Sun-Times Proposes Potential Trade Down in Latest Mock Draft

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times mocks the draft. He echos my own thoughts on why the Bears might trade down if at all possible here:

“My first mock draft had the Bears selecting Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton at No. 7. But the Bears might be able to grab him later in the first round.”

danny-shelton

If the Bears want Shelton (above) – and I personally like him – then all they need to do is stay ahead of Cleveland, who will almost certainly take him if here’s there at 12. The trick will be finding a partner to trade with.  Someone might want to move up to take Kevin White or Amari Cooper if they’re still on the board. I think that’s the Bears’ best hope.

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Who Has the Edge to Compete with the Packers in the NFC North Post Free Agency

All of the NFC North bloggers at ESPN agree that the best team in the division is still Green Bay but the reasons vary. None of them points to what I think are the most potent mix in football – the presence of quarterback Aaron Rogers combined with the best coaching staff in the league outside of New England.

Most of them agree that the Lions are the team to watch if anyone is to overtake the Packers for the division. I’m going to disagree.

This is primarily a Bears blog so let’s just get this out of the way:  The rebuilding Bears aren’t worth mentioning on this point.

The Packers 

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune examines the importance of Rogers:

Mike McCarthy‘s anxiety mushroomed beyond normal game-week levels in January every time he entered the Packers‘ training room to check on Aaron Rodgers‘ strained left calf.”

“McCarthy also endured losing Rodgers to a broken collarbone in 2013, resulting in an 0-for-November skid that nearly sent the Packers tumbling over the playoff cliff before Rodgers returned and saved the season. It was a jarring reminder that when the quarterback falters, a trap door can open beneath even the most accomplished teams.”

“‘Aaron … gives us the ability to be very aggressive in what we do (offensively), and it’s a lot of fun from that perspective,’ McCarthy said last month.

“Fun for the quarterback-haves sure, but misery for the have-nots.”

Aaron_Rodgers_drops_back_(cropped)

Never doubt the importance of Rogers (above) to the Packers or that he’s the best quarterback in the game with the possible exception of Tom Brady in New England.  And never doubt that hes a key to elevating the performance of the team.  As 2013 showed, theyre below average without him.

The same goes for an outstanding coaching staff on both sides of the ball.  The environment is one where players know how to do their jobs and they expect to win when they do.  With the exception of occasional tacking issues and bouts of dropped passes they’re usually one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the league.

The Lions

Moving on, the Lions lost the primary reason their defense has been dominant over the past few years (Ndamukong Suh) and they haven’t gotten better anywhere else.  As Michael Rothstein at ESPN reviews the Lions roster, I see what many might consider a surprising number of places they need to get better including running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, offensive guard, defensive end, and cornerback.

I mildly disagree with Kyle Meinke at mlive.com when he touts the Lions success in free agency by pointing to their defensive line and their defensive backfield. And yet they are still their top two needs in this year’s draft.

In fairness to Meinke, he isn’t exactly claiming that signings like Rashean Mathis are all-stars. And I’m not saying that the Lions understated approach to free agency is the wrong one to take. Indeed, I think this is the way to do it:

“‘Here’s what I do know: I do know you don’t win any games this time of the year,’ [Lions head coach Jim] Caldwell said recently. ‘At Indy, we lost every year in the offseason. We didn’t lose too many games during the season, because we didn’t believe in necessarily going (all out) in free agency. We’d pick our spots, and build our team through the draft.

“‘That’s what we do — we basically build our team through the draft. Nevertheless, there are some opportunities out there — like Golden Tate — to go out and make a difference for us.'”

Tate was a nice, big money signing. But nevertheless, they’ve hardly used free agency to plug holes effectively, especially at cornerback.

As Meinke points out, the Lions have not drafted consistently well in recent years.   The odds are good that, four years later, two failed drafts in a row (2010 and 2011) from which the Lions have no players left on their roster are going to catch up with this franchise.  No surprise that Sharon Katz at ESPN categorizes the Lions statistically as the NFL’s worst drafting team.

Marc Sessler highlights the up and down nature of the Lions history:

“We’re not calling for the Lions to tumble off a cliff — not with Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate — but in the past four seasons with Stafford under center, Detroit has won 10, four, seven and 11 games. They’ll pivot back to earth in 2015, leaving the door open for another conference heavy to nab a wild-card spot.”

With the departure of Suh, they may be about to find out how mediocre the talent on that roster really is.  With the magic focus that come with having a new head coach also wearing off, I can’t imagine that they’re not in for a fall.

