Andrew Luck

NFL Awards Predictions

After ten weeks of regular season play, it is time to start predicting who will win what awards in the NFL.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills

Many may argue that Carolina Panther’s wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is the clear offensive rookie of the year since he has caught seven touchdowns compared to Watkins’ five. However, Watkins provides more of an impact to his team. Anytime Watkins hauls in over 80 receiving yards in a game, the Bills are 4-0. When he records less than 80 yards in a game, the Bills are 1-4. Watkins and Benjamin have put up similar numbers but Watkins’ impact to his team is undeniable.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Chicago Bears

Despite dropping off the radar the last couple of weeks due to injury, Kyle Fuller is still in contention for defensive rookie of the year. Fuller’s performance this season should have Bears fans excited about their heir to Charles Tillman. As the first player in 20 years to record three picks and two forced fumbles in his first three NFL games, Fuller’s play indicates he will easily fill in Tillman’s big shoes. Fuller currently has three forced fumbles and three interceptions on the season. Regardless of Fuller’s impressive play, if the Bear’s defense keeps giving up 50 points per game, there is no way Fuller wins this award.

Comeback Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

After breaking his collarbone last year in a contest with the Chicago Bears, Aaron Rodgers has sought out revenge against Chicago and is playing some of the best football of his career. Rodgers has torched Chicago this season throwing for ten touchdowns against them in two games, including a six down touchdown performance in the first half alone against the Bears this past Sunday. Rodgers isn’t only performing well against Chicago, as he is third in the league with 25 touchdowns and only three interceptions. What’s amazing is that Rodgers has thrown for 25 touchdowns on only 277 passing attempts. In comparison, touchdown leaders Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck have compiled passing attempts of 353 and 393, respectively. Rodgers is officially back.

Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

Bruce Arians is the clear-cut coach of the year. Through Week 10, the Arizona Cardinals are 8-1 and hold the best record in the league after defeating the St. Louis Rams 31-14 in Week 9. Arians’ performance this season has been especially impressive since he has lost many key players on both sides of the ball, but the Cardinals somehow continue to win games. However, it will be tough for the Cardinals to recover after losing quarterback Carson Palmer for the season due to an ACL tear, but if Arians is able to get the Cardinals to win the NFC West with Drew Stanton under center, Arians should win the award unanimously.

Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys

DeMarco Murray has been everything and more that the Cowboys have asked for this season. Murray started the season rushing for 100 yards in each of his first eight games. Perhaps the reason for these amazing numbers is that his workload is insane. He has carried the ball a total of 244 times and has rushed for a league high 1,233 yards.  If Murray stays healthy, he is on pace to break the 2,000 rushing yard mark and possibly Eric Dickerson’s regular season rushing yard record of 2,105 yards. The only blemish on Murray’s resume is that he has fumbled the ball five times this season. Murray’s performance this season is one of the key reasons why the Cowboys are playing so well.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Defensive end, Houston Texans

Watt’s dominant performance this season has not only put him ahead in the defensive player of the year discussion but also in the NFL MVP conversation. In addition to three touchdowns, Watt also has 39 tackles, eight and a half sacks, three fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble. Since 1957, the NFL MVP has been awarded to the best player who is thought to be the most valuable to his team. The award is almost always won by a quarterback or a running back and has only been awarded to a defensive player twice. Lawrence Taylor, linebacker of the New York Giants, last won the award back in 1986. Watt is with no doubt going to win the defensive player of the year award, the real question is, will he be the first defensive player to win the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor?

Most Valuable Player: Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts

There are many candidates for MVP in the NFL this year including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and J.J. Watt but, through Week 10, Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck is the frontrunner for the award. With a league leading 3,085 passing yards through nine games, Luck is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s record of 5,477 passing yards in a season. Luck’s completion percentage (63.6%) and average yards per attempt (7.85) are significantly higher than his first two seasons in the NFL. Luck and the Colts are also on pace to win the AFC South for the third straight year and could possibly clinch a first round bye in the postseason. Even with similar numbers to Brady and Manning, Luck might be given the award simply because he has never won it before.

Fantasy Football - Trade Targets and Free Agents

Numbers are fun to me. I can remember my Dad and I riding to church and giving each other mental math problems to figure out over and over again. Numbers (especially when there are dollars signs in front of them) have always been easy and straightforward to me. I remember my junior year project in U.S. History. It was our job to use $100,000 in fake money and invest it in the stock market over one month (still not sure what this had to do with history, but I digress). That project was fascinating to me as I blew away my classmates. I put more time and research into it then the rest of the class combined. And because of it, I blew away the competition, nearly doubling my money. Yet, it really wasn’t that hard. I just adopted the buy low idea. The thought behind it is that you have to find the low spot for a company’s value and assume it can only go up from there. Why buy a stock when it’s on top when you can get a better return on investment from finding the ones in the valley. Yes, this is where the fantasy analogy kicks in. Before I get to my weekly free agent finds I want to look at some players whose value is currently at a low point. Whether that means they’ve recently been injured, have had some tough matchups, or just haven’t yet produced, you can find some studs to target in trades. Here’s a look at 3 guys you should look to acquire from their owner who might be burnt out on them:

