Tag Archives: NFC

The Heartthrob’s Mockery Draft ’18

*Disclaimer: This Mock Draft was done before the trade between the Rams and the Patriots. A second version of this mock will be out before the draft as well.

My annual “Mockery Draft” is a way to poke fun of those who take themselves to seriously and be completely bias in what I want to happen.  Sure, I watch and love college football so I may know a little something here and there just from watching the games week to week, but does any of that really matter?  Trades and the unpredictable is what makes the draft interesting.  Here is my take on all of this craziness that may or may not happen in the first round of this year’s draft. . .

1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Just do something that makes sense for once, Cleveland.  I’m personally not in love with any of these quarterbacks but Darnold seems to be the one the Browns like the most.

Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America

2. New York Giants – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: They say Eli still has more in the tank, but they’d be foolish to not take a quarterback at this spot.  Once again, not in love with this quarterback class, BUT the guys this year have higher ceilings than those projected to come out next year.  Giants have to make this move now.

3. New York Jets – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma:  Yeah, I know – three quarterbacks in a row, won’t happen.  Well, it should.  Jets didn’t trade up to take anything else but a quarterback, trading into the third spot and not one or two means they have more love for another candidate not named Darnold or Rosen.  Mayfield comes with the fanfare and personality the Jets have been craving to see at the QB position.

4. Cleveland Browns  – Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State: Last year with the first overall pick they selected the draft’s best pass rusher in Myles Garrett.  Why not do the same this year and “book-end” these boys for the road ahead?

5. Buffalo Bills (in MOCKERY TRADE WITH DENVER) – Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: In a move of pure desperation, the Bills draft up and select the next quarterback on their big board.  Allen is said to have the ability to throw the ball 80 yards downfield. . .that’s a talent you never need to really see in game situations though, so. . .yeah.

6. Indianapolis Colts  – Saquan Barkley, RB, Penn State – Colts traded with the Jets and got themselves the sixth pick a few weeks ago, and they better start doing something to help out Andrew Luck.  Barkley is one of my favorite players in the draft – but that’s because I’m a Penn State fan.  There isn’t anything that screams “3 down back” or “franchise back” about his game.  He’s a good kid, with talent that needs to be in the right system.  Colts have no system.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tremaine Edmunds, OLB, Virginia Tech; Bucs struggled with their pass rush this year.  Edmunds doesn’t get the acclaim Chubbs does, but in my opinion you’re splitting hairs about who’s better.

8. Chicago Bears – Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: This is my favorite team, this is their biggest need and this is my mock draft.  So in turn, they get the guy I want them to get.

Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

9. San Francisco 49ers – Denzel Ward,  CB, Ohio State: Some may have them nabbing wide out Calvin Ridley here but for a team that has to play against three above average quarterbacks twice a year, taking the best corner in the draft is the smart move.

10. Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith, ILB/OLB, Georgia:  I put this here because this is what I’ve been hearing for months now. At this point if it doesn’t happen, this entire draft will be a disappointment.

11. Seattle Seawhawks (in MOCKERY TRADE with Miami) – Derwin James, DB, Florida State: In my “complete trade” Miami also gets Kam Chancellor, so the Seahawks now have two glaring holes in their secondary.  James can play both safety and corner. . .but not at the same time. . . regardless, it’s a start in the right direction.

12. Denver Broncos  (in MOCKERY TRADE with Buffalo)-  Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA: They didn’t like that April Fools joke that Von Miller played on social media, about him being traded to the Browns. . . Elway doesn’t like people with bigger egos than his so he’ll look for Miller’s eventual replacement, who can in the meantime give them important snaps now.

13. Washington Redskins – Mike Huges, CB, Central Florida: Huges might actually be the best man to man coverage corner in this draft.

14. Green Bay Packers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama:  Packers have Burnett and Dix at safety but Fitzpatrick is probably better than either of them.