The Vikings

The Vikings, on the other hand, are a team to keep an eye on this year.  Sessler details some reasons why:

“On the heels of Teddy Bridgewater‘s mostly promising rookie campaign, the team upgraded at wideout by trading for the fleet-footed Mike Wallace while saving $5 million in cap space by dumping Greg Jennings. Wallace gives the Vikings a bona fide No. 1 target to pair with the promising Charles Johnson. If Cordarelle Patterson can shake off last year’s disappointing campaign and Kyle Rudolph can stay healthy, Norv Turner’s air attack will soar. That said, the O-line needs help.

On defense, Zimmer added a pair of former Bengals in cornerback Terence Newman and safety Taylor Mays.

Cornerback is a chronic problem in Minnesota and Newman should help opposite Xavier Rhodes.  Wallace wasn’t used correctly in Miami and could be a significant upgrade over Jennings in my opinion.  Add in the potential return of running back Adrian Peterson and you’ve got a balanced offense and a serious problem when playing Minnesota.

But I like the Vikings even without Peterson.  Why?  I love Bridgewater.  More than any Bears fan has a right to do.  I think he’s still under-rated and is going to turn out to be a top five quarterback in the NFL.  I also love the coaching staff in Minnesota, most importantly offensive coordinator Norv Turner who I think knows how to use the talent that’s given to him.  And I think there’s plenty of talent there to take advantage of.  Chris Mortensen at ESPN apparently agrees in this interview as he repeatedly emphasizes the ability of head coach Mike Zimmer to develop young talent and how lucky Bridgewater was to land in the right place with Turner (below).

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Conclusion

Former Bears tight end Desmond Clark once said that the talent around the NFL on a team by team basis is largely the same.  That leaves quarterbacks and coaches to make the difference.  Those are the two things that can turn average players into good players and good players into great ones.  The only team in the division that has the quarterback and the coaching staff to compete with the Packers is the Vikings. They’re the team to keep an eye on this year.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots | Leave a comment

Pre-Draft Visits Not Always a Formality

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune comments on the visits prospects make leading up to the draft:

“With exactly three weeks to go until the first round begins at Auditorium Theatre, we’ve reached one of the most loathsome periods on the NFL calendar, when the thirsty news cycle feeds on prospects’ pre-draft visits to teams.

“Despite no established correlation between whether teams that host prospects on pre-draft visits actually draft them, these meetings garner public interest. In reality, these visits are procedural. Every team scouts players to some extent ahead of the draft.”

I’m not too sure about the “no established correlation part. Campbell might be right about top players who attended the Combine with no injury history. But I’m pretty sure there is a correlation for a subcategory of the prospects. Former Bears Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel at The National Football Post comments:

“Clubs don’t always bring in players that they hope to draft in the premium rounds. They may also bring in players who were not at the Combine but the team had a draftable grade on. Every year, we see 35 – 40 players who were not at the Combine get drafted, so it is important to get a medical on them. No team is going to draft a player who hasn’t had a thorough medical. It makes no sense. The club wouldn’t take the risk of drafting a player who may not be able to pass the medical.”

“Visits don’t always turn out the way either side would like. Sometimes, a player can turn off a coach to the point that he says he doesn’t want the player. While that may seem harsh, it is better to find that out before the draft than after you drafted him.”

Campbell has a point in that the teams have undoubtedly seen enough on tape to make the players draftable. But I think these pre-draft visits are still important. A player might not help his stock too much with these visits but it sure sounds like he could blow it in interviews or by failing the medical.

Yes, some of these visits are smoke screens. But I think that they are still important enough to pay attention to.

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On a Positive Note and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times apparently didn’t read my article indicating that they haven’t changed as he outlines the Bears needs post-free agency. In fairness, the list looks a lot like the one from two months ago.
  • Plenty of people have claimed that the Bears overpaid for wide receiver Eddie Royal. But Eric D. Williams at ESPN points out that Royal’s reliable, high quality play had an impact on the Chargers last year. They’ll likely miss him.
  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN is asked if he’d take linebacker Vic Beasley or wide receiver Amari Cooper if both were on the board for the Bears. Wright goes with the wide receiver because he thinks its currently a greater need.

    Cooper in my opinion is far and away the better prospect. He’s as close to a sure thing as your going to get at receiver with a lot of speed and polish. Beasley, on the other hand, scares me. He’s another one of these late risers who shot up boards after the draft. I watched one of his games during the season and was mighty unimpressed. Guys like this, who don’t stand out based upon the tape but who catch your eye after showing they can run track, have a bad habit of busting. This is where teams need to anchor their board.

