Quality, Not Quantity of Targets Will Determine Success for Chicago Bears’ Alshon Jeffery in 2013

Jeffery has a great chance to translate his college success to the NFL level.

The congruency of a wide receiving corps is very important. As Calvin Johnson proved last year, no one player can make a passing attack. Having talented receivers is important, but having talented pieces that correctly complement each other is even more important. Even though the Chicago Bears’ off-season so far has focused on the other parts of the passing game, the quarterback and the offensive line, their receiving corps is shaping up to be a very impressive unit this year.

Tight End Martellus Bennett is the big-name addition to the group, while some of the off-season talk has been about the relegation of Devin Hester to being just a special teams player. Much of that has overshadowed the expected development of second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery who could have a key role in the 2013 passing offense.

Jeffery fits perfectly in the Bears’ offense because he has a different skill-set to Cutler’s other options. Bennett has signed to be a possession receiver and impact blocker, while Brandon Marshall is a do-it-all type of elite receiver. Matt Forte can make plays coming out of the backfield in the flat or as part of screen plays. The only thing missing is a deep threat.

A role that Jeffery was built to fill. Continue reading

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Pre Snap Read’s NFL Power Rankings 2013

Joe Flacco’s Baltimore Ravens finished atop the totem pole in 2012, but where are they entering 2013?

It’s the time of year when all things go quiet on the NFL front. Rookie minicamps are the only events that are actually taking place, and those aren’t televised like the NFL draft or combine. This is the time of year when we are no longer enjoying the meat of the NFL off-season, but we’re also not quite at the Pre-Season either.

Despite a handful of free agent additions that are expected to come after the June 1st cap casualties or maybe some training camp trades, the rosters are essentially set for the 2013 season. That means we have a good idea of what the year will look like and it’s as good a time as any to do power rankings. Continue reading

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Of Course Bill Belichick Hates Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow during one of his better days back in college…better is a relative term!

In the never-ending cycle of “news” that surrounds Tim Tebow, New England Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick’s name came up today. In this edition of Tebowtainment, Mike Silver of Yahoo pointed out that Belichick “hates” Tebow as a player and there is “no chance” that he would join the New England Patriots.

Now let’s be fair to both sides here. Let’s ignore the weird obsession that the world has with Tim Tebow and look at him solely as a potential quarterback addition. Let’s not take the media circus into account, let’s not look at his reputation or religion, let’s just look at Tim Tebow the player.

What is Tebow?

He is a quarterback who has started 14 games at the quarterback position over his three year career. He has attempted 361 passes and completed 173 of those for a 47.9 completion percentage and 2,422 yards. Despite that low completion percentage, he has a respectable 17 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. When you consider his rushing ability, Tebow adds another 12 touchdowns and 14 fumbles to his totals, which still makes for a decent stat-line.

Yet, the real issue with Tebow is his inability to carry an offense with his arm. During his 11 game stretch as the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2011, also known as Tebow-Time, the then 24-year-old quarterback only managed 1,729 yards through the air, just 157.18 yards per game and 6.38 per attempt. As clutch as he was at the end of games, Tebow’s offensive output was underwhelming to say the least.

His team was only in games late that year because of the performances of a defense that drastically improved from the first week to the last. The Broncos’ running-game did wear down defenses to make scoring easier in the fourth quarter, something that Tebow was a big part of, but games with final points totals of 3, 14, 23, 13, 35, 16, 17, 17, 38, 10 and 18 are not enough to justify him being a starting quarterback. Continue reading

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Continuity, Maturity and Culture: The St. Louis Rams’ Three Steps to Success

Cortland Finnegan has played a big role in a short time for the St. Louis Rams.

Since 2003, the St. Louis Rams have a record of 44-99-1 without a single winning-season or playoff berth to boast about. Six head coaches in total, including interim coaches, have failed to overcome the first hurdle on the way to a second Super Bowl victory since 1999. The Rams quickly went from the greatest show on turf to being one of the worst teams in the league, and now they look set to finally drag themselves out of that whole.

Jake Long, Jared Cook, Alec Ogletree, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy, Tavon Austin. We have all heard about the new faces who are expected to elevate the Rams back to relevance, but like any team, the contributions of every player who sees the field will be pivotal.

