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Monday, March 31, 2014

More Ramsdell

This whole John Ramsdell thing is growing a bit in esteem, it seems.  Still nothing from the team, but the Observer at least tweeted it when shown.

Nonetheless, outside the initial impact, it does, of course, give contingency to Mike Shula.  That's not to say that the team intends to create some level of planned obsolescence with Shula, they want to give him the tools to succeed.

Coincidentally, if Shula doesn't quite fit, they'll have an intact staff and an obvious heir to the job.

It's very much the same situation as Steve Wilks, a favorite of this blog who worked wonders with scraps (some of which are now very highly paid scraps).  Wilks was, at the very least, very highly sought by Carolina, and rumors had him not as DBs coach in 2011 when sought, but DC.  Wilks wasn't allowed to leave, Sean McDermott was literally handed to Rivera by Andy Reid (that move, of course, doesn't get quite enough props for Reid being classy about it), they stuff Ron Meeks in there for a year (coincidentally, to do his worst coaching job in years).

I have no doubt that Rivera wanted McDermott to work, just as he undoubtedly would've preferred Rob Chudzinski stay. But, he had Shula on deck.

So, is Ramsdell on deck?

As it is, the mysterious "Senior Offensive Assistant" is not third tier assistant role.  Ramsdell won't exactly be Proehl's lackey, learning the ropes.  That's a special operations role, one that gives him a separate tie to Shula from the position coaches.

It'll be interesting.  I, for one, don't want Shula to fail, and I don't think anyone does.  But confidence wavers, and it's nice to see an on-staff choice for succession should it be required.   Just as they have with Wilks.  In the meantime, Shula has a veteran to advise him, to bounce ideas off, to help him succeed.


I'd neglected to notice on first sight that Ramsdell, who I identified with the Rams and Chargers, had Rams ties here.  John Matsko was the line coach on the Greatest Show on Turf; Ramsdell its QBs coach.  WRs coach Ricky Proehl, of course, was a slot receiver there for five years.  Those teams, like the Chargers teams (where he worked with Rivera, Wilks, Chudzinski, and so on), are Coryell.



Now, as far as the staff goes, it's hard to say that any further change will happen.  I do prefer they hire another intern-type coach for an Assistant WR coach role (remember, in '11, they had Fred Graves and Ricky Proehl coaching WRs, and Scott Turner was a defacto WR coach too, as offensive assistant).  I still believe in an assistant DBs coach role (and far as I can tell, Bobby Babich - who was with the team '11-12, and then assistant DBs with Chud in the Browns debacle - is available again) under Wilks, and the last two years have been the first in forever I can't remember the team having two DBs coaches.  Who knows, they might have signed one or the other, and no one's noticed yet.

Otherwise, that closes the book on the staff portion of the 2014 Panthers (though, post-playoff loss, Rivera said no staff changes would be made, and here we are, having added a 20+ year veteran in a mysterious new title).  If the team was creating new roles, consider that Chudzinski himself is now with Indy in a similar sounding "special assistant to the head coach" ambiguity.

Lance Taylor Gone - John Ramsdell In?

Carolina's not always incredible about how it announces assistants moving in and out.  For instance, Ricky Proehl moved from consultant to assistant WRs coach through the 2012 offseason - not that big a deal.  They never really mentioned assistant Bobby Babich as an assistant until he left for Cleveland.  They threw Passing Defense Coordinator on Steve Wilks' title after announcing him as a position coach.

So, I didn't know Assistant WRs coach Lance Taylor had left for Stanford (RBs coach).  Saw it on Ricky Proehl's twitter.  Figuring maybe they hired a new assistant, I looked at the roster of coaches, saw a new assistant strength coach I didn't notice, says he's been here since last year.  That's fairly boring.

But John Ramsdell?  That's massive.  There's no announcement whatsoever.

Ramsdell was a fixture on the Dick Vermiel/Mike Martz/Al Saunders offenses for the Rams (no relation [sorry]).  He was on the Norv Turner/Rob Chudzinski led Chargers.  He was, honestly, my first choice for OC here. Chudzinski was available, because he didn't have a contract.  I don't know if Rivera would've preferred one over the other.

Ramsdell provided the position coaching for Kurt Warner and Phillip Rivers when both hit it big.  He's not solely responsible, but it helps.  Ramsdell provides a veteran assistant on the passing game side to counter some of the heavy hitting pro experience in the running game at OL and RB coaching; he'll have to have a positive impact on the passing game, not unlike the bizarre addition of ace ST coach Bruce DeHaven helped Carolina's special teams.

That said, consider that Ramsdell was a part of the Greatest Show on Turf and yet under Turner, he and Chudzinski didn't have much say in making the Chargers a longball offense.  My suggestion that Ramsdell will help, should make the team better at what it wants to do, control the ball.

He's now on the team site, with no info behind it (so, no link there).  He brings a wealth of knowledge with quarterbacks and our system.  I'm excited for this move, if they ever get around to showing it.

Around The Draft: Austin Seferian-Jenkins

60 Prospects.  60 Days.  The toll is ...well it's not bad, but life gets in the way.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6'6, 265) started the offseason as potentially the best TE in the draft, and now he's slid past the 28 pick into, at times, the late 40s.  A physical and gifted receiver, he's chosen to have surgery on his foot after he was medically not cleared to participate in the combine, which has caused him to take a near-freefall.

So, the classic way of handling Seferian-Jenkins is via tape. He won't be able to workout.  With that and his other issue (a DUI before the start of the year, Seferian-Jenkins was involved in a single car accident after being more than twice the legal limit in Washington), he's a variable - a wild-card.  He won the Mackey Award in '13 after an even better 2012, so it's not unrealistic that he came out as a Junior.

So the positives on tape are great.  He's a massive but reliable receiver who finds the holes in zones regularly, a natural fit for the Coryell offense.  He looks the part, he has good enough athleticism for his size, and he has good hands.  His routes are good.

The negatives, injury and questionable decision making off the field aside (and you could argue both of those are single data points), are what I'd call nit-picky. They're the difference between being an above average starter and a star, on paper.  He doesn't have elite deep speed, and it doesn't help him that he hasn't been able to quantify that in workouts.  He's massive, but he could be a better blocker and a little more physical a receiver.  He's a high-ceiling player, though.  Not every good TE runs a 4.5 and played basketball a good deal in college (though a lot of those players have excelled in this offense).


Another wild-card, Seferian-Jenkins' surgery was in North Carolina.  There's no statement that it was Dr. James Andrews, Carolina's physician who also happens to be among the greatest of his peers in football surgery, however.  Andrews isn't afraid of the press by a long shot, so it feels like it would've been publicized if so.

That surgery was at the end of February, expected to sideline him 8 weeks.  So his workouts, if he's ready in two weeks to workout, would be on the eve of the draft.  At best, he's somewhat unknown as far as his measurables.  Who knows what you're getting?

I've suggested in the past that a TE pick is very possible.  It was last year with Tyler Eifert.  In this system, the TE has a lot of potential; and in this ball control type O, two guys on the field that can block or go out for a pass?  Pretty delightful.  I don't argue that the offense has been lost without Jeremy Shockey, by any means.  I think Greg Olsen by himself is enough, and that for the money put out, the team probably benefits more from that individual player getting a lot of balls versus splitting them with another player.  That player, who could be Seferian-Jenkins, could let Olsen play more moving around, to the better for Olsen.

But, Olsen is missing that counterpart, to a point, the shorter receiver that lets him get deeper.  And, the team finds value in that blocking TE.  The team needs other things - OT, WR obviously, just on offense.  If Seferian-Jenkins is the best player, however, I can see a value in that.  It's not just OT or WR they're trying to improve, it's the entire offense.  To do that, you have to take the best value.  Hopefully, it's a steal at 60, if he's here.  That would be a real positive.  At 28, I can't see it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Around The Draft: Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks

It's called "around the draft" because it was around 60 days.  My once a day situation has started to fail me again since Friday, so it might or might not be time for another clump of these.

I'm throwing out two guys that traditional wisdom has slowly falling toward this 28 pick, possibly. Two receivers.  I'll compare and contrast at the end. 


Brandin Cooks, 5'10, 186 from Oregon State is a blazing receiver (4.33 at combine) who makes me miss Al Davis. 

He's all the things you want athletically - fast, quick, good balance - and while he was very productive in college, he's lacking all the other parts of physicality - strength, physicality, large catching radius, large hands.  He could struggle with the chuck at the line and against man coverage.

