Monday, June 16, 2008

NFC North Preview: Running Backs

Part 2 of my NFC North Preview: Ranking the Running Backs.

(Note: Only ranking the projected starters for each team.)

1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

The most dangerous offensive player in the division, if not the entire NFL. I'm not ready to crown him the best running back in the league, as that title belongs to Mr. Tomlinson out in San Diego, but it's hard to question the potential of the 23 year old out of Oklahoma. Some of his runs that I saw last year were ridiculous. He kind of tailed off towards the end of the season last year, finishing with a total of 144 yards on 54 carries (2.67 avg) in his final 4 games, including a 14 carry - 3 yard performance versus the 49ers. It may have had something to do with a lateral collateral ligament injury he suffered, as well as the increased 8 and 9 man fronts he was forced to run against, due to a lack of a potent passing offense. Regardless, it was still a highly impressive rookie campaign, consisting of 2 games of 200+ rushing yards, including his record setting day of 296 yards versus the Chargers on November 4th. Peterson is an extremely physically gifted burner who can make one cut and run by the entire defense. He's the player that defenses will have to focus on stopping when facing Minnesota. A top 10 offensive line led by the likes of Steve Hutchinson, Matt Birk, and Bryant McKinnie helps pave the way for the 2nd year player. Peterson is the type of player that scares you everytime he touches the ball. With his first full year in the books and an increased understanding of what it takes to be a top notch runner in this league, expect another big, more consistent season out of AP.

2. Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers

Grant became one the biggest surprises of the Green Bay Packers offense during the 2007 season. Once a no-name signing who figured to be just another backup running back, Grant emerged on the scene in Week 8 versus Denver. The season he ended up putting together was quite impressive. If you project the numbers he put up during his 12 starts (including playoffs) over a 16 game season, this is what you come up with: 296 carries, 1545 yards (5.22 avg) and 15 touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who never had an NFL regular season carry before arriving in Green Bay. Grant was Mr. Consistent throughout the course of the year, excluding 2 games in the regular season and the stinker he put up against the Giants in the NFC Championship (although that wasn't entirely his fault, and not to mention he carried the Packers the week before in the memorable Seattle game). Grant rushed for over 85 yards in 8 of 12 starts and failed to score in only 4 games. He seems to be an extremely good fit for the Packers zone blocking scheme, with good vision in finding the holes, and tough to bring down once he reaches the second level. I don't believe he will end up being a one year wonder, but Grant needs to have another quality season before proving he was not just a flash in the pan. With that said, I project Grant to be a top 10 running back this season.

3. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

I don't know much about the other 2 projected starting running backs in the division, as they are both rookies. I give the edge to Forte in Chicago based off the fact that he was essentially given the starting gig once BUI/DUI man Cedric Benson was cut out of the mix, where as in Detroit, Kevin Smith will fight with Tatum Bell for the job. Forte will surely share some some carries with Adrian Peterson, but it seems like the Bears are high on Forte and ready to give the youngster out of Tulane every opportunity to become their lead guy. It's hard to project which rookie, Forte or Smith, will become the better of the two backs, as they are both unproven, obviously. I was going to base the ranking off of who has the better offensive line to run behind, but then realized both lines are probably ranked in the bottom quarter of the entire league.

4. Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions

The rookie out out Central Florida figures to compete with Tatum Bell for the #1 RB position in Detroit. As with Forte, I don't know all that much about Smith, so I'm not going to act like I do. What I do know, though, is that Smith was a monster workhorse in college, so that may transfer well to the NFL level in terms of being a full time back. Getting the ball 25 times a game in college, though, is different than getting the ball 25 times a game in the NFL.

Top Backups:

1. Chester Taylor, Minnesota Vikings

2. Adrian Peterson, Chicago Bears

3. Brandon Jackson, Green Bay Packers

4. Tatum Bell, Detroit Lions

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NFC North Preview: Quarterbacks

