Thursday, 24 May 2012

Decker the balls with throws from Manning fa-la-la-la la-de-la-la-la

If the whole Peyton Manning post-neck surgery move to Denver move turns out the way Broncos head coach John Fox envisions it we will be watching the white-horses gallop into the playoffs as we are gathered round the hearth singing Christmas carols.

If that scenario is to become more than a festive wish then one man will need to become a household name,  wide receiver Eric Decker.

Manning can turn good players into Pro-Bowl players and now is the time for that magical 'third-year' breakout for Decker, who has gone from a very slow rookie season, to a respectable but by no means above-average 44 catches in 2011.

When your quarterbacks were both Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, the man who as they say in the NFL Network Rich Eisen podcast trailer 'has the passion of Ray Lewis and the throwing ability of Ray Lewis', then 44 catches is probably more of a best case scenario than a season unfulfilled.

Now with one of the NFL's greatest ever passers behind him Decker can go from 44 to 94 catches without even blinking.

I hear from the NBC Pro Football Talk podcast that during the organised team activities (OTA's) currently taking place that Manning has been throwing low risk short passes, and not airing it out.

Regardless if this is a ploy to show a 'vanilla' offense to the assembled throng of journalists or simply a fact that Manning is not ready to launch rockets, Decker will be growing in confidence as he catches the 7 yard hooks, the crossing patterns and the short-in routes from a man who already has a Super Bowl winners ring and more personal awards than England has Olympic torch relay torch-bearers.

The Broncos didn't draft a wide receiver this year, a sure sign they are happy with what they already have. They did make an excellent pick in round three, grabbing San Diego State running-back Ronnie Hillman, who by all accounts could push for offensive rookie of the year if he gets off to a great start in camp and in pre-season.

Decker's days of returning kicks and bombing down the field as a special-teams gunner will look to disappear in 2012 as he steps up to a key role catching the pigskin around 6-8 times a game.

Denver's progress into the playoffs will be put onto the broad shoulders of Peyton Manning and his arm, but the brother of two-time Super Bowl winner Eli will need guys like Decker to step up and perform at a Pro-Bowl level.

Decker gets a Pro-Bowl type opportunity to become a household name in 2012, fingers crossed that any injury curse doesn't come back and decker doubles his catch total.

NFL blogger
Lawrence Vos

2012 NFL Breakout prospect - Randall Cobb WR

The Green Bay Packers may have failed to retain their Super Bowl crown in early 2012, but they sure do have a lot to smile about, with a number of players on the road to recovery from injury and a number of candidates for huge breakout seasons.

My personal favourite for a monster monster 2012 NFL season is second year wide receiver and return man extraordinaire Randall Cobb.

Cobb, a second round draft pick in 2011, made an immediate impact in his first ever NFL regular season game, scoring on a 32 yard catch and a dazzling 108 yard kickoff return.

The rest of his rookie season wasn't quite as spectacular, but Cobb showed that he could handle the fourth-wideout role along with all of the teams return duties.

Ending his first season with 25 catches is nothing special, but 15 yards a catch proves that Cobb knows how to generate separation on short to mid-range routes. It obviously also helps when your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers.

Cobb has landed in an ideal situation among the Cheeseheads as he trains day-in day-out with some of the finest wideouts in the NFL, from Super Bowl hero Greg Jennings, 2011 breakout stud Jordy Nelson and old-father-time himself Donald Driver.

Driver simply can't have much left in the tank, so Rodgers will be looking for Cobb to step up in 2012 to what I reckon will be around 65 catches and up to 900 yards receiving.

Cobb managed a punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown as a rookie, and his return averages were both well above the league average. Cobb will expect to maintain his starting return position, but may find that his coaches make him either the kick-return or punt return specialist only in order that he can get on the field with the starting offense a lot more times.

The theory goes that wide receivers truly transform in their third full NFL season, as it is one of those positions that it is very hard to make a true mark as a first or second year player.

Ill go for a steeper progress curve for Cobb to follow and I expect him to be a difference maker as an offensive player and not just a returner.

The Packers will demand an immediate return to an absolute minimum of the NFC Championship game in 2012-13, and Cobb could be the man who will give defensive coordinators nightmares as they try to hold back Nelson, Jennings and tight-end Jermichael Finley.