Consequently, yeah, he can play the slot. He might find a utility there the way that teams have attempted to use Percy Harvin and Tavon Austin in non-traditional slot roles.  It's tougher to scheme against a guy like that inside.  However, the inside tends to be a place for physical guys (the above two are exceptions).  

So, the question is, when Cooks becomes a guy who requires attention, what happens when the corner is on him, and the safety trails?  Do you pick up Cooks to be the 2nd guy, the guy who gets the screens setup and the punt returner part of him picks up all the RAC he can? 

On the other end, I have Odell Beckham.  
Not that physically different at 5'11, 190, he's somewhat weak but comparatively, there's some feeling Beckham can get stronger.  4.43 gives him a full tenth slower, but still fast.  His breaks, just as fast.  Not as explosive, but not by as much - and more polished.  He's had to beat the jam - in the SEC - and can.  

He's going to get out-muscled at times, and his routes can be a little better.  But he seems to have the bigger details covered.  He's the more classic #2 guy.  He might be a guy who can flourish in both the outside role and play the slot, if he gets the smaller details covered. 

Neither guy is ideal, and yet both have more talent than anyone on the team at their position.  I could see either guy taking on a heavy role, stretching the field a bit while Jerricho Cotchery takes the hard yards shorter.  Either guy could add some flavor to the offense the way that Steve Smith did to the boring offenses he played under for most of his career, sure.  

Whether you're looking for a guy that can do it all or just a guy that can do more than the team currently can, these guys can fit.  I do wonder if either player, lacking more size, can be everything for a team.  Would a player 3" taller, with a lot more physicality, be the guy to carry this team's passing game instead?  You could argue this offense can do more with two big men than with two streaking receivers, in its grind-out, ball control style. 



I'm not trying to stretch too hard to fit these guys in. Either, along with Marquise Lee and Kelvin Benjamin, are guys who could go high as 12 or so, or late as 40.  You never really know.  I could limit it down to the guys I think would be there, but who knows how that'll work.  

I know that, a deep draft at WR notwithstanding, more teams are running 3WR and the spread won't make that go away.  I know I've seen plenty of times where a "deep" draft at a position plus a need can often mean less talent available, rather than more.  So all of those guys could be gone, too.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

A BPA Exercise In Four Parts


SO Carolina’s been crowing about its best player philosophy.  So, I’m pulling a few draft lists and taking the player that’s listed at that position for the team.   It’s not completely realistic, and would assume that Carolina’s rankings are these random sites’ rankings, but if those are the best players available?  Let’s see what happens.   Of course, since these are the ratings, we’re assuming Carolina would not bump any players higher for being at a need position, which damages some of the integrity of the BPA process.

 
http://gbnreport.com/top100.html

28.  Jason Verrett, CB, TCU – Interesting.  Definitely a need.  Not the ideal length guy Rivera likes (and yes, it’s weird to keep saying that, if anyone has a better way of putting that, let me know), but would really improve the back end of the defense.  Based on need and availability, you’d be pulling #33 Kelvin Benjamin or 36 Cyrus Kouandijo, both of which are rated lower (obviously) and have some issues.

60.  Donte Moncrief, WR, Miss – I like it.  Fits.  Getting lucky in this draft.  Moncrief is a very talented player who fits a need, luckily.  
Based on need/availability you’d be picking Billy Turner at OT at 67 or picking between Paul Richardson (65) ad Jarvis Landry (69).  All are good prospects.

92.  Terrance Mitchell, CB – a double dip?  I don’t know if they’d do that. It’s not that they have a wealth of longterm CBs.   Some sites have him far lower than this, but again we’re assuming this is the value. Mitchell isn’t a top athlete (4.63) for his size (5’11, 190), he’s a good football player more than a good corner.
*If you want to set aside CB as having been picked, which seems against BPA, you would go with Ed Reynolds, FS.  Good size, not great speed, but satisfactory.  Good overall player.
*The need pick here would be Bruce Ellington, WR if you’re still in need there, the next tackle is the iffy Seantrel Henderson or the (very minor) gamble on James Hurst.

 

The BPA idea got you, cumulatively 15-25 spots worth of better player.   It happened such that you got need players, but no OTs – and in each round the OTs were the outlier on talent deficit, not the closer, so they’re the cumulative 25 or so.

CBS 
http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/prospectrankings/2014/all

 28.  Ryan Shazier, OLB – well, here’s where that can get in your head.  Shazier is a need in no way whatsoever.  Thomas Davis should be here through the end of ’15.  AJ Klein seems more than suited to handle duties if he’s gone, though after the year they might slide him over to cover for Chase Blackburn.  This is, from a need standpoint, a very small amount of snaps upgraded if at all.  Shazier is smaller and thinner than any of our current LBs, and not mroe athletic.  He fits, he’s a high motor tackling machine.   Maybe you make him lose 15 lbs and make him a safety?  I don’t know.
*From a need standpoint, Jason Verrett (30) kinda fits, you have Kelvin Benjamin and Allen Robinson (32, 34), Cyrus Kouandijo.  You’re losing cumulatively more value with more ‘needy’ areas (I’d rate OT, WR, and CB in that order).

 60. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB – yeah, no thanks!  I’ll admit.  I don’t have much need to scout QBs and Garoppolo is not a guy I know.  Reading him, he sounds like Jimmy Clausen – not the theoretical one that sounded like Tom Brady before the draft, but the one we actually got.   Cerebral, but happy feet, low measurables guy that projects to be successful anyway sort of guy.  Even without picking on Garoppolo, this isn’t a good pick if it were to happen.  At minimum, you don’t need him, and immediately the buzz becomes “is Newton’s ankle worse than anticipated?  Does Carolina not want to keep Newton?  Is Newton an attitude problem?” At minimum, you don’t need that.  You probably have that with the already-awful idea of Tajh Boyd as a 3rd rounder, much less this.
 
*Set aside the QB pick, and the next guy is Paul Richardson.  Fast, but a good route runner, makes a lot of sense as a guy who’ll make money on the intermediate routes but could still go deep and make you pay.  I will break down Richardson more in the future. 
*Need based, if not WR (which is a need), Paul Mewhort is a decent OT at the next pick, so need and BPA have really converged.  QB nonsense aside.

 

92. Yawin Smallwood, ILB – let’s just set this aside.  Team doesn’t need an ILB.  I won’t entertain that.  Behind that’s an OLB, almost as silly, see above, but in the third I guess I could deal with Christian Kirksey.  Gap integrity is an issue schematically if I want to get out of this pick.  He’s not an upgrade so he’s not the best player, you could say.

*Need alternative is Keith McGill, an ideally large corner I may have broken down already.  They could use Anthony Johnson as a NT if that’s the “outside the box BPA” you want.  Joel Bitonio at 96 is a solid need alternative.

Overall?   A bit of a distater without exceptions (the team drafting two linebackers and a quarterback would be a fantastically bad idea).  Even drafting a RB would make more sense, just from an eventual phasing out situation. 
If you set aside two of them, you get OLB, WR, CB, fair enough but still bad.  You get a premium paid for need but not that much (you’d be getting Verrett/Richardson/Bitonio at no more than ten points total off your position).

________________________________________________________________
 

Nfl.com by grade:
I’m assuming that’s 25 per page, so I could even have the numbers wrong.

 
28. Louis Nix, NT – you could argue this.  DTs aren’t cheap.  We need a run stopper, which gives the other guys more rest, you continue to control the line of scrimmage.   From a snap standpoint, a situational DT might “start” but might pull 40% of snaps or less in this lineup.

From need, Darqueze Dennard is a better value in traditional thought (do consider, we’re assuming that this is their rankings).   Odell Beckham, Braodin Cooks, and Donte Moncrief are all very interesting flavors of WR.  You can’t get past Cyrus Kouandijo being a bad value pick and the highest rated OT all at the same time.  A Darqueze Dennard pick keeps alive the Darqueze/Louchiez Purifoy pairing alive from the sheer standpoint of making it tough to call roll at the CB meetings.

60.  Anthony Johnson, DT – oh, OK, another DT.  Maybe not?  I mean you’d have to have the actual space to fit two more young DTs.  You can’t play all four enough to fully get the value.  

If you want to set aside that pick you get another DT!  Awesome.  Then an OLB.  Then a SS, and an ILB.  So you’re setting aside a lot of picks to get to something that looks respectable.  For need?  You reach a bit and get Bitonio 12 picks later, or

92. Terrance West, RB – I hear the groan.  You’re right, to a point.  But I could defend this.  Jonathan Stewart didn’t have a great year last year, Deangelo Williams isn’t getting younger, Mike Tolbert can only carry it so much, this is strength on strength.  He’s the type of backup you need in a somewhat boring offense predicated on the run.  You could see Zac Stacy in him, and that brought the Rams to some level of respectability.