15. Arizona Cardinals – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Cards got kinda-sorta lucky and didn’t have to give anything up to get the quarterback who is the biggest risk but comes with the biggest upside in this draft.

Source: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

16. Baltimore Ravens -Colton Miller, T, UCLA:  They took the wrong tackle.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: Hey, look who took the right tackle!

18. Miami Dolphins (in MOCKERY TRADE with Seattle) –  Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State:  This is a smart pick by Miami to get a guy who can play different spots on the line.  Adam Gase has got to start building this offense somewhere.

19. Dallas Cowboys – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama:  Ridley was once projected to be a top 10 pick, but here he falls to the Cowboys and this makes keeping Dez Bryant a little bit less of a thing after 2018.

Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

20. Detroit Lions -Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma: In a lot of games, quarterback Matthew Stafford had to run out of the pocket a lot and just chuck it deep. . .I don’t know if that’s just how he’s played his whole career or because the o-line is bad.  I’ll guess a little bit of both.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Vita Vea, DT, Washington:  Will he last this long in reality?  Probably not.  I just didn’t want Green Bay to get him.

22. Buffalo Bills – Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa: This pick ends up being a better long term one than their quarterback pick of Josh Allen (woof)

23. New York Giants (in MOCKERY TRADE with L.A. Rams) Isiah Wynn , OL, Georgia:  Yeah, I’m believing in the hype.  The Giants trade Odell Beckham to the Rams, get this pick and probably a bunch more but they use it wisely and add a much needed piece to this offensive line (who can play every position).  Giants can easily take a wide out in the second and a running back in the third and have their offense set for the future.

24. Carolina Panthers – Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame:  The only reason they choose Brown over Sutton is because he’s bigger.

25. Tennessee Titans – Harold Landry, DE, Boston College: This ends up being a steal for this team.  They won’t make the playoffs because they have no quarterback but whatever.

Source: Leon Halip/Getty Images North America

26. Atlanta Falcons – Da’Ron Payne , DL ,Alabama: Falcons defense played better last year, no reason to stop adding to it.  Adding d-line talent against teams that like to run it like Carolina and New Orleans would help them out greatly in taking the NFC South.

27. New Orleans Saints – Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina: Oh lets just give one of the best offenses in football, the best tight end in the draft.  Brees can make this guy a pro-bowler in his first season.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama: I kind of wanted to make them trade Bell in this draft and take a Sony Michel here, but I went with the boring pick. . .sorry guys.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars -Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU:  If it’s Sutton, Brown or Moore, they need to take a wide-out here.

30. Minnesota Vikings – Will Hernandez , G, UTEP: A little bit of optimism here for a team that has very little needs, except for this one.

31. New England Patriots  – Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford: You would think after that Super Bowl debacle that they’d take a corner back here, but nah.  “The Hood” is too stubborn to admit when he was wrong, so instead goes with help on his d-line and with a player who we will be told is very intelligent and the kind of personality that will fit the New England Patriots way of blah blah blah blah. . .

32. Philadelphia Eagles – Sony Michel, RB, Georgia:  This team knows Jay Ajayi can’t be the answer and they also know that Michel is one of the best offensive threats in this draft who can be a three down back.  The offensive minded head coach, can’t resist.

 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Carolina Panthers 2015 Season

The Carolina Panthers may have won their division last year, but finishing with an 8-9-1 record means that there is still massive room for improvement.  Head coach Ron Rivera has had a .500 record in four seasons with the Panthers and is always on the “hot seat.”

Not many teams can lose a player of Greg Hardy’s talent and still be one of the league’s most respected defensive units, but that’s what keeps Rivera employed.  They have youth on this line with defensive tackle Star Lotullelei and defensive end Kony Ealy but it’s Charles Johnson, who needs to continue to be the veteran leader.  By doing so, he needs to lead by example and although his pass rushing isn’t what it used to be, his work ethic hasn’t missed a step, which will be key in keeping this line motivated.

