Posts by Nicholas Stavrakis

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.

via GIPHY

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. 

Read More 1029 Words

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.  

Read More 934 Words

Chris Ivory Playing Key Role In Jets Hot Start

While it was easy to predict an improved effort from the New York Jets this season, it is safe to say they have exceeded expectations and emerged as a clear cut AFC playoff team through just five weeks. It has been no surprise that the play from the defensive side of the ball has lived up

While it was easy to predict an improved effort from the New York Jets this season, it is safe to say they have exceeded expectations and emerged as a clear cut AFC playoff team through just five weeks. It has been no surprise that the play from the defensive side of the ball has lived up to its billing thus far, ranking second in total defense, second against the pass and eighth versus the run. 

Adding a head coach with a background in defense like Todd Bowles, while simultaneously acquiring Darrelle Revis will do that for your squad. Yet, somehow it is the Gang Green offense that is deflecting  the attention away from the defense, and it is all thanks to a formerly undrafted running back who has finally gotten his chance to shine. It took me time to hop aboard the Chris Ivory bandwagon, but if you have not done so just yet, there certainly still is time.

Many die-hard NFL fans remember Chris Ivory from his beginning years in New Orleans with Sean Payton and Drew Brees. He had a few moments in his three years as a Saint, a breakout game or two that might have put you over the top in fantasy for the week. However, for the remainder of his time in the Bayou, Ivory played second or third fiddle in the New Orleans backfield in an offense that in recent memory has not been very halfback friendly. 

Since Payton has been the head honcho, the Saints have become a heavy passing offense. So, for a young and unheralded back like Ivory, he never consistently was given enough opportunities to make a mark. He would have to wait until he was traded to the Jets for a fourth round pick, an investment that made it clear New York obviously believed he had some talent. 

Boy were they right.

Although Ivory’s name is really just gaining traction now as he begins to explode, he was quietly effective in these last two seasons as a Jet. He respectively totaled over 800 yards in each season while averaging close to five yards a carry in 2013. The problem was that Ivory was a part of an anemic offense with Geno Smith and Rex Ryan at the helm. 

That was a disaster waiting to happen and which did, so often Ivory was overlooked as a real threat on a joke of a team. The Jets plain and simple were hard to take seriously, nonetheless any sort of offensive skill player on their roster. Splitting carries in a committee running game was certainly no help to Ivory’s development either. Sharing touches with guys like Bilal Powell and Chris Johnson will do that to anybody. Ivory of course still has to share the occasional carry, but he has finally emerged as the alpha dog in the running game this year. What makes his performance in 2015 so electrifying is the fact he is passing his test with flying colors.

Pro Football Focus has Ivory as their third best back through five weeks with an overall mark of 85.2. According to PFF, he has played better than big names like Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, and Eddie Lacy, and he certainly has passed the eye test. Ivory is a tough, physical runner with deceiving speed who just finds a way to churn out yards, especially after contact. He is once again averaging five yards a pop every time he touches the ball, but the difference is now he is impacting the game even when he is not receiving carries. 

The Jets have produced some big plays down the field despite having Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, and it all starts with what Ivory has been able to do. He is putting the Jets into favorable down and distances on early downs, and that enables New York to take shot plays down the field to a dangerous one-two combo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker

Ivory can set up the second and shorts, giving offensive coordinator Chan Gailey the ability to open up the entire playbook. Most significantly, it takes enormous pressure off of Ryan Fitzpatrick to convert 3rd and longs, who has historically been a turnover machine. 

To be clear, this offense is just a little above average thus far (14th in total offense and 12th in points), but there is no doubt it would be a lot worse without Ivory’s production. Everybody’s job on offense is easier right now thanks to this bowling ball of a running back Gang Green was lucky to acquire a few years back. For the time being, Ivory has the Jets ranked seventh in rushing, and this should have fans very excited. 

An elite defense paired with an elite running game is one of the oldest recipes to winning out there, and the 2009 and 2010 Jets were a perfect example of just that. Despite Mark Sanchez being the quarterback of those teams, New York came a game away from the Super Bowl twice thanks to utilizing the same formula of building a successful running game and terrifying defense. Although there is a lot of football still left to play, the Jets probably won’t be making a Super Bowl run in the AFC. That being said, Ivory and the defense have them on track to make the playoffs as a wildcard and perhaps make some noise.