Call me corny but Cobb can be a jolly green giant in 2012.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

$100,000 could get you LT's ring

Growing up there was no more dominant defensive figure than the New York Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the imposing figure in blue and white who gave offensive coordinators nightmares for over a decade. 

LT as he was known was one of the most influential, if not THE most influential defensive player that ever played the game. He struck fear in the hearts of opponents, from offensive tackles to tight-ends to full-backs (who were commonplace in the 1980s).

I don't think it is possible to see the number #56 on an american football players shirt without thinking of Lawrence Taylor, ears pinned-back, haring around an offensive tackle en-route to a devastating quarterback sack, and on many occasions a forced fumble.

Not may athletes can lay claim to a number as theirs, with the exception of a few (Jerry Rice #80, Joe Montana #16, Reggie White #92, Mark Gastineau #99 come to mind immediately) and just seeing that #56 makes me think relentless pass-rush, chaos in the pocket and thwack as a quarterback bites the dust.

Taylor was not without troubles in his life, having been a heavy drinker and a former cocaine addict, his sheer will to cause havoc on the field was paralleled in his desire to live a flamboyant hedonistic life outside of football. 

He earned millions and flushed millions down the toilet, but no-one will be able to take away from him that he won two Super Bowl titles, earning two heavyweight Super Bowl rings. 

Taylor gave his rings to his son, and this is where we are up to today, May 19 2012, 2.00pm (UK time) as his Super Bowl XXV (25) ring is currently part of an online auction. 

I have just been onto the auction site and this, 'life-worn' ring is now at a highest bid of $98,525, having had 23 people submit bids all over the reserve price of $10,000. 

With just over 12 hours to go to bid it is highly likely that the ring will fetch over $100,000. 

Not that I have the money, but if I did, I would certainly move the bid into six-figures. After all this was the 25th Super Bowl, the one that Whitney Houston sung at, the one that took place during the Gulf War, the one that ended with the infamous Scott Norwood "wide-right" kick at the death. 

LT's son - Lawrence Jnr is the one selling the ring. It was Lawrence Jnr who inducted his father into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with a speech that included the following lines: "When I was young growing up in New Jersey, which I live now, I knew my dad was special.  But not only to me, but to other people.  When I was young, going to school people used to ask me to get my dad to sign all kinds of things.  And I was even more convinced then that my dad was special not only to me but to them too."

Its a shame that Lawrence Jnr has to sell his fathers ring, I have to confess I don't know why, but  I do know if LT was my father I wouldn't sell that ring for all the tea in China. 

Shame on you Lawrence Jnr - your children and their children will miss out on wearing a piece of NFL history that is worth more than the money the gold an the jewels that makes it. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Seau long to an NFL legend

I was very sad to hear the news that one of the NFL's true ironmen from the past two decades   took his own life, having played an incredible twenty seasons in the NFL.

Junior Seau was a model player who played 268 games of gladitorial combat, dishing out almost 2000 recorded tackles, 56 sacks and 18 interceptions between 1990 and 2009, for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. 

Three years out of the game Seau, for reasons we may never fully know, shot himself in his own home, leaving his family, his fans, his former team-mates and former coaches and team staff in s state of shock and then sadness. 

The likelihood was that Seau was suffering from from some kind of injury, bought on by repetitive impact, that of hitting and being hit by world-class NFL athletes. 

Seau, unlike any player who ever played his position that I can recall, played until he was 40, in search of a Super Bowl ring. Remarkably Seau played in only four playoff games in 20 seasons, and only suited up and hit people in one playoff win in his career (a 2008 win as a Patriot versus the Chargers, the team that drafted him #5 overall in 1990). 

I was listening to ESPN radio yesterday and heard a clip from the person who lives with former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. McMahon won a Super Bowl in 1986 (and another lesser known ring with the Packers ten years later to the day) but today he suffers from short-term memory loss, again likely caused by getting hit in the head whilst playing in the NFL.

The person looking after McMahon fears that his condition is getting worse and to me it sounded like the person fears that this could be the very early symptoms of dementia.

Seau's death may have a whole series of complicated family, financial, business or other reasons, but it is simply wrong that a guy who was the face of the San Diego Chargers for 13 years is now not going to be there to see his bronze bust unveiled at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

I had the pleasure of seeing Seau play at Wembley in 2009 as the Patriots beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I even got a picture of him (see above #55). 