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The line backing group in Carolina should be exciting to watch.  Luke Kuechly is arguably the best linebacker in football while 11 year pro Thomas Davis is one of those guys who has found the Fountain of Youth, because he is just as fast and alert now as he was seven years ago.  Rookie Shaq Thompson came into this draft as one of it’s better athletes.  At Washington, he played linebacker as well as safety and running back.  His versatility will keep him on the field as much as the other two linebackers and his speed will keep offensive lines in check as he can cause a lot of damaged in delayed blitz packages.

Veteran Charles Tillman, was one of the toughest and intelligent corner backs in the league, in his prime – but his injuries have limited his playing time, and although it was hard for the Chicago Bears to part ways with the fan favorite, the move had to be done.  Rivera brought Tillman on to be the voice of leadership in a secondary that needs the help, but Tillman’s voice won’t be heard if he can’t be on that field.  Josh Norman can’t be trusted across from Tillman and safety Roman Harper has lost a few steps.   If the front seven of this defense turns out to be a monster – expect the Panthers to play with the possibility of putting rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson in at safety to help balance things out.

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Ron Rivera likes to keep his offenses simple but this year he will need a lot of help from his offensive line that enters this season with a lot of questions.  Last year they Panthers had an undrafted rookie and practice squad-lifer start on their line and this year they are expecting third round pick Trai Turner.  Rob Rang of CBS Sports said of Turner: “Powerful run blocking will get Turner a chance in the NFL, but struggles in pass protection may make Turner’s conversion to the quickness and precision of the NFL difficult. ”  Luckily for Turner the Panthers like to run a lot – the flip side of that is: “Who is running the ball?”

James Stewart has been on Carolina for his whole career and if people were to speak honestly on the career of Stewart – “unimpressive” would be the word to describe it.  He’s a basic running back with basic abilities who never seemed to want to be the guy.   Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne has some explosiveness to his game and will most likely steal carries away from Stewart.  Payne is an Auburn alum like Cam Newton and is used to run heavy offenses.  Payne may be one of those players that “sneak up” on teams in the mid-season.

The issue with Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton is that, Newton was never given weapons at his disposal.  Last year Carolina took Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first-round of the draft and he quickly gave them results.  The big wide out, proved to be a hassle to corner backs and his strength made him a match-up nightmare.   Teams seemed to catch up to Benjamin later in the year though, so keep an eye on him in the early going of 2015.  The Panthers took Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess in this year’s draft.  Funchess does a lot of what Benjamin does and provides another big target for Newton.  Much like Benjamin, people are not sure of the kind of “motor” Funchess brings week to week though.

For all things considered, tight end Greg Olsen is the team’s best receiving option and is their best player on offense – period.  His number of receptions and targets have gone up in each of his four seasons in Carolina and last year had his first 1000 yard season.  With a healthy Cam Newton this season, expect those numbers to continue to increase as long as Benjamin proves he is worthy of being a number-one receiver.

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Quarterback Cam Newton, was hampered by injuries all season long and even had a nasty car accident last season, that injured his back.  Through it all, Cam Newton only missed two games last season and although it was a disappointing season from a statistical point of view, he gained the trust in his locker room and respect amongst his teammates, which was always an issue in Carolina.

There are so many “ifs” in this Carolina offense that it doesn’t quite stir confidence in the stomachs of Panthers fans.  A healthy Cam Newton is one of the NFL’s dangerous weapons and his maturity has come a long way from his rookie campaign.  Ron Rivera has pushed his luck before and he’ll try to do it again.  Carolina should still be in competition for the division at least.

Predicted Record: 7-9

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Cam Newton, Greg Olson, Luke Kuechly

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2015 Preview

Last year there was a lot of hype around the Buccaneers.  That hype was quickly killed.   This year the hype is back – but expectations are realistic.  The hype is more about the “future” and less about the “now” which is exactly where it should be after a 2-14 season.

