2013 Draft – Team Evaluations, Part II

Teams covered in this report will be Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland.  Each of these four teams have interesting stories to tell, and all have playoff aspirations.  At least three of these teams look improved.  Read on, and feel free to make comments or ask questions.

CAROLINA:             2012  RECORD 7-9    2011 RECORD 6-10    2010 RECORD 2-14    2009 RECORD  8-8        

TEAM OVERVIEW: Teams had tape on Cam Newton so expectations were that some regression would occur.  That was indeed the case early, with five early season point totals of 14 or under, three vs. non-playoff types.  Cam had a completion % of exactly 57% through game 10 and the team was just 2-8 SU.  He was 109-185 in the 5-1 finish, although he faced only Atlanta as a playoff bound team (Panthers won 30-20).  But Cam was not the real reason behind the slow start and the disappointment of not making the playoffs.  Blame goes to the old GM, who gave the Panthers some rather awful draft picks and was fired DURING the ’12 season.  About 5 of 11 defensive starters are overmatched.  The playoffs remain a viable goal in ’13.  For HC Rivera this will be his final chance to show progress.  Odds seem to be stacked against him but it would help if new GM Dave Gettleman provides Rivera with more talent to make this work. 

 KEY STATS: The Panthers improved from 6-10 to 7-9 but did not fully validate their ’12 + point ratio.  Offensive #’s were down but the run O (130+-4.5) was still above average.  Offensive turnovers were kept low and the 3rd down O was strong.  Sacks improved to 39, 24 by the starting DE’s.  The # was 31 in each of the previous 3 seasons.  1st round pick Kuechly had an immediate impact on the run D and even the 3rd down D was above average.  The NFL is a passing league however, and Carolina remained porous vs. the pass at nearly 67%!  In this report a year ago we said, “Work needs to be done on special teams, as respected writer Rich Gosselin rated Carolina’s overall unit dead last!”  The ’11 punt return differential was poor and the KR D was well below average.  That area did improve defensively, with Carolina unlucky that opponents hit 35-37 PK’s.  Offensively, the return game needs work as does punting and kicking.  There are no current spread #’s of note.

 2012 DRAFT REVIEW: LB Kuechly may look like an accountant but his work on the field is amazing.  He had 164 rookie tackles!  We clearly liked three of the top five picks but more was needed.  As we said a year ago, “this draft feels better than the one last year but Carolina could have made it more focused by drafting a DE earlier, plus adding a DT and a TE.  Last year they left higher rated players on the board at every pick.  That may have been the case four times in the sleeper rounds”.

 1-09                  LB  Kuechly               1The move mid-year to MLB was golden as he could be elite at play recognition right now!

2-40                  OG Silatolu                3Still learning pass protection, but had 15 LG starts.  Small college draftee figures to improve.

4-103                DE  Alexander         15             Long arms but not explosive or physical.  18 rookie tackles and 2.5 sacks.  Rotational value.

4-104                WR Adams              24Elite punt returner but an inconsistent speed WR who had fumbling issues as we expected

5-143                CB  Norman             7               12 starts and 73 tackles.  Learned OTJ but we like the quirky CB despite a lack of elite speed.

6-207                  P  Nortman            NR             ’12 Comment:  Average punter whose best year was ’10.  Last in net punting yards as a rookie.

7-216                  S  Campbell                       NR             One-year FS starter had a big Pro day but best skill is on special teams (12 rookie tackles)

 2011 DRAFT REVISITED: Cam Newton is athletic and with the right coaching can have a very good NFL career.  His pass % regressed a bit in ’12 and his overall leadership still must be watched.  Still, he had a 14-1 ratio in games 11-16.  It’s rare that we have a NR rating for a guy chosen at pick #65.  DT McClain got that rating and was cut during ’12!  Our lowest rated DT (Fua) was drafted at the end of the 3rd round.  He has 23 tackles in 2 years!  The very next pick (#98) was * rated Hogan, who is gone!  Get the picture?  WR Pilares (*rated) is best used on special teams.  The remaining 3 picks (none rated) are all gone!  Here are excerpts of what we wrote as it happened: Despite drafting early in every round they left higher rated players on the board every time!  McClain, Fua and Hogan and Wilson fit our top need areas, but the ratings are awful!  We are NOT impressed.  They took too many chances in the draft.  Carolina could not afford to reach, but did so almost every round.  We would change every pick.

 TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: Cam Newton brings that extra run dimension to the team, making the overall run O the strength.  Maybe things will change, but the pass D% is the weak link right now.

A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON: To be added after 2013 schedules are announced (around 4/18-20)

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: Carolina has seen some turnover, but the losses are not major.  CB Gamble only played four games in ’12.  LB Anderson (73) can be replaced, as can NT Edwards.  Decent WR Murphy only played here one year (25-12.2-1).  Unfortunately, most of the newcomers are not anything special either.  They include WR Hixon (maybe a #3, not a #2 guy), WR/KR Ginn (best left for return duty) and decent LB Blackburn.  Carolina added a trio of DB’s.  CB Florence is hardly an impact guy.  DB Moore who is similar to Munnerlyin, fills the nickel role.  Safety Mike Mitchell who, like Moore should not be a full time starter.  In addition to GM Gettleman, Mike Shula (I’m getting old) is the new OC.  He was the QB coach in ’12.  Amazingly, Carolina has another new special teams coach.  One of our very favorite 100% effort guys, Ricky Proehl, is the new WR coach.  Google him!  In additional to an amazing 17 year NFL career which included clutch playoff/Super Bowl performances, he owns and manages a now world famous sports fitness center!  Good for him!

2013 DRAFT NEEDS: Impact CB, OLB, DT, 1 + WR, impact TE, 1-2 OL, run stopping DE, free safety, back-up QB, Punter.  As you can see, Carolina has numerous needs.  CB is obvious.  So is OLB, with Kuechly’s best spot being MLB.  Dwan Edwards and Sione Fua are the DT’s!  Olsen had a solid year in ’12, but is he dynamic enough?  RT Bell could be upgraded.  Carolina can do better than special teams ace Nakamura at free safety. 

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2013: To be added on 4/15

CHICAGO:               2012 RECORD 10-6    2011 RECORD 8-8    2010 RECORD 11-5    2009 RECORD 7-9     

TEAM OVERVIEW: 10-6 wasn’t good enough.  Chicago was 8-0 vs. non-playoff teams which to us meant that the Bears were good, but did not belong in the top group of teams.  We disagree (not strongly however) with the firing of Lovie Smith but note that if it was not for exceptional special team play the Bears would have been lucky to finish 8-8!  Chicago was #1 in takeaways with 44, had numerous special team TD’s and finished with a +20 turnover ratio.  That translates to 70 manufactured points.  Jay Cutler is not a bad QB, but 19 passing TD’s is not good enough in the NFL.  The D is still strong, but clearly aging at LB and maybe even at CB.  Marc Trestman is an offensive-minded HC with a proven QB success record in the NFL and a proven win record up in Canada.  It will be interesting to see what he brings to a team with both elite talent as well as below average talent.

 KEY STATS: WR Marshall was elite with 118 receptions and 11 TD’s.  The run O was serviceable.  Unfortunately, losing WR Knox meant that there was no true #2 target with rookie WR Jeffery a work in progress.  TE play was a complete joke and last in the NFL!  The OL allowed 46 sacks (95 the last 32 games).  Defensively, the Bears allowed just 6 run TD’s and intercepted 24 passes (best in the NFL)!  Chicago has 65 defensive picks the past 3 seasons.  The pass D was <60%.  Chicago improved to 41 sacks.  Special team D was well above average and of course special team play continues to be amazing.  Spread-wise, the Bears are 37-24 as a HU, and 22-10 as a HU with >3 points, 7-14 in MNF road games and 3-8 as a MNF HF. 