·      RB Arian Foster

o   Yes, in most leagues Foster was likely a late first or early second rounder in your draft. But, I get the feeling Foster’s owners are worried about his nagging hamstring injury that had him sit out week 3 and play injured this weekend. His last two weeks he’s put up a goose egg and 6 points. The time to buy is now! After being worked like a dog the first two weeks of the season, you had to expect an injury at some point. But as he now nears full health, he’s coming back into a very fantasy friendly stretch of games. In weeks 6-9 he faces bottom 15 fantasy rush defenses each game, and following a bye in week 10 he faces the 2nd worst defense in the league in a game against the Browns. Foster is primed to explode in the coming weeks so grab him pronto.

·      WR Michael Crabtree

o   The 49ers wide receiver is coming off a 5 catch disappointment against a beatable Eagles secondary. But don’t overlook a few important things that make him a prime trade target. First of all, he leads the team with 32 targets, that’s 8 a week through the first quarter of the season. He’s Kaep’s most trustworthy pass catcher. Secondly, Crabtree went to the locker room with an ankle injury in the first quarter of his week 4 matchup but came back and hobbled his way to those 5 receptions. His lack of production therefore shouldn’t be worrisome. Lastly, after a bye in week 8, Crabtree comes back to face 4 straight bottom 10 pass defenses. Go get the young wideout while he’s still “gettable”

·      QB Cam Newton

o   Superman hasn’t looked very super to start the year. The rib injury that forced him to sit week 1 has apparently been lingering. Newton has yet to throw multiple touchdowns in a game and hasn’t been running enough to keep his fantasy value. But as his health returns, he’ll return to the running, efficient QB we’ve come to know. He has yet to throw an interception this season, which shows great decision making from the injured pass thrower. Not to mention, he also has a great stretch of games coming up. In weeks 8-10, he faces three of the seven worst fantasy pass defenses in the league. Go trade from him now and thank me later when Superman returns to form and saves your lineup.

            Every week before free agent finds, I want to look back at my hits and misses from the previous week’s free agent recommendations in a section known from this day forward as You’re Welcome/Sorry About That

            You’re Welcome

·      Lorenzo Taliaferro- 15 carries for 58 yards and a TD…You’re welcome

·      Dolphins D/ST- 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, one TD…You’re welcome

·      Larry Donnell- 7 receptions for 54 yards and THREE TDS…YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!

Sorry About That

·      Jake Locker- ruled out because of sore wrist…Sorry about that

·      Jeremy Kerley- 1 reception for 3 yards… Sorry about that

·      Kirk Cousins- 257 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs…Yeah I’m really really sorry about that

 

Free Agent Finds

·      QB

o   Joe Flacco (owned in 18% of leagues)

§  Flacco is coming off a torching of the Panthers D to the tune of 327 yards and 3 touchdowns. Look for this trend to continue as Flacco and co. go into Indy and face the red-hot Andrew Luck led Colts. Prediction: 315 yards, 2 touchdowns

o   Ryan Fitzpatrick (4%)

§  Fitz is likely never going to win you a week. But he is plenty sufficient to get the job done. He’s scored at least 12 points every week and is pretty efficient which limits turnovers. With the Texans going on the road to face a Demarco Murray-led Cowboys team, Fitz may be forced to throw if the Texans fall behind early. Prediction: 275 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception

·      RB

o   Darrin Reaves (0.1%)

§  Reaves has suddenly found himself the starter in a depleted Panther backfield. Stewart and Tolbert were out before week 4’s matchup and DeAngelo was sent to the bench with an injury himself. Reaves’ upside may be limited but any RB in a starting role has to be given a close look in a league short on dependable RBs. Going up against a Bears run D that has allowed 100 yards or a TD to running backs in 3 of the 4 weeks this year, Reaves should be able to hit pay dirt. Prediction: 18 carries for 67 yards and a TD

o   Jerick McKinnon (0.8%)

§  The Viking running back right now can’t be considered more than a speculative add. Yes he just had a monster game against the Falcons, putting up more than 150 all-purpose yards. But Asiata (for some unknown reason) remains the lead back in Minnesota and he’ll be getting all short yardage and red zone carries. McKinnon won’t be a starter on your team this week but if he can start carving his role in the offense, you could be looking at a nice spark in your flex spot come playoff time. Prediction: 12 carries 56 yards, 4 receptions for 27 yards

·      WR

o   Justin Hunter (77%)

§  First of all, Hunter is likely to be dropped in a large amount of leagues this week so expect that ownership number to plummet. The young wide receiver was a training camp star as reporter after reporter raved about his hands and athletic ability. But through 4 games, he leaves us wanting more. The targets are there (he’s had 26 through 4 weeks). I think this is the week his athleticism is put on display as Cleveland will look to shut down Delanie Walker and PPR monster Kendall Wright. Prediction: 6 catches, 71 yards and a TD

o   Andrew Hawkins (12%)