  • Dan Hanzus at nfl.com constructs a team out of the remaining free agents. Its not too bad and there are some guys the Bears could use here at the right price at spots like tight end (Jermaine Gresham), along the offensive line (e.g. Jake Long), and safety (Stevie Brown, Bernard Pollard). My guess is that the hey phrase for a many of these guys it “at the right price”. At some point, that almost has come down and we might see some of these guys.
  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times interviews linebacker turned defensive end turned linebacker Lamarr Houston. He claims he was often played out of position last year at defensive tackle. He was listed at 300 lb but actually weighed 265.

    Houston was mostly being asked to rush the passer from that spot. It was quite an adjustment and one that he didn’t make quickly. Or perhaps some would say the old coaching staff didn’t adjust and switch him back to a position he’d be more more likely to succeed in quickly enough. I’m certain he’ll be happier and more productive this year.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears are having offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings in for a pre-draft visit. I’m glad the Bears aren’t ignoring the offensive line, which has to get better if they’re really going to run the ball more. Clemmings is targeted for the middle to late first round. This may be an indication that the Bears are looking to trade back.
  • chicagofootball.com rounds up a whole lot of mock drafts. The most popular choices are Amari Cooper and Danny Shelton. Clearly the Bears are going to get a very good player in the first round if the stick in the seven slot.

Elsewhere

    • Judy Battista at nfl.com does a nice job of detailing the limbo that both Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans are in after his micro-fracture surgery. As bad as this is for Clowney, it’s worse for the Texans. They can only hope that Clowney’s recovery goes smoothly but it would be unwise to count on it.
    • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com points out that the NFL offseason calendar changed and that could affect when free agents are signed. In previous years, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams counted toward the league’s compensatory pick formula until June 1. That day has been moved to May 12. So a lot of signings could happen right after that day.
    • Victor Mather at The New York Times reports on the current state of the Aaron Hernandez trial. I’ll summarize for those who don’t want to read the details: The evidence is all circumstantial and he’s going to get off.
    • On the other hand, those who don’t want to believe that will want to read this from Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com.
    • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com has a little fun with his mock draft, projecting a straight up trade of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to the Titans for the number two overall pick. I think I would demand more if I were the Titans but I guess its not impossible. 
    • Michael Rothstein at ESPN details the likely loss of yet another defensive lineman for the Lions in George Johnson. The guess here is that its not a huge loss in that Johnson never did much in the NFL until he was paired with Ndamukong Suh. Nevertheless it would be yet another significant loss in terms of depth. The Lions are cap strapped and they’ve got holes popping up on that defense.

One Final Thought

You won’t find many positive articles about the Bears in the national media (believe me I’ve looked). So this one by Elliot Harrison at nfl.com was mildly refreshing. It’s not head-over-heels positive but overall its evident that Harrison likes what he sees here from Ryan Pace.

As a side note, Elliot highlights the fate of Stephen Paea, arguably the Bears best defensive player last year. Most of us figured that Paea was gone with the transition from a 4-3, where he was a nose tackle, to the 3-4 where he presumably didn’t have a position. The Redskins picked up Paea in free agency after the Bears apparently showed little interest. Guess where they’ll play him. Defensive end in a 3-4, an area of weakness for the Bears right now. It will be interesting to see how that transition works out.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Points of View, San Diego Chargers, Tennessee Titans | Leave a comment

On the Field or Off, Winston’s Is a Single Challenge

jameis-winston

Mike Mayock at nfl.com explains why he thinks Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is a better prospect than consensus number one overall pick Jameis Winston:

“‘I’ve been fighting with this thing all along. There have been two issues for me with Winston. Number one is on the field. He threw 18 interceptions this year. On a team that arguably had the best talent in the country, he continued to put his team at a disadvantage almost weekly,’ Mayock said on NFL Network’s ‘Path to the Draft’ Wednesday. ‘ … Off the field, regardless of what did or didn’t happen in that alleged rape, he continued a pattern of poor decisions throughout his career. The bottom line for me is, can you trust him off the field?”

I don’t think that’s two issues. I think its one.

People always like to separate what happens off the field with players from what happens on the field. In fact, many fans will tell you that they don’t care what an athlete does when he’s not at the stadium as long as he plays on Sunday. I think this is a mistake. These players are one person. The same person that plays on the field is the one that behaves in whatever manner he does off the field.

