Linebacker can often be one of the most overlooked positions in the NFL Draft, and this year’s crop isn’t the most spectacular collection of linebackers, but there are some real gems at the top. Let’s check out the top 10 linebackers available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
10. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech – Attaochu may be limited to being an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, because he can be a liability in pass coverage, but if he’s put in a position where he’s going to go after the quarterback on just about every snap, he’s going to flush the quarterback from the pocket and get sacks on a consistent basis. He has a nice blend of speed and power, and is one of the best pure pass rushers in this draft.
9. Chris Borland, Wisconsin – Borland doesn’t have the size or speed that stands out, but he possesses all the intangibles you could ever want in a player. He’s smart, plays hard, and knows how to put himself in position to make plays. Borland could struggle to keep up physically in the NFL, but his sharp mind and passion for the game are going to give him a chance to earn a job and stick around a while.
8. Kyle Van Noy, BYU – Van Noy isn’t going to blow anyone away with his athleticism, size, or physicality, but he’s as smart and instinctual as they get. He’s not the most powerful player, but he can run sideline to sideline, he can blitz from the edge out of a 4-3 scheme, and he’s comfortable playing zone pass coverage. Van Noy won’t overwhelm anyone in the NFL physically, but he also won’t make mental mistakes, which should make him a steady contributor.
7. Trevor Reilly, Utah – Reilly possesses an impressive frame and the athleticism to match, which makes him look like a starting NFL linebacker. He moves well from sideline to sideline and strives to run around blockers rather than take them on physically when he comes with pressure off the edge. He’s already 26, so he doesn’t have as much room for growth as the rest of the players at his position, but he should be able to step in as a starter right away.
6. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut – Smallwood has a good frame with long arms and good athleticism. He’s a well-balanced player with the ability to play coverage, stop the run, and get after the quarterback, with the latter being his best skill. He’s not the most physical player, but he has the skills to play either outside or inside linebacker, making him a useful and versatile player with a decent upside.
5. Telvin Smith, Florida State – Smith lacks some size and strength, but he has more than enough athleticism and instincts to make up for it, leading Florida State in tackles this past season. He has the hips to play in space, cover running backs, and elude blockers when he blitzes. Smith works as hard as anyone and plays the game with great passion, not allowing his small frame to prevent him from making plays. As far as under-sized linebackers go, he’s a player to bet on overcoming his size and carving out a significant role on an NFL defense somewhere.
4. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State – Shazier looks the part of a first round pick, and has a great combination of size and speed. He plays strong against the run, as he’s able to run from sideline to sideline and deliver good hits when he gets a chance, which should make him a productive player, possibly a 100-tackle per season type linebacker. He may not have the strength to push through blocks when rushing the passer, but he has enough of a burst to put pressure on the quarterback when he blitzes.
3. C.J. Mosley, Alabama – Mosley is by far the cream of the crop with regard to middle linebackers in this year’s draft. His athleticism is akin to a safety, which allows him to cover running backs and tight ends, but he also makes a lot of plays near the line of scrimmage and in the back field, even though he’s not a pure pass rusher. Mosley has a high football IQ and knows how to put himself in position to make plays, in addition to being physically capable of tracking down ball carriers and making good tackles. If necessary, he could move outside, but if a team needs a middle linebacker, he’s the guy to get in this draft.
2. Anthony Barr, UCLA – Barr has the size, speed, and athleticism to be the next great NFL pass rusher. He has the explosiveness around the edge that few possess, as well as incredible closing speed to make hard hits on ball carriers. Even against frequent double-teams this past season, Barr showed the strength and motor to power through blocks and rack up 10 sacks. He’ll step into the league right away and be a disruptive pass rusher, and if he can eventually become solid against the run and viable in pass coverage, he could turn into a special player.
1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo – As an athlete, Mack is not far behind Jadeveon Clowney as the second best defensive player in this draft. If there weren’t such a need for quarterbacks at the top, he would probably be a top-5 pick. He fits best as an outside pass rusher, but he showed the versatility in college to play all over the front-seven, which could pay dividends in the NFL. He has a great frame and incredible strength, which makes him a ferocious hitter who has the ability to fight through blocks and close fast on ball carriers. He isn’t great when he has to cover in space, and the NFL will be a big step up in competition after playing in a lesser conference in college, but Mack’s talent is overwhelming and he looks like a star in the making.
