NFL Quick Hits: Romo, Dumervil and Draft Talk

+ There’s a large contingent that feels as though Jerry Jones has condemned his own team by handing Tony Romo a six-year, $108 million contract extension that includes $55 million guaranteed. And who could blame them? Romo is a competitor and a leader. Outside of missing 10 games in 2010 due to a shoulder injury, he’s durable and has eclipsed 4,000 yards passing in four of his last six seasons. He’s also 1-3 in the postseason and has a nasty habit of saving his worst effort for the most crucial of moments. How could any Dallas fan be okay with rewarding what essentially amounts to mediocrity? But survey the league. There are at least 10 teams that would gladly guarantee Romo $55 million if he could suit up for them. Jones is rolling the dice that Romo will eventually prosper in those moments that have ruined him in the past. He’d rather continue to invest in the undrafted gem that he signed in 2003 instead of starting all over again at the position next year. And maybe he’ll eventually be undone by his unwavering loyalty, but it’s not as if the Cowboys developed any Pro Bowlers in the years between Troy Aikman and Romo. For better or worse, Jones has pushed Romo and a large chunk of his money into the middle of the pot and said, “All in.” We’ll see if the gamble pays off in the upcoming years.

+ Did Elvis Dumervil just pass up his best chance at playing for a championship by not re-signing with the Broncos? Think about that for a moment. It’s not as if he took the money a la Mario Williams and become a hired mercenary for a bad team – the Ravens are the defending champions, after all. But the last franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the Denver Broncos in the late 90s, which proves how difficult it is to repeat in the NFL. Thanks to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh, Baltimore will continue to compete year in and year out. But if it weren’t for Rahim Moore’s mistake in the Divisional Round last season, the Broncos may have won it all in February. (One could certainly make the argument that they were the best team heading into the playoffs.) With Wes Welker now catching passes from Peyton Manning, the Broncos should be right back in the Super Bowl mix in 2013. While he may never regret the decision to leave the Mile High state (especially when you consider the manner in which things ended in Denver), it would be a bitter pill to swallow if Dumervil was forced to watch his former teammates compete for a title next year. And that may very well happen.

+ Buddy Nix continues to boggle the mind in Buffalo. He had to part ways with Ryan Fitzpatrick a couple of weeks ago because he made the bone-headed decision in 2011 to overpay Fitzpatrick for one month of quality football. But why sign Kevin Kolb to a two-year, $13 million contract? He doesn’t represent a clear upgrade over Fitzpatrick, who also would have been a fit for coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s “K-Gun” offense. Fitzpatrick often displayed poor footwork and mechanics but he was at his best when getting the ball out of his hands quickly and spreading it around to different receivers. Instead of throwing more money at the position, Fitzpatrick could have been the starter until Ryan Nassib or another rookie was ready to take over in 2014. It just doesn’t make sense although hey, we’re also talking about the same guy in Nix who passed up on Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson in the second and third rounds each of the past two years. Not much Nix has done over the past three years has made much sense.

+ The more film I watch on this year’s defensive tackle class, the more I like. Star Lotulelei is versatile in that he can play in multiple defensive fronts, can anchor and also collapse the pocket when rushing. Meanwhile, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd is massive at 6-foot-2 and 297 pounds, but he’s light on his feet and has the ability to be a double-digit sack lineman as a 3-technique tackle. One could easily say the same about Mizzou’s Sheldon Richardson, who is an athletic marvel and a player that spent a lot of time in the opposing team’s backfield last season. When you get past the top three, Ohio State’s Jonathan Hankins was considered the best defensive tackle prospect at the start of the 2012 college football season (until his play fell off the map as the year wore on), and North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams is athletic, strong, and shows burst off the snap. It’s a great year for teams looking for interior pass-rush help.

