Previewing the 2016 NFL Season: AFC South

All four of the teams in the AFC South could make the case as the team to beat in the division. Yes — who would have thought that Jacksonville or Tennessee would be a part of this conversation? The door to the division crown has been left open. The AFC South has turned into one of the more fascinating divisions in football.

 

Houston Texans

Don’t expect new quarterback Brock Osweiler to make Houston noticeably better than Brian Hoyer’s 2015 Texans.

Osweiler put together a very nice 2015 season in place of the injured, and struggling, Peyton Manning. But let’s 920x920hold off proclaiming him the next hall-of-fame quarterback. The sample size is very small — started 8 games last year while throwing for 10 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and averaging 245 yards in those games.

The former Sun Devil steps into a Houston Texan team that for years has been carried by it’s stingy defense, led by All-Pro DE J.J. Watt. Osweiler will have Lamar Miller in the backfield with him and one of the league’s premier wide receivers out on the edge in DeAndre Hopkins. All signs point to immediate success for Osweiler. However before we get carried away, let’s remember that we know just as much about Osweiler as we knew about Brian Hoyer when he signed on to quarterback the Texan offense a couple years ago.

Houston has to play fellow 2015 division champions — Broncos, Patriots, and Bengals. Not to mention I already mentioned how the AFC South has righted itself — the Titans and Jags are no longer walkovers. And with Andrew Luck healthy, the Colts will be expected to compete for the top spot in the division — maybe the conference.

Bill O’Brien’s club should be a stronger team at the end of the season than the 2015 version. But it won’t be quick and it won’t be obvious for most of the season. Osweiler has a lot to prove; if he can, this team has a very high ceiling. But their potential may not be reached for another year or two down the road.

 

Indianapolis Colts

With Andrew Luck healthy, the Colts will win the AFC South and compete for the conference title in January.

The NFL is like that — one player can change an entire franchise’s fortunes. In 2015, Andrew Luck’s injury changed 76098972-image-optimized_54b0635a2aba5the Colts fortunes in a negative way — this year his return has many thinking the Colts will resume their spot among the conference’s best teams.

With Matthew Hasselback leading the offense for most of 2015, the Colts still managed 7 wins and were in the hunt for the division right down to the wire. Luck’s return has the potential of making a 7-9 team, an 11-win team.

Expect Luck to throw for over 4,500 yards and somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 TDs. If the Indy defense can get off the field when they need to and give their stud QB extra opportunities with the ball in his hands, the Colts should be a very formidable team in 2016.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles will not need to throw for 35 TDs, as Jacksonville’s defense will lead this team into wildcard contention.

Blake Bortles had one of the best 2015 seasons that no one really remembers. His 35 touchdowns was only one behind NFL leader Tom Brady’s 36; he threw for over 4,400 yards; and ranked in the top-10 in almost every major usa-today-9340120.0passing category. HIs 18 interceptions were the worst in the league, but I expect that number to come down considerably this season. The main reason? Head Coach Gus Bradley has assembled a mean, fast, ball-hawking defense that should take a lot of pressure off of Bortles and the offense.

Don’t forget that Bradley came from Seattle when he took the job as head coach of the Jaguars. He helped put together the Legion of Doom and had a major hand in Seattle’s vicious pass rush. Jacksonville is not anywhere near that Seattle team — let’s not misunderstand each other. However, the Jags are chalk full of high defensive draft picks — linebacker Myles Jack and DB Jalen Ramsey, fast edge rushers, and talented young defenders who are buying into Bradley’s system. Offseason additions like Prince Amukamara at cornerback and Tashaun Gipson at free safety have this secondary looking much more capable of defending against the pass in 2016.

 

Tennessee Titans

DeMarco Murray will lead the AFC in rushing.

If Marcus Mariota had a couple more weapons at wide receiver — like a reliable slot guy and another big deep Titans Footballthreat, I’d feel like predicting a playoff berth for this team wouldn’t be all that crazy. As it stands though, I think the Titans are going to be much improved in 2016, but they will not threaten for the playoffs. But Mariota should have another very good year — made even better by the addition of running back DeMarco Murray.

Tennessee improved their offensive line in the offseason which will provide Mariota more time in the pocket and will give Murray a solid blocking front that I expect will spring him to the top of the conference in rushing. Head Coach Mike Mularkey knows the importance of being able to run the football — look for him to feature Mariota, himself, many times a game running the ball in addition to Murray. Establishing a solid, respected rush attack will make Mariota better and will make the offense more efficient. Murray is just the guy to tote the rock in Mularkey’s offense.

Dallas nearly ran Murray’s legs off in 2014. But thankfully for Tennessee, Chip Kelly really never figured out how to properly use Murray last season in Philadelphia. So the workhorse back should be coming into 2016 feeling pretty rested.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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The Fantasy 3: Fantasy “Sleepers” of 2016 Draft

Drafts are drawing near and everyone knows for the most part who they want in the first couple rounds — the “Must Haves” of the fantasy season. Beyond that, though, many of us are in the same boat – see who’s there and go with your gut. I’m not casting doubt on your decision-making – or your gut – but keep in mind the following three players as the draft wears on. Don’t necessarily reach for these guys, but don’t be afraid to take them when others may not even be thinking about them. (Always check out ADP prior to your draft so you have an idea of where certain players are going to ensure you don’t take a player in the 4th round that you could easily have picked in the 8th.)

