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22 Feb 2011

Four Downs: AFC West

by Doug Farrar

Denver Broncos: Who will play quarterback ... and how?

The move from Josh McDaniels to John Fox as Denver's head coach was just one of many shape-shifts for the Broncos. John Elway took over the entire operation and hired Fox, who promoted Mike McCoy from offensive coordinator in name only (which he was under McDaniels), to the man who will set the tone for Denver's offense. McCoy and Fox worked together in Carolina, and the first challenge they'll face together in Denver -- especially with the franchise's all-time quarterback overseeing the process -- will be to choose a franchise quarterback.

Kyle Orton put together the kinds of hyped-up numbers every quarterbacks seems to attain under McDaniels. He was remarkably consistent per game with career high totals for the Broncos in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, Brandon Lloyd became one of the best deep receivers in the league and finished second among all qualifying receivers in DYAR, behind Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace. Orton ranked 12th among quarterbacks in that same metric, showing him to be one of the league's better quarterbacks under the right conditions.

But when Orton missed the last three games of the season with a rib injury, first-round draft pick Tim Tebow got his shot at the NFL, questionable throwing mechanics and all. With a limited play sheet and a clear directive to run whenever the mood struck him, Tebow did the best he could and got off a few impressive plays. In the season finale against the San Diego Chargers, he ran 13 times for 94 yards and scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season -- one more than lead halfback Knowshon Moreno.

Elway was one of the best running quarterbacks of the pre-spread offense era, but there's no indication that he feels any particular affinity for Tebow. With so many other personnel holes to fill, Orton's experience and production should lead to him taking the position battle in the short term, with Tebow as an option in varied offensive packages.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

Denver's previous administration negotiated a multi-year deal with cornerback Champ Bailey, only to pull it off the table. Such machinations were typical of McDaniels, but it's unknown how the new regime will deal with a franchise defensive back who's on the wrong side of 30. A franchise tag would make sense if the Broncos were close to contention, but with an offense in transition and a defense that's a disaster, it may be best for both sides to cut. The new blood at the top will probably see Laurence Maroney as eminently replaceable, which is generally true of backs averaging 2.1 yards per carry. Tackle Ryan Harris may be back as a positional replacement, depending on the health of franchise tackle Ryan Clady.

Kansas City Chiefs: Can Charles be the next Chris Johnson?

Perhaps the most curious aspect of Kansas City's improbable rise to the top of the AFC West was the division of labor between running backs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. In a rushing attack that led the league with 164.2 yards per game, Charles was the more productive back in every possible facet. He trounced Jones in total rushing yards (1,467 to 896), yards per carry (6.4 to 3.7), carries of 20 yards or more (10 to 3), and first downs (70 to 39). Where Charles did not beat Jones was in the category that was out of his control -- total carries. Jones actually took 15 more handoffs than Charles (245 to 230). While that would seem to make sense from a workload perspective, Charles has specific skills that make the Chiefs' decision to limit his carries to this degree questionable at best.

When running back Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans broke past the 2,000-yard mark in 2009, one of the reasons he was able to do so on just 358 carries was his extreme productivity after his 10th carry of a game. Johnson averaged 6.0 yards per carry on carries 11-20 of any game and gained 795 of his 2,006 yards on just 132 carries. In 2010, Charles averaged an incredible 6.9 yards per carry on carries 11-20, gaining 450 of his total rushing yards on just 65 carries. At that yards per carry rate, 132 carries would give Charles 911 yards, a decent shot at 2,000 total yards of his own, and the ability to do so without running into his usage ceiling.

The team has expressed at least two concerns when asked about more carries for Charles -- his ability to be an every-down back and head coach Todd Haley's preference for a power-running game that does back to his days working under Bill Parcells. Jones is more an inside bruiser, while Charles blasts outside of the Chiefs' zone-slide blocking plays. However, when former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher was presented with Johnson's production, he put away the power-running preferences dating back to Eddie George and rode a faster horse. Haley and the Chiefs may be wise to do the same.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

Charles, cornerback Brandon Carr, and tackle Barry Richardson are all restricted free agents (at least, they are in the current league year), and Charles and Carr aren't going anywhere. Linebacker/rush end Tamba Hali would have been the team's biggest ticket on the open market barring a franchise tag, which is exactly what the Chiefs gave him. Center Rudy Niswanger and tackle Ryan O'Callaghan should be targeted to continue with an offensive line that improved in 2010. Defensive tackle Shaun Smith may have to work on his predilection for going after the ... uh ... man parts of his opponents on the field.