I knew when I took the picture I was photographing a living legend, I am still saddened that photos like this are all that is now left as Seau will not be able to share his experiences of two decades in the NFL with future players, nor will he be coaching. 

It's been a crazy NFL week, what with the Saints having their linebacker Jonathan Vilma suspended for the season for trying to knock people out of games, now we have Seau knocked out of this life.

Plenty of lessons to be learnt for all 32 NFL teams, lets just hope the lessons are learnt before there is another former player suicide. 

Monday, 30 April 2012

Boo-Hoo no top 50 picks for the 'U'

Lamar Miller went in round 4 to his homeboy crew the Dolphins
There was a time when the University of Miami had at least one of their players get selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

High profile Hurricanes selected in the first round in the last ten years include Sean Taylor (RIP), Super Bowl winner Jeremy Shockey, stud wideout Andre Johnson, Jonathan 'just give me the fine Roger' Vilma the linebacker and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. 

Between 2001 and 2004 the 'U' managed to get 19, yes 19 of its players selected in the first round.

Oh how times have changed. For the fourth consecutive year the team who invented swagger (see the excellent ESPN 30 for 30 documentary 'The U' for proof) failed to get a player announced by the Ginger Prince in round one.

In fact the last time the call came in the first round for a Miami grad was in 2008 when the New York Giants selected safety Kenny Phillips at pick #31. 

In 2012 players from the 'U' went in round 3 (Vernon Olivier DE and Sean Spence LB), round 4 (Lamar Miller RB and Travis Benjamin WR) and round 6 (Tommy Streeter WR and Brandon Washington OG). 

The University of Miami's leading quarterback for the past four years, the skinny but rocket-armed Jacory Harris didn't even get drafted. He has invites to a couple of NFL training camps including the Dolphins, but that isn't exactly a great way to end four years of toiling in the sunshine.

The home team Dolphins did draft two of their own by nabbing Olivier at pick #72 and lightning running back Miller at #97. Other teams to select 'U' alumni in the 2012 draft included the Steelers, Browns, Ravens and Eagles. 

Perhaps the most interesting member of the 'U' draft class of 2012 was wideout Tommy Streeter. Streeter was the 'U's' leading receiver in 2011, grabbing eight touchdowns and averaged just under 68 yards a game. 

The Baltimore Ravens picked up Streeter late in the sixth round, looking for him to potentially replace Lee Evans somewhere in the near future. It could a positive omen for Streeter that he is heading to Maryland, as the Ravens were the team who drafted 'U' rookies Ray Lewis (1996) and Ed Reed (2002).

Lewis and Reed are both going to end up with big bronze busts at the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. no I'm not saying Streeter will follow, but I'm sure Reed and Lewis will look after a fellow 'U' graduate when it comes to rookie hazing in May. 

Having seen the 'U' play live (I was at the 2009 home win 21-20 over Oklahoma) I have first-hand experience about how important playing for the 'U' is for these young men. 

Somehow it doesn't seem right that there are no Miami players being selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Maybe the Class of 2012 will change that? 

Is Mike Shanahan a goat or a genius?

The Redskins controversial 4th round pick Kirk Cousins

Two full days after the conclusion of the 2012 NFL draft and I am still trying to make my mind up if the move made by Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to draft two quarterbacks in his team's first three picks was one of genius or goat.

The Redskins made their biggest draft move for as long as I can remember when earlier this year they trade up to the #2 overall pick and managed to secure the rights to sign Baylor passer Robert Griffin III.

Part of the deal with the Cleveland Browns included giving up their second round pick this year, and this meant the Redskins taking RG3 and then a long wait until the third-round, where they sensibly drafted a nasty offensive guard (nasty as in dispostion not playing talent).

The Skins next had a pick in round four, and instead of addressing defensive line (either tackle or end) or cornerback or safety, Shanny simply couldn't resist Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

As a round four pick this would have been a fantastic selection if the Redskins hadn't traded the farm, the tractors, the land and even the old stinky barn containing the crusty pigs for RG3 three rounds earlier.

The Seattle Seahawks for instance did very well in grabbing Wisconsin's vertically challenged, but highly talented gunslinger Russell Wilson in the third-round, a move that I have applauded considering their two veteran quarterbacks are Tavaris Jackson (yuk) and the unproven Matt Flynn.