Here’s my three sleepers based on value of the 2016 fantasy football season:

 

Marcus Mariota

 

I wasn’t sold on Mariota coming out of Oregon at first – Chip Kelly/Oregon QBs don’t exactly have the greatest marcus-mariota_btcoz9d544gf1pr4mxbv17aj9track record of success in the NFL. But last season, I found myself using Mariota at the position for a couple weeks as I streamed my quarterbacks throughout the year. The young man did not disappoint.

In addition, Mariota has the ability to run with the football – and in fantasy, that’s huge for a quarterback. Head Coach Mike Mularkey saw this ability and went with it – Mariota rushed 24 times in 7 games with Mularkey as interim coach last season, compared to just 10 times in 5 games with Ken Wisenhunt at the helm.

Mariota’s passing numbers have the potential to explode as well. With DeMarco Murray in the backfield, an improved offensive line, and receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and Rishard Matthews in the mix, Mariota will have options all over the field. Not to mention, tight end Delanie Walker has established himself as one of Mariota’s favorite go-to targets and a top tier player at his position.

And the beauty with Mariota is that you can wait. Let Cam and Rodgers and Brees and all those guys fly off the board (probably earlier than any QBs should). When the dust settles and you’ve stockpiled at the positions that matter most – RB and WR – the Tennessee signal caller should be there for you. He’s currently going in the 15th round on average.

 

Tevin Coleman

 

After Coleman went down injuring his ribs in Week 2, Devonta Freeman never let him back into the mix and forced hi-res-a697b903f7dac2f99d2553b098c85c07_crop_northhim into a secondary role for the Falcons. But we cannot forget that what the Falcons front office and coaches saw in Coleman last season to name him the Week 1 starter still exists. While Freeman will begin the year as the starter, Coleman will be given every opportunity to earn more carries as the weeks go on. Freeman did suffer a concussion near the end of last season and had ball security problems.

Coleman, the former Hoosier, has all the attributes of a starting running back in the NFL – speed, can break tackles, has the ability to run in between the tackles while also breaking to the edge. Third round picks don’t typically get discarded that easily in the NFL – especially if they’re running backs. Expect Atlanta to give Coleman many chances to re-take some carries – splitting time between the 2 RBs can only serve to help the Atlanta offense. Coleman could be a great RB to have on the bench – and possibly move into a starting role as time goes on. His ADP puts him in the 11th round.

 

Jay Ajayi

 

Recent reports of Ajayi missing some Dolphin practices due to a knee issue may actually help his status as a sleeper. No report is very clear with respect to the severity of this ailment, but the running back says it’s nothing to worry about and the team hasn’t behaved in any way that would sound alarms.Jay+Ajayi+oCB1lIuBROfm

Head Coach Adam Gase has earned a reputation as a “Quarterback Whisperer” of sorts over the past few years in Denver and Chicago. One reason for this is how the offensive-minded Gase uses his running backs. CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for over 1700 yards from scrimmage with Gase running the O, and last season, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford both earned praised in the Bears’ offense – accounting for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns.

The Dolphins are looking for Ajayi to replace Lamar Miller’s 1300 total yards and 10 touchdowns he accrued as the Fins’ top RB last season. With Miller now in Houston, Ajayi has been given the reigns – the signing of Adrian Foster should only help to give the former Boise State back a breather and keep him fresh throughout the year, especially if this knee issue ends up being something more. Fantasy owners could realistically expect Ajayi’s 2016 output to mirror Miller’s from 2015 – perhaps even better it due to Gase and the fact quarterback Ryan Tannehill is another year experienced. In addition, Miami does have pass-catching weapons in Jarvis Landry, DeVonte Parker, and Jordan Cameron. Gase will be sure to optimize all he can out of them – which in turn should help to create running room for Ajayi out of the backfield.

Ajayi’s ADP has him going off the board in the 8th round.

 

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

 

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NFL 2016 Preview: The AFC East

New England Patriots

Dion Lewis makes the Pro Bowl.

After a 2015 campaign cut short due to a devastating knee injury, Dion Lewis will be given every opportunity to

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) runs past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) in the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

resume his role as the featured back in the running and passing game. With Tom Brady missing the first month of the season, Jimmy Garoppolo will indeed be searching for his security blanket — with all the weapons Bill Belichick has stockpiled, Garopollo should have his pick of the litter. Dump off passes to his quick, stealthy running back will likely to be easy and help build confidence in the young signal-caller.

Expect Lewis to play a very big role in the offense this year. With all that the Patriots spread out with at the line of scrimmage, defenses cannot hunker down on everyone. With Lewis’s speed and elusiveness — coming out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, he could be the guy who finds the openings in New England’s short passing attack.

 

Buffalo Bills

Seven wins, max.

