AFC East: Jon Beason

Not all linebackers created equal

April, 12, 2011
4/12/11
1:00
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This was a futile endeavor.

The latest edition of ESPN.com's positional Power Rankings took a look at linebackers.

Sam, will, mike, jack, bandit, outside, 3-4, 4-3, Tampa 2, whatever ... All were thrown into a hopper to be sorted out. Much to my affliction.

All linebackers don't play the same position just because that's how they're listed on their football cards.

Take an outside linebacker such as Miami Dolphins pass-rusher Cameron Wake and plug him into a 4-3 defense, and all of a sudden you don't have a linebacker anymore. You have a hand-on-the-ground defensive end. That's what the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts had in mind when they tried to sign Wake.

The concept of ranking inside linebackers and outside linebackers is tantamount to comparing a cover cornerback to a strong safety because they're both defensive backs.

But I had to come up with something. So here's my list with an explanation to follow:
  1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
  2. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
  3. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
  4. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
  5. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
  6. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
  7. David Harris, New York Jets
  8. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers
  9. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
  10. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

At the top of the order I went with players who would be elite linebackers in any system. I favored linebackers with all-around impact, especially since we already ranked pass-rushers.

At some point I felt compelled to give credit for awesome quarterback-chasing skills -- even if the "linebacker" might not be adept in coverage or provide as much value on first downs or what have you.

I ranked Ware first in our pass-rusher Power Rankings, but ninth here. That was much lower than any of the other panelists.

I very easily could be wrong. But would Ware be a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings or Bears? Maybe so. Maybe a defensive end.

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs plays in a 3-4 scheme, but Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson considers him more like a defensive end.

So go ahead and throw your list together.

Feel free to mix in a few fullbacks.

What can the Dolphins expect at No. 25?

April, 2, 2009
4/02/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

What type of prospect should the Miami Dolphins expect with the 25th selection in the draft?

I thought it would be helpful to look back over the past 10 years to see what each AFC East club's first-round draft slot has produced.

There have certainly been some duds at No. 25. Antuan Edwards, Freddie Mitchell and William Joseph prove that the honor of being a first-round draft pick doesn't guarantee much of anything in the NFL.

But teams have mined some diamonds in recent years, including a Super Bowl MVP, a sophomore All-Pro and a starting quarterback.

  • 1999 Antuan Edwards, S, Packers: Journeyman managed 16 games as a rookie and started only 32 games in a career that ended in 2005.
  • 2000 Chris Hovan, DT, Vikings: Blood-and-guts lineman has started 133 of his 140 NFL games and was a second-team All-Pro in 2002.
  • 2001 Freddie Mitchell, WR, Eagles: Lasted only four seasons, maxing out in 2003 with 35 catches for 498 yards and two touchdowns.
  • 2002 Charles Grant, DE, Saints: Seven-year starter recorded 27 sacks in his first three seasons.
  • 2003 William Joseph, DT, Giants: Has started only 17 games in his four seasons and failed to make the Raiders out of training camp last year.
  • 2004 Ahmad Carroll, CB, Packers: Is on his fourth team and hasn't started since 2006.
  • 2005 Jason Campbell, QB, Redskins: Already has 36 starts after three seasons, with a 35-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
  • 2006 Santonio Holmes, WR, Steelers: Super Bowl MVP has 156 receptions for 2,587 yards and 15 touchdowns as No. 2 receiver.
  • 2007 Jon Beason, LB, Panthers: Already an All-Pro, he has started every one of his NFL games.
  • 2008 Mike Jenkins, CB, Cowboys: Played in 14 games and started three as a rookie.

Sorting through the AFC East mailbag

January, 31, 2009
1/31/09
8:40
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Don in Rye, N.H., writes: After the pre-season games .The fan and sports casters would have cut Cassel and made O'connell the Brady back up. .However BB went with Cassel when Brady went down. Why not trade Cassel and get some picks and use O'connell as the back up. He played better than Cassel in the PRE. Nobdy these days even mentions O'connell .Why did they draft him if not to use him.

Tim Graham: You bring up an interesting point that really hasn't been explored in regard to Kevin O'Connell. If Tom Brady's patched up left knee is sturdy enough, the Patriots probably will try to trade Matt Cassel. But we don't really know much about O'Connell's development after one season on the sidelines. The Patriots liked him enough to use a third-round draft choice on him, but that doesn't necessarily mean they think he's ready to take over the team if Brady's not ready.


