Recently I read that the NFL just broke a record for the highest combined QB Rating through 3 games of the regular season. I wasn’t surprised about this at all as the NFL is on its fourth straight year of an elite draft class of signal callers joining the league and these recent additions have created a historic level of depth at the quarterback position. I’ve been an avid fan of the NFL for a decade and a half and I’ve always been used to the fact that there were more teams than quality quarterbacks. Every year there were 4-8 teams in the NFL that had little to no chance of competing due to their atrocious lack of talent at the quarterback position. With the advent of 7 on 7 camps and leagues in Junior High and High School as well as the prevalence of spread offenses in the college game the NFL has seen a flux of quality talent in recent drafts at the quarterback position. I am of the opinion that the quarterback position is about to become less valuable as a capable starting quarterback will no longer be seen as a scarce resource by NFL franchises and they will stop overpaying for them. An elite quarterback will still be of the utmost value but a mid level quarterback like Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton or Jay Cutler will see their value, ie salary, drop as teams will have an abundance of cheaper options which would result in only a slight reduction in performance.
In just the last three years the NFL saw 12 teams take a quarterback that has been productive enough to be a regular starter for them (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III/Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon.) In that 3 year time frame 12 new talented signal callers were added to the NFL as “starter caliber” and by my estimate only 2 left as Vince Young retired and Matt Hasselbeck became a permanent backup with the Colts and will retire at the end of this season.
It’s pretty easy to do the math when it is +12 and -2 to see that the NFL’s long standing deficit of starting quarterbacks is quickly coming to an end. Add in the 2014 NFL Draft which saw four quarterbacks (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr) taken in the first 36 picks, three of whom took the majority of their team’s snaps this past weekend, and the depth of talent at the QB position could be considered at an all time high. I went through NFL teams depth charts and found that 23 of the 32 teams wouldn’t even consider a QB change which left only 9 teams “potentially” in the hunt for a QB in 2015. Of those teams 3 (Giants, Cardinals, Rams) have veteran quarterbacks that have been productive at times but appear to be on the decline and in need of replacement, 5 have young quarterbacks that the team (Bucs, Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Titans) pretty recently spent a 1st or 2nd round draft pick on yet are still on the fence about and 1 team (Texans) which had nothing but stop gaps in place and would surely be in the market for a quarterback next year. What does this all mean? I think the first thing it means is that the average starting salary for a mid level quarterback will soon be decreasing. Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick all got extensions this offseason with many analysts being surprised at how mediocre some of the numbers were. I was not as the difference between Alex Smith and Jake Locker is minimal in my opinion so Smith should be praising his agent that he was given a 4 year $68 million extension after his 89.1 QB Rating in 2013 while Jake Locker will possibly be replaced in 2015 as his 86.7 QB Rating in 2013 wasn’t considered good enough. Last year the Bears ran into this issue when Jay Cutler went down with an injury and Josh McCown took his place as the backup actually played better than the starter. I was intrigued at the possibility that an NFL team would finally bite the bullet and downgrade their QB in exchange for an improved salary cap situation yet in the end the Bears were unwilling to be pioneers and test out this new idea. Instead they rewarded Cutler with a 7 year $126 million extension and watched McCown leave for a measly 2 year $10 million deal from the Bucs. This despite Cutler having a middling career QB Rating of 85.1, being 31 years old which usually begins to lead to a decline in performance from most quarterbacks and the fact that McCown’s 109 QB Rating in 2013 easily trumped Cutler’s 89.2 QB Rating while they played with the exact same supporting cast, coaching staff and offensive scheme. The Bears probably thought long and hard about stiffing Cutler and moving on but took the predictable route and who can blame them as NFL franchises have been making similar decisions for decades now. With the number of quality starting quarterbacks closing in on the important number of 32 I suspect that we won’t be waiting much longer for a similar situation to arise and an NFL franchise to finally make the logical choice of going with a $5 mil a year Chad Henne, Matt Cassel, or Josh McCown type over a $17 mil a year Alex Smith, an $18 mil a year Jay Cutler or a $20.1 mil a year Joe Flacco. The improvement from a low 80’s to a mid to high 80’s QB Rating isn’t worth the 3 to 4 fold increase in salary and with so many cheap and talented quarterbacks coming into the NFL via the draft there is no longer a need to pay these ransoms for mediocre talent. My analysis is controversial as it would necessitate a 180 degree change from where quarterbacks salaries are currently heading but if the next 3 NFL Drafts yield a comparable number of “starting caliber” quarterbacks as the past 3 NFL Drafts have then the quarterback position could soon become similar to the running back position where a few elite talents (Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Arian Foster) make big money but the rest of the starters are on rookie contracts or undermarket secondary deals due to the oversupply of talent on the market. Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck will continue to break the bank but in 3 years the current contracts of the mid level quarterback (Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning) will seem laughable and teams will no longer feel abliged to overpay for these mediocre players. The tipping point I suspect would be when there is an NFL Draft with 3 or more 1st round talents at quarterback but only 1 or 2 teams with a legitimate need. A few of those 1st round talents would drop into Round 2 or even Round 3 and suddenly a team would be faced with the decision of whether to keep their good but expensive starter or draft the young, talented quarterback who comes with a 4 year $2.198 million contract like Russell Wilson did in 2012. That would begin a game of musical chairs at the quarterback position as teams would no longer be scrambling just to make sure they had a quality starter but now would have two or three to choose from and could drive a hard bargain in free agency or wait an extra round in the draft before selecting their signal caller. Since this would be an epochal shift it is difficult to time but I suspect that the groundwork will be laid for this shift in the 2015 NFL Draft with Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Brett Hundley, Kevin Hogan and Connor Cook combining with the 4 quarterbacks of this past draft to put further pressure on the job security of mid level quarterbacks. A few teams would begin the experimentation, possibly an innovator like Chip Kelly would be the first as I could see him not being convinced that Nick Foles was worth $20 mil a year since below average quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez put up video game numbers in his system each preseason, and then a glut of quarterbacks would arise in free agency which would lead to salary declines in mass. Restructurings would break out across the league, the franchise tag would only be used on the elite quarterbacks and each new wave of quarterbacks from the college ranks would be less and less promoted as 1st round talents would now almost always be drafted by teams that already had a capable starter in place. Year long mentorships of young quarterbacks would be in vogue again and quarterbacks being injured for a large stretch of games would no longer result in a team’s season being ruined. The NFL would still be a quarterback driven league but I expect it to soon be one in which there is a plethora of talented quarterbacks and the end result will be an even greater level of parity, something the league will love. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have dominated the league for years and many commentators have talked about how much the NFL will miss them when they retire in a few seasons. I suspect the league won’t miss them at all as the quarterback position will be in better shape than ever due partly to quality like Andrew Luck but mainly to quantity as the NFL is about to be overrun with quarterbacks. The league will never be the same.