 2012 DRAFT REVIEW: Chicago hasn’t been very successful in selecting early round talent.  LB McClellin is GM Emery’s attempt to change that, but his value was not at #19 (see our ratings, below).  He was considered a project by some scouts, too small for DE and not yet ready to be a complete LB.  The Bears wanted him to play DE.  Jay Cutler likes big WR’s who can go up for the ball and Jeffrey fit that mold.  He has a legit shot to become the consistent #2 guy.  Hardin did not even play in 2011!   Last year figured to be a “redshirt” NFL season.  We said the following last year: Picks in the sleeper rounds were risky, confirming our opinion that new GM Emery has no clue how to draft!  Not only were the ratings poor, but Chicago failed to draft any OL.  CBS Sports had Frey listed as the 453rd best draft prospect.  Emery said they got the “best cover CB” on the 3rd day.  “I felt like we did very well, and the overriding thing again was … finding the players that can help us the quickest to reach our goal of winning a championship,” Emery said.  This draft needs to be much better, as OL is a mess and the LB’s are getting older.

 1-19                  LB McClellin            6               14 tackles and 2.5 sacks in a modest rookie year playing undersized at DE

2-45                  WR Jeffrey                6               10 games, 23 catches.  Should be a red zone threat but Bears did not use him that way.

3-79                    S  Hardin                 *  OSU CB missed all of ’11 in college and ’12 as well.  Talented but definitely needed time.

4-111                TE  Rodriquez         6                FB for Bears and started 5 games.  DUI issue earlier this year.

6-184                CB  Frey                  NR              Gives big cushion, not physical and footwork a Q, hence the NR rating (did not play in ’12)

7-220                CB  McCoy             NR Cut, as we expected

 2011 DRAFT REVISITED: Chicago had its usual five player draft, this time with a 1st round pick.  OT Carmini started 14 games but disappointed in pass protection.  DT/NT Paea didn’t fit the scheme, as we noted twice.  He’s strong and quick and seemingly their best option.  Rated FS Conte starts and had 68 tackles.  NR QB Enderle is gone.  LB JT Thomas made 5 tackles.

 TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: Special team play is the strength, and this unit has been at the top of the NFL for several years.  OL pass protection is the weakness, although LB talent and depth is slipping as well.

 A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON: To be added after 2013 schedules are announced (around 4/18-20)

Last year Chicago had to play 3 MNF games, and then 3 short weeks.  Chicago was 5-1 SU in these games, very nice coaching!

 FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: Chicago has never been afraid to make a free agency splash/trade and that trend continued last year with the trade for #1 WR Marshall, giving up 3rd round choices in ’12 and ’13. This year was more reserved, but OT Bushrod is an instant upgrade.  He joins OG Slauson (not great, but a 3-year starter for the Jets).  The Bears cut OC/OG Spencer (89 career starts) and below average OG Lance Lewis (11 starts last year).  TE’s Davis and Speath combined for 29 catches in ’12.  They won’t be missed!  Adding TE Bennett is a step in the right direction, but hopefully not the last step.  QB Campbell is gone.  Defensively, the only area affected by losses would be LB but those lost were not special anyway.  Roach and Hayes won’t be missed, but Urlacher’s leadership might be.  Defensive additions are for the most part not exciting, with only OLB James Anderson (decent in ’12 but not an impact player) and cerebral safety Zbikowski figuring to be of much assistance.  HC Trestman has hired Aaron Kromer as the new OC and Mel Tucker as the new DC.  

 2013 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 OL, MLB, 1 early DL, another WR and TE, back-up QB, LB depth.  The Bears still need an upgrade over OC Garza and OG Brown.  There’s a void with Urlacher gone in the middle.  Little depth or impact exists along the DL.  The aerial attack still needs weapons.  An overall youth movement is necessary. 

 RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2013: To be added on 4/15. 

CINCINNATI:          2012 RECORD  10-6    2011 RECORD 9-7    2010 RECORD 4-12    2009 RECORD 10-6 

TEAM OVERVIEW: Thanks to 2nd year pros Dalton and Green, the Bengals made the playoffs in ’11 and ’12, the 1st time they achieved such a distinction in 30 years.  Cincy has consistently drafted well and with some strong coaching may be poised to become a bigger AFC force.  Holding them back has been a tight-fisted payroll, preventing the Bengals from signing a splash free agent to get the team over the next hump, a playoff run.  With an NFL high $53 million under the cap, Cincy stated they will use much of the $$$ to sign current team members.  We’re not criticizing the approach, but the poster child for drafting police blotter players (at least until the Lions got busy) are about to make players such as Andre Smith rich, and the work ethic will be a must watch.  Cincy is trying to end the NFL’s longest playoff victory drought (22 years).  Beating Pitt and Baltimore in December was a major step forward in team development.  Do that again and perhaps the Bengals will become AFC North champs in ’13. 

 KEY STATS: RB Green-Ellis is your typical Bengal; Near 1,100 yards but just a 3.9 average.  He’s dependable and does not fumble, but Cincy needs backfield speed.  The OL went from allowing 25 sacks to 46.  That needs fixing.  Dalton is an accurate QB but still a bit interception prone.  The pass allowed 67.5% in games 1-9 but 54.5% the rest of the way.  Again, a splash free agent would help as there is no elite back 7 player.  The scheme was good, producing a possible record 51 sacks!  The point D was poor early but Cincy allowed 102 points in the 2nd half of the season!  Spread-wise, Cincy is most dangerous at home in December when OUT of the playoff chase (2-3 in ’11-12 when IN the playoff race).  Cincy went 1-1-1 as a HF outside of the month of December and remain well below average as a HF during this time period. 

 2012 DRAFT REVIEW: As usual, we were able to hone in on Cincy’s desire to take the last remaining 1st round CB prospect.  We knew OL was next, but Cincy surprised us by trading down, content with Zeitzer over DeCastro.  In our near 35 years of doing this, no team with 10 or more draft picks has ever chosen all numerically rated players!  There was even room for undrafted rookie LB Burfict, who shockingly contributed 127 tackles! 

 1-17                  CB  Kirkpatrick              2          Freelance CB played just 5 games (42 snaps) due to injury.  Zone guy who has to be pushed.

1-27                  OG  Zeitzer                    4          Run blocking technician WAS the “safe” pick and he started all 16 games (RG)

2-53                  DT  Still                          4          Talented run stuffer had 17 tackles in 8 games.  Lacks motivation but a force when fresh.

3-83                  WR Sanu                       8          Was coming on when injury struck.  Won’t be downfield force but will make the tough catch.

3-93                  DT  Thompson              6          Strong, sure tackler who played sparingly as a rookie

4-116                TE  Charles                   3          Assisted in run blocking and had 8 receptions .  DUI makes this a great fit!  .

5-156                CB  Prater                    16         IR thanks to a knee injury in training camp

5-166                WR M Jones                 17         We said “Ordinary” WR with large hands who can run routes.  18 catches in 11 GP.  #3 option?

5-167                  S  Iloka                         5          Tallest rated DB might  help vs. new wave of TE’s.  7 games played, mostly on special teams.

6-191                RB  Herron                    16         All 10 Bengal draftees made the team.  Limited action.  Better RB’s were available in this draft.

 2011 DRAFT REVISITED: Counting ’12, Cincy’s has had four 3rd straight strong drafts.  Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much from the picks after WR Green (97-13.9-11) and Dalton (62.3%, 27 TD’s).  LB Moch has had on and off-field issues and may be gone.  OG Boling subbed admirably for projected starter Wharton.  Our 6th rated OG started all 16 games!  FS Sands was little used in ’11 and on IR in ’12.  WR Whalen caught 7.  The 7th round draftees were cut before the ’11 season.

 TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: Without a super strength we will call team depth their #1 area, and it’s the best we’ve ever seen here.  RB Green-Ellis is a workhorse, but the overall run game lacks any sort of speed.

 A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON: To be added after 2013 schedules are announced (around 4/18-20)

 FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS: AND STAFF NOTES: The only even remotely significant loss has been LB Lawson (10 starts, 39 tackles).  Unfortunately, Cincy is not parting with its cap $$$ to sign any significant free agents.  Even signing one or two would be tremendous!  Adding disposable QB’s Josh Johnson and John Skelton are hardly NFL worthy moves. 

 2013 DRAFT NEEDS: LB’s, RB with speed, safety, 1 OL (2 if Andre Smith is let go), extra WR, 3rd down RB, better back-up QB, KO specialist, PR.  Cincy lacks impact at LB, with Burfict now the “leader”.  As noted, RB needs help.  A challenge to safeties Crocker and Nelson seems more than logical.  The OL needs pass protection assistance. 

 RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2013: To be added on 4/15

CLEVELAND:         2012 RECORD 5-11    2011 RECORD 4-12    2010 RECORD 5-11    2009 RECORD 5-11     

TEAM OVERVIEW: Welcome to stupid!  That is what we wrote 13 months ago when we said the following: “Anything less than RG III is just plain stupid”.  Mike Holmgren has long been overmatched in NFL draft war rooms and this was just one example of how he steered the Browns away from potential greatness.  Armed with a plethora of draft picks, Mike gave away 3 early when Minny bluffed them at #3, then proceeded to draft an unrated DT at 87 who himself wasn’t even sure he would be drafted (see below)!  The actual season started with their best CB, Joe Haden receiving a 4-game suspension and close losses were the early result.  A 3 game win streak late was achieved while Holmgren was in the midst of stepping down.  Interestingly enough, the season was not a total disaster as the Browns lost only one game by more than 10 points until “giving up” games 14-16.  What does 2013 hold in store?  As we write this on March 3rd, our thoughts are very positive.  Stay tuned!  Cleveland is just 22-58 the past five seasons.  Can the new regime make the right moves and close the gap in the now evolving AFC North?

 KEY STATS: Offensively, Cleveland scored 302 points (18.9 per game), 24th in the NFL.  They were 30th at 13.5 per game in ’11 so they improved.  Rookie Richardson ran just 3.6, but with 11 tough TD’s.  Rookie QB Weeden was not as bad as some say.  He hit 57.4% with a 14-17 ratio.  Cleveland is not deep at WR but lucked out when they got Josh Gordon in July (supplemental draft).  The 3rd down O was poor.  Clearly there is more work to do with a  negative 66 1st down ratio and a -4:02 time of possession #.  Defensively, the pass D regressed to 63%.  The run D was slightly worse than the NFL average, coming in at 118.6-4.2.  There’s joy here however as that is the BEST figure the new Browns have ever posted!  The previous 13 years had yielded a run D average of 145 per game!  PK Dawson was solid as usual and may be the team MVP after CB Haden.  Josh Cribbs remains a top tier return specialist.  The return D was decent. 

 2012 DRAFT REVIEW: Cleveland panicked all draft long!  They overtraded to move up one spot.  They took a DT we rated NR in the 3rd round.  Here’s the draft gem we noted a year ago: The high school coach of DT Hughes wasn’t sure he would be drafted.  Hughes himself planned his family’s draft party for Saturday, not Friday!    This should have been much better!  NOTE: WR Gordon (supplemental draft in July, 50-16.1-5) was an instant starter for this team hungry for WR talent.

 1-03                  RB  Richardson               1        Solid rookie season despite the 3.6 per carry.  Can block and therefore is a 3-down back.     