Oakland Raiders: Will Cable's firing eradicate the long-awaited turnaround?

In 2010, the Oakland Raiders had their first non-losing season since 2002. This came despite the curious behavior of owner Al Davis, with aspects that were underrated but present during the franchise's glory years -- a stout defense from front to back and an offensive line capable of turning any running back into a productive player. The offense, and the toughness it represented, was personified by Tom Cable, the three-year coach who replaced Lane Kiffin after the first four games of the 2008 season. And in the first season without the giant albatross of JaMarcus Russell around his neck, Cable put together a heavy run-based offense with ball-control quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski. From 2009 to 2010, that offense went from 31st to sixth in total points, 31st to 10th in total yards, and 30th to 23rd in DVOA team efficiency metric (though the rise in rushing DVOA was far more impressive -- from 24th to sixth).

The decision to fire Cable after the season was typical for this floundering franchise. Although Cable was certainly a controversial character at times, he was the first coach to reach the Raiders' players since Jon Gruden. Cable was snapped up by the Seahawks with the hope that he can fix their pathetic running game, and replaced in Oakland by longtime quarterback guru Hue Jackson.

The question is not whether Jackson is qualified to run an offense -- his work with Baltimore's Joe Flacco speaks to his ability to teach and implement specific schematic ideas -- but whether he will be able to be more than another Davis mouthpiece. Jackson does have an advantage in that he's worked with mercurial and unconventional personalities before. He was the offensive coordinator for Steve Spurrier with the Washington Redskins and Bobby Petrino with the Atlanta Falcons, and he coached wide receivers for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2004 through 2006, which means that he's seen more sides to Chad Ochocinco than most. But just as the move from Gruden to Bill Callahan in 2002 led to half a decade of under-qualified yes-men trying to survive in impossible circumstances, one wonders whether the winning atmosphere finally created by Cable will dissipate in his absence.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

A kink in the contract of All-World cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has made him an unrestricted free agent without the team's ability to franchise him, and the Raiders have already added Rod Woodson to their coaching staff in a move that would seem to show just how much Asomugha is wanted in the Bay Area. Running back Michael Bush's recent DUI arrest probably doesn't help his case on the open market, but the team has already indicated an interest in re-signing him. Guard Robert Gallery may join Cable in Seattle if he doesn't re-up with the Raiders. It's a strong draft for guards, so the Raiders may want to go young at the position. And unless Jackson has some sort of "I can fix anybody" complex, Kyle Boller and Charlie Frye are probably on their way out. The franchise tag, if it's applied, would most likely land on tight end Zach Miller, who comprised much of Oakland's passing offense last season. Richard Seymour's off the tag list after signing a two-year deal that includes $22.5 million in guarnatees. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley should also be a priority.

San Diego Chargers: Will A.J. Smith play "Chicken" again?

After winning four straight division titles and five of the last six AFC West championships, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith -- who has generally displayed more acumen with player personnel than for interpersonal issues -- took the team that he build to be a champion and drove it into a ditch. Contract issues with receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill, two of the team's most valuable players, led to the duo missing a total of 15 games due to various holdouts and team-imposed suspensions.

Despite a defense that was one of the NFL's best (fourth against the pass and 10th against the run, according to Football Outsiders' metrics), and an MVP-level season from quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers fell one game behind the rising Kansas City Chiefs in the division race, and missed the playoffs entirely for the first time since 2005. The replacements for McNeill and Jackson didn't help. Reserve tackle Brandyn Dombrowski was game but overmatched, and no Chargers receiver was able to come anywhere near the Jackson's second-place finishes in DVOA in 2008 and 2009.

The Chargers eventually signed McNeill to a six-year, $49 million contract, but the situation with Jackson remains unresolved. And with the possibility of an extended offseason labor war on the horizon, would a short window for free agency give Smith the leash he'd need to once again sacrifice winning production in order to make a point? More likely is the idea that Smith will give Jackson the franchise tag when teams are able to designate franchise players on February 10. Smith usually wins these battles because his ability to find talent is among the NFL's best, but another playoff shutout could leave all eyes on him.