The Cowboys season is set to get underway in about 4 hours and I thought I’d preview their upcoming season and what I see in store for them. Unfortunately the Cowboys are about as volatile and complex of a team as there is in the NFL so I had to break it down into two viewpoints. The first vantage point is the pessimistic view of the 2014 Cowboys and trust me it was an easier one to write. The second vantage point is the optimistic view of the 2014 Cowboys. Finally I combined the two views and gave my win-loss prediction and how I see the season turning out. Enjoy!
Glass Half Empty
Living rooms go eerily quiet across the country as the announcer sums it up, “The Saint have scored on their first 6 possessions of the game and now Romo is down after taking a vicious blind side hit. If this is his back the Cowboys season is over.” The headlines the rest of the season would spell it out for everyone: “Tony done for the year, Cowboys season with it.” “Passing on Manziel looking bad in hindsight.” “Jones preaches optimism as Cowboys lose 5th straight by double digits.” “Cowboys sign Tim Tebow to keep AT&T stadium packed full despite 1-10 record.”
This season could end horribly for the Dallas Cowboys and anyone who doesn’t at least acknowledge that possibility isn’t being honest. Last year the Cowboys gave up more yards than any team in NFL History. This season they will be playing without DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee who were widely regarded as their three best players on that defense from a year ago. The two players the Cowboys are relying on the most on their defensive line, Anthony Spencer and Henry Melton, both missed the entire 2013 season due to injury and have only recently begun to practice. There is a chance that one or both of them never has an impact for the Cowboys this season. Their top defensive draft pick, DeMarcus Lawrence, broke his foot and will miss at least the first 6 games and could miss the entire season if the Cowboys get off to a slow start and the coaching staff plays it conservatively with him. Their top linebacker, Sean Lee, tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. He wasn’t just their best linebacker but he was the defensive play caller and the leader of the defense. His loss was devastating to the team on a physical and psychological level. Their best cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, tested positive for Ecstasy and will miss the first four games of the season. In both the 2013 regular season and the 2014 preseason Scandrick was the one player on the Cowboys roster that could consistently play man coverage at a high level. The Cowboys face the 49ers and Saints during Scandricks’ suspension. Both teams were among the “Final 8” in last year’s playoffs and would have been favored even if the Cowboys had Scandrick starting. The Cowboys safety duo of Barry Church and JJ Wilcox is considered one of the strengths of the team. Neither has made a Pro Bowl, combined they only have 25 starts to their name and neither is expected to be anything more than an average starter. Again, this is considered one of the strengths of the team. Dez Bryant is one of the 3-5 best wide receivers in the game. Everyone knows this and therefore Bryant will face more double teams than at any other point in his career. Jason Witten is 32 years old and on the decline of his career. Terrance Williams is going into his second season and shouldn’t be expected to be an offensive focal point yet in his career. Gavin Escobar was non-existent as a rookie. DeMarco Murray has missed 11 games over the past three seasons due to injury. Cole Beasley is 5’8. These are the five players that will have to play well to keep teams from double teaming Bryant on every single snap. There are issues with all of them. Romo had offseason back surgery. It is the second back surgery of his career. His back does not allow him to practice more than a few hours at a time. He also had to be given numerous days off while he built up his back’s strength. He has missed more days of practice in training camp than in any season of his career. It would be a surprise if the offense was clicking on all cylinders right out of the gate due to Romo’s limited practice schedule. He turned 34 this year. Troy Aikman had back and head injuries which caused him to retire at the age of 34. He has been adamant this offseason that all is not well with Romo and when asked if Romo’s best days were ahead of him he said, “I don’t necessarily think that would be the case with him, not just because his age….the back injuries that he’s had, that’s a big unknown. That’s a significant injury and I know that from experience. No one really knows yet how this back is going to hold up. To say that his best years are ahead of him, I wouldn’t agree with that.” The Cowboys have been 8-8 the past three seasons with a healthy Romo in the prime of his career. What would the Cowboys record be if Romo’s play finally begins to slip? What would the Cowboys record be if Romo has an injury plagued season like he did in 2010 when he missed 10 games? All is not right in Cowboy Country.
