AFC East: Asante Samuel
The problem is Samuel is 31 and coming off one of his least productive seasons in 2011. He recorded 34 tackles and three interceptions in 14 games. The Patriots drafted Samuel and had the cornerback in his prime years at an affordable rate. Trading for Samuel now would force New England to inherit an aging corner and his immense, $9.9 million salary. That is more than what the Patriots are scheduled to pay Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker ($9.5 million) with the franchise tag.
In the end, the Patriots should pass on Samuel. They need help at corner but not at that steep price. New England can use its four draft picks in the first two rounds as a more cost-effective way to address the secondary.
Next up are cornerbacks.
Only three AFC East players made Kirwan's rundown of the league's 30 best cornerbacks. Kirwan breaks down each position into sets of five (along with a corresponding trend arrow), and you can guess who's in the "A" quintet.
New York Jets star Darrelle Revis is there and still trending upward. Also in the group are Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey, Asante Samuel and Charles Woodson.
New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty is in the "B" group, ranking him somewhere between sixth and 10th along with Cortland Finnegan, Dunta Robinson, Tramon Williams and Antoine Winfield. McCourty's arrow is pointing up, too.
Vontae Davis of the Miami Dolphins fell into the "D" group and is tending upward in Kirwan's book.
He was voted The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. ESPN.com's Power Rankings panel made him the unanimous choice when voting on the best defenders last month.
But in a segment for the NFL Network, a pair of opinionated and decorated veterans didn't rate Polamalu even the best defensive back in the game.
New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber assembled their top-10 list of the greatest defensive backs. With one safety and one corner compiling the order, there was no positional bias.
This is what Sharper and Barber came up with:
- Darrelle Revis, Jets cornerback
- Troy Polamalu, Steelers safety
- Ed Reed, Ravens safety
- Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders cornerback
- Charles Woodson, Packers cornerback
- Champ Bailey, Broncos cornerback
- Nick Collins, Packers safety
- Adrian Wilson, Rams safety
- Devin McCourty, Patriots cornerback
- Aqib Talib, Buccaneers cornerback
I believe Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL, but it's a little strange to see him rated higher than Polamalu, who's coming off such a great season.
That's also an impressive showing for McCourty after one NFL season. Sharper and Barber ranked him the fifth-best cornerback ahead of guys like Asante Samuel, Antoine Winfield and Tramon Williams.
The list generated murmurs about Elsayed's sanity because he listed New England Patriots quarterback and reigning (unanimous) MVP Tom Brady at No. 33.
Although grading players off television isn't the same as grading coaches' game film, and grades are only as good as the evaluators and the consistency of their systems, Pro Football Focus at least puts in the time to scrutinize every play from every game in myriad ways.
Elsayed has a basis for his opinion beyond pulling names out of the air, which many readers will assume he did.
Bart Scott, not considered the best inside linebacker on the New York Jets roster, was No. 29.
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams was rated third behind only Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith and way ahead of superstars such as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis isn't on the list anywhere.
The list is, to be diplomatic, interesting.
The AFC East representatives who did make the list:
- 3. Kyle Williams, Bills defensive tackle: The only Bill on the chart.
- 26. Jake Long, Dolphins left tackle: The highest-rated tackle -- right or left.
- 29. Bart Scott, Jets inside linebacker: Elsayed calls David Harris "inferior" and didn't include him.
- 30. Nick Mangold, Jets center: The highest rated at his position.
- 31. Cameron Wake, Dolphins outside linebacker: Dolphins should offer him for Brady, straight up.
- 33. Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback: Brady was the sixth QB. Hey, at least he beat out Antonio Garay (37th).
- 60. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end: rated fourth behind Dallas Clark, Marcedes Lewis and Antonio Gates.
- 67. Logan Mankins, Patriots guard: Run blocking was dominant enough to overcome a half-season of work.
- 70. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets left tackle: Ahead of Joe Thomas.
- 71. Devin McCourty, Patriots cornerback: Ahead of Asante Samuel and Brent Grimes.
- 73. Sione Pouha, Jets nose tackle: Combination of size and hustle mentioned as reason he's so highly rated.
- 85. Shaun Ellis, Jets defensive end: Division-leading fifth Jets player on the list.
- 89. Paul Soliai, Dolphins nose tackle: Elsayed said his final nine weeks graded among best in the NFL.
- 99. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins tight end: On the list for his blocking acumen.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below this article.
I expect a lively discussion.
The Bills actually were the AFC East's most efficient club when it came to drafting starters since Modrak came aboard in 2002.