Free Agency, Whenever It Happens, Watch

Jackson has been franchised, but in a general sense, Smith has proven beyond all retort that he doesn't let talent define market value in his head. He put the franchise tag on running back Darren Sproles last year, and Sproles wound up rubbing elbows with studs like Eldra Buckley and Julius Jones near the bottom of the DYAR list. He'll likely be wearing another uniform in 2011. Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are second-tier receivers who could fill needs for Rivers depending on the level of talent at the position, and fullback Mike Tolbert could get the high tender as a restricted free agent. Smith's most likely long-term deal or franchise target is safety Eric Weddle, who ranked well in run and pass successes in 2010 and is thought to be one of the NFL's best at his position against the run. And given the lack of quality quarterbacks in the NFL at any given time, longtime backup quarterback Billy Volek could be someone's (very) low-rent Kevin Kolb.

Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 22 Feb 2011

37 comments, Last at 28 Feb 2011, 4:14am by Rockridgeman

Comments

1
by jklps :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 2:35pm

I realize AJ Smith is generally good at his job, but I still don't see why he gets a pass for ditching a QB he already had (Drew Brees), and used such a high draft pick on another QB, who while is productive, he already had somebody just as good or better. That pick could have been used for much more.

2
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 2:51pm

Drew Brees was pretty bad his first three years in the league, so they drafted Rivers. Then Brees turned it around, but also hurt his shoulder when he hit FA. Smith has made several poor choices in his tenure, but sticking with Rivers (who's been an MVP calber quarterback and younger than Brees) is not one of them.

31
by cczer08 (not verified) :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 8:43pm

You hit the nail on the head with your assessment. It gets frustrating to constantly hear people complain about the Drew Brees situation. Brees forced the Chargers' hand in more way than one, and he has been a FAR more productive player in NO than he ever was in SD. Half the people that complain about that now probably wanted to show Brees the door for his erratic results at the time he left San Diego. For everyone out there dying to call out AJ Smith, focus on the lack of impact that has come out of the past four drafts, not the tired Brees/Rivers comparison.

3
by Sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 2:53pm

When Rivers was drafted Brees had not yet lived up to his potential. He was coming off a season in which he had a passer rating of 67 and was benched for 5 games on the worst team in the league. It was only after Rivers was drafted in 2004 that Brees finally broke out, but even then he hadn't yet reached the heights that he would in New Orleans.

As for the pick, they turned it into a top QB (Rivers) plus an additional first, third, and fifth round draft pick. That's pretty good value I think.

Brees was allowed to move on because he was a free agent and the Chargers were skeptical about his ability to recover from his serious injury. The only way they could have ensured that he stayed a Charger was to use the franchise tag on him, which would have meant franchising a QB coming off a serious injury when you already had Rivers waiting in the wings and were ready to go with him.

6
by speedegg :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 4:39pm

Combination of things. Smith didn't think Brees was good enough to make it, though when they stuck Flutie in the lineup he didn't do much better. So, that gives you an indication it was the offense, not the QBs. Though Smith continued to operate like it was a QB problem, not an offense/team problem.

Plus their best WRs were journeyman Keenan McCardell and undrafted FA Eric Parker, Jackson was still developing from a 3rd round athlete into a wide receiver. Smith doesn't have a good track record with drafting or acquiring WRs (Reche Caldwell, Buster "Bust" Davis, David Boston, Kassim Osgood, etc, etc).

The other thing was Brees was drafted by the former GM Butler. Even though Butler brought Smith with him from Buffalo and they should be of one mind, the impression was that Brees wasn't "Smith's Guy" and Smith was looking for a way to get rid of Brees. Despite Brees going easy on the Chargers in his memoirs, I got the distinct feeling he wasn't wanted and Schottenhemier didn't handle him well. Which probably contributed to the perception that Brees was not good.

In any case, you get players to fit the system, I think Rivers is a much better fit with the Chargers offense than Brees. The Chargers have tall, big guys that can out jump defenders, so it works with River's who is taller, has a "dying ostrich" style of throwing the ball, and letting the receiver come down with the ball over after out jumping them.

11
by Sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 5:51pm

Smith doesn't have a good track record with drafting or acquiring WRs (Reche Caldwell, Buster "Bust" Davis, David Boston, Kassim Osgood, etc, etc).