§  Hawkins may still be a little difficult to own in standard, non-PPR leagues but even in those, I think he’s worth a bench spot. Hawkins had at least 6 catches in each game before the Browns’ week 4 bye. Furthermore, his yardage line each game thus far has been 87, 70, and 87. A guy that catches this many balls is bound to find himself in the end zone at some point or another, and this may be that week. Prediction: 8 receptions, 90 yards and a TD

·      TE

o   Heath Miller (12%)

§  Heeeeeeeeath’s name is likely to show up on just about every free agent recommendation article you read today, and for good reason. The tight end who only had 3 or 4 receptions each week previous, exploded for 10 receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay. Miller will look to continue this trend against a helpless Jags defense that ranks second to last against TEs. Miller is easily Roethlisberger’s second favorite pass catcher behind the incredible Antonio Brown. Although the matchup is scary because they may just try to run out the game, expect Miller to do his damage early. Prediction: 5 catches for 51 yards and a TD

o   Jace Amaro (1%)

§  Another week, another Jets pass catcher on the list. Hopefully this one works out better than Kerley. Amaro, the rookie out of Texas Tech was drafted to give Geno Smith a reliable option in the middle of the field. Through 3 weeks, it didn’t seem like they were on the same page as they only connected on 6 passes. However, in week 4 alone, Amaro nearly matches his season total, catching 5 passes for 58 yards.  With an offense lacking much firepower, the Jets figure to find themselves down frequently which means passing, passing, passing. Someone on this team has to catch passes; this week I’m betting it’s Amaro. Prediction: 6 catches for 63 yards

·      Defense/ST

o   Eagles D/ST

§  Coming off an impressive defensive and special teams display in which the units combined for 3 touchdowns, the Eagles will be flying high in their home matchup against the Rams. With the long time backup Shaun Hill at the helm for St. Louis, expect Chip Kelly’s defense to bring the blitz early and often. The Eagles D will be seeking out the turnovers again and I believe they are primed for a top 10 week. Prediction: 17 points against, 2 INTs, 4 sacks

o   Steelers D/ST

§  Every single defense to play the Jacksonville Jaguars this week has scored double-digit fantasy points. Pick the Steelers up and start them. Enough said.

Feel free to send in your lineup questions, waiver wire thoughts, or trade help to FantasyDecisions@gmail.com

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This has been another edition of Fantasy Decisions with Bradley Maddox. Always remember: An elite owner stays ahead of the curve

Rising:

Andrew Luck:

What is the easiest way for a player to find his way into the “rising” section of my column? Out-play Peyton Manning. Luck had arguably the best game of his career, as he combined for four touchdowns, dominated the passing game, and made strong runs at key points in the game. Reggie Wayne’s torn ACL doesn’t help Luck moving forward, but he will land on his feet.

Roy Helu:

Don’t expect Helu to repeat his three touchdown performance from this week, but it does mean something. Alfred Morris has never been a three-down back, and Helu runs particularly strong in the red zone. There might be a real place for him in this offense.

Harry Douglas:

Douglas turned out an eye-opening 149-yard, one-touchdown performance this past Sunday. Douglas was expected to put up strong numbers after Julio Jones went out for the year, but even I didn’t expect this. We still don’t know how Roddy White’s inevitable return will effect Douglas’ numbers, but I have a feeling that he will be just fine.

Falling:

Tom Brady:

It is officially time to panic. The whole football world waited on Rob Gronkowski to return from injury and help re-establish Tom Brady as an elite quarterback. This past week, Gronkowski had a solid game, but Brady only threw for 228 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. I never thought I’d say this, but it may be time to start benching Tom Brady.

Mike Williams:

Vincent Jackson is a much, much better receiver than Williams. Williams’ only hope at salvaging his season was to build some strong chemistry with new quarterback Mike Glennon. But Glennon, like his predecessor Josh Freeman, only looks for Jackson on the field. Williams will score a touchdown every third game or so, but shouldn’t receive for over 60 yards and shouldn’t have a consistent spot in anyone’s starting roster.

Jared Cook:

Remember when I said to reserve judgment on some strong Week 1 performances? That Week 1 is just as likely to be an anomaly as any other week? I was really just speaking on Jared Cook. Cook finally looked poised to break out after a 141-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 1. Since then he has not gained over four fantasy points in a single game. To put that into perspective, he had six more fantasy points in week one than he has had total in Weeks 2 through 7. This is the Jared Cook that we know and can’t stand.

Rookie QB's Light Defenses Up In Thrilling Fashion

In this all or nothing, make or break fantasy football world that we live in, the difference between victory and defeat often comes down to a single player.  With their teams and fantasy owners alike in need of touchdowns late in the game, a couple rookie quarterbacks led the way in comeback victories:

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Luck had yet another huge game for the Colts on Sunday, throwing for 391 yards and four touchdowns, including one as time expire that gave the Colts a 35-33 win over the Detroit Lions.  Although he did throw three interceptions, he was able to pile up more than enough yardage and scores to overcome his mistakes.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

In a game that many people, including myself, believed he would struggle, Wilson had possibly his best game as a professional, passing for 293 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 71 yards against a very tough Chicago defense.  Like Luck’s, a late touchdown pass boosted Wilson’s fantasy performance, as he threw a thirteen-yard score to Sydney Rice in overtime.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Though the Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers 14-23, Peterson did all he could to rally his team, racking up 210 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. After returning from an ACL tear he suffered late last year the former Oklahoma Sooner continues to exceed expectations this season, rushing for 100-plus yards for the sixth straight game.  

