach somewhere. After all, it’s not their fault that they’re on a mediocre (or a crappy) team, is it?

Hell, we’ll even honor a couple of Detroit Lions – how’s that for spreading the love around?

Check out our 2008 and 2007 All-Spectator squads.

OFFENSE

QB: Drew Brees (NO)
5,069 yards, 34 TDs, 17 INTs, 96.2 QB rating
For the second straight season, Brees is our choice at QB. On one hand, it’s a nice honor because it means he’s consistently productive, but we’re sure he’d rather be guiding the Saints into the playoffs. Brees improved his numbers across the board, and almost broke Dan Marino’s single-season yardage record; he averaged 317 passing yards per game! He posted the second-highest QB rating of his career and even turned someone named Lance Moore into a fantasy star. For this, he was named AP Offensive Player of the Year, a well-deserved honor.

RB: Matt Forte (CHI)
1,238 rushing yards, 63 rec., 477 receiving yards, 12 total TD
It was a tough call between Forte and Thomas Jones, but with 1,715 total yards, the rookie gets the nod. Some draft pundits questioned his ability to be an every down back, but didn’t have any problems taking over as the Bears’ RB1. He caught an eye-popping 63 catches and was (by far) the Bears’ best offensive weapon. It’s scary to think what he could do if Chicago had another playmaker in the passing game that would keep defenses from stacking the line against the run.

FB: Earnest Graham (TB)
563 rushing yards; 23 rec., 174 rec. yards; 4 total TD
Were there better fullbacks that we could have chosen? Yeah, especially considering Graham isn’t technically even a fullback. But we chose Graham (who missed the last six games of the year with an ankle injury) because of his unselfishness this season. He volunteered to move to fullback when the Bucs were in need of a power blocker and he never griped about losing his feature back role. When he went down with a season ending injury in Week 11, Tampa clearly missed his power running style over the past two months of the season and even more so, they missed his leadership.

WR: Andre Johnson (HOU)
115 rec., 1575 yards, 8 TD
All AJ did was lead the NFL in catches and yards, anchoring one of the league’s best offenses in the process. He posted 9+ catches eight times and went over 100 yards in each of those games. This included success against the very best competition; he racked up 11 catches for 207 yards and a TD against the Titans, who have one of the top pass defenses in the league. A big day for AJ usually meant a Texans win; Houston was 6-2 in games where Johnson went off.

WR: Brandon Marshall (DEN)
104 rec., 1265 yards, 6 TD
Marshall missed the first game of the season due to suspension, but he made up for it the next week, posting an amazing 18 catches for 166 yards and a score against the Chargers. He was one of the most consistent wideouts over the rest of the season, catching no fewer than four passes in 12 of the next 14 games. Surprisingly, he only caught six touchdowns, but with the third-most catches and seventh-most yards in the league, his stats are plenty impressive.

TE: Tony Gonzalez (KC)
96 rec., 1058 yards, 10 TD
Gonzo makes his second-straight appearance on our All-Spectator Team. Jason Witten may have earned this spot if not for a midseason injury that hindered his production, but Gonzalez was every bit the top TE in the league this season. He was 12th in the league in yards and tied for 4th in catches. What’s most impressive about Gonzo’s season is that, at 32, he turned in what was arguably his third-best season of his illustrious 12-year, Hall of Fame career.

OT: Ryan Clady (DEN)
The Broncos might have produced one of the worst collapses of any team in NFL history by surrendering a four game lead over the Chargers with only four games remaining in the season, but Clady deserves praise for his exceptional play this year. The rookie gave up just a half sack and helped anchor the left tackle position for an offensive line that tied the Titans for fewest sacks allowed in the NFL (12). He’s the type of player the Broncos can build their O-line around and he was clearly a Pro Bowl snub.

OT: Joe Thomas (CLE)
Did Thomas take a slight step back this season? Yes. Even some in Cleveland’s organization will admit it. But offensive linemen aren’t immune to having sophomore slumps and even though his production might have dipped a little, Thomas was still one of the best tackles in the AFC and worthy of his Pro Bowl roster spot. He was also part of a Browns’ offensive line that finished eighth in sacks allowed. Some are going to wonder where Jason Peters’ (Bills) name is, but don’t strain your eyes looking too long because he didn’t make the cut. Peters gave up more sacks (11.5 sacks in just 13 games) this year than any starting left tackle in the league.