Um... Jackson, Floyd, Chambers, Crayton, Gates? To a lesser extent Nanee, Seji, McMichael?

Osgood was an UFA who gave them pro-bowl level special teams play for years. Boston was a bust but they got one decent year of production out of him and then cut ties. Caldwell was drafted by Butler, not Smith.

21
by speedegg :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 3:08am

Yes...but given how many WRs acquired it seems the Chargers have trouble finding receivers. Okay, forgot Caldwell was drafted by Butler, but he hung around too long. Jackson yes, but he was a 3rd round pick and took years to develop. Floyd was an undrafted free agent that might be a #2 or #3 WR, has problems staying healthy, and is pushing the wrong side of 30. Chambers and Crayton were desperate attempts to fill holes by trading for talent. Crayton was a #4/5 WR on the Cowboys and was going to be riding pine. Chambers was a highlight reel wonder, but would screw it up on basic plays. The only reason Chambers was signed was Eric Parker broke his foot and they needed another WR.

David Boston...I remember that season. All flash, small bang. His best quote was something about he trusts Drew Brees, but Brees doesn't trust him. To which John Madden or Al Michaels said something like isn't that the fault of the receiver?

Gates is a diamond in the rough, but he was undrafted. If AJ Smith really had a track record with TE's, then there would be a dynamic duo like Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots. I just don't see it with McMichaels, Naanee, and Seji. That's like saying Laurent Robinson and Brandon Gibson are good WRs because they caught passes in St. Louis.

22
by Sean D (not verified) :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 3:21am

Boston was a Butler signing. Jackson was a 2nd round pick.

26
by Sjt (not verified) :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 2:12pm

Jackson yes, but he was a 3rd round pick and took years to develop

Back to back #2 in DYAR and now a Franchise player. Can't really see how you can write him off.

Floyd was an undrafted free agent that might be a #2 or #3 WR, has problems staying healthy, and is pushing the wrong side of 30.

So they turned an UDFA (who are still brought in by the GM!) and turned him into a productive receiver for several years. Again, I'd count that as a win for the GM. The fact that he aged like a normal human being (if you live long enough, eventually you will turn 30) can't really be a knock against the GM.

Crayton was a #4/5 WR on the Cowboys and was going to be riding pine.

And they got him for a 7th round pick and he had a solid season for them (tops in DYAR for receivers under 49 catches. Also in that group, VJ and Kelly Washington were tied for 5th).

Chambers was a highlight reel wonder, but would screw it up on basic plays. The only reason Chambers was signed was Eric Parker broke his foot and they needed another WR.

And he gave them 2 decent seasons and helped them get to the playoffs twice. Again, you seem to be blaming the GM for injuries. Players get hurt, it happens.

Gates is a diamond in the rough, but he was undrafted

So finding a diamond in the rough doesn't count as a win for the GM? What?

I just don't see it with McMichaels, Naanee, and Seji.

Check the stats. McMichael had a DVOA of 31.1% last year (higher than Hernandez), and that was as a backup. He was there to step up when Gates got hurt and couldn't play anymore. I'd say that's a win for the GM, getting a solid, productive back up who could step in for the best TE in the game for a time.

Nanee and Seji are not tight ends, they are receivers. The former was a 5th round project who has been a solid contributor/backup for 4 years. The latter was a rookie UDFA who AJ brought in and was able to step up and contribute on short notice when several of the veterans got hurt. He had a DVOA of 39.6 and was near the top in DYAR for receivers under 49 catches.

Your original thesis still doesn't hold water. You said that he isn't good at getting receivers. The evidence says otherwise. If anything, he's been able to find some of the best receivers in the league (Gates and VJ) and a lot of solid to good receivers to plug into the offense when injuries or turnover happen.

27
by speedegg :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 4:29pm

Didn't write it off as Jackson not being a good player (drafted in 2nd round, not 3rd my bad), he's an elite receiver but he's the only elite receiver on the Charger's roster. It seems like the Chargers have a problem finding good receivers given the effort they put into that position.

As for Floyd...productive receiver? I wouldn't put my money on him in Vegas or my fantasy team. Okay, I made that mistake twice times and got burned. The games he did make an impact like Cincinnati several years ago, he busted a lung when he caught a TD pass and was out for the year. That's been his story.