I thought this quick stat was pretty impressive and humorous. Through five weeks, Ivory has rushed for 314 yards, good for 13th in the NFL. The catch is that Ivory missed one week with an injury against Philadelphia and this past week the Jets had a bye. So, for all you math majors, that means Ivory has only played in three games in 2015. And he still ranks in the top 15. Very impressive. If this article cannot convince you that Chris Ivory is the real deal, maybe Brandon Marshall can. Per ESPN, Marshall said the following about his teammate: “He’s already the best running back in the league right now,” just watch the tape: speed, quickness, agility, vision, endurance. He has it all.” 

A little favoritism? Maybe. 

Far fetched? A little. 

Either way the point is well taken. Because by year’s end, the words out of Brandon Marshall’s mouth may not look so foolish after all.

Read More 1037 Words

Week 1 Appetizer

For those of you who have experienced serious pain and withdrawal these past six months like I have, our hardships end this weekend. With the real games set to start, it is officially now the best time of the year. So, to express my gratitude for this weekly phenomenon, I will be previewing and getting you ready for each

For those of you who have experienced serious pain and withdrawal these past six months like I have, our hardships end this weekend. With the real games set to start, it is officially now the best time of the year. So, to express my gratitude for this weekly phenomenon, I will be previewing and getting you ready for each week over the next several months. Typical things will be included such as players or games to watch, but anything is open game on a week-to-week basis. It will make more sense as we go. There of course will be predictions as well, many of which you will not agree with. So, here is to my inaugural appetizer for the opening week of the NFL season.

Must Watch Game of the Week

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, 8:30 PM ET, NBC

The opening game last night between Pittsburgh and New England was a no-brainer choice, so I wanted to switch it up. Here we have fierce division rivals on in primetime, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Carrie Underwood, the whole nine yards. Dallas and New York have opened up the season against each other quite a bit as of late (specifically on Sunday Night Football), and the game never seems to disappoint. The Giants have proven to be successful down in Arlington since the opening of AT&T Stadium in 2009; New York is 4-2 in Jerry’s House. That considered, Jason Garrett‘s team has swept the G-Men in two consecutive seasons. Something has got to give, but expect some points in this one. And if you need another reason to watch: Odell Beckham Jr.

Offensive Player of the Week

QB Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

Maybe a name many of you didn’t expect to see, but, coming off an impressive 2014 season and opening this one against a dysfunctional franchise in the Redskins, Tannehill is a safe bet. Tannehill is surrounded with new targets like Jordan Cameron, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker, but perhaps the most promising of them all is former LSU WR Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins will be a sneaky team this year, with a roster that should be balanced on both sides of the ball. The Redskins will be a sparring partner for Miami’s offense come Sunday, so put down close to 350 yards and 3 TDs for number 17.

Defensive Player of the Week

DE Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams

Last season was an off year for Robert Quinn, at least by his standards. While he managed 10.5 sacks in 2014, Quinn almost had double the amount the year prior. Admittedly, sacks are misleading a lot of the time because they do not tell the whole story when it comes to responsibilities and assignments, yet critics were still suggesting Quinn had a down season. This was far from the truth, as the defensive end was still given an overall grade of 16.5 by Pro Football Focus, which was good enough to be ranked the 9th best 4-3 defensive end in 2014 (via PFF). Seattle’s offense did not look too sharp in the preseason thanks to porous offensive line play, and a defensive front of St. Louis’ caliber will be sure to take advantage. It could be anybody’s day on that defensive line, but let’s bank on this pass rush artist to grab two or maybe even three sacks on Sunday. Russell Wilson will be on the move.

Rookie of the Week

WR Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles

Many receivers coming into the NFL have to go through an adjustment period after effortlessly running by guys in college and putting up record-breaking numbers. Agholor will be no exception. However, depending on the situation, some rookies will be counted on more than others due to a lack of depth on the roster. With Jeremy Maclin off to Kansas City, Agholor will find himself forced to step in and play an important role for the Eagles. 

Good news for Philly fans is the offense should not miss a beat, and the kid from USC is the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s spread offense. A system predicated on speed, Agholor personifies the word and will serve as a crucial piece, whether it be on bubble screens, slants, or as a decoy. It’s a young receiving corps led by Jordan Matthews, but someone else will have to step up. Why not the rookie on Monday Night Football?

