Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Notre Dame vs. Rutgers

After playing for the BCS Championship last season, Notre Dame finds themselves in Yankee Stadium this year for the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers. The Fighting Irish started the season 7-2 before dropping two of their final three games at Pittsburgh and Stanford.

The Scarlet Knights come in struggling as well but their problems have persisted over the season’s final two months, losing 5 of their final 7 games after a 4-1 start. Just once during that stretch has the offense scored more than 23 points and considering the talent on Notre Dame’s defense, Rutgers may have trouble moving the football even without Louis Nix III on the other side.

This is one of the more lopsided bowl matchups with the Irish favored by more than two touchdowns and after looking at the NFL talent on the field, it’s easy to see why.

(JR) Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame (#1), 6’3, 342

Considered a potential top 10 pick early in the season, Nix lost some momentum throughout the season but is still considered a virtual lock to be taken in the first round. He played in just eight games before undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus and acknowledged battling knee tendinitis since the BCS Championship last season. A powerful tackle with great athleticism for his size, Nix flashes speed in pursuit and explosive power when left one on one. He faced consistent double teams this season when he was on the field but plays with good extension and fights hard with his hands, which should allow Nix to transition to the NFL without being over reliant on his physical skills if he comes back fully healthy.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Military Bowl Preview: Marshall vs. Maryland

After a three-game losing streak in ACC play that coincided with star receiver Stefon Diggs going down for the season and quarterback C.J. Brown missing two games, Maryland bounced back to win two of their final three games and secure a bowl berth for the first time since 2010, when they also paid the Military Bowl a visit with a 51-20 victory over Conference USA representative East Carolina.

On the other hand, Marshall’s bowl status was never in doubt as the Thundering Herd went 9-4 including seven wins by four scores or more. They were humbled by a Rice team with a good amount of NFL talent in the Conference USA Championship game and come into the Military Bowl looking to avoid a second consecutive loss.

This game lacks star power as far as prospects are concerned and although Diggs isn’t draft eligible as a true sophomore, he certainly would have been the player with the brightest future in this matchup. Both Maryland and Marshall do have a few players who could get a look late in the draft or in free agency.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Monday, December 23, 2013

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl Prospect Preview: ECU-Ohio

East Carolina enters the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl as a 14-point favorite over an Ohio team that has made a bad habit of being on the wrong end of blowout losses this season. The Pirates have blown out their share of opponents with an explosive offense led by quarterback Shane Carden, who ranks in the top 10 nationally in both passing yards and touchdowns.

The Pirates come off a 59-28 loss to a Marshall team that Ohio beat early in the season, while the Bobcats lost three of their last four games by a combined score of 123-16 before beating Massachusetts in their final game. If East Carolina can bounce back after almost four weeks off, they have the better team and the majority of this bowl’s draftable players. 

(JR) Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina (#2), 6’0, 186

Hardy came to East Carolina as a quarterback but quickly made a smooth transition to wide receiver. His greatest advantage is his quickness in the short field, creating consistent yardage after the catch with sudden plants and cuts. He catches the ball away from his body nicely and looks both comfortable and smooth in the air, snatching balls above his head and securing the ball in traffic. Hardy is a great underneath playmaker for the Pirates and if he finds himself in an NFL offense that can challenge vertically, has the potential to be effective down the field as well. Hardy carries a Day 3 grade at the moment that he can improve if he returns for his senior season.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Saturday, December 21, 2013

New Orleans Bowl Preview: Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Both Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette will be in familiar territory for the 2013 New Orleans Bowl in the Superdome. The Green Wave will have home field advantage for their first bowl appearance since 2002 but Louisiana-Lafayette returns to the postseason game they’ve won two seasons in a row.

Ragin Cajuns’ dual threat quarterback Terrance Broadway is unlikely to play thanks to a broken arm suffered on November 30 against Louisiana-Monroe, leading the way for backup Brooks Haack to start under center. That likely means even more reliance on Louisiana Lafayette’s top-30 thunder-and-lightning rushing attack led by Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire. Joe Montana’s son Nick quarterbacks the Green Wave, who rank 116th out of 123 FCS teams on offense. Despite his team’s struggles lately, senior WR Ryan Grant is a prospect to watch in this game.

Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane, (#3), 6’1, 191
Grant is just outside the top 50 in receiving yards per game in spite of the team’s offense, catching more than twice as many passes as anybody else on the team. A tough, reliable receiver on third downs, Grant’s quickness allows him to both get open and gain extra yards after the catch. He makes catches in traffic and is Montana’s most trusted target in the passing game. He’s also a player scouts will want to see dominate this game and make a true name for himself as a mid-round pick in a deep receiver class.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Week 15 Rookie Report: Lacy and Stacy's Big Days, More Rookie Cornerbacks Struggle

A couple of rhyming rookie running backs and unheralded tight ends highlight the offensive side of Week 15’s Rookie Report, while a couple of Day 2 cornerbacks struggled with increase playing time on defense. Strong performances are very important for rookies at this time of the year, whether their team is heading for the playoffs or the top five in next May’s draft. Chris Tripodi will break down what he saw from select first-year players this week and how their performances may affect their evaluation heading into the offseason.

Eddie Lacy (RB-GB)

The top running back on Draft Insider’s board before April’s draft, Lacy has been the top rookie runner at the NFL level so far this season. As the only first-year back over 1,000 yards through 15 weeks, Lacy has proven his skills as a runner weren’t just a product of a dominant offensive line at Alabama. A great combination of patience, burst and power has made Lacy effective even with opposing defenses focusing on stopping him with Aaron Rodgers out of the lineup.

Lacy had five runs of 10-plus yards against a Cowboys defense that hasn’t stopped anybody of late, finishing with 141 rushing yards on 21 carries. His 60-yard run on the first play of the third quarter gave Green Bay momentum after being down 26-3 at the half. Lacy showed enough speed through the hole to get beyond the second level but his lack of breakaway speed led to him being caught from behind before he reached the end zone. Lacy’s other big runs were similar as he waited for his blocks to develop before planting and exploding through the hole, running violently enough to carry tacklers while showing enough agility to make a second quick cut for a few extra yards.

Lacy did have a bad drop early on a 3rd-and-1 pass that could have picked up a first down and had a few big losses, which were more a product of his line allowing quick penetration that he couldn’t avoid in the backfield. He did get Matt Flynn knocked down once but that was the first time all season he allowed his quarterback to get hit as Lacy has played well in all facets, pass blocking included. As long as he can stay healthy at the NFL level with his hard-charging style, Lacy should give Green Bay the multi-faceted offense they’ve been lacking in recent seasons.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Week 14 Rookie Report: Smith's Bounceback, Pugh's Improvement and Rogers' Breakout

With the 2013 NFL season winding down, it’s that time where many rookies around the league need to impress to earn roster spots or starting positions for 2014. From first and second-round draft picks to undrafted free agents, the time for evaluation is now as playoff teams look for players who can help them in the postseason and non-contenders look to evaluate their own young talent and decide whether they have enough to lead the team to the playoffs in the future. Chris Tripodi is back with another set of rookies from around the NFL.

Geno Smith (QB-NYJ)

After four straight games of completing less than 10 passes, it turns out all the Jets’ rookie quarterback needed was a healthy Jeremy Kerley. With his only reliable wide receiver returning to the lineup and some help from a shaky Raiders defense, Smith bounced back with his first passing touchdown since Week 7 and added a rushing score as well, completing 16-of-25 passes for 219 yards.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Friday, December 6, 2013

2014 NFL Draft: Who Should the Jets Be Looking at in the First Round?

COMMENTARY | To say the Jets have struggled on offense, especially in the passing game, may qualify for "understatement of the year." While much of the blame is falling on the shoulders of rookie quarterback Geno Smith, he's far from the only player at fault. New York's offensive line has struggled to give him time to throw, which he needs without receivers who can create separation consistently.

The return of Jeremy Kerley this weekend should help Smith get back to playing as he did in the first eight games of the season, as the rookie hasn't completed more than nine passes in a game since Kerley went down with injury. For comparison, he completed no fewer than 15 any game that Kerley started and finished.

