2015 Division Preview Series: NFC East

This is part five of our eight-part division preview series. We will pose two questions per team, one about offense and one about defense, and then predict each team’s 2015 record and final standing within the division. Tune in each Sunday for a new part of the series!

Dallas Cowboys (12-4 in 2014, 1st in NFC East)

How much production will the backfield contribute considering the loss of DeMarco Murray?

The now Philadelphia Eagle DeMarco Murray was an integral part of the Cowboys’ offense in 2014. Running for 1,845 yards and 13 TD’s, he took pressure off of Tony Romo, which opened up the passing game, helping Dez Bryant have an extremely successful season.

In place of Murray, the Cowboys will look to take a “running back by committee” approach with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar splitting carries. Randle was second fiddle to Murray in the 2014 season, not given the opportunity to show if he had the abilities to be a capable lead back. He has only 507 total yards in his first two seasons in the NFL, but has shown flashes of potential, which makes him an intriguing option in the backfield.

Dallas also brought in veteran Darren McFadden, giving them a sense of security in the event Randle does not perform. He has had success as a starter in the past, but struggled last season as he rushed for only 534 yards.

The loss of Murray will also have an impact on the passing game, as opposing defenses will not have to put as much attention on the backfield. Last season, the Cowboys had a successful passing game with Bryant and Jason Witten, among others because of the spotlight other teams put on stuffing the run. This will not be the case in 2015, so Tony Romo and his weapons will have a more challenging time and the running backs will be forced to produce if the offense is going to sustain its production.

Can the secondary hold up and allow the front line time to pressure the quarterback?

The secondary of the Dallas Cowboys has been below average in recent memory and this year does not look to be much different. Ranked 26th against the pass last season, defensive backs such as Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr struggled along with safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church who collectively were unable to contain high-flying offenses. 

These below-par defensive backs will make it difficult for new additions such as Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy to get after the quarterback. If opposing offenses can make quick passes and progress up the field, it will be challenging for the front seven to gain any consistency in the rush and pressure the QB.

However, the positive aspect of the situation is that Claiborne is still a young player and has the potential to grow from his experience and become a solid corner. Also, second year man Tyler Patmon had patches of great play in his rookie year, as well as promising rookie Byron Jones giving Dallas some optimism at the CB position.

Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in NFC East

The Cowboys made some impact additions in players like Hardy and La’el Collins and have a solid chance for success this season. If the running back unit can produce and the secondary is close to solid, Dallas can look to have a strong season in 2015. They will not win the division, but will earn a Wild Card spot.


New York Giants (6-10 in 2014, 3rd in NFC East)

Will Eli Manning‘s weapons remain healthy enough for the offense to improve?

Shadowed by the spectacular athleticism of Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Manning had a career year in 2014, posting career highs in categories such as touchdowns and completion percentage, all while missing some of his best weapons for parts of the season in Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings.

Considering his performance without those weapons, Manning will only improve if they can all stay healthy, but that is a huge if. While Odell Beckham Jr. only missed three games, Cruz missed ten and Jennings missed five, making it difficult for Manning to gain a sense of consistency.

To add some security to this situation, the Giants added Shane Vereen, a back who can provide solid production along with Jennings, as well as being able to step in as starter if Jennings goes down. The potential of this offense gives the team a chance to have a great scoring season if they remain relatively healthy.

How will the front seven fare considering the lack of production in the 2014 season and the Jason Pierre-Paul situation?

The front line is a massive concern for the Giants, especially after the JPP fireworks incident. His finger was amputated and it is unclear when or if he will return. This is devastating news to an already weak defensive line, as Cullen Jenkins is aging, and there is not much proven talent across the line. The team brought in two players in George Selvie and Kenrick Ellis who will look to improve the D-line, but it is unclear if the unit will jell and produce.

When it comes to the linebackers, it does not get much better. Outside of Jon Beason, there are no other proven commodities that can lead the front seven, making it that much more challenging for Beason. The Giants were ranked 30th in rush defense in 2014 and it does not look like they will improve much, as the unit has not gained any significant talent.

Prediction: 6-10, 3rd in NFC East

If the Giants stay healthy, they can have a phenomenal offensive season, but the defense does not seem strong enough to beat teams with high-powered offenses, along with the Eagles and Cowboys having better overall teams. The New York Giants will have a solid season, but it will not be enough to make the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles (10-6 in 2014, 2nd in NFC East)

Can Sam Bradford stay healthy and become the franchise quarterback despite a history of injuries?

The Eagles endured an overhaul in the 2014 offseason, but no move was more impactful than trading for Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly decided to deal a solid signal-caller in Nick Foles for one with more potential that has been unable to stay on the field. An extremely risky move, but one that could pay off.

In his most recent season in which he played 16 games, Bradford threw for 3,702 yards with the Rams, showing that he has the ability to be great at the NFL level. Even more encouraging to Philadelphia is the fact that he now has newly added DeMarco Murray in the backfield, along with Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews, who will take pressure off of him and open up the passing game.

Chip Kelly’s system is known to be QB friendly, and with young weapons such as Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, Bradford looks to have a great bounce-back season, as long as he can stay on the field with consistency.

Can the new-and-improved secondary find success with the help of an elite front seven?

In the aforementioned overhaul, Chip Kelly set out to improve the secondary by bringing in DB’s Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, along with drafting Eric Rowe. Maxwell looks to be an improvement over both Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, while Walter Thurmond has, according to reports, shined at safety throughout training camp. This is a hole the Eagles desperately needed to fill, putting someone alongside Malcolm Jenkins.

The Eagles’ secondary struggled heavily last season, ranking 31st in pass defense. The additions look to provide immediate help, with Nolan Carroll and Jaylen Watkins improving after a season in the system. The question now remains of how they will play as a unit and if they can develop success against the pass.

Prediction: 12-4, 1st in NFC East

Chip Kelly runs the team his way and with the role of player personnel director, he has shaped the roster to his liking. If Bradford can stay healthy and the secondary plays well, the Eagles can have a great season.

Washington Redskins (4-12 in 2014, 4th in NFC East)

Can Robert Griffin III rebound from a difficult year and show improvement upon the visible potential of his rookie season?

Having played in only nine games in the 2014 season, health is a major concern for RG3. His stats have mainly went downhill from his first season, forcing many to question his sustainability in the NFL. However, there has been turmoil with the coaching situation in Washington when it comes to Mike Shanahan, as well as Griffin having health problems, making it challenging for him to find momentum.

The organization moved on to Jay Gruden and the young QB has now had a year of experience with him, as well as time to connect with his new weapon in DeSean Jackson. With a now stable coaching situation and the opportunity to start the season healthy, RG3 will have the chance to show that he deserved to be a starter and has adapted to his situation, learning from a disappointing past two years in the NFL.

Will Washington have enough to be solid in pass coverage and complement the talent up front?

Washington has made many changes in the secondary, bringing in safeties Dashon Goldson and Duke Ihenacho, along with corner Chris Culliver. This gives them much more security as the young DB’s such as Bashaud Breeland continue to progress, as well as the long-time veteran presence in DeAngelo Hall.

These additions should allow the unit to improve upon the 24th ranked pass defense of last season, giving the players up front a chance to pressure the quarterback and have even more success against the run.

Prediction: 4-12, 4th in NFC East

With an improved secondary and an already consistent front seven, the success of the Washington football team lies on the shoulders of the offense, with pressure on Robert Griffin III. Although he will improve and have a decent season considering his weapons and familiarity with the system, the schedule is difficult, resulting in no more than four wins.

How Howie Roseman Is Returning The Eagles To Form

When the NFL free agency tampering window opened at noon on March 7th, the DeChippification of the Philadelphia Eagles became the top priority for General Manager Howie Roseman. Since the start of free agency, Roseman has shipped out the "Kelly guys" and attempted to reload to compete next season in the weak NFC East.

Ever since Chip Kelly

When the NFL free agency tampering window opened at noon on March 7th, the DeChippification of the Philadelphia Eagles became the top priority for General Manager Howie Roseman. Since the start of free agency, Roseman has shipped out the “Kelly guys” and attempted to reload to compete next season in the weak NFC East.

Ever since Chip Kelly won the power struggle prior to the 2015 season, Roseman has been pushed to the back seat of football operations. News broke that Kelly had even moved Roseman’s office to the business side of the organization and away from all things football. Now, with Kelly in San Francisco, Roseman is back in charge and taking a swing at the team formerly run by Kelly.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

More importantly, Roseman is returning to pre-Kelly traditions by rewarding guys already on the team and plugging holes without breaking the bank through free agency. Before free agency began, Roseman made his name by doling out contracts to current players such as Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Lane Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins, Vinny Curry, Najee Goode and Sam Bradford. In addition, he has made it a point to rid the locker room of guys brought in by Kelly, especially those who are overpaid and/or a problem in the locker room. See: DeMarco Murray.

Roseman wasted no time in taking care of business, starting with the trade of cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Miami Dolphins. Roseman was able to dump the $63 million salary of Maxwell, rid the team of two disappointing players and jump five spots in the first round of this year’s draft. Most characterize this deal and the DeMarco Murray trade as great moves for the Eagles.

Little time passed before the next overpaid Kelly signing was packing his bags. Later that same day, Murray was shipped to Tennessee for a swap of fourth round picks. The 2014 rushing champion was traded for virtually nothing, amplifying the severity of his locker room issues and horrible contract. Still, many see this deal as a win for the Eagles, as ridding the team of that kind of baggage was huge for the organization to take the next step towards success. 

The next step started with the small signing of cornerback Leodis McKelvin, but didn’t stop there. Roseman flexed his muscles by reaching agreements with Rodney McLeod, Brandon Brooks, Chase Daniel, Ron Brooks and Nigel Bradham. These signings signaled not only a return to the old way of doing things, but a change in philosophy for the organization: collaboration.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Before Kelly’s power revolution, Roseman had a clear method for free agency. After the disaster that was the 2011 offseason, Roseman resorted to signing mid-tier free agents to reasonable contracts. The signing of Malcolm Jenkins in 2014 is a prime example of what I mean by this. Big name safeties such as TJ Ward, Jarius Byrd and Donte Whitner were on the market looking for big pay days and the Eagles were in dire need of a safety. 

Instead of writing a huge check to a top-tier free agent, Roseman gave Jenkins a safe three year deal. In 2015, that same “mid-tier safety” was Pro Football Focus’ top ranked safety. If Jenkins hadn’t performed as hoped, the team would only have one year at a low cost before being freed from that contract. Roseman is hoping to replicate that same success this offseason.

With the likes of Eric Weddle and George Iloka on the market this year, the Eagles went for a young, rising safety named Rodney McLeod. Although Roseman gave McLeod a nice pay day, it still resembles a “Roseman move”. Unlike last season, when Kelly lured Maxwell to he Eagles with $63 million, Roseman is going after the productive, less expensive options to fill holes throughout the team. So far, the fans seem to love this way of doing things.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Roseman has recovered his office and all of his power, he hasn’t let it go to his head like Kelly did. Whereas Kelly was a dictator, Roseman’s rule more closely resembles a democracy. This is evident by the new presence of collaboration around the NovaCare Complex. In the introductory press conference of the recent free agent signings, head coach Doug Pederson addressed the communication between him and Roseman.