For need, Kyle Fuller is an excellent value, James Hurst would be a great way of filling a need.   I like both those options. 

 
Overall?  This is a freaking mess. Two DTs and a RB wouldn’t really help much.  Upside, you’re probably saving $1.2 million on Dwan Edwards, but that’s about it.  You can’t cut or trade any of your RBs.  In this case, not only because the BPAs have limited time on the field, but because the need players all fell very close, need fits better.
 
_______________________________________________________________
Scout.com:

 
28. Cyrus Kouandijo, OT – fair enough.  It had to happen.  He has some upside. And hey, need = BPA!  So I can move on.

60. Jimmie Ward, S – fair enough. I’m not that familiar, though he seems OK value.  Some have him at SS, some at free, here he’d seem to be a free.  Could be a one year nickel as needed, has experience there.  Seems like a good football player overall, not just in coverage, but size isn’t great and his 9 reps on the bench are not ideal.  Versatility, in a way, covers both FS and nickel corner needs.   Need somewhat = BPA?  You could argue Jarvis Landry fits a larger need at WR and could play the slot (a hole in the current lineup).

92. Robert Herron, WR – would add a deep threat of sorts.  Good speed, short (5’9).  I like Bruce Ellington for this sort of thing more.  Herron is stronger (18x225 bench is exceptional for a 190 lb receiver), and both are good options.   Need = BPA?  If you stick with the two BPA picks above, you fill both here, if you went Landry, the need pick might be Keith McGill.

 
Overall?  Essentially ideal BPA/Need pairings.  I have some issues with Kouandijo but if his knee ends up good?  He’s a mid-first rounder falling to Carolina.  If not, of course, he’s Jeff Otah and you don’t improve if you don’t know what you reliably have.

So, four options and four different outcomes, of course.  Two of them worked relatively well and definitely upgrade, two were a massive disaster unless you completely choose not to pick a few positions. 

A Quick Quality Question********

Sometimes, the way that I interact with the Blogger platform is
different from directly interacting with it. That allows me more time
and freedom to deal with what I'm thinking, and that's where I'm able to
post multiple times a day instead of going a week before I have to throw
something at the wall in hopes of covering something (like when I
completely and unwittingly ignored that we signed TE Mike McNeill).

So - apparently the long and short of it is, outside the Blogger
interface, the margins don't match.

*Does that bother you, the reader?
*if so, is it worth not reading?

I'll also accept "don't care" or "just stop posting" too. Your call.

Keeping Strengths Strong: Offense

Carolina's flown the banner of keeping strengths strong often in the
past year - when talking about throwing two DTs on the pile last year,
adding linebackers. When it came to keeping Greg Hardy, once they had
the deed to him for the year, it was a heavy dose of the same.

Offensively, I see that trend. I still don't like Ron Rivera's
insistence that they only need to replace 10 receptions, but I get
that's what they feel they need. They won't suddenly become a team
chucking the ball 40 times again. The offense last year wasn't good
enough, but it was the style of offense that worked best for the team.
If you have 20 WR targets or less, does a massive investment at WR make
as much sense? Or do you want guys who play those roles with high
efficiency?

So far, they've gotten two receivers with good hands. Guys that, in
that respect, will make the most of their opportunity. It's very
similar to their philosophy at DB, where they've gotten good,
inexpensive players at the cost of longevity. While keeping the strong
parts strong.

So with WR not being "the strength", obviously the run game is.

I don't believe in the idea of "this means this" when it comes to what
decision they'll make in the draft. But, from an overall standpoint,
keeping their strength strong means they need a lineman.

Garry Williams and Nate Chandler can play RT, I guess, if that's what
they're banking on, but I don't know if that makes the running game
stronger. So, crystal ball, that's what seems like the smart move right
now, if considering the strengths. They need good blocking for the run
game, and set up the pass from that. That's where they could use a
massive tackle in the first two rounds.

On the other hand, looking at the efficient, smart, make the best use of
your opportunities style WR (and they need another), you could argue
that Jordan Matthews makes a lot of sense, too. None of this matters-
they seem very stuck in the Best Player Available mode, and that's not a
bad way to go. Coincidentally, the strongest spots in the draft? WR
and OT.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Around The Draft: LaMarcus Joyner

The next of 60 prospects I'm detailing in the draft process (60 days, 60
prospects, late first to late third) is Florida State CB Lamarcus
Joyner. I wanted to counterpoint small-school Pierre Desir with a
bigger name prospect with some physical limitations, and Joyner at first
sight is that guy.

He's 5'8. And yeah, we just lost a guy with that height.

That seems to be about where the problems start and end - he's just
short. I see him rated mid-2nd but I feel like he's a guy that will
fall. Just for that reason.

As a football player, Joyner is top notch. He covers well, he hits
hard, he tackles. He's aggressive, and if you don't reign that in, that
can be a bit problematic. But you'll get a guy who goes full speed the
whole time.

Since he has experience inside and outside, and at safety, there's
debate over where he should fit. Not in my opinion - he's a corner, it
just depends on the scheme. In Tampa 2, he's an outside guy, and it's
not that he can't be here, either. He's got physicality to play the
outside, and he tackles the way he needs to tackle. He, you would
assume, can blitz. I see him as a nickelback here because Carolina
only has outside guys. Nickel is one of their two defensive holes right
now.

So, that's where he fits for now. He's a guy who could earn a starting
role like Captain Munnerlyn did. He's going to give you everything the
way that Munnerlyn and Steve Smith did, and he can move around as you
need. I think this is a great fit that I'd love to see in the third.
Some sites have him as high as late 2nd, and that's not undeserved. But
as teams get to him on their board, I do feel like he'll fall because of
height.

Whoever picks him won't regret it. Not that they will with Desir, the
guy I just talked about moments ago, but Joyner seems like a ready out
of the box, plug and play corner.

Around The Draft: Pierre Desir

CB Pierre Desir is the latest in line for the 60 prospects I'm
attempting to break down in the 60 days before the NFL draft. The group
ideally comes from guys rated between 25 and 85, preferably at need
positions. I'm two behind at this point and will attempt to catch up a
bit today with at least another one.

So, Desir.

The hard part of breaking down prospects at times is you want to have
some knowledge of the prospect's past with your own eyes. If you're
familiar with Division II Lindenwood (I don't even know if 'college' or
'university' is their preferred moniker), you're far more thorough than
I am. I really have no clue how guys like this get found. I'm learning
about him as I go, right now. I have nothing to add to it, so I'm
really just telling you what I'm learning from reports I trust enough to
repeat.

Obviously, with a small school prospect, you get various things. I'm
going to generalize, but Desir fits it. Clearly, to get noticed from
that level, he has a physical stature that's NFL ready, and in this
case, you're talking 6'1, 200. He stood out at low levels of
competition. He has natural instincts and has gotten by so far with
mostly his abilities, and needs some coaching.

He ran 4.59 at combine, which isn't exceptional, but the DBs don't run
as fast as the WRs at pretty much any combine and cumulatively you don't
see 30 bombs a game, every game. He has a good chuck, though I'm
reading his natural physicality meant he didn't have to extend into it
at school, so when he had to do that in the Senior Bowl, he struggled
with the quickest guys. Similarly, there's a suggestion that, since he
played man technique in college, that his run fills aren't great because
he stays with his man. It's hard to say, then, if he's as willing a
tackler.

He appears on first sight as the type of outside corner that Ron Rivera
likes - long, physical - but he's got some technique stuff to work on,
he's not physically as strong or as topped out as he could be, and he'd
have to prove he's a willing run defender. I don't know if I see him
playing the slot role, either.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cam and the 5th Year Option

Carolina has until May 3 of this year to exercise a potential fifth year
on Cam Newton's contract, which essentially means a franchise-type year.

At league meetings, GM Dave Gettleman stated he would likely use that
option.

There's still a chance the team would sign a long term deal, but for
right now, there's not a lot of money. The big money starts to slide
off after '15, which is when Newton would be a free agent.

In the meantime, Newton has some security, and Carolina gets him cheaply
this year (his final year of being inexpensive) to make it through 2014
with other bills pending.


This isn't huge news, but gives Carolina's timetable on things. The
risk is, if some of his contemporaries sign before he does (Andrew Luck
is the greatest value, though you could see teams overpay for keeping a
guy like Colin Kaepernick), contract values will keep going up. What
might cost, say, $17 million a year now, might escalate a bit by then.
So there is some concern the long game on Newton's contract will cost
them in the end.