Alright, so since it's kind of slow right now in the football world, I figured I would do what everyone, including myself, loves to read about: Previews. We all love reading previews of the upcoming season including positional rankings, playoff predictions, sleeper teams, etc, etc. It's worth noting though that at the end of the year, you will most likely look back on most of the "experts" previews and predictions, or even your own if you make them, and only have one word to say: Wow. Yes, things like these are basically useless. No one knows exactly what will happen over the course of the season, what teams and players will come out of nowhere to outplay their expectations or those that will totally fall off the face of the planet. Just look back at last year for example. The experts and most Packer fans, even the most diehard of homers, realistically didn't see us getting anywhere past 9 wins. Chicago was the favorite to win the division and did anyone see the year that Brett Favre had coming? Not many of us. What I'm trying to say is that in the next couple of days while I do an NFC North Preview, ranking positions and giving my predictions, is that they are essentially worthless. But I have fun doing them anyhow. Alot of people write them. Alot of people will read them. It happens every year. So here is part one of my NFC North Preview: Ranking the Quarterbacks.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

No, this is not because I am a diehard Packers fan, posting on a Packers blog. It's because Rodgers is simply going to end up being, by a good margin I believe, the best quarterback in the NFC North, albeit, that really isn't saying too much. I'm aware that we really only have one regular season game to base our prediction of Rodger's success off of. I'm aware that this will be his first year as a starter on a professional football team. I'm aware that he is "following a legend" (Seriously, is anyone else sick and tired of hearing that exact phrase in every interview Rodgers goes through?). But I firmly believe Rodgers is in a much different situation than the typical first year starter. Number one, this is 4th NFL season. He's had three years to learn Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast Offense, the third in which a lot of different things finally started to "click" in his mind. He's been backed 100% by both his head coach and general manager and knows that he's now "the guy". It's not like Rodgers is going to step into the huddle on opening night against Minnesota and say "Ummm....der??". He's had three years to prepare himself for this moment. He's also had plenty of time working with the first team offense in the past years, when Favre wasn't there. Yes, it was only practice, but it's still valuable time. The big thing I like about the situation he steps into are his wide receivers. Looking back at last year, do you realize how many of Favre's yards were from his WRs YAC? I don't know the exact percentage, but I know it was the highest in the league. That's not taking anything away from what Brett did last year, it just goes to show you how much a group of talented WRs with a knack of getting the ball downfield after a reception, can help your offense. Rodgers just has to do his things, get the ball in the hands of his WRs, and they will take it from there. He supposedly has a pretty good deep ball as well, which certainly won't hurt. He is more agile than Favre was and his mobility may give McCarthy some more options in his playcalling, but it will still be hard to replace Favre's uncanny ability to avoid being sacked, no matter how ugly it may have looked. I really envision Rodgers being a patient, under control, and accurate quarterback leading this offense. He won't have to carry the offense half of the year, much like Favre did in 2007, since it appears we should have a top 10 rushing offense this year, but that doesn't mean that he's going to sit back there and hand the ball off every snap. He will still make his fair share of plays and I firmly believe his three years of hard work and preparation in learning the offense and readying himself for this moment, entrenches Rodgers as being the top QB in the division, despite only a handful of career passing attempts.

2. Jon Kitna, Detroit Lions

Mr. Jon "Ten Win" Kitna enters his third season behind center for the Detroit Lions. It may be hard to believe that in his two years as the Lions starting quarterback, he has started all 32 games, passed for 4,000 yards in each year, and completed over 62% of his passes. I guess that's not too hard to believe, considering he's on a Lions teams that is used to playing from behind. By the way, did you know that the Lions have a whopping total of 26 wins over the last FIVE years. The Packers had more than half of that in 2007. The problem with Kitna is his turnovers. He's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in both 2006 (21 TDs, 22 INTs) and 2007 (18 TDs and 20 INTs). I can't forget to mention the 9 fumbles lost in 2006 and 6 lost in 2007. Maybe his infamous "10 wins" prediction should be changed to "10 turnovers" as in the amount he plans to have through the first 6 games of the season. With Mike Martz out of the picture and Jim Colletto in, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kitna's numbers dip a bit this year. Colletto plans on relying on his running game a bit more, to which many of us reply "WHAT running game?". (Quick, name the Lions projected starting running back.) Anyhow. What Kitna does have going for him are a couple of nice WRs. Roy Williams is his go-to guy and Calvin Johnson is only expected to get better. Even with Colletto's slight change in the offensive game plan, the ball will still be in Kitna's hands quite often, just maybe a bit less than last year. You can rely on him to quietly put up some numbers throughout the year, but he's not a quarterback I would want on a team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. I still think the Lions need to turn to one of their young guns, either Stanton or Orlovsky and atleast see what they may have to offer.

3. Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings

Tarvaris Jackson is a young Donovan McNabb. He's poised to breakout in this third year in Minnesota and lead the Vikings to the promised land......

I had to get your attention somehow, didn't I? No, this is definitely not what I think of Jackson. Although from Jared Allen's visions of a Super Bowl and Ray Edwards predictions of a sack record, I wouldn't be surprised if many people of Minnesota actually believe what I just typed as a joke, to be not far from the truth. Supposedly, this is the year that Jackson becomes a reliable NFL quarterback. From what I read, he has more confidence and is more than ready to prove his doubters wrong. He has supposedly made strides during the off-season as well. Props to him. I like a player who works hard and has confidence. But I just won't believe Jackson is anything more than a below average quarterback who can lead an offense in this league. The good news for him is that the Vikings don't really need to rely on him as they have a first year wonder in running back Adrian Peterson. There's no doubt that Peterson is the focal point of this offense and that will take pressure off of Jackson, of course. And hey, atleast they signed somebody for him to throw the ball to, in Bernard Berrian. (I must say, I found it funny when I read over at packergeeks that they thought Berrian is really just one of those kids at recess who says "I'll go deep" every play.) I just really can't see how Jackson is going to turn into anything other than a so-so quarterback. You can have the best running back in the world on your team, but a reliable QB who knows how to win games is what a good team needs the most, in my eyes.

4. Rex Grossman/Kyle Orton/Oscar the Grouch, Chicago Bears

Whoever the quarterback of the Bears ends up being, even if it is a Sesame Street character, is going to be the worst QB in the division. If I could, I would rank the Bears QBs 32nd in the NFC North, but unfortunately, we only have 4 teams. Seriously, who are they going to throw to? Marty Booker? Wasn't he washed up in his FIRST stint with da Bears? Brandon Lloyd? Oh, he's not a 49er anymore? Mark Bradley? He's only good in the preseason (I think he led the league in receiving yards last pre-season). Earl Bennett? This isn't the SEC anymore. Devin Hester? What an explosive special teamer, the best I've ever seen (eh, maybe Desmond Howard is ahead of him) but did you know they are actually seriously contemplating using him as one of their top WRs? Okay, he's fast, but this isn't Madden 09. I don't see that working out too well. Yeah, I just don't find it worth my time typing much more about their QBs. I think their entire offense is going to be atrocious, quarterback being no exception.

And that's that. There you have it, my QB rankings for the NFC North. Can't wait till I look back at these in March of 2009 and say, "Wow, I can't believe Tarvaris Jackson was league MVP AND Super Bowl winner.".....Just kidding.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dead Off-Season: Random Thoughts

With the Packers three day mini-camp eight days away and training camp more than a month and a half away, there's not a whole lot of important news going on in Green Bay. There's plenty of talk going on around the league with Strahan's retirement today, Benson's second arrest (followed by being placed on waivers) in less than a month (how dumb can you be?) , the Chad Johnson saga, numerous players missing OTAs, so on and so on. None of this, though, will really get me fired up for real football that doesn't come until September. Don't get me wrong, I love it all and still read anything and everything involving football and the Packers daily, but I won't reach my peak excitement level until the morning of Monday, September 8th.

Anyhow...just some random thoughts, questions, and comments on the Pack from the last time I posted...

-Remember when some fans speculated in March that the Packers may sign Quinn Gray before the Texans scooped him up? Well, I was one of them who thought it would be a decent pickup, but Thompson passed. I saw that the Texans released him today on the Green Bay Press Gazette's Packers page and after reading it, I thought, why is this even important to know as a Packers fan? Back in March when he visited Green Bay, Jerry Baab and Dalton Bell were our backup QBs...and Thompson passed on him. Now we have Brohm and Flynn behind Rodgers and every indication points to McCarthy going with two rookies as the backups. Why would the Packers be tempted to sign him now? It won't happen.

-I started to take advantage of the videos that offers and had a chance to watch many of the players interviews during the OTA sessions. It's interesting to see how certain players handle the media and being put in the spotlight. You can't take a whole lot out of these interviews, but I like them nonetheless. I was really impressed with how Rodgers carries himself. He seems very comfortable, laid back and always has a smile on his face. He answers the questions truthfully without really giving the reporters anything that they can turn into something bad. He just seems very confident, very ready to be our starting quarterback. I like that. Oh and the hair. I like it. Hope his mom doesn't make him get it cut.

