San Francisco 7-9
St. Louis 4-12
Predicted finish- 9-7 and winning the division
Overview- Won't catch anyone by surprise this year. Also have a first place schedule with Boldin , Dockett, and Dansby contract squabbles ongoing. Warner is 38 and while he still is playing at a high level you have to wonder if he will finally hit the wall ( or get injured) this year, and how much of a difference Leinert at QB would mean. Have a new defensive coordinator and dual offensive coordinators to start the season. A tough road back to the Superbowl this season as there are more viable NFC contenders than in recent years ,and all the teams in their division should be improved this time around. It's unlikely that a wild card comes out of the NFC west , so they have to win the division, and without a better pass rush that may even be difficulty this year. They need a healthy Beanie Wells to force teams to crowd the line of scrimmage and give their run game a home run threat now.
Coaching - Former Steelers offensive whiz Ken Whisenhunt is only the second Cardinals head coach to go .500 or better in each of his first two seasons. Led the cards to their first Superbowl appearance and now faces the difficult task of taking the team to the next level.At the very least he has changed the teams mindset to one that expects to win, and that is huge for this franchise. With the departure of O coordinator Todd Haley to KC, Whisenhunt is almost going to a play calling by committee approach. O-line/asst.head coach Russ Grimm is the running game coordinator, and former WR coach Mike Miller becomes the passing game coordinator, with Whisenhunt overseeing the whole thing.
QB- The ageless Kurt Warner keeps on ticking, but you have to wonder when it's all gonna end. If he stays healthy (big if considering age and wear/tear) he could finish as one of the leagues top QB's again .He has the best trio of wide receivers in the NFL this season, but you have to wonder if AZ with a 1st place schedule falters. Reads defenses at a high level, makes quick decisions, and is very accurate. Well liked as a person , player and a leader on & off the field. Biggest weakness is a tendency to force the ball down field to his receivers instead of taking what the defense gives him , when teams are laying back to stop the pass. A more viable receiving threat at TE when Warner gets in trouble and the Rb's doing a better job of getting down field on swing passes would help him a lot too. Matt Leinert has mostly been a disappointment since being drafted and hasn't shown the poise , leadership, accuracy , and good decision making skills he displayed at USC. There is talk of him maturing and making football and conditioning( mma training) a bigger priority this off season but he needs to make a big impression in the locker room and step up big any time he gets the chance to see the field this season. AZ can pick up his option or let him go this year, and I am not sure which he would personally prefer, but the time is now if wants a chance to stay and throw to these gifted receivers long term.
O-line-A improving group under Russ Grimm, but still only middle of the ( at best ) pack league wide. The unit does not posses one pro bowl caliber player at present, although Levi Brown has the talent, if he lives up to it. Brown was drafted to man the blind side of Leinert( left handed quarterbacks blind side is covered by the RT) but Leinert isn't the man yet. Brown also plays like your average RT to date. A physical run Blocker who struggles with speed rushers on the outside, and is at his best in the trenches drive blocking in line. Has the feet to play on an island, but seems to tire easily, and ends up off balance too much. Sometimes leans on his man instead of exploding into him late in games and get shucked. Too inconsistent to be an upper echelon OT right now ,but shows flashes of it, and still has the potential to do so. Regardless he is one of the 2 above average O-lineman they have . RG Duece Latui is mauling drive blocker in line, but struggles in space. A bit slow footed and subpar on the second level, but is good in a power running offense( like the NYG or Dallas) . Strong hand punch in pass pro, but if he misses his initial punch players often blow right by him. Doesn't have the feet to play anywhere else on the line. C Lyle Sendlein would be better as a backup at C and guard right now until his technique improves. Makes the right line calls, but is off balance and too high far too often to be on the field every down. Is still young enough to develop into a productive starter if he get coached up but seems lost at the second level, which is where most centers usually shine. 3rd year pro LG Reggie Wells was the cards most consistent lineman last year and is a player on the rise. A good athlete with above average technique that I expect to get better with time. Needs to be a bit more physical , but usually gets the job done and plays with leverage and sound angles.The best on their team on the second level and has quick feet in pass pro. If Gandy went down they would probably flop Brown over to the left side, but I think Wells might be able to do so if called upon. Doesn't really fit this power running style and would be best in a zone cut blocking scheme. LT Wayne Gandy is a solid veteran with sound technique, but will never be a pro bowler. Sort of like Jeff Backus of Detroit, in that he generally gets the job done, but is unspectacular and struggles with the leagues above average defenders. Good ( not great ) feet , hands and technique but needs to play with more of a mean streak. Not a finisher. Giant 5th round rookie Herman Jhonson( 6"7' and 385 pounds) is a intriguing prospect. If he played at 345 I think he would be a stud RT, and maybe even a good RG if he could play with better leverage. If he gets his conditioning under control, he could end up like Dallas Pro Bowl RG( and former cardinal) Leonard Davis, or he could end up op out of the league like former 1rst round bust Mike Williams ( buff.- trying to make a comeback in Washington) & Aaron Gibson ( det.) by eating his way out of a good career.
Tight Ends- Talented , but lazy Leonard Pope is gone and the starters job is up for grabs right now. 10 year vet Anthony Becht has never lived up to his 1rst round status . Is a good technical blocker, but doesn't play nasty enough. Runs nice routes and shows good hands, but isn't sudden enough to get open on a regular basis. The kind of veteran every team needs as a backup, but if he's your starter, you need to upgrade. Stephen Spacht is a younger, slightly better version of Becht who could win the job, but won't be stretching the field very often. Also a core special teams player so you know he will be on the roster.Former USC standout( Leinert and Latui's college teammate) Dominique Byrd was a bust as a 3rd round pick in St. Loius and is trying to work his way back into the league right now. Was seen as a Chris Cooley pass catching type H-back/TE hybrid coming out in 06, who needed to be a better blocker, but disappointed . If he gets his head on straight and buckles down he could give them a TE who could stretch the middle of the field ,but it's a long shot right now.
Wide receivers- as good as it gets 1-3 in the NFL. Fitzgerald is the games most complete receiver at present, with Calvin & Andre Jhonson still trailing him at the moment. Big, Strong, runs precise routes, fearless over the middle,adjust to the ball wherever its thrown, out jumps DB's, breaks tackles , runs well after the catch, fights for the ball, and has the games best hands. Improved his conditioning and got leaner prior to the 08 season which saw him become a more explosive player and make the jump form pro bowler to superstar. Was amazing in the post season last year, and is a threat anywhere on the field.Could be a better blocker but he's willing and when he locks on sustains well. Simply the best right now .Anquan Boldin is in a tough position. He's definitely a # 1 receiver ( one of the games 8-15 best) but isn't the best on his team. Got a new contract when AZ didn't have to pay him, and now wants another one before it's over because Fitz just got a huge deal, and the cap has changed. I guess I can sympathize some, but he will never get paid as much as Fitz, because he isn't as complete a player. More of a west coast type. A big strong receiver who makes things happen after the catch, especially on short throws, but isn't a major threat to stretch the field vertically. Good hands, and is always ready to come back if the QB's in trouble, but lacks the speed to force DB's to jam him. If they do, he overpowers and gets by them them consistently. Good blocker as well. Steve Breaston would start for most teams, and he is a great luxury to have if a starter goes down( like Boldin did for awhile last year) but he's still # 3 here. With the cards lack of a major TE, he still sees the field a lot on 3 receiver sets. A tad undersized ,and does struggle with press coverage some, but find the creases in zone with regularity even if he isn't at his most comfortable over the middle. Elusive in space and has home run speed. Good hands and a true deep threat who runs the post as well as anyone. Also a threat as a returner on special teams. Early Doucet is a poor mans Boldin right now, and may get a chance to prove it if Anquan is indeed traded. Just in his 2nd year, but needs playing time to progress. Jeremhe Urban is good enough to be a slot receiver on some teams right now and fits best in a west coast offense. Big , strong, sure handed, and runs well after catch but is probably 5th on the depth chart right now. This team has an embarrassment of riches at WR.
