Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
05 Apr 2007
by Jeff Bathurst
"I don't know if any team has lost a player that they really wanted to keep. Any time you look at players who change teams, they're always guys their old team really didn't want to keep." -- John Madden, quoted in Denver Post.
Madden's quote was part of a story breaking down the NFL running back carousel this spring, and how the Broncos got "the best of the eight" present or former 1,000-yard rushers who changed teams. That, of course, is Travis Henry, whom they signed to a five-year contract and a guaranteed $12 million.
This is part of "newspaper math," which I picked up from 12 years working at a daily paper where "analysis" went no further than the Triple Crown stats in baseball and yardage totals in the NFL. It's based on reaching the lowest common denominator of newspaper reader. So, yes, as the story says, Henry was the best of the eight starters who switched teams -- based on last season's rushing yards. But can't we get any deeper than that?
Before quoting DVOA chapter and verse, there is the small matter that before Henry gained 1,211 yards on 270 carries last season, he had started six games total (out of 20 played) in 2004 and 2005, and carried the ball a total of 182 times.
Looking at DPAR and DVOA numbers for the eight backs studied by the Denver Post, Henry ranks in the middle of the pack, right around ... Tatum Bell, who was exiled to Detroit in the Dre' Bly trade.
Thomas Jones (11th in DPAR among running backs) and Ahman Green (16) were clearly the top two based on 2006 numbers, followed by Willis McGahee (24) and then Henry and Bell. Henry held the edge in DPAR, Bell in DVOA. Jamal Lewis, Dominic Rhodes, and Reuben Droughns brought up the rear in this ranking.
"I thought it was very interesting to have that many running backs trading teams. I don't know if that's the first time that ever happened, but I was surprised myself. We were all pretty good running backs. I was like, 'What do they want?'" -- Henry.
Yeah, and Joe Carter drove in 100 runs a year, too, with an OPS below league average. Keep giving one guy the ball and he will get the RBIs/yards/whatever. But let's not forget the five-day forecast, too ...
"He's going to be able to play in that weather, too," Kansas City coach Herm Edwards said. "He's played outside in bad elements." See? It's official. Henry good.
Countering the general approval of the Broncos' trade for Dre' Bly -- teaming with Champ Bailey and replacing the tragically departed Darrent Williams -- is an anonymously sourced report in Pro Football Weekly denigrating Bly's playmaking ability. "Come third down, I'd be going right at him," one scout said.
The Giants seemed ready to make a trade for Broncos linebacker Al Wilson, but it fell through because of concerns about his neck. Because of his high salary, the team probably will still say goodbye to Wilson, either trading him somewhere else or releasing him soon. And a trade for defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson from Miami was voided when Big Daddy went AWOL and never showed up for his physical.
Tight end Daniel Graham was the big-ticket signing whose DPAR and DVOA were both worse than incumbent Tony Scheffler. But that's not why Graham got $15 million guaranteed; he got that money because he can block, and because salaries this off-season were insane. Jake Plummer, traded to Tampa Bay and then the retirement home, was replaced as a backup by Patrick Ramsey.
And then there was speculation Denver will trade for Miami middle linebacker Zach Thomas. In an off-season in which the Broncos have been super-aggressive, anything could happen.
It's unanimous! Defensive line, defensive line, defensive line.
Wide receiver and safety are two positions at which Denver needs help, but the mock drafts out on the Web now have overwhelmingly assigned the Broncos defensive line help. Losing out on Wilkinson and saying goodbye to Courtney Brown and Michael Myers -- plus new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' likely blitzing scheme -- makes this a good possibility.
Some names we've seen out there: Purdue's Anthony Spencer, Nebraska's Adam Carriker, Florida's Jarvis Moss, Georgia's Charles Johnson, and Tennessee's Justin Harrell. Only Harrell is listed as a defensive tackle -- the rest are ends -- and the standouts are Carriker, at 6-foot-6 and 292 pounds the Big Twelve defensive lineman of the year, and Spencer (6-3, 266), who had 10.5 sacks and 26.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage last season. Carriker is compared to Richard Seymour by NFL Draft Scout.com, and Spencer to ex-Boilermaker Shaun Phillips. Good company.
Now THAT'S analysis! The Kansas City Star reported on April 3 that the Chiefs' first two preseason opponents are Cleveland and Miami -- two of the very teams that are trying to acquire quarterback Trent Green. Yes, that's right, we could be seeing an exhibition grudge match in Week 1 of the preseason! Or maybe Green will play one series and then get off the field. Eh, you do what you can with hyping the preseason schedule.
But seriously, Green remains a Chief and showed up for the team's off-season workout program, which started Monday. "That's what you love about the guy. He's a pro ... Until something happens, he's a Chief," Edwards said.