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The “future” lies in the hands of the number one over-all pick in this year’s draft: Jameis Winston.  Winston came into the league with character issues upon character issues, but the Florida State quarterback has been none-the-less been handed the reigns of the Buccaneers franchise.  He has innate leadership abilities on the field and is a polished enough passer at this early stage, to have the confidence of the coaching staff.  Pairing up Winston with head coach Lovie Smith, should benefit for Winston early.  Smith is a tough-old-school coach, who believes in players on his rosters.  Smith will do everything in his ability to not put a lot of stress on the young quarterback, although Winston seemed to look his best in pressure situations while in Florida State.  The scariest thing about Winston becoming a pro, has nothing to do with his character though – it has more to do with the last two Florida State quarterbacks who were taking in the first-round: Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel.  Yuck.

Behind Winston is an unsteady group at running back.  Doug Martin is looking more and more like a one year wonder and Charles Sims appears to be a guy who is more of a receiving back than a bell-cow.   It seems that the Bucs only go to Bobby Rainey when there is no where else to go which makes no sense.  Rainey isn’t a world-beater but he’s the best they have at the position.

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The lack of success in the running game can’t be all attributed to the ball carriers though.   This offensive line was atrocious last season and it seemed that they made a steal in an early trade last season with New England when they acquired guard Logan Mankins, but it was obvious New England gave them damaged goods.  The Bucs are depending on two rookies to start right away.  Penn State tackle Donovan Smith is a strong lineman who played in a “black and blue” style, but he will have growing pains in trying to protect Winston’s blind side as a rookie.  Ali Marpet was drafted out of division three in college and played at Hobart University.  Marpet is a product out of Hastings, New York who is being cheered on throughout the nation as the kid from the small school to make the NFL leap.  Marpet was a beast in Division III football, but the level of competition he faced was below average.  A good Senior Bowl and combine showing, gave his supporters some confidence.  He will get his chance early.

The Bucs were happy with their 2014 first-round pick, Mike Evans.  Evans became the team’s number-one wide out surpassing 1000 yards and accumulating 12 touchdowns in his rookie season.  There was talk the Bucs might cut ties with wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but the veteran (who pulled in 1000 yard season as well) is still here and it’s a good thing.  Jackson has been underrated his whole career and he is actually a perfect compliment to Evans.  Jackson isn’t afraid of contact and is actually a strong outside blocker as well – Evans can still learn from the veteran.

On the defensive line, Gerald McCoy continues to be a handful against anybody and this year he is joined on the line by Henry Melton who is still young enough to believe that he can resurrect his career hear and get back into Pro Bowl form.   The Bucs signed defensive end George Johnson, who may have looked better than he actually was in Detroit, while playing with a great defensive line.   Clinton McDonald was acquired from Seattle and pretty much, anybody from that Seattle squad is considered a positive get for any defensive unit.

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The Bucs figured they’d better extend the contract of linebacker Lavonte David before it’s too late, and that’s just what they did on August 10th.  David signed for $50.25 million in his extension and the Bucs.  Last year David totaled 146 combined tackles.  Bruce Carter is a Tampa 2 style middle line backer who was signed less for his tackling abilities but more for his zone coverage skills.

The secondary may still be an issue in Tampa as Alterraun Verner is still they’re number one and although is far from washed up, he was not the player they thought they were getting in free agency last year.  Johnathan Banks is okay, but at times gets too over confident and jumps routes often.  Lovie Smith’s loyalty to former players may be his undoing at the safety spot with former Chicago Bears Major Wright and Chris Conte.

Predicted Record: 6-10

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Gerald McCoy, Mike Evans, Bobby Rainey

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

New Orleans Saints 2015 Preview

The New Orleans Saints couldn’t seem to do anything right last year.  Drew Brees looked out of sync, the defense (which was supposed to have been a strong one) was flat-out-bad and the overall mojo of Sean Payton was gone.   Credit the Saints though, because instead of trying to reinvent the wheel this off-season, they appear to be going in a different direction.