OG: Leonard Davis (DAL)
Two years ago, the Cardinals gave up on Davis because they didn’t feel he was consistent or dominant enough to be their cornerstone left tackle. Not that they were wrong, but they might regret giving up on him with the way he’s excelled since the Cowboys moved him to right guard after signing him to a seven-year, $49.6 million contract in March of 2007. Davis had another outstanding year and some believe that he was the most dominant right guard in the NFL this season. The Saints’ Jahri Evans (who made our honorable mention list) got a starting look for our guard positions, but in the end we couldn’t pass up pairing Davis with Alan Faneca.

OG: Alan Faneca (NYJ)
The Steelers didn’t want to pony up to pay a 32-year old guard with plenty of mileage on his body, but the Jets signed the veteran to a five-year, $40 million contract and it’s safe to say that Faneca was worth the money. After breakout seasons as rookies in 2006, the play of left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold dropped in 2007. But the addition of Faneca turned out to be the shot in the arm that the two youngsters needed. Faneca’s presence also helped running back Thomas Jones bounce back after a rough 2007 campaign, as he rushed for 1,312 yards this season.

C: Dan Koppen (NE)
Whether it was because of a down year or the inexperience of quarterback Matt Cassel, the Patriots’ offensive line was brutal in pass protection this season. They gave up 48 sacks despite returning all five starters from their Super Bowl team. Regardless, the Patriots still had the fifth best offense in the NFL and were the sixth best running team. At the center (no pun intended) of their success was Koppen, who continues to be a quiet leader on a team filled with exceptional players. Cassel’s success this season had a lot to do with having a veteran center setting the line protection every play and guiding the young signal caller along the way.


Read the rest after the jump...

Top 10 Pro Bowl snubs

With the rosters being released Tuesday, SportingNews.com decided to compile a list of 10 Pro Bowl snubs of 2008.

Philip RiversChargers QB Philip Rivers. Help me out here. With the running game sagging, Rivers became the NFL’s top-rated passer, throwing for 3,515 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at a 64.6 percent completion rate. And he is not on the list? He’s had a better year than the Jets’ Brett Favre or the Broncos’ Jay Cutler, for sure.

Falcons DE John Abraham. One of the tough ones, since competition at end was fierce. But no one with 15 1/2 sacks should be left off a Pro Bowl roster, especially considering the wide-ranging affect his play has had on the revitalized Atlanta defense. Take him over the Panthers’ Julius Peppers.

Texans RB Steve Slaton. With all due respect to the Dolphins’ Ronnie Brown, who has been productive as a running back and an option quarterback, Slaton should be going to Hawaii instead. Like Clady, perhaps Slaton was hurt by his rookie status. But there’s no question he has been a perfect fit in Houston’s zone system, and he has improved dramatically over the course of the season: He has 350 yards in his last three games, part of a season that projects to nearly 1,300 yards on a 4.9-per-carry average.

Broncos LT Ryan Clady. He’s a rookie, and that probably plays into it. But Clady hasn’t looked like any kind of neophyte, being every bit the player No. 1-overall pick Jake Long has been. Clady swiftly picked up the Broncos’ zone-blocking scheme and has yielded just a half-sack through 14 games. He, not doubt, should be in instead of the Bills’ Jason Peters, who struggled after his training camp holdout.

Colts TE Dallas Clark. Give Clark the nod over the Chargers’ Antonio Gates because he has 10 more catches and 72 more yards, although he has one fewer touchdown. And do it not for the numbers, but because as the Colts fought a plague of injuries on offense early in the season, the versatile Clark was invaluable as Peyton Manning’s security blanket.

Every player on this list deserves to go to the Pro Bowl this year. Clady has been outstanding as a rookie and as the writer notes, without Rivers the Chargers wouldn’t even be 6-8 at this point. (Rivers is the league’s top rated passer for cribbs’ sake.)

I was shocked that Abraham didn’t make it, although ironically the thing that has made him most productive is the thing that eventually cost him a trip to Hawaii: he doesn’t play on all downs. When Mike Smith took over in Atlanta, he decided to rotate Abraham out as much as he can on running downs in efforts to keep him fresh and healthy throughout the year. Obviously the plan has worked because not only has Abraham been disruptive in amassing 15.5 sacks, but he’s also stayed healthy. Playing only on passing downs hurts him when it comes time to do the Pro Bowl voting, however.

Related Posts