Monthly Archives: July 2016

2016 NFL Draft Grades: NFC West

The argument could be had that the NFC West is the best division in football and few would argue. Over the last five years the NFC West has delivered, at least, one team to the NFC Championship game and in three consecutive years had a team in the Super Bowl (San Francisco in 2012 and Seattle 2013-14).

Yeah, they’re that good. And with the Rams moving back to Los Angeles after a 20-year stint in St. Louis, it should only be more fun to watch. But some teams have fallen on tough times.

LA has floundered around mediocrity and this may be Jeff Fisher’s make it-or-break it year. Then there is San Francisco, who after a return to glory under head coach  Jim Harbaugh, suffered an ugly divorce and then failed to sustain any success with his successor Jim Tomsula, who was fired after one year and replaced with Chip Kelly.

There is a lot to anxiousness in seeing what the NFC West will do next, whether it’s free agency or the draft. There is, now, an expectation that whoever comes in to one of these four teams will be another piece of a Super Bowl contender. So lets breakdown who was brought in over this year’s draft weekend…

Arizona Cardinals: B+
1.) Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
3.) Brandon Williams, CB, Texas A&M
4.) Evan Boehm, C, Missouri
5.) Marqui Christian, S, Midwestern St.
5.) Cole Toner, OT, Harvard
6.) Harlan Miller, CB, SE Louisiana

A big part of this grade comes from their second-round pick, which they traded (with first-round bust Jonathan Cooper) to New England for pass rusher Chandler Jones, their biggest need. Nkemdiche, was the perfect selection for the Cards. In a locker room with so much leadership and accountability, Bruce Arians will make his character red flags a thing of the past (see: Tyrann Mathieu). Cornerback was a major area of need and Williams seems to be part of the answer. An intriguing choice as he has only played one season at the position, having played running back until his senior season. Christian, is a classic small-school stud who should excel in the desert. Toner, has starter upside on the right side. Miller will fight for a spot, but was a three-year starter and has the upside to work with.

Sleeper: Evan Boehm
The Cardinals have struggled to find a permanent answer at center for years. Boehm, may be what they were looking for. He holds the record for career starts at Mizzou and relies on his wrestling background to effectively leverage and drive against opposing players. He should start Day One, but his progress over the season will be pivotal.

Los Angeles Rams: C+
1.) Jared Goff, QB, Cal
4.) Tyler Higbee, TE, Western Kentucky
4.) Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
6.) Temarrick Hemingway, TE, South Carolina St.
6.) Josh Forrest, ILB, Kentucky
6.) Mike Thomas, WR, Southern Miss

The Rams broke the bank to move up and select Goff. The California kid should feel right at home with the team back in LA, but he’ll still have to win a training camp battle against Case Keenum to start Week 1. That could be tough as Keenum has developed enough to be a game manager and has the command of the locker room. Higbee, was arrested 18 days before the draft for assault. The Rams must have vetted the incident enough to take a chance on him. He is a reliable option over the middle of the field. Hemingway, has developmental upside. Forrest, is another fast flowing linebacker who should fit in nicely as a depth piece.

Sleeper: Pharoh Cooper
Cooper isn’t the biggest target, but man, does he produce. He posted 135 receptions for 2,109 yards and 17 touchdowns in two years on subpar South Carolina teams. With a weak receiving corps in LA, don’t be surprised if Cooper starts taking over.

San Francisco 49ers: B-
1.) DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
1.) Joshua Garnett, OG, Stanford
3.) Will Redmond, CB, Mississippi St.
4.) Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
5.) Ronald Blair, DE, Appalachian St.
5.) John Theus, OT, Georgia
5.) Fahn Cooper, OT, Ole Miss
6.) Jeff Driskel, QB, Louisiana Tech
6.) Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
6.) Aaron Burbridge, WR, Michigan St.
7.) Prince Charles Iworah, CB, Western Kentucky

The Niners are rebuilding, but things could be exciting with Kelly prowling the sidelines. And luckily, he doesn’t control the roster (which did him in in Philly). And even then, Kelly still got an ex-Duck of his. Buckner, should start be mid-season. Garnett, was a surprise, but with the departure of Alex Boone and little depth behind him, you have to protect your quarterback. Redmond and Robinson, addressed their biggest need. Redmond, has ideal size and versatility to contribute early. Robinson, has major red flags after being suspended from LSU, but the raw talent is there. Theus and Cooper, add depth and starter upside. Cooper, could transition to guard. Burbridge, could surprise over time. A late bloomer, he turned into the go-to man in East Lansing in 2015.

Sleeper: Ronald Bleir
He has the size you look for in a five-technique and could develop into a quality rotation player. He had 32 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons. If he can handle the jump in competition, he could turn into something.

Seattle Seahawks: C+
1.) Germain Ifedi, OG, Texas A&M
2.) Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
3.) C.J. Proise, RB, Notre Dame
3.) Nick Vannett, TE, Ohio St.
3.) Rees Odhiambo, OG, Boise St.
5.) Quinton Jefferson, DT, Maryland
5.) Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
6.) Joey Hunt, C, TCU
7.) Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal
7.) Zac Brooks, RB, Clemson

The Seahawks are built to be perennial contenders for the Lombardi trophy, but the roster has been hemorrhaging talent lately and the cupboards are getting bare. Non more noticeably than along the offensive line. Ifedi, has all the talent in the world, but has sloppy technique. Line coach Tom Cable should get Ifedi ready to be a Day One starter. Not that they really have a choice. Same goes for Reed. The team was first against the rush, but then lost Brandon Mebane leaving not much behind him. Reed will start at some point as a rookie. The Seahawks run on running backs shows how important Marshawn Lynch was to the team. Proise, might be better in the long run, but for rookie impact you have to look at Alex Collins to be the complimentary back to Thomas Rawls. Vannett, seems to be a security blanket if Jimmy Graham isn’t 100% coming off his injury. Jefferon adds depth as well.

