Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PHSports: Mid-Season Rookie Review 2006

by Armin Mohajeri

Top 5 Offensive Rookies:

1) WR Marques Colston, Saints (7th round, 252nd overall): Not only has Colston been the steal of the draft, he’s also been the top offensive rookie in the league in the first half of the season. He was 3 picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant. With 33 receptions for 577 yards and 6 TDs, he’s on pace for 75 receptions, 1300+ yards and 14 TDs.

2) RB Joseph Addai, Colts (1st round, 30th overall): Addai has rushed for 447 yards while receiving for 144. He has 2 TDs (one running, one receiving). That projects to 1000+ rushing yards, 325+ receiving yards. He’s a little light on TDs (projecting to ~5 on the year), but has produced for an undefeated team.

3) RB Laurence Maroney, Patriots (1st round, 21st overall): With 395 yards rushing for 3 TDs and 110 yards receiving, he’s on pace for 900+ rushing yards for 7 TDs and 250+ receiving yards. While he has shared time with Corey Dillon, Maroney has shown flashes of being the go-to back, and has made Corey Dillon expendable for the upcoming offseason.

4) RB Leon Washington, Jets (4th round, 117th overall): In limited time, Leon Washington has put up 397 yards rushing for 2 TDs (76 yards receiving). That’s on pace for 900+ yards and 4+ TDs. However, if you were to consider that he’s really only started 3 games (arguably 4), he’s on pace for ~1500 yards. He would be up there at the #2 spot, however consistency has been lacking (based on sharing time and poor team play).

5) RB Reggie Bush, Saints (1st round, 2nd overall): Reggie Bush is currently tied for 6th in the NFL in receptions (42). He has not had an offensive TD, but has a game-winning 65-yard punt return for a TD against Tampa Bay. His 212 yards rushing and 290 yards receiving project to nearly 500 rushing and 650+ receiving yards. Add a couple of TDs to his offensive repertoire, and he shoots up to #2.

Honorable Mentions:

WR Greg Jennings, Packers (2nd round, 52nd overall): He’s been a playmaker for the Packers and one would think that if he had a QB like Tom Brady throwing to him, he might have even better numbers.

RB Mike Bell, Broncos (Undrafted): While many thought (whether right or wrong) that his promotion to starting RB in the preseason was to motivate Tatum Bell, it’s evident that despite an early fumbling problem, Shanahan has no problem turning things over to Mike Bell. He decimated the Colts defense in the second half of their game and nearly (single-handedly) put the first blemish on their record.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville (2nd round, 60th overall) & TE Owen Daniels, Texans (5th round, 98th overall): 5TDs each.

No QBs!

Top 5 Defensive Rookies:

1) DE Mark Anderson, Bears (5th round, 159th overall): Nothing like having a guy prove you right. I had this kid pegged as a sleeper who reminded me a lot of Robert Mathis (DE, Colts). Anderson has 7.5 sacks, putting him on pace to get 17+ sacks on the season. He’s also forced 3 fumbles and recovered one. He’s the edge rusher on passing downs for the top defense in the league.

2) OLB AJ Hawk, Packers (1st round, 5th overall): Hawk has 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks, projecting to ~120 tackles and ~6 sacks on the season. He quieted concerns over his lack of production in the preseason.

3) MLB DeMeco Ryans, Texans (2nd round, 33rd overall): His stats don’t tell the whole story, though he leads all NFL rookies in tackles with 63 (projected 144). Ryans is the leader of the Texans defense, making the calls from the middle linebacker position.

4) FS Dawan Landry, Ravens (5th round, 146th overall): He’s been solid, starting for the Ravens, racking up 3 interceptions (one for a TD). He has the ball-hawk mentality, and is usually around to make the tackle at the second level.

5) OLB Ernie Sims, Lions (1st round, 9th overall): The Lions drew a lot of criticism for not drafting Leinart and going with Sims. However, Sims has been all over the field for the Lions defense. He has 59 tackles and is on pace for 135.

Honorable Mentions:

SS Donte Whitner, Bills (1st round, 8th overall): The Bills raised many eyebrows by drafting this 20-year-old who was projected to go late in the 1st or early in the 2nd round. Whitner has amassed 45 tackles, one interception, while being the most solid player in the Buffalo defensive backfield.

DE Elvis Dumervil, Broncos (4th round, 126th overall): Dumervil stepped in when Courtney Brown went down. In those three games he’s put up 5 sacks. That would put him on a freakish pace…however, since he’s only played three games, he doesn’t end up on the list.