Running backs- Tim Hightower is miscast as a every down back. Has shown the abilty to be a tough short yardage back and run between the tackles, but lacks moves and lacks explosion. Decent receiver and willing blocker who just needs more coaching in the passing game. Is a tall RB and could possibly bulk up and be a FB. Fights for every yard, but his upside is limited.1rst rounder Beanie Wells has it all , if he can stay on the field and hold onto the ball. Finds and hits the hole with a will. Has a good burst and can take it to the house. Good wiggle for a big man, and cuts back and accelerates like a much smaller back, but occasionally runs around players he should just run through. Needs work in the passing game all around, but he could be a beast on screens, and is not as punishing a runner as you would expect for a big back. If he stays healthy ,and works hard to get the best out of his ability ,he could be the next Jamal Lewis. Jason Wright is best as a special teamer and is a better football player than athlete. Good as a backup but your in trouble if he your starter for any extended period of time.Pint sized Larod Stephens Howling was electric in the preseason and runs a lot like Darren Sproles. Could seemingly appear out of thin air from behind larger blockers and blast past defenders in the return game, and on the occasional 3rd down or reverse for AZ. Isn't big big enough for full time RB duty in the NFL right now. Veteran fullback Dan Kreider is an effective lead blocker, but doesn't offer much else. Doesn't see the field a lot anyway with all the 3 and 4 receiver sets they run.
D-line- Darnell Dockett is really miscast as a 3-4 DE, but he is still good at it. When he moves inside for the 4-3 on passing downs he is even more effective .Wreaks havoc in the backfield in the passing and running games with his quick first step .Can penetrate regularly and is so quick off the ball he forces most O-lineman to react to him. Will occasionally stunt himself out of a play but pursues anyway, as he has a high motor. Stacks and sheds well and plays with good leverage. Only the biggest drive blockers give him trouble one on one and he often blows right by them, which makes them cautious driving into him. Can't hold the point against double teams but he does split them sometimes. Could probably put on a few more pounds and still keep his quickness but hasn't yet in 6 years in the league. Antonio Smith is gone now, so 2nd year player Calais Campbell needs to step up. Looks like Chris Canty and sometimes plays like him ,but lacked his technique and motor the majority of the time in his rookie year. Tall long armed guy who can anchor against the run when he bends his knees and plays with leverage. Not much of a threat as a pass rusher currently ,as he doesn't get off the ball fast enough, and needs a wider variety of moves. Very young and if he harnesses his talent , improves his technique, and gets a lot of practice reps could be almost as good as Canty. Lacks quick twitch muscles and that will always limit his upside. NT Bryant Robinson is the a starter because Gabe Watson and Alan Branch continue to disappoint.He can still clog the lanes some, but doesn't cover much ground or get off the ball fast. Only a bull rusher if they pass while he's in the game. Should only be a rotational 4- 3 player for run downs by now. Gabe Watson looks like a classic 3-4 NT and even plays like a dominant one sometimes, but is either out of shape or lazy, as he tires easily . Will overpower the double team on one play then stand up and get driven back 4 yards or pancaked on the next. Has the same physical attributes of San Diego's Jamal Williams but lacks the motor , technique and dedication to make the same impact so far. Needs to buckle down and show some heart to harness his potential. Only offers a inconsistent bull rush as a rusher. Alan Branch is basically the same guy with a little more consistency and athleticism but he missed 12 games last season due to an injury. They are both from Michigan and I fear they are feeding each others under achievement being on the same team.DE/DT Kenny Iwebema is a better athlete than football player right now and needs to be coached up and get as many reps as possible to harness his potential. 2nd round pick Cody Brown was a college DE and probably would have been a situational pass rusher at DE in the 4-3, while making the change to 3-4 OLB at the same time, but he is out for the year with a wrist injury.12 year vet Bertrand Berry is no longer a pro bowl player, but still provides leadership and continues to be valuable as a situational pass rusher when they are in the 4-3.
Linebackers- Karlos Dansby is an upper echelon pro bowl type LB,who could be even better if he devoted himself to his craft . If he had teammate Larry Fitzgerald's work ethic his HOF induction speech would already be written.When he's on he's a fierce hitter that punishes ball carriers, blows up lineman in the hole ,sheds quickly,runs sideline to sideline ,is a good tackler. When he's not he's still pretty good, but he just makes you wonder.Has the speed for coverage and runs with all but the fastest TE's and RB's out of the backfield. Might be even better if they moved him outside to the ROLB in the 3-4 as he rushes the passer well when given a chance to do so. Plays the WIL spot in the 3-4 and the weakside in the 4-3 to take advantage of his speed, but could probably play anywhere he was needed . MLB Gerald Hayed is a thumper between the tackles but lacks the speed to go sideline to sideline. A sure tackler and adequate in zone coverage, but doesn't have the athleticism to be a top tier MLB. 10 year vet Clark Haggans is more quick than fast and is better suited to the WIL in the 3-4. Doesn't have the burst to be a top flight pass rusher or the speed to run with TE/RB's downfield when called upon to do so. Stacks and sheds against the run and will stick his nose in , but isn't fast enough to chase down plays from the backside. Was above average in the 3-4 in his Pittsburgh days, but he has lost a step now.ROLB Chike Okefor is another descending veteran and he would fit better on the strongside on the 3-4, as he stacks and sheds well enough to pull it off. Has a good motor but lacks the burst to get up field when rushing the passer. Cody Brown was drafted to eventually replace him but that's been pushed back a year due to his injury. 2nd year backup Ali Highsmith is undersized for the 3-4 but could contribute on passing downs this year. Mostly a special teamer as rookie and he plays faster than he times in the 40.
Secondary- A very talented group that I expect to step up big this season and tat is littered with balhawks.SS Adrian Wilson is still one of the leagues best 9 years in. A punishing run defender with linebacker size and safety speed. Good tackler, and stacks and sheds like a LB. Has the speed to run with most TE/RB's and excels at throwing them off their route inside the 5 yard area. Still best in the box, but can run down field as long as he's not covering someone really fast.Will out-muscle receivers for the ball if he's near it. Antrell Rolle made the move to FS last year and it seems a good fit, as he is at his best with the ball in front of him. Was a big corner and could run with receivers but got turned around too much out of the break. A ball hawk and physical run defender with a knack for the big play. I expect him to breakout this season. 08 1rst rounder Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a tall lean corner with Deion Sanders like abilty and almost as much makeup speed. He needs that speed ,as he likes to jump routes and go for the big play. Needs to be more physical with receivers on the line and in run support, but kept getting better as a rookie. I expect him to continue to improve and be a pro bowler soon. CB Bryant McFadden is a better all around player than Cromartie right now, but lacks his upside. Strong & physical on the line and in run support, but lacks makeup speed.At his best in cover 2 and reads QB's well and reacts quickly to receivers. Still OK in man because he is smart but can get beat deep if he misses his jam, or doesn't play far enough off the line. An above average starter in his prime right now.Ralph Brown is a veteran backup and mostly gets by on experience when called upon, but has always lacked the athletic ability to be a solid starter. Still has the smarts to jump a route and make a big play from time to time ,as he came up big in the postseason last year. Best as a nickel and adequate there for now. Young Michael Adams is high effort special teamer who lacks the speed and size to be a starter right now.
Special teams- Larod Stephens Howling, Antrel Rolle , and Steve Breaston are all explosive returners, but I would really like to see Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie join the party as well. Strong legged Neil Rackers is still a solid starter, but will probably never have another season like he did in 05.Punter and former rugby player Ben Graham has a big leg but his directional punting needs work. Kevin Spencer came with Whisenhunt from Pittsburgh 3 years ago and is a former special teams coach of the year.
Predicted finish - 7-9 and missing the playoffs. A team in transition. A new head coach and a QB who might be on his last legs. If Hasselbeck is healthy all season( big if) they could win the division and make the playoffs, but I highly doubt that will happen. It sjust as liely they wil be picking in the top 5 again if Matt misses a lot of games thsi season.
Coaching - Jim Mora Jr. takes the reins this year and he has his work cut out for him. I don'y criticize the selection of Aaron Curry at #4 this year. If you can get the best player in the draft with the 4th pick you should generally pull the trigger and they may not have thought Mark Sanchez was a franchise( I do ) QB like . I thought they should at least got a better veteran backup in case Hasselbeck misses extended periods of time. I'll bet a lot they will be drafting one in the first round next year.Offensive Coordinator Gregg Knapp was once had the same job with Mora in Atlanta and is a west coast offense guy so their shouldn't be too much change in the offensive scheme . Defensive coordinator Casey Bradley is in his first NFL coordinator job, but don't worry much, as Mora is a defensive minded coach and will have his hand in things.