Daily Texan Mock Draft

1. Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

When comparing Luck to Griffin Robert Griffin III, it’s easy to overlook Luck’s athleticism. But the Stanford product ran the fourth-best 40-yard-dash among quarterbacks, turned in the fifth-best vertical leap and had the furthest broad jump. He’s much, much more athletic than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Luck’s arm and touch could eventually put him in that upper-echelon of NFL quarterbacks, though: he ranked seventh in the NCAA with a 71.3 completion percentage, sixth with 8.7 yards per attempt and tied for fifth with a touchdown percentage of 9.2 — meaning for every 100 passes he attempted, roughly 10 of them were for touchdowns. But will he have anybody besides Reggie Wayne to throw to in Indy?

2. Washington Redskins (from the Rams) — Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Bear with me here, but I like the Heisman Winner from Baylor better than I do Luck. In those aforementioned passing metrics, RG3 ranks better than Luck — third in completion percentage, first in yards per attempt, a tie with Luck in touchdown percentage and also a interception percentage that ranked among the best in the country (1.5, good for 12th). Luck, on the other hand, threw an interception 2.5 percent of the time he put the ball in the air — 46th in the country.

It really is arguable that Griffin III is a better passing prospect than Luck. It’s unarguable that he’s a better athlete (best 40 time of any QB, best vertical leap), one who put up whopping rushing numbers in college with 2,943 total yards and 10 games of triple-digit yardage in essentially three seasons.

One last stat: his passer-efficiency rating in 2011 was the second best ever.

3. Minnesota Vikings — Morris Claiborne, CB, Louisiana State

USC tackle Matt Kalil has been penciled in at this spot since the combine, but it won’t be too surprising if the Vikings elect to go with this year’s best cornerback. In a division where you’re facing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler (not to mention, Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Brandon Marshall) twice a year, you need to be able to stop the pass.

Offensive tackles aren't full-proof options, either. Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Trent Williams are recent examples of top-10 tackles whose teams (St. Louis, Jacksonville and Washington, respectively) rank among the worst in the league (32nd, 28th, 26th, also respectively). Take Claiborne and give yourself a secondary to build on.

4. Cleveland Browns — Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Montario Hardesty, Greg Little, Ben Watson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Chris Ogbonnaya…I don’t care who your quarterback is, or who you’ve got on the offensive line; you’re not winning many games with that core of skill players. That’s why the Browns have to get the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Cleveland traded down last year (and drafted a defensive tackle, Phil Taylor, at 21) in order to stockpile picks. Those picks need to be used to help give a quarterback — for now it’s Colt McCoy — a prayer at winning games in the AFC North. Richardson steps in and starts from day one.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

With Claiborne and Richardson off the board, the Bucs have to reach a bit here to get a cornerback, but it’s a major position of need. Ronde Barber has very little left in the tank and the troubled Aqib Talib is being shopped.

6. St. Louis Rams — Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

From 2010 to 2011, Blackmon scored 38 touchdowns and hauled in 232 passes. His 3,304 receiving yards might be a byproduct of a system, but that’s insane no matter how you slice it (as is his ypc average of 14.6). He’s neither the fastest nor the tallest receiver in this draft, yet he is far and away the most productive and should immediately become Sam Bradford’s top target.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California

Since 2008, the Jags have chosen in the top 10 every year. And with little results to show for it: Derrick Harvey busted, Monroe has provided little semblance of a building block, Blaine Gabbert could be a disaster. The pick of defensive tackle Tyson Alualu is actually the best so far — and even that is saying something. So this pick needs to be right, and when you’re facing that kind of pressure, you take the best player available, regardless of need. Kalil, a potential franchise left tackle, is just that.

8. Miami Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M

Here’s what I don’t like about Tannehill: He has only 20 games at quarterback under his belt and he was perhaps the main culprit in A&M’s choke job of 2011.

Here’s what I do like: He’s a confident, stand-up type of guy with an above-average arm.

Here’s what I hate: His 61.6 completion percentage last season, his seven yards per attempt, his 2.8 interception percentage.

And here’s what I love: He was sacked only nine times last year, so I know the former wide receiver can avoid the pressures of the Jets, Patriots and the newly-revamped pass rush of the Bills in the AFC East, and he can throw on the run. When a play breaks down, or when a receiver just can’t get open — with Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, this could happen quite often — Tannehill can make things happen with his feet.

Look, Tannehill is the ultimate project quarterback. But the Dolphins can afford to be patient. Matt Moore is a serviceable option and it’s not like the team is about to challenge New England or New York for the division. He’s worth the risk here at 8.