Glass Half Full
I am often amazed at the pessimism of the Dallas Cowboys fan base. This year it is to new levels as everyone sees the same old terrible defense as last year. I understand the logic behind the argument, “The 2013 Cowboys defense was historically bad. It set numerous records for ineptitude and this year’s version is missing the three best players from that horrific defense. They will be the worst defense in NFL history.” I think there is some validity to that but I also think that it is a biased argument that has numerous flaws in its logic. First off there is the argument that this is a historically bad defense. Yes it did set numerous records in futility yet many of the record set like first downs in a game and yards given up are not nearly as important as the one key factor: points allowed. By this statistic, the most important indicator in my opinion in evaluating a defense, the Cowboys were barely in the bottom quartile. The Cowboys in 2013 were 26th in scoring defense and were only 2.1 points behind the Denver Broncos who were 22nd in scoring defense yet still made it to the Super Bowl. This is not the NFL in the 1980s when every championship level team had to have a dominant defense. This is the era of the spread offense with no contact rules and innovative play calling that has accentuated the skill of numerous elite quarterbacks. I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion but I honestly do think that Dallas still has one of those elite quarterbacks in Tony Romo. Last year the top six teams in scoring defense all made the playoffs. Last year the bottom eight teams in the NFL in scoring defense did not make the playoffs. So obviously you cannot be one of the worst defenses and still make the playoffs yet it then gets hazy as the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos both made the playoffs while being the 9th and 11th worst scoring defenses while the Cardinals and Dolphins both didn’t make the playoffs while having the 7th and 8th best defenses. The difference is that those poor defensive teams had Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning at QB while those good defensive teams had Carson Palmer and Ryan Tannehill at QB. With the Cowboys having one of the Top 10 QBs in the league in Tony Romo they don’t need the defense to be very good for them to still have a shot at the playoffs. Most analysts disagree with me but the numbers prove me right as there is a higher correlation to elite offenses making the playoffs than to elite defenses making it. In 2013 nine of the top twelve defenses made the playoffs while ten of the top twelve offenses made the playoffs. It happened again in 2012 as eight of the top twelve defenses made the playoffs while ten of the top twelve offenses made the playoffs. It is better to have an elite offense than an elite defense in the NFL and the Cowboys have an elite offense. Last year they were 5th in the league in scoring and seemed to finally show signs of becoming the dominant offense they should have been these past few years. Many people have the incorrect notion of Dallas being consistently a dominant offense yet last year was the first time under Garrett that they finished as a Top 5 offense. The previous time it occurred was 7 seasons ago in the 2007 season. Dallas finished 13-3 that year and had the #1 seed in the NFC. We all know how that ended but the point is that Dallas was an elite offense last year and elite offenses can hide a plethora of issues for a team. I fully expect Dallas to be as good if not better on offense in 2014 as the two issues that previously were holding the Cowboys back appear to have been solved. The first issue was the offensive line. At one point the Cowboys had one of the 5 worst offensive lines in the NFL as 22 straight years of Jerry Jones not drafting an offensive lineman in the first round finally caught up with him. To his credit though, he did change his opinion on the concept and has now drafted an offensive lineman with a 1st round pick in 3 of the past 4 drafts. With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin all in their early twenties and under contract for the next 3 seasons, the Cowboys have a chance to be a dominant offensive line.
The other issue was Jason Garrett’s play calling. I’ve always considered him an overrated offensive mind and as a play caller he’s just downright bad. Every year there are at least 2 games where everyone but Garrett knows the Cowboys should run the ball yet they somehow don’t. Every year the Cowboys struggle in the red zone settling for far more field goals than they should. Every year the Cowboys run an offensive system that fails to incorporate crossing routes, rubs and bubble screens which are three of the “newer” aspects of offenses around the college and pro game. Garrett has stubbornly stuck to his Norv Turner/Air Coryell offensive system which is a timing based system that does little to help its receivers get open. It has infuriated me watching Garrett’s medieval offense these past few years while Chip Kelly, Darrell Bevell and Mike McCoy have been so innovative. It is not surprising that both Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers had their careers revived when they met up with Mike McCoy. He calls plays to get guys open schematically and would never force Romo to throw 10 back shoulder throws a game to be successful. Thankfully the Cowboys hired Scott Linehan this offseason and Garrett appears to be completely out of the play calling loop. With the Cowboys having one of the better offensive lines in all of football and Jason Garrett no longer calling the plays I would be surprised if the Cowboys weren’t a Top 5 offense. With that level of production coming from one side of the ball the Cowboys only need to be a below average defense to be legit playoff contenders. Everyone talks about the Cowboys being historically bad last year AND no longer having their top 3 defensive players (DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee) which is true but Ware was banged up all year and largely ineffective. In 2012 the Cowboys had Ware and Spencer yet it was Spencer who was considered the superior player that year (Profootballfocus ranked him as the #1 3-4 OLB in the NFL that year, well ahead of Ware.). I mention this because Spencer returning seems to be completely inconsequential to Cowboys fans and Ware leaving is considered devastating. The fact is that Ware hasn’t been the “old Ware” since 2011 and having Spencer off an injury plagued season might be better than having Ware off his injury plagued season. Also Sean Lee missed 5 games in 2013 and wasn’t himself in 3 other games so the Cowboys basically only had Lee for half a season. Finally, Jason Hatcher was a Pro Bowler in 2013 and Henry Melton, who was signed to replace him, was a Pro Bowler in 2012 so I don’t expect any noticeable drop off in production from that position. If you accept that Spencer and Melton for Ware and Hatcher is basically a wash then the difference between the 2013 and 2014 Cowboys will be whether 8 quality games by Sean Lee is more important than having an improved Morris Claiborne, JJ Wilcox, Brandon Carr and defensive coordinator. That last one might be the most important as I can’t stress enough how bad Monte Kiffin was as a playcaller so I fully expect there will be major improvement in defensive performance just from the switch of Kiffin to Marinelli.