Several factors certainly play into that from team to team. Importance of the position, holes that allow for immediate contributions and reliance on free agents to fill out a roster all make a difference. So do the number of players drafted.
But, in general, I thought it was an interesting snapshot to share. Because the research was done to put Modrak's tenure in perspective, numbers are from 2002 through the present.
First through third rounds: 28 players; 804 starts (15th)
Fourth through seventh rounds: 45 players; 417 starts (eighth)
Analysis: Among AFC East teams, only the New England Patriots generated more starts within the first three rounds. No other division opponent found more starts from the fourth round and beyond. The Bills have whiffed badly on some early picks, as noted in Thursday's story about Modrak. But they have done well in locating solid help in the later rounds, namely 1,000-yard receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round), Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round) and top cornerback and Pro Bowl kick returner Terrence McGee (fourth round).
First through third rounds: 25 players; 599 starts (31st)
Fourth through seventh rounds: 43 players; 333 starts (16th)
Analysis: The Dolphins have done well with their recent first-round picks. Although receiver Ted Ginn with the ninth pick in 2007 was controversial, they found keepers with tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey and running back Ronnie Brown. But the second and third rounds have been a wasteland: quarterbacks John Beck and Pat White, running back Lorenzo Booker, receivers Patrick Turner and Derek Hagan, linebacker Eddie Moore. Miami's best later-round pickups since 2002 have been franchise-tagged nose tackle Paul Soliai (fourth round), Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell (sixth round) and tight end Randy McMichael (fourth round).
New England Patriots
First through third rounds: 31 players; 823 starts (12th)
Fourth through seventh rounds: 50 players; 379 starts (11th)
Analysis: The Patriots have found their share of gems in the later rounds, including four eventual Pro Bowlers. They picked up cornerback Asante Samuel and kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round, center Dan Koppen in the fifth and quarterback Matt Cassel in the seventh. They've also done incredibly well with their first-round selections. Five of their past six first-rounders have gone to the Pro Bowl. Where the Patriots have been shaky is in the second and third rounds. They've gotten receiver Deion Branch, tight end Rob Gronkowski, tackle Sebastian Vollmer and safety Patrick Chung there, for instance, but they've also misfired with quarterback Kevin O'Connell, receivers Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson and cornerback Terrence Wheatley.
New York Jets
First through third rounds: 24 players; 766 starts (19th)
Fourth through seventh rounds: 32 players; 314 starts (18th)
Analysis: The Jets' start totals look worse because they haven't drafted as many players as the other AFC East teams. Their early round players average 32 starts, about 5 1/2 more than the Patriots. But the team that accumulated the most starts here -- the Jacksonville Jaguars with 1,172 -- averaged an extraordinary 43 per player. The Jets obviously failed with 2008 sixth overall pick Vernon Gholston and 2003 fourth overall pick Dewayne Robertson, but they've generally identified quality players inside the first three rounds, including All-Pros Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis and franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Since we're in the offseason -- or purgatory, if you will -- I've been forced to alter the perception of the moment when compiling my positional Power Rankings ballots for ESPN.com's weekly series.
I've taken into account not only last year's production, but also how I perceive players entering the 2011 season.
With that in mind, I can't fathom how New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty didn't get more respect from our panel when rating the NFL's best at his position. He came in eighth on the overall list, one point behind Tramon Williams.
I rated him fifth on my ballot. Nobody else had him higher than NFC West blogger Mike Sando at eighth. Three bloggers ranked McCourty ninth, two had him 10th. NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas didn't list him at all.
Yasinskas reasoned it was because McCourty was a rookie who needs to put together another brilliant season to be considered among the best.
"One great season does not make a great career," Yasinskas said in the story written by AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky. "Let's see him do it again. I'm not saying he's got to do it for 10 or 15 years. ... But you have to be consistently at the top for at least a few years before you get on a top 10 list."
That's where Yasinskas and I have philosophical differences.
It didn't matter that McCourty was a rookie when the Associated Press voted him second-team All-Pro, when the Sporting News named him first-team All-Pro, when the fans, coaches and players voted McCourty a Pro Bowl starter.
McCourty tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions. He ranked fourth in team tackles with 83 and led with 17 passes defensed (by the Patriots' count; the NFL had him down for 24). He also recorded a sack and two forced fumbles.
The NFL community clearly considered McCourty elite. That's good enough for me.
Furthermore, he was New England's left cornerback, forced into the critical role of defending the opposition's top receiver when Leigh Bodden was placed on injured reserve right before the season began. McCourty performed under pressure.