9. Carolina Panthers — Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

With Cam Newton and Steve Smith doing their thing on offense, it’s time for Carolina to shore up things on the other side of the ball. The NFL’s seventh-worst rushing defense would be buoyed by the addition of Cox, who had five sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season.

10. Buffalo Bills — Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

Despite the offseason signing of Mario Williams, there’s still work to be done to improve Buffalo’s D, which ranked 28th in total defense and 30th in run defense. Kuechly, who led the NCAA in tackles last season, gives the Bills one of the best front sevens in the league. Offensive help — mainly, receiver — can come in the later rounds.

11. Kansas City Chiefs — Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina

Another pass-rush option to pair opposite Tamba Hali. Got to be able to get to the quarterback in a division where you face Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers twice a season.

12. Seattle Seahawks — Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

Probably a reach here. Then again, they said the same thing about Jason Pierre-Paul at No. 15 a few seasons ago. The Seahawks put up pedestrian sack numbers in 2011 (33, for a sack percentage of 5.7). Coples never put up huge numbers at UNC, but it’s his potential — a 4.7 40 time at 6-foot-6 and 284 lbs. — that has Seattle pulling the trigger.

13. Arizona Cardinals — Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

The smart pick might be an offensive lineman like David DeCastro or Riley Reiff, but Larry Fitzgerald has been begging for somebody to take double-team pressure off of him for the longest time.

14. Dallas Cowboys — Mark Barron, S, Alabama

The Cowboys have taken three defensive backs in the first round the last decade — safety Roy Williams in 2002 and cornerbacks Terence Newman in 2003 and Mike Jenkins in 2008. Barron becomes No. 4 here and it’s easy to believe he could be better than any of the three.

15. Philadelphia Eagles — Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Philly chose a guard with its first-round pick a year ago, but it’s been a long time since it used such a high pick on an offensive tackle — 1998 ,to be exact. With left tackle Jason Peters possibly out for the season, now seems as good a time as any to break the streak.

16. New York Jets — Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

For a team that’s made the AFC Championship game two of the last three years, the Jets sure do have a lot of holes. The “ground and pound” offense hasn’t gone anywhere behind Shonn Greene (22nd in team rushing last season), the passing game is in a state of disillusion (21st) and the Jets finished in the red in takeaways. But dangling Poe in front of Rex Ryan — who loves taking on defensive projects — is just too tantalizing.

17. Cincinnati Bengals — David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

With a boatload of draft picks after dealing Carson Palmer to the Raiders midseason, there’s plenty of time later on for the Bengals to make a sexier choice, possibly at corner or receiver. Take the draft’s best guard prospect off the boards.

18. San Diego Chargers — Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

What is it that has caused the Chargers to fall short so often? Among other things, the team failed to establish the run it its six-game losing streak in the middle of last year, posting a paltry 98 yards per game. You’ve got a capable runner in Ryan Mathews, now give him somebody to run behind.

19. Chicago Bears — Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia

Unless the plan is to turn Jay Cutler into David Carr, it’s high time to improve the offensive line. Stick Glenn at right tackle and hope last year’s top pick, Gabe Carimi, is healthy enough to play a full season at left. Then bid adieu to J’Marcus Webb and Lance Louis, the weak links of a unit that allowed 49 sacks in 2011.

20. Tennessee Titans — Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

In a division that will one day be run by Andrew Luck, it’s imperative to have somebody who can get after the passer. Upshaw (8.5 sacks last season) can put his hand in the dirt in a 4-3 defensive set or play upright in a 3-4.

21. Cincinnati Bengals — Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Here’s that cornerback pick I was telling you about. If it weren’t for a few character issues, Kirkpatrick might have been drafted higher. Really good value here for the big, physical Kirkpatrick.

22. Cleveland Browns — Reuben Randle, WR, LSU

Randle is just the kind of deep threat the Browns need to stretch the field, and clear out the box for fellow rookie Trent Richardson. His 17.3 yards per reception ranked among the top 20 in the nation a year ago.

23. Detroit Lions — Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

Character issues, schmaracter issues. When you can get this kind of talent this late in the first round, and fill a need while doing it, you take a risk. (Jenkins was dismissed by the Florida Gators after a myriad of drug problems and he’s fathered four children with three different women.) If Jenkins can stay out of trouble — granted, a big if — he can help the Lions.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin

It has been a game of musical chairs at the right guard position for Steelers, where Darnell Stapleton, Ramon Foster and Trai Essex have been used as temporary replacements until a franchise-type player comes along. In the rugged AFC North, with Ben Roethlisberger feeling the heat, here’s the opportunity to grab a long-term starter.

25. Denver Broncos — Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Those who didn’t flip the channel in between Tim Tebow’s series on offense most likely noticed Denver’s glaring weakness. In eight losses, the Broncos gave up an average of 150 rushing yards a game. Peyton Manning won’t be nearly as effective if he’s sitting on the sidelines watching the opposition run at will.

26. Houston Texans — Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

It’s a choice here between Wright or Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech. Because Houston needs somebody to step in opposite Andre Johnson immediately, the best bet is it’s the uber-productive Wright (one touchdown in every seven catches last season) over a raw talent like Hill.