Better Game Sunday: Winston or Mariota?

Sometimes, one just has to admire the brilliance that is the NFL schedule and those who create it. Is there a better way to start off the careers of the two quarterbacks taken one and two in this year’s draft than to pit them against each other in week one? Don’t expect this game to be a pretty one by any means; there will be plenty of mistakes from the young gunslingers. That being said, Marcus Mariota looks like he is further along at this point, despite the fact he didn’t have the advantage of playing a pro-style offense in college. Winston’s play still seems erratic at times and that is a concern going forward. 

I’m not sure either of these guys will be franchise quarterbacks, but I feel Mariota is the better bet. Famous Jameis certainly has the superior weapons right now, but I think having Ken Whisenhunt by Mariota’s side will prove to be huge. A low-scoring game is likely, and big numbers won’t come from either guy, but give me at least a throwing and rushing touchdown from the reigning Heisman trophy winner. 

Fantasy Letdown of the Week

QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

It’s not like any of you are going to sit Andrew Luck anyway, and the truth is, you shouldn’t. This is just a warning that many may look at their fantasy scoreboards come Sunday and scratch their heads when they don’t see the typical Luck stat line. The Colts will be on the road in Buffalo in what is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Add in the fact that Rex Ryan’s defense is projected and anticipated to be perhaps the best in the league, and you have yourselves a recipe for a week one fantasy disaster.

Lock Pick of the Week

Green Bay Packers over the Chicago Bears

Most all games should be tight this weekend, making this a tough decision. Divisional rivalries are risky business, but my confidence in Green Bay here is high. No Jordy should be no problem for Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, and the whole gang. Plus Jay Cutler is on the other side, so that always help. And while the presences of John Fox and Vic Fangio in Chicago should help their defense improve, many have been saying that for the last couple of seasons, including myself. This game could get close, but I’ll ride with the Pack.

Read More 1140 Words

Top 10 Backup QB’s

The first week of the preseason only allows for you to see your favorite stars for a scarce possession or two. So in honor of all the backup gunslingers we will see this month, here is a list of the best ten in the business. For those teams who do not have a clear number two on

The first week of the preseason only allows for you to see your favorite stars for a scarce possession or two. So in honor of all the backup gunslingers we will see this month, here is a list of the best ten in the business. For those teams who do not have a clear number two on the depth chart, backups were combined into one super backup tandem. Enjoy!

10. Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia Eagles

There are undoubtedly a number Mark Sanchez fans out there who probably already exited out of this article after seeing him at number ten, but Sanchez defines what a letdown is; not only in football, but life. Just look no further than last year’s run with Philadelphia in which a Nick Foles injury put Sanchez back into the spotlight. In his first few weeks back as a starting quarterback, the former USC Trojan looked like he was in a rhythm while playing to the strengths of Chip Kelly’s QB friendly offense.

Yet, it was only the inevitable to have the train run off the tracks down the stretch against Seattle, Dallas, and Washington. Sanchez is still an experienced guy at this point in his career having made two deep playoff runs in his first two seasons, but that is just about the only thing that puts him on this list. Remember, you can take Mark Sanchez from the Jets, but you can never take the Jets out of Mark Sanchez. 

9. Derek Anderson, Carolina Panthers

Remember Derek Anderson’s breakout 2007 season in Cleveland? That was a long time ago, and Anderson etched his name in history on the long list of Browns quarterbacks who have flopped in the last decade and a half. Anyway, Anderson has found a home as a stable backup quarterback since his days in Cleveland (this year will mark his fifth season in Carolina). He has shown to be reliable in preseason action, and you never know when your name will be called with an injury waiting to happen to Cam Newton.

Superman still seems to be having a hard time progressing as a consistent passer, and that is probably an attribute where Anderson has a leg up. No one is calling for Cam’s job, but just something to ponder. Again, a veteran presence as a backup means big brownie points on this list.

8. Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals

Stanton could be called the J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones of the NFL; after Carson Palmer went down, he was the one at the helm for the Cardinals impressive start that led to a playoff appearance. Although his numbers were not jaw-dropping by any means, Stanton did what he had to do to win six of the nine games he started. Wins are all it comes down to at the end of the day, and the Cardinals won 11 last season.