QB- Hasselbeck was coming off his best season in 07 when injuries started piling up. Nerve damage, bulging disc and knee all in the same year. Is 34 now and that would be hard for a QB of any age to come back from. He's a gamer and loves football so I think he will probably find a way to get in 10 games, but his below average O-line & running game won't help matters much.Reads defenses well and has good feet in the pocket. Good arm ,makes good decisions, and at his best in the pocket. Better QB than athlete and still a leader, but all signs point to him being past his prime now. Seneca Wallace is a better athlete than QB. Short enough to have problems seeing in the pocket and has trouble finding clear passing lanes. Best when sprinting outside the pocket to take advantage of his speed to run or pass. Could run some wildcat and has done some trick plays in the past. Best if called upon for only a short time as his limitations can be game planned for if a team has time to be ready for him. Solid backup but only in spot duty and as a change of pace.
O-line- Future HOFer Walter Jones isn't what he was , but he is still one of the 10 best LT's in football ,and one of the greatest of all time. If not for age and increasing proneness to injury he would still be top 5 in my book. Has incredible balance and feet for such a large man. Still dominant in the run and pass games most of time and only the very best DE's/OLB's give him any trouble. Smooth technique and physical in all phases of the game. Incredible hands and transitions when pass blocking. Locks on in the running game and drives his feet till the whistle blows. Excellent on the double team and walling off at the 2nd level. It's a toss up to me on whether Jones or Johnathan Ogden is the greatest LT of all time. RT Sean Locklear plays more like a LT, as he lacks meanness in his game ,and relies more on angles and technique to ge the job done. Has the feet and balance to be on an island, and could be a slightly below average( bottom 10 starters at the position) LT in the NFL, and an above average LG if needed. Doesn't get enough push off the ball when run blocking , but uses his technique and quickness to seal and shield well.Can't move the better run defenders he faces, but double teams well and chips adequately. Still a decent starter though.G Mike Wahle was once one of the leagues best pulling guards but he has slowed down, looks slow in space now and has become increasingly injury prone. Tall and lean for a guard with above average athleticism and has the feet to play RT if needed. Best when facing quicker penetrating DT's as he has sound technique and a quick get off. Still OK on combos and going to the 2nd level . Gets mauled by big 2 gap DT's in the run game one on one, and only seems like he is in the way when bull rushed. On the downside of his career but still above average when playing against speed, but now below average playing against power. Rob Sims is a below average starter for the offense. Great foot to foot in a straight ahead power running game ,but ends up missing his blocks and on the ground too much if he doesn't connect firing out of his stance. Powerful mauler with poor balance and below average feet. Will squash you if he locks on, but often outright whiffs his man. Weak on the 2nd level and struggles with speed. Would be a solid starter on power running teams but doesn't fit this offense. Center Chris Spencer was the starter last year before going down with an injury, and really needs to be replaced. Makes good line calls and keeps his head on a swivel but that's all right now. Gets overpowered off the ball on a regular basis and plays with poor pad level , despite getting off the snap quickly. Doesn't use his hands well ( holds a lot too) and gets tossed aside ( even by LB's at the 2nd level) too much. Lacks the physicality, strength, and mean streak to be a starter in the NFL currently. Rookie 2nd rounder Max Unger should take Spencer or Sims job barring injury. Can actually play anywhere but LT on the line and is a smart technician with a mean streak. Not a mauler off the snap but meets defenders head on and secures his hands before driving his feet. Plays whistle to whistle and never lets up even when being beat.Cut blocks well which keeps bigger DT's off guard and he anchors well against the bull rush. Could get a bit bigger and stronger, but still at least gets in the way in the run game. Good awareness to stunts and blitzers, and is definitely the best pass blocking guard among the rookies. Strong on double teams and the second level. 3rd year player Steve Vallos can play both Guard and Center and was definitely better than Spencer when he took over last year. Not as adept at making the line calls and picking up stunts yet, but also doesn't get beat near as much. Average quickness of the snap but is physical when engaged . Needs to work on keeping his pad level more consistent, but he generates a push and at least walls off defenders on the 2nd level. Sinks his hips pretty well against bigger DT's but struggles with one gap penetrators some. Backup OT Ray Willis doesn't have the feet to play on an island and should be moved to guard. Needs to work on bending his knees and keeping his feet driving and he could be an effective RG with his physical type of play.
Tight Ends- 2nd year player John Carlson is a Complete TE who never needs to leave the field. Strong hands and will fight for the extra yardage. Potential for a break out is there, but the addition of TJ and the return of Burleson make it less likely he will get many more looks than he did last year. Has had a strong pre-season and all reports have him on the upswing. More quick than fast, but finds the holes in coverage. Runs routes, blocks, and catches like a young Jason Witten. If he keeps improving I expect him to have a similar career.Veteran John Owens is a smart backup who lacks the athletic abilty to be a good starter. Good blocker on 2 TE sets and can catch if it's thrown to him, but not quick enough to consistently get open. Rookie Cameron Morrah is a tweener. Too slow to play WR, but not big or physical enough to block in line. Needs to get bigger, but is fast enough to be a effective receiver on 2 Te sets this year.
Wide Receivers- A veteran group with talent, but the receiving core as a whole was injured almost all last year. Incoming Pro bowler TJ Houshmandzadeh is a big strong possession receiver who is fierce over the middle. Catches the ball at it's highest point as well as anyone. Precise route runner with stronghands, but is only OK running after the catch, and that's a priority in this offense.Durable throughout his first 8 years , and that is sorely needed in this group.Nate Burleson is the probable number 2 who started last season with a bang, only to suffer a season ending injury. Always seems to get hurt when things are going well. But, has top notch ability if he could just stay healthy.A good route runner and has strong hands, but lacks top end speed to stretch the field on a regular basis.Lacks upside but is a god fit here if he can just stay healthy. Former Superbowl MVP Deion Branch has been a constant disappointment since coming over in the trade from the Patriots. Fits best in the slot and can break long ones if you get him the ball underneath . Injury prone throughout his career and lacks the size to be an every down player , especially when he runs routes over the middle. Turns DB's inside out with his explosive breaks and sometimes slows to make the catch , but he could be cut if someone else makes a strong impression in camp.3rd round pick Deon Butler is a speedster who needs refinement in all areas of his game but the go route. Actually reminded me of Steve Smith ( Carolina) in college and has the same explosive abilty and temperament, but only time will tell if he harnesses that abilty. Might be a great punt returner if given a shot at it.
Running Backs- Julius Jones has been a disappointment throughout his career in the NFL, despite seemingly being productive.Inconsistent and seems to have a few games a year that make everyone think he's a franchise back, but has never done it for a whole season. Always nicked up or down right injured, and lacks the power to run between the tackles as an every down back. If he didn't make so many mental errors he might be a good 3rd down back, but he keeps making them.Explosively burst through the hole and to the outside, but just can't seem to do it regularly. Edgarrin James is well past his prime and no longer has the speed to do much more than be a rotational player . Runs hard, and sees the hole well, but its often closed when he gets there now. Smart in pass pro and as receiver . Still has something to offer a team and maybe some of his heart will rub off on Jones. Justin Forsett is a undersized back with good burst, wiggle and vision, but lacks top end speed. Probably too small to be an 3o0 carry back for a full season, but produces when given the ball, and people said the same thing about Emmit.Only average returning kicks and needs to improve his hands to return punts well, but has the burst to succeed there.