The team is still said to be negotiating with Miami, Detroit, and Cleveland, but these conversations are taking longer than the Britain-Iran talks lasted. The Chiefs are reportedly looking for first-day draft picks, which might be a bit much for a 37-year-old quarterback coming off a bad 2006 (22d in DPAR, 21st in DVOA), in range with guys like Kurt Warner and Jason Campbell. Then again, he was a top-10 quarterback as recently as 2005.
Even should Damon Huard take over at quarterback, the Chiefs have offensive holes to be filled, especially if they want to avoid running Larry Johnson into the ground. Kansas City ranked fourth in DVOA in third-and-short situations last season but 28th in third-and-long. A big No. 1 receiver and a complement to Johnson should still be priorities.
Bringing in linebackers Donnie Edwards (a reunion) and Napoleon Harris shored up the defense and tried to paper over the mistake that was Kendrell Bell two years ago. Defensive end Alfonso Boone, another new acquisition, also has experience playing in a Cover-2 defense in Chicago. The linebacker moves meant that leading tackler Kawika Mitchell was free to go, and he signed with the Giants, where he will move to more of an outside role.
More bad news for an AFC West team from Pro Football Weekly: Signing Miami left tackle Damion McIntosh is no panacea as a replacement for Jordan Black. Cue anonymous scout: "I won't say it's a downgrade, but by no means should we look at this as an upgrade ... He's not a mauler by any means. Jordan Black was at least a little more athletic." Those are fighting words, McIntosh! In McIntosh's defense, Miami always scored better by FO's offensive line statistics when he was in the lineup at left tackle instead of L.J. Shelton.
And a hardy welcome back to safety Jon McGraw, who played for Herm Edwards' Jets and also went to Kansas State.
As noted above, wide receiver remains a priority for the Chiefs, along with bringing in depth and youth on the offensive line and the defensive backfield and bulking up at defensive tackle.
A quick perusal of the mocks available on the Web, however, finds amazing agreement (for a team picking 23rd, anyway) on Louisiana State WR Dwayne Bowe as the Chiefs' guy. USC WR Dwayne Jarrett also got a few mentions, as did CB Eric Wright of UNLV, who would be a stretch.
So how about Bowe: Listed at 6-2, 217 pounds by the NFL, he caught 18 TD passes in his career from JaMarcus Russell, who is likely the top pick. He hauled in 65 passes for 12 TDs in 2006, and as a sophomore and junior 63 of the 80 passes Bowe caught went for first downs.
"Long strider ... physical player ... not afraid to go over the middle" is how he is described. According to NFL Draft Scout.com, he compares to 49ers WR Arnaz Battle in his strength.
It's been a while: This year's draft will be the first time that the Raiders have had the top pick since 1962, when they picked quarterback Roman Gabriel No. 1 overall in the AFL draft. Gabriel never played for them, signing instead with the Los Angeles Rams. So it's a safe bet that Oakland is at least one step ahead of the '62 squad. Picking between JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, and Calvin Johnson, though, is still not settled. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp had hoped to acquire quarterbackMatt Schaub from Atlanta, which would have been a clear sign that the team was leaning toward Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson as the top pick.
A lesser factor, but maybe bigger in the eyes of the media, is what happens to Randy Moss. A potential trade of Moss could net some kind of veteran quarterback, but not someone the caliber of a Russell or a Quinn, and the lack of Moss alone would not necessarily mean the team would be forced into picking Johnson.
There have been late rumblings that Quinn is more "NFL ready" than Russell, who dropped as low as 20th on Pete Prisco's draft rankings, but you hear Russell's name more often than not in Raiders draft talk.
But let's hear about Moss more, because it's so much fun. "I saw a player at times who made some very aborted plays and was not playing to the standard I'd want," new coach Lane Kiffin said, before retreating. "But I wasn't there, and I won't make a judgment on that. I think he was very frustrated, going through some games where he had two balls thrown to him in 65 plays, and you're behind.
"Sometimes, that's not bad (being frustrated). You get a player who is not frustrated, and you wonder if he's competitive."
Here's a better Kiffin quote, on Al Davis: "I wasn't going to say what he wanted to hear. If he wanted to hire me for that, I didn't want the job. I think that had a lot to do with me getting the job."
Oakland ended up the "winner" of the Dominic Rhodes sweepstakes, in which the Super Bowl star got big bucks to bolster a running back corps that stank just like everything else last season. We won't mention that for the season Rhodes ranked 46th in DPAR and DVOA, just behind ... Justin Fargas and LaMont Jordan. Oh, wait, we just did mention it. There's no Joseph Addai here for Rhodes to team with, and there's certainly no Jeff Saturday in front of him.
An underlooked facet of the Raiders' off-season moves was the hiring of six assistant coaches who will be making their debuts in the NFL, working of course for the youngest coach in the league, 31-year-old Kiffin. The last two to be hired were wide receivers coach Charles Coe -- straight out of Alabama State -- and offensive quality control coach Adam Henry, who had been serving as offensive coordinator at McNeese State.