If Carson Palmer is healthy all year, do they win more than 11? Probably not, so it goes to show the drop off from Palmer to Stanton is not as large as some may think. Maybe Bruce Arians is just that much of a quarterback wizard, but Stanton was pretty solid in 2014.

7. Matt Schaub, Baltimore Ravens

Enough with the Schaub memes and jokes. Yeah, so what if he once threw a pick six in four straight games back in Houston? Who cares he was probably once a top 15 quarterback in the NFL? Well, Matt Schaub probably does, but if you’re looking for a quarterback in a pinch, this man is not a bad option. A career that has compiled a completion percentage of 64 and a passer rating of 90, Schaub has proven he can win games in this league. Joe Flacco going down would certainly be a big blow, but it would not be shocking one bit if Baltimore survived with Mr. Schaub.

6. Case Keenum/Austin Davis, St.Louis Rams

Finally, some young guns, and some promising ones at that. Individually, neither of these quarterbacks would probably appear on this list, but together, they make for a pair of incredibly raw and talented prospects. Case Keenum got his big break in 2013 with Houston (the worst team in football that year) and lost all eight games he played in. Not much to brag about there, but Keenum displayed he was a natural at slinging the rock. Throwing was nothing new for him, he was a prolific college quarterback at Houston where breaking records was his hobby. Glimpses of talent were definitely apparent for Keenum as a Texan, so we will see where his new location and future takes him. 

Austin Davis got a shot a year ago after Sam Bradford tore his ACL, and he too offered some promise. Although he went through some ups and downs in ten games, Davis threw for 2,000 yards, 12 TDs, and had a QB rating of 85 while completing 63% of his passes. The Rams have some options within their depth chart.

5. Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots

So how does a guy who has yet to start an NFL game rank five spots ahead of Mark Sanchez? Two reasons: One, he has yet to run into one of his guard’s rear-ends. And two, Garoppolo would easily be able to run Chip Kelly’s offense if the two switched spots today thanks to his athleticism and the fact he ran a similar offense at Eastern Illinois. Now, Garoppolo is too young to trust, but he is showing signs he can develop and become more than a backup. Arm talent, mobility, mechanics, check them all off. 

Although he has plenty to work on, which was clear in New England’s Thursday night game, there was a lot to like in Jimmy G’s 2015 debut. Bill Belichick was impressed with the way he handled a variety of situations the other night, so the arrow is pointing up. You watch this kid play, and he looks the part. If there is any coach that can get him to where he needs to go, it’s the hoodie.

4. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

Cousins was drafted as a security measure for Robert Griffin III in 2012, and so far, neither plan A nor B has proven to be successful. However, when Cousins has been given the chance to play due to an RG3 injury, the young quarterback has not played as poorly as his stats and many analysts would suggest. Turnovers are a reoccurring problem when Cousins gets the go, but he has shown he can tear it up and look like a capable starting quarterback.

One game that sticks out is a game last season in Philadelphia. Washington fell short on the scoreboard, but Cousins was in a shootout with Nick Foles and would not back down. He finished with 427 yards, three TDs, and a rating of 103. This guy just looks like a starter one day if he ever could work on being consistent. Right now, a backup role sounds perfect.

3. Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans

Tennessee’s selection of Marcus Mariota is nothing but unfortunate timing for Zach Mettenberger, especially after proving to the Titans he may turn out to be a late round steal. Not many quarterbacks have the arm Mettenberger does, let alone the physical attributes he brings to the table. If you were looking to build the ideal pocket passer, you’d probably come up with something that looks like him.

He looks pretty cool out there in the pocket also, and with the ceiling that this kid has, it only means one thing: the Titans really do believe in Marcus Mariota. Some critics will say that the Titans potentially should have gone a different direction with Mettenberger displaying he could develop into something greater. Time will tell, but it is worth nothing that the only reason Mettenberger fell to the 6th round was because of an ACL tear. 

2. Brian Hoyer/Ryan Mallett, Houston Texans

What an interesting story line this is. Two Tom Brady proteges meet up in a new location to battle for a starting job. Their head coach? Bill O’Brien, former Patriots QB coach. The best bet would be Hoyer is named the starter because of what he brings in experience, but either way, the Texans have no need to panic if something happens to one or the other.