I’m not trying to sell you that the 2014 Cowboys defense will be good but I could see them “regress to the mean” and go from a terrible defense to just a below average one. If that occurs the Cowboys could be nipping at the heels of a playoff berth just like they have been the past 3 seasons.
Everyone knows that the Cowboys have a good offense and a bad defense. The question is just how good the Cowboys will be this year on offense and how bad the defense will be. Call me optimistic but I don’t expect the Cowboys to regress from their Top 5 offensive ranking last year and think that many people are being a little too harsh on the defense. My Dad is in full agreement with Bill Simmons, unknowingly of course, with a 3-13 prediction. Profootballtalk has them ranked as the 24th best team in the NFL (the record would be somewhere around a 5-11 mark). Bob Sturm (The Ticket), Calvin Watkins (ESPNDallas.com), Steve Dennis (sideline reporter for the Dallas Cowboys) and Chris Arnold (The Fan) all have them going 6-10. I’m a little more optimistic as I have them going 7-9 yet was waffling on whether to put them higher not lower than that mark as the Cowboys are so absolutely stacked on offense that I could see them pulling off a Saints 2009-2011 type season in which their offense was so dominant that it didn’t matter that their defense struggled. Of course Romo’s back, Linehan taking over the offensive play calling, Marinelli taking over the defensive play calling, health of the offensive line (they have a great starting 5 but almost no depth behind it), health of the defensive line (Anthony Spencer, Henry Melton and Demarcus Lawrence are their top 3 guys and all are coming off major injuries) and Orlando Scandrick’s suspension all are wild cards on this season. It’s funny that the team I’ve watched for the past two decades is also still one of the hardest teams for me to predict. I know the Seahawks will be great, the Giants will be terrible, the Jaguars will be much improved and the Patriots, Broncos, Saints and Packers will all be in contention for the title. Yet the Cowboys, Redskins, Chiefs and Falcons are the four hardest teams to predict for this NFL season as any of them could go as high as 11-5 and as low as 3-13. That isn’t a great place to be as a Cowboys fan but I suspect we will have some clarity early in the season as I am predicting they beat the 49ers in Week 1 and are 2-2 or 3-1 when a quarter of the season is complete. It would immediately put to bed the dire talk about their defense setting NFL records and give the team some hope that the playoffs are a real possibility. Or the Cowboys get blown out by the 49ers in a few hours and we realize that Dallas is in for a long season, something the pessimists have been preaching for months now on talk radio.
Predictions are always fun as if you get it right you have bragging rights over friends and if you get it wrong, well who remembers? For instance last year I remember quite clearly how I picked the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl yet it then gets a little hazy. Did I really pick the Houston Texans, the team with the worst record in the NFL in 2013, to play the Seahawks in the Super Bowl as the AFC Champs? I’m unsure. I suspect that somewhere there’s documented evidence of that prediction but who really has the time to find it and why bring up such silliness. Let’s just focus on the positives and all be friends, shall we? With the NFL season upon us I am ready for another set of predictions. I used the format here, which is well done by ESPN as it has 16 NFL writers with their predictions, and then I threw in a few additional ones for fun. Enjoy and let me know your thoughts in the comments section. Which of these predictions is most likely to turn out to be the one I regret the most?
Super Bowl Champion: Seahawks
AFC East: Patriots
AFC North: Bengals
AFC South: Colts
AFC West: Broncos
AFC Wild Cards: Chargers, Jaguars
NFC East: Eagles
NFC North: Packers
NFC South: Saints
NFC West: Seahawks
NFC Wild Cards: Cardinals, Falcons
AFC Champion: Patriots
NFC Champion: Seahawks
Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Offensive ROY: Johnny Manziel
Defensive ROY: Jadeveon Clowney
First runner up for NFC Wild Card: Vikings
First runner up for AFC Wild Card: Ravens
Worst Record in the League: Giants
Cowboys Record: 7-9
1st Overall Pick in 2015 NFL Draft: Marcus Mariota
Top 100 Updated 8/31/14 (PR is pass rusher not punt returner)
- Leonard Williams DT USC Jr.
- Joey Bosa DE Ohio State Soph
- Todd Gurley RB Georgia Jr.
- Marcus Mariota QB Oregon Jr.
- Laremy Tunsil OT Ole Miss Soph
- Andrus Peat OT Stanford Jr.
- Jameis Winston QB Florida St. Soph
- Ifo Ekpre-Olumu CB Oregon Sr.
- Duke Johnson RB Miami Jr.
- Kevin Hogan QB Stanford Jr.
- Laquon Treadwell WR Ole Miss Soph
- Arik Armstread DT Oregon Jr.
- Vernon Hargreaves III CB Florida Soph
- Tony Conner S Ole Miss Soph
- Vic Beasley PR Clemson Sr.
- Brett Hundley QB UCLA Jr.
- Kendall Fuller CB Virginia Tech Soph
- Deion Barnes DE Penn St. Jr.
- Christian Hackenburg QB Penn St. Soph
- Myles Jack LB UCLA Soph
- Kei’Varae Russell CB Notre Dame Jr.
- Cedric Ogbuehi OT Texas A&M Sr.
- Nelson Agholar WR USC Jr.
- Mario Edwards Jr. DE FSU Jr.
- Owamagbe Odighizuwa DT UCLA Sr.
- Landon Collins S Alabama Sr.
