AFC East: Hakeem Nicks
Player: Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Stats: Caught 56 passes for 896 yards and no touchdowns. Despite the disappointing totals, he averaged 16.0 yards per reception, tied for 10th in the NFL. On the downside, he dropped seven passes. He played in 833 offensive snaps (81.2 percent), more than fellow receiver Victor Cruz. No player in the league caught more passes without a touchdown.
Salary: $2.675 million.
Sign him up: Some teams will look past his poor 2013 production and see the big picture: He's only 26 years old, already has two 1,000-yard seasons and still has the ability to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver when healthy and motivated. The Jets have an obvious need at the position. Nicks has a need, too -- the desire to show teams he's better than the receiver that was blamed for so many of the Giants' offensive problems last season. A free agent with a chip on his shoulder can be worth more than his price tag. Nicks is too risky for a long-term deal, but he could thrive on a short-term, prove-it contract.
Reasons to stay away: Knee issues aside, there were times last season when Nicks didn't seem motivated. That should raise a red flag. What kind of player, in a contract year, slacks off? The whole story probably isn't known, but it has to give teams pause before pursuing him. After four seasons of Santonio Holmes, the Jets should be leery of divas at the wide-receiver position.
We have yet another example of Tebow-mania running wild in New York.
In Sports Illustrated's "Monday Morning Quarterback," Peter King counted the words at the five biggest newspapers in New York during last week's organized team activities. The two biggest stories last week were Tim Tebow's debut with the Jets and Giants No. 1 receiver Hakeem Nicks' foot injury in practice.
Nicks' injury is a big one that might cause the stud receiver to miss the beginning of the regular season for the defending Super Bowl champs. The amount dedicated to the story, according to King, was 2,104 words. In contract, Tebow's first practice had 6,971 words, more than three times the media coverage.
In my journalistic opinion, Nicks' injury is a bigger story. He's a top impact player for the reigning champs, and the injury will take months to recover. Tebow will have plenty of other practices, but he moves the needle and sells papers.
It's clear what the New York media is doing. But now it's your turn. How much coverage do you think Tebow should get in the AFC East blog?
On one hand, Tebow is a backup quarterback. Other the other hand, he's one of the most well-known athletes in sports. So I'm curious to hear what our community thinks of this polarizing topic.
It was an emotional game where momentum swung from New York to New England and back to New York. The Giants won the game, 21-17. But there were two very interesting tidbits I took from New England's perspective.
First, following a fourth-quarter drop by Patriots receiver Wes Welker, NFL referee John Parry said to another official: "That was the game." Keep in mind New England was winning, 17-15, late and was about to punt the ball deep in New York's territory.
It showed even officials involved in the Super Bowl knew that New England's 31st-ranked defense wasn't going to make a big stop to win a championship. The ref's thought process at that moment wasn't any different from the media and fans who closely watched the Patriots all season.
Second, on New York's final drive, Patriots coach Bill Belichick encouraged his defense to let the Giants throw to Mario Manningham, who made the big 38-yard grab to get New York's Super Bowl-winning drive started.
"This is still a [Victor] Cruz and [Hakeem] Nicks game," Belichick said on the sidelines. "I know we're right on them. It's tight but those are still the guys. Make them go to Manningham, make them go to [Bear] Pascoe. Let's make sure we get Cruz and Nicks."
The Patriots were a team this season that thrived and executed under pressure. But these fourth-quarter mishaps by Welker and Belichick/New England's defense were the difference in Super Bowl XLVI.
- Quarterbacks are having a lot of success against the New England Patriots' pass defense. Will the New York Giants' Eli Manning be next?
- Injured Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey (neck) hopes to play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
- ESPN's Stats & Information takes a look at the struggling New York Jets' run defense.
- Jets linebacker Bart Scott talks about the challenges of the Buffalo Bills' high-scoring offense.
Woodhead received 57 percent of the fan vote in his tournament matchup against New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks and advanced to face Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the elite eight.