These are two very capable backups; what they can do as starters is more of a blind tossup. Hoyer was the starter last year in Cleveland and while he started hot, his finish was far from pleasant. Still, Hoyer has shown he can manage a game and do enough to win a contest. He also did not have the best supporting cast a year ago in Cleveland. 

Mallett on the other hand has been in the league since 2011 and still has not really had a chance to play. He got to start two games in November last year, only to tear his pectoral and miss the remainder of the season. Very similar to Mettenberger, Mallett has all the tools and can launch the ball. Unfortunately, we just have not gotten the opportunity to see any of them yet.

An old coach should get the best out of both these guys this year and enhance their play. So, add up a veteran like Hoyer and a raw Mallett, and the sum makes for great depth.

1. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hopefully Mike Glennon can find his way out of Tampa, because he now is stuck behind what the Bucs hope can be their franchise guy in Jameis Winston. As a rookie in 2013, Glennon proved he was starting material after posting 19 TDs (only nine INTs), a completion rate of close to 60%, and a QB rating of 84. The NC State product looked like he belonged despite his lanky and wiry build, and he again got to show it for six games last season as Josh McCown sat with an injury.

Through two seasons, on passes that were aimed in a direction of a receiver, Pro Football Focus has given Glennon a positive grade (4.1 in 2013, 2.2 in 2012) with a passer rating floating around 90. The passer rating of 84 mentioned above is accounting for all throws, but PFF’s of 90 again captures only intended throws. Bottom line: Glennon is efficient and pretty darn good. He might be the best backup on this list, but he will not be a backup for much longer. No doubt he could be a starter for some teams today. I’m looking at you Rex Ryan.

Read More 1716 Words

St. Louis Rams Look Relevant Again

Although the St. Louis Rams never seem to be listed among the most consistent NFL bottom feeders (such as Oakland, Cleveland or Jacksonville), the last decade has been anything but kind for the team that once called Los Angeles its home. Ever since Rams fans were treated to The Greatest Show on Turf, featuring Kurt Warner,

Although the St. Louis Rams never seem to be listed among the most consistent NFL bottom feeders (such as Oakland, Cleveland or Jacksonville), the last decade has been anything but kind for the team that once called Los Angeles its home. Ever since Rams fans were treated to The Greatest Show on Turf, featuring Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce, the team have been rather irrelevant. The franchise has not seen a winning season since 2003, and the last playoff appearance came a year later in ’04. There are certainly other droughts in the NFL that are worth more recognition, but this little stint is nothing to boast about. 

Luckily for Rams nation, St. Louis general manager Les Snead has put together a roster that is poised to make the playoffs in 2015. Get excited, Rams fans!

The hot topic everyone wants to talk about is the switch at quarterback. Nick Foles will be under center for the Rams come September, and the transaction that snatched him from Philadelphia in exchange for Sam Bradford may turn out to be great for everyone involved. Foles was inconsistent at times with the Eagles, especially in 2014 before he suffered a season-ending collar bone injury. With that being said, Foles has proved he can win games in this league. He is 15-9 overall as a starting quarterback, which is by no means jaw dropping. However, since 2013 when he overthrew Michael Vick for the starting job in Philly, Foles is a combined 14-4. 

Some will say that he was simply a product of Chip Kelly’s system (which we will ultimately find out) but Foles showed glimpses of talent even early on when Andy Reid was still coaching the Eagles. He has the arm talent to really stretch the field and create big plays. His performance with the Rams will come down to consistency and discipline. Bradford was playing well before his ACL tear last year, but it was time to move on for the organization. They also saved a lot of money in the deal.

Foles won’t have to do it all by himself. He’ll have some toys to play with. The Rams are extremely deep in the backfield, and this will help alleviate some of the pressure off of him. The big news out of camp is that first round pick Todd Gurley has been cleared to start practicing and will be ready for the regular season. Gurley is a workload back, and a franchise-caliber player that the Rams can build the team around. However, as strong and powerful as he is, expectations need to be tempered for University of Georgia product, as he is coming off of a serious injury. That is where the depth comes in. Tre Mason is a talented scat back coming into his second year, and his rookie season was a nice start to his career. Mason totaled 765 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Benny Cunningham is another guy who can start in a pinch and give the other backs a breather. 

