Five NFL defenses that (potentially) improved over the offseason
Seeing as how no teams have played a down yet, it makes it difficult to gauge which defenses will be improved in 2012. But based on the decisions they made in free agency and the draft, these five teams should be improved defensively next season.
Think of the impact that Julius Peppers has had with the Bears the past two seasons – that’s exactly what Mario Williams could do for the Bills in 2012. Buffalo’s defense struggled last season mostly because the pass rush was non-existent. So GM Buddy Nix lured Williams to Buffalo this offseason and made sure he didn’t leave the city without first signing a contract. Nix also signed Mark Anderson, an experienced situational pass rusher that should benefit from playing opposite Williams in the Bills’ “new” 4-3. Adding cornerback Stephon Gillmore should also help Buffalo on the backend while Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder will add depth to the linebacker corps. We’ll have to see how the Dave Wannstedt hire pans out but for now, there’s no question the Bills have upgraded their pass rush in one offseason.
With the moves they made this offseason, the Cowboys’ defense could transform from a top 15 unit into a top 10. DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee comprise a solid front seven but Dallas struggled on the back end in 2012. So Jerry Jones invested $50.1 million and a second round pick on his cornerback positions this offseason with the additions of free agent Brandon Carr (the best CB on the market) and first-round pick Morris Claiborne (the best CB in the draft). It’s never guaranteed that a big money free agent or a rookie will make an immediate impact but at least on paper, the Cowboys have definitely improved their secondary. The signing of Dan Connor was also somewhat underrated as well. He struggles at times in coverage and he’s not a pass rusher but he’ll be perfect for what Dallas signed him for: an insider ‘backer that can bolster the run defense.
The Falcons were productive this offseason in re-signing John Abraham (their best and sometimes only pass rusher last season), safety Thomas DeCoud (who is better than his reputation would suggest), and situational pass rusher Kroy Biermann (who appeared to be distracted last year, although marrying a reality TV star and parenting a newborn will do that to a man). But fans grew aggravated by GM Thomas Dimitroff’s inactivity in free agency and expressed disappointment that the team didn’t go after big money talent like Mario Williams. (Fans were also upset that the team didn’t re-sign MLB Curtis Lofton, who wound up landing with division rival New Orleans.) But the day before the draft Atlanta swung a deal that could only be considered as a steal. Acquiring a three-time Pro Bowler in Asante Samuel for a seventh round pick was a bargain for any team, especially one that struggled getting off the field last season on third downs. Furthermore, the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was a huge coup for the Falcons, who should be more aggressive and better equipped to handle explosive offenses like New Orleans, Green Bay and New York. No, the Falcons weren’t very active in free agency this year. But the re-signing of Abraham, the acquisition of Samuel and the hiring of Nolan should be more than enough to make this an improved Falcons squad.
After struggling early in the season, the Eagles wound up being a top 10 defensive unit in 2011. But here’s why they’ll be improved in 2012. Juan Castillo has a full year of experience under his belt and the pressure he faced last year being a first-time defensive coordinator should lessen. Andy Reid also hit a home run in this year’s draft. Fletcher Cox has top 10 talent and the Eagles landed him at No. 12 (after moving up). Mychal Kendricks is undersized for the position but he was extremely productive at Cal, he hits like a Mac truck and he plays at 110mph every down. Vinny Curry is raw but he has potential as a pass rush and the only reason Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin fell to the fourth round was because he broke his leg at the Senior Bowl and was limited in pre-draft workouts. Otherwise, he’s a second-round prospect. Re-signing Derek Landri was also good for depth purposes and acquiring DeMeco Ryans from Houston should help the run defense.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams are a bit of a wildcard but considering they ranked 22nd in yards allowed, 31st in run defense and 26th in points allowed, there’s really nowhere to go but up. There are five moves the Rams made this offseason that should prove to beneficial in 2012. The first was hiring defensive-minded Jeff Fisher as head coach, who brought assistants like Mike Waufle and Chuck Cecil with him to St. Louis. The Rams also added scrappy cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive tackle Kendall Langford, who is a freaking house. Drafting run-stuffing DT Michael Brockers to play alongside Langford was also big and former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins could prove to be worth the gamble that new GM Les Snead took in the second round. Keep an eye on William Hayes, too. He was limited last year because of a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1 but he’s someone that could potentially see his playing time increase because he’s he can play the run and provide some pressure. The Rams screwed the pooch by not taking an outside linebacker in the second round, but all in all they had a productive offseason and should be improved next year.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: Andy Reid, Asante Samuel, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Ware, DeMeco Ryans, Fletcher Cox, Janoris Jenkins, Jeff Fisher, John Abraham, Mario Williams, Michael Brockers, Mike Nolan, Morris Claiborne, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Stephon Gilmore
NFL Draft Rumors: Fletcher Cox, Ryan Tannehill, Trent Richardson & More
With just two days before the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, here are a couple of interesting storylines circulating the rumor mill.