“Our offices are about four doors away, so we have to yell a lot down the hall. But no, the communication has been me walking to his office, him walking to my office, going over our roster,” said Pederson. 

“So that communication has been very well received over the past month and really since I’ve been here. That’s something that will continue now on through this draft process.”

Roseman and Pederson are in constant communication with one another, evident by the signings this offseason. Daniel and Brooks are two guys that Pederson has targeted since day one. Daniel was with Pederson in Kansas City while Brooks is the type of big, athletic guard Pederson prefers on his offensive line. But the communication doesn’t stop there.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has clearly had his fair share of input in the free agent signings. Three former Buffalo Bills have been signed this season, all having played under Schwartz in 2014. Bradham, Brooks and McKelvin have all alluded to Schwartz being a reason for signing with the Eagles, citing his coaching style and scheme as reasons for following him. All four, including McLeod, possess the physical, athletic style Schwartz looks for in his defenders. Clearly, Roseman is communicating and collaborating with Pederson and his staff to field the best product on Sundays.

Roseman has taken steps to eliminate the issues created by Kelly. He has traded seemingly untradeable contracts, collaborated with Pederson and his staff, and signed players, old and new, without breaking the bank. Roseman’s execution has been near perfect so far, but his kryptonite is fast approaching. This offseason has been characterized as a success for the Eagles around the league, but if he wants the full approval of Philly fans, he has to strike gold on draft day, which is something he hasn’t been able to do in the past.

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Breaking Down Brock Osweiler’s Departure From Denver

Moving on from a legendary quarterback and finding his replacement without skipping a beat is one of the toughest tasks for any GM. In the last eight years, it has been done twice, with the Packers' transitioning from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and then the Colts' transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Before that however,

Moving on from a legendary quarterback and finding his replacement without skipping a beat is one of the toughest tasks for any GM. In the last eight years, it has been done twice, with the Packers’ transitioning from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and then the Colts’ transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Before that however, it had been done only once in the history of the NFL when the 49ers transitioned from Joe Montana to Steve Young. 

Many other teams with legendary quarterbacks failed to replace them with another franchise signal caller. This includes the Dolphins’ moving from Dan Marino to Jay Fiedler, the Steelers’ moving from Terry Bradshaw to Mark Malone, the Cowboys’ moving from Troy Aikman to Quincy Carter, the Broncos’ moving from John Elway to Brian Griese, and the list goes on. 

The Broncos looked like they were in perfect position to transition from Peyton Manning to Brock Osweiler. When Manning got hurt in week 10 vs Kansas City, Osweiler took over in the fourth quarter and then started every game for the rest of the regular season. Osweiler looked like he was a clear upgrade over Manning: 

Stats: completion % TDS INTS yards passing per game passer rating Pro football focus 
ranking and grade (0-100 scale)
Points per game when playing  
Brock Osweiler 61.8% 10 6 246 86.4 Ranked 20th with grade of 71.3 In 6 3/4 games: 20.2
Peyton Manning 59.8% 9 17 225 67.9 Ranked 32nd with grade of 56.8 In 9 1/4 games: 18.9

Now, I know that Osweiler is no Young or Luck, but he had the advantage in pretty much every statistical category over Manning, and it looked like he was going to be Denver’s starting quarterback heading into the playoffs. However, in the final regular season game against San Diego, the offense struggled in the first half under Osweiler, and he was benched for Manning. Manning was able to give the Broncos a spark and help Denver secure a win. 

This spark led the Broncos to choose Manning as the starting quarterback for their playoff run, but this was a bad decision. This move sent a message to Brock Osweiler that the Broncos didn’t believe in him, even though he was clearly a better quarterback than Peyton Manning at the time. Osweiler clearly held a grudge against the Broncos for this decision as evidenced by this tweet from Mike Klis of the Denver Post:

Osweiler ended up signing a deal with Houston that will pay him $18 million per year with $37 million guaranteed, while Denver was in the range of offering $16 million per year with $30 million guaranteed. This was terribly mismanaged by Denver. The Broncos had the heir apparent to Peyton Manning lined up and already playing well in their system. Instead of handing over the reins, they damaged the relationship between themselves and Osweiler, and now he’s gone. 

The contrary argument is that Denver ended up winning the Super Bowl with Manning at quarterback, so was it really a bad decision? And to that I would say yes, it absolutely was, for all the aforementioned reasons about Osweiler and because Manning did nothing in the playoffs. In three  games, Manning put up a bad stat line: 180 yards passing per game, 55.4% completion, two touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 75.4. Manning did very little aside from riding the coattails of his dominant defense, something Brock Osweiler could have easily done just as well or probably better. 

So with their young, promising quarterback of the future now in Houston, the Broncos have traded for former Jets and Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is primarily known for being part of one of the most embarrassing plays in NFL history: the “butt fumble” against the Patriots on Thanksgiving four years ago. 

Sanchez is already 29 years old, and he has a career 56.7% completion rating, 86 touchdowns, 84 interceptions, and a passer rating of 74.3. Statistically he is a bad quarterback, and it’s not likely he will get any better in eighth year in the league. Now without Osweiler, the Broncos look like they are in no-man’s land at quarterback, with an uninspiring Sanchez filling in for now. 

The only promising option the Broncos could possibly have is chasing Andrew Luck in next year’s free agent class. Sanchez is currently on a one-year deal, so his money will be coming off the books next year, giving the Broncos another opportunity to look for a franchise quarterback. The Colts have done a very bad job surrounding Luck with talent since they drafted him, and if things go badly for them next year, Luck could look to test the market in free agency. Denver would absolutely look to sign Luck if those circumstances came about.  

If those plans don’t work out, though, and the Broncos are stuck with Sanchez or looking desperately for another quarterback, this will make John Elway and company look foolish. The Broncos had their next quarterback already in their organization, in a prime position to keep him, to make a smooth transition from Manning to the future, and they blew it. This is something that may really hurt Denver for time to come, because history shows us that it is very hard to transition from a great quarterback directly to another good one. While Osweiler was still unproven, he certainly displayed a solid skillset that and a winning mentalitiy. And with that unfavorable history, we have no idea when or where Denver will have the chance to get a good quarterback again.  

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Jaylon Smith

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Jaylon Smith out of The University of Notre Dame.

College Career

Jaylon Smith arrived in South Bend

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Jaylon Smith out of The University of Notre Dame.

College Career

Jaylon Smith arrived in South Bend with a lot of hype surrounding him. He won the High School Butkus award and was considered the top linebacker recruit in the country in 2013 by many different media outlets. After three years, we can all agree that Smith was definitely as good as advertised. A starter for all three years at Notre Dame, Smith really began to flourish in his sophomore season when he was moved to the middle linebacker position. 

Since being moved inside, Jaylon Smith has been one of the best defensive players in the country. He was in on over 110 tackles each of the last two seasons. His sophomore season ended in a Second Team All-American selection. His junior season resulted in him being a First Team All-American selection, and the recipient of the collegiate Butkus Award. Smith and fellow former Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o are the only two players to win the award at both the high school and college level.

Smith had many highlights in his amazing college career at Notre Dame, but unfortunately, he had one huge lowlight to end his career when he tore his ACL and MCL against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Pros

When you watch Jaylon Smith on film, you’re watching a player who jumps off the screen. He’s extremely athletic, and has good height and arm length for the position. Although his injury prevented him from running an official 40-yard dash during the draft process, he was an excellent sprinter in high school and his film shows a player who has the speed of an NFL linebacker. This athleticism, size, and speed allow him to make plays all over the field.

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Jaylon Smith’s greatest strength is his versatility. He’s a Swiss Army Knife at the linebacker position who can play any of the linebacker positions in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. His versatility should make the defensive coordinator that gets his hands on him salivate about the thought of playing him all over the field.

While at Notre Dame, Jaylon Smith also demonstrated a valuable ability to play solid man coverage. With the NFL moving to more and more of a passing league, being able to cover is critical for any linebacker who wants to stay on the field for all three downs.

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Also, while he was not asked to rush the passer much at Notre Dame, he has all of the physical tools to be a good pass rusher, and recently put out a video compilation of himself as a pass rusher that shows that he does have some natural pass rushing ability.

Cons

Before we discuss any of his on-field weaknesses, we have to bring up the elephant in the room. Every discussion about Jaylon Smith’s cons as a draft prospect start with the health of his knee. He tore his ACL and MCL in the last game of the season. Although, all indications are that his surgery was successful, that knee is a huge red flag. Some NFL scouts believe that he won’t be able to play in the 2016 season, and are unsure how this injury will impact his game going forward.

Besides the knee, Jaylon Smith needs to improve his ability to diagnose plays. He sometimes would let his athleticism get the best of him and play his way out of position, especially on misdirection plays.

Jaylon Smith also needs to get stronger, and learn how to fight off blocks better in order to succeed in the NFL. With his arm length, he should never let blockers get into his body and take him out of the play. If he can learn to shed blockers quicker, he can be an even more dangerous playmaker than he already is.

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Verdict

I really like Jaylon Smith. He has the potential to be one of the best linebackers for years to come. I love his athleticism, versatility, and ability to make plays all over the field. However, he does need to work on diagnosing plays. Whatever defensive coach gets his hands on Smith would be wise to have him spend his “time off” in the film room to correct some of these issues in his game.

Although I believe Jaylon Smith can play all over the field, his best position is probably an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. His game reminds me a lot of Navarro Bowman; both players are athletic linebackers who make plays from sideline to sideline.

Projecting where Smith will go is incredibly tough. If it wasn’t for the knee injury, he’d be a potential top five pick. Now, I’m not a doctor and I can’t even pretend like I play one on TV, so I don’t know when that knee is going to be fully healed and I don’t know how it’ll affect his play going forward.

I’ve only heard good things about how Smith’s recovery is going, and (I think) he should be able to make a full recovery. However, I can understand why teams would be wary and not willing to take a gamble on him. I think he’ll still probably go somewhere in the first round, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he falls into Day 2.

Best Fit

Whoever drafts Jaylon Smith has to be willing to be patient with him. Teams that are in win now mode or have coaches/GMs on the hot seat may not be willing to wait a year to get one of their top picks on the field. However, the team that takes him could be getting a game-changing defensive player to anchor their defense for the next decade.

That being said, two teams that would be a good fit for Smith are the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons. Neither team is a serious contender this upcoming season and both teams could use a defensive playmaker, which a healthy Smith can become.

Both teams also have defensive minded head coaches (John Fox and Dan Quinn) who I think would take the time to help Smith tweak the issues in his game and reach his full potential. I think Fox and Quinn would also be able to use his versatility well and unleash his sideline to sideline playmaking ability.