CB Richard Marshall, Panthers (2nd round, 58th overall): As the 3rd CB on the Panthers, he’s putting up similar numbers to the starters (Gamble, Lucas). My biggest question on my Post Draft Analysis was why so many teams that could have used a CB passed on him.

Top 3 Teams:

1) New Orleans Saints: I could stop at Marques Colston and Reggie Bush, but then I’d be doing a disservice to Roman Harper and Jahri Evans. Harper was on the fast track, gaining the starting strong safety position (before a season-ending injury). Evans is the starting left guard of an offensive line that’s been solid so far. There are teams that have more than 4 contributors, but this group has quantity and quality.

2) New York Jets: Leon Washington is a Top 5 offensive rookie. Two-fifths of their offensive line are rookies (Ferguson, Mangold). Brad Smith is getting on the field more and more, as the coaches figure out new ways to utilize him. Drew Coleman is the starting CB now.

3) Buffalo Bills: The Bills got quality out of their draft, but this ranking is based more on quantity. Donte Whitner, Ko Simpson, Kyle Williams, Keith Ellison and Terrance Pennington are all starters. John McCargo had a season-ending injury. Ashton Youboty has seen time in spots. Aaron Merz has started in a game. Ellison was one of my surprise picks in my Post Draft Analysis, as I felt he could be a starter on this team (which he proved me right on).

Note: I refuse to put the Houston Texans on this list, even though DeMeco Ryans, Charles Spencer, Eric Winston, Owen Daniels and Wali Lundy are all either starters or strong contributors. The fact that they took Mario Williams over Reggie Bush nullifies their standing for a top draft.

Monday, October 30, 2006

College Football's Top 8 Teams -- Version 3.0

Two weeks of football have been played and you can add USC to the list of schools whose national championship hopes have been dashed due to the lack of a playoff system. However, even if we had a playoff system, their 33-31 loss to Oregon State in Corvallis demonstrates a program in a rebuilding season whose preseason ranking was unjustifiable.

With that said, the stage is set for November 18 when Michigan travels to Columbus to face off with the Buckeyes in a battle of the two best unbeaten teams. The stage is also set for Matt Carroll's latest edition of college football's top eight teams.

1) Ohio State: Not much to say here. Still looking excellent. Best offense in the nation. Troy Smith has a stranglehold on the Heisman right now. 22 TDs and 2 INTs. Who's ready for Nov. 18th?

2) Michigan: Not much to say here either. Took care of business. Reports are that WR Manningham will be back this week. The best front 7 in the nation and arguably the best D period. Fun stat of the week: Michigan has knocked out 4 QBs in their last 3 games.

3) Florida: This team has been the best one-loss team in the country since they became a one-loss team. This team has a great chance at finishing out the season and getting in the National Championship. A very fast defense and a potent offense to boot. With the toughest part of their schedule complete, they look to be in very good shape.

4) Louisville: The team struggled again against Syracuse, but Brohm should now feel more than comfortable for the big showdown on Thursday night against WVU. They have a couple suspensions heading into this game, but neither should be a factor. I'm excited to see how the WVU defense will handle this offense. They often count on their opponent's offense to make mistakes to create turnovers. Louisville will not be so generous. It will also be exciting to see if the speed on Louisville's D can keep up with the speed of WVU's offense.

5) Tennessee: Two gritty SEC wins in the past two weeks. The game against Alabama was closer than it should have been, but they got the W in the end. Erik Ainge has been fantastic and is getting better every week. WR Meachem is proving to be a great offensive weapon. Their upcoming games are LSU and @ Arkansas. That will prove if they are a top-five caliber team.

6) Texas: Two very good road wins against Nebraska and Texas Tech. A very talented team that now has solid wins to back it up. Colt McCoy is not only playing incredible, but playing with the poise of an upperclassmen QB. He has undoubtedly become the leader of this team. I was impressed with the way the whole team kept their composure after Texas Tech came out and jumped on them early in the first quarter.

7) WVU: Who's ready for Thursday night? A lot of this goes along with my breakdown of #4 Louisville. The offense is fast, spread out, and very hard to defend. Louisville will be far and away the best defense that this team has seen all year. They are fast and can match the speed that WVU has. But Pat White has done an incredible job of making the right decisions on the field, and that could be the difference in this game. This will also be the best offense that WVU's defense has seen all year. This Louisville offense will not make the careless mistakes that their lesser opponents have before.