After drafting two defensive players in the first round of the 2013 draft, it's imperative that the Jets look to improve their passing game early in this year's draft. It's the one aspect holding this team back from being truly competitive and with a projected top 12 pick at the moment, there will be difference makers on the board.

Read the rest at Yahoo

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Week 13 Rookie Report: Offensive Linemen Come Into Focus, Kiko Alonso Slows Down

This week was light on rookie impact around the league, at least from players who haven’t already been heard from in some way this season. A few more undrafted players showed off their skills this past week along with a couple of early-round picks who have bounced back nicely after early-season struggles. Chris Tripodi takes a look at which rookies are making a big impact as the NFL playoff picture takes shape.

Le’Veon Bell (RB-Pit)

A scary moment towards the end of last Thursday’s Steelers-Ravens game took some of the attention away from a great game by Bell, as he was involved in a late helmet-to-helmet collision that concussed him, caused memory loss and took away a touchdown. Bell looks like he will be fine to play this week which is great news for the suddenly competitive Steelers, who will need their new workhorse back to put together more games like he did against a strong Baltimore run defense with 136 total yards and a touchdown.

Bell’s 43-yard third quarter run was a great display of the various skills he’s shown this season. Starting by taking a handoff to the right, Bell stutter stepped and waited for the hole to open before quickly busting through to the second level. Using his vision to recognize Antonio Brown’s block developing, Bell stopped and juked at the last moment to avoid crashing into Brown’s defender and was in the open field. While he lacks the breakaway speed to take this play to the house, he showed good strength at the end of the run and fought for an extra 10 yards to finish the play.

Read the read at Draft Insider

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Week 12 Rookie Report: Highly Drafted Receivers Step Up, Along With an Undrafted Running Back

With more and more teams packing it in as their seasons come to an end and playoff hopes dissipate, rookies who haven’t seen much playing time early in the season are getting a chance to audition for roles and roster spots heading into 2014. A few of these first-year players were drafted in the first 2-3 rounds and only recently are seeing openings on the depth chart. This week also had a couple undrafted players step into bigger roles for their teams and while one struggled in his newfound role, the other thrived and could be pushing for more playing time to finish out the season. Chris Tripodi is back to break down what he saw from rookies in Week 12.

Dennis Johnson (RB-Hou)

After Arian Foster was placed on injured reserve a few weeks ago, Johnson stepped in as Houston’s backup running back behind Ben Tate. Playing through cracked ribs, Tate isn’t the picture of the health at this point in the season either which meant it was just a matter of time until Johnson got his chance for a few carries. It was Tate’s ineffectiveness on Sunday that led to an extended look for Johnson however, as the pending free agent had just 1 yard on 7 carries in the first half. Johnson ended up with 74 yards rushing on 13 carries and added 2 receptions for 13 yards.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

AAC Scouting Notes from Louisville-Memphis: Is Teddy Bridgewater's Stock Holding Steady?

Leading 24-3 after three quarters, Louisville looked well on its way to its 10th win of the season. Memphis stormed back in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns and stopped the Cardinals offense to get the ball back late before a roughing the punter penalty cost them a final shot at tying the game. A game that was far from action-packed lost some of its luster before kickoff when it was learned Louisville junior safety Calvin Pryor would not play, which we later learned was due to a violation of team rules. 

(JR) Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (#5), 6’3, 205

The unquestioned top quarterback prospect entering the season, Bridgewater has been competing with Marcus Mariota for these honors throughout the season. Neither had their best game this weekend, with Mariota’s Oregon team getting blown out by Arizona and Bridgewater’s average performance against Memphis (26-for-36, 220 yards, 1 touchdown). By no means did Bridgewater play badly, but a few of his flaws that have been noted among scouts showed up again versus the Tigers.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Week 11 Rookie Report: Matt McGloin's Big Day and Disappointing Top-5 Picks

Through 10 weeks of the NFL season, most of the league’s impact rookies have already been profiled in Draft Insider’s Rookie Reports. That will lead to a few repeats over the remainder of the year and this week’s includes the NFL’s lone first-round rookie quarterback. Chris Tripodi also breaks down the second undrafted quarterback to get a shot under center this season, one that was far more impressive than the first who got an opportunity and likely never will again. Week 11’s report also includes a few top-5 picks that aren’t living up to their team’s expectations.

E.J. Manuel (QB-Buf)

Coming off a rough Week 10 return to action against Pittsburgh and facing a Jets defense that flustered him in Week 3, this time without starting receivers Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, it looked like Manuel would be in for a long day in windy Western New York conditions. Instead, Manuel showed why the Bills drafted him after he impressed in a cold weather workout, completing 20-of-28 passes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead Buffalo to a blowout victory.

Both of Manuel’s touchdowns came on deep balls, but the plays themselves were very different. One his first touchdown pass to T.J. Graham, Manuel saw an unblocked Demario Davis coming at him and quickly set his feet and threw to the go route down the left sideline. The ball hung up in the wind and was well short, allowing Graham to adjust back to the ball while Dee Milliner couldn’t stop his momentum and ended up slipping to the ground, making for an easy catch by Graham and run into the end zone.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Week 12 AAC Scouting: Tulsa-Marshall: Trey Watts and More

With just one win in Conference USA play and two on the season, Tulsa (2-7, 1-4) was not expected to compete with Marshall (6-3, 4-1) even on their home field. Not only did the Golden Hurricane compete, but they had a 34-31 lead late in the fourth quarter before allowing two touchdowns to give the Thundering Herd the game. Marshall’s run defense was struggling heading into the game and Tulsa took advantage, riding senior running back Trey Watts all night long. 

Trey Watts, RB, Tulsa (#22), 5’11, 190

Watts rushed for a season-high 169 yards on 31 carries on the game and flashed some serious running skills. Watts has excellent vision and waits until the last second to set up his blocks before making a cut and heading downhill. An ideal back for a zone blocking scheme, Watts’ combination of patience and vision helps him make the right cut at the line of scrimmage and he runs through tackles at the legs thanks to a strong lower half.

Read the rest of this article at Optimum Scouting

Friday, November 15, 2013

Should the New York Knicks Trade Iman Shumpert?

COMMENTARY | This article should start with full disclosure: Iman Shumpert is my favorite player on the New York Knicks.

My love of the way he plays the game borders on unhealthy and he's a key piece to the Knicks' roster, representing the youth and defense that they so sorely lack. So why are the Knicks so interested in trading him in a deal for Kenneth Faried?

The easy answer is to blame the dysfunctional and desperate franchise for being, well, dysfunctional and desperate, but it goes deeper than that. Shumpert's name has come up in trade talks since last season's trade deadline in February amid rumors he requested a trade, which were later refuted. Faried is a good player who would help the Knicks' rebounding woes, but the Nuggets want a first-round pick along with Shumpert, which is too much to give.

Read the rest of this article on Yahoo

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Week 10 Rookie Report: Where Tavon Austin and Travis Frederick Live Up to Their Draft Slots

Some NFL teams are starting to play their way out of playoff contention after ten weeks of the NFL season, which generally leads to more playing time for rookies as front offices look towards building their roster for next season. This week, a few first-round picks showed up with solid games after quiet seasons to this point, while some late-rounders and undrafted free agents have taken advantage of injuries to show they have NFL skills as they fight to remain in the league. Chris Tripodi will reveal the rookies who caught his eye in Week 10’s Rookie Report.

Benny Cunningham (RB-StL)

With Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy ahead of him on the depth chart when the season started, not many expected Cunningham to see any significant playing time this season. Undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State, the rookie was nothing more than depth for the Rams. With Richardson ineffective all year and Pead in the doghouse, Stacy took over the lead back role a few weeks into the season and Cunningham has emerged as his main backup, with Richardson getting a healthy scratch last week. Since Stacy has been a workhorse, Cunningham has seen just 18 snaps over the past two weeks but made them count on Sunday.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Week 11 Scouting Notes: Breaking Down Bortles and an RB Storming Onto the NFL Draft Scene

This week’s battle for first place in the American Athletic Conference between UCF and Houston came down to the wire. The Cougars had four chances inside the Golden Knight’s 10-yard line down by 5 with under a minute left in the game but the UCF defense held, ensuring that the Golden Knights control their own destiny for a BCS bowl berth.

A game of that magnitude would go a long way to making a few offensive stars for UCF household names around the nation, while scouts are already well aware of their talents.