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Doug Martin: The Most Uncertain Running Back in Football

Tampa Bay's re-signing of Doug Martin almost appears to be a no-brainer considering that he was one of the top running backs in the league last year: The 27-year-old rushed for over 1,400 yards and six touchdowns. Granted, most would argue that his five-year and 35.75 million dollar contract was a bit

Tampa Bay’s re-signing of Doug Martin almost appears to be a no-brainer considering that he was one of the top running backs in the league last year: The 27-year-old rushed for over 1,400 yards and six touchdowns. Granted, most would argue that his five-year and 35.75 million dollar contract was a bit much, yet the Bucs had to ensure that their top running back stayed in Tampa. The signing does circulate questions, however, about truly how effective Martin will be moving forward.

For most of his career, Doug Martin was an enigma. He burst onto the scene as a rookie and rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns, which included a 251-yard game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9. In addition, he averaged 4.6 yards a carry and had over 400 receiving yards. He appeared to be one of the most promising running backs in the NFL.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The following year resulted in disappointment for Martin. After an outstanding first year, the Tampa Bay running back rushed for a mere 456 yards and one touchdown before tearing his labrum. It wasn’t just the injury that set off alarm bells, it was the fact that Martin’s average yards per carry dropped from 4.6 to 3.6 and he gained only 66 receiving yards.

His third year in the league resulted in yet another disappointing season. After being riddled with injuries week in and week out, Martin rushed for only 494 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, the former Boise State running back averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. After such a promising rookie season and breaking four franchise records, including most touchdowns in a game (four) and most rushing yards in a single game (251), the young running back appeared to be another bright player who would be forever plagued with injuries. 

After back-to-back disappointing seasons and getting bit by the injury bug multiple times, Doug Martin’s name appeared to fade into the background for most NFL fans. The Bucs running back was looking to have a comeback year, but the NFL appeared skeptical and questioned if he could stay healthy for an entire year. The first three games of the season started off disappointing, as he averaged less than 80 yards in each game and didn’t have any rushing touchdowns, and the casual fan began to wonder if this was simply Martin’s swan song. He didn’t let that discouraged him, however, and over the next three games, the running back ran for a total of 365 yards and three touchdowns.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Martin finished the season with stellar numbers and looked a lot like his rookie self. He tallied 1,402 rushing yards and six touchdowns, including a stellar performance against Philadelphia where he ran for 235 yards. In addition, Martin broke nearly 70 tackles last season, which is 10 more than any other running back in the league according to Pro Football Focus. His receiving yards did take a plunge, which is primarily due to Charles Sims taking responsibility for that role where he finished the season with 561 yards receiving. Aside from being relieved from his receiving duties, it would appear that Martin is back to his old ways where he is destined for another solid year, but there is room for skepticism moving forward.

Although the Tampa Bay running back did have a stellar season, it is still a mystery as to whether or not he can stay healthy moving forward.  In two years he has run for over 1,400 yards and averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the other two years he ran for fewer than 500 yards and averaged about 3.65 yards per carry. Keep in mind that he scored nine rushing touchdowns in three seasons compared to 11 in his rookie year. There is little doubt that Martin is an extremely talented running back, however, you never know what you’re going to get from him going from season to season. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: Myles Jack

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA's Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA’s Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an early impact at UCLA, scoring seven rushing touchdowns as a spot starter at running back in his first season. On defense, Jack finished fourth on the Bruins with 75 tackles and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on offense and defense.

After moving to linebacker full time as a sophomore, Jack recorded 88 tackles and earned Second Team All-Pac 12 honors. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL three games into his junior year. Shortly after sustaining the injury, Jack announced he would forego his senior season to enter the draft.

Pros

What makes Jack a consensus top-10 pick is his ability in the open field. A common issue with linebackers is their inability to perform on passing downs. Jack has no such concerns.

Athletically, few linebackers compare to Jack. His 40 inch vertical at UCLA’s Pro Day would have been tied for the highest at the combine, if he had participated. His 124 inch broad jump would have slated him in the top-5 of combine participating linebackers. Jack has some freakishly long arms, useful for gaining leverage in blocking and reaching to knock down passes.

Jack shows the speed, fluidity, and quickness to cover all offensive skill positions. Here Jack lined up across from a wide receiver (normally a matchup advantage for the receiver), flipped his hips and ran with the receiver step for step in a sequence normally executed by a cornerback.

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The former Bruin linebacker also pairs his man-to-man skills with good instincts as a zone defender, displaying a good closing burst and instincts to track the ball. On the play below, off the snap, Jack locked onto the quarterback’s eyes, mirrored the quarterback when the play broke down, targeted the receiver coming into his zone and located the pass for a game-clinching interception.

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Jack also possesses the type of range that makes him ideal for tracking down ball carriers. On this snap, Jack bit too hard on the play fake and took a few false steps out of position, but still had the speed to reach the receiver on the other side of the field for the tackle.

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There is also mean streak to Jack’s game. He delivers some pop when he engages lineman or hits a ball carrier.

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Some of Jack’s power as a blocker and tackler comes from his short area burst which is outstanding. That burst comes in handy when rushing the passer, or like in the play below, for blowing up the play for a tackle for loss, accumulating 15 in his time with the Bruins. Jack was so fast on the play that he burst past the offensive lineman trying to get set and brought down the ball carrier.

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Cons

Health will be the primary concern for Jack. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine and only did some of the drills at the UCLA Pro Day. The fact that Jack can do the drills is a good sign of his recovery, but some teams might be scared off considering the severity of the injury.

While Jack excels in the open field, he struggles when confined to small spaces. Jack isn’t great when it comes to dealing with offensive linemen, and struggles to take good angles when he doesn’t have a clear path to the ball. On this play, Jack had the range to get to the running back but instead of taking a better angle to the play, got caught up navigating through the players between him and the ball carrier and got cut-blocked before he could make the tackle.

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Although Jack plays with an edge, his aggressive style can sometimes put him out of position. Below, Jack is opted to make a big hit rather than the sure tackle, whiffed on the running back, and consequently allowed the back to fall forward for an extra yards.

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Physically Jack has the range and physicality to be an effective run defender, but lacks great instincts to be a great run defender. In this snap, Jack confused the hole opening up near the bottom of the offensive line as the rush lane, when in fact the play went to the opposite direction.

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Verdict

ESPN, CBS Sports, and other draft sites have Jack as one of the top-10 players in this draft. That would be fine if Jack were as complete a run defender as he is a pass defender. Jack is still a first round pick, but should be valued as a mid-first round pick. Jack is certainly one of the best players in this draft with his outstanding athleticism and ability in passing situations, but concerns about his knee and his lack of refinement in the run game hurt his value.

Best Fit

Jack might not be great against the run, but he certainly won’t be a liability either. The team which drafts Jack is getting, if healthy, a player who has the potential to be an impact player on all three downs in a plethora of packages and situations.

It’d be very surprising for any team with a need at linebacker, like the Giants, Falcons and Lions, to pass on the UCLA linebacker.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OLB Darron Lee

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Darron Lee from the Ohio State University.

College Career

A medical redshirt in

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Darron Lee from the Ohio State University.

College Career

A medical redshirt in his freshman season, Lee only played two years of ball for Coach Urban Meyer, starting in 28 of his 30 games. While Darron Lee’s time at Ohio State was  short lived, it certainly was not short on accomplishments. In 2014 following his redshirt year, Lee started in all 15 games and was a major contributor in helping OSU capture a national championship. As a result, the outside linebacker received national freshman All-American honors. Lee would continue his success this past fall as a sophomore to comprise career numbers of 147 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. Only one player has had more tackles for losses and sacks on the team the past two seasons, and that player was Joey Bosa. Maybe you have heard of him. Lee was also an AP second-team All-American selection in 2015.

Pros

Lee is an extremely intriguing prospect, and it will be interesting to see how a team plans to utilize him once he is drafted. If you know any preliminary info about this kid, you know that he can flat out fly. At the scouting combine about a month ago, Lee put on a show when he posted a 4.47 40 time that is just unheard of at the linebacker position. On the football field, it is no mystery he can do it in pads as well, and he allows this athleticism to mold into multiple parts of his game. 

Rushing the passer is in my opinion the best attribute Lee possesses, and he can do it off the edge or through interior gaps thanks to the explosion and power he brings. As you can see below, he also excels at eating up space and closing gaps between him and a ballcarrier. This is a testament to the tremendous range and the relentless pursuit he shows on gamedays. An every down, versatile linebacker, Lee logged plenty of coverage snaps (specifically zone ones) as he was on the field a lot on third downs. 

Significantly for a linebacker, the former Buckeye is a solid tackler who can pack a punch if he meets up with you the right way. Setting the edge against the run in his two years was also a plus on tape. A last notable is that he had a knack for forcing fumbles in college, which is not a bad one to have at all. What I can really see this kid being asked to do often at the next level is spy an opposing quarterback. His freakish ways make him a prime candidate to mirror the likes of mobile signal callers like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Tyrod Taylor.

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Cons

Despite all the talent that Darron Lee brings to the table, there are some questions as to how he will translate to the pro level. For an outside linebacker in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense (expect him to play in a 4-3 like at OSU), Lee is undersized. His frame more resembles that of a safety’s, and that is why he can get lost from time to time when he has to sort through inside traffic. Often, Lee was easily pushed around by offensive lineman and had a hard time moving them off of their blocks. For a guy who is already at a disadvantage because of his size, this is something that needs to change quick. 

He also needs to work on harnessing his explosion and energy into making smart, consistent football plays. Examples are Lee’s tendencies of biting up on play action passes and overshooting tackles by not breaking down first. A lot of the success he had in college was thanks to his athleticism (as is the case for most). With a small sample size at OSU, general managers and executives have to ask themselves if Darron Lee is more than a workout warrior. To cap it off, Lee needs to work on getting more depth when he is in zone coverage. That can come in time.

Verdict

Lee is a tough prospect to decipher; this is one of the toughest calls I’ve had to make on a player. There is no denying what his ceiling can be; he has clear-cut first round talent with tools that coaching staffs drool over. With that being said, I am not sure Lee is as polished as he should be for the time being. His size is also a real concern for the pros. It should be very compelling to see what role this young man plays on Sundays. To me, he is very similar to Shaq Thompson out of Washington a year ago. Nobody knew how Thompson would be utilized in the NFL, but what makes these two so alike is that they are both very dynamic players at smaller sizes. Lee looks like more of a second round pick in my eyes with perhaps more bust potential than some may anticipate. Yet, it is what Lee may become that can make him a first round pick and have teams excited come April. 

Best Fit

A few places I like for Lee toward the end of the first round are Buffalo and Minnesota. Both of them could use some LB help, specifically on the outside, and both of them have tremendous defensive units and coaches. Head coach Mike Zimmer has done a fine job for the Vikings thus far, and there are not many guys who run a defense like him. He could find a niche for Lee early on and allow him to get comfortable with all the young talent Minnesota has added on that side of the ball. The situation would be exactly the same in Buffalo with Rex Ryan. His defenses are always exotic and Lee would be just another unique chess piece he could deploy to startle offenses. Again, no pressure to perform right from the start, although the Buckeye certainly has the ability to do so if necessary. 