"I wasn't going to hire somebody just because they had a resume that said they'd done this or that," Kiffin said, and he's obviously not lying. "Are they going to come here to win or are they going to come here to put another year in the NFL because they're in Year 22 and it's their eighth job? I wanted guys who wanted to be here and do what it takes to win and wanted to be here every day."
The Raiders also re-signed guard Corey Hulsey but have not made any major outside moves to an offensive line that was 29th in Adjusted Line Yards and dead last in pass protection, yielding 72 sacks.
There were rumblings that the Raiders have been in contact with David Carr, but if you were going to find a free-agent quarterback, you could do a lot worse than Tim Rattay, who somehow is still out there.
Needs? We got your needs right here, buddy. Quarterback, offensive line, and so forth. The black hole isn't just an Oakland fan section, it's the whole offensive roster.
As detailed before, Johnson is universally listed as the top draft prospect this year, but it's hard to pass up a potential franchise quarterback. Taking Michigan State's Drew Stanton in the second round might happen if Johnson ends up being the No. 1 pick.
It may be simplistic, but here are NFL Draft Scout.com's "Compares To" for each:
What to do with restricted free agent RB Michael Turner is probably the biggest potential decision facing San Diego at this point. They could decide to keep him, of course, but then they risk losing him in a year for nothing in return. The Chargers tendered him a $2.35 million offer for 2007, which means they would get back first- and third-round draft picks if another team were to sign him.
Turner, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and outpaced all running backs with a 46.7% DVOA in limited action, has seen his stock rise dramatically in the off-season. On April 2, Turner met with Tennessee and took a physical, and the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that talks have begun between the Titans and agent Bus Cook, and the Chargers.
The newspaper says the team might be willing to take a first this year and a third next year, or vice versa, for Turner, and that Buffalo and Dallas have also been interested -- but not Green Bay, as has been reported elsewhere. Turner becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2007 season.
As for new coach Norv Turner, a 14-2 season in 2006 doesn't mean the Chargers have peaked. "I look at them and I say, 'Hey, these guys can get a lot better,'" Turner said at the NFL meetings. "These are some guys who are going to play 10 more years. I think you take advantage of the youth and excitement and energy that this team has. That's going to be my big emphasis."
Turner mentioned two wide receivers, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, as key cogs for the team heading into the future. Jackson ranked 55th in DVOA -- around guys like Drew Bennett and Keyshawn Johnson -- and Floyd, who was injured, is looking to improve.
And as for the postseason, the bane of Marty Schottenheimer's existence? Turner said: "When you're playing one of the three or four best defensive teams in the league, which I assume you will be in the postseason, do you still play at a high level? Do you still do you things you do against a team ranked 25th in defense?"
The Chargers' biggest move was to re-sign offensive lineman Kris Dielman, part of the No. 1 run-blocking unit in the league (they were ninth in pass protection). Dielman got $17 million guaranteed as part of a six-year contract worth potentially $39 million.
Of course, the biggest moves were in coaching, with Schottenheimer gone, as well as his top two lieutenants, Cam Cameron (Miami) and Wade Phillips (Dallas).
The team signed no free agents from other teams, while losing linebacker Donnie Edwards to the Chiefs, wideout Az Hakim to Miami, and tight end Ryan Krause to Cleveland. Underachieving wide receiver Keenan McCardell was jettisoned, as was badboy safety Terrence Kiel and linebacker Steve Foley and tight end Aaron Shea.
San Diego got two compensatory draft picks for the upcoming draft -- a third-rounder (96th overall) and a fifth-rounder (172) -- as compensation for free agents Drew Brees, Reche Caldwell, Justin Peelle, and Ben Leber. The Chargers have eight picks, starting at No. 30, and could have more if they finally deal Michael Turner.
Among the Chargers' few needs are help at wide receiver and perhaps on the offensive line. Visiting the different mock drafts, there is little consensus, probably befitting a team picking 30th and subject to what 29 other teams do.
The top players mentioned include wide receivers such as Tennessee's Robert Meachem (twice), USC's Dwayne Jarrett, and Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr., and safeties such as Texas' Michael Griffin and Miami's Brandon Meriweather. Somehow nabbing a top receiver would only enhance the Chargers' Super Bowl hopes.
Meachem is not listed for some reason, but just for fun, NFLDraftScout.com's "Compares To" for the other guys:
Coming this weekend: AFC East by Bill Barnwell.
FO thanks Jeff Bathurst, a former copy editor at the sports desk of the Philadelphia Inquirer, for helping us out with Four Downs this off-season.
71 comments, Last at 14 Apr 2007, 4:07pm by HUMPHREY