This year’s crop of running backs in the 2014 NFL Draft isn’t the most impressive group, especially after last year’s class produced some difference makers like Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, and Giovani Bernard. But there are some talented players available at that position that should be able to contribute as rookies. Let’s take a look at the top-10 running backs available in this year’s NFL Draft.
10. Terrance West, Towson – Few have heard of West because he went to a small school, but he put up incredible numbers at the FCS level, running for over 2,500 yards and scoring 42 touchdowns in 2013. He doesn’t have a great burst of speed, nor does he get to the edge with ease, but he has good patience, vision, and toughness, and that helps him be productive without having high-end speed or talent, and it gives him a good chance to be an NFL contributor.
9. Devonta Freeman, Florida State – Freeman is a small but durable back that doesn’t shy away from contact. He has some of the quickest feet of any back available, and makes incredibly sharp cuts, which are accentuated by great acceleration, allowing him to run away from defenders. However, he doesn’t project as a starter in the NFL, so he won’t come off the board until the middle rounds.
8. Charles Sims, West Virginia – Sims is one of the most versatile backs in this year’s draft, as he’s an excellent pass catcher and can be utilized on screens just as easily as he’s utilized out of the backfield. Like a lot of West Virginia’s recent skill players, he’s quick, shifty, and has great acceleration. He doesn’t have an ideal body type for a running back, which will keep him from being a team’s primary back, but he’ll be a useful player both on offense and special teams, giving him good value in the middle rounds.
7. Andre Williams, Boston College – Williams had an exceptional senior season, rushing for over 2,000 yards and becoming a Heisman finalist. He’s as big and as physical as they come, which makes him difficult to tackle and allows him to pick up yards after contact. The drawback with Williams is that he’s not that versatile; he doesn’t catch passes out of the backfield and it takes him a while to reach his full speed. There are also questions about his injury history, a player who had five games of over 200 yards last year will be able to contribute to a team in the NFL.
6. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor – Seastrunk was a small but explosive player for a dynamic Baylor offense last season. He’s small, but he’s compact, and he runs low to the ground with great balance, which makes him tough to tackle. Seastrunk doesn’t have the size or durability to be an every-down back, but he’s a phenomenal athlete who will be a threat every time he touches the ball, and whichever team drafts him will find a way to get him a few touches every game.
5. Bishop Sankey, Washington – Sankey is going to be a perfect fit for a team that’s looking to split time evenly between two different running backs. He’s more durable than his size indicates and he’s more than capable of running between the tackles, but he’s better suited to be a changeup back because of his burst of speed, lateral quickness, and jump-cutting ability. Sankey is an all-purpose back that does just about everything well, and while he probably won’t be a feature back in the NFL, he will be a frequent contributor.
4. Jeremy Hill, LSU – Hill had a rather uneven college career because of some off-field issues and a loaded LSU backfield that made it tough to get consistent carries at times. However, he is a potentially dominant runner and one of the best backs in the draft. He is a powerful runner that shows surprising lateral quickness and cutting ability that makes him tough to bring down. He’s also a talented pass catcher for such a big back and looks comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. He’ll have some questions he’ll have to answer in the NFL, but he has the talent to be a workhorse running back that steamrolls defenses with his power and becomes a feature back.
3. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State – Hyde is a power back with just enough of a burst to get through the line of scrimmage before the gap closes and just enough speed to get to the outside when he needs to. He’s a north-south runner that can take hits and get yards after contact. He won’t fit in with teams that want to spread the field, but there were plenty of power backs playing deep in the playoffs this past season, and Hyde looks like he could quickly join that group of backs.
2. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona – Carey possesses a lot of the skills frequently seen in feature backs, and he also puts high amounts of energy into each run, fighting for every yard he can get. He’s not afraid to be physical and take on tacklers, but he also has great moves in the open field to blow by defenders. He’s coming off a season in which he had nearly 1,900 yards and 19 touchdowns; he looks like the total package.
1. Tre Mason, Auburn – After helping carry Auburn to the BCS Title Game, Mason’s stock soared all the way to the top spot, albeit in a rather unimpressive collection of running backs. He’s a little small for the position, but he has a strong lower body, which allows him to do everything that bigger backs do. He’s quite reminiscent of Ray Rice when he was coming out of college, and Mason could end up having that kind of impact in the NFL.