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The NFL Draft Combine is the SAT of the Football World

About halfway through the three-and-a-half hour SAT I took with about 20 other kids in 2012, one girl asked to be excused. She never came back. Most of us test-taking students noticed the minor disruption, and after the time for a verbal section and a writing section was over, we realized she had fled the cramped public high

About halfway through the three-and-a-half hour SAT I took with about 20 other kids in 2012, one girl asked to be excused. She never came back. Most of us test-taking students noticed the minor disruption, and after the time for a verbal section and a writing section was over, we realized she had fled the cramped public high school classroom that College Board wanted us to think would determine our futures.

I’m not sure if an NFL-hopeful has ever ran out of Lucas Oil Stadium in the middle of his Wonderlic, but like the SATs, the annual week-long showcase consists of various mini-tests that fail to efficiently gauge the skills that will lead to professional success.

Just as it’s impossible to conclude that students who know the definition of the words “pellucid” or “obstreperous” or “calumny” are more equipped than their peers to handle a college setting, players’ 40-yard dash times, wingspans, and Cybex scores are insufficient measurements of football intelligence. 

There are countless Word of the Day services and test prep books that high school juniors pore over in Barnes and Nobles all over the country in the months and even years leading up to the SATs. Similarly, athletes can train over time to produce longer jumps and improve their agility to master the three-cone drill (yes, that is a thing). 

But in a reflex-driven sport that necessitates quick thinking, the entire combine system is somewhat paradoxical. One of the most well-known pieces of evidence supporting the fact that combine stats and pro success are not correlated is Mike Mamula‘s NFL career.

Mamula had a legendary combine. The 6’4″, 248-pound defensive end from Boston College trained specifically for each of the included drills, and ended up scoring 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic, the second-highest score ever recorded by an NFL player, and had a 4.58 second 40-yard dash (the average at the DE position is 4.88 seconds).

This stellar showing led the Philadelphia Eagles to select Mamula seventh overall in the 1995 NFL Draft, trading up from 12th overall in order to secure the player they hoped would replace Hall of Famer Reggie White.  

Mamula ended up having the decently average five-season career that was predicted by his game tapes, recording 209 total tackles and 31.5 sacks across 77 games. 

But while mediocre athletes can have amazing combines, elite players can do poorly. Prior to the 2003 NFL Draft, Florida State’s Anquan Boldin, who was converted into a wide receiver from a quarterback, had a 4.7 40-yard dash time, the lowest out of all of the wide receivers that year. Despite catching 1,780 yards and 21 touchdowns in just 23 games at WR, Boldin fell to the second round of the draft, selected 54th overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

Almost immediately, Boldin showed that on-field performance should outweigh combine performance. In his rookie year, Boldin had 101 receptions for 1,301 yards and eight touchdowns, was the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and was the lone rookie in the Pro Bowl. He later went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII as a Baltimore Raven, and is considered a future Hall of Famer.

Doing well on the SAT is ultimately something to be proud of, as is having an exceptional combine showing. But considering the copious amount of evidence out there emphasizing the general uselessness of “testing” players and students in a controlled environment, you have to wonder if there is something more nefarious going on.

College applications have a variety of components, including letters of recommendation, transcripts, and personal essays. Evidently, schools are aware that students are more than their standardized test scores. 

Yet the SATs still have enhanced significance in the collective psyches of high school students, and though it may be due to an inherent human desire to live up to arbitrary bench marks (2100 is good, 1800 and below is awful), it has to have some roots in College Board’s own machinations. The abundance of bundled practice tests College Board puts up for sale and the $70 fee required to take the actual test indicate that the company is the one that perpetuates its tests’ importance. 

The NFL is the College Board of the football world. By now, coaches and owners know better than to draft a player based on how fast they run in one 40-yard instance. There are behavioral red flags to pay attention to, medical histories to take note of, and most importantly, lots of film to watch. Yet athletes can only attend if they receive an invitation, which undoubtedly adds to the pressure they already feel to perform well. 

Take into account that the entire week is broadcast on NFL Network and that it takes place only a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl, when withdrawal symptoms are beginning to emerge, it appears that the NFL is actually completely aware of how people perceive the combine. 

But the entertainment value–and thus financial value–of watching talented athletes try their hardest to jump their highest and run their fastest is what maintains the existence of this week of tests. As long as the NFL is able to generate a buzz for the showcase, and as long as fans remain insatiable for all things football-related, especially in the face of a long offseason, the combine will stay. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Joshua Perry

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a fairly productive career. He assumed a starting linebacker role during his sophomore season in 2013, and since then #37 has started 37 games. He has put up 283 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and eight pass deflections over those three seasons. This past year was his best year when he put up 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and four pass deflections while playing inside and outside linebacker. He is well respected as a leader by both his teammates and his coaching staff.

Pros

Perry won’t wow you when you look at the tape, but he does present a skill set that can be very useful for a football team. Partially due to his size, 6’4″ and 254 lbs., Perry is very good at setting the edge and playing his gap well in the run game. He knows where he is supposed to go and makes sure that running backs can’t get outside of him. He forces them back towards help, and his strength makes it so that he can engage with offensive linemen without getting pushed around.

In the passing game, Perry has good instincts and is always looking to make a play, allowing him to be more than competent in a zone defense. This one play best summarizes what Perry can bring to a team in terms of coverage.

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Perry drops back initially, keeps his eyes in the backfield and diagnoses the screen pass. He is able to move laterally, avoid a would-be blocker, cut up down the field, and make a solid tackle on a good running back. These instincts and his ability to tackle will make him an asset to some team.

Cons

Although you can see Perry shed a block in the play above, it’s important to note that he did so against a wide receiver. When Perry gets matched up against offensive linemen and good blocking tight ends, he may not get pushed around, but he also doesn’t shed blocks very often. That means that while he will give others around him an opportunity to make a play, he’s not exhibiting much game changing talent.

Perry, who plays an aggressive and instinctual style of ball, has a tendency to play too aggressively, sometimes taking him out of plays. Here is an example from the same game where Perry bites on a fake and finds himself out of position.

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He should learn to avoid these obvious mistakes as he gains more experience, but the underlying tendency may always be there.

Lastly, Perry is below average in man coverage. He will need to be limited to zone defense and pass rushing on most occasions.

The Verdict

Overall, Perry is a solid backer that should have success depending on what his coaching staff asks him to do. It is still unclear whether he will be listed primarily as an inside or outside linebacker. It depends on who you ask. His limitations in coverage and his setting the edge in the run game makes him look more like an OLB. But his pass rush skills are a bit limited and his instincts would be a bigger asset at the ILB postion. Regardless, he is a good mid-round talent that should probably go sometime between the late second and the middle of the thir round.

Best Fit

A good fit for Perry would be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a team with good defensive players that would play around him and a great defensive coaching staff that could best utilize his skill set. In addition, they just lost a player who is very similar to Perry in Bruce Irvin. Irvin played the OLB role for Seattle and just signed a deal with the Oakland Raiders this off-season.

He had some bitter words for his ex-team, saying “I honestly felt if I stayed in [Seattle’s] system, I don’t think I would ever be the player I think I can be in this league, being a pass rusher. SAM outside linebacker is cool, but you can do your job the whole game at SAM linebacker and you have two tackles. I just want to be utilized more and get put in position more to make plays.”

Perry is a perfect player to fill this void. He does the dirty work and sets up his teammates. He is fine rushing or dropping back into coverage. Both parties will be fortunate if Perry falls to them.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Reggie Ragland

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes to join CJ Mosley, Rolando McClain, and Dont’a Hightower as Nick Saban coached linebackers drafted in the first round. Like the three aforementioned players, Ragland ended his Crimson Tide career with at least one SEC Championship, National Championship, All-American Team appearance.

Ragland spent his first two years at Alabama on special teams before starting at linebacker as a junior. He would excel as Alabama’s starting middle linebacker for the next two seasons, being named a Butkus award semifinalist in 2014 and 2015 (The Butkus award honors college football’s best linebacker).

Pros

Not only did Ragland play on special teams, but he also played defensive end in Alabama’s nickel and dime defenses.

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Ragland has great instincts at the middle linebacker position. He seldom takes a false step and quickly sees the play develop him. On the first snap against Clemson, Ragland was not distracted by the ball fake, located the ball carrier, and would have made the tackle had he avoided the Clemson blocker.

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At 247 pounds, Ragland is sound when it comes to dealing with bigger, stronger offensive lineman. Where a smaller linebacker might get washed out of a play, Ragland uses his bulk to prevent the lineman from getting push and then effectively disengages. Notice how quickly Ragland engaged, then disengaged, the lineman on the play below.

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Unlike some bigger linebackers, Ragland is not a slow footed athlete. He has an explosive first few steps that give him great burst to get behind the line and blow up a play. In the snap below, Ragland shows his acceleration in chasing down Deshaun Watson from the backside.

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In the passing game, Ragland has enough range and fluidity to be effective when dropped into coverage. In this play, Ragland didn’t do a great job at preventing the tight end from picking up additional yardage, but still had enough range to reach the tight end and limit the damage.

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Cons

Not only did the previous play highlight that Ragland is only adequate in coverage, it also highlighted a problem with his tackling; he didn’t use good form to bring down the tight end. Although Ragland is generally a good tackler, he can be inconsistent. On the snap below, instead of driving his hips through the running back, Ragland lets the back get into his body and push him backwards for an extra yard.

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To be fair, Ragland went from missing ten tackles in 2014 to three this past season, so it’s an area he is improving in.

Even though Ragland is a solid athlete on tape, supported by how many different positions he played in college, he isn’t a workout warrior. He only had 13 reps on the bench press at Alabama’s Pro Day, a number which would have put him outside the top-15 performers at the combine had he participated in the drill. Of the drills Ragland did perform at the combine, he was only a top-5 performer in the 20-yard shuttle.

Verdict

Ragland has all the makings of an excellent middle linebacker. His instincts, bulk, and burst make him ideal for hunting down running backs between the tackles. He also shows enough ability in the passing game to be able to play all three, or even four, downs (considering his experience as a special teamer).

Baring something unforeseen, Ragland seems like a first round lock. He has very few weaknesses and has the versatility to be deployed at defensive end or on special teams. He might not have the crazy athletic upside of Myles Jack, but Ragland certainly looks the part of a high-caliber, starting middle linebacker.

Best Fit

Ragland would be used best as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 base defense, but could play middle linebacker in a 4-3 if needed. Alabama primarily uses a 3-4 defense and while Ragland could adjust to a 4-3, it’d be foolish to take Ragland out of a system he has already excelled in.

The Ravens, Bears, Saints, Colts and Jets standout as teams which both run a 3-4 defense and are in the need of another middle linebacker.

All video content was provided by DraftBreakdown.com.