Buffalo

I'm sad for the Bills tonight.

It hurt to watch them, as a young man, have almost a decade of massive success only to see it capped off by four consecutive Super Bowl losses.  I started out a Bills and 9ers fan, both bits of birthright that would give way to the eventually successful transplant or two.

It didn't hurt that the '95 Panthers, the first team I truly followed every second in offseason as well as season, had a ton of Bills.

Losing Ralph Wilson has to be crushing.  Only days before that, I saw Jim Kelly's cancer is spreading (talking about hitting home, we've been lucky in my home regarding that vile word, but nothing is ever really lucky with it).  Their best.  Their history.  Time is undefeated, isn't it?

It's a tough day for Buffalo.

And I won't have any choice but to watch Buffalo's franchise, and both wonder and worry about Jerry Richardson.  Wonder what's in store for this particular brand of laundry I'm rooting for.

There were details to the day, ouija boards to read from the GM's comments about our QB, our one real tackle, our FS, and so on.  Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ongoing Needs Analysis

Carolina finally made some positive gains in free agency at low cost
last week. The process is certainly not over, but here's where I
believe the team sits, along with a ranking of pickups.


1. Antoine Cason - this cornerback is my favorite pickup so far.
Certainly, not being a starter last year didn't help his stock, and
Carolina pounced on that; they've found a starting caliber player for
under $800,000 and he gives the team something to work with.

2. Jerricho Cotchery - for what the team does, Cotchery might be a
better fit than most of the players around last year. He's an
intermediate threat and a short-yardage guy.

3. Roman Harper - he's what they aimed to have in Mike Mitchell last
year. Certainly, Mitchell ended up somehow going from meathead SS to a
big but rangy FS and looked great doing it, but a lot of that was in
coaching and the front seven. I feel like some of Harper's concerns
will go away behind this front, too, and he might be that attitude guy
back there, the way Mitchell was. Adds legitimacy to the secondary that
wasn't there last year, though I don't think they'll get statistically
out of him what they did from Mitchell.

4. Tiquan Underwood - I don't know how much this deep threat will end
up being used - they got something out of Ted Ginn deep but he was more
an up the seam guy at times than a 40 up and 5 from the sideline deep
guy. The pairing of Cam Newton and the safe teachings of Mike Shula
have kept things from being turnover happy, bur they'll have to put up
more deep balls if they want to take advantage of Underwood's speed.
The screen game is another place he'll make some things happen, but that
hasn't been the most repeatable part of the packaged play concept.

5. Mike McNeill - this street TE might make the team as a blocker. Ben
Hartsock was pretty good, so big shoes to fill. Richie Brockel's
important enough to this team, and they like the ridiculously chiseled
Brandon Williams, so McNeill will have to work at a spot, too.

6. Joe Webb - I don't know. This looks more like a sideshow than a
real move, but I see the logic behind it, too. If we see him past
preseason, something has probably gone wrong. I've never seen this
fanbase deal with an athletic backup QB all that well, though that was
without an athletic starter. Either way, he's a #3 on a team that
probably keeps 2.



So where does that leave the team?

*Obviously, there's a glaring issue on the offensive line. Sure they
want to try Byron Bell at LT, but I'd rather they have other options.
They like Nate Chandler, too, I guess, but I don't know if this pair and
a draftee is enough to improve. They showed early interest in a couple
of linemen but nothing since. They might be OK at guard, where they
have bodies, but they are in dire need at tackle, and they lost their
backup centers outside undrafted Brian Folkerts. So, they could be in
the market for depth there, and need at least one starter at tackle.
The draft is strong, but you can't guarantee that to be a good thing.

*They have two OK corners, and need more. You could count on Melvin
White to be a part of things, but he should at the least be pushed.
There's no one who fits a slot CB role, and the backups in place might
be good enough to be the 4th or 5th guy, but that's it. I'd feel better
about another vet - Drayton Florence can be had cheaply, but he's
another guy who has played a lot on the outside.

*They have resolution needed with Charles Godfrey, and at least one FS
regardless of what happens there. Carolina's nosed around a few more
safeties since signing Harper, so I don't think they're completely done
with the secondary. Ideally, they'd pick up both a CB and a FS, leaving
them room to draft one guy if needed but not being forced to do either.

*They don't have enough receivers, even if they plan on drafting a guy.
A first or second round guy would be an all-around receiver, not a
roleplayer like the two they have. Like at cornerback, the back-end
depth might be good enough for 4th and 5th slots, but even then there's
no room for anyone to get hurt.

Around The Draft, Daniel McCullers

60 days, 60 prospects, etc - getting tired of writing it.

And, I haven't covered some positions at all.  I've neglected the late third round outside of a player or two, and 45 days left means there will be more late round guys than early to come.

One position you wouldn't expect to be covered?  DT.

Daniel McCullers fits the need of a team that might have two of the better up and coming under-tackles in the league.  Carolina obviously double dipped last year, and while once the dust settled they explained Star Lotulelei was a NT, the truth is he started at UT a lot more, next to NT Colin Cole.  A free agent, Cole started over Dwan Edwards most of the year, but both vets played around 30% of snaps.

With Lotulelei and Kawann Short both showing UT aptitude, Edwards only fully being useful there, and the team throwing Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson at the rush spots somewhat as well, the NT job is up for grabs.  This player might or might not start - they might use Lotulelei there more next year - but they need a true runstopper to be their fourth.

That's where I see McCullers.  A ridiculous 6'7, 352, he can play either one gap or two gap responsibilities, and wasn't just a make-a-pile guy at two gap stuff.  He's played in both fronts, slides blocks somewhat in both, understands the angles of the game and somehow gets leverage at his height.  He's only a run guy, of course, and at 350, you could argue about durability in games.

So, if the team is looking for a guy to control an A gap for 25 snaps a game, this is your man.  You could argue the team doesn't have a third rounder to spend on 25 snaps of DT a game when that could be an OL that might get you 100% of snaps in a game.

You could argue a Justin Ellis/Louisiana Tech is a similar player later.  Those are all true, too.

But, McCullers is an intriguing prospect nonetheless.  The team did so much better in yards per carry with both rookies in, and that obviously diminished with either or both out.  There is, undoubtedly, a correlation between being able to control the gaps from DT to DT and defensive success, and that's Carolina's model - they just don't have the depth to make that happen as often as you might want. The idea of using Cole made sense, but the need for quality at low cost is a draftable correction.

So, I think the team will draft a DT this draft.  This is the earliest possible situation,with the exaggerated height and size that would stand out.  It's not the only place they could find a guy, no.  I'm not advocating him over others.  But it's kinda neat and I have 44 more of these to write.  They can't all be WR.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Around The Draft: Terrence Brooks

I'm hustling through 60 or so prospects in the 60 days leading up to the draft, prospects from 25 to 85 or so.  My views on draftable players who fit the need.  Let's dig in.

Terrence Brooks, a rangy safety from FSU, falls a bit because safety isn't a premier position, and you have to be an incredible prospect to be 5'11 at safety and be rated in the first round.  Brooks isn't, but he's an athletic, hard hitting, broad shouldered player who fits what Carolina does.

While Ron Rivera prefers taller (and so does everyone else at safety), Brooks is a filled out 200 lbs.  He has a good build for the spot, has athleticism you won't find behind him - his 4.42 is blazing for safety, and the next two guys, who I have a round later at FS, are Stanford's Ed Reynolds (4.58) and Dion Bailey (4.66), which shows a bit of the dropoff.

The 5'11 isn't a major concern, and as a FS, it's not that he needs to jump up from 200 lbs to 225, which is convenient since he can't.  He has the ability to play against some blocks, and play nearer the line, if requested.  He's an aggressive hitter, but he doesn't wrap, so he's got that part to cover, but he's not a player who's weak in tackling or that simply doesn't have interest in it.

He has instinct against the ball, and before his two year stint as a starting safety, he was a nickel corner.  He has some experience covering the slot at safety, too.

Brooks is the only viable senior FS prospect, and more or less the consensus third after potential first rounders Clinton-Dix and Pryor.  That's valuable, and doesn't hurt his prospects here (where he might have to contribute sooner rather than later). After Brooks, the FS market starts to really dwindle, and it's the one position that the defense still could use a starter (Charles Godfrey is still a guy I'd cut, and with the Achilles I don't know what he can really offer), and otherwise is set for starters (unless you consider nickel corner a starter, and I kinda do).

Brooks seems rated between the 2nd and 3rd, but I don't know if he lasts to the third.  With the team's needs, that's where he'd have to last, however.