(RS JR) Blake Bortles, QB, UCF (#5), 6’4, 230

One of those stars is Bortles, a quarterback with NFL size, a strong arm and nice touch. He made a few good throws early to beat Cover 2, anticipating his receiver’s break into the open zone and showing the arm strength to get the ball there before the safety could get to the sideline. Houston tried to rattle Bortles by bringing consistent pressure and it worked, as Bortles didn’t throw a touchdown pass all game and was forced out of the pocket often.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Week 9 Rookie Report: Milliner's Makover, Tuel Time and the Emergence of Ertz

This week’s Rookie Report highlights a few rookies who have struggled so far this season despite early-round status. Whether it’s due to injury or just the need for more on-field experience, multiple first and second-round rookies have yet to truly find their stride on a consistent basis at the NFL level. Chris Tripodi breaks down their play and a few other mid-late round picks, as well as an undrafted rookie quarterback getting his first NFL start against the league’s top defense.

Jeff Tuel (QB-Buf)

With Thaddeus Lewis missing Week 9 with a rib injury and E.J. Manuel just getting back on the practice field, Buffalo turned to the undrafted Tuel who played his college ball at Washington State. Tuel replaced Manuel in Week 5 against Cleveland, but his uninspiring 8-for-20, 80-yard performance led Buffalo to start Lewis the following week after promoting him from the practice squad. Tuel actually had the chance to lead the Bills to victory in that game, but threw a game-ending pick-six to T.J. Ward.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why do Knicks Fans Hate the Chicago Bulls?

COMMENTARY | Dating back to the early-1990s, the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have had a heated and storied rivalry thanks to Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and several hotly contested playoff series.

With the two teams set to do battle in primetime Thursday night, there's no better time to recap the many reasons Knicks fans have to hate the Bulls.

Bandwagon Fans

When a sports franchise wins multiple championships in a short period of time, there are always fans that "always liked the team" even though you never knew it. For those who grew up in the 1990s, those teams in the three major sports were the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bulls. The Bulls' fan base grew significantly in that time span thanks to multiple championships and having the best player on the planet.

Read the rest at Yahoo Contributor Network

Week 8 Draft Insider Rookie Report: Dobson, Moore Step Up

We’re almost halfway through the 2013 NFL season after Week 8’s action, but some rookies are just finding their way. More injuries and inconsistency around the league has led to opportunities for first-year players and this week’s Rookie Report, like most others, includes a couple of undrafted rookies who took advantage of their extra playing time. A few other highly drafted rookies are getting a shot now as well after struggling through the start of the season. Chris Tripodi will break down who caught his eye from last week’s NFL games.

Montee Ball (RB-Den)

Drafted in the second round with the intention of stepping into the starting role, Ball struggled in pass protection during training camp and the preseason and as a result, Knowshon Moreno has been Denver’s lead back throughout their 7-1 start. On 54 carries this season, Ball has averaged barely over 3 yards per carry and regardless of issues in pass protection, he hasn’t been able to prove his worth as a runner either in limited time.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Week 9 AAC Scouting Notes: SMU-Temple

Behind the arm of true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, Temple jumped out to an early 28-7 lead and looked like they had a shot at their second win of the season. Instead, SMU outscored the Owls 52-21 the rest of the way behind the arm of Garrett Gilbert, another AAC QB with an NFL future along with Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles. This was a high-scoring, entertaining game that featured a lot of big offensive performances. 

Garrett Gilbert, QB, SMU (#11), 6’4, 223

The same Garrett Gilbert who played much of the 2009 BCS Championship game for Texas against Alabama and almost brought the Longhorns back, Gilbert transferred to SMU after a medical redshirt in 2011 and was able to play immediately since he graduated from Texas. This was the best statistical game of his career at either Texas or SMU as Gilbert had 538 passing yards and 97 rushing yards to go with 6 touchdowns (4 rushing).

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Week 7 Rookie Report: Joseph Randle, Star Lotulelei and More

After six weeks of the NFL season and 48 rookies profiled, the pickings start to get a little slim in finding impact players from week to week. A common theme of these pieces tends to be injuries piling up all over the league and providing opportunities for talented rookies to prove their worth and this week was no different. Some guys below will even have a shot at starting for the rest of the season if they prove worthy. Find out who stood out to Chris Tripodi in Week 7.

Joseph Randle (RB-Dal)

With DeMarco Murray hurt, Dallas’ fifth-round pick got the chance to fill the role everybody expected him to get a shot at this season with Murray being one of the more injury-prone runners in the NFL. Lance Dunbar was also out for the Cowboys, leaving the backfield to Randle and Phillip Tanner. Despite drawing the start, Randle played just 46 of 82 snaps while Tanner saw 20 as the Cowboys called passes on 52 of their plays, showing a lack of confidence in their replacement backs by going even more pass-heavy than usual.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Week 6 NFL Rookie Report

Only one top-75 pick from April’s draft made this week’s Rookie Report as the season moves into its sixth week. Many high picks have already found a way into their team’s starting lineup, leaving the new opportunities to mid-round picks and undrafted rookies who are seeing the field with players in front of them hurt or playing poorly. Chris Tripodi will let you know which unheralded first-year players are making front offices around the NFL look smart with his Week 6 Rookie Report.

Zac Stacy (RB-StL)

With Daryl Richardson’s demotion heading into Week 5, Stacy has taken the reigns in the Rams backfield and looks to be running with the opportunity. After seeing 41 of the 73 snaps in his first start with Richardson still seeing 23 plays himself, it seemed Stacy would simply be the leader of a St. Louis committee. On Sunday, however, Stacy played 38 out of 47 snaps compared to just 5 for Richardson and ran for 79 yards on 18 carries. It looks like the St. Louis backfield belongs to the rookie fifth-rounder until further notice.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

How Hot is Mike Woodson's Coaching Seat in New York?

COMMENTARY | What does a 54-28 record, an appearance in the second round of the NBA playoffs and an exercised option get an NBA head coach

If you answered job security, you would generally be right. Unless you're New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, that is

The Big Apple is a tough place to last in sports for an extended period of time, particularly when you're employed by the Knicks. This is the same team that just named its third president and general manager since 2008 and doesn't have a single player on its roster from the 2009-10 season

Things move quickly in New York, and there are more than a few reasons why Woodson's job is not safe heading into this season.

Read the rest at Yahoo Contributor Network

What Does Mike Goodson's Injury Do to the Jets' Backfield

COMMENTARY | Just as the Jets' running backs were returning to the field from injury (Chris Ivory) or suspension (Mike Goodson), their backfield is once again up in the air. New York couldn't even make it through two full games with three healthy runners, as offseason signing Goodson tore both his ACL and MCL in the fourth quarter of the Jets' loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday

Goodson was making just his second appearance of the season after serving a four-game suspension for substance abuse, which stemmed from an offseason arrest for possession of marijuana and a semi-automatic handgun. Goodson was off to a good start with his new team, rushing 7 times for 61 yards and catching 3 passes for another 19 yards.

Read the rest at Yahoo Contributor Network

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Week 7 Scouting Notes: Teddy Bridgewater and More from Louisville-Rutgers

Much has been made of Louisville’s weak schedule this season, with last Thursday night’s game against Rutgers viewed as their stiffest challenge. The Scarlet Knights have a talented defense with a few NFL prospects of their own and while the Cardinals won 24-10, the score wasn’t indicative of how close this game actually was. While the broadcasters lamented what this performance meant for Louisville’s BCS Championship hopes as well as Teddy Bridgewater’s Heisman resume, none of that affects how we evaluate player performances for the next level.

(JR) Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (#5), 6’3, 196

Bridgewater didn’t have his best day against Rutgers but still put together a good stat line, completing 21-of-31 passes for 310 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. He left a third touchdown on the field after a great pump fake freed up Damian Copeland, but Bridgewater’s pass led the wide open Copeland out of bounds when he had plenty of room to the inside. This may have been an overcompensation for his interception earlier in the game, when Bridgewater put extra air under a deep pass into the endzone that he left too far inside, allowing the safety to come over for the pick. If Bridgewater had lofted this ball to his receiver’s outside shoulder or thrown it on more of a line to the inside, he would have had 3 or maybe even 4 touchdown passes in the game.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Week 5 Rookie Report

Big names dominated among this week’s rookies with two players from each of the first three rounds making an impact in Week 5. Just past the one-quarter mark of the season, it’s about the time when the light goes on for many rookies around the NFL and you can expect most of these players to continue to play well for their teams as the season goes on. Chris Tripodi will let you know who caught his eye from Week 5’s action.