The NFL Draft is still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to take a look at the players available. That’s especially true of the quarterback position, as a lot of teams are in the market for a quarterback this year. This year’s class isn’t as good as once thought, but it’s still a promising group of signal callers. Let’s check out the top-10 quarterbacks available in this year’s draft:
10. Connor Shaw, South Carolina – Shaw doesn’t have ideal size or arm strength, but he has great mobility that helps him make plays outside the pocket. He had a 26-5 record as a starter in college, and as a senior he threw just one interception, and that’s in the SEC, which is an accomplishment that’s hard to ignore. Shaw looks like an NFL backup, but he’s a leader and one of the toughest quarterbacks around, and those intangibles will help him secure a job in the NFL and give him a shot to become a starter one day.
9. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois – Garoppolo had an impressive college, breaking most of Tony Romo’s school records, albeit against a lower level of competition. He’s actually quite similar to Romo in that he has good but not elite physical abilities, but he has great instincts and timing, which allows him to have success throwing the ball. He’ll have to work on his pocket presence and decision-making, but he has enough arm strength to become an NFL quarterback if he keeps showing good intangibles.
8. David Fales, San Jose State – Fales doesn’t have elite arm strength, but he has great mechanics, good poise, good accuracy, and he’s a coachable player, so he’s a player that’s going to max out on his potential. The things he can improve upon in the NFL, he will, but he doesn’t have the arm strength to throw the ball down field, and he doesn’t always drive the ball on intermediate throws, so he’s going to need to play in an offense that revolves around short throws and quick decisions, but with the right team he can become a viable NFL starter.
7. A.J. McCarron, Alabama – McCarron was plagued with the “game manager” label throughout his college career, but he shouldn’t be blamed for having a lot of good players around him and not needing to play outside himself. He’s not a great athlete, so he’s a pure pocket passer, and he does have some trouble with the deep ball, which isn’t a great combination. However, he has sound mechanics, a high football IQ, and not only does he make good throws, he makes smart throws. McCarron is fringy as a starter in the NFL, but he profiles as an excellent backup, and that can be a useful thing to have.
6. Aaron Murray, Georgia – An ACL injury late in his senior season hurt his stock, and that’s on top of concerns about his height. But he was a four-year starter in the SEC and has excellent passing skills. He has a quick release, good footwork, the ability to drive the ball, and enough mobility to make plays outside the pocket. Some people will see the next Drew Brees when they look at Murray, while others will overlook him based on his height. There’s no guarantee he’ll be a successful NFL quarterback, but there’s no doubt that he deserves a chance to be a starter; he’s earned it with his resume and his impressive skill set.
5. Zach Mettenberger, LSU – Mettenberger has the size and arm strength that NFL teams covet. He didn’t come on until late in his college career, but he showed a lot of improvement during his senior season and could continue that in the NFL. He does have some drawbacks like a lack of mobility and a perceived lack of leadership by the fact that he’s not a vocal player. However, the size and the skills are too much to ignore, especially after a strong senior season, and that should make him a first round pick, possibly a top-15 pick.
4. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – It’s going to take a lot of guts to draft Manziel, because he’s such a polarizing player and person. He has a ton of ability and is capable of doing some amazing things, but too much of his game is based on his ability to improvise, which may not translate to the NFL. There are also questions about his size and his ability to stay healthy when he starts taking hits from NFL linemen and linebackers on a regular basis, but his talent is too much to ignore, and should make him a top-10 pick.
3. Derek Carr, Fresno State – Carr is probably more talented than his older brother David, who was once the first overall pick in the draft. He has the arm strength to make all the throws to go along with great accuracy and the ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage. But despite his great numbers in college, there are concerns about the level of competition he faced. He also struggled when put under pressure, which is a question he’ll have to answer at the next level, especially since he doesn’t have great athleticism, but his arm talent is elite and that makes him one of the top quarterbacks in this class.
2. Blake Bortles, Central Florida – Bortles emerged late in his college career as a viable NFL quarterback and he jumped close to the top. He has an NFL arm and an NFL, as well as the athleticism to pick up yards with his legs that has become increasingly common among quarterbacks in the league. He is still rough around the edges, and a lot of his mechanics could use refinement, but he’s coachable, works hard, and has a high football IQ, so having that combined with an NFL body and arm makes Bortles a good bet in the NFL, even if he isn’t set up for immediate success.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville – He’s not a slam-dunk for the first overall pick, but he is the best quarterback available. His arm strength isn’t high-end, but he does everything else well. He has good mechanics, he’s good with his fakes, can manipulate defenses with his eyes, makes good reads, and has good accuracy, even when he’s on the run. He’s not a running quarterback, but he’s mobile and isn’t too quick to pull the ball down and run, which can lead to big plays. One of the few concerns about him is his durability, so he’ll need to put on weight in the NFL to hold up for a full season, but he’s the safest bet in this draft to become a quality NFL quarterback capable of leading his team deep into the playoffs.