- Jordan Lucas CB Penn State Jr.
- AJ Johnson LB Tennessee Sr.
- Tyler Johnstone OT Oregon Jr.
- Davonte Fields PR TCU Jr.
- Jalen Mills CB LSU Jr.
- Dante Fowler Jr. DE Florida Jr.
- Desmond King CB Iowa Soph
- Shaq Lawson PR Clemson Soph
- Quandre Diggs CB Texas #28 5’10 192 Sr.
- Robert Nkemdiche DE Ole Miss Soph
- TJ Yeldon RB Alabama Jr.
- La’el Collins OT LSU Sr.
- Jamison Crowder WR Duke Sr.
- Amari Cooper WR Alabama Jr.
- Jaylon Smith LB Notre Dame Soph
- Bralon Addison WR Oregon Jr.
- Kenyon Drake RB Alabama Jr.
- Damian Swann CB Georgia Sr.
- Karl Joseph S West Virginia Jr.
- Devante Parker WR Louisville Sr.
- Alani Fua PR BYU Sr.
- Melvin Gordon RB Wisconsin Jr.
- Sean Mannion QB Oregon St. Sr.
- Tim Scott CB North Carolina Sr.
- Shilique Calhoun PR Michigan St. Jr.
- Ty Montgomery WR Stanford Jr.
- Marcus Rush PR Michigan St. Sr.
- Justin Burris CB North Carolina St. Sr.
- Denzel Nkemdiche S Ole Miss Jr.
- AJ Tarpley LB Stanford Sr.
- Dorial Green-Beckham WR OU Jr.
- Denzel Perryman LB Miami Sr.
- Clive Walford TE Miami Sr.
- Cameron Irving OT FSU Sr.
- Randy Gregory PR Nebraska Sr.
- Tevin Mitchell CB Arkansas Sr.
- Sammy Coates WR Auburn Jr.
- Noah Spence PR Ohio State Jr.
- Corey Crawford DE Penn St Sr.
- Henry Anderson DT Stanford Sr.
- Michael Bennett DT Ohio St. Sr.
- Connor Cook QB Michigan St. Jr.
- Brandon Scherff OT Iowa Sr.
- Hunter Henry TE Arkansas Soph
- Brendan Langley CB Georgia Soph
- Justin Hardy WR East Carolina Sr.
- Bryce Petty QB Baylor Sr.
- Christian Covington DT Rice Jr.
- Erik Striker LB OU Jr.
- Mike Davis RB South Carolina Jr.
- Atwan Goodley WR Baylor Sr.
- Shaq Thompson LB Washington Jr.
- Ronald Darby CB FSU Jr.
- Braxton Miller QB Ohio St. Sr.
- Merrill Noel CB Wake Forest Sr.
- Chris Hackett S TCU Jr.
- Johnathan Gray RB Texas Jr.
- Andre Monroe DT Maryland Sr.
- Jaelen Strong WR Arizona St. Sr.
- Josh Shaw CB USC Sr.
- Cody Prewitt S Ole Miss Sr.
- Brandon Carter WR TCU Sr.
- Tevin McDonald S Eastern Washington #7 Sr.
- Kenneth Dixon RB Louisiana Tech Jr.
- Nick O’Leary TE FSU Sr.
- Maxx Williams TE Minnesota Soph
- Derron Smith S Fresno State Sr.
- Keith Smith LB San Jose St. Jr.
- Deshazor Everett S Texas A&M Sr.
- Eric Kendricks LB UCLA Sr.
- Marlin Lane RB Tennessee Jr.
- Isaac Gross DT Ole Miss Jr.
- Michael Dyer RB Louisville Sr.
- Rashad Greene WR FSU Sr.
Below is my breakdown of the Cowboys first two preseason games as well as other notes from around the NFL.
WR Dez Bryant-Wow I know, what a reach by me. All I’m saying is that Dez Bryant+Scott Linehan=Top 3 WR status by the end of the year. Jerry will be kicking himself that he didn’t lock up Dez before the season began as his contract will be much more expensive in the Spring of 2015 after his monster season. My prediction is 95 catches for 1,500 yards and 12 TDs for Dez this year.
CB Orlando Scandrick-All reports are that he’s had a dominant camp and it showed in the Ravens game when he locked up the Smiths (Torrey and Steve) in the first 20 minutes. Joe Flacco looked horrible until Scandrick left the game and then their passing game promptly came to life. He will miss the first 4 games this year but when he comes back he will clearly be the #1 CB for the Cowboys in 2014 and beyond.
QB Dustin Vaughan-Vaughan came out of nowhere for most people but I was a huge fan of his going into the 2014 NFL Draft as I gave him a late 3rd round grade as my #7 QB. To put that in perspective, AJ McCarron was my #8 and Aaron Murray was my #9 ranked QBs. Neither have played to this point in the preseason and both appear likely to have pretend injuries and be placed on the IR so their team can keep their rights for 2015. Vaughan could have a similar ending as the Cowboys might keep only two quarterbacks but with Romo’s recent back issues as well as his overall injury history I suspect that they will keep three quarterbacks. Babe Laufenberg recently compared him to Tom Brady and, while I won’t go that far, I do think he has the tools to be a starting QB in the NFL. For posterity sake I’ve posted my draft bio of Dustin that I wrote in March:
- Dustin Vaughan West Texas A&M #10 6’4 7/8 235 Sr.
Stats: Lone Star Conference
Combine: He had elite size (6’4 7/8 235) yet somehow also the smallest hands in the draft (8 7/8)? He had a bad 40, shuttle and 3 cone but a good vertical and broad jump.