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The Best Defensive Free Agents Left This Offseason

The 2016 NFL free agency period has been in full force for over a week now. With many signings already happening, most of the best free agents are already off the board. However, there is still a substantial amount of talent left for teams to sign before the start of the 2016 season. Going through these

The 2016 NFL free agency period has been in full force for over a week now. With many signings already happening, most of the best free agents are already off the board. However, there is still a substantial amount of talent left for teams to sign before the start of the 2016 season. Going through these players, position by position, we can uncover some of the hidden gems left in the free agent market.

Defensive Lineman: 

Possibly the deepest position at the beginning of free agency, the defensive linemen were quick to get signed. Some, such as Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon, were able to cash in on monumental contracts, while others, like Nick Fairley, are still waiting for the right offer to come their way. While Fairley is a very solid option at defensive tackle, he isn’t the only good option left because there is also Terrance Knighton. Both of these players are very good run stuffers who also possess the ability to go after the quarterback. While Fairley is younger, 28, compared to Knighton, 29, you can count on both of these players to stay healthy for a full season, as they have both shown over the course of their careers. 

As far as defensive ends are concerned, there are not many left that are worth signing in free agency. The only remaining impact player is Greg Hardy and he comes with the baggage of his off-field problems. While he has top ten talent as far as purely physical ability is concerned, he comes with past issues which makes it hard for teams to see him worth the investment and trouble. 

Linebackers: 

Based purely on talent, the best player in free agency that is still unsigned is Aldon Smith. As one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, Smith has shown he is capable of being one of the best in the league at rushing the quarterback. However, he is also a player that comes with a lot of off-field issues, especially considering his suspension since mid-November. With all of the issues he has off the field, it will be interesting to see if any team is willing to take a risk on him, knowing what he is capable of once he gets onto the field. Another expert in the pass rushing game in free agency is Dwight Freeney. While he is 36 years old, he has proven he is capable of making plays with eight sacks in just eleven games last year with the Cardinals. Although teams are taking a risk in signing a player who has played 15 seasons, there is great potential for Freeney to produce eight or more sacks again in 2016.

Also left for free agent linebackers are specialty options Mike Neal and Courtney Upshaw. While Neal is a highly versatile linebacker who can play any position from an outside linebacker to a defensive tackle, he isn’t the best playmaker, only recording one interception and a career high of just five sacks. That being said, Neal is a solid option for teams in need of a versatile linebacker who they can count on to be out there for 16 games. Another specialty option linebacker available is Courtney Upshaw, a run-stuffing specialist. While he has all the talent in the world, he has not reached his anticipated potential in the NFL, with a career high of just two sacks and 55 tackles. Upshaw is reliable as he has never missed a game in his four year career. He is a player, like Mike Neal, that will be signed by a team simply looking for a linebacker that they can count on being on the field for 16 games.

Cornerbacks: 

Another area of free agency that has yet to be depleted is cornerback, where there are still many talented players yet to be signed. The best two cornerbacks remaining in the free agency market are Patrick Robinson and Brandon Boykin. While Robinson had a resurgence in his career last year in San Diego due to his move to full-time slot corner, Boykin has made a career out of slot corner for the past four seasons. Both of these players deserve to be paid similar to at least the top-30 cornerbacks in the NFL, as they have proven to be over last few seasons. Another solid cornerback left in free agency is Leon Hall. Unlike Robinson and Boykin, Hall has played basic outside cornerback in his nine seasons in the NFL. At 31 years old, Hall is on the downside of his career and could be a risk for teams looking to sign a corner this offseason, not knowing if this will be the year that his production drops off. However, Hall will still be signed in the 2016 season based on his ability to still play top-50 corner and be reliable for the full 16 game season.

Safeties: 

When it comes to playmaking ability left in free agency, safety is definitely the deepest position left. With multiple players who had three or more interceptions last year, this position has a lot of talent left. This class is highlighted by the NFL leader in interceptions a year ago, Reggie Nelson. Along with Nelson, Rashad Johnson is also a ball hawk, tied for sixth in interceptions last year. Both of these players are some of the best playmakers in the secondary in the NFL, both getting at least four interceptions for the past two seasons. While Nelson may be demanding a larger contract, Johnson may be one of the best deals left on the market. One more solid option left at the safety position is recently converted cornerback, Walter Thurmond. In one season of playing at the safety position, Thurmond was able to be very productive, recording three interceptions, two sacks, and two forced fumbles in 16 games. With this impressive ability to make plays, Thurmond will surely be paid by a team looking for a playmaker in the secondary.

While free agency is an essential part of forming any team, overspending during free agency can lead to years of regret for most teams. So, while every player on this list deserves to be on someone’s NFL roster, it takes time for both the players and the teams to come to terms with what each player values. However, in the 2016 season, barring injury, retirement, or suspension, every one of these players will be suited up and ready to play come kick off.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Ronnie Stanley

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.


Collegiate Career

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.


Collegiate Career

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame over Miami, Oklahoma, Florida State, and several other notable programs. He was named the starting right tackle for his sophomore season, and then moved to left tackle the following year after the departure of first-round pick Zack Martin. A model of consistency, Stanley started 39 consecutive games for the Irish since 2013.

Pros

Standing at 6’5” and weighing 312 pounds, Stanley has the prototypical height and weight to play offensive tackle. More importantly, his 35 and 5/8th inch wingspan is above the combine average of 34 and 2/10th inches. Arm length is particularly important for offensive linemen because it gives them a leverage advantage over incoming defenders, allowing them to control the defender without him getting into the body of the offensive lineman. On the snap below, the defender attempted to convert his speed rush to a power rush, only to have Stanley (No.78) extend his arms and prevent the defender from getting a hand in his torso.

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While some linemen have minimal mobility due to their massive size, Stanley has no such issues. He is incredibly light on his feet with the ability to quickly get set in pass protection and then move with the oncoming defender. In this snap, Stanley was matched up against Clemson defensive end and likely first round pick Shaq Lawson. Not only did Stanley quickly get himself in position to defend a wide rush, he also was quick enough to stone Lawson at the point of attack when he tried a spin move.

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The above play also highlights another positive: intelligence. Earlier in that game Lawson had successfully executed a similar move against Stanley, resulting in a sack. Stanley would not be fooled again, as he anticipated the spin move when Lawson tried it again. In general, Stanley has good awareness for the position, and seldom misses on his blocking assignment. Here, the defense ran a stunt where the defensive end and defensive tackle switch positions after the snap. Stanley quickly picked up the stunt and properly switched his blocking assignment to the tackle, allowing the guard to pick up the defensive end.

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Stanley knows how to use his mobility to his advantage in the run game. He can effortlessly move from the line of scrimmage to the second level of the defense, and does a good job at sealing off defenders attempting to get in the backfield. On the snap below, Stanley locked onto a defender trying to shoot the gap, and kept his legs moving to create some running room for the back.

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Cons

Although Stanley is a good run defender, he doesn’t consistently display the push needed to be a great run defender. On this play, Stanley and the guard double-teamed the defensive lineman off the snap, but once the guard peeled off to take on another defender, Stanley couldn’t move the initial defender further downfield.

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Occasionally, Stanley will rely too much on his movement skills instead of being physical, which can lead to some wasted motion and energy on his part. In this snap, instead of delivering a counterpunch to the lineman’s bull rush, Stanley kept his feet mobile, making it easier for the defender to push him back, almost right into the quarterback. 

via GIPHY

Verdict

Stanley has the makings of a top-10 selection. As a pass protector, Stanley might be the most refined in his class with his combination of athleticism, smarts, and technique. He might not be as accomplished as a run blocker, but it’s certainly not an area he struggles in, and if he can get bigger without losing his mobility he would be an asset in the run game.

Best Fit

Usually teams picking in the top-10 of the draft have issues on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Even though Stanley projects as a left tackle long term, a team might consider playing him at right tackle as a rookie, where he would be matched up against lesser pass rushers, which would his transition into the league.

The Charges, 49ers, Jaguars, and Giants are all teams picking in the top-10 with needs at tackle, and will likely be in consideration for Stanley’s services.


Gifs were made through Giphy.com. All video content was provided by
draftbreakdown.com.

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How Will The New NFL Rule Changes Affect The Game?

Wednesday morning, the NFL Competition Committee announced their rule changes for the 2016-17 season. There were some interesting ones, all of which can be read here:

Wednesday morning, the NFL Competition Committee announced their rule changes for the 2016-17 season. There were some interesting ones, all of which can be read here:

But, how will these rules impact the game this season?

The first rule change is not a change per se, but rather making permanent the rule change implemented last year that moved extra point attempts back to the 15-yard line. This change had a significant impact last year, with record numbers of missed extra point attempts, including a few crucial misses in the playoffs. Expect this rule to continue to impact the game the way it did last season. 

It’s obvious that player safety was a point of major emphasis in this new set of rules. Touchbacks on kickoffs and punts will now result in teams getting the ball at the 25-yard line. This could be a double-edged sword, as many teams will opt to take more touchbacks if they are available, but many kicking teams will attempt to avoid the touchback more so than ever before. This potential problem for this rule could have an ultimately negative impact, as a rule designed to increase the number of touchbacks (which would decrease the number of potentially dangerous kickoff returns) could ultimately increase the returns they are trying to limit. 

In a rare player safety rule directed towards protecting defensive players, chop blocks are now illegal in the NFL. While chop blocks don’t lead to injury epidemics the way hits to the head do, they can create many potential lower-body injuries for defensive players, and eliminating these dangerous blocks will hopefully limit those injuries. Along those lines, horse-collar tackle penalties have now been expanded to include tackles where the defender grabs the jersey at the name plate. These common sense rules indicate the NFL is thinking smartly about subtle ways to improve player safety, even if they lack the big picture safety initiative. 

The most controversial rule, however, is the rule that automatically ejects players after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. This rule was instituted by the competition committee for only the 2016-17 season, and if it proves to have a positive impact on the game, they can vote to keep it next season. While I think it is likely this rule will be kept, I do not think this will have the intended impact.

This is not a rule about player safety as Roger Goodell proposed it at the Super Bowl, but rather a rule about sportsmanship. This automatic ejection rule, by virtue of being for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and not for unnecessary roughness penalties, does not necessarily protect the players themselves. 

Instead, this rule is intended to protect the image of the league. By trying to limit taunting penalties and other unsportsmanlike penalties, the league is trying to protect its image. If the league really wants to protect players, then it should reconsider the committee’s proposal to eject players after two personal fouls.

The league gets a lot out of this rule, however, because it gets people thinking that the NFL is in it for the player safety, without realizing that unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are not personal fouls. A hit to the head of a defenseless receiver, roughing the passer, facemask, horse-collar tackles, and many of the other penalties that truly affect player safety will not be impacted by this ejection rule. Under this rule, only one player would have been ejected last season (Brian Orakpo was given two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for arguing with a referee). Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman would not have been ejected even in their melee under this rule. Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones would not have been ejected under this rule for their conduct at the end of the Steelers-Bengals playoff matchup last season. So this rule, despite appearances, has no actual positive impact on the game. 

By imposing rules like this, the league forgets that fans come to the game for the entertainment value, and not necessarily for impeccable sportsmanship. Roger Goodell and the conference committee may dislike excessive celebrations or arguing with referees, but fans absolutely love that kind of stuff. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a technically excessive celebration?