Browns to draft the best overall receiver available at No. 22?
Take it for what it’s worth but TFY Draft Insider Tony Pauline hears from league insiders that the Browns will select Trent Richardson with the No. 4 overall pick and the best available wide receiver at No. 22. As Rotoworld.com points out, I’m not sure how these so-called league insiders would be privy to the Browns’ draft plans but this is noteworthy none the less. I’ve had Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams slated Cleveland at No. 22 in my first two mocks, but Baylor’s Kendall Wright arguably makes more sense for the receiver-needy Browns.
Bills to take Barron or Gilmore at No. 10?
The consensus among mock drafts is that the Bills will select Iowa OT Riley Reiff with the No. 10 overall pick but WGR 550 in Buffalo says that the team is interested in Alabama safety Mark Barron and South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. I would be surprised if the Bills took Barron over Reiff but then again I don’t have access to Buffalo’s big board. If they have Barron and Gilmore rated ahead of Reiff, then obviously one of those players will be the pick. That said, with Demetrius Bell gone, my money is still on Reiff landing in Buffalo.
Cox moving into the top 5?
This rumor is surprising but not altogether shocking – NFL Network’s Jason LaCanfora is reporting that some teams are considering trading up to No. 5 to take Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. LaCanfora tweets that teams want to jump up ahead of the Rams, who could take Cox at No. 6. Viewed as one of the more versatile defenders in this year’s draft based on his potential to play either defensive tackle or as a five technique in a 3-4, Cox could definitely go in the top 10. But the top 5? That seems like a reach although hey, the Chiefs did take LSU DE/DT Tyson Jackson with the third overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and he was slated to go somewhere between No. 10 and No. 15. I’m not ruling out anything at this point.
Tannehill not a first-round pick?
NFL.com is reporting that one high-ranking personnel chief believes that a lot of teams don’t view Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill as a first-round pick. “I can see a situation where he doesn’t go at all in the top 20,” says the unknown source. My response to that is: It doesn’t matter if 31 teams don’t consider him a first-round pick. All it takes is one (*cough* Miami *cough*) and he’ll be a first rounder.
Spielman fanning the trade flames again
Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman has been highly entertaining the past few weeks. He’s now insisting that trade talks for the No. 3 pick have heated up and a deal could potentially get done by Thursday evening. “We’re going to be very open to the trade scenario,” Speilman said. “That front has really heated up over the last 24 hours and I’m sure it’ll continue to heat up as we head into Thursday night.” I don’t doubt that the Vikings will consider Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne with their selection, nor do I dispute the notion that they could trade out of that spot. But at the end of the day they’re guaranteed to get Kalil and their current left tackle is Charlie Johnson. Unless they receive a sweetheart deal from a team wanting to get ahead of the Browns at No. 4 (who probably want Richardson), I doubt the Vikings will be able to trade out and thus, they’ll wind up with Kalil.