Eddie Lacy (RB-GB)

After a concussion knocked him out early in Week 2 and allowed James Starks and Johnathan Franklin to put up 100-yard games in his absence, Lacy missed out on a 100-yard day of his own by just a yard in Green Bay’s 22-9 win over Detroit on Sunday. Franklin was set to work in a change-of-pace role until he was benched after a fumble on his third carry. Lacy had 23 carries on the game and added a reception and looks like the Packers’ feature back as long as he stays healthy.

Read the rest at Draft Insider

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Week 6 NCAA Scouting Notes: USF-Cincinnati

After starting the season 0-4 before AAC play, the South Florida Bulls hosted 3-1 Cincinnati in a game they were expected to lose. Thanks to two first half touchdowns on defense and special teams, the Bulls built an early lead and held on despite a poor overall performance on offense. But their defense was tenacious especially in the first half, which led to a few big performances from their defensive stars.

Read the rest at Optimum Scouting.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Should a Return to the Yankees Be in Joe Girardi's Future?

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | Throughout the 2013 season, the possibility of Joe Girardi not returning to the Yankees in 2014 was broached by baseball reporters and Yankees fans alike.

Despite fielding a starting lineup consisting of multiple backup-caliber players for the entire season, some still considered Girardi as good as gone when his contract expired.

After keeping the Yankees in contention until the final week of season, Girardi is a better candidate for Manager of the Year than he is to be replaced by the Yankees. The job he did to keep this team in contention without its highest-paid players on the field was remarkable and there are multiple reasons the Yankees shouldn't be blaming their manager.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Geno Smith on Film: What's Plaguing the Jets' Rookie Quarterback?

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | Rookie quarterbacks are bound to struggle in their first NFL season. The 2012 NFL draft produced three quarterbacks who led their teams to the playoffs but even Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III looked like first-year players at times.

In Luck's first career game, he barely completed 50% of his passes and was intercepted three times. Wilson didn't throw for more than 160 yards until Week 5, as Seattle protected him early with a run-heavy offensive philosophy. Griffin III threw for 300 yards twice in his first four games but as the league adjusted to him, he only cracked 250 yards passing once in his next six games.

New York Jets' quarterback Geno Smith has certainly experienced the highs and lows of rookie life in the NFL through four weeks. After starting the season with a last-second victory over Tampa Bay in Week 1, Smith failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities in Week 2 against New England and threw three fourth quarter interceptions to seal the Jets' fate.

There were many reasons behind Smith's struggles, which I noted in an in-depth two-part breakdown for Jets 101 that can be found here and here. After watching every passing play from his first two weeks as an NFL quarterback it was apparent to me that despite the mistakes, there were a lot of positives for Smith to build on.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Week 4 Rookie Report

(Originally posted at

The big rookie news heading into Week 4 was Mike Glennon taking over for Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay but the Steelers also debuted first-year running back Le’Veon Bell, playing his first game since suffering a foot injury before the season. Glennon’s undrafted safety valve made this week’s report as well as two other second-round picks who have had their shares of ups and downs in the early season. Chris Tripodi returns with another look at impact rookies around the league.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Training Camp Questions Abound for the New York Knicks

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | Fresh off their first second-round appearance since the 1999-2000 season, the cap-strapped New York Knicks still managed to add pieces to their roster this offseason by trading for Andrea Bargnani and signing Metta World Peace.

Despite adding talent and losing little from last season's roster, the prevailing opinion on the 2013-14 Knicks is that they are not one of the Eastern Conference's elite teams

The Miami Heat won their second straight NBA title. The Indiana Pacers are a young, improving team that will get Danny Granger back. The Chicago Bulls will welcome back point guard Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, and the Brooklyn Nets added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko

The Knicks also have a new GM as Steve Mills replaced Glen Grunwald just over a month before the start of the season. As a result of all the offseason turnover, the Knicks enter training camp with many unanswered questions for the upcoming season. What are the biggest issues facing the team leading up to its October 30 season opener?

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Week 5 College Football Scouting Notes: UCF-South Carolina

(Originally posted at

Junior quarterback Blake Bortles has gotten a lot of attention here at Optimum Scouting and with good reason. Bortles has everything NFL teams want in a quarterback with good size, arm strength and mobility to break the pocket. Bortles recently said he wasn’t thinking about the NFL after this season and while there were certainly scouts on hand to watch his performance against Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina, they would probably agree that he shouldn’t be thinking about the NFL until the 2015 draft.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Draft Insider NFL Rookie Report: Week 1

(Originally posted at

After one week of football, it’s time to take a look at which rookies lived up to the early hype surrounding them. While some of these first-year players were drafted with high expectations, others weren’t drafted at all but manufactured expectations through training camp and preseason performances as well as early opportunities to see the field. Chris Tripodi will let you know which rookies came through for their teams in Week 1 as this year’s initial Rookie Report has an AFC East feel to it, with five of this week’s players residing on teams in the Northeast.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Final Observations from Green & White: Defense/Special Teams

(Originally posted at

The reaction from the New York Jets intrasquad scrimmage finishes up today with observations about the defense and special teams. With the offense still a question mark, the defense will be counted on to carry this football team. The special teams are in transition mode, with Ben Kotwica taking over for the legendary Mike Westhoff.


The Jets’ front seven has been dominating the offensive line in practices, but they allowed a couple of big runs to Powell and Spann on Saturday. They were able to get pressure on both Sanchez and Smith though, which is a good sign considering the Jets' inability to rush the passer over the past few seasons.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Final Observations from Green & White: Defense/Special Teams

(Originally posted at

The reaction from the New York Jets intrasquad scrimmage finishes up today with observations about the defense and special teams. With the offense still a question mark, the defense will be counted on to carry this football team. The special teams are in transition mode, with Ben Kotwica taking over for the legendary Mike Westhoff.


The Jets’ front seven has been dominating the offensive line in practices, but they allowed a couple of big runs to Powell and Spann on Saturday. They were able to get pressure on both Sanchez and Smith though, which is a good sign considering the Jets' inability to rush the passer over the past few seasons.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

More Observations from Green & White on Saturday

(Originally posted at

The fallout from the Green and White Scrimmage for the New York Jets continues with the team preparing to take on the Detroit Lions in their first preseason game this week. In part two, we take a look at the developments along the offensive line as well as the tight ends and wide receivers.

Offensive Line

With center and both tackle positions already spoken for, the Jets have a four-way battle at guard between Willie Colon, Stephen Peterman, Vladimir Ducasse and rookie Brian Winters. Winters suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the scrimmage and while Rex Ryan said it wasn’t serious, any missed reps will hurt a rookie being moved from tackle to guard, particularly one who played at a MAC school.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Carmelo Anthony: Elite or Not?

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | When the New York Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony in 2011, it was with the expectation that he would come in and turn New York into a title contender.

The team struggled at first to mesh the skills of Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire but when Stoudemire started to struggle with injuries, Anthony stepped up as the unquestioned alpha dog.

 It has been Anthony's team ever since, especially with Stoudemire unable to regain his health and play at the level he once did. While Anthony is undoubtedly the Knicks' best player, does that mean he is an elite NBA force? Those who voted him third in MVP balloting last season would say he is.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Observations from Jets' Green & White Scrimmage

(Originally posted at

With multiple position battles and question marks regarding the makeup of the Jets’ roster this season, what better way to gauge the team’s progress halfway through training camp than a trip to Cortland for the annual Green & White scrimmage?

While I left with little resolution in my quest for answers, there were plenty of noteworthy items from the scrimmage that could go a long way to determining many roster spots. Starting with the most important position first, here’s what we learned from Green & White.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What Were the Best Moves of a Busy Offseason for the Knicks?

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | Despite a roster that underwent minimal turnover, the New York Knicks were busy this offseason. Without the cap flexibility to be big players in free agency, they focused their attention on re-signing their own players and scouting the trade market for upgrades.