We wrap up our look at the offseason needs of every NFL team with the best division in football, the NFC West. These teams don’t have much to improve upon, but in this division they can’t afford to have many flaws, so they need to make sure any needs they have get addressed this offseason. Let’s take a look:
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals were the best NFL team to not make the playoffs in 2013, but there’s still significant distance between them and the top of the division, so they’ll need a strong offseason if they want to make the playoffs in 2014. For Arizona, it starts up front, where they’ll need to upgrade at the offensive tackle position. Even if Eric Winston re-signs, the Cardinals would be wise to use their first round pick on an offensive tackle to help protect Carson Palmer. Speaking of Palmer, he needs a backup that can one day take his place, so Arizona could be looking to find a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft that could be ready to take over as the starter in a year or two. Arizona might also be looking for a running back to complement Andre Ellington, preferably a bigger power back. Defensively, Arizona needs to get younger at outside linebacker, so one or two draft picks should be dedicated to that position. They can always look to add depth, but other than that they’re in good shape on that side of the ball.
San Francisco 49ers – After three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game the 49ers are close to winning a Super Bowl, but they’ll need a strong offseason to help get them over the hump. The first area they need to pay attention to is the secondary. A few of their cornerbacks are free agents, and even if they re-sign one or two, they may want to use an early round draft pick at that position. They’ll also need to re-sign safety Donte Whitner and keep him paired up with Eric Reid on the back end of their defense. The next area of focus is wide receiver, where both Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham are about to hit the free agent market. Their preference will be to re-sign Boldin, but if they can’t do that they may need to use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. San Francisco may also need a center if Jonathan Goodwin decides to retire, and those can be tough to find beyond the first few rounds of the draft, which could change their plans. If they have some late-round draft picks or extra money available, the 49ers could also add depth to their front-seven.
Seattle Seahawks – Even after winning a Super Bowl, the Seahawks have plenty of room for improvement this offseason. Doug Baldwin will be back at wide receiver, while Golden Tate is hitting the open market, but even if Tate returns to Seattle the Seahawks may want to take advantage of the depth at wide receiver in this year’s draft class and pick one up in the second or third round. Seattle should also consider using a couple draft picks, and possibly an early-round pick on an offensive lineman to help keep their franchise quarterback better protected. Defensively, the Seahawks are in great shape, although they could lose Michael Bennett in free agency, creating a hole in their defensive line that needs to be filled, and they could use some more depth at cornerback, which is something they can find in the middle or late rounds of the draft.
St. Louis Rams – If the Rams are going to compete in this division, they’re going to need a quarterback, and Sam Bradford may not be the guy they need. St. Louis owns the second overall pick, and they could get a quarterback there if they want, if not then they’ll certainly pick an offensive tackle, which is their greatest need outside of quarterback. In fact, the Rams may need to end up using two or three draft picks on offensive linemen. St. Louis may also be looking to add a wide receiver, either in free agency or in the draft, possibly someone with size that can complement all the speed they added last offseason. Defensively, the Rams need to bring in an impact player at linebacker, most likely an outside linebacker that can help out James Laurinaitis. St. Louis could also look for another young safety to pair with T.J. McDonald, although they can wait until the middle rounds of the draft to do that.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested after an alleged domestic violence incident last Saturday morning at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
The Baltimore Sun reports that Rice's fiancée, Janay Palmer, was also arrested in the incident (both are pictured with their daughter).
According to the police report, "both Rice and Palmer struck each other with their hands" and both refused medical attention and did not report any injuries.
Rice's attorney, Andrew Alperstein, described the incident as a “very minor physical altercation."
However, TMZ released a hotel surveillance video today that shows Rice dragging what appears to be an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator moments after the alleged incident on Feb. 15th but before police arrived.
As Palmer appears to regain consciousness, Rice walks away.