27. New England Patriots — Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

Last year’s sack leader (16) winds up on a team that has twice seen, firsthand, what an effective pass rush can really do (the New York Giants of 2007, 2011). There's a hole to fill, too, with Mark Anderson signing with the Bills.

28. Green Bay Packers — Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State

Like Clay Matthews, McClellin is a bit of a late-bloomer who’s just now starting to pick up steam. Funny timing. Green Bay is in desperate need of a pass-rushing ‘backer to draw some attention away from Mr. Matthews.

29. Baltimore Ravens — Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

A receiver is tempting, but Adams can either replace the aging Bryant McKinnie or the departed Ben Grubbs.

30. San Francisco 49ers — Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Call it a reward for quarterback Alex Smith who, ahem, faithfully came back to San Fran after flirting with the Dolphins in the offseason. Michael Crabtree looks like a flop, anyways.

31. New England Patriots — Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

This pick might fall into the hands of a team trying to trade up for Brandon Weeden. Among the contenders, Cleveland has the most to offer in terms of draft picks (Nos. 37 and 67). If not, Patriots should go defense again.

32. New York Giants — Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

One minor cost of the Giants winning the Super Bowl in Feb. was that two of their tight ends, Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum, suffered knee injuries that could cause them to miss the entire 2012 season. Fleener averaged about 20 yards a catch in his final year at Stanford and also hauled in 10 touchdowns.

Andrew Luck to Indianapolis Colts

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, The Indianapolis Colts have informed Stanford QB Andrew Luck that they will be selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. This ends a few months of speculation that the Colts might go in another direction with the pick, in drafting Baylor QB Robert Griffin III as their future successor.

Another report by Schefter indicates that the Washington Redskins will be taking Griffin with the No. 2 overall pick, now that the Colts have made their decision.

Now that the first two picks have been decided, the main points of emphasis for the draft will now be what happen with the picks after those. With Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill climbing up the draft boards as of late, other teams may want to trade up to select him.

Other plots include will the Philadelphia Eagles really trade for the No. 4 overall pick and what will the St. Louis Rams do with the No. 6 pick they received from the Redskins in their trade for the No. 2 pick? This year’s draft could be one of the most captivating ones in a while.

Do something, anything other than watch the first 20 minutes of the NFL Draft.

Surf YouTube, start whatever research paper you’ve neglected for the semester, figure out your summer plans, but just don’t sit through the inevitable, because if you don’t know by now I’ll just tell you. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will be bang-bang No. 1 and No. 2 picks.

Sorry Minnesota through Miami (picks 3-8) fans. Any of you hold-outs that think your team could have snagged one of those top prizes in a steal is sorely mistaken.

But don’t be sour that the top two quarterbacks are already taken. In fact, the third quarterback that should come off the board has a shot at providing as much as Luck or Griffin at the NFL level because of his talent and accuracy. And yes, I’m talking about Brandon Weeden.

Forget his age. In this case, Weeden is like a fine wine. He’s better as he gets older, and is immediately palatable for a team seeking instant wins. In fact, the case that he is too old is almost nonsense given that the average starting age of NFL quarterbacks is just about 28 years old — Weeden’s current age.

Weeden has outdueled opposing defenses throughout his time at Oklahoma State like a teenager bullying children on the playground. He’s amassed nearly 10,000 yards as a Cowboy and tossed 75 touchdowns. He’s so pro-ready that he makes watching him toss the pigskin look almost boring.

Scouts know he’s good and he’s got the wins and numbers to prove it, but they just gauge his age as too much of a risk.

Analysts would bark at such an endorsement as they’ve been quick to jump on the Ryan Tannehill bandwagon as the No. 3 guy. Tannehill did have impressive numbers at Texas A&M this season. He shattered records during his career under center, including single game passing yards (449 vs. Texas Tech, 2010), single season passing yards (3,744, 2011) and completion percentage (65.0, 2010). He ran his offense with pro terminology and understands how the West Coast system works. Not to mention that at 23 years old, he can be molded. On the surface it seems all there, so much so that people are willing to take a risk on a guy that spent most of his time as a wide receiver.

But dig a little deeper and teams should take notice that he’s a wild card of a pick. The intangibles, in this case, do matter between Weeden and Tannehill. Weeden has outdueled opposing defenses in high pressure situations. He had an incredible Fiesta Bowl performance, throwing for 399 yards and three touchdowns and went on to beat the consensus No. 1 pick, Luck. The game came down to the wire, but Weeden was poised in the pocket the whole time.

Tannehill played games with a fire under his behind in the first half of games, but couldn’t make throws down the stretch when he needed to. He was noticeably rattled and sometimes throws came out of his hands that made fans scratch their heads. Weeden, no matter how many times he was picked off or made an errant throw, was able to dig his offense back into the ground and forge forward.

Texas safety Blake Gideon has played both of the possible third selection quarterbacks. He thinks they are talented in their own ways, but his praise for each differs. He said Tannehill is a great first round quarterback, but not a top-10 get for any team. But he sees Weeden entirely differently.

“He’s one of the best quarterbacks I faced in four years with how he diagnoses the game and how fast he makes his reads.” Gideon said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s fallen into the situation he has ... just because he’s an older guy.”