Expectations haven’t been this high in upstate New York for a long time. Head coach Rex Ryan proclaimed his team

Nov 23, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan walks the sidelines against the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

“the winners of the offseason”; and the Bills did do a lot to restructure their defense — drafting potential standouts DE Shaq Lawson and LB Reggie Ragland, hiring Rex’s brother Rob to head up the defense, bringing on former Ryan player Ed Reed as an assistant, and letting go of disgruntled DE Mario Williams. So in short, yes, the defense will be much improved and should end up as a top 5 defense this season.

The offense, however, is a different story. Star wide receiver Sammy Watkins is coming off a spring and summer that required foot surgery. All reports point to the wideout healing in plenty of time and not being hampered by any lingering effects; but foot surgeries for receivers are like knee surgeries to running backs. Watkins is a stud and has all-world talent, but if he is in any way impacted by the result of the surgery and cannot perform to his standard, the Bills offense will suffer.

Buffalo’s backfield will need to have a great season in order for the Bills to meet the expectations and make a playoff run. Karlos Williams filled in and looked very strong as LeSean McCoy’s replacement last season. He is young and will need to prove he can do it again, and for a full year; McCoy will need to prove some things himself — the first being that he can stay healthy. Although productive when healthy, McCoy has missed significant time in 4 of his 7 seasons in the league.

 

New York Jets

Tough schedule early on will have Jets trying to play catch-up in the win column all year.

You try not to make game-by-game predictions because it’s all based on last season and what’s most recent in your gettyimages-502027040memory. But there’s no mistaking it — the Jets have a difficult opening 6 games, where they are on the road 4 times against the Bills, Chiefs, Steelers, and Cardinals. Their two home games in the stretch aren’t much easier: Cincinnati and Seattle. The schedule eases a bit after that, but a 2-4 or 1-5 start may be too big of a hole to dig out from.

With Brady missing the first 4 games in New England, it’s critical for any team in the division — including the Jets — who expects to contend to get out to a fast start and attempt to put some early distance between themselves and the perennial division champs. And watching Buffalo improve on the defensive side of the ball and Miami doing the same, the Jets aren’t going to find any easy divisional games this year.

 

Miami Dolphins

Jay Ajayi will resemble a young Matt Forte in Adam Gase’s offense.

The Dolphin defense is designed to get after opposing quarterbacks. Don’t expect that to change — Cameron Wake ajayiis back healthy, Ndamakong Suh is still able to play at a high level, and the addition of Mario Williams could inject even more “umf” into the line. But head coach Adam Gase was brought on the help make the offensive pieces realize their potential, beginning with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Gase’s offense should allow Tannehill to see growth and improvement this season — Gase has a very good track record. What it should also do is showcase the talents of running back Jay Ajayi. Look for Ajayi to be a significant weapon out of the backfield, as a runner and as a pass catcher. His play alone could be the deciding factor when it comes down to if this Dolphins team is playoff-bound in January.

 

 

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“Slightly Too Early” NFL 2016 Bold Predictions: AFC West

With NFL Training Camps opening, it seems appropriate that our sport-oriented minds start making room for football. And albeit a plethora of things could change between July and the start of the regular season in September, it’s still fun to project what may happen this year for teams and players. Over the next few weeks, I will take each division at a time and point to one prediction I have for each team. Let’s start out west where the defending champions reside: the AFC West.

 

Denver Broncos

No Denver QB, RB, or WR will rank in top 10 at their respective position in the major statistical 635636018155898264-AP-Broncos-Rams-Football-MOJcategories.

There were many times last season that this team did not appear to be championship-caliber: unproven quarterback, question marks and injuries plaguing the backfield, rumors surrounding the hall-of-fame veteran QB, who was benched. But in the end and when it mattered most, the Bronco offense was efficient and the defense stellar.

This season features a different quarterback at the helm in journeyman Mark Sanchez or rookie first round pick Paxton Lynch. While the defense should remain formidable, the changes on offense could serve to hamper Denver’s chances at the playoffs, let alone repeating as conference and Super Bowl champions.

Regardless of who head coach Gary Kubiak settles on at QB, the ramifications will have an impact on the team’s ability to run the football and convert explosive pass plays. Expect a down year from Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and with a quarterback starting who has a lot to prove, defenses are likely to spend a lot of their time focusing in on the Denver running game.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

hi-res-186038894-running-back-jamaal-charles-of-the-kansas-city-chiefs_crop_exactJamaal Charles’s 2015 torn ACL has been and will be a blessing in disguise.

When All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles suffered his second torn ACL in 5 years last season, who would have thought the Chiefs would still make the playoffs and that they would be in  such a good position this season with their running backs? Charles’s injury opened the door for Spencer Ware and Charcanderick West to prove themselves as viable options out of the backfield. This year, expect fewer touches for Charles — saving his legs for what the Chiefs hope is a playoff run into January — and more carries for Ware and West.

With this solid RBBC and a very staunch defense, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl hopes may rest squarely on the shoulders of Alex Smith and his receiving corps.

 

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders will win the AFC West.