So, in conclusion, most of the new rules make sense for both the league and the players. The new rules designed to help improve player safety are a step in the right direction, and should definitely help players avoid injury. However, don’t be fooled by this new automatic ejection rule. This is just another in a long line of rules designed to limit the excitement on the field between plays. So, will the ejection rule have an effect on the field? No, but it might negatively impact the fans.

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Chronicling The Rise And Fall Of Aldon Smith

The Rise and Fall of Aldon Smith

Arguably the most talented player left in free agency today is outside linebacker Aldon Smith. At just 26 years old, Smith still has time for improvement and carries one of the highest ceilings for pass-rushers in the NFL. Despite

The Rise and Fall of Aldon Smith

Arguably the most talented player left in free agency today is outside linebacker Aldon Smith. At just 26 years old, Smith still has time for improvement and carries one of the highest ceilings for pass-rushers in the NFL. Despite these factors, Smith remains unsigned by any team because of a string of off-the-field issues, especially issues related to drug and substance abuse. He is currently serving a one-year suspension for the violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and is eligible to be reinstated in November of this year.

One of the most exciting pass-rushers in the modern era has fallen from the precipice: I want to take a look at his journey.

High School

Coming out of Raytown High School in, who-woulda-guessed-it, Raytown, Missouri, Aldon was rated just a three-star recruit by most scouting sites, including Rivals. In high school, Smith was a defensive playmaker, recording numerous turnovers in a variety of ways. After graduation, Smith decided to stay in-state and attend the University of Missouri.

College

At Missouri, Smith redshirted as a freshman, and played his first games for the team in 2009; a season in which he finished with 60 tackles and 11 sacks. That season, Smith earned a number of honors including First-team Freshman All-American and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. The following season we only saw Smith play nine games and though his statistics dropped a little, he declared for the 2011 NFL Draft.

The Draft

Evaluated as what we would call today an EDGE rusher, Smith was, on average, coming off of mock draft boards near the middle of the first round. For someone who saw a light dip in performance in his last season of college play, this was actually very strong evaluation once you consider the talent that was in this draft. 

For perspective, every player drafted ahead of Aldon would go on to be an All-Pro. Further, notable players drafted after him include Tyron Smith, J.J.Watt, Robert Quinn, Muhammad Wilkerson, among others. Despite this amount of talent available in the first round, Aldon Smith was picked seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers. 

Before he was drafted, scouts had questions regarding his initial burst, frame, and stoutness against an NFL rushing attack. However, this was not what was most worrisome for Smith. Even before entering the NFL, there were questions about Smith’s character and his off-field behavior. According to a scouting service for certain NFL subscribers, Aldon had “some past experience with getting into trouble and is a higher-than-average risk for this sort of behavior in the future.”

And perhaps even more importantly, the service’s report indicated that “He [Aldon Smith] does not consistently show the kind of passion and commitment to the game that we see in successful players.” There were clearly early signs of risk available to teams, but perhaps the upside and raw potential of Smith was too much to pass on.

The Early Years

Though Smith did not make any starts for the 49ers his rookie season, largely thanks to the team’s established defensive depth, he managed to surpass Hall of Famer Charles Haley’s single-season rookie sack record. By the end of the season, Smith had racked up four pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and a whopping 14 sacks. 

This was enough to put him in second place for defensive rookie of the year behind close friend and future Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller. Unfortunately, Smith capped off his rookie season by being arrested in Miami Beach for DUI in January. This was just the beginning of a series of missteps.

His sophomore year, Smith had a somewhat meteoric rise as he became a starter for the 49ers. After passing legendary pass rusher Reggie White for the fastest to 30 career sacks, Smith was on the verge of tying or even breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. However the hype fizzled after Smith recorded zero sacks in his final three games of the season, leaving him at a career high 19.5 sacks.

Yet, even with a rather disappointing end to the season and lackluster performance in the playoffs, people were intrigued by the potential in the then 22-year-old. He, J.J. Watt, and Von Miller were all the rage of young pass-rushers in the NFL. But Aldon slipped up again.

Let the Spiral Begin

After starting his third season with 3.5 sacks in just two games, the linebacker proceeded to be arrested for another DUI and drug possession in September of 2013. Shortly afterwards, Smith was hit with three charges of possession of an assault weapon stemming from a party back in the summer of 2012. 

Following a crushing defeat by the Indianapolis Colts, Aldon checked into a rehabilitation center, missed five games, and finished the season with strong performances; in fact, despite starting in just seven games that season, Smith graded out to be the third best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league according to Bleacher Report. Further, it seemed as though he had improved through the years, not only being a force in the pass rush, but also an excellent run defender. Clearly, the talent was still there for Smith, but was the focus?

In April of 2014, Smith was charged with making a false bomb threat at LAX and shortly held in jail. Though he was not convicted in the end, his pattern of unintelligent and rash off-field behavior had become a stumbling block for his place in the NFL. During the summer of 2014, after Smith’s assault weapon charges were coming to a close in court, the NFL suspended him for nine games of 2014 season: four for substance abuse and five for personal conduct.

Regardless of how talented you are, how can you help your team if you’re suspended for the majority of the season? What’s worse is that Aldon had a chance to reduce the suspension through good behavior, but did not do so after failing to complete counseling. After logging another season with missed games and just two sacks, Smith was in a position to pick himself back up and try to fulfill his potential. Sadly for all us Aldon Smith supporters, he had other things in mind…

Soon after 49ers GM Trent Baalke had said Aldon Smith was going to “work hard to make sure…[Aldon Smith] remains here,” Smith got himself arrested yet again in August of 2015 for DUI, hit-and-run, and vandalism. At news of this arrest, the 49ers had no choice but to release the young talent. The following month, Smith decided to join the Oakland Raiders for a fresh start, but in November, he was suspended for a year because of his August DUI incident. 

And Now..?

After a quiet few months from Aldon Smith, this brings us to the present. He is a 26-year-old unsigned free agent who is not eligible to play football in the NFL until mid-November. He’s a former three-star recruit out of high school who was drafted seventh overall in one of the most talented drafts in recent memory, and rose up in just two years to become one of the most feared pass-rushers in football.  

On the other hand, he’s also a young man with maturity issues, a string of arrests, and a pattern of misbehaving off the field. He has been suspended several times for several games by the NFL, and another violation of the substance abuse or personal conduct policy could land him an even more substantial suspension than the one he is currently serving.  

I still believe Smith has value in the NFL. Despite his image and the reputation he has built up, his talent is unquestionably immense, and his ceiling is incredibly high. Most of his missteps came during the offseason, when he is not engaged in the set structure of a football team. If someone can take the time to mentor Smith and build a strong structure for his behavior, I believe Aldon Smith still can become what many of us envisioned him to be: an unstoppable pass-rushing monster with more speed, strength, and length a man of his size should have. The question now is, will anyone invest in him?

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Taylor Decker

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we look at into the offensive line. Today we look at Taylor Decker out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Taylor Decker was a cornerstone

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we look at into the offensive line. Today we look at Taylor Decker out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Taylor Decker was a cornerstone for the Ohio State offensive line during his time there. In his four years at the university, Decker started 42 consecutive games, 28 of which were at the left tackle spot. He became the full time starter his sophomore year and made 14 starts at right tackle, and moved to the other side of the line the following year and started 15 games. This past season he was voted a team captain, selected for the All-Big Ten team, and won the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year award.

Pros

Decker is a big body, even as far as offensive linemen go. He is 6’7″ and 310 lbs (for comparison, the average NFL lineman is around 6’5″). He has the size that you want, and he knows how to use it in order to overpower rushers. Often when you have big, tall offensive linemen, they don’t bend their knees enough, but when you look at the tape, Decker shows consistent bend in his knees.

He plays best against the run. Decker can get up into defenders, and has good hands which allows him to drive them, while also making it difficult for them to shed the block. He plays smart, and is not often fooled by opposing schemes or the moves.

Cons

One thing, you’ll inevitably see if you read up on Decker is that scouts love his long body, and the measurables just don’t seem to support that. Decker has an arm length of 33.75″ which just so happens to the NFL average for offensive linemen. And, given that Decker is a bit taller than average, his arms are shorter than you would hope. Maybe standing next to a 6’7″ behemoth in person makes you a little less objective. This isn’t a death sentence by any means, but it’s not ideal, and is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Decker also struggles against defenders who consistently play with lower pad level. This is basically Physics 101: leverage is helpful, but his lack of athleticism hurts him here. It also leads to him being a bit slow when moving horizontally (he finished outside the top-15 in the three cone drill).

The Verdict

Although he played LT his last several years in school, Decker will most likely end up being switched to RT, where he is probably a better fit. Traditionally the LT is more of a pass blocker, and the right tackle is more of a run blocker. In addition to that, Decker probably does not have the skill set to go against a team’s best pass rusher unassisted for the majority of a game.

That being said, Decker has the skill set and size that will result in him being a reliable fixture on a team’s offensive line for the next several years. He is a late first round/early second round talent.

Best Fit

Tackles don’t often slip too far in the NFL Draft, for that reason I see Decker going late in the first round, and not falling to the top of the second round where many teams like the Browns, Chargers, 49ers, and Eagles could use his talents. Of the teams that will be picking at the end of the draft, the Green Bay Packers at pick number 27 make a lot of sense.

As you saw this past season, Aaron Rodgers needs a lot of offensive line help. The Packers could really afford to strengthen both their LT and RT spots, so getting a player like Decker who can play a bit of both would be a big plus for them. It would also help for Decker’s development to play with such a player like Rodgers. There are probably not many better spots for a rookie to land.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Laremy Tunsil

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss.

College Career

Tunsil entered the college football

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss.

College Career

Tunsil entered the college football landscape as a five-star recruit and the top offensive tackle prospect in the nation. He was the real deal from the get-go; as a freshman, the left tackle was named All-SEC second team and a first team Freshman All-American. In both his sophomore and junior seasons in 2014 and 2015, Tunsil was elected both a second team All-American and All-SEC first team. However, this past fall, the top prospect served a seven game suspension for “receiving impermissible extra benefits” (olemisssports.com). He was also involved in a physical altercation about the matter with his mother’s alienated husband. But in 29 career games over three years at left tackle, Tunsil only surrendered two sacks. 

Pros

No rocket scientist is necessary to help understand why Laremy Tunsil is being considered as the consensus number one pick at this point. A road grader in the running game and a brick wall in the passing game, Tunsil is as complete of a left tackle prospect as they come at 6’5″ and 310 pounds. Sound technique is what drives this young man’s game, and it is truly remarkable to watch him mirror pass rushers and stick to them like glue. Tunsil does a tremendous job of steering his opponents in the passing game; he comprehends how to anchor his base into the ground and gives a great punch with his hands. Texas A&M’s fine, young defensive lineman Myles Garrett, who will likely be a first round pick in 2017, found out the hard way how good Tunsil was after he was shut down in consecutive seasons. 