Rice's attorney Michael Diamondstein told TMZ that he has not seen the video but added, "Neither Ray nor myself will try this case in the media."
Today, we continue our offseason preview of every team in the NFL one division at a time with the NFC South, a division that sent two teams to the postseason last year. Let’s check out the offseason needs of the four teams in the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons are coming off a disappointing season, but they lost a lot of close games and struggled mainly because of injuries, so with a positive offseason they can become a contender once again in 2014. Offensively, they have the quarterback and receivers that can win games when everyone’s healthy, but they need to make significant improvements to their offensive line. They don’t necessarily need to use their first round pick on a lineman, but they may need to bring in three or four new starters up front, and that needs to be their biggest priority this offseason. Defensively, the Falcons also need help at the line of scrimmage. The best-case scenario for Atlanta would be to get a young pass rusher early in the draft and then try to bring in a couple of interior linemen later in the draft or through free agency. If they address their needs along the line of scrimmage early in the draft, they could stand to get younger at running back and tight end later in the draft.
Carolina Panthers – The Panthers won the NFC South in 2013 on the back of a top-flight defense, and their top priority this offseason is to keep that defense in tact as best they can. Carolina needs to re-sign Greg Hardy, even if it means putting the franchise tag on him. The Panthers also have a few free agents in their secondary, and they’ll need to re-sign those players unless they have a specific plan on how to replace them. On offense, they’ll have to make a decision on whether or not to re-sign tight end Greg Olson. They should also look for a place in the draft where they can pick up a wide receiver, possibly two, as Steve Smith may not have much left in the tank. The Panthers could also look to reinforce their offensive line and perhaps look to upgrade their backup quarterback.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints have plenty of key players entering free agency this year, and they’ve already had to cut a few players to save cap space, so they should have a challenging offseason ahead of them. The biggest question is the status of Jimmy Graham and whether they’ll be able to sign him to a long-term deal or have to use the franchise tag on him. Elsewhere, the team has already cut Jabari Greer and Roman Harper, while Malcom Jenkins is entering free agency, which means there are a lot of empty spots in the New Orleans secondary alongside Kenny Vaccaro, and the Saints need to make filling those spots a priority if they’re going to remain one of the top passing defenses in the league. The Saints will also need to add help at linebacker, and could utilize an early-round draft pick at that position. Offensively, there are a couple of starters on the offensive line entering free agency that New Orleans may want to re-sign if they have the cap space, but the rest of the offense looks to be in good shape, assuming Graham is back with the team one way or another.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – With Lovie Smith being the new head coach and Leslie Frazier the new defensive coordinator, expect that side of the ball to be Tampa’s focus this offseason. The top priority for the Bucs should be to find an impact pass rusher; the talent in the secondary isn’t an issue, but that unit could be even better if Tampa get put a lot more pressure on the quarterback, so the Bucs could be looking for a defensive end early in the draft. Tampa Bay will also be looking for a middle linebacker in the first two rounds of the draft that can lead that unit into the future much like Luke Kuechly is doing for division rival Carolina. On offense, the Bucs will probably wait a year until they decide if they want to move forward with Mike Glennon as their quarterback, but they do need to make sure that their offensive line is in good shape heading into 2014, and if possible they may try to add a wide receiver or tight end to help put Glennon in position to have success in 2014.
The NFC North was one of the most competitive divisions in football last year, putting pressure on teams this offseason to make the right moves that can move them to the top of the division. Let’s take a look at the offseason needs for the Bears, Packers, Vikings, and Lions.
Chicago Bears – With Jay Cutler being re-signed and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery likely to be one of the top receiver duos in the NFL in 2014, the offense is in great shape, which means the Bears need to turn their full attention to the defense. The secondary was atrocious last season, and the Bears could benefit from four new starters there next year, although if that’s not realistic they need at least one new safety to replace free agent Major Wright and one new starter at cornerback to replace Charles Tillman. Chicago devoted much of last year’s draft to the linebacker position, so that may not be a priority this offseason, unless they can add an impact player. However, the same can’t be said about the defensive line. The interior of the line could use an impact player, while Julius Peppers could become a salary cap casualty, forcing the Bears to spend money or a high-round draft pick on a pass rusher, meaning the defensive line will require a lot of attention this offseason.