Sleeper: Rees Odhiambo
The Sehawks line is in shambles and, if things get worse, you could see Odhiambo make a rookie appearance. He is massive and has the versatility coaches love. However, he does have some injury concerns. But a great depth piece with starter upside for this prospect, who didn’t even play football until high school.

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2016 NFL Grades: NFC South

The NFC South has always been notorious for having a high turnover rate. The division, as we know it now, had not had a back-to-back division champion in its first ten years, until the Carolina Panthers broke the streak by holding onto the crown with a 7-8-1 record in 2014. So, what transpired in 2015?

The Panthers tallied the best record in the NFL at 15-1, quarterback Cam Newton won the league MVP, and the team made it to the Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcons topped out at 8-8 under first time head coach Gus Bradley. The New Orleans Saints continued to tread the water at 7-9 while continuing to rapidly rebuild around their future hall-of-fame quarterback Drew Brees. Then there is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who made a marked four win improvement in head coach Lovie Smith’s second year on the job, and yet was still fired after the season.

As for 2016, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Of course, the Panthers have the inside track but the Falcons are clearly building something exciting and the Saints are always eligible to steal a division title with Brees under center. The Bucs are in flux, but have some of the best young talent in the league. And speaking of which, here is how each team fared with their own youth injections via the draft.

Falcons: C
1.) Keanu Neal, S, Florida
2.) Deion Jones, OLB, LSU
3.) Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford
4.) De’Vondre Campbell, OLB, Minnesota
6.) Wes Schweitzer, OG, San Jose St.
7.) Devin Fuller, WR, UCLA

It’s clear that Bradley has a distinct plan for the Atlanta Falcons and it’s fast. Neal and Jones addressed massive needs that had plagued the Falcons for the past few years. Neal, has some limitations in coverage and Jones, only started for on year at LSU, but both could earn starting positions. Hooper, is the latest ex-Cardinal tight end to wind up in the league. He could become the security blanket quarterback Matt Ryan hasn’t had since Tony Gonzalez retired.

Sleeper: De’Vondre Campbell
Campbell, is a high character team leader who racked up 92 tackles and four sacks in his final season as a Golden Gopher. He can fly around the field and can add something to pass rush. It will be interesting to see if he reaches his full potential.

Panthers: D+
1.) Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
2.) James Bradberry, CB, Samford
3.) Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia
5.) Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
7.) Beau Sandland, TE, Montana St.

Give credit to GM Dave Gettleman for sticking to his draft board, but this whole thing was perplexing. The selection of Butler isn’t the worst thing. Vets Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei will become free agents over the next two years and, most likely, only one will be retained. From there though, it seemed like reaches. Bradberry and Worley have good size, but come with questions. Bradberry, despite being a four-year starter, still has concerns over the level of competition and his ability to play man. Worley, like Bradberry, is a bit stiff and has red flags off field. Sandland has plenty of talent, but is incredibly raw.

Sleeper: Zack Sanchez
Over three years at Oklahoma, Sanchez racked up 15 interceptions and broke up 28 passes. The numbers speak for themselves. He is an absolute ballhawk on one hand and on the other needs a lot of help with his footwork and technique. A lot of potential here though.

Saints: C+
1.) Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
2.) Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio St.
2.) Vonn Bell, S, Ohio St.
4.) David Onyemata, DT, Manitoba
7.) Daniel Lasco, RB, Cal

The Saints defense has been atrocious in recent years, so it came as no surprise when New Orleans tabbed Rankins as their first-round pick. The lack of depth and poor play along the interior defensive line all but assures Rankins will be a Day One starter. However, a player with his motor should take some opponents’ attention away from veteran pass rusher Cameron Jordan. Thomas, should thrive in New Orleans playing the possession receiver role that Marques Colston perfected for so many years with Drew Brees. Bell, is a dynamic defensive back. He offers insurance behind the oft-injured Jairus Byrd and could offer some assistance as a nickleback.

Sleeper: David Onyemata
Four years ago the Saints with their third-round selection Akiem Hicks out of the University of Regina. This year they tabbed another Canadian in Onyemata. Onyemata is raw, but his tape and week at the Senior Bowl highlight the nastiness and athleticism to excel at the next level, should he develop properly.

Buccaneers: B+
1.) Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
2.) Noah Spence, DE, Western Kentucky
2.) Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida St.
4.) Ryan Smith, CB, North Carolina Central
5.) Caleb Benenoch, OT, UCLA
6.) Devante Bond, OLB, Oklahoma
6.) Dan Vitale, FB, Northwestern

Since joining the team in 2014, general manager Jason Licht has added six starters to the Bucs lineup. That’s an impressive feat in a short amount of time and he could potentially be adding four more after this 2016 haul. Hargreaves was a gift at No. 11 overall. They moved back and still got their guy, that’s how you manage the draft (unsurprisingly Licht comes from the New England management tree.) Spence, in the second is nothing but good value. It won’t be a shock to see him starting by year’s end. Smith, could develop into a starter after a year or two. Benenoch and Bond are depth selections. Vitale, is a quality bulldozer for Doug Martin and he has good hands out of the backfield to boot.

Sleeper: Roberto Aguayo
That’s right a kicker is the Bucs’ sleeper. Some view them as a necessary evil, but nothing is more pivotal than a consistently great kicker. And for years, the Bucs’ kickers have been marred by a rotating door of poor play, injury, old age, and MRSA. Insert Aguayo, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. He is so good he left school early to go into the draft and then the Bucs traded up for him!