 The only player the Knicks whiffed on was restricted free agent Chris Copeland, who signed with the Indiana Pacers. A defensive liability that provided instant offense off the bench, the 29-year-old rookie earned a new deal that New York simply couldn't afford. While he'll be missed, the Knick' bench projects to have no problem scoring this season.

The Knicks did make a splash with a big trade, as well as a few veteran signings. Which of their moves will help New York the most this season?

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is This a Make-or-Break Season For Amar'e Stoudemire?

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | Flash back to 2010: Amar'e Stoudemire, fresh off a fully guaranteed max contract from the New York Knicks, was the toast of the Big Apple.

One of the league's leading MVP candidates, Stoudemire quickly became the face of the franchise and concerns over his uninsured $100 million contract dissipated with every 30-point outburst.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

C.J. Leslie May Have a Shot to Help the Knicks This Season

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | A McDonald's All-American and consensus top 15 recruit out of high school, C.J. Leslie made an immediate impact at N.C. State, leading the team in rebounding at 7.2 boards per game and earning ACC All-Freshman honors after choosing the Wolfpack over Kentucky.

As a sophomore, Leslie led his team in scoring at 14.7 points per game while shooting over 52 percent from the field; he averaged 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. N.C. State made the Sweet 16 and much of its success was a result of Leslie's ability.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Should Knicks Fans Love Pablo Prigioni?

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | The New York Knicks' signing of Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni last July wasn't met with very much fanfare among New York fans. The front office, on the other hand, was elated to finally acquire a player it had been after for four years.

It didn't take long for Prigioni to endear himself to the Madison Square Garden faithful last season, scoring 11 points with 6 assists in the Knicks' third game of the season.

When New York re-signed him three weeks ago, fans who didn't know his name last season rejoiced for more than a few reasons.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Knicks Face Many Questions Heading Into the 2013-14 Season

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | For a team with limited salary cap space this offseason, the Knicks made a larger splash than expected. Trading contracts and draft picks for former #1 pick Andrea Bargnani was just the start of the Knicks' offseason, as they also re-signed J.R. Smith and used their mini mid-level exception to bring back Pablo Prigioni and sign Metta World Peace, who was amnestied by the Lakers.

 Meanwhile, the Knicks' crosstown rival in Brooklyn was loading up their roster, trading multiple players and three future first-round picks to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White. They also added Andrei Kirilenko using their own mini mid-level exception and it can be easily argued that the Nets got better value from their mini MLE and made a bigger trade than the Knicks. Which begs the question... 

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Carmelo Anthony: Is Being the Face of the Knicks Good for the Team?

COMMENTARY | On Feb. 21, 2011, the fortunes of one man and two franchises changed forever.

After months of speculation, Carmelo Anthony became a member of the New York Knicks. The price was modest, costing the Knicks Danilo GallinariWilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick, two second-round picks and $3 million.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Geno Smith in the Zone Read? Bad Idea, But Not Why You'd Think

(Originally posted at

As previously reported here at Jets 101 among other sources, the New York Jets are considering using Geno Smith in a zone-read package to get him on the field if he doesn't win the starting job. The majority of media outlets are bashing the Jets for even contemplating using Smith this way, pointing to his poor college rushing stats as evidence that this is a bad idea.

While that argument has some merit, the inclusion of sack yardage in those statistics as pointed out by Jets 101’s Donald Lappe skews those numbers greatly. Between that realization and Smith’s 4.59 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, you could actually argue that this package might be somewhat effective, especially in comparison to how ineffective the Jets traditional offense projects to be. (For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks: Good Move?

(Originally posted at

COMMENTARY | The rumors of yesterday became the reality of today for Knicks' fans, as New York acquired Toronto's Andrea Bargnani for a combination of bad contracts and dispensable draft picks. The Knicks unloaded Steve Novak and Marcus Camby, who will make a combined $15 million over the next two seasons, along with Quentin Richardson via sign-and-trade, a 2016 first-round pick and second-round picks in 2014 and 2017.

Bargnani will make $11 million this season and $12 million next season before hitting free agency, where he will likely have to take a massive pay cut. That money may seem exorbitant for somebody who will be nothing more than a role player (and it is) but considering the salary they shed from players that barely saw the court when it mattered the most in the playoffs, this deal is a win for the Knicks.

Just because I like the trade, however, does not mean I like the player. I have long disdained Bargnani's soft demeanor and injury-prone nature, having used many choice words too harsh for this column to describe the former top overall pick. To make a long story short, I've never been a fan.

(For more of this article, please visit the link above)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Iman Shumpert is the Key to the Knicks' 2013-14 Season

Improved play from Iman Shumpert in 2013 could define the Knicks
potential as an Eastern Conference threat (
When the Knicks drafted Iman Shumpert two years ago, my initial reaction was, "Who?!" Before quickly turning to the trusty Internet to find out more about the Knicks' newest guard, thoughts of Jordan Hill, Channing Frye and Michael Sweetney flashed across my mind. As a Knicks fan, it's hard not to be cynical after years of ineptitude in evaluating draft prospects, among other failures.

After reading about Shumpert's impressive wingspan and defensive abilities, I decided to give the pick a chance. After all, the Knicks struggled immensely defending the perimeter and Shumpert was a possible answer for that issue. A star at Georgia Tech, Shumpert's offensive game was raw and unpolished but upon further examination, his potential was evident.

Watching the Knicks in the preseason, I couldn't help but be impressed by Shumpert. His length, hands and lateral quickness on the defensive end were as advertised if not better and, not surprisingly, Shumpert finished his rookie season ranked seventh in the NBA in steals despite playing just 28.9 minutes per game.

More impressive than his defense, however, was his jump shot. The results weren't there, but Shumpert's near-flawless mechanics gave me hope that he could develop into a competent shooter in the NBA. By all accounts, he was billed as a kid with a good work ethic and his athleticism stood out on tape, so there was plenty of room for improvement.

Predictably, Shumpert struggled with his shot as a rookie, shooting just over 40 percent from the field and just over 30 percent from the three-point line. While the ACL injury he suffered in the playoffs derailed the start of his 2012-13 season, it may have been a blessing in disguise for his development.

When Shumpert returned to the Knicks in January of this year, his shooting struggles persisted and he rarely looked like the player he was at full health. As the regular season wound down in March and April and Shumpert started to get back into game shape, one thing stood out to me: Shumpert's jump shot was actually much improved.

In March and April, Shumpert was 38-for-88 from beyond the arc (43.2%). He kept up his hot shooting in the playoffs as well, shooting 42.9% from distance on over three attempts per game. In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Shumpert was 5-for-6 on three-pointers and at one point hit three in a row to cut a 10-point third-quarter deficit to one when no Knick not named Carmelo Anthony seemed interesting in scoring.

With his biggest weakness out of college becoming a strength, at least for a few months, the sky is the limit for Shumpert. As arguably the Knicks' only above-average player on both ends of the court, much more will be expected of him this season, particularly with the retirement of Jason Kidd and uncertain futures of both J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni.

Even if the Knicks re-sign Smith and Prigioni, they will still need 30 minutes per game from Shumpert. Both Raymond Felton and Smith struggle defensively, as do Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. With Tyson Chandler equally limited on offense, the Knicks will rely on Shumpert's defense on the perimeter as well as his ability to spread the court on offense and allow Anthony and Stoudemire to play to their strengths in the middle of the floor.

There were numerous instances in the playoffs where the Knicks stagnated on either offense or defense. Their offensive lineups featuring Felton, Smith, Anthony and Stoudemire struggled on defense, while combinations including better defenders like Prigioni, Kenyon Martin and Chandler had issues putting the ball in the basket. The Knicks need players who can affect the game on both sides of the court, something their roster is devoid of besides Shumpert.

It remains to be seen what the Knicks do with players like Smith, Prigioni, Martin and Chris Copeland, who is as explosive a scorer as he is a poor defender. None of these players pose a problem in a vacuum, but building an entire roster of players that only excel on one end of the court isn't a recipe for a championship contender.