Are you listening, Miami?

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: Weeden makes case for third-best QB in draft

South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore (5) isn’t far behind LSU’s Morris Claiborne as the draft’s top defensive back prospect.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

1. Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

When comparing Luck to Griffin Robert Griffin III, it’s easy to overlook Luck’s athleticism. But the Stanford product ran the fourth-best 40 yard dash among quarterbacks, turned in the fourth-best vertical leap and had the furthest broad jump. He’s much, much more athletic than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Luck’s arm and touch could eventually put him in that upper-echelon of NFL quarterbacks, though: He ranked seventh in the NCAA with a 71.3 completion percentage, sixth with 8.7 yards per attempt and tied for fifth with a touchdown percentage of 9.2 — meaning for every 100 passes he attempted, roughly 10 of them were for touchdowns. But will he have anybody besides Reggie Wayne to throw to in Indy?

2. Washington Redskins (from the Rams), Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Bear with me here, but I like the Heisman Winner from Baylor better than I do Luck. In those aforementioned passing metrics, RG3 ranks better than Luck — third in completion percentage, first in yards per attempt, a tie with Luck in touchdown percentage and also a interception percentage that ranked among the best in the country (1.4, good for 12th). Luck, on the other hand, threw an interception 2.1 percent of the time he put the ball in the air — 46th in the country.

It really is arguable that Griffin III is a better passing prospect than Luck. It’s unarguable that he’s a better athlete (best 40 time of any QB, best vertical leap), one who put up whopping rushing numbers in college with 2,943 total yards and 10 games of triple-digit yardage in essentially three seasons.

One last stat: His passer-efficiency rating in 2011 was the second best ever.

3. Minnesota Vikings, Morris Claiborne, CB, Louisiana State

USC tackle Matt Kalil has been penciled in at this spot since the Combine, but it won’t be too surprising if the Vikings elect to go with this year’s best cornerback. In a division where you’re facing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler (not to mention, Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Brandon Marshall) twice a year, you need to be able to stop the pass.

Offensive tackles aren’t full-proof options, either. Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Trent Williams are recent examples of top-10 tackles whose teams (St. Louis, Jacksonville and Washington, respectively) rank among the worst in the league (32nd, 27th, 26th, also respectively). Take Claiborne and give yourself a secondary to build on.

4. Cleveland Browns, Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Montario Hardesty, Greg Little, Ben Watson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Chris Ogbonnaya ... I don’t care who your quarterback is, or who you’ve got on the offensive line; you’re not winning many games with that core of skill players. That’s why the Browns have to get the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Cleveland traded down last year (and drafted a defensive tackle, Phil Taylor, at 21) in order to stockpile picks. Those picks need to be used to help give a quarterback — for now it’s Colt McCoy — a prayer at winning games in the AFC North. Richardson steps in and starts from day one.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

With Claiborne and Richardson off the board, the Bucs have to reach a bit here to get a cornerback, but it’s a major position of need. Ronde Barber has very little left in the tank and the troubled Aqib Talib is being shopped.

LSU’s Morris Claiborne is projected by many to go within the Draft’s first few picks. Claiborne impressed at the combine and saw his stock climb.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Colts have removed the large banner featuring Peyton Manning outside of Lucas Oil Stadium. Andrew Luck is coming to town.

This draft has had more drama leading up to it than others. The seemingly never-ending Manning, Tim Tebow and Luck saga will finally come to an end, and Luck will be heading to Indianapolis.

Although Heisman winner Robert Griffin III is a standout quarterback, he will be chosen second and going to Washington. This will be the fourth time since 1967 that a pair of quarterbacks will go No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft. With the first two picks virtually set in stone, the ones following are where it gets more unclear.

Trent Richardson could shake things up

There is no doubt that Trent Richardson is one of the best players in the draft. The 5-foot-11 speedster has the ability to break tackles, catch the ball and run (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds).

But how long it will take for his name to be called on draft day is unclear. Running backs are often underappreciated and teams will likely be torn as to whether or not he deserves to be a top-10 pick.

He was vital in Alabama’s national championship season. But in a pass-heavy NFL, teams that will be calling names early may be hesitant to choose Richardson.

Although it is unclear where Richardson will go, the Browns are in need of a solid running back. Richardson could be that guy.

But it would be hard to use the No. 4 pick on a running back.

Some surprises could break into the first round

LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle had 53 catches for 917 yards and eight touchdowns during LSU’s impressive run to the BCS National Championship. He had a breakout season and was named to the All SEC-First Team. He only caught 44 passes in his first two years as a Tiger, but this year he proved he is NFL-ready, even potentially deserving to be a first rounder.

Like Randle, Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith had a strong year that will put him in contention to be a first round pick. This season he had 93 tackles, seven interceptions and seven pass break ups. He could be a strong fit for the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants or the Patriots, who are in need of some improvement on the defensive end. Smith has snuck up and is the second best safety in this year’s draft behind Alabama’s Mark Barron.