On the outside at receiver, there is no real star, but again the depth is formidable. Kenny Britt showed last year how talented and effective he can be when he stays out of trouble. Brian Quick will be returning from injury and he is a guy who has made big plays and stepped up for the Rams in the past. Stedman Bailey is still looking to take the next step and harness that impressive athleticism. Tavon Austin has begun to find his niche as a gadget player. Of course Austin is a disappointment overall, but if he can find any way to contribute with his speed, it will prove invaluable. 

Also, not underestimate the duo of Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks at tight end, especially as red zone targets. The offensive line is young and will have growing pains, but 2014 first round pick Greg Robinson should improve. Barrett Jones is a versatile and intelligent lineman known best for his success at the University of Alabama, and he will finally get his first real chance to play. Veteran Rodger Saffold remains at guard.

This is a young offense that will most likely struggle to score at times. It’s safe to say this unit won’t be posting 30+ points a game, but that is perfectly fine because if the Rams make the playoffs, it will be due to the special defense they have put together.

The group is strong at practically every position. The Rams front four of Chris Long, Michael Brockers/Nick Fairley, Aaron Donald, and Robert Quinn should be frightening for opposing offenses. This unit can get after the quarterback and cause serious havoc. Long only played in six games last year and battled an ankle injury, and the same held true for for Fairley in Detroit, who finished with a 9.8 Pro Football Focus grade before a bad knee sidelined him for the season. Aaron Donald picked up right where he left off at the University of Pittsburgh and dominated as a rookie. The future is so bright for the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, and PFF had him as the best defensive tackle in the NFL in 2014 with an overall mark of 34.4. Quinn had a down year last season, by his standards. He still managed double digit sacks and is still one of the best 4-3 defensive ends this league has to offer. This front four is scary and it will drive this defense. Just ask Peyton Manning what he thinks of these guys.

James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree are more than capable linebackers in the middle of this unit, and they can benefit greatly from the guys up front. Ogletree is still young and developing as he enters his third NFL season, but he really played well in the second half of the campaign a year ago. Laurinaitis is a veteran MLB, and although his play is not spectacular, he is dependable on a weekly basis. The Rams also picked up former New England Patriot Akeem Ayerswho made some big plays last year and showcased his ability to get after the quarterback off the edge. 

The back end of the defense is also impressive. Janoris Jenkins is a corner who likes to take risks and anticipate passes, but his attitude and play style fit the group as a whole. It seems that the Rams found a steal in the 2014 draft with sixth round pick E.J. Gaines. As a rookie, Gaines recorded 10 passes defended and two interceptions. When quarterbacks threw towards Gaines, their combined QB rating was a 79, which is sub-par. Perhaps the best part of this stacked defense are the two safeties, T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod. These two are head hunters who fly to the ball and make plays.

McLeod you most likely know best from this.

SB Nation

And here is McDonald, who almost took Gaines’ head off trying to hit Odell Beckham Jr.

Esquire

With a defensive-minded head coach in Jeff Fisher and a creative defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, this defense should be fun to watch.

Young weapons on offense that can make ends meet for a surefire top five defense? Sounds like a playoff team to me.

Read More 1224 Words

Justin Houston Still Remains The Invisible Man

No way were the Kansas City Chiefs going to let Justin Houston potentially walk out that door. KC may have tried to get Houston to take the least amount of money at the negotiation table, but all along they knew they could not escape paying a man who had earned his worth. Nope, No. 50 was not going to take a hometown discount for

No way were the Kansas City Chiefs going to let Justin Houston potentially walk out that door. KC may have tried to get Houston to take the least amount of money at the negotiation table, but all along they knew they could not escape paying a man who had earned his worth. Nope, No. 50 was not going to take a hometown discount for anybody. And why should he have?

This is a man who totaled 22 sacks in 2014, a half a sack shy of tying Michael Strahan‘s single-season record. This is a man who has recorded 33 sacks in the past two seasons, which just so happens to be more than reigning Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt. This is a man who has already done stuff like this: 

Perhaps because he does not play in New York, Dallas or Green Bay, nobody cares. Or maybe it’s because he does not line up on the other side of the ball and catch the occasional touchdown. Regardless, it is hard to find an excuse for the lack of notoriety and appreciation Houston has faced after a monumental start to his career, specifically during and after his 2014 campaign.

This is a player who has shown potential since his rookie season in 2011 and has not looked back. After failing a drug test before the combine, just about everybody took Houston off their radars. It is now safe to say it is time to put him back on. His new contract leaves him no choice.