Eyebrows raised when they Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for center Max Unger, but one has to think they are trading there flair for some grit.  Graham is a great receiving tight end, who flourished in the pass-happy Saints offense, but he isn’t much of a run blocker and he isn’t the type of tight end who likes to go over the middle.  Unger is an old school center who will lead a formidable offensive line.  The Saints must believe in guard Tim Lelito or else they wouldn’t have traded away Ben Grubbs and their other guard spot is in good hands with Jahri Evans.  They spent their first-round pick on Andrus Peat, a tackle out of Stanford University.  Peat is a former five-star recruit, who became one of the hardest men to move in college.  It takes the force of a truck to knock him back once he’s engage and is an intelligent football player.  This was a perfect fit for Peat and the Saints.

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With the loss of Jimmy Graham, it’s evident that Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill will be splitting time at the tight end spot, unless one of them flourishes during pre-season.   They are more old school tight ends who can block and be big red zone targets.   Last year as a rookie, Brandin Cooks looked as explosive as advertised but his season was cut short due to injury.  Now at full health, Cooks along with the often-underrated and usually forgotten, Marques Colston – supply quarterback Drew Brees with a nice one-two punch.  Although Cooks, would probably do  more damage as  a slot receiver, the depth behind the one and two wide outs will force Cooks to do his work as the number two guy.   Nick Toon, proves that in some cases the apple falls very far from the tree. . .

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With so much focus on becoming “tougher” the running game is expected to do a lot more than in previous seasons.  Surprisingly, the Saints retained the services of running back Mark Ingram, who hasn’t put up the numbers most expected of the former Heisman trophy winner but at the same time, the back field in New Orleans is usually handled by a committee of three.  That trend will likely continue with the signing of CJ Spiller, another running back who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but is still a wild card when on the field.  Spiller can do anything as a running back, but consistency has been his issue.

Drew Brees is the captain of the offense and in some cases is the assistant coach.  He’s one of the brighter quarterbacks in the league and manages a complex offense, with ease.   Last year though, Brees for the first time looked “small.”  Even then, in a season where he didn’t look sharp he finished just short of five-thousand yards passing and still had 33 touchdown passes.  Even with all the shuffling around with personnel, you’d be hard pressed in finding someone who believes Brees will fall off this season.

Defensive coach Rob Ryan, always has the camera on his for two reasons during games: 1.  He looks like a mad man with that long gray hair going all over the place and 2.  At times the defense looked so bad last year, it was all the commentators wanted to discuss.  Last year was supposed to be a strong year for the defensive unit, but they were awful.  They are hoping they got a steal in the fifth round with Tyeler Davison, a defensive tackle out of Fresno State.  Davison is great with his hands and is able to shed blockers quickly – BUT – this is against competition he faced while playing at Fresno.  If Davison can at least help in taking away double teams against end Cameron Jordan, the fifth round pick will be considered a success.   Linebacker Junior Galette will be asked to line up at defense end at times to help add some speed and validity to a pass rush that was non-existent last season.

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The Saints took two linebackers with their first two draft picks, Stephone Anthony out of Clemson and Hau’oli Kikaha out of Washington who racked up 19 sacks last year.   Anthony is the more classic prototype at linebacker, while Kikaha is another acquisition they hope will add something to a lost pass rush. Dannell Ellerbe and David Hawthorne are the veterans in a line backing group that together – have lost a few steps.