All four teams in this division have the feel of 7 to 9 wins. No team currently stands without big question marks NFL: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefssomewhere on their roster. So with that said, the Raiders look like the team that might have the highest ceiling. A young QB entering his 3rd season as a starter, who has put up some of the best numbers in his first 2 years in the league of any quarterback ever; a solid run game; young, explosive wide receivers; and a defense built around speed and rushing the QB.

If Derek Carr continues to progress as he has in his early career, the Oakland offense should be highly potent. And head coach Jack Del Rio has put together a defense that is physical, ball-hawking, and hell-bent on getting to the quarterback, led by third year DE Khalil Mack. It might be time to welcome the Raiders back to the playoffs this January.

 

San Diego Chargers

Chargers will double their win total from 2015.

Evidence, collected by people way smarter than me, shows the San Diego Chargers were not quite as bad as their 4-12 record indicated last season. Mike McCoy’s team blew 4 halftime leads and posted a 3-8 record in games decided iby one score. The law of averages usually straightens things out — either the Chargers’ 2015 season was an anomaly and they suffered a great deal of bad luck or they are just trending in a downward direction. With Phillip Rivers manning the ship and playmakers Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen healthy, San Diego looks more like a team who is looking to rebound in 2016.

The Chargers made upgrades to a defense that struggled immensely last year. Not to mention, they are lucky to play in a division where no team appears to be head and shoulders above the rest.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

 

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The Fantasy 3: Three “Must Haves” As Your Draft Approaches

Here are 3 fantasy “must haves” in my opinion this season. All three of these guys are affordable, you won’t need to reach on them, and they will provide you with valuable point production.

A.J. Green

The Bengal All-Pro wideout had a less than impressive season in 2015. But Green still managed nearly 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns. Tight End Tyler Eifert had an exceptional year in 2015 – taking some receptions and TDs away 635844166052926339-1129BengalsRamsSG-07from Green. This year the Bengals’ offense will be without wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, which may give Green (and Eifert for that matter) more looks from Andy Dalton.

Despite what some would call a down year in ’15, Green was still targeted on over 27% of Dalton’s passes; and with Eifert, combined for over 70% of Bengals’ receiving touchdowns.

The biggest factor in determining Green’s success or not this season may be predicated on the success of his quarterback. Dalton’s 25 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last season came in an injury-shortened year that saw the ex-TCU passer play in only 13 games. Arguably, 2015 was Dalton’s most efficient season at the helm of the Cincinnati offense. If his growth continues, Green may be primed for a return to elite fantasy receiver status.

Ryan Mathews

With the departure of DeMarco Murray to Tennessee, the Philadelphia backfield is Mathews’s to lose. If the former Charger can’t grab hold of the majority of the workload this season, you might want to consider the fact that Mathews may never be able to be the number one guy.

Injuries have plagued the young back’s career since his days in San Diego, which is a legitimate concern for ownersRyan Mathews, Colin Jones hoping Mathews takes ownership of the Eagles’ backfield. This may be Mathews’s best opportunity to put up solid fantasy numbers as new head coach Doug Pederson brings his running back-heavy brand of offense to the City of Brotherly Love. The former Kansas City offensive coordinator had a hand in Jamaal Charles’s rise to stardom, as one of the NFL’s premier running backs over the last few seasons. And last season was, perhaps, the most impressive display of coaching by Pederson, when Charles went down with a season-ending injury and the Chiefs shifted their reliance to unproven RBs Charcanderick West and Spencer Ware.

To be clear, I would not reach on Mathews in any round earlier than 6. But if he’s available in the 6th or 7th rounds, he’d be a good value grab – especially for owners who need a 3rd RB on their roster at this point in the draft.

Derek Carr

If I told you to guess the top 2 quarterbacks to throw the most touchdowns in their first two NFL seasons, you’d NFL: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefsprobably guess Dan Marino, but I’m sure you would guess about 100 other QBs (maybe more) before you got to Derek Carr. But Carr’s first two seasons have been spectacular as far as TD production. Add the fact that Amari Cooper is now established and has a full year under his belt, Carr may be in store for his best season yet.

In addition to Cooper, Oakland has managed to put together a well-rounded offense to compliment Carr – Michael Crabtree at WR and Latavius Murray in the backfield. Not to mention head coach Jack Del Rio’s personality appears to have rubbed off on his mean-spirted, nasty defense. With the question marks that hang over the offenses in the AFC West, the Raider defense should wreak havoc and provide Carr and the electric offense more opportunities to put points on the board.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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Oh, Bob Quinn, Why Must You Tease Lions Fans?

When Bob Quinn arrived in town to take charge of the Detroit Lions franchise, fans in the Metro-Detroit area hoped he could replicate what few Bill Belichick disciplines have been able to do. Moving the Foxboro philosophy to other NFL cities hasn’t exactly panned out for those who have attempted the feat — Scott Pioli struggled in Kansas City; the Josh McDaniels coaching experience in Denver was disastrous; even Belichick Originals Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis couldn’t make head coaching gigs last in the NFL. But if one organization’s fan base deserves something to be hopeful for, it’s got to be the Lions. And when Martha Firestone Ford chose Bob Quinn to become the Lions new General Manager, fans could envision the Patriot Way settling in, nice and comfortably, in Allen Park.