Rodgers is a difficult foe in a popularity contest, but Woodhead is a fan favorite, too. Woodhead's drawing from the Boston and New York markets because he endeared himself to Jets fans before the club cut him last year.
A victory over Rodgers would allow smoother sailing ahead. Woodhead would face either Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles or Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis -- each of them advanced with just 51 percent -- in the final four.
Woodhead is the last AFC East representative still alive in the bracket.
New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was annihilated by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who received 61 percent of the votes.
There were no AFC East upsets in the "Madden NFL 12" cover tournament.
First-round voting closed Sunday, with New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead advancing to the next round.
Sanchez eliminated Long in one of the closest first-round showdowns. Sanchez received 55 percent of the vote and has a much tougher Sweet 16 matchup against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Brees had more trouble than you would suspect with 56 percent of the vote against Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.
Woodhead defeated Johnson convincingly with 62 percent of the vote. Woodhead is up against New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks. Woodhead is an interesting candidate because he has fans in both the New York and Boston markets.
The closest first-round winner was San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis at 54 percent over the Seattle Seahawks' 12th Man.
The biggest blowout was Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan at 89 percent over Carolina Panthers tackle Jordan Gross.
Maybe the real curse is in choosing him.
"It's very polarizing," said Anthony Stevenson, senior product manager for EA Sports, the game's manufacturer. "No matter what we do, half the people will be really, really happy, and half the people will hate it."
Not even turning the process over to the people will solve EA Sports' annual problem. For the first time in the game's 23 years, fans can vote for their favorite team to be on the "Madden NFL 12" cover.
A representative for each of the 32 clubs has been seeded in a single-elimination tournament. A weeklong vote will be held for each round until a champion is announced April 27 on ESPN. Fans also can participate in a March Madness-style bracket challenge to predict the outcome.
Funzo democracy at work, right?
Turns out, folks aren't entirely thrilled with the individual nominees. Reigning MVP Tom Brady and perennial fan favorite Peyton Manning aren't in the field. The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers are represented by offensive tackles. The Seattle Seahawks' option isn't a player at all.
One of the rumors making the rounds is that unusual nominees were required because some stars declined an invitation, that they were afraid of the so-called "Madden" curse.
Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Vince Young and Brett Favre are among the supposedly doomed honorees.
Stevenson doesn't buy the connection, although fans have started Facebook campaigns for their favorite players not to get votes.
"People do believe there's a curse with Sports Illustrated covers or 'Madden' covers," Stevenson said. "As an NFL player, you cannot believe in that. If you believe in something like that, then you concede when you step on the field, and something bad happens it's not in your control.
"If you believe in a curse, you're probably in trouble. You're asking to get hurt. Athletes want to believe their well-being and their success or failure is 100 percent in their hands."
In fact, Stevenson sees the opposite of a curse when it comes to the "Madden" video-game franchise.
"All of our past cover athletes get together every year, and it's almost like the '72 Dolphins," Stevenson said. "They get together, and it's literally a fraternity."
This year's pledge period is a tournament bracket.
Stevenson called Thursday to explain why a few of the more interesting nominees were chosen.
"Tom Brady has been there and done that, and certainly he's very deserving of a 'Madden' cover. But Danny Woodhead is such a unique story people fell in love with. He was on 'Hard Knocks.' We followed the emotional cut from the New York Jets. We know Rex Ryan didn't want to let him go. And then to see that division rival pick him up and how integral he was to that Patriots offense ... if you wanted to put a campaign around him from cut to cover, that's just tough to pass up. Everybody loves an underdog."
On choosing the 12th Man for the Seahawks:
"It's the only team that doesn't have an actual player. It's the 12th Man, and the simplest explanation I can give for that is to see the Saints-Seahawks playoff game. That's really all you need to know. They have this unique fan element to it. The 12th Man is legit."
On bypassing Manning for Dwight Freeney for the Indianapolis Colts:
"Like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning is justified to be on the cover any year. But it almost feels that while [Manning] had a very good year, it wasn't his best year. Statistically, it probably was his least successful year in the last five or six. To do it this year seemed a little bit off.
