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?
08 May 2009
by Ben Riley
Looking to fill their biggest need, the Cardinals selected Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells with the 31st overall pick (the nickname is the result of Wells' bean-shaped head at birth). Interestingly, there are rumors that Arizona preferred Donald Brown of Connecticut, but he was nabbed by the Colts four picks earlier. In any event, Wells is a powerful runner who can move the pile, but he's got a lot of wear on his tires. Over the past two years, he has suffered the following injuries: left ankle sprain; right wrist sprain; thumb fracture; right foot sprain; turf toe; hamstring strain; and a concussion. Not exactly confidence inspiring, is it?
Meanwhile, Kurt Warner's prayers were answered after the Cardinals failed to trade disgruntled wide receiver Anquan Boldin, despite openly shopping him on draft day. The Bears offered to send the Cardinals the 49th overall pick for Boldin, but Cardinals general manager Rod Graves wisely refused that trade; if Roy Williams is worth a first and a third, Boldin is surely worth more than a second. The reality is that the Cardinals are much better off with a grumpy Boldin than they are without him.
The Cardinals plugged a lot of holes in this draft, but they still need a pass-catching tight end. Missouri's Chase Coffman, who holds the NCAA career record for catches by a tight end, would have been a perfect fit for the Cardinals' offense, and he was still on the board late in the third round (the Bengals took him 98th overall). Remember this when people start talking about Coffman as the new Jason Witten this year.
As they did last year, the Cardinals signed a number of large free agent linemen, including Khalil "الطفل الكبير" El-Amin from Cincinnati (that's "Big Baby" in Arabic, by the way) and Brandon Pearce from Memphis. They also nabbed diminutive kick returner Michael Ray Garvin (son of former NFL/USFL player and "Smart Shopper Solution" founder Johnny Ray Garvin), who has a decent shot of making the roster on special teams.
After cutting Orlando Pace, new general manager Bill Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnulo did the safe thing and drafted left tackle Jason Smith from Baylor. It's not the sort of pick that fires up the casual fanbase, but Smith will be a great anchor to what is suddenly looking like a much-improved Rams' offensive line.
In the second round, the Rams selected inside linebacker James Laurinaitis from Ohio State. There are some who question this pick, given that USC's Rey Maualuga was still available, but the Rams apparently perceived Maualuga to carry some character risk and thus decided Laurinaitis was the safer bet. He also happens to be the son of Joe Laurinaitis, a.k.a. "Animal" from professional wrestling's famous "Road Warriors" duo. (By the way, there's no truth to the rumors that the elder Laurinaitis is currently dating Marisa Tomei.)
Given the Rams' dearth of wide receivers -- right now, the roster consists of Donnie Avery and six guys you've never heard of -- it's somewhat surprising that they waited until the fifth round to select Brook Foster from North Carolina. Foster has intriguing size and speed, but his numbers dropped every year that he played for UNC, and he's a long-term project, not an immediate starter on a team desperate for someone to play across from Avery. Do not be surprised if the Rams add a veteran in free agency.
Barring Foster emerging as the next Marques Colston, the Rams will almost certainly add a veteran wide receiver before the season starts. The offensive line is much improved, but lacks depth, as does the defensive line and the linebacking unit. Safety Oshiomogo Atogwe still hasn't signed his franchise tender. Things are improving in St. Louis, but there is still much work to be done.
The Rams signed a whopping 15 free agents after the draft, including five offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, two receivers, two linebackers, two defensive backs, and fullback. Of these, keep an eye on the two receivers: gargantuan Oklahoma wide receiver Quentin Cheney (he's 6-foot-4) and the shorter, speedier Jarrett Byers from Northeastern State.
Welcome to the
Raiders 49ers, Michael Crabtree. Although many expected Crabtree to be wearing silver and black right now rather than gold and red, the outstanding Texas Tech receiver fell into the 49ers' lap after Al Davis proved that he really, really isn't kidding about that whole liking speed thing. Crabtree's stock may have also slipped a bit due to injury and "diva" concerns -- when asked by head coach Mike Singletary if he had any hobbies, Crabtree reportedly said that he was "really into fashion" and that "you're never going to see me wear the same thing twice" -- but he immediately becomes the 49ers' lead target in the passing game.