Winston’s problems on the field and his problems off the field are the same issue – he’s impulsive. He does stupid things on the spur of the moment without thinking about the consequences. That leads to interceptions on the field and to dumb mistakes like screaming obscenities in public and having sex with drunk college girls off the field. Whether you think it should drop him in the draft or not, he’s one guy with one serious issue. Keeping that tendency from hurting him – no matter where he is – will be the challenge of whatever team drafts him.

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Bears May Have a Natural Leader in Matt Slauson

Mike DiNovo - USA Today Sports

Mike DiNovo – USA Today Sports

Bears offensive guard Matt Slauson (above) talks to Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times about the leadership void on the Bears offensive line with the release of center Roberto Garza:

“‘One of his most incredible strengths was bringing us all together,’ Slauson said. ‘A lot of times you’re out there grinding and battling, and tempers can start to go a little bit, and he just had a way of sucking everybody back in and being like, ‘Hey, guys, we are the core here. Let’s get it together, and we are going to win the game on us.’ He had a real knack for doing that.'”

“‘I’m looking at it as a great opportunity and a positive challenge going into Year 7, starting to establish myself as one of the core guys on the team,’ Slauson said. ‘I really want that.'”

Slauson will, indeed, have that opportunity. Slauson has already garnered the respect of teammates. That was demonstrated spontaneously by his teammates when they voted him the Ed Block Courage Award, given to a peer who exhibits professionalism and dedication while being a positive role model in the community.

Last year, the Bears had leaders like wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who simply stepped up and took the role. And all credit to him for trying. Someone had to do it. But Marshall’s erratic behavior made him unsuitable for the role and the team crashed and burned.

The unfortunate truth is that respect isn’t something that can be demanded. It’s something that has to be earned. Slauson has apparently done that and the Bears need more like him.

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Sorry, “Source”, But the Bears Are Not the Browns

Jason Cole at the Bleacher Report says that the idea of trading quarterback Jay Cutler to the Tennessee Titans to take Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick is “gaining traction” within the Bears organization in the video below.

Cole is getting this from “a source he talked to over the weekend”. Who want to bet its quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, who apparently helped push the Browns into taking Johnny Manziel last year?

I don’t believe this for a second. The last time there was a trade up in this kind of scenario, the Redskins gave three first round picks to the Rams to get Robert Griffin III. I refuse to believe the Bears are that stupid. Nor do I believe that Bears general manager Ryan Pace and Bears head coach John Fox would allow themselves to be bullied into taking such a risk because a “source” like Loggains or someone like him tried to drum up support for it. Say what you want about George McCaskey, he’s not dumb enough to demand that the Bears take Mariota because someone other than the general manager wants him.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns | 3 Comments

Whose Problem Is It Really?

LeSean McCoy

Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com quotes runningback LeSean McCoy (above) on his former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly:

“‘[Buffalo] is more of a NFL type of feel,’ McCoy told NFL Media’s Kimberly Jones on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access. ‘Being with Coach (Andy) Reid for so long … you get used to that. A player’s coach. An NFL type of atmosphere in the locker room and around the facility. And for two years in Philly it wasn’t like that as much. Not in a negative way, but it was different. It was more like a college feel.'”

“‘I don’t think he likes or respects the stars. I’m being honest,’ McCoy said Monday, via the Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘I think he likes the fact that it’s ‘Chip Kelly and the Eagles.’ … It was ‘DeSean Jackson — a high-flying, take-off-the-top-of-the-defense receiver.’ Or ‘The quick, elusive LeSean McCoy. I don’t think (Kelly) likes that.’

Translation: “Kelly didn’t treat me like a pro because he didn’t ‘just let me do what I wanted.” Or, put another way, “Doesn’t he know who I am?”

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I don’t have a single doubt that Kelly (above) has a big ego. To a certain extent it comes with the job. But I also don’t have a single doubt that he’d love to still have McCoy.

My read on this is that McCoy was at least as big of a problem as Kelly was or will ever be. His running style didn’t fit what Kelly wanted him to do and he refused to accept authority and adapt to the scheme. If that is what having “more of an NFL feel” is all about, I want no part of it.

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Some Creativity May Be Required For Teams Seeking Tight Ends in the Draft

Feb-20-Maxx-Williams

Tom Carpenter at ESPN highlights one of the more interesting things to look for inthe upcoming draft: where Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams (above) will go. Anyone who watched the combine knows that the tight end class is pretty grim and Williams is generally considered to be the best of them.