8) Cal: The three point attack between QB Nate Longshore, RB Marshawn Lynch, and WR DeSean Jackson is lethal. They have scored 30+ points in 6 of their 8 games against decent competition. They have taken control of the Pac-10 with USC's loss, but it will still come down to their game against the Trojans on Nov. 18th. It took OT to beat Washington, but the Huskies have been a team that has given a fight to every opponent they have played this season.

On the radar: Auburn, Notre Dame, Arkansas
Key Games in the Next 2 Weeks
Nov. 4:
#3 West Virginia @ #5 Louisville (on Thursday, Nov. 2 on ESPN)
#13 LSU @ #8 Tennessee
UCLA @ #10 California

Nov. 11:
#5 Louisville @ #15 Rutgers
(on Thursday, Nov. 9 on ESPN)
#8 Tennessee @ #12 Arkansas
#24 Oregon @ #9 USC

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Nick Saban: Mad Genius or Blithering Idiot?

After a season of optimism ending in a 9-7 record for the Miami Dolphins, Nick Saban was hailed as a great motivator and an excellent young coach. Less than half a season later, the Dolphin faithful decry their status as a 1-6 team, languishing in the depths of the ultra-weak AFC East division. Not to mention, they feel their coach doesn’t know how to throw a challenge flag.

All jokes aside, Saban has shown impatience in his brief stint as head coach and the majority of pundits are intimating that he is losing the respect of veteran players in the locker room. After watching Daunte Culpepper do his best Drew Bledsoe impersonation and demonstrate zero mobility inside and outside of the pocket (21 sacks in four games), Saban yanked his star quarterback when the team lost to the Houston Texans in Week 4.

Many pundits have placed scrutiny upon Saban for his decision to bench Culpepper indefinitely in favor of Joey Harrington, who had a career record of 18-37 entering the season. In turn, this almost means giving up on a playoff spot with one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. At 1-6, most people have lost respect for Saban based on his team’s performance followed by the awkward postgame press conferences that take place every week. However, I think he’s a mad genius for tanking the remainder of the season for a few critical reasons.

First, the Super Bowl hopes for Miami were far-fetched. Much of it was based on prognosticators who imagined that the same team, who won 6 straight games to end the season, was going to play a very easy NFL schedule with a weaker version of New England in the division. They lost one of the NFL’s best offensive coordinators in Scott Linehan and their starting quarterback (Gus Frerotte) who had forged a strong working relationship with Chris Chambers. Former Bills Head Coach Mike Mularkey has failed to fill Linehan’s huge shoes.

Second, Ricky Williams’ year-long suspension for substance abuse ruined the hopes of having the two-headed running attack. It’s no secret that running the ball wins games in November and December.

Third, Saban has a lot of leeway within the organization. He came to Miami from the college ranks demanding a lot of power and he delivered in his first season as head coach. I have the belief that if you cannot win the Super Bowl, then you should build for next year. While this does not exactly signify throwing games on purpose, starting Joey Harrington and increasing playing time for younger players like Derek Hagan demonstrates this belief in action. Why would Nick Saban do this?

Fourth, in recent memory, the Dolphins offensive line has never been great. They were horrible two years ago. They were only mediocre last year because Linehan capitalized on the team’s strengths in his playcalling scheme. This year, … well, you know. They stink.

This brings me to why Nick Saban -- head coach, recruiter, blogger -- is a mad genius. This year, the NFL draft will have a very strong crop of offensive linemen available. As it stands, Miami are in line for the Joe Thomas sweepstakes. While the Dolphins have seemingly traded away their 2nd- and 5th /6th-round picks for their current quarterbacks, they are still in line for talented players on Day 1 of the draft. Acquisitions on draft day will shore up holes for the Dolphins and prepare them for a potential playoff run in 2007.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Clement's Football Picks

Wow, I'm surprised Pay still lets me do these. Nevertheless, the NFL season is still relatively young and I have plenty o'time to help out my disastrously-poor record (4-11). I'm going to blame it on early-morning wake-ups (we're talking 6:30am in Richmond some days, folks) for my practicums for student teaching.

It's okay to be jealous. Now, as for football, let's take a look at last week's numbers.

Last Week: 1-4 [Kind of a revolting development.]

Had to take a step back there, but we proceed onward and upward with 5 new games to enjoy.

Baltimore @ New Orleans [-2]
Both teams are fresh off of a much-needed bye, especially for the Ravens. It appears that Air McNair, who might soon be called Grandpa McNair with his limited mobility as of late, wil suit up and play. The fans are more than rabid in the Bourbon City and I like how Sean Payton has this team playing. I might've told you I'd have eaten my shoe if I thought New Orleans would be 5-1 at this point, but here they are. And I'm sticking with the feel-good story as the 'Aints - excuse me Saints - will cover the spread and move to 6-1 at home. Who doesn't love a hometown pick?

Jacksonville @ Philadelphia [-6]
Jacksonville laid one of the bigger non Arizona-based eggs of the season last week, getting stomped by the Houston Texans. Now, while we all love the triplets of Carr/Lundy/Johnson, I'm not buying this Texans team as worthy of stomping anyone of validity. Although the Jags blasted my Jets 41-0, that was at home where the Jags are a completely different team. While I'm not sold on Stallworth being back or being a huge target, it's clear that Reggie Brown is. I hate 6 point spreads, but the Jags are horrendous away from Jacksonville and that leads me to take the Iggles to win and cover at home. 2-for-2 with those home teams. Look out.

Indianapolis @ Denver [-2.5]
Deja vu. First off, the new Denzel flick looks pretty badass. Yet, I feel like I'm having it when I'm picking this game. Let me explain - as in previous picks, I wonder if Denver can score if it absolutely needs to. While Indy's D can often resemble a very mediocre team, Denver's passing game seems to be completely lacking with the Snake. While I love Denver at home, Pittsburgh dismantled this team (with the defense playing quite well, although not up to this season's tremendous standards), and I don't think it'll be cold enough for Peyton to be rattled. I'll begrudgingly take the Colts to win and therefore beat the spread, but I'm anxious to say the least with this idea.

The Side Rant
I have a mini-beef with the hate on the Jets this week. Sure, we have the #32-ranked defense and a suspect #9-offense, but there are worse teams out there. I'm not sure if I buy a pro-Cleveland spread of 1.5, even though they are at home. Let's take a quick look at the Jets wins (@Tennessee, @Buffalo [their home opener], Miami, Detroit] and losses [@New England, @Indianapolis, @Jacksonville]. Obviously, we see four bad teams we beat and three good teams, perhaps excluding those tricky-Jags right now. Yet, outside of the Jags game, we played well on the road and should've beaten Indy. Although we could've easily lost one or two of our wins, it balances out in the end. Nevertheless, Cleveland is a mess and the firing of Maurice Carthon (who inexplicably keeps getting more jobs) won't fire this team up enough. I also don't buy CNN/SI putting Droughns at a 100+, 1 TD game after the Broncos wore him down to a bit last week. While my beef is obviously slanted, why do the Peter Kings of the world seem to dictate the Jets being hated on, soft schedule or not?

Let's move into the college realm before I get carried away.

#8 Tennessee [-4.5] @ South Carolina
I gotta admit I've always had a small place in my heart for the Volunteers, especially since they beat FSU back in 1999 (go Tee Martin) and also since my real Orange (Syracuse) suck so badly. Nevertheless, the Ol' Ball Coach has been known to own (or POWN if you will) the Vols in recent years. While I don't buy Tennessee as the #7 team, or being ranked above #9 Florida, I do buy them taking home a hard-fought double-digit victory over those lovable Gamecocks.

Georgia @ #9 Florida [-14]
Screw the SEC and the NCAA. I'm calling this what it is. The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. That is legendary and should never be stripped away. Nevertheless, I despise both teams for the most part and Georgia never seemed to beat Florida whenever I wanted them to (look above as I like Tennessee). As for this week, I expect Florida to be a bit angry and ready to take it out on the Dawgs. I can't remember the last time I took a non-Texas or USC spread this large to carry, but I am now. Take the Gators, who still have the ridiculous outside shot at the BCS-title game.

Well, it's all I can offer at this point. Here's hoping for only two wrong this week (I'd love to see Denver win and Florida to lose), but everything else can remain the same.

Wait, one more thing. I hate that I wrote this so late in the week. I was all set to call a Virginia Tech whooping of overrated Clemson (who shat all over Georgia Tech and my pick last week). Brandon Ore is a monster and Tech is usually rock solid on Thursdays (yes, I remember the BC-game earlier this year). While I am not a Hokie-fan (remember the Syracuse alliance), I can't believe this game is that much of an upset.

Now I'm done. Until next week ...

-- Clement