Crabtree wasn't the only San Francisco treat on draft day. As Florida State defensive end Everette Brown started to fall in Round Two, the Carolina Panthers decided to move up to grab him. As a result, 49ers general manager Scot McLoughlan traded the 'Niners second-round pick (43rd overall) for Carolina's first in 2010. Given the relative weakness of this year's draft class, this trade would appear to favor the 49ers, particularly since the best offensive linemen had already been drafted.
But the question remains: Who is going to play quarterback? Neither McLoughlan nor Singletary have committed to Shaun Hill or Alex Smith as their starter -- the smart money is on Hill winning the job -- and Nate Davis, the 49ers' fifth-round pick out of Ball State, isn't the answer. The addition of running back Glen Coffee, the 49ers third-round pick from Alabama, confirms that the 49ers plan to run first, pass second this year.
Although Crabtree was a gift courtesy of Al Davis, his selection prevented the 49ers from addressing their offensive line woes. But head coach Mike Singletary made no apologies after the draft. "I'm not going to talk about what we don't get," Singletary said. "It's obvious that most [teams] that drafted aren't going to get what they want and we're certainly on that list ... We wanted to add quality and that's what we did."
Ohio State offensive lineman Alex Boone is big (6-foot-8, 312 pounds) and talented (two-time All Big-Ten selection). He also has a drinking problem: After attending a Super Bowl party this year, Boone was arrested for going on a "drunken tirade" in Orange County, jumping on top of cars, yanking a tow-truck cable (?), and breaking a window before finally being brought down by Taser. This comes three years after Boone was arrested for DUI, at which time he admitted he was drinking 30 to 40 beers per night. Wow.
With the retirement of Mike Holmgren, there is no doubt that general manager Tim Ruskell is firmly in charge of this team. After making Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry the fourth overall pick in the draft, Ruskell waited one day before "defranchising" Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill, who had been skipping minicamps in hopes of signing a long-term deal. By removing the franchise tag, Ruskell was gambling that Hill would be unable to find a more lucrative after most teams addressed their needs in the draft and free agency. Ruskell's gamble paid off; Hill signed a multi-year deal with Seattle less than a week later.
Although Curry was a safe pick, Ruskell again proved he's willing to take risks on draft day. First, he traded the Seahawks' second-round pick to the Broncos for their first-round selection in 2010, a trade that could pay huge dividends if Denver is as bad as our projections predict. Then, he traded up -- twice -- to grab Oregon center Max Unger and Penn State wide receiver Deon Butler in the second and third rounds, respectively. The versatile Unger should help shore up the Seahawks' oft-injured offensive line, while Butler adds some much-needed speed to the receiving corps. And although Ruskell gave up a total of five picks (including a third-rounder next year) to get just two players, remember that Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu and starting tight end John Carlson are the product of similar upward moves on draft day.
It is somewhat surprising, however, that the Seahawks failed to draft a running back. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has made no secret of his plans to run the ball 500-plus times this year, but Julius Jones is mediocre at best, and T.J. Duckett is a short-yardage specialist. North Carolina State running back Andre Brown posted the highest "Speed Score" (our unique measurement of a back's combined speed and size) at this year's Combine, and he would have been a great fit for Seattle's new-look ground attack.
The Seahawks lack depth at offensive tackle. Walter Jones is coming off "minor" microfacture surgery, and although he's expected to return to the starting lineup, his effectiveness may be diminished (think Orlando Pace last year, or Jonathan Ogden two years ago). Ruskell also passed on drafting a safety until the late rounds of the draft, suggesting that Seahawks fans will be subjected to yet another year of Brian Russell.
The Seahawks signed two running backs, Devin Moore from Wyoming and Tyler Roehl from North Dakota State. Although both are long shots to make the roster, NFL Draft Scout analyst Rob Rang claims that Moore is faster than current third-stringer Justin Forsett (who the Seahawks cut once last year). The other intriguing signing is defensive end Michael Bennett from Texas A&M. If Michael Bennett's Twitter page is half as funny as his brother Martellus's, the Seahawks should keep him (Michael) around for comedic reasons alone.
22 comments, Last at 16 Jun 2009, 11:05pm by yonk49