Around The Draft: Weekend Edition

I'm aiming to knock out my thoughts on 60 prospects that currently fit between 25 and 85, to cover prospective picks at 28, 60, 92.  Of course, I missed yesterday because life is more important than free content, but no worries. Will do a few today.

I find that, now that the team has two receivers (and needs at least that), fans who've been clamoring for receivers at all costs are sated.  While the team has more to scrape together on the OL, they need an unquestioned starter at OT and WR by opening day.

 Carolina hasn't shied away from injury concern players, taking one with an ACL injury that was fresh (CB Brandon Hogan), two heart concerns (DLs Star Lotulelei and Frank Alexander), and the double first rounders of 2008 (Jonathan Stewart's toe, what we now know to be a chronically arthritic knee in Jeff Otah).


Cyrus Kouandijo (6'7, 322, Alabama) comes from a long line of high picks, some of them deserved (DJ Fluker, his bookend, looks to be a fantastic RT) and some not (James Carpenter should've never gone in the first).  I watched a lot of Kouandijo the last two years, first because of the three draft quality OL in the '13 draft and the highly publicized game tape of DT Sheldon Richardson against that same Alabama OL.

In both instances, I was also told to watch Kouandijo because some wanted him to be available too.  I wasn't completely impressed but he seemed draftable.  I watched him again this year in a few games and he just looked slower, less able. He has light feet, certainly.  But he didn't stand out, for a guy who was potentially a top ten pick in a draft full of OT talent.

It didn't help that he came to combine looking "sluggish" and "unathletic".  Now, the Alabama doctors saying "no, really, it's a good knee" isn't much to go on.  Dr. James Andrews, however, the guy who handed us Jonathan Stewart and is a team doctor (and world renowned sports surgeon), says concerns about the knee are unjustified.

Barrett Jones, Alabama's center up until this past year, had injury concern and fell hard (4th).  Same for his practice opponent, NT Jesse Williams (5th). Being an Alabama guy that's successful and hardworking doesn't gather the same attention as if you're an athletic freak, but it's hard to say that there's a massive amount of production from recent Alabama picks.  That doesn't affect Kouandijo necessarily compared to the health issue, but Alabama guys who aren't rock solid don't get the concerns of Miami guys from a prior decade that could do about anything and be drafted high.

Bottom line?  He's talented, and if the knee is going to be OK, great. Could be a steal.  But he's not a guy I'd throw a first at, either.  I have no clue if Carolina actually has him on their board or if they dropped him for medical reasons.  Andrews would know best, so I'm assuming he's in play.  But how did it affect him in prep for this draft?  What are you really getting?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Assistants' Roles - The Rebuild

As Carolina builds momentum in the second week of free agency (after sitting out week one), they seem to have their choice of what’s left.   Certainly, the issues of pending free agents on the DB and WR groups last year caused some concern at the time and now.

To that end, without any consistency between those groups, I find it’s interesting that some young stars in the coaching staff have the ability to redesign their personnel groups.

Ricky Proehl inherited some talent, and that talent did its best.  Now, Proehl and OC Mike Shula have the ability to completely redevelop what the team will look like at receiver.  Tiquan Underwood and Jerricho Cotchery fill specific needs, and while they might not be all the Panthers do at the position, they’re definitely a departure from what’s been here.


Similarly, while Steve Wilks got some input in ’12 and ’13, when the team challenged some starters with cheap veterans like Haruki Nakamura or DJ Moore, and hit on the one year deals like Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell, he has some ability to really dial things in.  Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn, both who thrived under Wilks the way they haven’t with anyone else, chased paydays elsewhere.   Wilks was able to help secure Antoine Cason for this year’s squad, and brought in thumping roleplayer Roman Harper to be this year’s attitude safety.  

Both have room to improve – the defensive backfield most likely should find something at free safety, and you could put money on the team drafting a versatile WR that will have as much of a shot at being the focal point as anyone.


In the end, Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera are the decision makers, the architects of this process.  But don’t underestimate the input of these assistants as time goes along. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Joe Webb?

Carolina signed it's third player of the day in Joe Webb who will be a RECEIVER - wait, what? is that right? Quarterback?  What in the blue hell?

Allright.  Carolina signed quarterback Joe Webb today, its third player signing of the day and fifth in the week.

Webb was a college quarterback at Alabama-Birmingham, though he played some receiver as well - he started two years at QB, passing for more than 2000 yards and running for more than 1000 in each season.  His 6'4, 220 lb frame has prototype size, and his speed was somewhat translateable to WR.

The Vikings used him at QB when in need.  The upside?  He's great in Tuesday games.  Downside?  They don't play games on Tuesdays, and it's beyond me why the Vikings played the Eagles on a Tuesday.

Carolina cited his size/speed ability at quarterback and ability to do some of the things Cam Newton can.  Which is fine, but in the end the team has to also understand that Newton's value as a runner and passer comes in his ability to do both very well.  In a catstrophic situation where Webb would play in a real game, I don't understand the positive.  Is he going to just run the option over and over?

No matter, he's an interesting prospect to have around and the team didn't keep a 3rd QB last year.

Antoine Cason Now A Panther

After signing Tiquan Underwood to a two year deal today, and Jerricho
Cotchery to a two year deal yesterday (technically Cotchery's is a five
year voided to two, not sure yet if Underwood's is), Antoine Cason is
now on board as well (one year). Terms weren't disclosed.

Cason, a 2008 first round pick, thrived under Ron Rivera and Steve Wilks
in San Diego. Carolina had obvious needs at the position with two of
their top three corners being free agents, and the third being an
undrafted rookie last year. Cason is expected to start.

WR Tiquan Underwood Now A Panther

Carolina reportedly had visits with both Tiquan Underwood and (finally)
Antoine Cason. No news on Cason, but Underwood has agreed to terms.

The tall, lanky young receiver has deep threat ability, but not a
significant amount of anything else except 80s haircuts (look him up).
He has a limited amount of receptions and a high yards/catch average.
He has kick return ability as well.

Desean Jackson Rumors

Ian Rappaport has Carolina as "interested at the right price" at Philly
WR Desean Jackson, and of course with anything that controversial and
far fetched there are naturally sources suggesting it's not so.

It's a better situation than the "What if we intend on trading up for
Sammy Watkins?" scenarios. I'm normally a guy to just squash something
like this Jackson rumor as nonsense, but I'm interested to follow this
one through before doing so.

It seems like it would cost Carolina a 3rd round pick, which in the
manner of Jackson seems like a bargain. But Carolina can't afford to
give up picks, partly because it's had a habit of doing it in the past.

The Giants, the only past history we have for Dave Gettleman, didn't put
much into getting players for picks. They traded for LB Keith Rivers
before he left (a 7th), and traded for Jon Beason after he left (for a
7th). The philosophy isn't always exactly the same, but certainly
Gettleman won't stray too far from it. That third round pick could be
Jackson, a player they otherwise wouldn't get, but it could also be an
inexpensive starter on a team that desperately searches for inexpensive
starters. A world with their existing contracts plus a future contract
situation including Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, and assumedly Greg
Hardy, is a world where having that future CB costing $500k per year
instead of $6 million per year becomes very value added, too.

Now, the cost financially. Let's assume Jackson doesn't want more money
- and I think he does. The Eagles take the loss on the proration of
guaranteed money, so that doesn't come over. At $10 million a year,
roughly, you could cut some of that 2014 money into a bonus check - $9
million of the $10.5 million becomes spreadable. His current contract
includes two more years, so that's $3 million a year obviously - a
savings of $6 million. He counts at $4.5 million this year. Great! A
bargain.

That makes 2015 ($9.75 million salary + $250k roster bonus + $3 million
of that proration) = $13 million. That tightens things up a bit.

You could add two years - a Dave Gettleman special - and then the
proration becomes $1.8 million, 2014 becomes $3.3 million, and 2015
becomes $11.8 million, which is I guess improvement (it would mean
voiding 2017 and 2018 and taking a 2017 hit of $3.6 million), but the
proration isn't the problem, it's the 2015-16 salaries. And if he's
looking for more money, not less, you can't assume he'd just cut some
off. You could drop 2015's salary by a few million in exchange for
proration now - +$4 million to spread over that three years, let's say -
which in a non-voidable becomes (2014 = $5.888 million, 2015 = $11.333
million), voidable becomes (2014 = $4.1M, 2015 = $9.6M). You've
guaranteed that 2016 becomes "the tough year", I guess (do your own
math, the salary/roster bonus combo is worth $8.5 million).

So you could see some obstacles with it.