For the record, this was my ballot:
- Darrelle Revis, New York Jets
- Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland Raiders
- Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers
- Asante Samuel, Philadelphia Eagles
- Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
- Antoine Winfield, Minnesota Vikings
- Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos
- DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins
- Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons
- Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs
Most of the list is self-explanatory. Where I was most out of line with the other voters -- aside from McCourty -- was Bailey. I ranked him lower than any other panelist.
Then again, McCourty took one of my lofty spots they were reluctant to give. I also had Winfield sixth, exactly the same as four other panelists.
So Bailey makes sense at No. 7 when McCourty gets a little more respect.
But 2004 stands apart. The Patriots claimed their third Vince Lombardi Trophy in four seasons to establish themselves as one of the all-time great teams. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick ensured their place in Canton.
The Patriots picked up where they left off after winning Super Bowl XXXVIII the year before. They increased their win streak to an NFL record 21 games. They ranked fourth in scoring and second in points allowed. They lost two games all season, Week 8 at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Week 15 at the Miami Dolphins.
After beating the Indianapolis Colts for the second time and holding Peyton Manning's offense to three points in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Patriots scored 41 points to avenge their defeat in Pittsburgh.
In Super Bowl XXXIX, the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles more comfortably than the 24-21 score indicates. Adam Vinatieri didn't need to drill a field goal in the closing seconds for a change.
Most impressive win: The Patriots never were more dominant than they were in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills, a borderline playoff team that won three out of four heading into Gillette Stadium and six straight afterward. The Patriots rolled up a season-high 428 offensive yards and limited the Bills to 125 yards to win 29-6.
What can Brown do for you? Pretty much whatever you could ask of him. Brown caught only 15 passes in the regular season, but in Week 9 against the St. Louis Rams, he entered the game as an emergency defensive back when Samuel went down with an injury. Brown finished the season with three interceptions (one shy of the team lead) and broke the Super Bowl record for punt returns.
2007: It's the greatest NFL team not to win the championship. Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker rewrote a good chunk of the offensive record book, but the Patriots fell short of finishing the season undefeated, losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
2001: New England won its first championship with an offense that ranked sixth in scoring and a defense that ranked sixth in points allowed. Belichick's controversial decision to stick with Brady when Drew Bledsoe returned to health created a superstar.
2003: New England went 14-2 to win its second title in three years. The offense was pretty mediocre, but the defense posted three shutouts, gave up six points or fewer five times and averaged 11.9 points against over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
1976: Patriots fans thought a storybook season was unfolding in the bicentennial. Steve Grogan and Sam Cunningham led the Pats to an 11-3 record, but a controversial late-hit call helped them lose to the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.
- Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet New England has changed his stance on whether the Patriots erred in not drafting receiver Dez Bryant.
- WEEI.com's Christopher Price checks in on the futures of former Patriots defenders Richard Seymour, Adalius Thomas and Asante Samuel.
- Indianapolis Star reporter Phil Richards writes about the Colts' future under Chris Polian, the prodigy Marv Levy recommended for the Bills' GM job two years ago.
- Lori Chase of Two Bills Drive shines a spotlight on the career and community works of AFL star Booker Edgerson, the next player to be added to the Bills' Wall of Fame.
- Palm Beach Post columnist Dave George shares the tale of rookie guard John Jerry (aka Baby J), the Dolphins' only offensive draft choice.
- Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald takes a look at rookie safety Reshad Jones' chances to crack the starting lineup in Week 1.
- Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Clark writes the Jets will rely on the draft picks more for depth than immediate help.
- Manish Mehta of the Newark Star-Ledger addresses the signings of undrafted rookies Cory Reamer and Brashton Satele.
The project was considerable, and the results make for a fun read.
A breakdown of AFC East representatives underscores how important a strong draft is to winning championships. All but a handful of those players belonged to a team that was great for a long time.
Five players who made the cut played for the Miami Dolphins' undefeated 1972 squad and won multiple Super Bowls.
Seven more played in at least on Super Bowl for the New England Patriots, with three joining as free agents.
Three played in four straight Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills.
Before you take a look at the list, check out Spencer's explanation of how the draft all-stars were selected.
First round: Bills defensive end Bruce Smith, Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour, Chargers linebacker Junior Seau (Dolphins, Patriots).
Second round: Bills running back Thurman Thomas (Dolphins), Dolphins center Dwight Stephenson, Dolphins defensive tackle Bob Baumhower.
Third round: Dolphins running back Mercury Morris, 49ers receiver Terrell Owens (Bills), Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
Fourth round: Bills receiver Andre Reed, Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel.