+ Geno Smith might be the biggest wild card in the first round this year. The Chiefs have expressed interest in him, but chances are they’re planning on drafting Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 pick. The Raiders could take him at No. 3 but they’ve also expressed interest in Matt Flynn, while the logical move for the Bills would be to wait until the second round and nab Doug Marrone’s former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. (This after signing Kevin Kolb to a two-year, $13 million contract over the weekend.) If Smith goes in the top 10, my best guess is that it’ll be to Arizona at No. 7. There have been so many smokescreens surrounding the Cardinals over the past few weeks that you would think the entire state of Arizona is on fire. But I’m not buying their interest in Matt Barkley, whose best fit is in a West Coast offense. He simply doesn’t have the arm strength to run Bruce Arians’ offense efficiently, and neither does Carson Palmer (whom the Cardinals have expressed interest in as well). Smith is far from an elite quarterback prospect, but he does have enough arm strength to challenge the seam at the next level. That’s vital in Arians’ system.

+ If Manti Te’o falls out of the first round, it’ll be because of the current value for NFL middle linebackers – not because of his fake girlfriend or one miserable game versus Alabama. Just as he showed in the months leading up to the national title game, he sifts through traffic well, he plays downhill, and he’s an instinctive player. But this is a pass-happy league and if Te’o is going to play middle linebacker in a 4-3, he’s likely to come off the field on third downs. Middle linebackers simply don’t hold as much value as they did 10 years ago, which is why a player like Alec Ogletree may come off the board ahead of Te’o. Ogletree is a knucklehead who ran into off-field issues at Georgia, but he’s also a former safety that can run and cover. Assuming he develops at the pro level, teams won’t have to take him off the field in nickel situations. There’s a lot of value in that attribute, more so than a prospect that is a true thumper in the running game that has his limitations in coverage.

+ With all the talk surrounding Tavon Austin this year, one receiver that should be getting more attention is Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton. He has good size, quickness, and pass-catching ability. He doesn’t drop passes, he’s smooth in and out of routes, and he shows a willingness to block. Unlike Austin, Patton lacks top end speed, doesn’t separate and he didn’t make much of an impact as a return man in college. But he was productive in his two years with the Bulldogs and he has great intangibles. Prior to the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl, he gave a $300 Best Buy gift card (which was one of his bowl gifts) to a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Some team in the second round is going to get a solid player on the field and a high-character person off it.

+ Some team is either going to hit a grand slam with LSU’s Barkevious Mingo or they’re going to strike out looking. I fear there’s no in between. He’s a freak athletically and he could potentially be a headache for opposing teams as a designated pass rusher, but he’s really lean and may not hold up against the run. He also wasn’t overly productive at LSU and arguably wasn’t their best pass rusher, either. (That would be teammate Sam Montgomery.) If he can’t defend the run and he can’t set the edge, will he be worth taking in the first round based on his upside as a pass rusher? Bruce Irvin was, but the Seahawks also used him appropriately (i.e. as a DPR). When Irvin had to start versus the Falcons in the Divisional Round last year because of the injury to Chris Clemons, Atlanta ran right at him because he couldn’t set the edge in run support. Then again, he also finished with eight sacks as a rookie and there are plenty of teams that would kill for similar production. It’ll be interesting to see which ones will be willing to give up a late first-round pick in hopes of acquiring that same kind of output from Mingo.

+ The Dolphins just signed an underrated player in Brent Grimes. Assuming he’s healed from the Achilles injury that robbed him of nearly his entire 2012 season, he’ll upgrade a secondary that was often torched last year. He’s small but he’s technically sound and often the best athlete on the field at any given time. Granted, in signing him to a one-year, $5.5 million contract they overpaid for his services, especially considering he’s coming off the injury. (The cornerback market has also been weak this year.) But Miami got a quality player nonetheless.

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NFL Quick-Hits: 2013 Scouting Combine News & Notes

Te’o holds his own.
Manti Te’o handled the media horde at the combine with maturity and grace. He answered every question, was concise and direct with most of his answers, and took the moment seriously. He no doubt was coached on what to say and he’ll continued to be grilled leading up to April’s draft, but he past his first test with flying colors. Now, is he a top 10 pick? I don’t know if he ever was. Teams will be attracted to his lateral movements, his ability to quickly attack down hill, and his good change of direction skills. He can also cover, is comfortable in space, and is fairly component when it comes to play recognition. But linebackers that aren’t elite pass rushers don’t hold the same value in the NFL as they did 10 years ago. Some of the best inside or strong-side linebackers (which is where Te’o projects to play at the next level) weren’t first-round picks. Patrick Willis was, but Bobby Wagner was a second-rounder, as was Daryl Washington. NaVorro Bowman was a third-round pick and Dannell Ellerbe of the Super Bowl-winning Ravens wasn’t even drafted. Is Te’o a first-rounder? No question. Is he a top-10 pick like many have wondered? I highly doubt it. The more likely projection for him is picks 15 through 25.