 

In filling the many holes on the Lions’ roster, Quinn certainly went about his re-build with his old employer in mind. He pulled guys who had a history in New England –Tavon Wilson, Stevan Ridley, and Tim Wright. He added another tight end in Matthew Mulligan – the Patriots have been known for years for having a propensity for running multiple tight end packages. He took a flyer on former Giant Geoff Schwartz to add depth to the offensive line. And he even spent money signing a former Cleveland Brown cornerback, Johnson Bademosi, much in part to his skill set on Special Teams – very “Belichickian”. So Lions fan were happy, the future seemed brighter and the franchise appeared to behaving like an actual NFL franchise that wanted and was trying to win.

 

Then the draft came and more reason for optimism in the Motor City. Quinn went safe with his first pick as Lions GM and took Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker. He followed that up with a second round pick that many projected as a first rounder in A’Shawn Robinson – defensive tackle out of Alabama. Quinn, then, added a center, a hard-hitting safety, and a few picks to add depth to the defensive line, guard position, and linebacker. He even scooped up a Long Snapper. The only other team known to draft long snappers is, well, you know. Everything was moving nice and steadily in the right direction it seemed. Slowly and methodically build the team, keeping in mind the Belichick blueprint. And then came the 6th round…

 

With his 6th round pick, Bob Quinn undid all the good he had done. He gained the trust of the Lion fan base. He nurtured them along free agency – being smart and judicial. He went through 5 rounds of the NFL Draft, picking players who fit the roles he was looking for. Then, he, unwittingly, threw the Detroit Lions fans into a delusional fit. His sixth round selection made the Lions fans think of another Patriot move that forever changed that franchise. University of Michigan quarterback selected in the sixth round? Have we heard that before? Anybody? Anybody?

 

Heading into the draft, the quarterback position was a need. The talk around Detroit (and the league) was that Matthew Stafford needed someone backing him up that would push him in practice and light a bit of a flame under him. In order to get the most out of your franchise quarterback, you need to make him feel a little pressure from within – that was the thought. Some thought Dak Prescott from Mississippi State or Kevin Hogan from Stanford with a mid to late round selection was where the Lions were headed. Some even thought Connor Cook’s free fall would end with the Lions in the 3rd or 4th round. Nope. The Lions stuck to the theme that Bob Quinn brought to Detroit – the Patriot Way. And what is more “Patriot” than grabbing a 6’3” U-M quarterback who completed over 60% of his passes and held a 2 to 1 touchdown to interception ration in his career in Ann Arbor? Am I talking about Jake Rudock or Tom Brady? Ha, it’s a trick – those stats describe them both! (I kid. I joke. It’s funny.) But to Lions fans, this is not a joke. It’s not funny. It’s real and it’s possible that Jake Rudock will do for the Lions organization what Tom Brady has done for New England’s. Crazy? Yes, of course. High unlikely that will actually happen? Agreed, 100 percent. But tell that to Lions fans. Jake Rudock may as well throw on a number 12 jersey, start dating supermodels, and pick up cliff-diving in the offseason.

 

Poor Lions fans have been through so much – Barry Sanders leaving them high and dry on the eve of training camp, Matt Millen singlehandedly setting the franchise back 10 years by trying to field a team made up of only first round wide receivers, Calvin Johnson retiring early. The list goes on. And now, just when Bob Quinn has steadily and cautiously convinced fans that by rationally operating the front office the organization could be headed down the winning path, he goes ahead and let’s the crazy back in.

 

Good luck, JR15. (In 15 years, remember this was all a joke – I really did believe you would turn out to be like TB12.)

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2016 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

So I’m adding yet another meaningless Mock Draft to the Internet. Let me be clear about one thing right out of the box – my mock, which I started playing around with two or three weeks ago, never looked great. I don’t claim to have any “insider information” or sources other than my own eyes and ears. I don’t have “league people” – as some in the Metro-Detroit Area do (@971theticketxyt listeners hopefully got a chuckle there). What I’m saying is simply what I think teams should do next Thursday based on team needs. Mix that up with each team’s past draft resumes and take into account the expert, guru, football geniuses that run each team – and VIOLA: My Mock Draft 1.0!!!

Rams

  1. Goff or Wentz? Wentz or Goff? Seems like a strange year (or strange draft class at least) to have TWO teams trade away the farm to move themselves into position for these two quarterbacks. Now, both may be fine and work out nicely. But questions are certainly there and skepticism is high. Let’s look at this – a Pac-12 QB who has the size and the skills to succeed at the next level. But is he more in the mold of other Pac-12 QBs– John Elway, Troy Aikman – or is he more a Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf Pac-12 QB? And before you kill me for trying to compare these two players to two of the all-time greats in Elway and Aikman, understand that being picked at the very top of the NFL Draft means in fact that you DO get compared to the all-timers. Jeff Fisher will have a huge say in this pick, you have to assume; and you could argue his past points to either one – Pac-12/USC guy himself might feel a greater connection to the young man from Berkley. But don’t forget Fisher’s choice of Steve McNair out of Alcorn St – maybe that confidence in having plucked a QB from a tiny, non-D-1 school will make the North Dakota State kid the Rams’ pick? Whoever the pick is, there is high potential for this young man.