Keenan Lewis is the Saints man-to-man specialist at the corner back spot and now he is paired up with the big Brandon Browner.  Browner is a physical corner with reach, but there were times he could not turn his hips around fast enough and was dusted.   It would be nice to see Kenny Vaccaro do more than just be a rotational secondary player, but he has to earn his spots with safeties Jairus Byrd ahead of him.  After signing a six year deal with the Saints, Byrd was sidelined with a knee injury for most of the season.   His healthy comeback is necessary for this Saints defense to rebound.  Not sure why the Saints signed free agent corner back Kyle Wilson.  He shouldn’t touch the field even in emergencies.

Predicted Record: 8-8

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Bradin Cooks, Cameron Jordan

G.W. Gras

twitter @geesteelio

Seattle Seahawks 2015 Preview

Why didn’t they give the ball to Marshawn Lynch?

That’s a question that will be asked throughout history like:

“What was first, the chicken or the egg?”

“What’s the meaning of life?”

“Who shot J.R.?”

Coach Pete Carroll said:  “It’s much easier for me to move forward than most people,” and Seahawks fans hope that’s the truth.  They also hope that quarterback Russell Wilson is the truth as the Seahawks and Wilson have inked a four year extension worth over $87 Million.  Every quarterback is grossly over-paid and here at NGSC we have already gone over why it’s a bad idea to give in to Wilson’s demands.  Regardless of our economic stances, Wilson is under center and this team wouldn’t want it any other way. . . for now. His options at wide receiver are still nothing that blows you away, but they get the job done. Doug Baldwin is a tough receiver that doesn’t mind doing the dirty work or going over the middle and Jermaine Kearse pretty much fits that same mold.  Everyone is expecting Chris Matthews to capitalize on his “out of nowhere” Super Bowl performance, but that’s doubtful.  The best wide receiver on the team may be the rookie out of Kansas State – Tyler Lockett.  At five foot ten inches tall and a buck-eighty in weight, he isn’t the biggest threat, but he has great hands, good speed and loves big moments – which is what the Seahawks are all about.

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The Seahawks went out and traded for tight end Jimmy Graham as Wilson’s go-to-target but the gamble here is one to watch.  In order to obtain Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks traded away offensive lineman Max Unger to the Saints.  Keep in mind they also lost guard James Carpenter to free agency and then there’s the fact that Jimmy Graham isn’t the best blocking tight end in the world.  All of a sudden one of the league’s most offensively aggressive teams, seems to have lost some of that aggression.   Luckily, they have the most aggressive player in the league running the ball: Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch seems to be a malcontent but he generally keeps it to himself and it doesn’t apparently bother anybody.  Lynch might be a little more vocal this year because of the previously mentioned “softening” of his line up front though.  Lynch has been trucking over people for years and there is no reason to assume he’ll drop off anytime soon, but something’s got to give eventually.   After the Super Bowl loss and the acquisition of Jimmy Graham, it’s obvious this team is leaning in the direction of putting the ball in Wilson’s hands over Lynch’s.

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The funny thing about Seattle is, even if Lynch AND Wilson weren’t on this team, this defense would keep them in and win them games on its own.   Cliff Avril’s signing went with not much fan fare in 2013, but it was one of the best “gets” for this Seattle defense.  Avril brought an athleticism to a defensive line that – didn’t even need it – along with Michael Bennett and Brandon Mebane they make life easier for one of the elite line backing corps in the league.

When a former first round pick, Bruce Irvin is the weakest part of your linebacker group, things can’t be bad.  K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner have great vision and lateral movement – they can cover most tight-ends and collapse on the running game quickly.

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The “Legion of Boom” may have lost Byron Maxwell, but if nickel corner Jeremy Lane comes back quickly from injury he may slide into that number two corner spot held, for the time being, by Cary Williams.  If Richard Sherman isn’t the best corner in the game – he’s definitely the most confident – and with good reason.  Sherman’s size and athleticism makes it hard for opposing quarterback’s to look his way – although Sherman’s one fault is that he does NOT cover opposing team’s best wide outs every week.  He simply stays on his side of the field.  The safeties are the heart and soul of this defense and their hasn’t been a more talented / feared pair in quite some time – of course we’re talking about Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.  Earl Thomas is literally everywhere while Kam Chancellor is where receivers don’t want to end up.