Detroit Lions – Despite its collapse at the end of the season that prompted a coaching change, Detroit isn’t far away from being competitive if they can have a successful offseason. The Lions have one of the most talented defensive fronts in the NFL, but they leave a lot to be desired in the secondary. Detroit would be wise to bring in re-sign veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis to help solidfy the unit, but they should also sign a younger cornerback that can step into the starting lineup. They were forced to cut safety Louis Delmas for cap reasons, so the Lions may need to use an early-round draft pick on a safety, while also adding depth at that position later in the draft if they can. Detroit could also consider using a high draft pick on a wide receiver, taking advantage of the depth at that position to give Matthew Stafford a talented number-two receiver to complement Calvin Johnson, but right now the Lion’s offense isn’t as much of a priority as the defense.
Green Bay Packers – If the Packers can re-sign Matt Flynn or one way or another bring in a backup quarterback that they trust, the offense should be in good shape heading into next season. However, the Green Bay defense needs a lot of work, as it pales in comparison to the defenses of the other top teams in the NFC. Outside of A.J. Hawk and Nick Perry, the Packers don’t have much at linebacker, and they’ll need an infusion of talent at that position this offseason. Up front, Green Bay won’t miss B.J. Raji that much, but they will need to add one or two defensive linemen, possibly using an early-round pick to do so. In the secondary, the Packers need to do what they can to re-sign Sam Shields, but they’ll also need to add talent at the safety position, as well as depth throughout their secondary.
Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings will likely look to draft a new quarterback this year, but the top three quarterbacks could all be off the board by the time Minnesota is on the clock with the 8th overall pick, so that could make their pursuit of a signal caller complicated. If they can find a suitable quarterback at some point, then the offense should be in good shape, which would allow Minnesota to spend the rest of the offseason focusing on their defense. After a lot of good seasons, Jared Allen appears to be on his way out of town, so the Vikings will need a pass-rushing defensive end, which could be their biggest priority in the draft outside of quarterback. Minnesota also leaves a lot to be desired at linebacker and they may need to make a splash at that position in free agency if their top draft picks are used on a quarterback and a pass rusher. It might also be beneficial for the Vikings to add a piece or two to their secondary, although the future appears to be bright for cornerback Xavier Rhodes, which gives some hope for the future of their secondary.
Last week we took a look at the offseason needs for all of the teams in the AFC, and now it’s time to tackle the NFC. We’ll start by taking a look at the offseason needs of the four teams in the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys – The Dallas defense is going to need a lot of work done this offseason. It starts along the defensive line, as Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer are likely to go elsewhere in free agency, which could force the Cowboys to add defensive linemen early and often during the NFL Draft. Dallas will need at least a couple of interior linemen, and if they get a chance, they’d be wise to add a defensive end that can play opposite DeMarcus Ware. Dallas definitely needs to add depth at linebacker, although if they can find an outside linebacker that can step in and start right away, that would be the best-case scenario. Once the defensive front-seven is addressed, Dallas can always look to add help along the offensive line to help protect Tony Romo, although the offensive line was much improved in 2013.
New York Giant – The Giants started remaking their offensive line last year when they drafted Justin Pugh in the first round, and that rebuilding effort will have to continue this offseason, preferably with a left tackle early in the draft. Elsewhere, New York needs to add at least one top-flight pass rusher, assuming they’re unable to re-sign Justin Tuck. But even if Tuck returns to New York the Giants could use another pass rusher, not to mention a serious upgrade a linebacker, although re-signing Jon Beason would be a good move. The Giants also have to figure things out at the running back position, and while they may be able to make up for the inevitable loss of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks to free agency with Reuben Randle, signing a pass-catching tight end to add to their offensive arsenal would be helpful after Brandon Myers was a huge disappointment in 2013.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles will enter the offseason in good shape offensively, although both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are free agents, so if they can’t retain both Philadelphia will have to find a way to replace them. On defense, the secondary needs a lot of work after the Eagles had trouble holding onto big leads this past season. It would be great if the Eagles could find an impact player in free agency, if not they’ll have to use their early-round draft picks at either cornerback or safety. If Philadelphia can improve in the secondary through free agency or early in the draft, they should look to add help at linebacker, specifically an outside pass rusher that can put pressure on the quarterback and help protect a questionable secondary.