THE PICK: Jared Goff, Cal QB – Their trust in his skill set, size, and experience in bigger games than Wentz will be deciding factors.

Eagles

  1. The funniest, weirdest, non-sensible thing about Philly trading so much to the Browns to be in this position is that the Rams are in fact making Philly’s pick. That’s a heck of a lot of trust.

THE PICK: Carson Wentz, NDSU QB

Chargers

  1. Now to where some excitement really kicks in. The question that keeps coming back to me is do you try and give some help (in the form of blocking) to Phillip Rivers or do you add a playmaker to your atrocious defense that ranked 27th against the rush in 2015. Laremy Tunsil is good enough to be the number 1 overall pick in this draft – talent level is there and the position he plays is critical to a team’s success. Tunsil should really be the pick, but he won’t be. And another team will be extremely fortunate at the expense of others’ choices.

THE PICK: DeForest Buckner, Oregon DE/DL

Cowboys

  1. The last time the Cowboys picked inside the top 5 of the draft was 13 years ago when they selected Terrance Newman in 2003. Newman averaged over 13 games a season with “America’s Team” until he was released in 2012. Add Troy Aikman and Ed “Too Tall” Jones to that history of players selected in the top 5 and it looks promising for Jerry’s Boys. There’s been talk of a QB to backup the injury-riddled Tony Romo, and a CB (like the Newman selection) to bolster that back-end of the defense. But this pick is between Jerry Jones’ head and his heart. He wanted Johnny Manziel and instead took Zack Martin – went head over heart (and thank goodness for him and his franchise that he did). But this time his heart says Zeke Elliott and his head partially says the same thing. Dallas struggled to find ways to replace DeMarco Murray’s production last season. Their line is set up front and Romo is good enough. He has weapons around him, like Dez. But a running back who can carry the load makes everyone’s job easier. Look no further than when the Rams nabbed Todd Gurley unexpectedly in last year’s draft. That worked out, huh? Joey Bosa would surely add some nastiness to Rod Marinelli’s defensive line; but it’s another Buckeye that Jerry wants.

THE PICK: Ezekiel Elliott, RB Ohio St.

Jags

  1. The defensive side of the ball is where Gus Bradley will focus and it makes sense. He’s trying to build this team in the same mold as Seattle’s. And players want to go there now. The London Jaguars, as I’ve affectionately called them, may actually be ready to make a move to relevancy – hey the Raiders are doing it, why can’t the Jags? Go get your defensive playmaker – two are there. One is healthy, one is coming off injury.

THE PICK: Joey Bosa, DE Ohio St.

Ravens

  1. And Ozzie Newsome walks in to the pick of the draft. As if Ozzie needs any help. Here’s a guy who has a Super Bowl, knows how to win, and has the respect of the league. Now you get the player many say is the number 1 pick of the draft. Congrats, Oz.

THE PICK: Laremy Tunsil, LT Ole Miss

49ers

  1. So Chip Kelly wants a QB? So Chip Kelly wants to prove his smarts and his QB guru skills by starting Blaine Gabbert? So Chip Kelly will trade down to a team who wants to reach on a QB at 7, allowing the Niners to select a QB later in the round? If you know any of these answers, please get ahold of me — @brian22goodwin on Twitter. As it stands though, Myles Jack sits there, but we do know Chip likes his offensive players. You add a WR here to WHOEVER is playing QB and you at least you are offering that guy a weapon. We got a weapon for you.

THE PICK: Laquon Treadwell, WR Ole Miss

Browns

  1. How about the Browns??!!! Trading down out of the 2 spot, acquiring a boat load of picks this year and for the next couple? Who IS this team??? The next question is can they parlay all this good fortune into a good pick at 8?

THE PICK: Ronnie Stanley, OT Notre Dame

Bucs

  1. Tampa Bay needs guys who can get to the passers in their division. Much like how Houston devoted many many picks to defensive athletes who could edge-rush and get after QBs in the AFC South – namely Peyton Manning then Andrew Luck – the Bucs will do the same, as they have to pressure Cam, Matty Ice, and Drew Brees. Lucky for them, this draft has plenty.

THE PICK: Leonard Floyd, Georgia DE/OLB

NYG

  1. Although offensive line would certainly sure up Eli’s protection with this pick, the Giants may not be in a position to make that happen financially – check out Jordan Ranaan’s article last month at nj.com.

THE PICK: Jalen Ramsey, S/CB Florida St.

CHI Bears

  1. There are a few players who should be available that the Bears like in positions that they need help at. Offensive line help could be addressed, pass rusher off the edge should be here, or help at the corner.

THE PICK: Vernon Hargreaves, CB Florida

Saints

  1. Wouldn’t be shocked to see the Saints attempt to build either line with this pick. Anything else has to come under some heavy scrutiny. This team is definitely on the down swing after a decade ride as one of the NFC’s prominent contenders. Gotta start rebuilding some spots – you do it inside-out.