D-line- Stocky DT Brandon Mebane plays with good leverage and gets off the ball fast. Penetrates well and can hold the point 1 v1 ,but is lacking against double teams. Holds up blockers to free up the linebackers to run to the ball ,and maybe the refs just don't see his stubby arms doing it ,becuase he gets away with it a lot. Effective interior pass rusher with a high motor and good transitions. A player on the rise in this defense. 2nd year player Red Bryant is a run stuffer and I think he might even be able to play in the 3-4 as a NT . Stout at the point but doesn't move well laterally. Plays mean and stacks well, but is better at occupying blockers than shedding them. Doesn't offer much but a bull rush and rip move as a rusher but does try to redirect and deflect passes. Colin Cole is a stockier version of Bryant with a little more lateral quickness and better hand use. He llos more liek a 3-4 NT than anyting to me.Backup Craig Terrill has a high motor but lacks the athleticism and strengths to be a starter right now. A better pass rusher than Bryant and Cole who may get in on passing downs. The defensive ends are a much stronger group than the DT's and have 4 quality players capable of starting in the mix. 11 year vet Patrick Kerney may be past his prime and a bit injury prone now, but when he's on the field he is a force. Relentless and can play either side. Strong at the point and holds the edge. Penetrates and at his best coming forward with good hand fighting. Quick first step and can run the arc . Bull rush and swim techniques are strong, but lacks a lot of counters . Will chase down everything till the whistle blows . While a descending player, he's still above average when healthy and a leader. Darryl Tapp isn't what he once was but is still a quick situational pass rusher who can run and chase. Never strong at the point and allows blockers into his body too much in the run game. Corey Redding is versatile player who can play strong side end or RDT in the 4-3. Quick off the ball and can hold the point 1v1 but can't stack a double team inside. Best when lined up in a one gap scheme where he can penetrate. Doesn't always play to the whistle and will occasionally just mill around when his initial move is stymied. Inconsistent but shows flashes of pro bowl talent. Just needs to go hard on every play to make the next step. 08 1rst rounder Lawrence Jackson is at his best rushing the passer and has wide variety of moves to get to the QB. Needs to play with better pad level in the run game to be an every-down player, but has the talent and size to do so. Never seems to give up when rushing the passer, and though he doesn't have Kerneys quick first step, he gets a lot of pressure. Needs to sink his hips better when playing the run.
Linebackers- possibly the most talented 4-3 LB core in the league.MLB Lofa Tatupu is a smart, quick leader who makes plays all game ,when he is allowed to run free.Doesn't shed well if blockers get into him and is best between the tackles in the run game.Reads his keys well and has good instincts coming forward.Lacks the top end speed to go sideline to sideline and chase down plays from the backside. Crafty in zone coverage and reads QB's well to jump routes.Good hands for the interception .SLB Leroy Hill is one of the leagues most underrated players, but he always seems to be nicked up, and that could be part of the reason he doesn't get the credit he deserves. Fast and has good instincts. Comes up to take on blockers well and holds his ground , but is even better at avoiding them. Faster than Tatupu ,and would probably be able to play MLB better in this defense with his speed, but WLB would be his best position. Flows to the ball and shows good play recognition.Can wreak havoc in the backfield and can rush the passer when he gets his chance at it. Almost moves like a safety and is good in coverage. Aaron Curry was just too good to pass up at # 4 but adding him to this LB crew is damm near ridiculous. Is like a bigger Leroy Hill who's potential is off the charts. The main difference is when Hill takes on a blocker he holds his ground , while Curry knocks them back or down. Faster in a straight line than Leroy but doesn't possess quite as fluid hips . If he went to a 3-4 team he could play either OLB position and get a lot of sacks once he worked on pass rushing techniques. Stacks and sheds like a DE, and makes plays sideline to sideline. 3rd year player Wil Herring plays with reckless abandon and that's why he is effective on special teams. Could probably start at the SLB position for a lot of teams in a year or 2, as he is good at coming up to take on blockers . Stacks and sheds adequately but he doesn't read keys well yet, and is still a bit raw recognizing the play. Still needs a lot of work in coverage and isn't very fluid in his hips. A 3-4 team will probably pick him up when he becomes a free agent, put some weight on him, and make him a LILB. A decent backup with upside, but needs work in the film room and reps on the practice field to develop better instincts.Backup David Hawthorne is a squatty run defender and core special teamer, but still has lot to learn. Limited speed and can only play the middle between the tackles and on run downs currently.High motor developmental prospect . 4th year vet Lance Laury is a core special teamer but a limited athlete . Brings it with a thump when he gets to the ball carrier, but is raw is all aspects as a LB.
Secondary- CB Marcus Trufant is one of the leagues best but is injured( back) to start the season and will miss at least 6 weeks. One of the closest to actually being a shutdown corner, that the current pro-offense rules allow. Well rounded in all phases. Has very fluid hips. Fierce in man and bump and run coverage. Reads QB's and receiver reactions well. Good hands for the interception and goes for the ball whenever its thrown near him. Shows a burst to the ball , especially in zone ,and jumps routes enough to make QB's nervous. Has the speed to run with anyone and can go all the way if he picks it.Keeps his feet underneath him and has a smooth back pedal . A good tackler and sticks his nose in when they run at him. 9th year veteran CB Ken Lucas returns to Seattle this year after 4 season with the Panthers.Is a big physical guy who looks like a safety ,and probably would play safety right now if he was a better tackler. Smooth hips and good hands in press coverage ,but lacks makeup speed these days. If he doesn't get his jam at the line receivers can beat him deep , but he is still very quick in the first 15 yards. Too often falls for fakes and is off balance in run support, which is really strange considering he almost never does in a pass coverage. Has lost a step but is still a decent starter, especially in cover 2. Former 1rst rounder Kelly Jennings has the same speed and hips as Trufant, but lacks his read and recognition skills. A former starter who looked to be an ascending player after the 07 season, but he got burned a lot last year. Bites to hard on fakes and double moves. Opens his hips to early and just needs to buckle down and learn his job better. Still a decent nickle back last year, but I fear he lost some confidence as the season went on. Josh Wilson actually took Jennings job last season, but he is still a better athlete than football player at this point. Fast & smooth out of the break and possesses makeup speed ,but takes too many chances. Needs to jaw less with the receivers and concentrate on reading receivers and QB's more. Has a burst and can contribute on special teams. Looks to be a quality future starter if he can play with more discipline. 10 year vet starting SS Deon Grant has lost a step, but his instincts and play recognition even it out. A smart, crafty ,veteran leader who is still a decent starter, but is past his prime now. FS Jordan Babineaux is finally a starter. Can also play corner and has had a knack for the big play the last few years. Reads & reacts quickly and at his best coming forward, Doesn't have makeup speed as a CB ,but is good in cover 2 there. FS is good fit because he is a solid tackler and you want him being your last line of defense. Always seems to go to the right place and is solid in run support. A smart player who has earned his position. Also a good special teamer. Former starting FS Brian Russell knows what he's doing but no longer seems to have the speed to make it happen. Never the fastest guy to begin with anyway, he seemed to lose 2 steps last year and got beat a lot. Could add 20 pounds and be a LB, but I think his starting safety days are over.
Special teams- Justin Forsett is quick in the short area but will probably never break a kickoff for a TD, as he lacks long speed. Could maybe break a Punt if the field is short enough, but is not a natural receiver there yet. Josh Wilson had a good year returning kickoffs and I expect him to be even better this year. Deon Butler would be a better choice than Forset as a KR mate and I expect he will end up with the job.Olindo Mare had his best season in awhile last year ,and still has a big leg, but has been wildly inconsistent on FG's in the past.Punter Jon Ryan is player on the rise with a big leg. Will probably be around 12-15 years.Bruce Dehaven is above average as special teams coach.
SAN FRANCISCO 49'ers
Predicted Finish- 7-9 and only a QB away from the playoffs.
Overview- Mike Singletary has this team believing it can win ,and If I had more faith in their QB choices ,I would pick them to win this division now. If either( former #1 overall pick) bust Alex Smith or Shawn Hill can just be a bus driver (don't lose the game type) this team could win 9 or 10 games now.Their 2nd largest flaw, although it's not nearly as pronounced , is the lack of a consistent pass rush. Only Justin Smith and Parys Haralson have brought anywhere near consistent pressure, and someone else needs to make it harder to double them by winning his one on ones. Their 3rd major problem is a lack of a go-to receiver. Michael Crabtree is being a baby and demanded to be paid what he thinks he deserves ,instead of his draft slot, and I don't see the niners giving in.Vernon Davis ( did show progress late last season and this pre-season)but still hasn't harnessed his awesome talent on any kind of consistent basis. The QB alone could make them a playoff team. If they got all 3 weaknesses shored up this year they could possibly even get a first round bye in the playoffs, but that's asking a ton for one season.
