Ear To the Ground - Week 10
Posted 11/5 by Bob Magaw, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
"The cosmos speaks in patterns" - Roger von Oech (paraphrase of Heraclitus)
"Luck is the residue of design" - Branch Rickey (Brooklyn Dodgers GM - integrated baseball)
"Our business is winning" - Bill Parcells (Ex-Giants/Patriots/Jets/Cowboys HC, MIA grocery picker and future HoFer)
The subject matter of ETTG is IDP with an emphasis on Dynasty leagues. Ear To The Ground was chosen for this column's title to convey a sense of detecting rumblings in the distance... an ability essential to project a prospect from college to pro and rookie to veteran. It will consist of three sections: Team Reports (Watchlist), a Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter and an IDP Spotlight. The emphasis here will be on the impact positions of LB, DE and S... exceptional DTs and CBs will be noted for leagues that differentiate DE/DT and S/CB. Dynasty content is geared towards youth. Like most successful working rosters that employ a blend of production and potential, there will be a balance of rookie and veteran coverage in the mix. While by the nature of much IDP coverage new names will bubble up to the surface from week to week, ETTG will try to identify key players early on and provide a synoptic overview for the whole season as it unfolds.
Welcome to season number five of ETTG, and best of luck this season (but see the middle quote that heads this column above)...
DE John Abraham (5-0) has always been streaky, so it didn't come as a massive surprise when he followed up a several week fallow period (after a white hot start which saw him lead the league in sacks earlier in the season) with yet another 3 sack game. His sackless contests hurt, but it is hard to sit him when he has proven capable of multi-sack outbursts on any given week. Coveted rookie MLB Curtis Lofton (4-1) has been the clear second best rookie LB after good looking Pats ILB Jerod Mayo, and could be ready to take a big step up next season if the organization parts ways with long time defensive stalwart, WLB/MLB Keith Brooking. While not a burner, he compensates with great instincts, quickness, ability to sift through the trash, locate the ball carrier and wrap up in the open field. Lofton has the underrated feet and athleticism to be a three down LB, which would cause his IDP numbers to soar. A not so unsung hero in the defense's surprising success is the stellar, mature-beyond-his-years play of prized rookie QB Matt Ryan, who is playing anything like a rookie... Peter King recently stated that he would give serious consideration right now to Ryan for league MVP. Ryan and similarly shockingly good rookie QB Joe Flacco of the Ravens miraculously have both of their respective teams in playoff contention.
Wk. 10 Bye...
Wk. 10 Bye... ILBs Bradie James and Zach Thomas paced the defense with a combined 17 solos, 6 assists and 1 sack (by James), but that trend could be short-lived, as Pro Bowl QB Tony Romo is expected back after the bye. Pro Bowl OLB DeMarcus Ware (3-2) had a sack and FF, and is capable of going on another extended consecutive game with a sack streak. If he hadn't been shut out the previous week, it would have been 12 straight. The Cowboys still have Pro Bowl FS Ken Hamlin and hobbled CB Anthony Henry (both with 4-1 box scores), but their secondary looks in complete and total disarray. After being an early favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, they are no longer assured of even making the playoffs, in the brutal, woodchipper-like NFC East. Rookie 1st round CB Mike Jenkins made a high profile whiff on a rushing TD last Sunday, and didn't look like he wanted any part of the Giants RB (and it wasn't even DL-sized Brandon Jacobs).
Despite a horrific year for the overall defense, WLB D.J. Williams was having a big season but could miss about a month with a knee injury. The team's other best defender, CB Champ Bailey, is already out and expected to miss some more time. Things are going from bad to worse for the Broncos, who have slumped badly and currently reside at 4-4, just one game in front of the colossally underachieving 3-5 Chargers in the AFC West (neither struggling team needs to worry too much about the even more bumbling Raiders and Chiefs, in the throes of what look to be extended rebuilding efforts and nearly complete roster teardowns and overhauls). The "Orange Pulp" defense is the chief culprit, "holding" the up and down but ascendant Dolphins to nearly 30 pts. (26). It is a sign how badly things have deteriorated when the rare ability to hold an opponent under 30 is actually an improvement compared to recent weeks. QB Jay Cutler got off to an incendiary, white hot start, but has been getting more careless with the ball (3 INTs Sunday), and is possibly pressing and trying to do much, concluding (likely correctly) he needs to win the game himself. A possible beneficiary of D.J. Williams absence could be MLB Nate Webster (3-4), who is also having a huge season (at least statistically speaking). One of the lone bright spots was profoundly underachieving second year DE Jarvis Moss (4-0) awakening from a deep slumber for a 2 sack outburst. Safety Karl Paymah had a monster 11-1 (with an INT) box score and could be a busy dude with all the turbulence and chaos in the front seven.