No surprise here; the SEC will dominate first round

With the SEC winning the last six national championships, it’s no surprise that players from the conference will be hearing their names called very frequently today. Between nine and 12 players will likely be picked from the conference in the first round.

Alabama’s Richardson and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne will likely be the first two chosen from the competitive conference. Barron will be chosen in the first round, even though safeties aren’t typically chosen so early. South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore and Melvin Ingram will probably be top 20 picks.

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: SEC expected to represent, dominate first round picks

Robert Griffin III QB Baylor
Week 14 vs. Texas- Passing: 15/22 (68.2%) for 320 yards, 2 TD 1 INT Rushing: 12 carries for 32 yards, 2 TD
Season Stats- Passing: 267/369 (72.4%) for 3,998 yards, 36 TD 6 INT Rushing: 161 carries for 644 yards (4.0 ypc), 9 TD

Remember all that talk by the Longhorns’ defense about how RGIII wasn’t going to win the Heisman against them? Well, he may have done just that last week. Against what proved to be a pretty tenacious Texas defense in the second half of the season, Griffin executed and came out with yet another big win. In the last five games Griffin has scored no less than three touchdowns and has only tossed two interceptions. The 9-3 (6-3) mark that Griffin has led the Bears to is the most successful any team from Waco has been in decades. It’s not likely that Griffin will return for his senior season after the arcade-like numbers he put up this year. However, he has an excellent chance of becoming the only Bears’ player to ever win the Heisman.

Trent Richardson RB Alabama
Week 14- DNP
Season Stats- Rushing: 263 rushes for 1,583 yards (6.0 ypc), 20 TD Receiving: 27 receptions for 327 yards (12.1 ypc), 3 TD

All of the BCS imperfections aside, the rematch between Alabama and LSU should be another game that is decided by the slimmest of margins. Whenever the nation’s top offensive and defensive lines clash you can’t help but fix your eyes on the action. Richardson has been one of the most consistent backs in the nation throughout this year, scoring at least once in every game but one- against LSU. He’s also among the nation’s leading rushers and like many other juniors, will likely forego his senior season to enter the NFL draft. In the end, Richardson’s numbers may not stack up as well, but he has put this team on his back the entire year and is easily the most important offensive player for the Tide.


Andrew Luck QB Stanford
Week 14- DNP
Season Stats- Passing: 261/373 (70.0%) for 3,170 yards, 35 TD 9 INT Rushing: 43 carries for 153 yards, 2 TD

Luck wasn’t able to sway voters any more this past week as Oregon and UCLA duked it out for the Pac-12 title, but his Heisman chances haven’t been squelched quite yet. Head coach David Shaw has been campaigning for Luck ever since the season came to a close two weeks ago, and he’s showing no signs of easing up, either. It’s a shame that the Heisman isn’t given out after the conclusion of bowl season because Luck could have a career night in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. While Luck was the clear favorite to win the Heisman throughout most of the year, he sort of leveled off as the season drew to a close and allowed both Griffin and Richardson to garner more attention. Luck threw six interceptions in his final five games, including two in a crucial loss to Oregon.


Montee Ball RB Wisconsin
Week 14 at Michigan State- Rushing: 27 carries for 137 yards (5.1 ypc), 3 TD Receiving: 3 receptions for 7 yards, 1 TD
Season Stats- Rushing: 275 carries for 1,759 yards (6.4 ypc), 32 TD Receiving: 20 receptions for 255 yards (12.8 ypc), 6 TD

It’s crazy to think that the hype surrounding a player from Baylor has overshadowed one of the greatest single-season performances of the past decade. Well, at Wisconsin at least. Ball now owns a couple Badger all-time records, including most rushing touchdowns in a season (32), most points scored in a season (230). His 38 total touchdowns also rank first on the Badgers’ all-time list, a record previously held by the always entertaining Ron Dayne. Ball is also the nation’s leading rusher and scorer this season. The next closest player on the scoring list this year is Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein with 156 points, which makes it a little easier to see just how dominant Ball was for the Badgers this year. Stat-wise, Ball may have the most impressive resume; it’s not easy running for 30-plus touchdowns, especially in the Big Ten.

Tyrann Mathieu CB LSU
Week 14 vs. Georgia-
4 solo tackles, 4 punt returns for 119 yards (29.75 avg.), 1 TD
Season Stats- 71 total tackles (54 solo), 2 sacks, 2 INT, 6 forced fumbles (4 recovered), 4 total TD (2 fumble returns, 2 punt returns)

This is one player that opponents must absolutely dread playing against. Mathieu has an innate sense for not only ripping the ball away from his offensive counterparts, but also putting the ball in the endzone after he’s separated it from a player. He’s been nicknamed “Honey Badger” for his ferocious defensive skill-set and his ability to completely change a game in an instant. Nevermind his play on defense, Mathieu is a top-notch punt returner with a nose for sparking big returns. More than once this season Mathieu has brought his team to life after a lengthy punt return. He may not take home the Heisman this season, but for the sheer excitement he’s provided this year he deserves the invite to New York. Give Mathieu one more year under coach Les Miles and he could be much higher on this list at the end of next season.