As for Crayton not sure what to say for someone under 49 catches except there's a reason why he has less than 49 catches when the #1 WR is out. If you include VJ, it's because of suspension. If you include Kelley Washington, he's a journeyman that can't stick with a team and couldn't crack the starting lineup of the Patriots or Eagles.

As for Chambers he's only adequate. He didn't fight for a Rivers throw that resulted in an interception in the playoffs and there were other WTF plays with him in those games. That's probably the reason why he is a role player in Kansas City.

As for Gates, if Smith was so good at finding TE's, why isn't there another stud TE opposite Gates? And Randy McMichaels? Miami let him go, he stays with the Rams for only a year, and then comes to the Chargers...doesn't sound like elite talent. Yeah, he caught 2 TDs while Gates was out, but that was against the lowly Texans. If anything I'd more impressed if TE Jimmy Graham was drafted by the Chargers. He was a basketball player, only played a year of football, and is an integral part of the Saints offense. They even split Graham out at WR and used him with good results against Atlanta. Maybe they really like Graham because Shockey was cut.

It's funny, Graham got his start when Shockey was injured. Seems like when good teams have their starters hurt, they already have players on their roster to step up. When it happens to the Chargers, they reach out to free agency or trade because they don't have them on the roster.

As for the other players like Naanee, Seji, etc it seems they were athletes drafted in the hope they'll turn to receivers like Vincent Jackson. That was the knock on Chargers before and that's the knock on the Chargers now. Heck, even the Eagles, a team that doesn't like drafting receivers high, drafted high for Jackson and Maclin and both players already turned into starters. Some would call them elite. Can't say that for Buster Davis.

28
by Sjt (not verified) :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 7:35pm

he's the only elite receiver on the Charger's roster.

Um... Gates? But even if we exclude TEs, that's your argument? Most teams don't have even one elite receiver. That's why they are called "elite". If you have one, you are ahead of the game.

As for Floyd...productive receiver?

Last year in 11 games: 717 yards, 6TD, 19.4 YPC, 9.1% DVOA.
2009: 23% DVOA
2008: 59% DVOA (!) Tops in DYAR in the group under 49 catches.

So from an UDFA they got several solid years as a # 2/3 pass catcher who is consistently high in YPC.

The games he did make an impact like Cincinnati several years ago, he busted a lung when he caught a TD pass and was out for the year. That's been his story.

Actually it was the KC game in 2008 when he hurt his lung (on a TD). The TD catch against Cinci resulted in a broken ankle when the defender fell on his leg. That's really your only knock against him: he's been hurt a couple times. He's a football player, occasionally they get hurt. When he has been healthy he's been very productive.

As for Crayton not sure what to say for someone under 49 catches except there's a reason why he has less than 49 catches when the #1 WR is out. If you include VJ, it's because of suspension. If you include Kelley Washington, he's a journeyman that can't stick with a team and couldn't crack the starting lineup of the Patriots or Eagles.

I included them because that's the grouping they are in on the DVOA page. It makes more sense to compare their DVOA to others with similar amounts of playing time, and when you do you find that they were all productive when they were in. This is in direct contradiction to your thesis that Smith can't find good receivers. On the contrary, he's found plenty of productive receivers to plug in and contribute on short notice.

As for Gates, if Smith was so good at finding TE's, why isn't there another stud TE opposite Gates?

Because you can probably count on one hand the number of legitimate "stud" TEs in the NFL?

Are you serious? Its not enough that he found the best player at that position and a sure fire hall of famer, he has to find 2? By that logic, hardly any GM is good at anything. "Oh sure, he found 1 Tom Brady. But if he's so great at getting QB's how come he doesn't have 2 hall of fame signal callers, hmmmm?"

And Randy McMichaels? Miami let him go, he stays with the Rams for only a year, and then comes to the Chargers...doesn't sound like elite talent.

Plenty of players have been cut or sent packing, it doesn't mean they are worthless. By that logic, Wes Welker is a scrub, Johnny Unitas is a bum, and Michael Jordan just isn't very good at basketball.

Yeah, he caught 2 TDs while Gates was out, but that was against the lowly Texans.

So scoring 2 vital TDs in an NFL game is just a freaking cakewalk? Ho hum...