Coaching- Mike Singletry as a coach is similar to the coach who he won a superbowl with- MIke Ditka. A tough guy who's main skill is motivation, but who's players will all know that he cares about them as people as well. Lets the coordinators mostly run their side of the ball, and will usually only step up in for key decisions. Still looks like he could suit up and his intensity level hasn't dropped any since his playing days. Was instrumental in the drafting of and the growth of Patrick Willis into the role of the leagues best inside linebacker.Is an icon that young players should respond too. Despite never being a coordinator himself I expect him to have success long term and make this team into a perennial contender.Jimmy Raye is a coordinator for his 7th team and will make sure that this offense runs a tough grind it out game.Greg Manusky enters his 3rd year as the boss of the defense and the unit improved dramatically under his stewardship last season. A young talented defense with a good mix of veterans, that could rise very soon if their pass rush improves.
QB- Shaun Hill or Alex Smith? Not as big a question as you might think it is. Singletary comes from Chicago where Jim McMahons main responsibility's were handing off and not turning the ball over. Alex Smith obviously has more abilty but has shown to be mistake & injury prone . Hill provided leadership and efficiency last year . 10-4 as a starter through his career and appears to be getting better. Looks to be the bus driver they need to be competitive, but I question if he is ready to win big games for them when a team stacks the box against him right now. Average arm , but does make quick efficient reads. Doesn't have the arm to make deep out throws, but has shown some touch lofting the ball over DB's deep. Could be a Chad Pennington type with a little better arm , and that would be fine to get them to the playoffs if this team steps up around him. If Vernon Davis or Michel Crabtree step up this year he could have a good season and take them to a division title . If both did he could make the pro bowl and win a playoff game,but that seems a lot to wish for this year.Ceiling is Phil Simms and that's not a bad thing, but lacks the tools to ever be a big time passer. Alex Smith seemed to be making the transition well from the spread offense /shotgun when Norv Turner was there, but regressed as soon as he left. Has all the tools but is much like Vince Young right now, a better athlete than QB.If he ever harnesses his awesome talent he could be a Donovan NcNabb type QB. 5th rounder Nate Davis is a project but he has strong arm and is a good athlete.
O-Line- LT Joe Staley is a player on the rise and is just a notch below the top tier LT's currently, but he is only in his 3rd year and we think he will make that jump soon. Lacks the brute strength to be a top 10 guy right now ,but he has the frame to add more muscle and be a perennial pro bowler.Sound technique and plays with good leverage. Quick feet and good balance. Uses his hands well when he locks on and when hand fighting, but could his hand punch better. Could be a bit nastier but at the least he looks to be 10 year above average starting LT. LG David Bass looks and plays like a RG. More a mauler than a technician and fits this offense. Aggressive in line and moves the line of scrimmage well, but struggles in space and on the move. Also Struggles with speed and penetrating DT's. Bull rushing him is a waste of time , but swims, spins and counters give him trouble. Fits this offense but would would only fit on the right side for most teams. C Eric Heitman is underrated and is the leader on this line. More of a technician and best on the double team and chipping in the short area. Makes excellent line calls, and gives max effort. Good balance and feet, but struggles against bigger NT's. Above average pass blocker and plays with good hand use, balance and leverage . Is smart and always has his head on a swivel. If he was on a more successful team I think he would have been to at least one pro bowl by now. Could also play LG at high level if needed. 2nd year RG Chilo Rachal is your basic straight ahead mauler. Needs to get better when pulling as he often misses his block and stands up too quick when he turns. When he hits you you know it ,but needs to improve his balance and play under control. Not a natural knee bender but if he stays low he is a force. The team improved when he became a starter last year and he is on the way up. RT Adam Snyder is a versatile guy that can play anywhere but center if needed, although he lacks the feet to be a long term LT. Is big and plays whistle to whistle, but could be a meaner finisher. Good at everything ,but great at nothing due to his lack of athletic ability. A solid starter who versatility is very valuable to any NFL team.Backup RT Tony Pashos has a lot of staring experience , but would fit better inside. A massive mauler with a mean streak, who lacks the feet to play on an island. If he improved his leverage a bit I think he could be a great RG. Could be an effective starter in this or any other offense who runs the ball a ton, but he is a liability pass blocking on the outside, who always needs help against anyone with speed. 11 year vet Bary Simms is past his prime. Was once a good pass blocker and average starter, but has never had the size and strength to be a good run blocker. Could take over for Staley for a short time, but their run game would suffer, and I think at this stage in his career they would probably just flip Snyder over and start Pashos at RT .
Tight End- The mercurial Vernon Davis is the Nuke Laloosh of the NFL. Million dollar skills and a 5 cent head. If Singletary can straighten him out, he could be a top 5 TE this season and the best in the game soon ,but we have all been fooled by Vernon before. Regressed last season,but has been targeted a lot in the pre season. Physical specimen , and a fierce willing blocker,but his technique is still raw. Makes a lot of mental errors and drops easy passes to often. Has WR speed in a 250 pound package, and if he can harness his abilty it would make more of a difference to this team than any other player could. It's all up to him and the time is now. Backup Delanie Walker is a former WR who bulked his way up to a new position. Short for a TE, but has good hands if the ball is ever thrown to him. Good technical blocker, but lacks the ferocity of Davis.
Wide receiver- If Michael Crabtree wakes up and signs before the season he could be a definite difference maker. Good size, strong hands, and electric after the catch . Former QB with a high football IQ, but you would never think he has only been running routes for a short time the way he separates. Competes for every ball and extra yard. The only things he lacks is elite top speed and experience, but I think he is a future pro bowler. Reminds me of a quicker Anquan Boldin. Future HOFer Isacc Bruce is still smart and has the burst to separate in the short area. Not the burner he once was ,and has never been very big or physical , he would fit best as # 3 slot receiver right now. On the decline but still valuable as a player and mentor. 2nd year Josh Morgan has looked great in the preseason against lower tier players the last 2 years but is still raw. Fits best in a west coast offense as he is a big strong guy who can break tackles. Lacks the speed to separate well, but is physical if you jam him ,and uses his body well to shield defenders. Good blocker and that alone could make him a effective starter in this offense.Still young and improving as a route runner . Decent hands but needs to not body catch so much.Former starter Arnaz Battle is a lot like a older Josh Morgan with inconsistent hands and no upside left. Brandon Jones is like a poor mans Crabtree. Has strong hands but has lost a step due to injuries. Could start but will likely be a 3rd receiver. Great hands and smart but only above average against zone coverage . Can't separate in man or off coverage. Jason Hill is a better athlete than WR. A injury prone burner who needs polish on his routes and hands. Their fastest receiver if he puts it together though ,and would be great KR if he had better hands. Al Davis would love him.
Running Back- Frank Gore is a beast. All balls, heart and will coming downhill like a bowling ball with feet. Has overcome massive injuries and still runs like he thinks he's indestructible. Is always nicked up because of his physical running style and amount of carries, but if he misses a play ( or game) you know he is badly hurt. Stout and runs with a strong leg drive. Breaks tackles and always seems to be falling forward when hes brought down.Excellent receiver and goes north south right away. Marion Barber and Gore are brothers of the soul, but Gore runs smarter and with better vision than Barber does.3rd rounder Glen Coffey had a strong preseason and at the very least should be able to help take some of the load from Gore. Good at a lot of things but not great any, he reminds me of a taller Tashard Choice. Could probably add 10 pounds of muscle and not lose any speed ,since he's not a burner anyway. Lacks Gores vision, but he's young.Former college QB Micheal Robinson has developed into a versatile player for frisco. Plays RB, WR, is excellent on special teams, and can throw a little wildcat into the mix if called upon.