Strengths: 31-6 as a starter. He looked like the #1 or #2 QB at the event and was clearly ahead of more heralded Connor Shaw whom he shared snaps with at practice. He ended his career as the school AND conference record holder in passing yards, total yards and TDs. In the 2013 NFLPA game he showed good footwork, an NFL arm and good accuracy. He looked like the best QB at the event which surprised even the most diehard scouts. He has a great sense of humor and spoofed himself in a parody video. 1st team All-District in HS as both a QB and a punter. Division II All-American in 2013. His 5,401 yards was most all time in Conference history and his 53 TDs was 3rd most all time.
Weaknesses: He’s a poor athlete as he had some of the worst 40, shuttle and 3 cone drills showing he’s neither fast nor quick. He’s going from the Lone Star Conference to the NFL so it will be a huge step up in competition.
Overall: Until the NFLPA Game I had never heard of Dustin Vaughan. Now he’s my #7 QB ahead of much bigger names like AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd. There is little to no buzz on this kid so it’s likely he goes undrafted but I think he has the makings of a potential starting QB down the road. He has a cannon, is accurate, dominated his lower level of competition and seems to have a good understanding of how to attack a defense. This guy could be the steal of the 2014 NFL Draft if he goes undrafted and is picked up by a team for training camp. He isn’t a good athlete but he has enough quickness to move around in the pocket and his film shows a good feel for the rush. He’s one of the lesser known prospects in the draft and I’m going out on the limb for him but I honestly think he has more talent than the two SEC QBs (McCarron/Murray) who will be drafted well ahead of him. Huge sleeper with a late 3rdround grade as my #7 QB 3/16/14.
DT Zach Minter-In a span of about 10 plays he had 2 sacks, 4 TFL and 1 forced fumble. It was in the 4th quarter and against third string offensive linemen but to dominate that thoroughly against any level of competition is impressive. He could be the 2015 version of George Selvie as a guy off the street who became a key contributor.
Anthony Hitchens-He’s had a few good moments in the first two preseason games but he was atrocious on a few plays as well, especially in the Ravens game. The reality is that I had him as the #3 LB on his COLLEGE team! I thought he was above average backup material at best in May when he was drafted and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind. The positive for him is that he will have every chance in the world to play as a rookie. The negative is that I suspect he will struggle and the Cowboys will be adding additional draft picks and free agents to battle for his playing time in 2015.
Depth-The Cowboys have been bashed too much recently for their poor play on defense in the preseason opener vs. the Chargers. They will be a defense in the bottom quarter of NFL teams next year anyway so when you remove 80% of the starters from that weak unit it will understandably struggle. The issue though is that any injury at all will cause those terrible bench players to suddenly become starters and that could very well be the downfall of the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Scandrick and Carr as the top 2 CBs is actually very solid but Scandrick will miss the first four games of the year so it will only take an injury to Carr or Claiborne and suddenly you have BW Webb as a starting CB and rookie Terrance Mitchell as the nickel CB! That would be the worst trio of cornerbacks in the league and the Cowboys are only an injury away from having that happen. At defensive end you have a similar situation as Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence is a solid duo of pass rushers yet Lawrence broke his foot and is expected to miss the first 6-8 games of the year and Spencer is coming off an injury that sidelined him the entire 2013 season. If Spencer’s injury recurs early in the year it would leave the Cowboys with George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey as starters! Selvie was picked up off the street last year and Mincey hasn’t started since 2012 yet Dallas is a regression in rehab by Anthony Spencer away from having those two as the season opening starters at defensive end. Last year the Cowboys defense was ravaged by injury in 2013 (their defense had the 4 most injuries in the NFL with a 51.4 adjusted games lost by defensive starters per football outsiders). In 2014 it will take only a few injuries to ravage this shockingly thin defensive unit.
Around the rest of the NFL
Johnny Manziel-He wasn’t given the starting job over Hoyer to start the season which fits with my prediction that he won’t start for the first 2-4 games of 2014 but will still win rookie of the year. The Browns were giving off signals to this effect for the past few months and only Hoyer’s 6 for 22 passing effort in Week 2 of the preseason caused them any real food for thought. The Browns will be without Josh Gordon to start the season, Manziel is changing from a spread offense that loved the fast tempo to a ball control running offense and the Steelers are the opponent in Week 1 so it all makes sense to bench Johnny and give him a better debut opportunity later in the season. While Johnny’s poor performance and middle finger salute to the Redskins (he was defending Native Americans honor, that’s all it was) drew all the headlines the more interesting thing to me about Johnny’s second preseason game was that he again was must see TV. In his first preseason game he set a record for the most viewed preseason game EVER on NFL Network. In his second preseason game he was the 2nd highest rated preseason game ever on ESPN. Only Brett Favre’s 2nd game as a Viking beat out Manziel’s impressive 4.2 rating. Whether Johnny succeeds or fails, he will be doing it with all of the world watching.