Now the Redskins have been lacking a difference making quarterback for many many years, possibly since Mark 'the guy next door' Rypien led the team to their last Super Bowl win (1991).

They now have one mega-high profile rookie on the team (well they will when he signs) and one quarterback who will be breathing down his neck if RG3 takes a sideline-enducing blast from the likes of DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys) or Jason 'Octopus Limbs' Pierre-Paul (Giants).

According to USA Today Coach Shanny did warn RG3 that he may select another quarterback, and ever the media-savvy diplomat Griffin told him "Coach do what you can to put the best team together."

I think underneath the face of Under Armour and likely every major brand that can get him to sign on the dotted-line, RG3 was a bit miffed that he will be going through training-camp knowing that he has a fellow hungry-as-hell rookie with him every step of the way.

First thing first RG3 will need to beat out Rex Grossman a much maligned quarterback who has played in as many Super Bowls as Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon and Micahel Vick put together.

The Redskins will look at Cousins as primarily a back-up and secondly as a potential future trade bargaining chip, but I have this funny feeling that the former Spartan will be on stage at some point during the 2012 season.

With the Redskins fans having lived through some abysmal quarterback experiments, including tat such as John Beck, Shane Matthews (who I had the misfortune of seeing live in a game against the 49ers), Tony Banks, Heath Shuler and even the 2010 version of Donovan McNabb, it makes sense to have two new passers on the books. 

I'm just not sure if either RG3 is really happy with the move and if Cousins will be happy being forgotten until Sexy Rexy or RG3 get crocked.

This season will be big as the D.C fans will expect a minimum of an 8-8 season, and those with no patience will expect the burgandy and gold back in the playoffs in under twelve months.

The future is now in Washington, lets just hope this draft doesn't match the last time the Redskins drafted two passers in the same draft (1994) when the early pick Heath Shuler flamed out like an Olympic Torch in a hail storm, and the second quarterback Gus Frerotte, who went on to play for seven...yes seven NFL Teams.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Bengals biggest 2012 NFL Draft winners after first three rounds

Bengals round one pick - CB Dre Kirkpatrick
I have decided not to read a shed load of 2012 NFL draft analysis so it does not cloud my judgement on who I think has been a winner or a loser in the last two days.

With the first three rounds in the history books it has been a tale of trades, trades and more trades, a few expected selections and a lot of surprises, one of the biggest being the Cleveland Browns drafting 28 year old rookie (the oldest rookie in Draft history) quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State.

My initial big winner is a team that was certainly on the rise in 2011, having had an outstanding early draft for the second consecutive year, yes I am giving a Kirpatrick like hands in the air to the Cincinnati Bengals for another outstanding job drafting. 

The team have surely removed the 'Bungles' moniker with a draft that has so far yielded: 

  • Pick #17 - Alabama's impact cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick - a corner that knows how to play in big games and knows how to be a true team player
  • Pick # 28 - Wisconsin's wall of steel guard Kevin Zeitler - a team that is almost known as an offensive line factory, Zeitler isn't sexy but he is a winner and a hard worker
  • Pick #53 - Penn State's defensive tackle Devon Still - 6ft 5 inches of toughness. After the death of his coach Still will want to make an impact in Joe Paterno's honour immediately 
  • Pick #83 - Rutgers' wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (below) - He never had an NFL calibre qb throwing to him but he now has the chance to be the checkdown safety blanket for second year passer Andy Dalton. This will only make AJ Green more dangerous.
  • 3rd round pick WR Sanu
  • Pick #93 - Clemson's rugged defensive tackle Brandon Thompson - more of an agile speed rusher than Still, this is another brick in the wall that will help the Bengals stay in playoff contention
Along with these picks the Bengals draft is not over, so they can grab a prospect running-back, a backup tight-end and even a linebacker or two.

Cincy drafted AJ Green (WR) and Andy Dalton (QB) in rounds one and two in 2011, and immediately they went from cellar dwellers to playoff participants. 

This draft has addressed a number of needs, as Kirkpatrick will look to become a starter by the end of the season, but I know that it is very hard for cornerbacks to be trusted in their first year, and getting burnt too many times as a rookie can be a psychological scar that remains for life. 

The Bengals are developing an exemplar youth policy that teams like the Atlanta Falcons should consider. 

Still another day of drafting to go today - the part where the diamonds in the rough are unearthed. I hope your team does a Tom Brady (a 6th round selection).