Jackson definitely covers the biggest need in a way, the archetypal #1
receiver that everyone wants. I'm not as concerned about that, but he's
a powerful player who might add some flavor to an offense that's
somewhat bland right now. It's easier than hoping a draft pick could do
it, it makes that #1 pick an OT more than likely, and it makes the
reliance on a young WR less critical.


But in the end, it's a very high price to play. An ideal situation
would be a lack of a trade that goes with Jackson coming here on a
friendly deal, because you're starting fresh. But he's being sold high.
He had a great 2013 in a very open offense, and you have to pay him
somewhat to that end. Here in Carolina, I don't know if he'd even get
enough balls for that to be worth it.

Around The Draft: Xavier Su’a-Filo

Leading up to the draft, I’m breaking down (roughly) one prospect a day until I make it to 60 or the draft comes. 

Today’s prospect is Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA. The junior lines up at 6’4, 307, but being a junior doesn’t make him green.  His 40 starts are more than most high end linemen, and he’s probably the most mature junior in the draft class.  Spent two years on a Mormon mission, was an Eagle Scout, and is a leader.

He provides the best of both worlds as a guard.  He has shown the ability to force movement as a man/drive blocking guard and has shown it can translate to zone as well.   Physically, there’s a concern he’s not as filled out as he could be because of his mission (between his freshman and sophomore years, and he wasn’t in a training program). 


As a tackle?  Su’a-Filo filled in admirably, remaining a dominant run blocker and showing exceptional ability to anchor.  He showed lateral agility and balance in his slides.  There wasn’t a lot ‘wrong’ with him at tackle, but he felt like a more natural guard and he was there when the team had a healthy tackle.  If Carolina pushed him back out there, he’s a player that would get it done, but he bends at the waist a bit and might struggle to deal with double moves.  It’s more risky, with existing tackles already slated to be there at 28 (where Su'a-Filo is expected to be available).

So, a Su’a-Filo pick would mean that at least one of the guards would move out to tackle – and most of them have tackle experience.  It might be a lot to rely on any of them, since every guard Carolina has outside Nate Chandler (who I’d already expect to be a tackle) has been either hurt multiple times, or hasn’t been here long enough to be hurt multiple times.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Around The Draft: Davante Adams

Leading up to the draft, I’m breaking down (roughly) one prospect a day until I make it to 60 or the draft comes.

With Jerricho Cotchery coming in for the year, I’m electing to deal with a complimentary receiver that fits that same mold.  While I’ve dealt with Jordan Matthews and find him a similar (if not also more athletic and cerebral) player, I believe this prospect to be a more similar guy who can pull a lot of production, even if he’s not exceptional in size or speed.


Davante Adams, from Fresno State, is a Redshirt Sophomore who deals more in size (6’1, 210) than speed (4.56) and, like Cotchery, is a guy who’ll make his living on doing the small things well.  Adams led the nation in receptions with 131, so you could see his reasoning that there’s not a ton to prove in college.  He plays in a spread offense that some suggest is far more wide open than the pros, but we’re past the point where that’s relevant anymore.  Inferior competition could be considered, though; he’s not beating SEC corners regularly, he’s beating MWC guys.

He’s solidly built, and add that to a nearly 40” vertical and you have a good jump ball guy.  He attacks the ball, can go over the shoulder well, and he’s got a full route tree to success.  He’ll fight tackles and is a tough player, along with a good blocker. He’s got decent quickness in and out of breaks, and he gets under the ball and upfield very quickly. 

The high end isn’t as high, because while he does well downfield, he’s not going to both carry you with 10 receptions a game and beat you on the go route.  There aren’t a ton of guys who can, of course.  But if he’s going to beat you, it’s going to be a double move and a hope the safety is also napping.  He’s not massively deficient – it’s not that he can’t get it done – but he’s not going to get deep without a fight.

He looks like a very productive receiver who knows the game well for his experience, so a lot of the negative connotations of the redshirt sophomore type situation are gone.  If his upside physically were there just a little more, he’d be a top ten pick.  The loaded draft and his slower time put him to where he’d be in range for Carolina, luckily enough.  We don’t throw that far downfield anyway, right?   Adams carries a late first round grade.

Cotchery Signs

While Antoine Cason figures out his next move, Jerricho Cotchery is
going to be a Carolina Panther.

The former NC State and Jet/Steeler star (or I don't know, role player?
cut me a break, May is still a ways off) has agreed in principle to a
deal with Carolina, or has chosen the team and will figure out a deal,
depending on the media outlet.

So that gives the team a veteran receiver, at least. A reliable guy who
fits the intermediate passing offense from last year, a guy to go get
you that 3rd and mid/short.

The money will be interesting on this one, and whether the team allows
him to have #89. More details as they come.

Maybe Not Cason...Yet; Cam Surgery

Antoine Cason isn't apparently a Panther, yet. The local media got this
one right, in which a portion of the national media said there was an
agreement, but the locals had him visiting.

In a move that had Virginia OT Morgan Moses (a good possible choice for
Carolina at 28) postponing his visit to Mint St, Cason was expected to
visit but switched to agent Drew Rosenhaus somewhere along the way, so
Carolina didn't meet with anyone.

I have some confidence that a deal will get done, but Rosenhaus is
clearly not the easiest guy to deal with at times, either. Hopefully,
all sides will see this for what it is, Cason will quickly sign for a
limited amount of money, and maybe Drew will cut us a break on Greg
Hardy, while we're asking for miracles already.




So Cam Newton's having ankle surgery?

I understand the alarm. It seems minor, and I'm gonna have to trust
that. ESPN has this article (as you can tell by the margins I'm sending
this in, not on blogger's dashboard, so the formatting and the link are
messy)

http://espn.go.com/blog/stephania-bell/post/_/id/2329/fantasy-injury-report-cam-newton

It makes some sense this is tied to the high ankle sprain. And he had
some issues last year with it, too. The impact should be somewhat
minimal, and I'm interested to see how Derek Anderson does with more
reps in the offseason, regarding the new receivers.

Either way, they say surgery went fine. And this isn't like there was
microfracture on a heavily worn, 35 year old knee. It's adjustment of
the ankle that's bothered him. Nothing catastrophic, so no worries.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Panthers Still Need Nickel

This is essentially a history lesson and a projection, but new CB
Antoine Cason fills a need - just not various needs.

I did extensive scouting on the 2010 Chargers defense, enough to get an
idea for what Ron Rivera would field, and it paid dividends enough with
that also being the team's offense.

Cason was a starter on that 2010 team. And, really, a pretty good one.
But his story starts earlier than that.

A 2008 27th overall pick, Cason had high hopes as a starter, and worked
his way in there as a starter three times while the team still had
Quentin Jammer and Antonion Cromartie. Cason had a good 2008 - allowing
8.2 yards per catch, mostly as a reserve. But he was allowing a 74%
completion percentage. 2009, set as the nickelback, he struggled and
last time to Steve Gregory, still giving up high completions but having
more mental mistakes. There were people surprised that, especially
after trading away Cromartie, the Chargers didn't acquire anyone.

Cason rewarded the Chargers, giving them three really good years of
starting ability before he left last year. But his time was essentially
played outside, and the team had other nickelbacks.

That's fine. Carolina needs all the help it can get, but I wouldn't
count out the team providing someone who can play the slot. Cason,
Melvin White, and Josh Norman are outside guys. James Dockery, hard to
say. Drayton Florence, who I'd argued could and should return, has, but
it's not his strength. I'd call it a legitimate need for the team.

New CB, Antoine Cason

Antoine Cason, a 7th year player most recently with the Cardinals, is
about to become a Carolina Panther.

A veteran of the Chargers' #1 defense as a starter in 2010, Cason
started two more years for Ron Rivera's replacements before being the
nickel for the Cardinals' 6th overall defense last year.

The 6'1, 195 lb, Arizona native is the long, lean type corner that
Rivera tends to prefer. Active in run support, this is a good fit for
Carolina.

Across from him they have Melvin White; they have depth guys like James
Dockery and Josh Norman. They aren't going to turn guys down, but with
other needs looming they might do one more veteran like Drayton Florence
or draft a guy. Cason might end up working the slot, providing the need
for an outside guy like Florence to work.

So, adding in Cason and Roman Harper, the team has some experience in
the defensive secondary and would assumedly have up to 10 of 11 spots
covered, excepting what they want to do at FS. It's not completely
inconceivable they draft almost all offense at this rate.

Carolina Auditioning DBs, Waiting on WRs

Carolina's putting interest in the defensive backfield, having signed
Roman Harper at SS as their only real free agent so far, and continue to
talk to others.