Joe Flacco-I posted almost a year ago today (8/23/2013), “I’ve been saying it for the past 6 months or ever since sports writers began making the case that Flacco deserves to be paid +$100 million so don’t think I’m saying this just because I watched one crappy preseason performance of his but Joe is going to have a very difficult season in 2013. The bullseye will be on his back as he’s not just one of the 3 highest paid players in the NFL but is also the reigning Super Bowl MVP and will be looked upon as the Ravens locker room leader with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed no longer around. He also lost Anquan Boldin to free agency, Dennis Pitta to a torn ACL, and could be without Ed Dickson for awhile so he’s going into the season with an average supporting cast. Unlike the great QBs like Rodgers, Brady, Manning, and Brees you can’t put any group of skill position players around Flacco and have it work well. His contract makes it seem like that should be the case but in reality he’s not a Top 10 QB, anyone who disagrees with me needs to google articles written 3 years ago when sports writers were proclaiming the same thing about Mark Sanchez and his great postseason performances, and I suspect the Ravens will very soon regret giving Flacco that huge contract. I have the Ravens missing the playoffs and Flacco having a statistical season that lumps him in the middle of the pack among QBs. The media will be calling his blockbuster contract a mistake by midseason.” Since then everything I stated has come true and, with Flacco again looking terrible, I am beginning to wonder if his huge 6 year contract is just a glorified two year deal. The Ravens look terrible on offense and if Ray Rice and the OL actually have a good year yet the offense still struggles then the media will put the blame solely where it belongs, on Joe Flacco. This was one of the worst signings of the past half decade by any franchise and maybe it finally gets the media to remove Teflon GM Ozzie Newsome’s status as “greatest GM ever.”
With the NFL season starting in just a few weeks I thought it was time I came out of my cave and began writing a little. This summer I have been quite lazy as I was into the World Cup at an unhealthy level and then followed it up with 6 seasons of Mad Men in 3 weeks. Both were done binge style so it is no surprise to find myself in mid August without any noticeable tan, despite living in Texas where the high was a crisp 102 degrees today. I thought I’d dip my toe in the water with a blog entry about the Top 100 NFL players. The NFL Network does a list every year, theirs is here if interested, but I thought I’d take a crack at it with my own perspective. The first controversy will be at the top where Peyton Manning, unanimous MVP in 2013, isn’t 1st or even 2nd. Let’s just say that if Manning had his LT go from Ryan Clady to Brian Bulaga, his #1 WR go from DeMaryius Thomas to Jordy Nelson, his #2 WR go from Wes Welker to Randall Cobb (possibly the first upgrade in the comparison), his #3 WR go from Erick Decker to James Jones and his TE go from Julius Thomas to Jermichael Finley then his numbers would have been different. Manning dominated the 2013 Season except when he played great defenses or played in big games. Going into the season his 2 biggest games on the schedule were his homecoming against the Colts and his yearly game against the Patriots. Despite having a far superior supporting cast around him he still went 0-2 and then of course was humiliated in the Super Bowl. The Broncos style of offense creates epic numbers, even in his 43-8 thrashing against the Seahawks the offense set Super Bowl records of passing yards, completions and receptions showing exactly what I’m talking about when I say that many of Manning’s stats are hollow, yet in the big games he can’t win. He’s still #4 but in a big game or against a tough defense I’d take Rodgers, Brady or Brees any day of the week over Manning. Gordon ahead of Calvin Johnson is also controversial, though it shouldn’t be considering Gordon had better numbers despite a 2 game suspension and Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden as his quarterbacks while Johnson had Matthew Stafford. Robert Quinn might be controversial as a Top 10 player but to me it is Watt and Quinn as the two best defenders in the NFL today and no one else is even close. Chandler Jones at #29 might be my biggest discrepancy with the NFL Network’s Top 100 as he didn’t even make their list but to me Jones is a 3 down DE who is extremely underrated. I suspect that, with Revis and Browner being added to the roster, the Patriots will be a Top 10 D and Jones will finally get the respect he deserves. He is very similar to JPP yet somehow hasn’t received the same fanfare despite similar styles and similar numbers after their first 2 seasons:
Jason Pierre-Paul 116 tackles, 21 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Chandler Jones 124 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
I also thought that having Luck as the #6 player and #5 QB was going to be controversial and it was to some degree, NFL Network had him as the #30 player and #7 QB yet he was the #5 QB on Ron Jaworski’s list of QBs and is quietly rising into the “elite” category. The rest of the list is below, feel free to post comments on who you think is over/under rated on my list.
- Aaron Rodgers
- Tom Brady
- Drew Brees
- Peyton Manning
- JJ Watt
- Andrew Luck
- Josh Gordon
- Adrian Peterson
- Calvin Johnson
- Robert Quinn
- AJ Green
- Jimmy Graham
- Navarro Bowman
- Joe Thomas
- Jamaal Charles
- Phillip Rivers
- Richard Sherman
- LeSean McCoy
- Rob Gronkowski
- Earl Thomas
- Joe Haden
- Robert Mathis
- Aquib Talib
- Tony Romo
- Mario Williams
- Russell Wilson
- Jurrell Casey
- Greg Hardy
- Chandler Jones
- Antonio Brown
- Ryan Kalil
- Matt Ryan
- Brandon Marshall
- Luke Kuechly
- Patrick Peterson
- Dez Bryant
- Alfred Morris
- John Abraham
- Evan Mathis
- Gerald McCoy
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Marshawn Lynch
- Jordan Cameron
- Pierre Garcon
- Joe Staley
- Nick Foles
- Matt Forte
- Alshon Jeffery
- Alex Mack
- Jason Hatcher
- Brent Grimes
- Kiko Alonso
- Eric Weddle
- Cameron Jordan
- Eddie Lacy
- Vincent Jackson
- Justin Houston
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
- Ndamakong Suh
- Muhammad Wilkerson
- Charles Johnson
- Andrew Whitworth
- Logan Mankins
- Vontaze Burfict
- Karlos Dansby
- Troy Polamalu
- Tyron Smith
- Kam Chancellor
- Lavonte David
- Darryl Smith
- Jason Peters
- Trent Williams
- CJ Spiller
- Louis Vasquez
- Kyle Williams
- John Sullivan
- Colin Kaepernick
- Duane Brown
- Vernon Davis
- Calais Campbell
- DeSean Jackson
- Jahri Evans
- Aldon Smith
- DeAndre Levy
- Demaryius Thomas
- Cameron Wake
- Nate Solder
- Darryl Washington
- Eric Reid
- Jared Allen
- Sheldon Richardson
- Brandon Boykin
- Jordy Nelson
- Tamba Hali
- Alfonzo Dennard
- Bobby Wagner
- William Moore
- Jason Witten
- James Ihedigbo
100. Ezekial Ansah
Were you as enthralled by the World Cup these past 30 days as I was? I couldn’t get enough as the scoring was up, the diving was down and the parity made so many games come down to a thrilling finish. I was so ecstatic about soccer that I couldn’t let it go and watched the first half of the Seattle Sounders/Portland Timbers last night. Even with Dempsey I got bored after awhile and might be finally hitting my soccer wall but I will have to say that this was the best World Cup since 2002 and really re-energized me as a soccer fan. So without further ado are a few snippets I took from the World Cup.