Posted in: NFL, NFL Draft
Tags: 2012 nfl draft, 2012 NFL Draft rumors, Fletcher Cox, Fletcher Cox draft rumors, Mark Barron, Matt Kalil, Ryan Tannehill, Stephon Gilmore, Trent Richardson, Trent Richardson draft rumors
Breaking down the cornerback class in the 2012 NFL Draft
Best in Class: Morris Claiborne, LSU
Despite reportedly scoring a 4 on the Wonderlic Test at this year’s scouting combine, Claiborne is a shoe-in to be selected in the top 10, if not the top 5. He was college football’s top cover corner coming out of LSU and won the Thorpe Award with a six-interception season in 2011. He also averaged 26.3 yards per kickoff return and is viewed as a better prospect than former No. 5 overall pick Patrick Peterson, who is also an LSU alum.
Next in Line: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina; Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
Unlike Kirkpatrick, there’s no questioning Gilmore’s speed. He ran a 4.44 and a 4.47 at the scouting combine and has excellent size at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. He’s gained a ton of media attention over these past few weeks and is now predicted to go somewhere in the top 15 picks thanks to his combination of size, speed and athleticism…At 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, Kirkpatrick is more known for his run support than his cover skills and Mike Mayock even said that the former ‘Bama defender may have to convert to safety “down the road.” But he ran in the 4.40s at the combine and may have put to rest the idea that he’s a 4.6 guy. He may fall into the 20s, but he will be selected at some point in the first round.
The Risk: Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
Jenkins might be the most polarizing figure in this year’s NFL draft. He has the talent and cover skills to be the second best cornerback prospect behind Claiborne, but he’s been arrested multiple times for drug use, was booted from the team at Florida, and has four children born to three different women. Obviously teams are justified for being a little skeptical that Jenkins can stay out of trouble once he signs his first contract. But if can fly straight off the field, then he could be a tremendous value for teams picking in the bottom of the first round (or at the top of the second if he falls that far). He played plenty of press man while at North Alabama and while he isn’t the best tackler, receivers will have a hard time separating from him in coverage thanks to his speed and change-of-direction skills. But again, nobody is questioning his talent – it’s his inability to stay out of trouble that is cause for concern.
The Potential Sleeper: Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
Hayward would likely get exposed even he was asked to primarily play in man coverage at the next level. But considering most teams stick to Cover 2 or zone schemes, Hayward shouldn’t have any problems sticking on a NFL roster. His best attributes are that he’s instinctive, locates the ball well in coverage, and is a smart player overall. While at Vanderbilt he was also highly productive, racking up 15 interceptions in his four-year career, as well as 198 tackles and 31 pass breakups. Considering he may fall into the third round, he could be a solid value for a team that primarily plays Cover 2.
2012 NFL Scouting Combine: 15 players that improved their draft stock
Which NFL prospects improved their draft stock at this year’s scouting combine?
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Poe may have been the most impressive player at this year’s combine. He’s already a physical marvel at 6-foot-5 and 348 pounds that can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3. But toss in the fact that he ran an unreal 4.9 forty and did 44 reps on the bench press and what you have is a sure-fire top 20 pick.
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Hill ran a 4.36 forty, which was the fastest time among all of the receivers (Miami’s Travis Benjamin also ran a 4.36) and placed him second behind only Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson (who ran a 4.33). He also posted an impressive 39.5-inch vertical jump and displayed good quickness in short shuttle drills. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Hill has the size and speed that teams look for in a potential No. 1 receiver. With his stellar combine workout, he may have moved himself into the late first round.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Griffin made the Rams very happy with his 4.41 forty time, which bested all quarterbacks at the combine. He was a top 5 pick heading into Indianapolis but he may have just upped his asking price with his impressive performance. The Rams seemingly want to deal the No. 2 overall pick and after Griffin shinned in Indianapolis, they should have plenty of trade suitors come April.
Luke Kuechley, LB, Boston College
Teams were well aware of Kuechly’s productivity (he finished with 532 tackles at Boston College), instincts, toughness, and I.Q. before the combine. But after he posted a 4.50 forty and a 38-inch vertical leap, he cemented his status as a top-20 pick. He looks like one of the safer first-round prospects in this year’s draft.
Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida
Robinson blew scouts away when he ran unofficial forty times of 4.31 and 4.29, respectively. Those times made him the fastest prospect at this year’s combine and he also posted the best broad jump among the defensive backs with a mark of 11-foot-1. He’s a raw underclassman but after compiling 10 interceptions at Central Florida, Robinson has the speed and ball skills to merit a second round selection.
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Kalil is a monster at 6-foot-7 and 306 pounds and is the younger brother of Panthers Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. He posted a 4.99 forty, was excellent in the three-cone drill, and also did 30 reps on the bench. He cemented his status as the top left tackle in the draft and he may have guaranteed that the Vikings will select him with the No. 3 overall pick in April.
Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia
Glenn shocked observers by running a 4.96 forty and proved that he’s quick enough to play either right tackle or guard at the next level. He’s a massive run blocker at 6-foot-6 and 345 pounds, yet he stood out in the 10-yard split by clocking a 1.76. He also posted 31 reps on the bench press and cemented his status as a top-20 pick.
Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Behind Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, Floyd was the most impressive receiver in Indy this year. He quelled some fears about his ability to separate from defenders by clocking a 4.47 forty, and at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds he has prototypical size for a receiver. While some scouts remain skeptical about his on-field speed, Floyd definitely improved his draft stock this past weekend.
Nick Perry, USC, OLB/DE
Perry was highly impressive in most of the drills at the combine, posting a 4.50 in the forty, a 38 1/2 –inch vertical leap, 10-foot-4 broad jump, and 35 reps on the bench press. He looks like an ideal fit as an edge-rusher in a 3-4.
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California
I included Kendricks in my “Spotting defensive value” article last week and he didn’t disappoint at the combine. At 5-foot-11 and 239 pounds, there are questions about his size, which is why he was projected to go in the fourth or fifth round before last week. But he posted the fastest forty in the linebacker group with a time of 4.47 and is a violent, explosive hitter from his inside linebacker position. I think he has a spot on a NFL roster and will make some team extremely happy in the fourth round.
Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
Egnew was one of the top performers at the tight end position in the three-cone, broad jump, short shuttle, and vertical jump, and also posted a 4.6 forty. Some believe his game speed isn’t as fast as his forty would suggest but he nevertheless looks like a solid “Y” or slot tight end at the next level.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
Cousins was arguably the most impressive quarterback in passing drills last weekend. Granted, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin II and Ryan Tannehill didn’t throw but that shouldn’t take away from the natural skill set that Cousins possessed in the three and five-step drop drills. Before the combine, Cousins was projected to go in the third round but he may have jumped into the second with his impressive performance.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Gilmore posted a 4.37 forty, which highlighted his excellent speed. Considering he’s also 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, teams will be just as intrigued by his size as they are with his speed. He looks like the third best corner in the draft and is ideal for a zone scheme.
Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina
Brown is a former track star and after running an unofficial 4.4 forty, teams will love his potential as a weak-side linebacker. He’s an ideal fit in a Cover-2 scheme that will allow him to track down ball carries in the open field. Look for him to be drafted in the late first or early second.
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Ingram was already viewed as a first-round pick coming into the draft but he may have guaranteed that he’ll be a top-15 pick with his performance at the combine. He clocked an unofficial 4.66 forty and a 1.65 10-yard split, and teams could fight over his versatility and athleticism come April.
Posted in: College Football, NFL, NFL Draft
Tags: 2012 nfl draft, 2012 NFL scouting combine, Cordy Glenn, Dontari Poe, Josh Robinson, Kirk Cousins, Luke Kuechley, Matt Kalil, Melvin Ingram, Michael Egnew, michael floyd, Mychal Kendricks, NFL scouting combine, Nick Perry, Robert Griffin III, scouting combine winners, Stephen Hill, Stephon Gilmore, Zach Brown