“Why is Williams’ draft stock slipping?

“Like most young tight ends — he is just 20 years old — he struggles at times with his blocking and route running.”

“Williams also reportedly came off a bit immature and self-centered during NFL combine interviews, as he struggled to give good answers to some difficult questions.”

The Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints are all picking late in round 1 and may be tempted to take a chance on Williams.  The Bears cold also use a second tight end opposite Martellus Bennett.

There is an alternative. In the mock draft that I’m participating in the Atlanta Falcons representative took wide receiver Devin Funchess as a tight end instead of taking Williams. Funchess is 6-4 1/2, 232 lb and if he can learn to block, he could be tough to stop as a receiving tight end. Teams needing pass blocking tight ends might even resort to converting offensive tackles or linebackers.  It will be interesting to see if that’s what teams decide to do instead of taking a risk on the borderline tight end prospects that are available up and down the draft.

Posted in Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints | Leave a comment

Hidden Quarterback Gems? There Might Be Some for the Bears.

hc-shane-carden-ecu-1021-20141020-001

East Carolina’s Shane Carden (above) is a puzzle to me. I get the impression talking to many fans that they like Carden because they think he’s an underdog – a small guy who could make the kind of story that can be a source of inspiration to the average guy. Former Bears director of scouting Greg Gabriel practically slots him into that category as he summarizes Carden’s chances in the NFL:

“Overall, I see Carden as a very good college player who lacks the top traits needed to be a starter at the NFL level. He is smart, instinctive, and a leader. He just lacks the necessary physical traits. He can become a very good backup who will win some games if needed. If he becomes a starter, he will be a guy you are looking to replace. He is a good third day selection.”

Fair enough. But there’s a problem when you look at the details of Gabriel’s evaluation:

  1. “Slightly undersized” at just under 6-2, 218.
  2. Average athlete with average speed. Plays faster on tape.
  3. Agile with quick feet.
  4. Excellent production in college.
  5. Some wind up but above average arm strength.
  6. Smart, good instincts, good decision maker.
  7. Top notch intangibles. Leader, top worker.

So what’s not to like? A 5 second 40 time? Good grief, since when do you have to be Michael Vick to throw from the pocket? And 6-2 doesn’t exactly make him Doug Flute.

Curious, I took a look at the video of the East Carolina – North Carolina game below.

This is a great tape to look at. Carden was under good pressure from the North Carolina defense. He wasn’t perfect, as you can see. But there’s a lot of good here. His arm is plenty strong enough and he throws a pretty deep ball.

Generally speaking, Carden didn’t panic under pressure. As Gabriel implies, he actually is a pretty good decision maker. He scans the field and frequently throws to his second or third receiver in a progression.  Even an interception early in the game was a ball thrown to an open man.  This is crucially important, as highlighted by the comments of former 49er coach Bill Walsh:

“The ability to read defenses is not something that players have learned to a high degree coming out of college. Even if they have, the pro defenses are very different. But most systems require quarterbacks to look at primary and secondary receivers, usually based on the defense that confronts him. You can see if he locates that secondary receiver — or maybe even an emergency outlet receiver — with ease or with a sense of urgency.

“This should work like a natural progression, not a situation where it’s — “Oh, my gosh, now I must look over here … no, over there.” You can see which quarterbacks handle these situations with grace. These are the types who have a chance to perform with consistency in the NFL.”

I think I see that here.

He was often reasonably accurate on some tough throws under pressure. There weren’t many anticipation throws but North Carolina defense covered the East Carolina receivers well and often forced Carden to throw into NFL-type, tight coverage – which he did reasonably well.

Carden feels the rush pretty well most of the time. Perhaps most impressive to me, he also moves well in the pocket to avoid it while keeping his eyes downfield.

On the downside, he does have a windup and his release isn’t as quick as I’d like. But the ball comes out reasonably quickly all things considered. He must have shortened his release quite a bit before the combine where I didn’t even notice it. He also occasionally stares down receivers.

The current quarterback class has been much maligned after some showings at the Senior Bowl that reportedly weren’t good. But I’m starting to think that there are some underrated jewels in this draft. Looking beyond more highly rated prospects like Bryce Petty and Brett Hundley, I see a lot to like in Carden and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.  I haven’t even gotten around to looking at Sean Mannion yet.  Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune sees the Bears’ quest for a quarterback as “almost the impossible dream”.  But the Bears might be in better shape to take a good quarterback in this draft than anyone knows.

Posted in Chicago Bears | 3 Comments