-Another thing I noticed in the interviews was how big Brandon Jackson looks. I read numerous places that he put on a good amount of bulk and muscle and watching the video of his interview in which he was shirtless, what I read about the addition of muscle is definitely true. His upper body looks huge. Of all of the rookies who were drafted, I thought Jeremy Thompson was the best in handling reporters and their questions, with Jordy Nelson a close second. Brett Swain seemed like a scared dog in a strange place who had rehearsed his answers he was going to give. Once again, none of this interview stuff really means much of anything, just something I took note of.

-Jarrett Bush to safety? Is this his only chance to make the team or just something McCarthy wants to try out? I think it all depends on how many CBs they end up keeping. In my eyes, Woodson, Harris, Williams, Lee, and Blackmon all remain ahead of Bush on the depth chart. Williams improved during the later part of last season and is an asset in the return game. Blackmon can also help out on punt returns, but obviously needs to remain healthy. Lee is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the roster, being a 2nd round pick. I know the Packers kept 6 CBs last year (Walker being the 6th) but even then, Bush isn't guaranteed a spot with the rest of the corners. You never know when an undrafted rookie elevates his game enough to make the team or they become content with only keeping 5 corners. Looking at the safety position, Rouse is really the only capable backup. Peprah and Culver are merely only special teams contributors so maybe MM is really considering a permanent move for Bush. Who knows. We'll learn more once training camp rolls around.

-Will Ryan Grant sign before training camp? From what I can tell, both sides are going about this in a good mannered and professional way, nothing that really has the potential to elevate into something ugly. They say Grant doesn't have much leverage in the contract talks, which is technically true, but maybe I'm missing something. What happens when the season gets closer and closer, Grant still isn't signed, and they're left with a bunch of unproven RBs to carry the load? Sure, maybe Grant was a flash in the pan and maybe Jackson could be a decent starter in year number two, but don't tell me you would feel comfortable with our RBs if Grant wasn't back there in Week 1. Doesn't that scenario count for some kind of leverage? Just something to think about. Either way, I don't see anything getting too serious and I'm pretty confident he will end up signing sometime soon.

-I attend Millersville University in eastern Pennsylvania in Lancaster County. Our athletic teams compete in the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) along with other state funded colleges, including Shippensburg University. Pretty cool to see John Kuhn, a Shippensburg graduate, on the Packers roster. If you're up to par on the colleges that Packers players attended like I am, Shippensburg should ring a bell for another Packer you have surely heard of.....former long snapper Rob Davis.

-Another secondary question. Are we going to see a competition at safety throughout training camp? Collins and Bigby were back there nearly all of last season, but Rouse filled in nicely during a 3 game stint when Collins was hurt. I'm not completely sold on Bigby like some fans are. Do I love watching him fly around the field and make some bone crushing hits? Of course. Does he deserve to be on the field? Of course. I just think he is a liability in pass coverage at times. Collins has been solid, but nothing spectacular. I think there is definitely some untapped potential within him that needs to be unleashed during this year, his 4th season in Green Bay. I love Rouse's size for a safety and think he definitely needs to be on the field. I say Bigby and Collins are the starters in Week 1, but not without a strong push from Rouse.

-Chillar or Poppinga? The most intriguing training camp battle this summer should be between these two. It's what Thompson and McCarthy love best...competition amongst their players. I shouldn't even call this a "battle". I think either way you look at it, our LB corps depth was strengthened when Chillar was signed and the competition will only make both players, and the team, better. To me, it's a win-win. In the end, I'll go with Chillar as the opening day starter, but Poppinga still making an impact, especially on running downs.

-It's only early June, but seriously...our defensive line is BANGED UP. I think if the season started today, one of our starting defensive tackles would be Alfred Malone, who looks alot like a much heavier version of Michael Vick.

-Once again, still too early to tell, but another injury with Harrell is not a good sign. He's got time to heal and I still have hope that he can turn into an impact player, but are the injuries ever going to stop? If he doesn't show more potential this year, it may not be too early to call him the second coming of Jamal Reynolds.

That's it for now. My first real post is complete. I hope you all enjoyed. Keep coming back and don't be afraid to leave comments...good, bad, or downright ugly ones. They're all nice to read.

I'll leave you with one number: 91...


May the countdown begin...