Fifth round: Dolphins running back Jim Kiick, Patriots tight end Ben Coates, Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, Chargers safety Rodney Harrison (Patriots).
Sixth round: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Jets defensive tackle Joe Klecko, Dolphins defensive end Doug Betters, Ravens outside linebacker Adalius Thomas (Patriots).
Seventh round plus: Dolphins defensive tackle Manny Fernandez, Ravens linebacker Bart Scott (Jets).
- Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News reiterates previous reports by writing the Jets still aren't interested in Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall.
- Pro Football Weekly's Michael Blunda analyzes the LaDainian Tomlinson and Thomas Jones switcheroos from a fantasy football perspective.
- Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News examines a dicey situation the Bills might be facing with running back Marshawn Lynch.
- Gaughan also takes a look at how the Donovan McNabb trade might affect what the Bills do in the draft.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Ethan J. Skolnick provides his rundown of the greatest first-round picks in Dolphins history.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero forecasts players the Dolphins might consider in the second and third rounds.
- ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss reviews the Patriots' controversial decision to part ways with cornerback Asante Samuel.
- Christopher Price of WEEI.com explains the McNabb trade to Washington works well for the Patriots because he didn't land with the Raiders. Not to mention, the Patriots won't have to face him twice against the Bills.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Running back: Corey Dillon
Receivers: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Troy Brown
Tight end: Daniel Graham
Center: Dan Koppen
Guards: Logan Mankins, Joe Andruzzi
Tackles: Matt Light, Nick Kaczur
Nose tackle: Vince Wilfork
Defensive ends: Richard Seymour, Ty Warren
Outside linebackers: Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel
Inside linebackers: Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer
Cornerbacks: Ty Law, Asante Samuel
Safeties: Rodney Harrison, Lawyer Milloy
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri
Punter: Josh Miller
Kick returner: Kevin Faulk
Coverage: Larry Izzo
Don't give a moment's thought about the Patriots.
"I don't think they care about you, in my opinion," Samuel said Friday after Pro Bowl practice. "They didn't care about me. So do what's best for you and your family."
Samuel's comment appeared on the Boston Globe's "Extra Points" blog, written by Adam Kilgore. Samuel was a free-agent cornerback upon whom the Patriots placed the franchise tag in 2007. A year later, he split for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wilfork is a free agent and critical member of the Patriots defense, an elite 3-4 nose tackle. Unless a long-term contract can be worked out, Wilfork seems destined for a franchise tag, too.
The NFL announced the 2010 franchise-tag figure for defensive tackles will be $7.03 million.
Boston Globe columnist Charles P. Pierce is all for Wilfork taking it to the Patriots:
The Three Super Bowls argument is getting a little old. There are better run franchises in the NFL than the Patriots now. Two of them are playing a game next Sunday. The days in which players hungered to come here and to play for the league's signature franchise are long gone, and the signature franchise is in Indianapolis anyway. Also gone are the days in which the Patriots had the luxury of pressing every advantage they have to the wall. Word gets around. Players talk. If this franchise jacks around with someone like Wilfork just because it can, what does that tell everyone else on the team?
On Friday, Wilfork was more diplomatic about his contract situation than he'd been in interviews earlier this week.
Wilfork drew a line in the sand Wednesday on Boston sports-radio station WEEI and told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Thursday that playing in his home state of Florida would be "a dream come true."
"I said what I had to say, and I'm done with it," Wilfork said Friday. "Next time I approach that is when I find out what's going on. ... I already talked about it, so I don’t want to keep hammering at it."
Nobody overtook him as the NFL's interceptions leader.
With two weeks left in the regular season, Byrd went on injured reserve because he opted to have groin surgery. He had a league-leading nine interceptions at the time, but was tied by New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel in Week 16.
Byrd held onto a piece of the title Sunday. Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted his ninth pass, but nobody snatched a 10th, leaving Byrd in a four-way tie for the honor.
Byrd's nine interceptions set Buffalo's rookie record. He had at least one interception in five straight games, also a club record.
On the topic of Bills milestones, here are some records they broke in 2009:
With a week of fan voting left, let's take a look at where AFC East players rank within the conference. The fan vote comprises one-third of the selection process. The coaches and players submit their choices next week. Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Dec. 29.
2. Tom Brady, Patriots (622,916)
Comment: He's the only AFC East player in the top 10 of overall voting. Brady has the fourth-most votes of any quarterback behind Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
Comment: Ronnie Brown generated some votes early in the process, but now that he's done for the year, he has fallen out of the top five. I'm surprised Ricky Williams or Thomas Jones isn't on the list. Williams is 25 yards from another 1,000-yard season, and Jones is carrying the Jets' offense.