Is six years, $101 million a lot of money? No doubt. Will Houston live up to the money he was just given? Time will tell. One thing is for sure: it will not be easy. That is no chum change. Yet, in all defense of the Chiefs, they needed him locked up at all costs. They hit the lottery on a risky player a few years ago, and now it is time to make sure they reap the rewards (even if Houston is truly the one cashing in).

Houston is a specimen, a player that only comes around so often. He is so effective with his hands at the line of scrimmage and comes off the edge with a great burst. And of course, like all the great ones, he has that relentless, hunter’s pursuit. A motor that never stops churning. Now he has three straight double digit sack seasons to show for it.

A pass rusher like Houston can change the game and a team in so many ways. Look no further than the Chiefs’ defense last season. This was a unit highly touted coming into the year, but after losing Mike Devito and Derrick Johnson in Week One to season-ending injuries, it had been prophesied the defense was in some trouble.

In fact, despite losing both Johnson and Devito, Kansas City’s strength still lied in their front seven. The real concern was in the secondary after management questionably cut Brandon Flowers. Fast forward to the end of the season, and the Chiefs managed to finish as the No. 2 pass defense behind only Seattle. They also were second in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed.

The fact that the KC defense turned out to be one of the league’s best by the end of December is a testament to the impact Houston provides. While guys like Sean Smith and Ron Parker really stepped up in the secondary, the fact of the matter is the Chiefs had no business being the second best pass defense in football. This is no disrespect, but there were clearly better secondaries floating around the league.

However, it all starts to make sense when one considers Kansas City’s secret weapon in Houston. This is a player so dominant that he makes every level of the defense better and forces an offense to change the way they play. Ultimately, although sacks have clearly become Mr. Houston’s calling card, his performance goes way beyond one figure:

For those of you who do not know, Pro Football Focus offers a variety of advanced statistics to further analyze player performance in the NFL. The Pass Rush Productivity stat mentioned above is just one of these metrics, and it is described on PFF’s website as “not only at how many sacks a defensive player gets, but also the hurries and hits and compares that number to the amount of times they actually rushed the passer to see who was the most productive.” 

Essentially, it is the ultimate pass rushing measurement, and Justin Houston owns it. PFF also conveniently lists total pass rush pressures out of however many pass rush attempts. The comparison of Watt to Houston would probably shock many. It should be noted that they play two entirely different positions. A 3-4 OLB like Houston will need to drop into coverage more as opposed to a 3-4 DE like Watt, but someone who plays Houston’s position focuses for the most part on rushing the passer. A 3-4 DE has more of the running game to account for. With that disclaimer…

Houston: 85 pressures on 444 attempts, 19.1%

Watt: 119 pressures on 632 attempts, 18.8%

The translation? J.J. Watt had 30+ more QB pressures in 2014, but only because he was given more opportunities to do so. Although the percentages are practically the same, Houston did more with less in 2014 and was a slightly more efficient and effective pass rusher. This is not a conclusion that Houston is a better player or even better pass rusher, but using the Defensive Player of the Year and arguably the best player in football as a barometer to Houston’s success is eye-opening. 

Right now, it is probably fair to say Watt is more of a complete player given his responsibilities and extremely balanced play. But the argument here is not Watt or Houston. This is a matter of giving Justin some respect. He was counted out once before the 2011 draft; even the Chiefs did not truly believe in him, as they waited three rounds to select him. 

Let’s go back to sacks in a single season. Pull up the top-10 list of all time, and it will do all the talking. Look at the company Houston is now forever associated with, names that propose an even brighter future for the linebacker entering his fifth season. Michael Strahan, the man of course on the top of the list with 22.5 sacks, was just enshrined into Canton. Chris Doleman, Lawrence Taylor, and Reggie White, all in the hall. J.J. Watt looks on pace to get in, and Jared Allen looks to have a good case as well. A former Chief even sits at No. 10 with 20 sacks: the late and great Derrick Thomas, who (you guessed it), has a bust as well.

This is not to indicate that one season makes a career by any means. It is just to indicate that one historical season is usually no fluke.

After receiving his big contract, Houston actually is no longer invisible. The public eye now will want to see if this $101 million man was worth every penny.

I’m sure Houston will not mind. It’s only been four years in the making.

Read More 1251 Words