1-22                  QB  Weeden                   4        Accurate QB is not a great decision-maker but has arm strength.  Not nimble in pocket.

2-37                  OT  Schwartz                  4        16 RT starts, missing just 2 snaps!  Currently more of a pass protection guy.

3-87                  DT  Hughes                   NR       Played significant minutes (34-3) with more run stopping ability than we thought he’d have

4-100                WR Benjamin                   *        Too slender for our tastes but caught 18 and can contribute.  May assume ’13 return role(s).

4-120                LB  J-Michael Johnson  15     8 starts, and 36 tackles counting special team play.  Athletic, but lacks NFL instincts.

5-160                OG Miller                         11       Played only in week 17 (11 snaps, 2 sacks allowed).

6-204                LB  Acho                          19       Did not play as a rookie (IR)

6-205                DT  Winn                          *         Saw significant time in the rotation with 26 tackles (8 starts).

7-245                CB  Wade                      NR       Ceiling is as a nickel back which means better was available.  Little ’12 action.

7-247                TE  Smelley                    *          Minimal action weeks 16-17.  ‘Bama grad an overachiever with no strength, lacks TE height.

 2011 DRAFT REVISITED: In ’11 we were surprised Cleveland traded up for DT Taylor, whose better suited to the 3-4.  He has talent but was hurt much of ’12 after putting up great rookie #’s.  Maybe the scheme will change?  DE Sheard has had two very good seasons.  WR Little had 53 catches and some say as many drops!  He now gets to be in the #2 role which he has a shot at filling decently.  TE Cameron caught 20 but for under seven yards per reception.  FB Marecic lost his job.  * rated CB Skrine had six starts due to injuries and suspensions and contributed 85 tackles but as stated in ’11 he needed a soft zone scheme which is why the pass D% rose.  OT Pinkston is a keeper but spent much of ’12 on IR (blood clot in leg).  FS Hagg had 22 tackles. 

 TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: The left side of the OL is the on-field strength but worth noting is that we think this is the best coaching staff Cleveland may have ever had, assuming HC Chudizinski is ready for the job.  The run D finally improved in ’12 but is still a bit below average (best mark ever for the new Browns). 

 A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON: To be added after 2013 schedules are announced (around 4/18-20)

 FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: The offense lost below average WR Massaquoi, odd man out at QB Colt McCoy (trade) and veteran TE Watson.  They’ve signed TE’s Barnidge and Davis but they’re even worse than Watson.  QB Campbell is “acceptable” but won’t push this team where it wants to go.  Moves have been made defensively but the only one worth noting is the signing of ex-Raven Kruger who got hot at the right time and scored a big contract here.  Josh Cribbs is still with the Browns but maybe not for long (physical pending).  PK Dawson is NOT, and for a team getting must more competitive in the AFC Central that could be a big loss (29-31 and 13-13 from 40 on out).  The new HC is Rob Chudzinski who deserves this shot.  The new OC is Norv Turner who is creative in this role.  The new DC is Ray Horton who did wonders in Arizona and comes from the famed Steeler defensive tree.  Michael Lombardi takes over as GM and that could be a bit of a worry. 

 2013 DRAFT NEEDS: OLB, DL, free safety, CB, real TE, PK, extra WR, OG, FB, KR/PR if Cribbs leaves.  Cleveland is transitioning to a 3-4 and has little if any OLB’s to choose from.  The DL has bodies but is Hughes the answer?  With Osama Young gone, free safety is wide open.  Does Cleveland need to upgrade over Sheldon Brown at CB?  As it is, the backups are weak.  There is no go-to TE on the roster.  Frail 2nd year WR Benjamin is the current #3 option and maybe the return specialist if Cribbs leaves.  Cleveland is set at OT and OC but could upgrade rather easily at OG.   

 RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2013: To be added on 4/15

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