This is a left tackle with superb athleticism and specifically great feet. Tunsil has a great kick step when pass blocking that he uses to slide and transition smoothly into his pass set. That athletic ability is also showcased in the ground game as he can reach the second level of the defense with ease. Keep your eye on number 78 below and watch how he finishes his block following the bubble screen. There is not much this guy cannot do. Tunsil is always in control, and everything he does looks so effortless and clean. He can cut block, execute double teams, and provide a great push off the line of scrimmage. What people will really love about this young man’s game is that he is a mean, violent finisher who plays smart and is aware of what is going on around him. This is one of those cornerstone left tackles all the guys on TV talk about. The hype is real.

via GIPHY

Cons

There really is not much to be critical of when it comes to Tunsil, and so there should be no surprises when he starts to play on Sundays. With that being said, perhaps the biggest concern is the suspension he was sentenced to this past fall. Although the situation with Tunsil receiving benefits certainly sets off a red flag, the NCAA was investigating Ole Miss as a whole in years prior for suspicion of violations. The physical dispute the left tackle was also involved in was a direct result of the investigation that was taking place at the time. The argument started with his mother’s estranged husband instructing Tunsil not to screw up a golden opportunity. I dont think NFL scouts and general managers believe Tunsil’s character will be an issue as a face of an organization. 

As far as the football field’s concerned, the Ole Miss alum did get beat inside from time to time, specifically on passing plays. False starts where Tunsil was seen rocking in his stance did appear a couple of times, but this is just a matter of mental toughness that should not be an issue going forward. There were also a couple of plays where I would have liked to seen more of an effort out of Tunsil.

Verdict

Laremy Tunsil is arguably the safest pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He is the next great franchise left tackle to emerge from the college ranks, and the next Orlando Pace, Jason Peters, and Joe Thomas only come around so often. The situation at Ole Miss should not be taken out of context; Tunsil made a mistake and was just trying to take advantage of his talent to get by as a college kid. He was obviously in the wrong for accepting those benefits, but he is among a long list of former players who were bribed with a variety of items while playing college ball. Nobody is worried and I am not either. Tunsil is the next stud LT in the NFL, flawless in just about anything he does in cleats. I’m not sure there is anybody who should be taken before him when the draft opens up a month from now.

Best Fit

Unless the Tennessee Titans remove themselves from that number one slot, there really isn’t another direction to go in besides from Tunsil. Tennessee needs another tackle to pair with Taylor Lewan, and it just so happens probably the best player in this year’s draft is a left tackle. The side designation of both Tunsil and Lewan would come down to head coach Mike Mularkey, but with those two guys capping off the ends of your offensive line, does it really even matter at that point? One thing is for sure: Marcus Mariota would be sleeping pretty sound.  

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Does A Quarterback’s Hand Size Really Predict Success?

As we enter the month of April, we also creep closer toward everyone's favorite part of the NFL offseason: the draft. College players work tirelessly once their season is over to improve their draft stock through private team workouts, training programs, and the NFL combine. What they can't necessarily train for however, is their height, arm length, and

As we enter the month of April, we also creep closer toward everyone’s favorite part of the NFL offseason: the draft. College players work tirelessly once their season is over to improve their draft stock through private team workouts, training programs, and the NFL combine. What they can’t necessarily train for however, is their height, arm length, and of course, hand size. 

Hand size has recently become one of the most polarizing topics of discussion when it comes to comparing draft prospects, as well as presidential candidates. 

This measurement is often discussed, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. Common sense tells us that the bigger your hand, the better you can grip the football and the more control you have when throwing it. This becomes increasingly important in poor weather situations. If someone with small hands went out in a blizzard and tried to throw the ball fifty yards down the field, he would probably run across some problems. 

As new Cleveland Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson put it, “I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations and so we’ll look for a guy that fits what we’re looking for in a quarterback and, is hand size important? Yes it is.”

It seems safe to assume that hand size is a relatively important aspect of choosing a quarterback in the draft. But just how much? 

Here are the hand measurements,  for each quarterback at the NFL combine:

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According to ESPN‘s famed Todd McShay, NFL teams like to see a QB with hands near 9.50 inches, and the closer to 10.00 inches the better. Looking at these numbers and with that guideline in place, scouts may prefer North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz (10 inches) over Cal’s Jared Goff (9 inches) when comparing the top two quarterback prospects. 

Goff, of course, disagrees with this notion. “I’ve been told I have pretty big hands my whole life. I heard I have small hands yesterday [at the NFL Combine], apparently. No, I’ve never had a problem with that or expect it to be a problem at all.”

So does hand size truly matter when looking at today’s NFL quarterbacks? Let’s look at that too. Here are the top 20 quarterbacks statistically from the NFL last season with their measured hand size: 

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Note: neither Tom Brady nor Ryan Fitzpatrick have their hand size registered anywhere other than former Patriots general manager Scott Pioli claiming that Brady’s hands are “enormous.” So rather than estimate, let’s add a trio of quarterbacks who we know are pretty darn good but had their season cut short due to injury: Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, and Tony Romo. We’ll also add the Super Bowl winner himself: Peyton Manning. Even though he had arguably his worst season statistically as a pro, his stellar reputation cannot be ignored. 

Image title

(While some reports state that Romo has small hands, his combine results say otherwise. The link above also gives us a cool look at what NFL.com looked like in the old days.)  

So with all of these measurements, lets compile them together into a better visual to analyze. We’ll separate the measurements into three ranges:

    Image title                                                     Image title

Of the 22 quarterbacks we looked at, a resounding 50% of them have hands measured greater than or equal to 9.75 inches, and closer to the maximum desired size of 10 inches. Meanwhile, only 13.6% of the top quarterbacks have hands that would be considered “small” or “less than ideal”. 

Even with some outliers, there appears to be a significantly better chance for a quarterback with large hands to succeed in the NFL. 

Although Jared Goff is an exceptional prospect and definitely has the potential to be one of the few outliers with smaller hands, the current trend shows that he might have a lot of extra hard work ahead of him. Information like this might come in handy for Hue Jackson and other coaches who are on the lookout for potential quarterbacks. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OL Jason Spriggs

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This fifth week, the focus is on offensive linemen. Our first O-line prospect is Jason Spriggs out of Indiana.

College

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This fifth week, the focus is on offensive linemen. Our first O-line prospect is Jason Spriggs out of Indiana.

College Career

Jason Spriggs began his college career with a bang. In 2012 he started all 12 games for Indiana at left tackle, a true freshman record for an offensive lineman. Spriggs also led the team with 80 knockdowns and gave up just two sacks in 961 snaps.

Spriggs continued to impress through 2013 and 2014, his sophomore and junior seasons. He started 22 of 24 games at left tackle, only missing two starts his junior season because of a head-to-head collision that sent Spriggs to the hospital during a loss to Michigan State.

During his senior season Spriggs moved from left tackle to right guard. He started all 13 games for Indiana, recorded a team-high 79 knockdowns, and allowed just one sack in 475 pass attempts. Spriggs also earned All-American honors and was the first Outland Trophy semifinalist in Indiana University history.

Pros

At 6’7” 307lbs Spriggs has the build of an NFL lineman plus a long reach. Durability is perhaps his best asset, as Spriggs started all but two games during his four-year career at Indiana. Moreover, Spriggs shows the following strengths according to his draft profile on NFL.com: has elite lateral movement, adjusts well in open space, shows patience, is athletic, has strong tools to slow pass rushers, and carries out efficient backside cutoff blocks.

Cons

The largest concern surrounding Spriggs is his strength. As mentioned earlier, he has the build of an NFL lineman, but Spriggs’ height takes weight away from the inner half of his frame. As a result, he can be moved off his spot and struggles against power rushers on the defensive line. This being said, Spriggs performed very well in the bench press at the scouting combine. His 31 repetitions currently ranks fourth best among linemen prospects.

Grade

During early player evaluations, Spriggs was projected as a late first-round or early second-round selection. However, due to his strong performance at scouting combine, the offensive lineman looks to have secured a first-round pick. Among all linemen prospects, Spriggs was a top 4 performer in the bench press, 40-yard dash, broad jump, and 20 yard shuttle. He ranks first in the 40-yard dash and broad jump, and perhaps more important: Spriggs showed exceptional footwork during lineman drills.

Best Fit

It is hard to project where players will fall in the NFL draft, especially offensive linemen who are always a need for NFL teams. I see Spriggs being drafted in the late first round by a team with a struggling front five. Certain organizations come to mind: Green Bay at No. 27, Kansas City at No. 28, or Cleveland at No. 32. The Browns recently lost tackle Mitchell Schwartz and center Alex Mack during free agency. If Cleveland selects a quarterback at No. 2 overall, which is heavily expected, it would be prudent to fill vacancies at the offensive line in order for a young quarterback to succeed. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Jack Conklin

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Jack Conklin from Michigan State.

Collegiate Career

A preferred walk-on at

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Jack Conklin from Michigan State.

Collegiate Career

A preferred walk-on at Michigan State in 2012, offensive tackle Jack Conklin was almost an afterthought, even to the Spartans. After redshirting his freshman year, Conklin was put on scholarship, named a starter, and played well enough to earn Freshman All-American status. Conklin’s play continued to improve, and, by the time he had completed his final season in East Lansing, he was a consensus All-American.

Pros

Whichever team gets Conklin will be getting a very tough player. Conklin plays through the whistle and shows little regard for the well-being of the defender while the play is live. His tape is littered with him pancaking defenders or driving the defender out of bounds entirely, as in the clip below.

via GIPHY

Conklin’s best physical asset is his strength. He really shows off his effort as a run blocker as he combines his strength and nastiness to create openings. On this snap, Conklin plowed over the defensive end then quickly located and locked onto the linebacker at the second level.

via GIPHY

When asked to make more than one block on a play, like the one above, Conklin is adept at handling multiple assignments. Where some offensive lineman struggle if they have to make blocks further downfield, Conklin looks comfortable making blocks past the line of scrimmage. Notice in the play below how Conklin came off the initial block then properly located and locked onto the defender at the second level of the defense.

via GIPHY

As a pass blocker, Conklin is strong enough to sustain blocks for a relatively long period of time. He also has the ability to absorb and redirect incoming pass rushers. In the clip below, the blitzer tried to convert his wide speed move into a bull rush, but Conklin was strong enough to stone the defender and prevent him from collapsing the pocket.

via GIPHY

Cons

The concerns with Conklin usually deal with his feet. While he is strong, Conklin is not the fleetest of foot. This really hurts Conklin in pass protection, where speed rushers can put him out of position. In this snap, the blitzer timed the snap count and effortlessly beat Conklin to the outside, although he does recover a bit. Had this been a longer developing pass play, the pass rusher probably would have beaten Conklin for the sack.

via GIPHY

Aside from just adequate foot quickness, Conklin will sometimes abandon his footwork altogether, putting him off-balance and making his blocks ineffective. In the clip below, instead of continuing to mirror the rusher, Conklin lunged forward, dropped his head, and made it easy for the defender to avoid the block.

via GIPHY

Verdict

Conklin might not be the ultra-athletic left tackle teams look for in in the top of the first round, but he certainly deserves to be a first round pick. Conklin has a very complete skill set for a tackle. He is an outstanding run blocker and an adequate pass protector, and brings a nasty edge to both elements of his game.