DOH! (last remaining winless team)
Many assumed FS Antoine Bethea would take a back seat with the return after more than a month absence by SS Bob Sanders (and reigning Defensive Player of the Year). Bethea had one of the best games of his career, pacing the defense with 10 solo tackles. Sanders came back strong, with 6 solos, 2 assists & 1 INT (narrowly missing a second on a badly overthrown ball by Matt Cassell). He is the heart and soul of the defense, and a massive difference maker when healthy (alas, all too infrequently, outside of last year's conspicuous exception). Even before he returned, the Colts have been better against the run of late, but Sanders has proven in the past he is almost single-handedly capable of elevating the run defense and lifting it to another level. Safety Melvin Bullitt played well in Sanders absence, but will be relegated to an afterthought unless Sanders is reinjured (or Bethea succumbs). MLB Gary Brackett continued a strong year with 8 solos and 3 assists. WLB Freddie Keiaho was a late scratch from the lineup and bears close watching this week. SLB Tyjuan Hagler had a 3-6 box score in his stead. With up and coming CB Marlin Jackson landing on IR and bookend Kelvin Hayden still hobbled by a knee injury, CB Tim Jennings could be tested early and often. He will be subjected to a baptism by fire in the second half of the season, and encouragingly played well against the Pats with 4 solos and 1 FF.
Prized top 10 overall rookie ILB Jerod Mayo had one of the best games of his still young career, with 8 solo tackles and 3 assists. A big difference in the game (aside from the fact that it was frankly more of a must win situation for the Colts) is that the Pats completely whiffed in the big play department, highlighting the declining play of aging veteran LBs Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel (coming off a Pro Bowl campaign).
New York (Giants)
The Giants cemented their status as one of the top teams in the league and favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in a repeat of 2007's improbable league championship, with a 35-14 dismantling of the suddenly vulnerable, Romo-less Cowboys. This looks like a better team than last year's opportunistic version, which would have seemed unlikely earlier in the season, in the wake of the losses of DE Michael Strahan to retirement, WLB Kawika Mitchell and SS Gibril Wilson in free agency and DE Osi Umenyiora to a season-ending injury. A great help to the team's overall fortunes and to the defense as well, is the continued development of blossoming franchise QB Eli Manning, probably the best OL in the league currently and a potent run game. DE Justin Tuck is having a Pro Bowl season, and chipped in 5 solo tackles, 1 assist and 2.5 sacks. Bookend Mathias Kiwanuka (1-1) added a sack. MLB Antonio Pierce has had a quiet season, so a 3-1 box score was par for the course, but he did contribute a FF. CB Corey Webster enjoyed one of the best games of his young career, with 3 solos and 2 INTs. Coveted rookie FS Kenny Phillips (2-3) is being brought along slowly, but could make a quantum leap next season once he earns the more complete trust of the typically veteran-friendly HC Tom Coughlin. Many scouts thought he was the top athlete and best talent at the position, in what was admittedly a consensus weak class of 2008 overall at the safety position.
If the Raiders continue to be as crap-tastic on offense (and defense, for that matter), MLB Kirk Morrison and SS Gibril Wilson could have a heroic number of tackle opps in the second half of the season. They paced the team, with 9-3 and 7-4 box scores, respectively. WLB Thomas Howard also chipped in 7 solos. CB DeAngelo Hall's play was a black hole black mark, leading to his release this week. Similarly epic busts and examples of a grossly mismanaged salary cap, WR Javon Walker and DT Tommy Kelly may not be far behind, in an potential late season purge, which would clear the decks for a hopefully less inept 2009 season. Cutting Hall will help free up cap money, as OAK is expected to lock up star young CB Nnamdi Asomugha (which they should have done in the first place, prior to being CBurglared to the tune of $8 million for just eight painful games by the appallingly overrated Hall).
Grizzled warrior ILB James Farrior (extended past this season) showed he has a lot left in the tank with one of his best games in years, leading the way with 12 solo tackles, 1 assist and 1 half sack. The MNF mismatch against the Redskins featured 12 overall sacks, but the Steelers won the battle by knocking Jason Campbell down seven times. OLB James Harrison (5-4) had 1.5 sacks and bookend LaMarr Woodley (3-2) had 2 sacks, and both are playing at an extremely high, Pro Bowl level. If not for such great seasons by TEN DT Albert Haynesworth and MIA OLB Joey Porter, they might be getting more mention for Defensive Player of the Year. SS Troy Polamalu (2-1) is putting last year's injury plagued campaign behind him and also performing at a Pro Bowl level.