Seattle has a tough road schedule including games at Green Bay, Dallas and Baltimore; and playing in the NFC West guarantees that every division contest will be a long and grueling one.  Even with that, Seattle has what it takes to win the division and still make a run at the conference.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

San Francisco 49ers 2015 Preview

*Editor’s Note: This article was written two days before the retirement of offensive lineman Anthony Davis and the arrest of Aldon Smith.

Forget everything you thought you knew about the San Francisco 49ers of recent history.  No more Jim Harbaugh. No more Frank Gore.  Patrick Willis is gone and so is Chris Borland.   How could things go so downhill so fast?  Ego, may have played a part in it, but now it doesn’t matter.  The 49ers find themselves in an unwanted position in the most physical division in football.

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has supposedly worked on his mechanics in the off-season and let’s all hope this is true.  At times Kaepernick looked like he was engaged in a shot-put competition when he was throwing a football.  Kaepernick is not the quarterback you want under center if trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter and last season he seemed to either second guess his dual-threat ability or not know how to use it to his advantage.  The 49ers need to remain focused on running the ball this year but without Frank Gore in the backfield, the assumption is that second year man Carlos Hyde becomes the guy.  People expected more from Hyde (albeit in a backup role) but four yards a carry isn’t too shabby and it’s something he can build on.  The 49ers didn’t show much faith in Hyde being the next Gore – as they will most likely have a running back committee.  They signed the versatile Reggie Bush, who for all things considered is on the downside of his career and they drafted South Carolina running back Mike Davis, who might end up stealing the number one spot on the depth chart by mid-season. Davis is a patient runner, who has big play potential as well as three-down-back potential.

The offensive line took a loss with Mike Iupati departing via free agency, but their tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis are the oxen on the o-line and love being physical.  This is a team that will depend on the interior of the line more than the outside of it, if they do intend on using a power-run-attack, relying on the presence of their guards which is where the Niners have nothing spectacular.

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The same can be echoed, with all due respect, to the wide receivers on the 49ers.  They signed Torrey Smith to reunite him with former Ravens wide out Anquan Boldin, but this isn’t 2011 so there isn’t much to get excited about it.  Smith provides the deep threat, but how will that work out with “Ol’ Shot-Put Colin” tossing the pigskin?  Boldin is a man’s man.  He’ll do the dirty work, and even in his 13th season he still managed 1,000 yards receiving.  Smith may be more flash than anything else though as he never became what they wanted him to be in Baltimore.  At tight end, Vernon Davis was downright dreadful last year but he’s all they got at that position.  It’ll be rare to see the Niners go Three-Wide, but if they do expect Bruce Ellington or Quinton  Patton to catch feelings as one will be the odd-man out.

This defense used to be a monster – and the 49ers coaching staff will need Aldon Smith to return with a clear head and become one of the elite pass rushers in the league again.  Aldon is a ticking time-bomb though and it’ll be interesting to see how free he gets off the edge without Justin Smith there to clear him a path.   The 49ers drafted Arik Armstead out of Oregon in the first round to help beef up the line – but it’s their second round pick Tank Carradine out of Florida State who will make more of an impact.  Carradine has a non-stop motor and power that you just can’t teach – while Armstead is the type to get stood up more often than not and kind of gives up if his first attempt is stopped.

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The return of NaVorro Bowman will be a nice sight as he is returning from the game after being sidelined for over a year after a grotesque knee injury.  This used to be the best linebacker group in the NFL with Bowman, Willis, Smith and Ahmad Brooks – but Willis is gone, Smith is a certified nut-job and Brooks might lose his job to Aaron Lynch if he doesn’t show better production early.  Not the softest of landing spots for Bowman, who will be depended on to direct a defense that will probably be on the field a lot. . .