There was interest in Ryan Clark and Usama Young, and they talked to
Darian Stewart of the Rams on Monday. Wednesday they're talking to
Giants CB Terrell Thomas. Thomas, who had 3 ACL injuries on the same
knee, was heavily supported by Thomas Davis in the process. Clark would
be somewhat ideal for a one year deal, but Clark himself says that the
interest is primarily from other teams so that doesn't appear to be as
likely to happen here. Stewart had played SS in St. Louis, but that
role appears to be covered with Harper and Robert Lester.



It continues to seem that they'll bargain shop DB, getting experienced
players for low rent, while filling other needs primarily through the
draft. I have no sourcing for this, but I'd be willing to expect
Drayton Florence to return again and help fill out Melvin White's depth,
unless they have more instore for the recently re-signed James Dockery.



WR Jerricho Cotchery, who visited within the week, has reportedly
narrowed down to the Panthers and Steelers. The team might get a
potential target in Earl Bennett, cut by Chicago. Bennett had been the
Bears' slot option but struggled last season in a more limited role
after losing a job to the young Alshon Jeffrey. They lost out on Mario
Manningham, but there wasn't significant interest. Lance Moore would
probably be a better alternative to Bennett. Cotchery would provide a
serviceable #2/#3 for a year while a young player warms up. I'm still
interested in Jason Avant and Miles Austin as steadying influences.

Around The Draft, Tennessee OTs

I find myself behind again, for those of you book-keeping this whole
deal. I wanted to compare and contrast the pair of Tennessee OTs, and
fit them in our scheme, as they both fit the criteria (ranked roughly
25-90, fill somewhat of a need, and so on) and they come from similar
backgrounds.

Players get typecast because they go through programs, fairly or
unfairly. Tennessee OTs aren't famous for this or that, but in the past
they've tended to output tackles that scouts wanted to translate to
guard (which might show a body stiffness, slow feet, or other synonyms
for a lack of athleticism), though it doesn't always happen that way
(Chad Clifton, for example). But with the Philip Fulmer regime washed
away and the bizarreness of a one year stint with Lane Kiffin, thesea
aren't the average Tennessee tackles.

They actually don't even fit the archetypal roles.

Ja'Wuan James is the 6'6, 311 lb right tackle, Antonio Richardson the
6'6, 330 lb left tackle.

Let's start with Richardson, the more intriguing and higher rated
player. Obviously, you get size. He has a nearly shocking level of
athleticism for that size, and his strength is there when he stays under
his base (he did an impressive job against jaDaveon Clowney in 2012 on
speed, which "made" Richardson a top prospect for this year, but in '13
he struggled some on the bull-rush. He still has some things to clean
up - waist bendind for instance - and you have to hope that his
technique will improve before he understands he's not just able to get
by on physical ability anymore.

But his technique isn't a mess, it's just inconsistent at times. He
does well with his hands, he understands the game and has quick reaction
skills. His feet are fast enough, he just has to do a better job of
keeping them moving. He's an immensely talented prospect who I could
see going in the first round, but he's being projected mid-40s and 50s
because he hasn't put it together like a few others have yet. Being a
two-year starting Junior, it's tough to know exactly where he'll be, but
the projection is he could be a very powerful player.



James loses out on more than size, he's also not as strong. He's as
athletic, and that's not a slight, they're both good athletes. He has
more experience, starting three years at right tackle and is a senior.
Three year starting SEC linemen have a high success rate.

The odd thing is, he's got the look of a left tackle and experience on
the right side. Now, at 315-324, two ways I've seen him listed, he's
not small. But his 22 reps of 225 aren't what you'd love to see. It's
closer to a bare minimum than a strength like Richardson's high-end 36
reps. Bench isn't the only strength measure, but you like to see it not
be a negative. His 5" greater vertical is the only real measure of
lower body strength, and is a good sign.

On tape, he doesn't look weak by any means. He's powerful at the point
of attack head-up, outside taking on the edge rusher in the run, or at
the second level. He already shows the ability to peel off one block
and find another guy to hit, and he has a fire you have to like. He
anchors well against the bull rush. He has good technique - he has to
keep his pad level down, not uncommon for 6'6 tackles.

Comparatively, he's the guy you plug in because he's ready.
Richardson's the guy you plug in because the positives outweigh the
concerns, letting him learn on the job. Carolina could use either, or
depending on your viewpoint, both. Richardson would be a low value pick
at 28 as of mid-March, but ideal at 60 obviously. James would be ideal
at 92, but not completely out of line at 60 either. In an ideal world
of targeting these two players instead of playing your board, Carolina
would have picks around 45 and 70, and you could get these two. That's
not how it works, but I could see them picking up either player.
Carolina hasn't been shy about flipping their tackles in the past as
needed, and either could conceivably play either role.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dockery, Jason Williams Return

Carolina has chosen to return LB Jason Williams and CB James Dockery to the team.

Williams, a 2009 3rd rounder by Dallas, joined Carolina in 2010 and outside of a mid-2012 stint with Philadelphia, has been here as a fixture on special teams ever since.  He blocked a punt last year to go with his solid kick coverage.

Dockery, a 2011 UDFA of Cleveland, came to Carolina in 2012 and started two games, but wasn't heavily in the mix in 2013 due to injury.

Both guys are depth/special teams additions, there's no doubt of that.  Don't think that signing a backup LB and CB are going to fix the receiver situation, of course.  But that's not the only business to be done.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cotchery, Jones Heat Up

A byproduct of the Panthers' receivers heading elsewhere, along with some of the bigger names signing?

Sure, Carolina lacks a lot of leverage.  They need you.

But you know what?  You need them.  Teams' veteran needs for hands are drying up.  You can't be guaranteed much.  Brandon LaFell, for instance, spent 2/3rds of his time on the field in the slot and a significant amount of his production, and went to a team that has two slot receivers and a young draft pick.

So, consequently, former Packer James Jones is talking up Carolina.

Specifically, he was quoted: "I would love to play for the Carolina Panthers.  I would love to play with Cam Newton."

Allright.  That's more like it.  With the recent cuts/free agents and then everyone's favorite would've-been Panther Hakeem Nicks calling it the wrong fit, the media went in all kinds of directions, and fans even more so.  Is Carolina viable?  Does anyone care?  Do players hate Dave Gettleman? and then, quietly, do players want to play with Cam Newton?

This puts some of that to bed. Of course, Nicks wanted more money and got them in incentives.  There's no reason players would outright ignore Carolina.  Fans have to get rid of this cognitive dissonance and man up. Stop asking if you're worthy.  That's not how football works.  Leave that part to Jacksonville's sports psychologist.

Jones is 29, 6'1/210, and is a valuable player for those intermediate routes and will get you 50 receptions/5 TDs or so in a crowded receiving corps like Green Bay's.  He could be more powerful in Carolina in ways, since as of yet only Greg Olsen is proven as a threat, and he's a tight end.  Of course, the Green Bay scheme and array of receivers leaves individual receivers often wanting more.  His 14 TDs in 2012 should be considered an outlier but it's not a complete abberation, with 7, 5, and 5 in the three before (he had 3 last season).

Of course, that's talk.  More concretely, former Jet/Steeler Jerricho Cotchery is visiting Monday.  Cotchery's 10 TDs last year were also an outlier (he had 20 in a total of 9 years before that).  31, he's got more miles than most, but was only a starter for a full 4 years, roleplaying most of the rest.  He's the type that, if you can find a good player for the slot, he's the player that can take that part-time outside role.

It's certainly not that Boldin/Fitzgerald duo, but I'd take either, and if it ended up that way, both would be fine, too.

Around The Draft, Day 52, Troy Niklas

There are 52 days until the opening of the NFL Draft, and my aim is to get to 60 prospects before the first round starts.  This post gets me back on track with 51 more prospects to come. 

Troy Niklas (6’6, 270, Notre Dame) shows up as one of the biggest TEs in the top 100.  He's your prototypical big man who’ll do more to move the chains than make the Top Ten Plays lists.

Obviously, he’s not gong to beat you deep, but he’ll beat you off the line, he’ll box you out, and on the next play he’ll wall you off and let his back get upfield.   A good inline blocker, Niklas can also move around and play H-back, he can pass protect, and he has been split wide, so he’s a guy who makes some sense moving around despite his strong inline ability.  He’s a player you can throw on the second level easily and do more than just wall off linebackers, and he’s a guy who seems to wall off ends well.

It’s completely anecdotal, but he played a season at OLB, where he started one game and had 20 tackles.  He’s a tough player who would seem to stay willing as a special teams guy, too.   He has to work on his routes as a pro, where he’s not that precise.