LB Leroy Hill is one of the lone bright spots in an abysmal season for the Seahawks during the twilight of HC Mike Holmgren's tenure. He led the stop unit with 8 solo tackles and 3 assists. With the potentially prolonged or even rest of the season absence of DE Patrick Kerney, many eyes were on DEs Darryl Tapp and rookie 1st rounder Lawrence Jackson. Tapp made the most of his opportunity with 6 solos, 1 sack & 1 FF, while Jackson failed to dent the box score. MLB Lofa Tatupu is having a nightmarish season injury-wise, and it is a real concern that Holmgren could shut him down at some point if SEA continues to disappoint on an epic scale and fall further and further out of contention, with the ascendant Cards led by a rejuvenated and revitalized Kurt Warner running away with the NFC West division. Marcus Trufant was one of the best CBs (and DBs overall) in IDP leagues in 2007, but what a difference a year makes. He is getting far fewer playmaking opportunities with the changed fortunes of the offense, as QB Matt Hasselbeck has proven to be the one indispensable player on that side of the ball. Trufant's IDP struggles underscore the volatile nature of the CB position from year to year (unless the player is a perennial tackle machine, ala Antoine Winfield, allowing him to surmount the vagaries of week to week playmaking opps).
Wk. 10 Bye...
Wk. 10 Bye... It is a cliche that opportunity and scheme can trump talent in IDP, and the Redskins safety position is a case in point. Talented 2007 top 10 overall safety LaRon Landry is the most skilled member of the WAS secondary (and one of the defense's MVPs, along with MLB London Fletcher), yet his stats are chronically blunted by a primarily center fielder role. He has one half sack and 1 FF this season, and zero INTs so far in his career, so it isn't like he is making up for the lack of tackle opps by converting big plays. This is clearly a case of a player who is far more valuable in actual terms to his team than for IDP purposes. On the other hand, lightly regarded 2008 7th round safety Chris Horton is having a great year, and is creeping up in the standings for DROY (see below), behind only ILB Jerod Mayo and DE Chris Long. Both Landry and Horton had 4 solos, and the latter added a sack. Horton already has 3 INTs on the season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter
Top 10 DROY Candidates
- Jerod Mayo, ILB, NE, 1.10, Tennessee (6'1" 240)
45 Solo Tackles, 13 Assists, 1 FR & 1 PD (#32 LB Overall & Top Rookie LB)
- Chris Long, DE, STL, 1.02, Virginia (6'3" 265)
25 Solo Tackles, 8 Assist, 4 sacks & 1 FR (#20 DL Overall & Top Rookie DL)
- Chris Horton, SS, WAS, 7.42, UCLA (6'1" 210)
25 Solo Tackles, 8 Assists, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 1 FR & 4 PD (#20 DB & Top Rookie DB)
- Curtis Lofton, MLB, ATL, 2.06, Oklahoma (6'0" 250)
33 Solo Tackles, 11 Assists, 1 Sack & 1 FF (#46 Overall LB & 2nd Rookie LB)
- Brandon Flowers, CB, KC, 2.04, Virginia Tech (5'10", 190)
31 Solo Tackles, 6 Assists, 2 INTs, 1 FR, 6 PD & 1 TD (#29 DB Overall & 4th Rookie DB)
- Brandon Carr, CB, KC, 5.05, Grand Valley State (6'0" 205)
37 Solo Tackles, 2 Assist, 2 INT, 2 FR & 5 PD (#25 DB Overall & 2nd Rookie DB)
- Dwight Lowery, CB, NYJ, 4.14, San Jose State (5'11" 200)
37 Solo Tackles, 6 Assists, 2 FF & 9 PD (#28 DB Overall & 3rd Rookie DB)
- Antoine Cason, CB, SD, 1.27, Arizona (6'0" 190)
29 Solo Tackles, 2 Assist, 1 INT, 1 FF & 5 PD (#54 DB Overall & 5th Rookie DB)
- Kendall Langford, DE, MIA, 3.03, Hampton (6'6" 295)
12 Solo Tackles, 4 Assists, 2 Sacks & 2 PD (#106 DL Overall & 2nd Rookie DL)
- Lawrence Jackson, DE, SEA, 1.28, USC (6'4" 270)
12 Solo Tackles, 6 Assists & 2 Sacks (#110 DL Overall & 3rd Rookie DL)
Standing on the Verge...