Group Play All-Star Team
While most lists are tournament teams I decided to only make a Group Play Team since it seemed more fair with games played being equal. It will have some surprise names on it (Fabian Johnson likely being the biggest) yet I went with what I saw and didn’t just copy and paste names in from other peoples’ lists.
Winner-Tim Howard (USA)
Runner Up-Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
Winners-Philipp Lahm (Germany), Gary Cahill (England), Thiago Silva (Brazil), Fabian Johnson (USA)
Runner Up- Marcelo Vieira (Brazil)
Winners-James Rodriguez (Columbia), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (Columbia)
Runner Up-Angel di Maria (Argentina)
Winners-Thomas Muller (Germany), Neymar (Brazil)
Runner Up-Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
South America vs. Europe
For decades the difference in style was obvious. South American’s played a free flowing style that accentuated technical skill, passing and movement. Its best example was Brazil, home of “the beautiful game” which they took such great pride in while also inferior competition. For Europe they loved to muddy “the beautiful game” as they were taller and stronger which was their lone advantage over the smaller, faster and more skilled South Americans. Now you watch the World Cup and it is hard to tell which side plays what style. To me the five most free flowing teams were Columbia, France, Costa Rica, Ghana and Germany. The fact that only one South American country, and Argentina and Brazil to both not be that country, made that list shows how times have changed. Germany won the World Cup because they were the best team. They didn’t bludgeon their opponent like they did in the old days when they made it to the Finals in 5 of the 7 World Cups from 1966-1990 but instead played an exciting, high scoring style that actually won a lot of fans. The Germans scored the most goals (18), gave up the fewest goals (4) of any team that made it to the semifinals or farther, had the biggest goal differential (+14), had the most amazing win (7-1 win vs. Brazil) and they had the best player in the tournament in Thomas Muller. It was ironic that they ended up winning the tournament against Argentina as it completed the transformation for Germany. Argentina played a defense first, close to the vest style that was very Italian, English or dare I say German looking while Germany played it open and aggressive like one of the great South American teams of years past. At times Argentina outplayed Germany in the title game but considering Germany scored 9 goals in its last 3 matches compared to Argentina’s 1 I think it’s hard to argue that the wrong team won the tournament. The two most well known South American teams, Brazil and Argentina, both seemed like mediocre teams with one great player (Neymar and Messi). Rarely are teams with one great player able to win a World Cup and until South America regains its depth of talent and re-commits to playing an open and aggressive style I think Europe’s dominance will continue. Europe has won 4 of the last 5 World Cups and I think Columbia will be the only team with any chance of keeping it from becoming 5 of the last 6.
3) Lionel Messi-His stats were good (4 goals-tied for 3rd and 1 assist-tied for 10th with dozens of players) but his real impact came from how much space he created just by being on the pitch. It is too bad that Argentina didn’t play a more open style or that no one except Di Maria in the first 5 games and Higuain in the final 2 games helped him in any real way. Messi had a very good World Cup yet will surely hear from the critics after an invisible final and a close loss. In 2018 he will be 31 years old and likely on the decline so it is disappointing that one of the best players in soccer history will probably end his career without a World Cup trophy but is that really his fault? I would say no.
2) James Rodriguez-He won the Golden Boot with 6 goals and tied with 6 people for 4th with 2 assists. Considering ESPN didn’t even have him ranked as one of the Top 50 most impactful players at this World Cup shows just how far he’s come. At 23 years old he likely has 2 more World Cups in him and Columbia has the youth and flair to possibly be one of the favorites in Russia. He is an emerging superstar after the performance he put in.
1) Thomas Muller-To me he was far and away the best player. So many people focused on his scoring and it’s easy to see why as he had 5 goals (2nd), and was eerily close to garnering his second consecutive Golden Boot, yet the reason why he’s #1 to me is the completeness of his game. He makes the best runs of anyone in the world as his instincts and timing are impeccable. He has enough height to be a legit threat in the box on crosses. He is a very underrated passer (3 assists-3rd in the World Cup) and his talent in setting up his teammates while holding the ball makes him far more dangerous than your traditional poucher type. In my opinion he is the most in shape football player in the world as Muller was still racing around the field at the 118th minute when the goal scored. Finally I think his defense is also an underrated aspect of his game as his long legs and elite endurance allow him to help out right backer, Philipp Lahm, which gives Lahm more freedom to race up the side and play the advantage at times. I’ve been a German fan since the 2006 World Cup so it is fair to say that I’m biased but to me Muller was the best player at the 2014 World Cup.