Washington Redskins – There’s not a whole lot Washington can do offensively in 2014 except hope that Robert Griffin III is healthy and clicks with new head coach Jay Gruden. However, there is a laundry list of areas that need to be addressed on defense. All four starters in the secondary are free agents, and while there are a couple of young players that may be ready to step into starting roles in 2014, that unit is going to need a lot of attention this offseason, and it wouldn’t hurt to find some veterans in free agency rather than rely on rookies coming out of the draft. Washington will also have a lot of vacancies at linebacker, most notably Brian Orakpo, who will be a highly-sought free agent this offseason and could be tough to re-sign. Re-signing Perry Riley should be a priority for them, as he will help solidify the middle linebacker spot, although they’ll have to add players around him if the Washington defense is going to show significant improvement in 2014.
When the Denver Broncos walked off the field at Met Life stadium two week ago, the team knew that they had lost out on a great opportunity to win a Super Bowl. But was that embarrassing loss to the Seahawks the team’s last chance to win a Super Bowl in the immediate future, or is Denver’s window to return to win a Super Bowl still open for at least another year or two?
Obviously, the Broncos having a chance to win a Super Bowl hinges on Peyton Manning. If he decides, or is forced, to retired because of concerns regarding his health, Denver’s window for winning a Super Bowl would immediately slam shut. Manning is the primary reason why the Broncos have been one of the best teams in the NFL the past two seasons and why their offense set NFL records while carrying the team to the Super Bowl this season. Without Manning, the Broncos would have a lot of rebuilding in front of them after taking a two-year all-in shot at winning a championship.
However, Manning does have three years left on his contract with the Broncos, and as long as he’s healthy he intends on playing until the end of his deal. But it would be unrealistic not to expect some decline in Manning’s performance over the next three seasons, even if he’s coming off what was arguably the best single season by a quarterback in NFL history. If Manning isn’t able to put together another super-human season, the Broncos may not be able to cruise to the Super Bowl so effortlessly the way they did in 2013, but even if they do, there is a slew of tough defenses in the NFC that could be waiting for them if they get there, much like the Seattle defense that stopped them dead in their tracks two weeks ago.
The next issue for the Broncos is the supporting cast around Manning. The team has several key players heading into free agency this offseason, and it’s unrealistic to think that they’ll be able to retain all of their key players. Offensively, running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Eric Decker are both free agents, and both are coming off the best season of their career, which will make it difficult for the Broncos to retain them and give Manning the same caliber of weapons around him next season.
Key defensive players like Shaun Phillips and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are also free agents, while the Broncos may have to deal with Chris Harris and Von Miller recovering from serious injuries they suffered late in the season, making their status for next season less certain. Moreover, Denver will have even more key players entering free agency after the 2014 season, making the shape of the roster around Manning uncertain moving forward, putting a lot of pressure on the team to find the right players in the draft and in free agency to keep the talent level around Manning high, even amidst a lot of roster turnover.
Finally, there is the competition they’ll have to face on their way to another Super Bowl. Despite Denver being in a division with two other playoff teams this season, there was profound mediocrity throughout the AFC in 2013. At the moment, there are few reasons to think that this will change drastically in 2014. However, as long as Tom Brady is around, the Patriots are in a similar boat as the Broncos, while the Colts could be ready to make a significant leap if they can put a better supporting cast around Andrew Luck. This could make a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl a little more difficult yet quite feasible for the Broncos, but as they learned this year, there’s a fine line between playing in a Super Bowl and winning one.
All things considered, the relative weakness of the AFC keeps the Super Bowl window open for the Broncos, because with a healthy Manning they could easily be considered the conference favorites heading into 2014. However, with Manning’s age and the uncertainty of the roster around him, they will not be the heavy favorites they were in 2013. On top of that, there are several NFC teams, most notably Seattle, San Francisco, and Carolina, that would tough for the Broncos to beat because of their elite defenses if Denver were to return to the Super Bowl. So while the Super Bowl window remains open for the Broncos, it’s barely more than a crack, and it’s closing fast.
Sports anchor Dale Hansen’s broadcast went viral Wednesday after he defended football star Michael Sam for coming out as gay.
Sam will be the first openly gay player when he gets drafted.
After anonymous NFL sources told Sports Illustrated that the move might prove to be a setback for Sam, Hansen argued otherwise. He condemned players who seemed to lack moral values in the NFL.
“You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome,” Hansen said. “You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far.”
Hansen also criticized those who say they want government out of their lives but in “our bedrooms”, and noted that it wasn’t long ago when players felt African Americans players would make a team uncomfortable.