Niklas would fill various needs for Carolina.  If there’s two things they have to have more of, it’s guys who catch and block, and Niklas is one of the few that should be able to add both.  He’d add to the depth at TE (he’s obviously not going to start over Greg Olsen, but is a good complement to him).  Carolina uses that type player for about 30-40% of average snaps plus extra on special teams, and they haven’t shied from working on the short game with Cam Newton and a ball control offense.  He is an able receiver who can work underneath Olsen’s deeper routes. 

Plenty of people love this stuff – Niklas is the nephew of Bruce Matthews. He’s a junior, and it was apparently controversial that he came out early.  He only has one full season starting at TE, and was a lineman in high school so it’s a situation where he has a lot of growth ability, but isn’t athletic.  Depending on the need, that makes him a guy who could fill a starting role for one team, but roleplay for another.  Like any prospect you never totally know where a guy like this might fit in, he’s rated around 50 in one spot, and 80+ in another.  For the role he would play here, that’s probably a third, and he’s definitely behind the slipping Austin Serafian-Jenkins and maybe Jace Amaro, who are all guys that are way behind Eric Ebron right now.  I don’t know if he brings a significant amount more than CJ Fiedorowicz, either (who rates closer to the 100s).

As a potential level of commentary on where offenses/receivers are going, I think it’s interesting that only Ebron of the top group is 250.  The 6’5, 260+ guys are all at TE; you have to get down to small-school Joe Don Duncan (Dixie St) before the average analyst has a sub-6’4 TE listed, and that’s more in the 5th-6th range.  Similarly, Oregon’s Colt Lyerla is the first sub-250 guy.  It used to be that there was a strong mix of H-back type athletes in the TE mix, but this year almost  everyone fits the mold of the big blocker.  The spread revolution has made sure that anyone with significant athleticism in the 230-250 lb range becomes a defender, and the reminder apparently become massive WR (Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Donte Moncrief are three guys I have in the WR top ten over 220, and Benjamin’s 240)

Around The Draft, Day 53, Kyle Fuller

There are 52 days to the draft (I'm essentially caught up today), and I'm looking at usable prospects between the late first and late third rounds of the draft. 


Kyle Fuller (6’0, 190, Virginia Tech) is a good athlete but better football player.  He’s been at linebacker, safety, and has moved inside and out at corner.  He plays well at both man and zone, and plays the run and blitzes well.  He’s also not disciplined in how he tackles, but that’s fixable. 
The knock is that he’s not an elite athlete (but he ran a 4.49 – unofficially a 4.40 before adjustment), but has a quick backpedal and has a good transition from backpedal to opening his hips and flipping to run downfield. 

Fuller has also excelled with good anticipation, instinct and route recognition.  He does his film study eagerly and seems to do what’s required to win.   Because of that, some analysts state he freelances too much (honestly, I don’t know what the call is when I’m watching a single prospect).  

Fuller pulled out of the Senior Bowl, which didn’t help his stock, but would’ve been a place where I believe he’d have made up some space on the higher prospects in round one.   Being a Senior and a three time all-ACC guy certainly doesn’t hurt (again, last year Dave Gettleman only picked seniors, though I doubt that’s a hard rule).

Rated around 25 in most places, Fuller fits this defense exceptionally well and reminds me a lot of what Chris Gamble brought to the team in coverage, but with better run support.   Fuller fits what Ron Rivera likes in a corner – a long, physical player who attacks against the run.  He’s not the strongest guy out there, and he could fill out his 190 lb frame, but he plays big.  That’s the thing that I believe ties Fuller to the team.   I believe that the team will have bigger needs, but would be very excited to see him as a part of the team.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Roman Harper Signed; LaFell Leaves

Roman Harper signed a 2 year, $4.5 million deal, $1.5 million guaranteed, to become a Carolina Panther.

The news that the team was talking with Harper surfaced two days ago.  The former Saint, a 2nd round pick out of Alabama, played mostly strong safety there, and may play there here.  The Charlotte Observer calls him a free safety, potentially erroneously.

The team had apparently also talked with a couple of other free agent safeties - Usama Young (Raiders, Saints) and Ryan Clark (Steelers), both of which were free safeties in past stops.  So it's hard to say if either were expected to play alongside Harper, or if the team was simply trying to pluck one of them.  Clark is, as of this time Saturday, unsigned but talking to the Redskins; the Raiders signed Young again.


Brandon LaFell, a 2010 draft pick, has signed a three year deal with the Patriots.

Carolina apparently did talk with LaFell about returning.  It's somewhat hard to see the value for LaFell, who will have to fight with a recently re-signed Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, and young draft pick Aaron Dobson.

With Steve Smith now a Raven, Domenik Hixon a Bear, and Ted Ginn a Cardinal, outside leading receiver TE Greg Olsen, the team is going to be missing their leading receivers.

Expected target* Hakeem Nicks is off the table, and Carolina can't return any of their top four wide receivers, so there's a full on rebuild to be done without a lot of resources.  James Jones and Sydney Rice seem to be the 'names' left with Emmanuel Sanders possibly becoming a Bronco; Jerricho Cotchery is an interesting side name, as is the younger Robert Meachem.

So there's not a completely bare cupboard, but there's literally no one playing WR for the team that had a single reception last year.  Kealoha Pilares has the team career lead of active players with 2 receptions in 2012; Marvin McNutt received one target last year, and Tavarres King received none.




*Nicks is from Charlotte and I'm sure that's a fine story, and yeah, UNC is in the same state, but I really doubt that made this the slam-dunk


Around the Draft, 54? Stanley Jean-Baptiste

I'm behind on prospects as I intend to break down 60 guys between the late first and late third for this year's draft.  Counting the pair of big receivers earlier, I find myself at 54 on day 53.

I'm looking at my first cornerback, and it won't be off the top of the pile.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a massive corner at 6'3, 218.  About ten years ago when everyone wanted to be Tampa-2 on defense, that was a weakside linebacker for some teams physically. That's how large he is.

With that comes a cost in athleticism for a non-top tier prospect.  While he has some straight line speed, and isn't a total slouch, he's not going to be elite there, running a 4.61 at combine.  He's a natural at turning hips and going upfield, so he loses nothing there, and he has natural instincts.

But, for his size he's just pretty good at chucking and riding a receiver in press-man, and he's not an exceptional tackler (especially for having safety size).  He's going to need work on proper tackling and run support.   SJB is raw. He's been a corner for three years, he's always going to have to get past a lack of high end speed with other abilities including a physicality that's inconsistent.



While best available means best available, or else Carolina wouldn't have had two rookie DTs back to back, the needs around CB have become greater than CB.  And that's with the supposed starting duo, on paper, being James Dockery and Melvin White with Josh Norman backing them.  Captain Munnerlyn isn't an option.  Drayton Florence is, and I believe when the dust settles he'll be back, maybe with another inexpensive veteran.

With that said, the meager expense that Carolina has put into CB over the last few years has included, by Ron Rivera's words, guys with length.  Physical, long cornerbacks that can tackle are the ideal here.  But Jean-Baptiste has some work left to do to get there.

Around The Draft, 55?, Jack Mewhort

I'm behind on prospects as I intend to break down 60 guys between the late first and late third for this year's draft.  Starting #4 for the day, I find myself at 54 on day 53.  I will likely pickup any additional ground tomorrow.

Today I provide Jack Mewhort, OT, OSU.  The senior, a captain at Ohio State University under Urban Meyer, is a blue collar tackle that fits Carolina's MO. Starting the final 39 games of his career and playing in all 49, Mewhort has started at all non-center spots, mostly at left tackle (27).

Tough/hardnosed but not dirty as far as I can tell, Mewhort has some tools at his disposal. A 6'6, 310 lb frame that is plenty strong, his 81" wingspan doesn't hurt either - it makes him hard enough to get around.  His feet and his snap instincts are fine, some scouts say he doesn't have the change of direction skills you'd want on the left side.  I don't know if that's against speed rushers or double moves.  Relating to the bull rush, even though Mewhort is traditionally playing a little high, he doesn't lose his leverage and he anchors very well.

Most tend to push Mewhort to the right side.  He's a guy who could be an exceptional guard, as well.  I don't know if you write him completely off at left tackle based on his skill set, and it should matter what side he's more comfortable with.  He's not the exceptionally athletic guy you see as a blue chip, he's the get-it-covered guy you see that's blue collar.

Carolina's needs are clear in that end.  They need a tackle, maybe a second one later.  Mewhorn appears that guy that would be there at 60 who can upgrade both run and pass.  Being a captain and being a well respected guy might or might not erase the public drunkenness/peeing in public/attempting to evade police arrest.