- Kenny Phillips
- Tyrell "Nexus Seven Series" Johnson
- Glenn Dorsey
- Derrick Harvey
- Quentin Groves
- Jordon Dizon
- Sedrick Ellis
- Vernon Gholston
- Leodis McKelvin
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
- Dan Connor
- Shawn Crable
- Cliff Avril
- Philip Wheeler
- Beau Bell
- Xavier Adibi
- Phillip Merling
- Calais Campbell
- Jason Jones
- William Hayes
- Kentwan Balmer
- Trevor Laws
- DeJuan Morgan
- Charles Godfrey
- Tom Zbikowski
- Aqib Talib
- Mike Jenkins
- Terrence Wheatley
- Terrell Thomas
- Chevis Jackson
- Reggie Smith
- Antwaun Molden
- Tyvon Branch
Injured Reserve List
- Tracy Porter (Dislocated Wrist)
- Keith Rivers (Jaw broken in two places)
- Tavares Gooden (Hip injury)
This section will draw from and point back to preseason content, such as Spotlights, Face-offs, Value Play and Sleeper articles, Team Reports and Player Pages, as well as new content as in-season events dictate.
Darrelle Revis, CB, NYJ (from a Preseason Spotlight)
Revis has a lot going for him. He is a phenomenal athlete, extremely talented, has elite pedigree (1.14 - 2007) and proven pro production... a winning combination. He was the consensus top CB in the 2007 draft (above the slightly lower graded Leon Hall). Trading up was a gutsy call for the Jets (with multiple holes on both sides of the ball), but his play on the field vindicated the front office and coaching staff and made the move look prescient.
Revis has a very promising arc and trajectory to his career. He led his prep team to the state championship, scoring 5 TDs in the finals, and was also All-State in basketball, averaging 25 PPG his last two seasons. A Freshman All-American at Pitt, he concluded a stellar collegiate career as a semifinalist for the nations highest award for a DB, the Jim Thorpe trophy. His decision to leave school a year early was rewarded by being selected in the top half of the 1st round in 2007.
He has freakish measurables, including a 4.3 40 along with a stratospheric 38" vertical jump. Revis also has NFL bloodlines, and is the nephew of former DT Sean Gilbert. He has had the benefit of Gilbert's first hand experience to prepare him for each level of the process as he has matriculated from prep-college-pro success. All the stars seem to be lined up for a brilliant NFL career.
- Revis not only has formidable athleticism with elite measurables, but has shown the ability to translate them onto the football field, and is a willing and able tackler, who has proven rugged and hard-nosed in run support.
- If the offense improves as expected (high profile free agent OL Alan Faneca and Damien Woody were added), he could see more playmaking opps... and if QB struggle continue to hold the team back, that will translate to more snaps and tackle opps.
- The addition of upgrades at 3-4 OLB with Calvin Pace in free agency and Vernon Gholston (sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft) could pressure opposing QBs into coughing up a few more INTs over the course of the season.
- Revis is a playmaker with big time return skills who is extremely dangerous in the open field with the ball in his hands, and always a threat to take it to the house.
- Revis may not be picked on as much this season after proving himself in coverage
- He is clearly the top CB on the roster, increasing the chance opponents game plan around him in the passing game, and QBs steer away from him.
- If the Jets are significantly better on offense in 2008, it could limit the upside on his snaps.
- Revis is very early into his pro career, fell off statistically in his rookie 2007 season second half split and needs to prove he can withstand the rigors and physical pounding a CB active in run support is subjected to.
Despite all the prep and collegiate accolades, you never know how a prospect's skill set will translate to the next level, until the rubber hits the road. The elevation in competition due to the far superior speed, strength, athleticism and talent of the opposition is a withering test of not only a prospect's physical tools, but also intangibles such as football IQ and toughness, that separates the great from the mediocre.
Based on his incendiary NFL debut, it is safe to say Revis passed the test. He was top 10 in tackles (74 solos) and top 5 in PD (17) in 2007, and his 3 INTs were second among rookie CBs only to the nearly similarly gifted Hall. Coupling the arc and trajectory of his brilliant prep and collegiate career with his exceptional pro production could portend great things for this emerging talent and ascendant star. Last season's top 10 finish among CBs doesn't look like a fluke and if Revis continues to improve, he seems destined to become a Pro Bowl caliber CB.
For IDP purposes, his increased notoriety among opposing QBs as a feared playmaker may well lead to him being targeted less. However, his increased pro experience and acclimation to the massively greater speed and complexity at the next level may enable him to more fully unleash his ridiculous athleticism and ball skills, and enable him to do more with those playmaking opportunities he is afforded.
Thanks for reading Ear to the Ground. Any comments or questions are invited - Magaw@Footballguys.com.
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