D-line- 08 FA addition Justin Smith had his best season as a pro last year. A good but but great 4-3 end, he always seemed just a step slow from being the top pass rusher 4-3 ends need to be to make the pro bowl. Always a force against the run, he showed he could still stack and shed in the 3-4 ,where he faced many more double teams. A better pass rusher than most 3-4 ends and he got consistent pressure all season. Didn't get as many 1 v 1 reps rushing as most 3-4 ends, due to there not being enough other good pass rushers on this team last year . If someone besides Haralson steps up he could get double digit sacks this year. Deserved pro bowl berth in o8.NT Aubrayo Franklin is a stocky lane clogger who gets his main job done- occupying blockers so the LB's can run to the ball. Stout at the point of attack, but won't win any foot races, even though he can slide up and down the line well while manhandling blockers. Only viable between the tackles, and the bull rush is his only effective pass rush move .A 2 down player who is key to this defense and who's a FA after the season . Expect the best he's got this year.Strongside DE Issac Sopoaga is stout against the double team but really needs to learn how to disengage better and improve his play recognition. A very good athlete for a 320 pounder, who shows inconsistent results. Blows up one play only to get completely out of position the next too often.Penetrates right into traps and washes himself out on draws and screens, then penetrates into a 4 yard tackle for a loss. A massively strong high motor guy, but he needs to spend more time studying his craft to take the step up to the next level. Needs to stay low when rushing the passer and improve his hands, as he has a quick first step but often gets stalled if his first move is caught. Despite already playing 5 years in the league ,and having a football players mentality, he is still not as a good a football player as his athletic ability warrants. If he ever got it all together he could be another Haloti Ngata. 08 1rst rounder Kentwaan Balmer's transition to the 3-4 didn't go as smoothly as hoped. Flashes his ability when he stay low , but stands up way to much to start yet. Could see some time in the 4-3 inside where he's still more comfortable ,especially in passing downs. 3rd year Ray McDonald is a versatile backup and can play either the weakside 3-4 end spot or DT in the 4-3 , but I think he fits best as 4-3 strongside end. When he plays with leverage he looks like a starter, but he is still inconsistent in that area. Still very raw abut gives good effort . Might be a starter if he gets coached up and stays dedicated. 7th round pick Ricky Jean Francois was a underachiever in college, but has the tools to be a starter. A quick first step and long arms ,but he doesn't use them well.Injury prone and has had off the field issues in the past. Plays with bad leverage too much and gives up when his initial move is stopped. At his best he reminds me of Tommie Harris, but those flashes are few , and too often time he just looks like a slacker on the field. If Singletary could motivate him he could at least be a force as pass rusher inside on passing downs in the 3-4 and as a penetrator when they play the 4-3. Could be in line for a big contract in 4 years or be out of the league forever in 4 months.
Linebacker- Patrick Willis is the games best interior linebacker already .Unlike his mentor Singletary who was just fierce between the tackles, Patrick can roam sideline to sideline.Has Ray Lewis-like instincts and fills immediately. Has improved a lot as a pass defender since he entered the league and is now a threat to pick it in the middle of the field & take it the house. Would be a pro bowler on any defense in any system . A tackling machine who hits with a pop and wraps up when he gets there. Stacks, sheds, uses his hands and diagnoses the play well above average. Runs like a safety and is even a good blitzer when he gets the chance to do so. My pick for defensive player of the year this season and barring injury will be at the top of his position for a long time. Strongside interior LB Takeo Spikes is still a productive player, despite being past his prime. Injuries & age have slowed him some, but his ability to read the play makes up for a lot of that loss of speed. Was once the best coverage LB in the game and still read QB's like a book when he drops into coverage. Fierce in run support and is a good tackler but he doesn't disengage as quickly as he used to. Still an above average starter. ROLB Parys Haralson is a player on the rise and if can take the next step into the upper echelon of Pass rushers he could be in the pro bowl soon. At his best rushing the passer and mostly relies on his speed to beat the tackle to the spot. Good hands but longer armed OT's can keep him at bay once they lock on. Average in run support, but he is a bit undersized for the position and its not for lack of effort. Below average in coverage, but he has the speed to cover TE's , if not the technique just yet. Could be the next James Harrison if he keeps progressing. Many Lawson always seems to be nicked up if not downright injured.Has the ideal frame for the position, but still could add 15 pounds of muscle and probably maintain his speed. Would probably fit best on the weakside but Haralson has that covered. Speedy with a quick first step and fluid hips for coverage when has to drop back. Needs to get better taking on blocks and holding the point of attack. Often runs around blockers ,and while that sometimes results in a positive big play ,it also can result in him being out of position and giving up a big play. Also a valuable contributor on special teams.Ahmad Brooks career has been marred by injury and off the field incidents. Looked to be a future star when he was a rookie with the bengals, but is now a backup in frisco. Maybe Singletary can revive his flagging career.Has the size to play inside but has been playing outside for the 49ers. 5th rounder Scott McKillop looks like a guy who can play the LILB spot( currently maned by Spikes )in the future. Willing to come up and take on blockers, but isn't the athlete Takeo is, and isn't fast enough to make a lot of plays outside the tackles.Strong tackler in all areas, but will probably end up a 2 down player if he does become a starter. At the least he should be a good special teamer and solid back uop right now.10 year vet Jeff Ulbrich is still as solid backup to Willis but lacks the size to play the 3-4 inside spot regularly. Better in a 4-3 when he is protected, but still has good instincts and recognition skills, if not the speed he once had to use them.
Secondatry- CB Nate Clements is big fast strong fringe pro bowl type corner ,who has never got the recognition he deserves playing in buffalo and frisco. Fierce in run support and dominant in cover 2. Has the speed and hips to run with receivers and the hands to control them when he is in press coverage. Reads receivers well and breaks on the ball quickly, although he can get caught peaking into the backfield sometimes. One of the games 8-10 best corners. CB Dre Bly is past his prime, but will still probably start for this team.Still has an excellent backpedal and fluid hips but he's lost a step. Would now fit best as a slot nickel corner as he is not very physical on the line when he needs to jam receivers. Not best in run support and is more of a drag down tackler. 6th year corner Shawntae Spencer needs to be more physical if he wants to take the job from Bly. He's a big corner but doesn't play like it, especially in run support . He mostly just gets in the way of runners and holds onto them till someone else comes to help him make the tackle, or goes for the ankles. Can turn and run with anybody .Has the height & long arms to make the play on the ball and the hands to secure the pick. Injured the last 2 years and Bly was brought in to push him. Is bets playing off the line where he can drive to the ball, but his weak tackling makes him vulnerable to WR screens. If Spencer had more of a football players mentality he could be special but I haven't seen it yet.3rd year corner Tarell Brown has the tools but not the technique to be contribute a lot so far.4th year player Marcus Hudson is big strong corner who fits better as a safety. Isn't fluid enough, and doesn't use his hands well to stay with receivers on the line. Lacks makeup speed and has trouble staying with receivers coming out of their breaks . Should add 15 pounds and change positions. Plays best off the line coming forward and is a good tackler.Michaell Lewis is physical in the box SS with good tackling skills an LB's demeanor. Outside the box he is juked to often and takes some false steps in coverage. Might fit better as 4-3 WLB, but is still an average as starter as long as he isn't asked to run downfield with receivers much ,as he lacks the speed to do so. Doesn't make many big plays.FS Dashon Goldon is a former CB who should be an upgrade as starter this year. Takes good angles to the ball and can run with receivers better than most FS, but is still a bit raw in his recognition skills . A young player who I expect to improve steadily this season.A solid (if unspectacular ) tackler currently.Former starter Mark Roman has the read and recognition skills to be starter but lacks the speed and burst to make plays. Past his prime and was never a playmaker to begin with. Is best as backup . 2nd year player Reggie Smith has experience at both safety and CB, but he won't get better at either until frisco makes him choose one. Isn't fast enough for man coverage and needs to get a bit bigger for safety,although he has the toughness to play SS right now. Has good instincts and diagnoses well as a safety and would probably fit best there.
Special teams- Little CB Allen Rossum is just a return guy now but his burst and speed are on the decline.Michale Spurlock is probably his backup at PR and partner on kick returns and he did run one back in Tampa once. PK Joe Nedney is injury prone but solid when he's on the field. 6th year punter Andy Lee is above average especially on distance.Al Everest is a solid veteran coordinator, although a bit unimaginative .
ST. LOIUS RAMS
Predicted finish-4-12 and in last place
Overview- A rebuilding team with some talent,and a new defensive whiz coach, but in desperate need of a new QB.
Coaching- Steve Spagnuolo was the architect of the most amazing pass rush in NFL history in New York. Will need time to evaluate his players on the field and get them acclimated to his system. A lot of stunts and unique blitzes that will confuse offenses ,can also confuse defenses while the players are learning them. Will need a year or 2 to get the right personnel in place to run his scheme. Had a solid draft and has some building blocks but made a mistake by putting 1rst rounder Jason Smith at RT. Probably still thinks he can win with this roster, but will learn soon enough that he can't with Bulger as the QB,and without better interior pass rushers. Ken Flajole comes over from Carolina and joins fellow LB aficionado Spagnuolo to be the official boss of the defense, but you can bet Spags will be calling most of the schemes and blitzes.Pat Shurmur comes over from Philly, where he coached the QB'S and was instrumental in McNabbs development . He will be needed when they actually draft a QB.
Quarterbacks- Stick a fork in Marc Bulger because he looks done. Has taken too many hits and is gunshy in the pocket now. Is too light to take the pounding the NFL offers and is now injury prone. Once read defenses quick and was accurate when he got rid of it. Now when he actually gets the time to throw( not often enough) Bulger gets rid of the ball too fast to take the time to diagnose the read properly. His quick release should allow him to hold onto the ball longer but he has happy feet in the pocket these days ,and is hearing footsteps even when their isn't a need for it. It's a shame because he once was a rising star, but mass o-line injuries and repeatedly getting hit has messed him up. Is at his best when he sprints out now becuase he is less worried about getting hit, and has above average speed for a QB, but his days as a starter should be done. Former first round bust( Balt.) is still a better athlete than he is a QB. Strong armed and fleet of foot, he is like a right handed poor mans Michael Vick. Inaccurate and doesn't read defenses well. Can rifle the ball if he has straight line to a open receiver, but has little touch on his passes, and repeatedly fails to see defenders in his throwing lanes. Would still probably be a better starter than Bulger at this point, but just never progressed the way most though he would. Its a safe bet they will have a top 8 pick( If not top 2) and will have a new QB next season.
O-Line- #2 overall pick Jason Smith was a safe bet, and you rarely go wrong with top 5 OT's, but why draft a LT and play him at RT? Current LT Alex Barron isn't physical enough for the right side and while he has good feet, he is below average on either side, and moving Smith to the right side doesn't make a lot of sense.Smith isn't Orlando Pace yet, but he has the potential to be a top level OT. Came from a spread offense and needs polish coming out of a 3 point stance and with his run blocking. Plays nasty in the run game ,but the 2 point stance isn't conducive to playing with proper pad level, and he is often to high to get good leverage . Quick feet and a strong hand punch in pass pro. Has long arms and if he locks on its over, but his stance can get to high at times and cause his balance to be inconsistent. A former TE and high level athlete for an offensive tackle who should anchor this line for at least 10 years.Barron is a better athlete than a football player and his technique is below average everywhere. Shows flashes of the first round pick he was but lacks consistency and a mean streak. C Jason Brown was a crucial addition in free agency and can play either center or guard at a high level. Physical drive blocker with the force to take on NT's 1 v1 , and only has trouble with the quickest penetrating DT's. Good on the double team but struggles in space at the 2nd level. Has a strong hand punch in pass pro and is best in a close splits alignment , as the quicker players can occasionally give him trouble. Plays whistle to whistle and should play at a pro bowl level for years to come.RG Richie Incognito is a gorilla strong mauler, but lacks balance and plays too stiff to be a good starting guard. Is musclebound and looks more like a DT ,with a similar mentality. Could probably be a good strong side 3-4 end on defense and actually reminds me of Igor Olshanksy playing offense. Needs to bend his knees more and keep his balance when on the move. Has a vicious hand punch and it knocks players back and off course in pass pro, but is vulnerable to stunts and twist. If his feet are set when he engages it is impossible to bull rush him .Doesn't move well in space and is best in a straight ahead power running game, which is good because Spags will probably take a page out of his NYG days, and run a similar scheme. Will fit this offense, and theoretically could have his best season this year if he can stay healthy, but needs to play smarter. Is prone to penalties and has has a bad temper. Has also played center. LG Jacob Bell is more a finesse technician, and looks to have the feet to play LT better than Barron. Smart and slides well in pass pro, but is a subpar run blocker. Takes sound angles and has good hand placement, but isn't physical , or a finisher. Quick to chip to the second level but mostly just gets in the defenders way and is soft in every phase of run blocking. Needs too get stronger and more physical ,as he run blocks with the force of a a TE. 3rd rounder Jhon Greco was drafted to play OT but doesn't have the feet to do on the left side. Plays to the whistle but isn't very physical yet. Could probably back up at either guard spot now, and start at LG or RT for some teams in a year or 2. A better football player than athlete right now who just needs to learn his craft and will probably develop into a solid starter. Mark Setterstrom is solid backup at center or guard and has past starting experience.Rookie Robert Allen is a raw small school developmental prospect with good upside at G, but raw technique at the moment.
Tight Ends- Randy McMichael was an upgrade here last year before geting injured. A above average receiver with a quick release who finds holes in the zone. A wiling blocker, but better on combo blocks and he isn't overly strong in line.A smart route runner who uses his body well to shield DB's and has strong hands over the middle. Should be healthy this year and one of the brighter spots of the offense.3rd year player Daniel Fells has a lot of upside, but isn't nearly as physical as you would expect a 270+ TE to be, and needs to play nastier . Gives good effort blocking in line none the less.Still looks uncertain blocking at the 2nd level and needs more reps to improve. Doesn't have the quickness to separate much but his route running is OK. Is raw but improved a lot last year when he got his chance and may see significant time in 2 TE sets this season.
Wide receivers - A young inexperienced group that definitely needs to be upgraded, and the WR coach has his work cut out for him. Last years 2nd round pick Donnie Avery is a speedy big play threat ,but I see no reson why he should be a number 1 receiver right now. His unpolished route running and a tendency to round off breaks leads to problems. Would probably be great this year as a slot receiver on a team with 2 veteran wide outs( they would have been wise to at least keep Torry Holt for this purpose alone) who could help tutor him and take advantage of his abilty to stretch the field . Undersized and can have trouble with press coverage, but can also slip a DB for long ball, so cover 2 gives him problems. Good hands but not the bravest guy over the middle just yet. Explosive on plays where he catches the ball in space ,and can bust one after the catch, but doesn't break many tackles. Still young and has a ton of upside, but he needs a big possession type receiver opposite him to allow him to maximize his abilities.Reminds me of a young Terry Glenn. Young veteran( 3rd year) Laurent Robinson was a acquired cheaply from Atlanta in the offseason and has the ability to be that possession receiver for now. When he got playing time as a rookie he produced, but seemed to fall out of the falcons plans when the starters got healthy. Lacks top end speed and separation skills , but the better his routes get( making progress) the less that will be a problem. Is best against zone,as he finds the holes pretty quickly.Has good hands and adjustments to poorly thrown balls and coverages. Keenan Burton will be competing with Robinson and has more upside, but is less polished. Quicker out of his breaks ,but is easily pushed off his route by press coverage, and needs to really work on using his hands to secure a release. Inconsistent hands and has tendency to run before securing the catch. Needs to be a smarter route runner and develop more counters.Good speed but isn't a burner , but he is only in his 2nd year with definite upside.Ruvell Martin is the veteran of the group in his 4th year, but can't separate against most corners.A big physical guy who will push away press overage, but can't get open if the DB plays off him.Should bulk up and play TE or go back to a west coast offense, where his skill breaking tackles and running after the catch would come in handy. Martin is the best blocker of a group that is subpar as a whole in that area.Wes Welker wannabe Danny Amendola actually has a chance to get some paying time in this group, but he is a poor mans Welker at best until he learns to find holes in coverage the way Welker does. 5th round pick Brooks Foster is a supreme athlete but a raw football player who is a project .A group where the oldest player only has 3 years in the league is not encouraging for a QB.
Running backs- Steven Jackson is a stud when he's healthy, but has missed 4 games each of the last 2 seasons. Able to rush for 1000 yards in each anyway, so that speaks well to how good he is when on the filed .A big back (with good not great speed) who runs downhill as soon as he sees a crease. Runs through tackles (and over people if needed) and is rarely brought down 1 v 1. Makes good cuts and isn't just a battering ram, but is generally going north south with force. Can take it the house and doesn't stop driving his feet till he's down.Strong receiver and pass protector. A complete back who just needs to stay on the field to be a difference maker.Was the key component of the offense last year and will probably be even more so under Spagnuolo. Samkon Gado is the probably backup and is a stout straight ahead runner with few moves, but moves the pile. Lacks the vision and wiggle to be a starter all year, but to be fair , he did produce in his one starting jaunt as a rookie 4 years ago. Kenneth Darby has more burst than Gado and can also return kicks.Could see time as a 3rd down back if Jackson needs a breather. FB Mike Karney is a good straight ahead in the hole drive blocker inside and makes legitimate holes inside but occasionally whiffs outside the tackles.A sneaky receiver if given the chance and shows good hands, but is not a threat to carry the ball unless its really short yardage.Fits this offense and is average for the position in most offenses, but will probably be above average in this scheme.