"Dwight Freeney is one of the most feared defenders in the league. We just thought this was something Dwight Freeney could get excited about and get behind and be a brand ambassador."
On choosing the Green Bay Packers' nominee, Aaron Rodgers:
"Green Bay was really difficult. Clay Matthews is a very compelling personality right now. That was a tough decision, but at the end of the day, if you win Super Bowl MVP, you're going to get the nod. But it was a struggle."
On the New York Giants' decision:
"There's Eli Manning. There's Ahmad Bradshaw. But in the end we went with Hakeem Nicks because I felt like he's really the game-changer on that team. He's an up-and-coming wide receiver. I don't think anybody would be shocked if he was a top-three wide receiver at the end of next season. I thought he was fresh blood that would be very interesting."
"Jake Long's play on the field speaks for itself. But having that lineman -- along with [Carolina Panthers tackle] Jordan Gross -- is something we've never had. We wanted to give fans options. If there wasn't an absolutely obvious choice, and for the Dolphins there wasn't, why not give fans an opportunity to vote for an offensive lineman?"
Controversial nominees only help in getting fans enthused about the process.
In addition to creating buzz for the product, the "Madden NFL 12" cover tournament provides a distraction from an otherwise depressing time for the NFL.
"We thought it was really important to give our fans something to be excited about, put a positive spin on the NFL offseason," Stevenson said. "We're making a concerted effort to engage our fans and let them know that there's still going to be a new, innovating game coming out in August. And, if anything, football fans and 'Madden' fans can take solace in that.
"'Madden' potentially could help fill a void this year. Just because Tom Brady can't lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl doesn't mean you can't. You can still do that in 'Madden' and get your football fix."
ESPN.com's blog network began its series of positional power rankings Tuesday with wide receivers. I included only one AFC East target on my ballot, omitting some big names readers will disagree with.
Although Brandon Marshall earned enough votes to crack the top 10, he didn't appear on my list. Neither did Wes Welker, Steve Johnson or Braylon Edwards.
- Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
- Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
- Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
- Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
- Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
- Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
- Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
- DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
- Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos
- Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
Nine of my 10 nominees comprised the consensus top 10. The lone discrepancy was the last slot.
I almost didn't vote for Holmes. I originally had Pittsburgh Steelers burner Mike Wallace on the list, but I couldn't deny the direct impact Holmes had in closing out colossal victories for the Jets.
Holmes' stats weren't staggering, but he started the season with a four-game suspension that kept him out of the lineup and off the practice field. Once the NFL activated Holmes, it took him a couple weeks to get back into the offense. Then he was sensational. He had eight touchdowns in his last 11 games, including two out of three postseason games.
I couldn't bring myself to include Marshall. He had a nice reception total, but he scored only three touchdowns (one by December) and averaged the fewest yards per catch of any wide receiver with at least 850 yards. The Miami Dolphins had one of the NFL's weakest red-zone offenses, and a top 10 receiver should be able to help in that regard.
Welker didn't make the cut because he had a terrible season when it came to drops. ESPN Stats & Information charted a league-leading 11 drops. Welker averaged fewer yards than Marshall despite nearly half of his total (848 yards) coming after the catch (410 yards). That's a lot of long handoffs.
Three of the top 10 prospects on Kiper's list, including Nos. 1 and 2, are property of AFC East clubs for now.
Any team can sign a practice-squad player as though he were an unrestricted free agent, as the Buffalo Bills did with Brian Brohm last year. But the new team must put that player on its 53-man roster.
Here are Kiper's thumbnail sketches on the three AFC East players:
Namaan Roosevelt, Bills receiver
Roosevelt went undrafted out of Buffalo in 2010 with the big question mark being speed. He was a guy who disappointed in the forty with somewhere between a 4.65 and a 4.69, but I always liked his productivity and ability to get open. Here's a guy who caught 174 passes in his final two years at Buffalo. He may not be a deep threat, but I always liked his film, and his size (6-feet, 187 pounds) isn't a problem.