Personally, I hope another team prices Smith out of the Knicks' range. He was a bargain around $3 million and a key to the Knicks' success this season but his value drops considerably with a contract more reflective of his ability. Many times it seemed that him and Anthony were trying to outdo the other on offense, which led to more isolation basketball than the Knicks, or any other NBA team for that matter, will ever need.

His playoff struggles were another red flag, especially considering the rumors that Smith was partying too hard and regressing to his 2011-12 self. You know, the one that enjoyed the New York City nightlife a bit too much. These concerns are certainly legitimate, particularly after the best year of his career. Will a new, more lucrative contract alleviate these issues? Seems doubtful to me.

It may seem asinine that a team that struggled to find a second scoring option in the playoffs should let a scorer like Smith walk, but Amar'e Stoudemire will be back to full health (supposedly) and is certainly more scorer than defender. In his limited appearances this season, Stoudemire did seem comfortable coming off the bench and his offseason work with Hakeem Olajuwon had a positive impact on his post game.

Smith's departure would also create an opportunity for Shumpert to see upwards of 35 minutes per game, which the Knicks will need to balance out their lineups that will inevitably be lacking either offensive playmakers or defensive stoppers, most likely the second. His potential impact next year reminds me of the role Kawhi Leonard played in the Spurs' run to the NBA Finals this season.

Leonard's breakout was the biggest reason San Antonio was able to avoid the early playoff eliminations of the past few seasons, as he proved to be an essential two-way presence alongside a veteran trio of stars. I don't see any reason why a 100% healthy Shumpert can't have the same effect on the Knicks next year and take some of the pressure off Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler.

If Shumpert's offensive game continues to evolve as it has in his first two seasons, Knicks fans won't miss Smith one bit. He may not help this team get to the NBA Finals with Miami, Indiana and Chicago in the way like Leonard did in San Antonio, but Shumpert's development heading into year three will have a profound effect on how far the Knicks go in the playoffs next season.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Grading the Draft: San Francisco 49ers

(Originally posted at

Blessed with double-digit draft picks and roster depth that will make it impossible for more than a handful of rookies to make their Week 1 roster, the 49ers masterfully maneuvered their way through the draft by trading up for three of their first four picks. Even after using their later picks to move up for their main targets, San Francisco still managed to make 11 picks and the players they drafted should help the team either this year or in the future. Chris Tripodi breaks down one of this year’s best draft classes.

Eric Reid/S/LSU (Round 1/Pick #18): The 49ers wasted no time replacing departed strong safety Dashon Goldson, trading their 31st overall pick and a third-rounder to Dallas for the rights to take Reid. A second-round pick on our board, Reid fits very well in San Francisco’s secondary and has the hard-hitting mentality to step right into Goldson’s starting spot alongside Donte Whitner. He lacks great range in coverage and has just average ball skills but is an intimidating presence inside the numbers and has the ability to make 49ers fans quickly forget about Goldson, especially since he left the division completely by going to Tampa Bay.

Cornellius “Tank” Carradine/DE/Florida State (Round 2/Round #40): San Francisco used the 34th pick they got from Kansas City for Alex Smith to trade back in round two, picking up a seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-rounder in the process. If Carradine hadn’t torn his ACL in Florida State’s final regular season game, he may have been a first-round pick; we had him graded as a top-20 prospect anyway. The 49ers have the luxury of taking his recovery slowly but with Justin Smith succumbing to age and entering the final year of his contract, Carradine looks like his obvious successor. Intense rehab may allow him to add more weight to his 276-pound frame and if he returns bigger and with his explosiveness intact, Carradine will be an even more complete three-down lineman who can team up with Aldon Smith to terrorize opponents for years to come.

Vance McDonald/TE/Rice (Round 2/Pick #55): With backup tight end Delanie Walker leaving via free agency and the 49ers not needing to fill many starting positions, they could afford to trade up for a player who won’t be expected to play every snap. Michael Crabtree’s torn Achilles may force the 49ers to use more two-tight end sets than usual and while McDonald isn’t as good of a blocker as starter Vernon Davis, he’s a big athletic pass catcher who can get up the seam and become a favorite target of Colin Kaepernick. This pick is less of a luxury after Crabtree’s injury and playing behind Davis should be great for McDonald’s development, although he may need to wait until his next contract to flash his ability as a starter.

Corey Lemonier/DE/Auburn (Round 3/Pick #88): After moving down a round earlier to give San Francisco a chance to draft Vance McDonald, Green Bay moved down again as the 49ers gave up a seventh-round pick for the opportunity to draft Lemonier. They likely don’t view him as a starter with Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks locked in at outside linebacker, but Lemonier has 4.6 speed and tangible upside as a pass rusher. He struggled to produce as a junior after a breakout sophomore campaign and has shown signs of being an underachiever, but the 49ers feel he can improve their pass rush if he takes to coaching and is used in the right spots.

Quinton Patton/WR/Louisiana Tech (Round 4/Pick #128): Branded with the small-school tag after a 100-catch senior season, Patton proved he belonged with this year’s top college talent after a great offseason and was rated as a second-round prospect by most draft outlets, including Draft Insider. A very polished receiver, Patton runs great routes and shows both soft and strong hands. He lacks great deep speed but is dangerous after the catch, especially on underneath routes. Michael Crabtree’s injury opens up a starting spot opposite Anquan Boldin and if the battle comes down to Patton, Mario Manningham and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, our money is on Patton. Once he breaks the starting lineup, it may be tough to take him off the field.

Marcus Lattimore/RB/South Carolina (Round 4/Pick #131): After stealing Quinton Patton three picks earlier, the 49ers took a chance on a running back who likely would have been the first ballcarrier selected if he hadn’t suffered a second straight season-ending knee injury last year. Early reports on Lattimore’s rehab have been positive and while it’s tough to say how he will recover, San Francisco is a great fit for both the team and the player. Like Tank Carradine, Lattimore can take his time getting back to full strength and will likely start the season on the PUP list. Starter Frank Gore recovered from a torn ACL himself in college and has a contract that ends after the 2014 season, making Lattimore the 49ers running back of the future if he can get close to his prior form. An instinctive downhill runner who never relied on blazing speed to begin with, Lattimore could make the 2013 fourth round a goldmine for San Francisco along with Patton.

Quinton Dial/DE/Alabama (Round 5/Pick #157): Despite signing Glenn Dorsey and drafting Tank Carradine, the 49ers added to their defensive end depth even further by drafting Dial. While he was never more than a rotational player at Alabama, Dial showed enough upside and growth potential at 6-5, 318 to be an intriguing late-round prospect. Explosive and athletic for a big man, Dial has to develop more moves to get off blocks but could find his way into the 49ers’ defensive line rotation as a run stopper in the future.

Nick Moody/LB/Florida State (Round 6/Pick #180): Moody had a strong sophomore year at safety but his play leveled off before he moved to linebacker as a senior. At just 236 pounds, his speed and athleticism are his best assets as he flies around the field but struggles with coverage instincts and timing. Moody is a prospect that needs time in the weight room to develop into a good NFL player, something he will be able to focus on while buried on the depth chart at outside linebacker. He’ll likely need to make an impact on special teams to avoid the practice squad.

B.J. Daniels/QB/South Florida (Round 7/Pick #237): An undersized college quarterback who struggled with his accuracy, Daniels was listed as a running back on our board but the 49ers are expecting him to know the playbook as a quarterback. He saw time at running back and as a kick and punt returner during rookie mini-camp and San Francisco will look to use his athleticism any way they can. Daniels could run San Francisco’s read option package if something were to happen to Kaepernick and has a strong arm that would force defensive backs to run downfield with receivers. Daniels could be a fun player to watch if the 49ers can find a good way to use his skills.

Carter Bykowski/T/Iowa State (Round 7/Pick #246): A tight end entering college, Bykowski was moved to the offensive line and cracked the starting lineup for the first time as a senior. An athletic prospect who needs to gain strength like Nick Moody, he’s likely bound for the practice squad while he hits the weight room and works on his fundamentals with the coaching staff. If he can continue to improve his game, he has enough upside to crack the roster in the future.

Marcus Cooper/CB/Rutgers (Round 7/Pick #252): Like Quinton Dial, Cooper never started during his college career but has the size (6-2, 192) and speed to make him a nice upside play this late in the draft. He will be expected to compete for a gunner role on special teams but if not, he’s another 49ers’ rookie ticketed for further development on the practice squad. He defends the run well and his measurables make him a worthy developmental prospect for San Francisco.