THE PICK: Sheldon Rankins, Louisville DT

Fins

  1. I’m torn between three players here who would all fit into what the Dolphins need and should be able to make pretty immediate impact. Like discussed earlier with Tampa Bay needing to get after the divisional rival QBs with pass rushers, you’d have to imagine the Patriots and Tom Brady are on the minds of the Dolphins’ top brass.

THE PICK: Eli Apple, CB Ohio St.

Raiders

  1. Like I wrote earlier about the Ravens watching Laremy Tunsil drop into their laps, the Oakland Raiders might be just as thrilled if this all plays out like this.

THE PICK: Shaq Lawson, DE Clemson

Titans

  1. I think Tennessee wanted O-Line protection for their prized QB, Marcus Mariota from the get-go. While Tunsil could have provided that protection, the Titans still get a guy to protect the QB and they stole all the Rams’ picks while they were at it. Nicely done.

THE PICK: Jack Conklin, OL/G Michigan St.

Lions

  1. Lots of talk about the direction Bob Quinn will go as he steps out of Bill Belichick’s shadow and attempts to bring some sense of stability to a franchise that has been inept at most things for decades. Probably targeting a big boy on one of the lines here.

THE PICK: Taylor Decker, OT Ohio St.

Falcons

  1. Although the Atlanta offense is in the aging process, the defense is where this franchise needs to build.

THE PICK: Myles Jack, LB UCLA

Colts

  1. Coming off the most disappointing season in Indianapolis, the Colts look to put that in the rearview mirror quickly. And one thing they learned in the Hoosier State: keep your signal caller healthy.

THE PICK: Ryan Kelly, C Alabama

Buff

  1. Maybe Rex asks The Donald to come out and announce this selection. Who ever makes it, it will be defense. I think. Honestly, I don’t have a clue. This is the toughest pick to mock for me.

THE PICK: Darron Lee, OLB Ohio St.

NYJ

  1. Would the Jets dare take a quarterback here? Todd Bowles doesn’t seem like the type – rather wait and grab a guy in the 3rd or 4th There’s certainly some safer picks – and much more sensible ones. But what fun is that? “J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS!!”

THE PICK: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback Memphis

Skins

  1. The Josh Norman signing eliminates the selection of a DB here. Many other areas to focus on for Daniel Snyder and Jay Gruden, luckily.

THE PICK: Reggie Ragland, ILB Alabama

Texans

  1. While I think Houston would love to add more depth at the D-Line and eventually give JJ Watt some help (and ultimately be a replacement), Bill O’Brien knows Brock Osweiler will only be as good as the weapons he has around him. He has DeAndre Hopkins – and that’s one of the most explosive weapons a QB could ask for. But he needs complementary pieces too. They lost Nate Washington and he was a nice complement.

THE PICK: William Fuller, WR Notre Dame

Vikings

  1. Mike Zimmer deserves a ton of credit for what he has done in changing the attitude of this franchise. With all that surrounded the Vikings with Adrian Peterson, Zimmer imposed his will and mindset on his players and turned them into a playoff team – and one that could have won their Wild Card Round game. Zimmer is a defensive coach, but he also is smart enough to know what his quarterback needs to be successful – and how’s the phrase go? Happy quarterback, happy life? Something like that, anyway.

THE PICK: Josh Doctson, WR Texas Christian

Bengals

  1. For as good as the Bengals were last season, this team has quite a few holes to fill. WR would be nice, but Marvin Lewis sees the holes in his D-Line, too.

THE PICK: Jarran Reed, DT Alabama

Steelers

  1. Why is it that good organizations always seem to have the Draft Day chips fall their way too? Steelers are one of these franchises – and it happens this Draft Day as well. They will have their pick of the litter with Nose Tackles.

THE PICK: Andrew Billings, DT/NT Baylor

Seahawks

  1. At this stage of the round, it’s always tricky – as if to say the previous 25 selections were clear-cut. Right. Teams down here can play around a little, take some chances because their needs are usually not terribly great. Pass rush here? Okung’s replacement at LT? Seattle can go in a few different directions, if they choose.

THE PICK: Vernon Butler, DT Louisiana Tech

Packers

  1. I say this with complete confidence – I have no idea what Ted Thompson will do here. I also say this with even more confidence – Whatever he does, will work out just fine for the Pack.

THE PICK: Jonathan Bullard, DT Florida

KC

  1. Chiefs lost back-up QB Chase Daniel to the Eagles. Couple that with the question of how much longer can the franchise ride Alex Smith, sure looks like the Chiefs would love to add a quarterback at 28. That likely means Connor Cook or Christian Hackenberg. Or does Andy Reid wait for his signal caller in a later round?

THE PICK: William Jackson, CB Houston

AZ

  1. You better believe this pick is important for Bruce Arians’ club. This franchise doesn’t have a ton of glaring needs, but when you’re so close to a championship (and this team is) it puts a premium on making the little decisions.