The Rams have their obvious weaknesses on paper, they need someone to claim the left guard position as their own, Rodger Saffold needs to transition quickly to right tackle, a free agent safety or two could still arrive. However, Jeff Fisher has made a concentrated effort to develop a culture of winning where young players can flourish since he arrived last off-season.

It’s not easy to explain on paper, but if you watch the Rams of 2011 and compare them to the Rams of 2012, there is clearly something different that goes further than individual talent.

Every player on the field played with an aggression and passion that portrayed them as confident in their own abilities, those traits were previously non-existent as the team respected their opposition too much to the point of fearing them. A big reason for that was the addition of Cortland Finnegan from the Tennessee Titans. Finnegan had played under Fisher for six years. He had always been a fiery character, but as his career developed he turned from fighting Andre Johnson on the field to using that aggression to set a positive tone for the Titans. Continue reading

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Free Agent Max Starks Could Solidify San Diego Chargers’ Offensive Line

Max Starks could be the Chargers’ answer at left tackle.

Pittsburgh Steelers free agent offensive tackle Max Starks is visiting with the San Diego Chargers this week. This comes as no surprise, because Starks is a proven left tackle, which is a position of major need for Mike McCoy’s team.

Should Starks sign with the Chargers, he will be reuniting with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt became the offensive coordinator of the Steelers the same year that the franchise selected Starks in the third round of the draft, 2004.

Starks initially played on the right-side of the offensive line and started there during the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks in 2005. With Marvel Smith still protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside until 2008, Starks would be forced to wait his turn to move to his more natural position.

Once he found his way to the left side however, Starks immediately looked more comfortable as primarily a pass-blocker rather than an impact run-blocking offensive lineman. Starks would start his second Super Bowl in 2008, but this time he would be protecting Roethlisberger’s blindside. Starks would be Roethlisberger’s blindside protector from then until this most recent season. Filling that role is difficult for any team, but filling that role for Roethlisberger is a thankless task. Continue reading

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Christian Ponder and Minnesota Vikings are Two Pieces From Different Puzzles

Christian Ponder could smile more often in a different situation.

With records for single-season receiving yards, passing yards, receiving touchdowns and passing touchdowns all being set within the last decade, the NFL has evolved into a league that is dominated by passing games. More importantly, the quarterback position has been elevated from a very important position to one that is crucial for success.

In spite of that, 2013 will likely be remembered for one specific running-back opposed to any passer. Adrian Peterson’s unprecedented season saw him crack 2,000 yards rushing only 12 months or so after tearing his ACL on the field. Peterson averaged 6.0 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns as he carried the Vikings into the post-season.

However, despite his best efforts in the post-season, the Vikings went one and done and only just made it into the playoffs as a wildcard team. It was somewhat telling that Peterson couldn’t carry his Vikings past the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback in the league. The simplistic view is that the value of a historic running-back is nowhere near the value of the best quarterback of a single-season, but that is an unfair assessment to make.

While you are always going to be in a better position with an elite quarterback over an elite running-back, Peterson’s situation compared to any other elite quarterback’s was completely different. While Rodgers had a plethora of weapons at his disposal and an effective at times running-game, Peterson was in close to the worst possible situation.

He did have a decent offensive line and a good blocking tight end, but neither of those things could make up for the dysfunctional offense that was his supporting cast. The Vikings have built a counterproductive passing game to complement Peterson’s running ability. Christian Ponder is a weak-armed quarterback with decent athleticism and excellent intelligence. However, the Vikings play a scheme that needs a strong arm to fully prosper and doesn’t need great levels of intelligence. Continue reading

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San Francisco 49ers: Longevity, Youth and What Could Cost them a Return to the Super Bowl

Colin Kaepernick has only started 10 games in his career.

The San Francisco 49ers were just a handful of plays away from winning the Super Bowl last season. Had Michael Crabtree and Colin Kaepernick connected on that goal-line pass into the endzone late in the fourth quarter, the Baltimore Ravens would have been forced to find a late score to prevent Jim Harbaugh from landing the first family Super Bowl ring.