Grade: A. San Francisco was in a great position to come out of this year’s draft with a deep, talented group of rookies and they did just that. Five of their first six picks are arguably top-50 talents and their deep roster allowed them the luxury of stashing injured stars like Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore. Their draft was as good as it gets and with 11 picks, value at positions of need, no big reaches and more picks on the way next season, the 49ers should remain a Super Bowl contender for the next few seasons if their core stays healthy.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Grading the Draft: Arizona Cardinals

(Originally posted at

Cooper_draftHeld back by pathetic quarterback play last season, the Cardinals decided to trade for Carson Palmer rather than take a chance on any of this year’s QB prospects in the first two rounds. For a team with plenty of holes on both sides of the ball and a star receiver going to waste this was probably a wise move, especially after Arizona used their first pick to provide some protection for Palmer and whoever winds up succeeding him. Chris Tripodi breaks down the Arizona draft class.

Jonathan Cooper/G/North Carolina (Round 1/Pick #7): One of the two elite guards who bucked typical draft trends this season, Cooper started the offseason as the #2 guard prospect. He gained steam over Chance Warmack late in the process thanks to his elite athleticism and ended up being drafted higher than the Alabama stud. Cooper is a quick, explosive and fundamentally sound lineman who is great blocking in motion. If there is one area to nitpick about Cooper’s game it’s a lack of lower body strength but he shouldn’t have a problem adding muscle in an NFL weight training program and once he does, Cooper has the ability to quickly develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber guard.

Kevin Minter/LB/LSU (Round 2/Round #45): With a hole at middle linebacker and Manti Te’o still on the board at 38th overall, the Cardinals decided to pass on the Notre Dame linebacker and trade down, picking up an extra fourth-round pick in the process. This was a shrewd move for Arizona as they still got the linebacker they wanted in Minter. With Daryl Washington’s season now in doubt thanks to a recent assault arrest on top of a four-game substance abuse suspension, Minter is assured a spot as a starter and should be a great fit in Arizona. His lack of sideline-to-sideline range will be masked in Arizona’ 3-4 defense, where his instincts and ability to quickly penetrate gaps in the offensive line will help him make an immediate impact.

Tyrann Mathieu/CB/LSU (Round 3/Pick #69): This pick was somewhat surprising and while we had Mathieu rated as a fifth-round prospect, Arizona may be a perfect fit for the troubled former Heisman candidate. On talent alone, Mathieu was worthy of a second-round pick but his dismissal from the LSU program prior to last season has been well-documented, as have his issues with marijuana which have reportedly led to more than 10 failed drug tests. On the field, Mathieu is a big play waiting to happen on defense and in the return game. At his best playing in a zone due to his lack of size (5-8, 186), Mathieu’s great read-and-react ability and break to the ball leads to turnovers and he has good enough speed to recover when he makes a mistake. The presence of former college teammate and good friend Patrick Peterson may have played a part in this pick and if Peterson and the Cardinals can keep Mathieu in line off the field, he has the talent to be the league’s best nickel cornerback.

Alex Okafor/DE/Texas (Round 4/Pick #103): A second-round prospect on our board, Okafor was very productive with the Longhorns and is a max-effort player. He doesn’t have the size (6-4, 264) to play as a 5-technique end or the speed (4.85) to be a stud edge rusher and struggled in Texas’ 3-4 last season, the same defense he’ll be joining in Arizona. On the surface this seems like a questionable fit as Okafor is better suited as a 4-3 defensive end, but the Cardinals are hoping his instincts and intelligence will help him improve with more time playing in the 3-4.

Earl Watford/G/James Madison (Round 4/Pick #116): The Cardinals traded back here for the second time in the draft, moving down six spots from 110th overall and picking up an extra sixth-round pick. Watford was a solid choice here for a team looking to rebuild their offensive line and while he needs time to develop, he could eventually earn a starting role on the other side of fellow rookie Jonathan Cooper. Watford received multiple All-American honors during his senior season, impressive for a small-school lineman, and his athleticism makes him great blocking in motion and quick to the second level. Starting left guard Daryn Colledge is under contract for another three seasons, so Watford will have time to physically mature before he’ll need to step into a key role.

Stepfan Taylor/RB/Stanford (Round 5/Pick #140): We reported on Taylor’s impressive Senior Bowl performance and had him rated as a potential third-round pick, but his fall isn’t too surprising considering his poor combine and the fact that many running backs in this year’s class seemed to go later than expected. Even still, this was a good pick for Arizona considering the uncertainty of their backfield this year and beyond. A 5-8, 216-pound bruiser, Taylor is a north-south runner who rarely gets tackled by the first defender. He has quick feet in small spaces along with good vision and may be the best blocker in this draft class, which could help him see playing time as a rookie. His upside is somewhat limited, but he could be a very good committee back.

Ryan Swope/WR/Texas A&M (Round 6/Pick #174): The Cardinals stopped Swope’s freefall in the sixth round, as he was no worse than a third-rounder on most boards. His concussion history with the Aggies apparently scared teams off and he has already missed time in OTA’s due to concussion symptoms. If Swope can get past those issues and get on the playing field, he has the talent to make an impact. He shocked many by running a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine but he doesn’t show that speed on tape. If Swope can play closer to that time, his intelligence, route-running ability and solid hands will make him a favorite of any quarterback. With Andre Roberts entering free agency next season, Swope has upside as a very good slot receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd if he can get on the field.

Andre Ellington/RB/Clemson (Round 6/Pick #187): Using the extra pick Arizona got from the Giants for their fourth-rounder, the Cardinals got great value on Ellington. If Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t impress on a one-year deal and Ryan Williams continues to struggle with injuries, the Clemson product may team up with Stepfan Taylor as a thunder-and-lightning combination in the Arizona backfield. Despite his size (5-9, 199), Ellington runs with good power and is quicker than he is fast, making him effective as an interior runner and also a receiver out of the backfield. He probably won’t hold up as a feature back but he is a playmaker who should provide a great return on investment late in the sixth round with a running style that complements Taylor’s nicely.

D.C. Jefferson/TE/Rutgers (Round 7/Pick #219): Jefferson is a late lottery ticket for the Cardinals, who have struggled to get much production out of the tight end position in recent seasons. His talent level is matched by his inconsistency but at 6-5, 255 pounds, he has the skills to be a mismatch down the field. Jefferson’s hands and blocking remain inconsistent but if Arizona can develop him, he has starting-caliber talent and could be in line to take over in a few years if starter Rob Housler doesn’t fulfill his own untapped potential.

Grade: B+. The Cardinals did a great job maximizing value in the later rounds, picking up multiple players that can help their offense in the future. Jonathan Cooper and Kevin Minter will be immediate starters who can make a big impact in their rookie seasons but this draft grade could go even higher if Tyrann Mathieu can fly straight and reach his potential. Every pick Arizona made has legitimate upside and their draft should build a nice foundation for the team in the future. It’s hard to see Arizona competing for a playoff spot in the NFC West and with another high pick likely on tap next season, the Cardinals may be able to find a quarterback that can take them to the next level in the years to come.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grading the Draft: Atlanta Falcons

(Originally posted at

Trufant_draftWith a secondary that struggled in 2013 and Pro Bowl quarterbacks on two of the other three rosters in the NFC South, Atlanta decided to focus on upgrading their defensive backfield with their first two picks. They did just that with two cornerbacks who could be their starting tandem within a year or two but as Chris Tripodi reports below, the rest of their draft left something to be desired.