Cody Brown, Jets outside linebacker
Here's a guy who was a second-round pick, 63rd overall, just last year. He has great measurables at 6-3 and around 250 pounds, but he lost a season with a wrist injury then got cut by Arizona early this year before the Jets grabbed him. I like his chances because I think Rex Ryan could do something with him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Closing speed is an issue, but if Rex can get to him, fine tune his instincts and let him learn from other guys, you're still talking about a guy that was a second-round talent pretty recently.
Brooks Foster, Dolphins receiver
This is a guy who was lost in the shuffle a little bit at North Carolina, hidden for a good portion of his career behind Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks. So the production wasn't anything to get excited about, but I still saw a guy who could have been a No. 1 receiver on a lot of other teams. ... Foster is impressive physically. Here's a guy who hammered out 27 reps at the combine, could bench press 405 pounds at UNC, and stands a little over 6-feet and 209 pounds. A lot of scouts think Foster didn't play to his size, however. Still, with decent speed, good strength and solid hands, he's a good developmental prospect.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: History in that spot.
Buffalo Bills: The ninth spot has been a minefield in recent years. Although it's a premium pick, it hasn't produced a Pro Bowler. The Washington Redskins selected cornerback Carlos Rogers in 2005. He has been a consistent starter, but missed most of 2007 with a knee injury. Detroit Lions outside linebacker Ernie Sims started every game in his first three seasons but made only eight last year because of a shoulder injury and has been a disappointment. The Miami Dolphins used their ninth pick in 2007 on receiver Ted Ginn, a maddening player for Dolfans because he plays small. Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Keith Rivers has played in only 20 games in his two seasons, and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji started one game as a rookie last year.
Miami Dolphins: The 12th selection has been far more rewarding than the ninth over the past five years, producing four players who have been selected to six Pro Bowls. The San Diego Chargers found linebacker Shawne Merriman there in 2005, followed by Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Bills running back Marshawn Lynch and Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady. Last year's No. 12 has a bright future, too. The Broncos grabbed running back Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 947 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie.
New England Patriots: Some intriguing players have fallen to the 22nd pick, which the Patriots own. The Minnesota Vikings were thrilled to see receiver Percy Harvin still on the board last year. The Dallas Cowboys snatched Felix Jones in 2008, and he could be their featured back this year. Although it didn't work out, the Cleveland Browns thought they'd drafted their franchise quarterback when they landed Notre Dame star Brady Quinn at No. 22 in 2007. In the two drafts before that, the San Francisco 49ers chose defensive end Manny Lawson and the Baltimore Ravens landed erratic receiver Mark Clayton.
New York Jets: The 29th overall selection has been good to the Jets before. That's where they picked up All-Pro center Nick Mangold in 2006. Other teams haven't been nearly as fortunate in that slot, but the New York Giants seem to have found a top prospect last year with receiver Hakeem Nicks. The others drafted at No. 29 over the past five years are 49ers defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer, Ravens guard Ben Grubbs and former Colts defensive back Marlin Jackson.
Unless there's trade activity or a bombshell revelation over the next couple days, no additional work can be done to a mock draft at this stage.
We know all the team needs. Prospect evaluations have been completed.
So this very well could be the final edition of the AFC East mock report.
In this rundown, you'll find the latest from ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, Sports Illustrated's Don Banks, NFL.com's Pat Kirwan, Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco and Clark Judge and NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang and Chad Reuter.
You'll notice a few regulars have been omitted from this edition. Some mocks have not been updated to show the Bills drafting at No. 28.
I'm also listing the cumulative results of SportsNation's interactive NFL Mock Draft Machine. Those projections are as of Thursday morning and may change.
