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?
16 May 2010
by Tom Gower
The Texans used their first two picks in the 2010 NFL Draft wisely. In the first round, they selected Kareem Jackson to fill the hole at cornerback created by Dunta Robinson's departure. In the second, they added Ben Tate to share the load at running back in case Steve Slaton isn't able to rebound to his rookie form.
The Texans did not, however, take a true free safety in the draft. Slotting Jackson in for Robinson should prevent the pass defense from slipping too much from the 18th in DVOA they ranked last year, but he will hardly improve the team. If Eugene Wilson can stay healthy for the entire season -- which hasn't happened since 2005 -- he is their best option. Either Glover Quin, who started 12 games at cornerback as a rookie in 2009, or fourth-round corner Sherrick McManis may be the long-term answer, but neither will be ready when Wilson gets hurt again.
After adding four tight ends during the last two drafts (though they announced plans to move Dorin Dickerson to wideout), the Texans added another tight end in Temple’s Steve Maneri. Probably more important are fullbacks Jack Corcoran and Isaiah Greenhouse -- each could push Vonta Leach after a disappointing 2009. Adam Ulatoski was a four-year starter at offensive tackle at Texas. While he isn't likely to start, he could be a valuable depth player.
With Tony Ugoh looking like a bust and Charlie Johnson better suited to right tackle, the Colts could have addressed their need for a left tackle by selecting Indiana lineman Rodger Saffold with their first-round pick. They didn't. The Colts could have addressed their need for a left tackle with their second-round pick by selecting USC tackle Charles Brown, who was projected as the Colts' first-round pick in some mock drafts. They didn't. The Colts finally addressed one of the NFL's worst run-blocking lines (ranked 25th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards) by adding Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon in the fourth round. He was the first player drafted who wasn't invited to the Combine.
McClendon will help an interior offensive line that cut Ryan Lilja and saw neither second-round disappointment Mike Pollak nor undrafted free agent Kyle DeVan excel at guard, but the answer at left tackle remains either Ugoh or Johnson. Neither has ever been better than adequate at the position, so offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars has his work cut out for him this offseason.
Jim Caldwell expressed disappointment with the return game in 2009. By our numbers, the kickoff returns were below average and punt returns were bad, an upgrade from the rank of terrible in both categories in 2008. The undersized Brandon James was a formidable return threat at Florida and could help the Colts in both categories. The Colts also brought in former Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson, who could be kept over Adam Vinatieri if the Colts want to kick long field goals in 2010. Western Michigan's Tim Hiller could also potentially unseat Curtis Painter for the job of Colts’ preseason quarterback.
When a team has a bad pass defense, does it make more sense to improve the pass rush or improve the secondary? You might think "both," but Jaguars GM Gene Smith is betting heavily that improving the pass rush will provide almost all of the answers. The Jaguars added defensive end Aaron Kampman in free agency and then spent their first four draft picks on defensive linemen -- and didn't draft a single cornerback or safety.
Rashean Mathis is no longer an elite cornerback, but he remains a good player, and Derek Cox should be a better player in his second year. Nonetheless, depth at cornerback behind them is questionable at best. Safety Reggie Nelson was pressed into starting duties when Mathis was injured last season, and the same could easily happen again in 2010. At safety, the picture is, if anything, even worse. When Nelson recently expressed his desire to play safety and not corner, GM Smith noted backups play where they're asked if they want to make the team. If Nelson, who had major tackling problems last year, is not the starter at safety, that leaves the Jaguars to pick their two starters among Gerald Alexander, Sean Considine, Courtney Greene, and Anthony Smith. Alexander is an acceptable run defender, but none of the three is more than marginal in coverage. Darren Sharper would have filled the void at free safety nicely, and his decision to re-sign with the Saints means the Jaguars are again left rudderless in the secondary.
The Jaguars continued their love affair with low-profile college football teams, bringing in Edinboro quarterback Trevor Harris. With Garrard and Luke McCown the only other quarterbacks on the roster, Harris has a chance to make the team as a developmental prospect. John Estes may also push 2009 undrafted free agent Cecil Newton for the role as backup and potential future successor to Brad Meester at center. Chris McGaha (Arizona State) was among the more polished receivers available this year, and he could figure in the crowded and murky picture at wide receiver.
ESPN.com's predraft coverage included this article on which rounds provided the most value per position. Among the lessons in the chart is that if you want a quality defensive back, you should draft one in the first two rounds. Don't tell the Titans brass this. Since taking Andre Woolfolk in the first round of the 2003 draft, the Titans have used just one of their 14 first- or second-round picks on a cornerback, selecting Adam Jones in the first round in 2005. Jones was a fine player on the field, but ultimately proved too disruptive in most every other environment.
The Titans were fortunate to have had great success with seventh-round pick Cortland Finnegan. Adding Nick Harper in free agency provided a band-aid for a couple seasons, but Harper's decline meant their lack of investment in cornerbacks cost them in 2009 and looks to do the same again in 2010. The Titans have more depth than they did this time last year with second-year players Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty, veterans Rod Hood and Tye Hill, and fourth-round pick Alterraun Verner, but none is likely to be an average starter opposite Finnegan this year. That means more holes for Titans' opponents to exploit in the passing game this fall.
The trade of LenDale White leaves Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer as the sole running backs on the roster. While the Titans may add a veteran back near the start of training camp or after cut-down day, either LeGarrette Blount or Stafon Johnson has an excellent chance to make the roster as the No. 3 tailback. The Titans have lately been among the most difficult teams for an undrafted free agent to make, so the other important UFAs are the biggest names: center Kevin Matthews, son of Hall-of-Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, and guard Nick Howell, son of Jeff Fisher's college teammate (and former Falcon and Oiler) Pat Howell.
(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN.com.)
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