Instead, John Harbaugh took that honor and the 49ers were forced back to work during the off-season to try and take another step forward in their development.

Boy, did they do it.

Because Colin Kaepernick announced himself as a starting quarterback during his rookie season, Alex Smith was jettisoned to the Kansas City Chiefs for an expensive price. Not only did the 49ers’ add to their already crowded chest of draft picks, but they also freed up the cap-space to bring in Anquan Boldin, Colt McCoy, Glenn Dorsey, Nnamdi Asomugha and Phil Dawson amongst other veterans. Once you add in rookies Quinton Patton, Vance McDonald, Marcus Lattimore, Quinton Dial, Corey Lemonier, Tank Carradine and Eric Reid, and not to mention a class from last year that is still developing, you create one of the most talented rosters in the league.

Yet, just like every other team in the league, the 49ers have some notable question-marks that will only be answered once the season begins. Continue reading

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Seattle Seahawks: Character, Chemistry, Leadership and What Will Send Them to the Super Bowl

Russell Wilson’s reputation will reset after his rookie season

After an off-season full of excitement and unexpected additions, it’s fair, although a little bold, to call the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl favourites right now. They are by no means clear favorites. With Tom Brady’s New England Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos setting the standard for the AFC, there will be no easy Super Bowl matchup for the Seahawks if they come out on top in the NFC, the presumed better conference that has watched it’s top teams look to one-up each other at every point of this off-season in some supercharged arms-race.

On paper, the Seahawks are as good as anyone when healthy. But of course, football is played on a field, not on paper.

Only in Madden does the best team always win. Too many other factors exist in real life. From health, consistency and leadership to simply creating a locker-room with the right mixture of personalities to guide 53+ men through the turmoils and tasks of a 19 or 20 game season. Health and consistency are the easiest aspects of football to write about from the outside-looking-in, because those are the two aspects that are easily identified and on show every season. By now people expect Tony Romo to fail when the lights are brightest, while Eli Manning has shown that he steps up when his team needs him in the biggest moments.

Identifying leadership and chemistry is less enticing because it is analyzed through a cloudier window.

Understanding that Titus Young, the former Detroit Lions’ wide receiver who was released from his rookie contract for disobeying direct orders on the field and was then subsequently arrested twice in 24 hours, is less likely to be a good leader than a Tom Brady is obvious, but projecting how a person can develop into a leader is next to impossible because we don’t really know their characters. Right now it looks like Young’s career is over, but there are many times when Adam ‘formerly Pacman’ Jones looked to be in the same position, before he became an important role player for the Cincinnati Bengals. Whereas Tom Brady is seen as a great leader because of his passion and guidance, yet when Jay Cutler shows off his passion to his teammates he is guaranteed to be ridiculed. Continue reading

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AFC West: Each Team’s Greatest Weakness

Alex Smith cost too much, but he shouldn’t be a weakness for the Chiefs.

Peyton Manning’s arrival in the AFC West last year was as predictable as everyone imagined it would be. The Denver Broncos easily swept past the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers for the division crown and a place in the playoffs. While the Raiders look to be falling further behind as salary cap problems handicapped their movements again this off-season, the Chiefs and Chargers have made moves to try and catch up.

Both teams have installed new coaching staffs. Coaching was a major problem for both the Chargers and Chiefs last year, but it was only a part of the whole puzzle. Much like the off-season changes were just a part of the whole effort for the off-season.

AFC North Edition
NFC North Edition
AFC East Edition
NFC East Edition Continue reading

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Ranking the Remaining NFL Free Agents

John Abraham has little to celebrate right now.

At this stage of the NFL off-season, free agency is winding down towards the final players who are in the market for a new team. Even though all the superstars of the open market now have new teams, there are still many players who can make NFL final rosters available and more importantly players who can contribute on a competitive team.

For a variety of reasons these players are not signed. Some may be waiting for the right fit. Some may be holding out for the best offer they can find before training camp. Others may have deals in place that can only be pushed through after June 1st, when some teams will get more cap space. Regardless of why they’re free, each of these free agents could potentially be worth adding in the right situation. Continue reading

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