No. 11 Buffalo Bills
- Kiper's pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end
- McShay's pick: Brian Orakpo, Texas defensive end
- Kirwan's pick: Michael Oher, Mississippi tackle
- Banks' pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end
- Gosselin's pick: Tyson Jackson, Louisiana State defensive end
- Prisco's pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker
- Judge's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
- Rang's pick: Brian Cushing, Southern California linebacker
- Reuter's pick: Brian Orakpo, Texas defensive end
- SportsNation's pick: Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State tight end
No. 17 New York Jets
- Kiper's pick: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland receiver
- McShay's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
- Kirwan's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
- Banks' pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
- Gosselin's pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver
- Prisco's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
- Judge's pick: Knowshon Moreno, Georgia running back
- Rang's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
- Reuter's pick: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri receiver
- SportsNation's pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver
No. 23 New England Patriots
- Kiper's pick: Donald Brown, Connecticut running back
- McShay's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- Kirwan's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- Banks' pick: Darius Butler, Connecticut cornerback
- Gosselin's pick: Rey Maualuga, Southern California linebacker
- Prisco's pick: Brian Cushing, Southern California linebacker
- Judge's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- Rang's pick: Darius Butler, Connecticut cornerback
- Reuter's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- SportsNation's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
No. 25 Miami Dolphins
- Kiper's pick: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State cornerback
- McShay's pick: Vontae Davis, Illinois cornerback
- Kirwan's pick: Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina receiver
- Banks' pick: Kenny Britt, Rutgers receiver
- Gosselin's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- Prisco's pick: Larry English, Northern Illinois defensive end
- Judge's pick: Vontae Davis, Illinois cornerback
- Rang's pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker
- Reuter's pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end
- SportsNation's pick: Brian Cushing, Southern California linebacker
No. 28 Buffalo Bills (from Philadelph
- Kiper's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
- McShay's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
- Kirwan's pick: Larry English, Northern Illinois defensive end
- Banks' pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
- Gosselin's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
- Prisco's pick: William Beatty, Connecticut tackle
- Judge's pick: Chris Wells, Ohio State running back
- Rang's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
- Reuter's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
- SportsNation's pick: Eben Britton, Arizona tackle
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Dolphins wide receivers Greg Camarillo and Ted Ginn Jr. are serviceable, but not true No. 1 options for the Dolphins.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
A casual Miami Dolphins fan would be satisfied with the idea that all their receivers will be back this year.
The Dolphins won 11 games and the AFC East title. Chad Pennington enjoyed maybe the best season of his career. He threw for more yards than any Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino in 1997.
"We finished in the top 10 on offense," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said at the NFL scouting combine. "We don't have any stars. Everybody knows that. ... I kind of like where we are with our offense."
Then why does every NFL analyst this side of Mozambique insist the Dolphins' biggest offseason need is at receiver?
Because it is.
A closer look at the Dolphins shows that, despite passing for 3,761 yards last year, they didn't get as much out of their receivers as you might think.
"They need somebody to frighten you," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said.
The Dolphins have some nice targets. Speedster Ted Ginn Jr. led them in receptions (56) last year, although he's a true No. 2 receiver. They have a pair of effective slot receivers in Greg Camarillo, who is recovering from season-ending knee surgery, and Davone Bess.
But production was pedestrian at best. Miami receivers caught only five touchdown passes last year and managed just 11 receptions of 25 yards or more. The top three -- Ginn, Camarillo and Bess -- averaged 11.9 yards per catch.
"I think the position as a whole has some really good players there, but they need to come out of their shell a little bit and show what they can do," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said last week.
Miami's tight ends annihilated its receivers statistically. Anthony Fasano averaged 13.4 yards per catch and scored seven touchdowns. David Martin averaged 14.5 yards and scored three touchdowns. Third tight end Joey Haynos also had a touchdown, giving the tight ends 11 scores.
What the Dolphins were lacking was a physical, every-down receiver who can make plays downfield.
"They're looking for a guy that come in and line up on the outside and go down and catch some takeoffs, catch some corner routers, catch some deep square-ins," said former Dolphins tight end and local sportscaster Joe Rose. "They need another guy on the outside.