The 49ers secondary seems to get destroyed by free agency every year and this year was no different.  There is a lot of youth and inexperience at the corner back spots, but at least the safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are still there.  Reid and Bethea will probably be taken out of their comfort zone and asked to do a lot more one on one coverages because of the lack of experience at corner – it could get ugly.

Predicted Record: 4-12

Predicted Pro Bowlers: None

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Minnesota Vikings 2015 Preview

In his first year as head coach, Mike Zimmer was left thinking “What if?”

What if, Adrian Peterson was able to play more than one game?

What if, the Vikings started Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback from day one?

The Vikings finished the season 7-9, but four of those losses came at a point differential of three points or less.  Most Vikings fans look at the last five games the Vikings played though and consider optimism.  They went 3-2 and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seemed to get better every week.

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This season Bridgewater gets the help he didn’t have last year with the return of running back Adrian Peterson starting in the backfield.  Peterson has earned the right for people not to doubt his abilities, no matter the wear and tear or age of the veteran running back.   Last season Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, filled in admirably splitting carries in Peterson’s absence, but let’s be serious – Peterson can do the work of three running backs on a team.   The addition of Peterson, should only be a positive for the even-keeled Bridgewater.  Offensive coordinator Norv Turner must be thrilled because of Peterson returning and a full off-season for tight end Kyle Rudolph to recover from nagging injuries that have plagued him the last two years.

Rudolph would benefit greatly  in a well balanced Norv Turner offense, but the questions come from the threats on the outside.  The Vikings acquired Mike Wallace from Miami, who was pretty much a bust for the Dolphins.  Wallace provides a deep threat but not much else.  The Vikings seem like they got a bust in their own in Cordaralle Patterson, who currently is fourth on the depth chart.  Patterson has all the physical tools, but seemingly lacks the focus and heart (some would say) to be anything more than a big kick returner.  The Vikings return their best receiver from last year Charles Johnson, who started the season on the Cleveland Browns practice squad, so. . . there’s that. . .

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The offensive line might be a continuous work in progress during the season which should bring some cause for concern.  The younger players on the line David Yankey (left guard) and Matt Kalil (left tackle) must show that they can hang in this league or they might be rotation players at best.  Kalil came in with high hopes from USC in 2012 and was looked on as a player who can protect the blindside on this team for a decade.  This might be his last chance.

Defensively the Vikings have veterans up front, who bought into coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme and by mid-season were able to put it all together.  Linval Jospeh left the bright lights of New York to come play for Minnesota at about $3.5 million a year and it worked out for both sides.  Last year the Vikings drafted linebacker  Anthony Barr out of UCLA in the first round and this season they supplied him a reunion of sorts by drafting his teammate out of UCLA Eric Kendricks.  The familiarity between the two athletic linebackers is something to keep an eye on as they both grow in Zimmer’s defense.

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There is a lot to like in the secondary of this defense.  Last year, as a rookie Antoine Exum was adamant about not wanting to convert from corner back to safety, but this year it looks like the he will be playing safety alongside Harrison Smith who has a motor that doesn’t stop.  Reports from Vikings camp has been that the staff is very pleased at the leap in maturity Exum has taken.  In front of the safeties are two first round picks at corner back.  Xavier Rhodes (2013) and Trae Waynes (this year’s eleventh pick).  Waynes will probably start at nickel corner and battle for that second spot with veteran Captain Munnerlin.  If Rhodes is a quick learner, this is the kind of secondary that can cover a lot of ground against even the best passing attacks in the league.

Everyone knew, Mike Zimmer was a great hire for Minnesota when they made the change last year.   He says all the right things publicly and has veterans and rookies buying into his philosophies.  The defense should be fine this year while the offense is going to need a lot of help from  that offensive line.  Although having Peterson back is great, Bridewater is going to need one of these receivers to become his go-to-guy.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Adrian Peterson

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio