Jan 062014
 

Kiko Alonso2013 saw some outstanding performances among defensive rookies, and we have nominated eight for the award won by Luke Kuechly last season. This year’s nominees include (in alphabetical order):

Kiko Alonso, BUF (6-10, 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INT)
Jarvis Jones, PIT (8-8, 40 tackles, 1 sack)
Star Lotulelei, CAR (12-4, 42 tackles, 3 sacks)
Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (10-6, 68 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT)
Alec Ogletree, STL (7-9, 117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD)
Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (8-8, 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
Logan Ryan, NE (12-4, 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 INT, 1 TD)
Desmond Trufant, ATL (4-12, 70 tackles, 2 INT)

This award generated a wide variety of opinions among our contributors, as three different players accumulated first place votes, and one player who received a second place vote and three third place votes didn’t make the final cut (Logan Ryan), nor did another player who received a first place vote (Star Lotulelei). When all the votes are tallied, here are the top three vote winners:

Third Place: Alec Ogletree, linebacker, St. Louis Rams

Ogletree led a resurgent Rams’ defense with 117 tackles while forcing six fumbles. Ogletree also returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, had a sack and a half and ten pass breakups. The first round sellection from the University of Georgia, coupled with defensive end Robert Quinn, give Jeff Fisher a solid defensive nucleus entering the 2014 season.

Second Place: Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, New York Jets (2 1st place votes)

One of our two selections from the AFC East, Richardson single-handedly made new GM John Idzik look pretty bright this season, as the budding star dominated the line of scrimmage and was a force against opposition running games. Despite being a rookie and joining a very talented defensive front, Richardson proved to be arguably the best defensive player on the Jets’ roster. Richardson closed the season with 76 tackles and three and a half sacks.

First Place: Kiko Alonso, linebacker, Buffalo Bills (4 1st place votes)

Jets’ fans may disagree, but we agree with Mel Kiper on this one. Alonso was the best defensive rookie in the NFL in 2013, nearly on par with Kuechly’s performance in 2012. Alonso recorded 159 tackles in 2013, while helping the Bills improve to the tenth ranked offense (in defensive yards allowed). The secondary proved to be the bane of Buffalo’s defensive unit, but Alonso quickly established himself as a dominant and disruptive presence, picking off four passes while breaking up another nine, and tallying two sacks, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Alonso finished third in the league in tackles, behind only Vontaze Burfict and Paul Posluszny.

Jun 112013
 

Arians and Palmer7. Arizona Cardinals
Head Coach: Bruce Arians
2012 Record: 5-11
2012 Offense: 250 points scored, 32st in points, 32nd in yards (28th passing, 32nd rushing)
2012 Defense: 357 points allowed, 17th in points, 12th in yards (5th passing, 28th rushing)

Key Additions
Head Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, DL Frostee Rucker, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Javier Arenas, CB Jerraud Powers, S Yeremiah Bell, CB Antoine Cason, S Curtis Taylor, DE Matt Shaughnessy, G Jonathan Cooper, LB Kevin Minter, S Tyrann Mathieu, G Earl Watford

Key Losses
S Adrian Wilson, QB Kevin Kolb, QB Brian Hoyer, QB John Skelton, S Kerry Rhodes, S James Sanders, CB William Gay, LB Quentin Groves, LB Paris Lenon, RB Beanie Wells, WR Early Doucet, CB Greg Toler, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, DE Vonnie Holliday, DE Nick Eason, LB Stewart Bradley

Why 2013 will be better
The Cardinals offensive line gave up 58 sacks in 2012… that’s right – 58. It’s hard to imagine the line performing that poorly again. So by default one can expect the offense to fare better than it did last season. Tackle Levi Brown spent last season on IR, so his return is good news for the Cardinals. Jonathan Cooper will start next to him, meaning the left side of the line will be a vast improvement over last season. Center Lyle Sendlein returns, flanked by another rookie in Watford. Only second year player Bobby Massie returns as a starter from all 16 games at right tackle. Carson Palmer will bring stability to the quarterback position and will love throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. That will result in huge fantasy number for the pair; it remains to be seen whether or not it will convert to wins. Despite a solid defensive last core from last year, this group also went through an off-season overhaul, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. If Mendenhall can return from injury (and attitude) to post 1,000 rushing yards, the Cardinals could be looking at an 8 or 9 win season.

Why 2013 will be worse
I’m not sold on Mendenhall as the answer at running back, and I’m really not sold on Carson Palmer. Palmer will put up big numbers for yards and will rack up some touchdowns, but he also has a knack for interceptions and lost fumbles, and has never proven to be a quarterback who can will his team to victory. He may stop the revolving the door and increase the point totals, but he’s not a guy I would stake the franchise on. The key to 2013 will once again be the defense, and as long as Palmer and the offense don’t turn the ball over with the frequency that the Cardinals’ offense did last season, the worst the Cardinals are looking at is another five win season.

Outlook
The Arizona Cardinals started off the 2012 season with four straight victories before collapsing the rest of the way, with an offense that scored 20 or more points only once in the team’s final twelve games. So it was no wonder that the Cardinals cleaned house in the offseason, on the roster as well as on the coaching staff. Palmer is an upgrade, but he’s not the answer, at least not by himself. Mendenhall has to bounce back in a big way for the Cardinals to rack up more wins, and an offensive line with two rookie guards has to find its chemistry early. Bruce Arians proved last season with the Colts that he is a tremendous coach, and it will take no less of an effort than the one he gave last season for the Cardinals to exceed six wins.

Apr 262013
 

Margus HuntI am terrible at predicting who Bill Belichick will take in the NFL Draft, but then again who really is good at it? The only thing I could accurately predict last night when it came to the Master of Draft Value was that the Patriots would again trade out of the first round.

So for those of us who are Patriots’ fans, here is a small list of potential players for the second and third rounds. Round Two starts with Jacksonville at the 33rd pick (assuming they don’t trade it to the Jets) and the Patriots are on the clock at Picks 52, 59, 83 and 91. If we could get two of the following players, this Patriots’ fan would be absolutely thrilled.

DE Margus Hunt, SMU – A beast edge rusher who could complement Chandler Jones and move Ninkovich back to the linebacking corps.

DE Tank Carradine, Florida State – Strong defensive end, but not overly versatile.

LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers – Belichick loves those Scarlet Knights, and Greene is a versatile linebacker who used to play safety. He fits the coverage need for the Pats.

WR Robert Woods, USC – Great route runner who is able to play in traffic; was one of the nation’s top college receivers last season.

WR Terrance Williams, Baylor – Solid outside threat who struggles over the middle of the field, but would fill the void left by Brandon Lloyd.

WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee – Taller than teammate Cordarrelle Patterson with great jumping ability; solid deep threat but needs to bulk up on his 6’4″ frame.

CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State – Fast and strong corner who needs to improve his technique; this is an area where Patriots’ coaching has struggled in recent years.

CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut – Good cover corner; two year captain of college team.

CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU – A risky but intriguing and talented pick who could be a steal a la Alfonzo Dennard.

S Don Jones, Arkansas State – Very fast player with good tackling skills.