"We got two guys [Camarillo and Bess] who do a nice job underneath of moving the chains, making the tough catches, going across the middle. You want one more guy who can make plays down the field."
The problem, however, is tricky to solve.
The Dolphins haven't made any free-agent moves to shore up the position. They also hold the 25th selection in the draft. Even the bluest-chip rookie receivers rarely make a significant impact right away. The best the Dolphins can do is the third- or fourth-best prospect at that position.
"What they really need is not just another guy, but a No. 1, and those guys don't grow on trees," Williamson said. "If you take a first-round pick on one of them, which is somewhat un-Parcells-like, chances are he won't be a No. 1 for you this year or even maybe the next year.
"If they were to take a Hakeem Nicks, who complements Ginn well, how much are you going to get out of him immediately? It's a difficult need to fill."
Ireland said there's depth at receiver in this year's draft class. None were selected in the first round last year, but three or four could be off the board before everybody has a chance to pick.
The Dolphins last year selected franchise left tackle Jake Long with the No. 1 overall draft choice, but they also owned No. 32 and could have taken any receiver in the whole class.
Neither Eddie Royal, DeSean Jackson, Donnie Avery nor Devin Thomas were the right fit. The Dolphins chose defensive end Philip Merling instead and went the entire draft without taking a single receiver.
They instead banked on Ernest Wilford. The Dolphins made him one of their first free-agent signings. They gave him a four-year, $13 million contract with almost half the money guaranteed. Miami deactivated Wilford nine times. He caught three passes all season.
But the Dolphins proved there's value among the unwashed masses. They signed Bess, Colt Brennan's favorite target at Hawaii, as a rookie free agent. Bess caught 54 passes for 554 yards.
Camarillo also went undrafted and was plucked off the waiver wire by the previous Dolphins regime. Their fourth gameday receiver, Brandon London, followed the same route -- an undrafted castoff.
Those types of players can take an offense only so far.
The Dolphins are missing a go-to threat.
Some believe Ginn can be that guy, but others insist he can't be a No. 1 receiver. Ireland last week issued a public challenge to Ginn.
"Teddy is going into his third year, and I think it's time for him to really show what he was drafted here to do," Ireland said.
Ginn led the Dolphins with 56 receptions for 790 yards and two touchdowns. He added two more touchdowns on reverse plays, running five times for 73 yards, and was the top kick returner.
"Teddy Ginn's not a bust yet," Williamson said. "He showed some signs of coming on, but he's a No. 2. He can't
be the one that people roll coverages to. He's still a straight-line athlete, where he's better on longer routes as opposed to breaking down and running outs and digs. Comebacks aren't exactly his specialty. He's questionable over the middle as well.
"So he's really a perimeter deep threat, which is fine, and the arrow's still slightly going up on him. I think he'll be OK in time. He really hasn't been in the league all that long. But he's a No. 2."
The fact that the Dolphins won 11 games minus a true No. 1 receiver is testament to their coaching and Pennington's guile. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning found production in unusual places. Most fans immediately think of the Wildcat package, but the Dolphins rarely passed out of the formation.
Pennington indicated he doesn't much care whether the Dolphins upgrade the receiving corps. He expects to win no matter who's on the field with him.
"You have to have that mentality as a quarterback, or you're going to paralyze yourself and not be as successful as you want to be," Pennington said. "To me, that is a huge component to being a quarterback, taking the talent you have around you and getting the best out of those other 10 guys.
"That's my responsibility as a quarterback, and that's part of being a leader and part of the guy who's the signal caller, to push your teammates and get the best out of them and really get them to overachieve regardless of what their abilities are. That's a true quarterback."
Pennington frequently called private meetings and held extra workout sessions to wring out every bit of potential from his receivers.
Some scouts, Williamson included, wonder if the quarterback situation will affect how Miami addresses receiver in the draft. Pennington is a highly accurate touch passer, but second-year backup Chad Henne is expected to take over in 2010. Henne can go deep, and that will unfasten the offense.