What was Montgomery thinking?
LSU DE Sam Montgomery wins the award at this year’s combine for what not to tell the media. In his combine interview, the pass rusher admitted to betting in college and taking games (not just plays, but entire games) off when the Tigers faced lesser opponents. “Some weeks when we didn’t have to play the harder teams, there were some times when effort was not needed. But when he had the big boys come in, the ‘Bamas or the South Carolinas, I grabbed close to those guys and went all out.” Montgomery also admitted to betting with teammate Barkevious Mingo, including one for $5,000 on which LSU defender would be drafted higher. Based on his talent, Montgomery is a late first, early-second round prospect. He’s strong at the point of attack, can be a power or finesse player, and is very good in pursuit. He also played with a lot of energy, although I only watched him against the likes of Alabama, South Carolina, Washington and Auburn. I guess I should have flipped on the film of him playing against the Little Sister’s of the Poor because apparently I would have seen a different player.

Deep year for defensive linemen.
This is an impressive crop of defensive linemen, both at end and tackle. Despite a poor effort on the bench press, Texas A&M DE/OLB Damontre Moore really stands out on film. He’s difficult to block one-on-one, displays good lateral quickness and does a pretty good job bending the arc when pass rushing. He doesn’t always use his hands well and doesn’t have a full compliment of pass-rushing moves, but he should attract teams that use hybrid fronts in the NFL. The same can be said for Oregon’s Dion Jordan, who ran a blazing 4.53 and a 4.63 forty at the combine. The former Duck will have surgery to repair a torn labrum but that should deter teams from taking him in the first round. He played drop end at Oregon, flashing a combination of speed, athleticism and length. He plays well in space, is violent on contact and is also scheme versatile. He’s not as polished as top-10 prospect Bjoern Werner from a pass-rushing standpoint, but he can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up. Former track star Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah also ran well at the combine (he’s a former track star, after all) and is likely to be selected in the first 11 picks. He’s powerful, holds up well at the point of attack and doesn’t have a lot of wasted movement. He’s not as explosive off the line as Moore or Jordan, but he’s scheme versatile after playing in 43 and 34 fronts at BYU. At defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei is drawing comparisons to Haloti Ngata (although recent reports about his heart condition is concerning), while Florida’s Sharrif Floyd is receiving top-1o attention as well. Floyd is built like an ox but is quick, agile and strong. He isn’t as explosive as fellow top prospect Sheldon Richardson of Missouri, but he’s the perfect fit for a 3-technique in a 4-3 and could wind up being a double-digit sack guy down the road. (The same could be said for Richardson, really.)

Jones a top 5 pick?
SI.com’s Peter King believes that Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones could be a top-five pick, although that’s hard to envision. Jones suffers from spinal stenosis, which is why he transferred from USC to Georgia in 2010. And while Chris Mortensen reports that Jones got a “favorable review” of his neck at the combine, his medical history could cause him to drop a la Clemson defensive end DaQuan Bowers in 2011. Bowers was widely regarded as a top 5 pick before the draft but offseason knee surgery caused him to drop into the second round. Granted, we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples, but the main takeaway is that Jones is a potential red flag for NFL teams. That said, he’s one of the better pass-rushers in this year’s class thanks to his athleticism and has decent cover skills. He’s seemingly a perfect fit as an OLB in a 3-4 but again, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he’s a top 5 selection.

Barkley a fit for the WCO?
One of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s draft class is USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who was once considered to be a candidate to be taken first overall. Scouts are reportedly worried about his arm strength and his ability to stretch a defense vertically. But he’s not without skill. He gets the ball out of his hand quickly, displays good touch and is a tough kid. He also throws the ball better outside the numbers and between defenders than people give him credit for but again, he won’t survive in a vertical-based offense. Considering he worked the short-to-intermediate game while at USC, he would be a good fit for a team running the West Coast Offense. But because of his arm, teams will have to figure out whether or not he’s worth taking before the third round.

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