THE PICK: Robert Nkemdiche, DE/DT Ole Miss

Panthers

  1. Protect Cam!!! That’s what must be on the minds of the decision-makers in the Carolina War Room.

THE PICK: Jason Spriggs, OT Indiana

Broncos

  1. The Broncos lost some key pieces from the Super Bowl-winning defense. They will certainly look to replace them. Unless they are intrigued by a quarterback

THE PICK: Chris Jones, DT Mississippi St.

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Rams Back in LA and the Golden Ticket That Awaits Their First Selection

Nothing says Spring like the flowers blooming, snow flurries turning to rain showers (here in the Midwest at least), sunshine lasting until almost 8pm, and……..the NFL Draft. I’m almost ashamed to admit how much the National Football League grabs ahold of me and doesn’t let go. Ever. Not a week after the Super Bowl, not a month after, and not what has now been nearly 3 months after when all of us sports fans should be in the throes of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey and the NBA Playoffs. But let’s face it – the NFL has surpassed all other sports in America and Roger Goodell isn’t taking his foot off the gas anytime soon. (Not to mention, the NHL lost me years ago after a work stoppage made me realize I didn’t need to spend time following a league that seemed less and less interesting every time I caught a glimpse of Olympic Hockey. Oh, and the NBA Playoffs appear to be just the lead-up to a Finals rematch between Golden State and LeBron’s Cavs. And baseball? Yeah, call me when games aren’t being postponed because of cold temperatures or snow.) So that leaves the NFL. And without any games to focus on – and do not tell me about the 2016 NFL Schedule Release Party you and your friends had — we sit reading mock draft site after mock draft site while listening to Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay and Mike Mayock tell us about how this quarterback has small hands but a quick release and how that center ran the fastest 40-yard dash and has a high Football IQ. We listen, we read, we pay attention – more than we should. Even when we know it and admit it, we can’t stop. I admit it – I’m ashamed. But it won’t stop me from mocking my own draft and listening to all the talking heads explain Wunderlik Scores and escapability.

This year’s draft, like them all, promises to surprise and shock us and some teams will leave us shaking our heads – Cowboys, Browns I’m looking directly at you. The first of the shocks and surprises and head shaking came pre-draft day this year, when the brand new, back-again Los Angeles Rams traded up with Tennessee to get the number one overall selection. Who didn’t think the Rams would do something to grab everyone’s attention? Rumors surfaced not long after the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory that Peyton Manning was considering transplanting himself in La-La Land to end his career. Of course that was unfounded; but it did remind people that an NFL team in Los Angeles was not like any other city earning a franchise. It’s LA for God’s sake!!! The City of Plastic, the City of Stars, Hollywood. You think that Sam Kroenke and the Rams were just going to quietly hang out in LA and just be??? Hardly. The city forced the Rams to do something big. The Rams had no choice but to make a splash – sorry Case Keenum, I said splash not a squirt. Think of the competition the Rams were feeling (I’m not talking about other NFL teams either). The Clippers are a soap opera – and if they’re the soap opera in LA then what do we call what’s happened with the Lakers??? The Rams aren’t the only show in town, but they have a shot at being the most relevant team and the franchise that people can take the most seriously. And while LA hasn’t been completely devoid of football, college football in LA hasn’t exactly captivated fans’ interest since Pete Carroll exited stage right for Seattle – USC can’t get a coach straight and UCLA has not lived up to all the expectations placed on the Bruins when Jim Mora took the reigns.

The time appears to be right for this move. A SoCal guy at the helm in Jeff Fisher, who is likable, honest, blunt, and a long-established “football guy”. He understands the league and he understands what this relocation means to the city and what it means to the NFL. The Los Angeles media will not be bored at his pressers. As for the on-field talent, look no further than the star running back. Todd Gurley represents a position in the league that has been on life support – not the RB position itself but the idea that one guy can own the position for a team. Gurley is not part of a running back by committee. He IS the committee. He was the steal of the 2015 NFL Draft and now he is the face of the Rams and, more importantly, the face of the NFL in LA. In addition, Aaron Donald is a monster on the defensive line and is a guy who can alter an opposing team’s gameplan – he’s that impactful of a player. So what’s left that the Rams could possibly need? Oh, that’s right – a quarterback!! Let’s face it – no disrespect to Case Keenum or Nick Foles – if you’re doing this whole LA thing, you better get yourself your franchise QB. And the Rams have positioned themselves to get him. Like the trade or not, agree or disagree with the cost – but if you need a guy, you better put yourself in position to get the guy. And no one can say the Rams haven’t positioned themselves to do just that. Had they stood pat at 15, who knows who is there for them – not likely Jared Goff or Carson Wentz – but possibly Paxton Lynch, probably Connor Cook, and most certainly Christian Hackenburg (I think). But if they see one of those top 2 QBs being a franchise player, a QB who can lead them to a championship, then you have to make the move. And when they do settle on one (they say they don’t know who they prefer yet – believe that or don’t, I don’t), their choice will instantly reach celebrity status. You’re quarterbacking the NFL team in Los Angeles with a coach who’s been to the Super Bowl and lost by a single yard, a running back who is the best young RB in the game, and a defensive player who is a game changer. This young signal caller will be put in a position to win, and if he does, the fame and stardom could be nothing like we’ve ever seen.

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