Seriously though, the DVOA tells a different story: McMichael was able to step in and contribute when Gates when down. He added value to the team and was a capable pass catcher.

If anything I'd more impressed if TE Jimmy Graham was drafted by the Chargers. He was a basketball player, only played a year of football, and is an integral part of the Saints offense. They even split Graham out at WR and used him with good results against Atlanta.

So let me get this straight: AJ Smith isn't good at acquiring TEs because he didn't use a high draft pick to select a guy who had ok production in a pass heavy offense, likely because he DIDN'T NEED TO DRAFT A TE FOR HIS TEAM? This is your standard, that he didn't draft some guy who some other team drafted, therefore the productive guy who he did acquire doesn't count? Never mind that McMichael beat Graham in DVOA last year, 24% to 31%!

It's funny, Graham got his start when Shockey was injured. Seems like when good teams have their starters hurt, they already have players on their roster to step up.

McMichael was already on the roster, he was there to step up when Gates got hurt.

When it happens to the Chargers, they reach out to free agency or trade because they don't have them on the roster.

So acquiring good players because of injuries isn't the mark of a good GM? Trading and free agency aren't part of his job? This is asinine.

As for the other players like Naanee, Seji, etc it seems they were athletes drafted in the hope they'll turn to receivers like Vincent Jackson.

Isn't that the point of drafting any player? You draft a guy you think/hope will become a great player? And how again is that a knock against Smith? He drafted players (or brought them in as UDFA in Seji's case) who contributed to his team in a positive way. How is that a knock against his ability as a GM?

Heck, even the Eagles, a team that doesn't like drafting receivers high, drafted high for Jackson and Maclin and both players already turned into starters.

Jackson, Gates, Floyd, Nanee, Seji, Crayton etc etc... all have been starters in the league. What's your point?

Some would call them elite

I'll put Jackson and Floyd up against Jackson and Maclin any day of the week. Hell, despite playing only 6 games VJ nearly matched DJ in DYAR last year.

Again I dispute your whole thesis, and the evidence backs me up. You say Smith hasn't been good at getting receivers. His team led the league in passing last year, despite tons of injuries in the receiving core. That can only happen if you are good at finding, developing, and plugging in receivers to fill in when needed, which is the exact opposite of your claim.

29
by Sjt (not verified) :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 7:39pm

Damn, missed a tag.

30
by Sjt (not verified) :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 7:39pm

32
by cczer08 (not verified) :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 8:59pm

LOL, I feel your pain SJT. That speedegg guy is kind of a knucklehead, and you are right in every one of your counterarguments. A fair criticism of AJ is that while he has had a lot of success at finding quality undrafted players and developing them, he has failed to compound that success by getting good production out of his last four drafts, especially the high picks (both the picks that have been made and those traded away). Maybe that's really what this guy is getting at? Anyway, as you mentioned, finding diamonds in the rough and developing players is an important part of building a team, and AJ generally has done very well at that. Now if he can nail a draft like he did in 2004 & 2005 the team could be in great shape.

33
by speedegg :: Thu, 02/24/2011 - 5:00pm

You misunderstand my point. Some teams are better at scouting and drafting at certain positions than others. The Pittsburgh Steelers are excellent at drafting linebackers, the Colts are great at drafting WR, and the Packers/Pats are just machines. They identify and keep talent. San Diego is good. They've been good at drafting QBs, HBs, OLBs, D-lineman, corners, and O-linemen. Definitely more consistent than most in the league and that makes them a stronger team.

The Chargers seem weak at drafting WRs, MLBs, and SSs. Not sure if that's a draft priority thing or a system thing, probably a combination of both. Yeah, Floyd has a decent DYAR, but so did Anthony Armstrong in Washington. Is Armstrong a legit #2 wide receiver? Hard to tell, this is his first year in the starting lineup. The other guy with similar DYAR is Santonio Holmes. Are Armstrong and Floyd comparable to Holmes? Not sure, haven't seen it yet.

And yes, I agree with you that Welker is an elite player. He's proven that with the Patriots, but the Patriots didn't draft him or invite him to training camp. The team that did? The Chargers. Welker was an undrafted free agent that the Chargers invited to camp. He was cut. Patriots acquired Welker from Miami and he's been instrumental in their offense. And that's my point. Some teams are better at identifying and acquiring talent than others. Maybe that's why the Patriots have 3 Superbowl rings and the Chargers have 0.