D-Line- The loss of high motor improving DT Adam Carriker for the season is a significant problem for this team. He was by far the best of a below average group of interior D-lineman and someone needs to step up big to fill that gap.Lajuan Ramsey has the most potential of the guys left to take Carrikers place, but he is inconsistent with his technique. I am not sure if its an effort, conditioning ,or experience problem but you never know which one of him will show up play to play. Strongside DT Clifton Ryan is a big lane clogger and makes a difference in the run game, but isn't a threat as a pass rusher and will be replaced on obvious passing downs. Holds the point and frees up backers by occupying multiple people on some downs, but probably couldn't play the NT on a 3-4, as he has a tendency to stand up off the line when tired. Has little lateral movement along the line of scrimmage but gives good effort in that area, even though he lacks foot speed.Best in short yardage, but only a bull rusher if he's in the game when a team passes. Gary Gibson is high motor guy who is a better football player than athlete. Trys hard and can penetrate in gaps, but can't hold the point against a double team and needs to only play on the weak side. Needs to improve his variety of pass rush moves ,as his quick first step alone could make him a effective pass rusher. Did look pretty good in the pre season and plays to the whistle but his upside is limited. 14 year vet Hollis Thomas is big stocky run stuffer who can still make a contribution in short yardage and as a rotational player, but he tires easily and is increasingly injury prone. 4th round pick Darell Scott is a top athlete as a DT but should have came out a year earlier. A workout warrior type who has never lived up to his athletic ability on the field with any consistency, and test better in workout clothes than he plays in pads. Was injured and looked like he had a case of senioritis last season. Needs to learn his craft and give top effort on every down and he could be special . Right now he has flashes of brilliance ,but takes plays off, has shown inconsistent technique and effort in college. o8 first rounder Cris Long plays every down to the whistle, has great hand use, gets off the ball quickly, plays with good leverage, stacks and sheds, holds the point,chases down plays all along the line and basically does everything GOOD but hasn't gotten GREAT results yet. Brings consistent pressure rushing the passer but seems just a little late to make the big sack so far. Needs to take the next step up from solid high effort player, to elite DE. reminds me of Patrick Kerney of Seattle, and needs to play the Justin Tuck role in this defense.DE Leonard Little is still an elite pass rusher when he's on the field, but has missed a lot time to injuries the last 3 seasons. Quick first step and an array of moves make him disruptive coming forward in the passing or running games, but he can't stack and shed in the run game. Would be best as a situational pass rusher at this point in his career. It would probably be better this season if he switched sides with Long, as he doesn't fit on the strong side and Long can play either.Backup Victor Adeyanju can only play the strong side and lacks quickness. Trys hard ,but is not special anywhere. Looks to be a career backup.Can't switch to a 3-4 as he doesn't do well holding the point on double teams, but is stout against the run 1 on 1. 10 year vet James Hall is former starter and excellent backup. A smart player who's lost a step that makes the most of what he has, but gets by on his motor and experience now. Best on the strong side at DE, but can move inside to DT with Long on passing downs.
Linebackers- Veteran Will Witherspoon is a versatile player who is smart enough to play the WLB or MLB, but is beter on the weakside. A above average starter who runs sideline to sideline and chases down play everywhere. Runs around blocks instead of taking them on. Good instincts and reads his keys well, but doesn't shed very well when he does engage.Good in coverage, but better in zone, as he reads QB's quickly and drives to the ball. A good, not great player, and a sure tackler. Rookie 2nd round pick James Laurinitas is a similar player, but is a little bigger, and a tad slower.Has good read and recognition skills and drives to he ball quickly. Sheds well but only when he's coming forward, as he gets engulfed if the lineman gets up on him. Is a sure tackler but not a big hitter.Better in the run game now, but has the tools to play in coverage well and just needs more experience doing it.Can run all over the field but best between the tackles, and probably couldn't play anywhere else in the defense right now.A durable, high effort, leader who will probably be a 10 year starter in the league , but needs to get faster to become an upper echelon LB.SLB David Vabora was Mr. Irrelevant( last player picked) in the 08 draft but actually became a starter by the end of the season. Plays mean and comes forward to take on blockers with force, and really improved his shedding techniques in the preseason, but still is a little below average at it. Plays smart in the run game and hits with force, but is stiff in coverage. Reads coverage ok and QB's well, but doesn't get moving fast enough when he sees where the ball is going. Currently best as a 2 down player and could be bigger for his position, since he has the frame to add 10-15 pounds without sacrificing quickness.Not sure if he's ready to be a starter but he's got the job . Paris Lenon should be the starter in the middle on some team and is a great backup. Got cut by the patriots trying to transition to a 3-4 ,after being one of the few bright spots on Detroit's 0-16 team last year. No jobs were left so I I think he went where he thought he could break into the starting lineup.Will probably see the field on nickel at least. 2nd year player Chris Chamberlain was great on special teams last season but rarely saw the field on defense. A former SS who could conceivably earn a job on nickel but is too small to play even the WLB spot every down right now.Backup SLB Larry Grant has bulked up since coming to the league but is too slow to be a starter. Mostly a special teamer.
Secondary-a below average group with potential currently , led by solid safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, that a better pass rush could make look much better.Atogwe makes big plays and gives up big plays, although last year he had more of the former. Average size and speed for a free safety, although you generally wish a taller guy as your last line of defense. Is a balhawk and is at his best when the balls in the air .Takes good angles to the ball in the running and passing games. Runs well with most receivers but has trouble with the faster guys. Avg. tackler who goes for the ball, but still needs to make sure he wraps up first sometimes. Good instincts , except for on double moves, especially in the post.Gets good jumps off the QB, but is vulnerable to the pump fake. A rising player who has been a starter since he came into the league 4 years ago, and who should only continue to get better. Ronald Bartell is a big strong press corner. Best in cover 2 as he is physical at the line and in the short area, but if he misses his jam he doesn't recover quickly enough to avoid getting burned deep in man. Breaks on the ball quickly in the short area .Not as physical as you would like in run support for such a big corner . Has the speed to run with most receivers in a straight line and the height and long arms to go for the ball, but can get turned around down field.Still a young and improving player that is above average in zone and below average in man coverage right now. FA addition SS James butler comes over from the giants with Spagnuolo and should be an upgrade here, especially given the fact that he is already familiar with the scheme.Had his best season last year and is fierce in run support . A good tackler in the box who uses his hands well to avoid and disengage from blockers.Best in the short area in the passing game,but can't run downfeild with faster TE's and RB's. Fits best in zone or coming forward. Adequate size but could probably add 10 more pounds of muscle at his height and not lose any quickness.Looks like he could be a Tampa 2 weakside linebacker if he did.The other staring corner is up for grabs.3rd ropund pick Bradley Fletcher is a better athlete than CB right now Has ear safety size and unless he can get more fluid in his hips and transitions may end up there long term. Tall and fast in a straight line, but is stiff coming out of breaks. Seems to recognize the play but doesn't transition well enough to get their in time a lot .Bets in press coverage and in zone right now. Strong in run support. 3rd year CB Jonathan Wade was the nickel back last year and even started a game for the rams, so he might have the inside track for the job. Still needs work on his recognition but has fluid hips and quick transitions when he does. If he takes the next step this could be at least a solid group. 2nd year player Justin King missed the entire 08 season due to injury. A workout warrior type who has massive potential, but needs to learn how to play football. Long term project who needs coaching but can probably be counted on to provide special teams help.Backup SS Craig Dahl also come from the giants and is a solid backup with starters potential if he could just stay healthy.Backuup S Anthony Smith was a former starter in Pittsburgh who lost his job and can at least provide experience as a backup.
Special teams- Punter Donni Jones is one of the games best and he gets plenty of chances to practice his craft in this offense.Big leg with good hangtime. K Josh Brown is strong on kickoffs and above average on FG's. Former Dallas hardknocks star Danny Amendola is the primary returner on punts and kicks. More quick than fast, but if he can find a seem on a punt he might take it back, but is likely to get caught from behind on any long kick return.Kenneth Darby has more speed to take it back on a kick but neither has shown to be anything special here. Donnie Avery would be the best guy for both spots but it's likely they don't want to expose their undersized # 1 receiver to any more big hits than necessary. Tom McMahon is in his first year as a special teams chief and is unproven.