Schematically, Conklin would be best served in an offense that runs a more power-blocking scheme where he can use his strength to win individual matchups against specific defenders. He does have the intelligence and enough mobility to be an adequate blocker in a zone-blocking system, but it wouldn’t play to his strengths.

Best Fit

The former Spartan has a chance to be a really good right tackle, where his skills as a run blocker would be more valuable than his pass protection. Conklin does have a long wingspan, so some team might consider him as a potential contributor at left tackle, but it’s probably not his best fit long-term.

The Seahawks, Jets, Steelers, and Chiefs are all teams potentially in the market for a left tackle and all are picking in latter half of the first-round, where Conklin is best suited to be drafted.

All GIF content courtesy of draftbreakdown.com. GIFs were made using giphy.com.

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Five Draft Options For The Eagles

The Eagles still have plenty of positions to fill this offseason even after Howie Roseman's masterful free agency in which he signed 7 players. The best opportunity to fill in some of those needs is the NFL Draft. After moving up from 13 to eight, thanks to the Alonso and Maxwell trade, Roseman has opened up

The Eagles still have plenty of positions to fill this offseason even after Howie Roseman’s masterful free agency in which he signed 7 players. The best opportunity to fill in some of those needs is the NFL Draft. After moving up from 13 to eight, thanks to the Alonso and Maxwell trade, Roseman has opened up many more possibilities for that first round selection. Here are five players the Eagles should target with the eighth overall pick.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Florida

Hargreaves is an elite talent at the cornerback position and is expected to be available when the Eagles are on the clock. At 5’10” and 204 lbs., Hargreaves is a bit undersized for the position, but makes up for it with his quickness and athleticism. Over the course of three seasons at Florida, he recorded 38 passes defensed and 10 interceptions, according to NFL.com. He projects to be a great starting cornerback in the NFL, something the Eagles have been looking for.

With the trade of Byron Maxwell to the Dolphins, there is an opening at cornerback. Although depth is not an issue at the position, a lack of talent certainly is. The Eagles could greatly benefit from having a shutdown corner to cover dominant NFC East receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. Hargreaves could be the guy to solve the secondary woes the team has experienced for quite some time.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB Ohio State

Elliott is the best running back in the draft this year and has garnered looks from teams at the top of the draft. Last season, Elliott ran for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 12-1 record, according to NFL.com. At 6’0″ and 225 lbs., the OSU star has the size to run over a corner while still maintaining his elusiveness on the outside. Elliott is a well-rounded back who can run, catch and block at any given time. Rarely do running backs get taken in the top 10 of the draft, but Elliott could very well be the exception.

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After trading DeMarco Murray to the Titans, the Eagles are left with an injury prone starter and an aging backup. While both Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles have had success, it’s hard to see them carrying the load by themselves next season. The hole created by Murray’s absence can easily be filled by Elliott for years to come. Even Roseman believes taking a running back early is still an option. 

“When you find a special talent at that position, that guy who can run the ball, pass protect, can catch the ball out of the backfield, that’s a unique weapon,” said Roseman. “I don’t think the position is devalued.”

Elliott fits the bill of what Roseman alluded to when asked about the position. It’ll be hard for the Eagles to pass on a talented player like Elliott who can be a superstar at the position for years to come.

Ronnie Stanley, OT Notre Dame

Stanley is a monster standing 6’6″ and weighing 312 lbs. He is arguably the second best offensive lineman in this draft behind Laremy Tunsil out of Ole Miss. Stanley is a versatile tackle who can dominate his opponent. He started at right tackle his redshirt freshman year and left tackle the past two seasons. His versatility is key to having success at the next level. He has earned All-American honors and has been a durable member of Notre Dame’s offensive line for four seasons.

Stanley could fill a hole for the Eagles and help to solidify the offensive line for the future. One issue could be Stanley’s lack of experience at guard, a necessary position for the Eagles to fill. If he can transition well to left guard, the team could once again field one of the top lines in the league. And once left tackle Jason Peters is ready to call it quits, Lane Johnson and Stanley will be primed to hold down the tackle positions. With the offensive line being what the Eagles need the most, Stanley would be a great pick.

Jared Goff, QB California

Before the combine, Goff was perceived as the best quarterback in this year’s draft. He has a rocket arm, pinpoint accuracy and accurate delivery of the ball when he is under pressure. He turned a 1-11 team into a bowl-game winner. At 6’4″ and 215 lbs., Goff has the measurables to be a successful NFL quarterback, and has posted the numbers to go along with them. In his final season, he threw for 4,719 yards and 43 touchdowns, including 6 of them in the bowl game win over Air Force, according to NFL.com. Goff is the quarterback most ready to become an immediate starter, but a little time on the bench never hurt anyone. If he’s there at eight, the Eagles could have the steal of the draft.

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There was speculation that Bradford would not return after a roller coaster season in which he went 7-7 and missed the playoffs with a team expected to win the division. The regime change has opened new holes, filled others and certainly created some question marks to think about. With no real commitment to Bradford as the quarterback of the future, Goff could be the selection. It was reported that the Eagles held a private workout with Goff recently, further proving their interest. Philadelphia fans have been waiting for a franchise quarterback since Donovan McNabb was traded, and the Cal product could be that guy. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles take a quarterback early, especially if his name is Jared Goff.

Jack Conklin, OT Michigan State

If Stanley is off the board at eight and the Eagles are looking for an offensive lineman, Conklin could be the pick. The 6’6″ and 308 pound All-American tackle is even more versatile than Stanley, something the Eagles will need. Conklin has played both tackle positions and has the ability to transition well to either guard position. He is a durable lineman who could help bolster a weak line for the Eagles.

Guard was arguably the worst position group for the team last season after coach Chip Kelly cut both Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, without first finding their replacements. Kelly also did not draft an offensive lineman that year, leaving the position in a weak state. Conklin has the ability to fill the left guard position to solidify the line. Similar to Stanley, once Peters retires, Conklin could slide to right tackle to pair with Johnson for the future.

It’s hard to see the Eagles messing up this pick. Any of these five players would be a huge addition to the team. The Eagles will most likely target the offensive line in this draft, but don’t be surprised if the position isn’t addressed on day one of the draft. That pick could very well be Hargreaves or Elliott. We won’t know for sure until April 28th rolls around and the Eagles are on the clock.

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Teddy Bridgewater Key To Vikings’ 2016 Playoff Hopes

The Minnesota Vikings had an extremely successful 2015 season. Led by nine-year veteran running back Adrian Peterson and sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on offense and fourth-year safety Harrison Smith, sophomore linebacker Anthony Barr, and sixth-year defensive end Everson Griffen on defense, the Vikings went 11-5 and won the NFC North for the first time since 2009. 

Considering that this was,

The Minnesota Vikings had an extremely successful 2015 season. Led by nine-year veteran running back Adrian Peterson and sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on offense and fourth-year safety Harrison Smith, sophomore linebacker Anthony Barr, and sixth-year defensive end Everson Griffen on defense, the Vikings went 11-5 and won the NFC North for the first time since 2009. 

Considering that this was, by all accounts, the second year of a three-year rebuilding plan, Vikings fans have to be feeling good about the progress shown under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer.

With a division championship and a hard-fought playoff game loss under their belts and in their minds, the Vikings will enter the 2016 season fighting to return to the playoffs for their fifth shot at winning a title. This offseason has centered around the Vikings’ commitment to improving what was by far one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL last year. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings offensive line had the second-worst pass blocking efficiency (71.4), ahead of only the lowly San Diego Chargers (67.6) and their injury-decimated line. Furthermore, Bridgewater was pressured on 46.9% of his dropbacks, nearly 4.5% more than the second-most pressured quarterback, Russell Wilson.

The Vikings have succeeded despite the struggles of their offensive line, due in no small part due to the ability of Teddy Bridgewater to escape sacks with near-Aaron Rodgers ability. This heightened pressure has come at the cost of Teddy often lacking the necessary time to attack defenses downfield and being limited to checkdowns and routes being run under 30 yards from the line of scrimmage. 

This limitation, if one is to call it that, has brought Bridgewater under scrutiny from Vikings fans desperate for Teddy to show that he can throw the deep ball like fellow 2014 quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Derek Carr. Despite the clear discrepancies in wide receiver talent and offensive line skill, Vikings fans are begging for more out of Teddy.

What is most confounding about Teddy thus far in his NFL career, is the success of the Vikings even when Teddy isn’t breaking records with his game-to-game statistics. In the 29 games he has started since taking over as the starter, Teddy is 9-5 when throwing for 200 yards or less and 8-7 when throwing for over 200 yards. The difference becomes even more stark when taking only 2015 into account, as Teddy was 8-2 when he threw for less than 200 yards and 3-4 when he threw for more than 200 yards. The biggest difference in the Vikings’ offense between the two years? The addition of Adrian Peterson to the 2015 offense.

Peterson’s 1485 yards were both helpful and harmful to the Vikings in 2015. According to Pro Football Reference, the Vikings ran the ball on first down nearly 66% of the time, an almost unbelievable percentage and one that is just begging to be exploited. This focus on running often left the Vikings in tough second and third down situations, as the Vikings averaged 8.1 yards on 2nd down and 7.6 yards on 3rd down. By comparison, the Carolina Panthers averaged 7.9 yards on 2nd down and 7.3 yards on 3rd down. What this all means is that Norv Turner, offensive coordinator for the Vikings, mortgaged first-down opportunities for later down success.

With the signings of offensive linemen Alex Boone, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, and Andre Smith of the Bengals, the Vikings appear to have brought in plenty of new talent to try and fill the two biggest holes on their offensive line last year, left guard and right tackle. If the Vikings can also return center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt to full health after their season-long injuries last year, they’ll also be much better.

All these if’s and maybe’s of course lead back to Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings asked him to do far less in 2015 than they did in 2014, and considering the talented running back lining up behind him, that’s not entirely surprising. Above all else, the Vikings still need to have Teddy prove once and for all that he is the starting quarterback of the future for their franchise. 

With the Vikings’ ground-and-pound offense, Teddy was really only asked to let loose in games where the Vikings were losing and those limited moments of responsibility alone are enough for Vikings fans to drool over what Teddy could be for them. From throwing darts while being tackled from behind to putting the ball where he needed to for his wide receiver to make a great play, Teddy has shown the potential to be one of the best rhythm passers in the NFL when he’s actually given a chance to get into a rhythm and his wide receivers attempt to make a catch.

In a recent interview at the NFL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., Mike Zimmer said that he texted Teddy after signing Boone and Smith that “there were no more excuses and it’s time to go.” If they truly want Teddy to “go,” the Vikings need to let the offense flow through him, not an aging 31-year old running back—even if the running back is Adrian Peterson.

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