"You don't have to defend the whole field against them," Williamson said of a Pennington-led offense. "Deep outs, deep streaks and those types of things aren't a real good fit for his throwing the ball.
"The passing game has issues in many regards. It's going to be a difficult thing to overcome, and I think they know it. I think they've gotten the most they can possibly get out of Pennington, and they know Henne can burn the defense more in the long term. He's not ready today, but they know they need a strong-armed guy to get the ball down the field."
Ireland, however, said the Dolphins will not draft receivers based on how they project their quarterback. Ireland called the ability to separate against man-to-man coverage "a critical factor" in evaluating prospects.
"If he can get open, it really doesn't matter who's throwing to him," Ireland said.
This week's edition of the AFC East mock roundup is a little thinner than usual because I've decided to go with only simulations updated since the Jay Cutler trade.
No. 11 Buffalo Bills
- McShay's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
- Wyche's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
- Banks' pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker
- Rang's pick: Everette Brown, Florida State defensive end
- Reuter's pick: Robert Ayers, Tennessee defensive end
No. 17 New York Jets
- McShay's pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver
- Wyche's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
- Banks' pick: Percy Harvin, Florida receiver
- Rang's pick: Jeremy Maclin, Missouri receiver
- Reuter's pick: Josh Freeman, Kansas State quarterback
No. 23 New England Patriots
- McShay's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- Wyche's pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- Banks' pick: Clay Matthews, Southern California linebacker
- Rang's pick: Connor Barwin, Cincinnati outside linebacker
- Reuter's pick: Aaron Maybin, Penn State defensive end/linebacker
No. 25 Miami Dolphins
Team needs: Quarterback, receiver, cornerback
Dream scenario: The Jets went into the offseason with numerous positional needs to address, and they got around to all but two of them through free agency. The leftovers are biggies: quarterback and receiver.
|Jody Gomez/US Presswire|
|The Jets could use help at QB, but will one of the top three prospects, such as former Trojan Mark Sanchez, be available at No. 17?|
Brett Favre retired, leaving a three-way competition among Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge. They have a combined eight NFL starts. Many observers considered receiver an area the Jets needed to improve even before veteran Laveranues Coles negotiated his way off the team.
The Jets hold only six draft picks, the fewest among AFC East teams. Unless they make a trade, their first crack is at No. 17, and they'll have to wait until No. 52 to go again.
If the Jets want to take a quarterback, most draft evaluators insist they'll need to get one of the top three: Georgia's Matthew Stafford, Southern California's Mark Sanchez or Kansas State's Josh Freeman.
There's a significant drop-off after that trio, and there are no guarantees any will be there at No. 17. The Jets might have to swing a deal to elbow ahead in the draft order. Next up is West Virginia's Pat White, who likely will be drafted as a receiver. Nate Davis of Ball State is considered the fourth-best passer, and he still might be available in the third or fourth round.
If the Jets want to go receiver, Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin will be long gone at No. 17. If the Jets can come away with Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey or North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, they will be filling a significant need.
Plan B: Another possibility is cornerback. Although the Jets have bolstered their secondary with Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland, the Jets could snag another for the future. Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins could slip to them, but probably not. Illinois' Vontae Davis might be a reach at No. 17.
If Louisiana State defensive end Tyson Jackson somehow slides, the Jets should be thrilled. Jackson projects as a stellar 3-4 run-stopper.
Scouts Inc. take: "As the offseason has shown, they're a very defensive-minded, decision-making group right now. But their offensive needs are glaring. They need to find a passing game. They need to find at least one receiver, preferably a No. 1-type guy because Jerricho Cotchery is not a No. 1, but if Sanchez is there, you've got to pounce on him. If he starts to fall, maybe you even make a package to move up and grab him." -- Matt Williamson
Who has final say: General manager Mike Tannenbaum and rookie head coach Rex Ryan will work in concert.
Now On the Clock: San Diego Chargers, March 31.