3. Sammy Morris, Patriots (77,663)
5. Tony Richardson, Jets (70,183)
Comment: Ravens back Le'Ron McClain is way ahead with 160,915 votes.
3. Randy Moss, Patriots (522,035)
5. Wes Welker, Patriots (313,641)
Comment: How in the world Welker isn't higher, I have no clue. The guy only leads the NFL in receptions, is second in yards and is incredibly fun to watch. Other than that, he offers nothing.
Comment: No AFC East tight end deserves to be in the top five.
5. Dan Koppen (124,727)
Comment: Jets center Nick Mangold is elite, but he somehow doesn't rate among the fans. Colts center Jeff Saturday is winning a landslide with 448,406 votes.
1. Alan Faneca, Jets (232,097)
5. Logan Mankins, Patriots (104,836)
Comment: Faneca has gone to eight straight Pro Bowls and appears to be headed to another.
1. Jake Long, Dolphins (214,924)
2. Matt Light, Patriots (152,749)
Comment: Long is comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. No sign of D'Brickashaw Ferguson despite Rex Ryan's declarations he and Long are the best in the NFL.
Comment: Ex-Patriots star Richard Seymour is fourth with 127,258 votes, but Colts sackmaster Dwight Freeney won't be caught. Freeney has 416,693 votes so far.
1. Vince Wilfork, Patriots (221,195)
Comment: Wilfork is leading a tight race over Casey Hampton of the Steelers (about 5,500 votes separating).
5. Joey Porter, Dolphins (136,022)
Comment: James Harrison of the Steelers is in first place, well ahead of Broncos star Elvis Dumervil.
3. Jerod Mayo, Patriots (98,601)
Comment: Jets linebacker Bart Scott was in the top five but dropped out. Strange that only one member of the NFL's top-rated defense is in the top five at any position.
3. Darrelle Revis, Jets (188,824)
Comment: Revis might be having the best season of any cornerback, but Broncos veteran Champ Bailey is the people's choice with an insurmountable 344,646 votes. Former Patriot Asante Samuel leads the NFC with 258,751.
3. Brandon Meriweather, Patriots (71,986)
Comment: Steelers icon Troy Polamalu, what with all that hair and the Head & Shoulders commercials, is winning the popularity contest by a heavy-duty margin.
Comment: Bills rookie Jairus Byrd, with eight interceptions, isn't on the ballot because he wasn't a starter when it was compiled. Bills fans need to submit more write-in votes.
2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (90,087)
Comment: Gostkowski is too far behind former Patriot Adam Vinatieri. The injured Colts kicker is leading the way with 143,299 votes.
5. Chris Hanson, Patriots (50,839)
Comment: Raiders punter Shane Lechler has twice as many votes as Hanson. The Bills' Brian Moorman, one of the NFL's top three or four punters, isn't in the AFC's top five.
4. Wes Welker, Patriots (76,324)
Comment: Darren Sproles has separated from Joshua Cribbs and Eddie Royal and has twice as many votes as Welker.
Comment: Patriots receiver Sam Aiken was in the top five for a second or two, but has dropped out.
|Jim McIsaac/Getty Images|
|Tom Brady threw for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns Thursday night.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
PHILADELPHIA -- The biggest NFL story of the summer sent me straight to the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room Thursday night.
Never mind that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looked fabulous in a 27-25 victory, his first game action since having two knee ligaments sewn back together. Michael Vick had signed with the Eagles, and I was at Lincoln Financial Field.
But my impromptu trip into the Eagles den didn't stop me from getting some Brady insight.
Former Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs, traded to the Eagles in April, wasn't the least bit surprised to see Brady complete 10 of 15 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Chris Baker. Brady did throw one interception, but he looked sharp.
His 97.2 passer rating would have been even better had Randy Moss not dropped a 46-yard bomb down the right sideline (Asante Samuel was flagged for interference, but Moss still should have made the grab) and Joey Galloway not dropped a quick touchdown toss.
"I pretty much expected what I saw, accurate throws, taking calculated risks downfield," Hobbs said. "I expect to see him get better and better each week.
"He was fortunate that it happened so early to recover and get back to the way he's feeling. It was funny because all those times when they were saying all that stuff about an infection and bacteria, he's actually working out in front of us. So what are they talking about?
"He didn't look any different. He had the brace on, but he looked 100 percent to me."