37
by Rockridgeman (not verified) :: Mon, 02/28/2011 - 4:14am

Quick clarification - Wes Welker was not cut by Chargers but rather placed on Practice Squad and lifted by the Dolphins when they needed a WR. The Chargers would have been happy to keep Welker's rights, but didn't have roster room at that time, and have suffered the loss of one of the truly great slot receivers in history because of it. However, they should still get credit for bringing him in and giving him his first NFL action.

34
by Dean :: Thu, 02/24/2011 - 5:17pm

"even the Eagles, a team that doesn't like drafting receivers high"

I'm not sure where this comes from. In 12 drafts, the Eagles have used 5 picks in rounds 1 and 2 on WRs. It's understandable if names like Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell and Reggie Brown are forgettable. I think most Eagles fans would like very much to forget them. If you consider the 3rd round to be high, then the number would be 6. They invested another 8 mid-low round picks on WRs in the same time frame.

In addition to devoting resources to the position in the draft, the team gave premium contracts to WRs acquired via trade (Terrell Owens) and free agency (Kevin Curtis). To a lesser extent, you could include Donte Stallworth in that list as well.

It's fair to critique their lack of success with the position over the first 9 years, but it wasn't from lack of effort and it wasn't from any sense of devaluing the position. They save that for linebackers.

35
by speedegg :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 12:50am

Sorry man, I'm not an Eagles fan and don't follow them that closely. My impression of the Eagles is they love D-Linemen and O-Linemen at the expense of other positions. Like when they drafted Brandon Graham over that safety (Earl Thomas?). I was surprised, but I maybe shouldn't have been.

I thought McNabb or someone criticized the Eagles for the lack of receiver talent. Maybe it was a buddy or someone that said if McNabb actually had good receivers he'd be a better quarterback. In any case Steve Sabol said the Eagles finally started drafting for McNabb's strengths and got fast receivers that can catch his deep ball. Good thing it works for Vick, too.

36
by Dean :: Fri, 02/25/2011 - 12:09pm

No apologies necessary. They did have mediocre (or worse) receivers for a long time, but it was poor execution, not lack of effort.

10
by Neoplatonist Bolthead (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 5:48pm

It's hard to argue with that deal. Others have mentioned how Brees wasn't panning out, but there's more. In place of Brees and the #1 overall pick, they got Rivers, Roman Oben (good OT for a year or two), Shawne Merriman, Nate Kaeding and Anthony Waters (the only bust of the lot). Since Rivers has generally been a better QB for Brees, and Merriman, Kaeding and Oben all panned out pretty well (two of them didn't last long and one is a kicker, but still...), it wasn't a bad deal at all.

4
by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 3:11pm

Strange analysis of the Broncos: Defense is the team's Achilles heel, yet beyond mentioning Champ Bailey it's not mentioned at all; and this is the only outlet I've seen that's blamed McDaniels for pulling Champ's contract off the table. Other than the addition of Elway, their front office is IDENTICAL to when McDaniels was there, so you certainly need to question whether there was more to it than McDaniels. With as many holes as they have on D, coupled with a looming work stoppage, it's quite possible the team decided they didn't want to spend any money on Champ right now. And there have been persistent rumors that owner Pat Bowlen is looking to save some money and is even contemplating selling the team.

16
by Dennis :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 7:26pm

The difference now is the front office will actually be involved in the personnel decisions instead of leaving it all to the coach. We'll find out soon enough if Xanders actually knows anything because he never did anything when McDaniels was there.

23
by tunesmith :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 5:18am

Those are both common opinions, other common opinions are that Xanders is very good at managing salary cap and contracts, and the Broncos have a very strong scouting organization. Put both together and it means that the front office is probably better than average at finding talent-per-dollar. This was shown by finding some of the cheap lesser names last season - Hunter, Vickerson, Veikune - not starter quality, but better than what was there, with some real potential.

Talent-wise, the 2010 defense had largely the same personnel as 2009 aside, with one glaring difference in losing pass-rushing ability - Dumervil, Holliday, and even Reid. There was some injury too, but I don't think all that was enough to explain the poor defense - poor scheme had a lot to do with it. It's good that Martindale is gone - probably a good linebacker coach, but there were too many challenges for him to deal with all at once.