Desmond Trufant/CB/Washington (Round 1/Pick #22): It was no secret that the Falcons were looking to move up from the 30th overall pick to draft a cornerback and the Rams were interested in trading down to regain picks after trading up for Tavon Austin. Atlanta traded their third and sixth-round picks along with the 30th pick to move up and take Trufant, who should step into the starting lineup immediately opposite Asante Samuel. A good athlete with ideal size (5-11, 190) and speed (4.41), Trufant defends both the run and pass well and his production earned him All-American honors his senior year. He should help the Falcons pass defense, especially against Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

Robert Alford/CB/Southeastern Louisiana (Round 2/Round #60): Alford isn’t ready to start right away like Trufant, but the Falcons don’t need him to fill that role with Asante Samuel still under contract for the next two seasons. Atlanta does have a need for a nickel back and while Alford is expected to fill that spot, his experience returning punts could also help the Falcons in 2013. He has the size (5-10, 188) to mix it up with receivers at the line of scrimmage and the speed (4.35) to stay with them down the field. Alford’s run defense and reaction time needs improvement and coming from a small school, it’s likely he’ll need time to adjust to the NFL. Luckily the Falcons can afford to start him in the nickel and reap the rewards of his athleticism and ball skills while grooming him to replace Samuel.

Malliciah Goodman/DE/Clemson (Round 4/Pick #127): An undersized athlete who showed flashes at Clemson, Goodman has a powerful lower body and has the ability to change direction quickly. Despite those skills, he tends to get caught up on blocks at just 6-3, 278 and doesn’t have great burst, which makes him a bit of a tweener. Goodman needs to bulk up to be an effective three-technique and is nothing more than backup at end without top-notch pass rush skills. He’ll need to become more consistent on the field as well if he wants to fully utilize his athletic gifts.

Levine Toilolo/TE/Stanford (Round 4/Pick #133): At 6-8 and 260 pounds, Toilolo is a huge target in the passing game. He has the speed to get downfield, runs good routes and shows solid hands to make the catch. While he has good physical skills, his inconsistent play and lack of improvement made him a fifth-round prospect. An early entrant into the draft, Toilolo will need to take better to coaching in the NFL than he did in college but lands in a good situation with Atlanta. He can learn from one of the all-time greats in Tony Gonzalez who is back for one more season and if he can show the ability to improve at the professional level, has the talent to provide Matt Ryan with another tall target at tight end once Gonzalez retires for good.

Stansly Maponga/DE/TCU (Round 5/Pick #153): The Falcons moved up 10 spots to take Maponga, a free agent on our board, surrendering a seventh-round pick in the process. An athletic end whose size (6-2, 256) will prevent him from ever being an asset against the run, Maponga has shown the ability to line up over tackle and in a three-point stance. He’s quick off the snap, has good pass-rushing moves and a nice burst to the quarterback. While he projects as little more than a specialist at the NFL level, Maponga could help an Atlanta pass rush that registered just 29 sacks last season.

Kemal Ishmael/S/Central Florida (Round 7/Pick #243): Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, Ishmael wasn’t even rated as a free agent on our board but hails from the same school as starting cornerback Asante Samuel. The two obviously never played together but Atlanta saw enough from the UCF’s all-time leading tackler to take him with one of their three compensatory seventh-round picks. Ishmael has average size and speed and could make the roster if he can prove his worth on special teams.

Zeke Motta/S/Notre Dame (Round 7/Pick #244): Motta is a classic strong safety prospect with great size (6-2, 213) who lacks speed and sideline-to-sideline range. He’s very instinctive and forceful in the box and can be a good situational safety in running situations. Motta can cover short pass routes and can be very effective with limited responsibilities between the numbers. A hard worker whose game has developed well in the past few seasons, Motta will likely need to accept a special teams role at the outset of his career.

Sean Renfree/QB/Duke (Round 7/Pick #249): Renfree was a productive game manager in his three starting seasons at Duke and while he lacks NFL arm strength, he showed good leadership ability, accuracy and timing with his receivers. The Falcons have arguably the league’s worst backup quarterback in Dominique Davis so Renfree may have a legitimate chance to land a backup role as a rookie, although that would be a highly undesirable situation for the Falcons.

Grade: C+. While Atlanta made good moves to improve their secondary early, the lack of value later in the draft hurt their grade. They moved up in the fifth round to draft a player with a free agent grade after using their fourth-round picks on talented but inconsistent players who need to work on their games to make it in the NFL. This draft was very top heavy for Atlanta and while Trufant has a good chance to be a nice player and fills a big hole, one or two picks usually don’t make a draft unless a team drafts one of the top 3-5 players.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Grading the Draft: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Originally posted at
After trading their first-round pick for Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay was left with just six draft picks in 2013. Still not satisfied with their secondary even after acquiring Revis, the Bucs used their second-round pick on a cornerback before hedging their bets on Josh Freeman by taking a quarterback in round three. Chris Tripodi breaks down how the Bucs fared in April’s draft...

Johnthan Banks/CB/Mississippi State (Round 2/Pick #43): With the league’s worst secondary and three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the division, upgrading their defensive backfield was the Bucs’ top priority this offseason. An aggressive cornerback who defends the run as well as the pass, Banks will likely slot in as Tampa’s nickel cornerback to start the 2013 season. With Eric Wright’s contract expiring after this season, it’s likely he will step into the starting role opposite Revis in 2014. Banks is a consistent worker with good instincts and while his lack of speed (4.59) makes him vulnerable to the deep ball, he will reap the rewards of playing with Revis and having safety help over the top to mask his deficiencies.

Mike Glennon/QB/N.C. State (Round 3/Round #73): After taking over for Russell Wilson two years ago, Glennon spent his junior and senior years wowing scouts with his arm strength yet frustrating them with his accuracy issues and questionable decision making. His completion percentage dropped as a senior and he threw more interceptions as well, showing the inconsistencies that make him an unfinished product. With Josh Freeman entering the final year of his contract and Tampa Bay not talking extension, Glennon could find himself with a starting role next season if Freeman doesn’t take the next step as a passer. If he works hard on his footwork and grows with NFL coaching, Glennon has as much upside as any quarterback in this year’s class and will benefit from a year on the bench.

Akeem Spence/DT/Illinois (Round 4/Pick #100): Despite having the NFL’s top rush defense in 2013, Tampa Bay has struggled to find a good complement to Gerald McCoy on their interior line since he was drafted in 2010. Spence struggled some in 2012 but the Bucs are hoping that suppressed his value enough to make him good value early in the fourth round after trading up 12 spots at the expense of a sixth-round pick. At his best, Spence is disruptive and explosive up the field and in pursuit. He’s not much of a pass rusher but has the potential to start at some point this season if he can improve his playing strength.

William Gholston/DE/Michigan State (Round 4/Pick #126): The last name Gholston is synonymous with draft bust after William’s cousin Vernon flamed out shortly after being drafted in the first round by the Jets in 2008. Unfortunately for William, he shows many similarities to his cousin which likely led to teams shying away from him as a top-125 pick. Fast, powerful and athletic at 6-6, Gholston has first-round talent but has a tendency to disappear and take plays off. Maybe the lack of first-round money will lead to him being more motivated than his cousin but if not, he will find it difficult to shed the underachiever label currently attached to him.

Steven Means/LB/Buffalo (Round 5/Pick #147): Ranked as a free agent on our draft board, Means is used to flying under the radar after playing on the same defense as All-American Kahlil Mack with the Bulls. A defensive end in college despite weighing just 251 pounds, Means will probably be little more than a situational pass rusher with the Bucs but has the athleticism and ability to be solid in that role as well as on special teams. He will need to improve his consistency and stay low rushing off the edge to avoid getting blocked out of the play by NFL tackles who have at least 50 pounds on him.

Mike James/RB/Miami (Round 6/Pick #189): After trading backup running back LeGarrette Blount for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick, Tampa Bay packaged that seventh-round pick with the 196th overall pick to draft Blount’s replacement. A powerful runner at 5-10, 223 pounds, James is a similar runner to Blount without the character issues. James will see limited action behind last year’s standout rookie back Doug Martin and while he lacks speed and agility, James will fight for every yard he can get and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. He should prove to be a nice complement to Martin in limited action.

Grade: C+. This grade is strictly for the picks that Tampa Bay made in 2013 and not the ones they traded, otherwise this grade would be in the B-range. Trading the 13th overall pick for Revis was great value if he comes back at 100 percent and should help the Bucs cover the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, Marques Colston and Steve Smith. Johnthan Banks will be a good complement to Revis but Tampa’s next three picks involve a good deal of risk. Mike Glennon is a project, Akeem Spence’s production left something to be desired and William Gholston defines “boom or bust.” They filled out their draft with decent role players but it’s possible that this draft will be remembered for nothing more than the pick they traded for Revis in a few seasons.