I'm guessing there is a scheme that is a better fit for the defensive talent as-is, and that the new defensive coaches will have more ability to find it. Add that they'll likely be focusing on defense this draft... it's easy to imagine them improving quickly.

Champ signed today and did mention in passing a link between McD leaving, and the contract getting done.

25
by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 1:06pm

Welcome to the Xanders zone!

Have fun....

5
by Noss (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 4:19pm

Basic logic tells you it wasn't McDaniels. He'd have had no reason to pull the contract off the table. The only way that happens is if somebody higher up gets involved. At the time this all happened the team was finalizing the deal with Elway, making plans to dump McD and they probably also had the lockout on their mind. By pulling that contract they saved themselves any signing bonus and allowed Elway and Fox to weigh in. I still think pulling the contract was bush league, but it's easy to see what they were thinking.

19
by PerlStalker :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 8:55pm

Well, they signed Champ to a 4 year deal in the $40 mill range. Something is working, I guess.

24
by tunesmith :: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 5:19am

Champ mentioned that the contract that got pulled included some 2010 money... the new one starts with 2011. Any chance that had something to do with it?

7
by slipknottin :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 5:12pm

The chiefs section being all about how they didn't give Charles enough carries, who could have predicted that.

8
by Fan in Exile :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 5:21pm

Harris isn't going to be a back-up to Clady. I don't know where you got that idea at all. If Harris is kept he's clearly going to play right tackle since there isn't anyone better at it on the team, now that he's healthy.

It's also hard to see Orton stick around for another year, but we'll see how that plays out. Personally I think that Elway is trying to avoid the mistakes that he saw coaches make during his career with Maddox, and Griese.

9
by Spielman :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 5:30pm

"And given the lack of quality quarterbacks in the NFL at any given time, longtime backup quarterback Billy Volek could be someone's (very) low-rent Kevin Kolb."

I really doubt that anybody is going to bring in Volek, a 35 year old who hasn't started a game in six years, with the idea of him being the starter, even in the short term, even as one of multiple guys competing for the job. He might very well be one of the 32 best QBs out there right now, but potential very often trumps ability.

12
by Sjt (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 5:54pm

He's been mentioned as going to Carolina, since Rivera knows him from the Chargers and more importantly he already knows the new OC Chudzinski and his offense. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he was brought in to compete with Clausen.

13
by Spielman :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 6:01pm

Even that much surprises me. Maybe after the Clausen/Moore shitshow last year, a 35 year old patch that hasn't played much in years actually starts to look good.

14
by Theo :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 7:06pm

If he throws more than 30 passes this year, I will buy you a new car.

15
by RickD :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 7:22pm

Do we really think Cable is a good head coach?
Really?
The guy was fined $120k by the Raiders last season. He punched out one head coach and couldn't get along with his coordinators.
It seemed to me that Cable couldn't get along with his employer or with anybody else in Oakland. Well, except for some of the players. I'll give him credit for that. But while that's enough for a line coach, it hardly seems like enough for a head coach.
Perhaps the vast improvement in the Raiders' offense had more to do with Hue Jackson than Tom Cable? Certainly it seems that this is what Al Davis thinks.

17
by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 8:12pm

The key question in Oakland went from being "Is the guy a good coach?" to "When are they ever going to get some continuity?" a long time ago. And odds are you or somebody else will be posting this exact same comment in another season or two after Jackson is let go.

Cable survived punching out a coordinator (which should have gotten him fired) only to have the final straw be benching a couple guys for a season finale that had no playoff implications but that the Raiders still won in a blowout. If you can explain the logic in that, you might have a successful career ahead working for Al Davis.

18
by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 8:24pm

Here's what I don't get. You guys stated all the improvements to Oakland's DVOA from 2009-2010. Cable was the constant between those two years. He was there when they were bad.

The addition in 2010?? Hue Jackson. He's the guy who's arrival coincided with the offense playing better than it has since 2002. Why isn't he given any credit? Cable was made fun of about as much as any other coach by FO, and now suddenly he's given credit for turning the Raiders around? Doesn't make sense to me. He got them to play, but it all honesty, Hue Jackson should be given just as much credit for the offense improving.

20
by Dales :: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 11:15pm

I don't mean to be mean, but this article looks as if an editor never even glanced at it.