Stevie in Indianapolis writes: Some of these questions are completely ridiculous, I feel for Tim Graham having to answer some of them. Mike Shanahan as O-coordinator in NE? Rodney Harrison and Tedi Bruschi in the HOF? Terrell Suggs going to the Jets? A Bills fan thinking that Robert Royal is the answer at TE? Ron Meeks on Dick Jauron's staff? Torry Holt, his 32 year old body, declining skills, and his $10 million contract to Buffalo? Dwayne in Ohio...you personally think the Dolphins should dump one of their starting tackles? Who would replace him? You? Their O-line played phenomenal this year (especially taking last year into account). The O-line averaged less than 2 sacks a game given up. Pretty good stuff. Here's a question for Mr. Graham. Will their be any changes to the Patriots O-line this year? They gave up the 5th most sacks this year. Is this a result of personnel or missing Tom Brady's quick release and pocket presence?

Tim Graham: Thanks for feeling my pain from last week's mailbag, Stevie.

Nobody can be sure what the Patriots plan to do because their front office guards information so well. They're also in transition. Offseason strategies probably still are being formulated with Scott Pioli's departure and Floyd Reese's arrival.

But you raise a valid point about the offensive line because there are multiple ways to buy insurance for Brady. The most talked-about method is bringing back Cassel, but shoring up the right side of the line would be a wise investment.


Rob in Palm Coast, Fla., writes: Hey Tim, my question is one more out of sentimentality, but I was wondering. What are the possibilities of Zach Thomas ending his career where he started it. I do realise the Dolphins are pretty heavy at linebacker and have a lot of money tied up there as well. But, he would make a solid backup.

Tim Graham: Bringing back Zach Thomas would be counterproductive. The Dolphins are building from a new foundation, and they already decided a year ago when they cut Thomas that he wasn't what they were looking for at linebacker. Now he's a year older. Not a good fit.


Dale in Buffalo writes: Seems to be a lot of talk about future HOF Patriots. How about some former Bills players. Do you think Reed will ever get in and does he deserve it? How about Cornelius Bennett? He was a five time pro bowl selection. Two time AFC Defensive player of the year. He played in five Super Bowls and when he retired he had the third most fumble recoveries in NFL history. All this along with nearly 1,200 tackles and 71 sacks. HOF worthy?

Tim Graham: Andre Reed will be inducted, but not this year. He deserves to get in. Cornelius Bennett won't be a Hall of Famer. You listed some impressive nuggets from Bennett's career. He was a very good player, but not elite. It can be argued he was the sixth- or seventh-best player on those Super Bowl teams. That many Bills won't get into Canton.


Mauricio from Mexico City writes: Hi Tim i love your blog, my comment is about Bruschi being a hall of famer. Why to some positions lets say like qbs, its a important matter in order to reach a hall of famer status, how many super bowls you won? If Ben R or eli keep averaging the same stats every season as they do know in my book they are not hall of famer but 2 more super bowl wins i am sure will make them hall of famers. My point is while pro bowl its a important category in reaching greatness (overrated its a popularity contest) i think the super bowl should to... and here is where bruschi is a machine he has been to 5 super bowls i bet not many players have do that, he won 3, he have been to 6 AFC championships games that is awsome if you thin about that he have a nice career. your thoughts?

Tim Graham: My thoughts are that Tedy Bruschi has enjoyed a very nice career, but he's not a Hall of Famer. This isn't a perfect comparison, but since you brought up Super Bowls ... Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood won four of them and started in six AFC Championship Games. He went to six Pro Bowls. He was an All-Pro twice. He's not in the Hall of Fame, and his credentials blow Bruschi's away. Maybe a better comparison is Ken Norton. He was a linebacker who won three straight Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, was a three-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All Pro. There's no campaign to get Norton into the Hall of Fame.


Alex from Pennsylvania writes: Hi Tim. I'M BACK! Hehehe...never stopped reading , only posting. Now ya got me doin that again. Anyway: You get to pick if the Dolphins go with a top notch WR or a top notch need on D at #25. Who do you go with first(disregarding FA's)? Peace.

Tim Graham: Always good to hear from you, Alex. I'd go after the best inside linebacker available. Some good ones still should be available at No. 25. Channing Crowder was serviceable when it came to making tackles, but he wasn't a difference-maker. Players such as Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo and Jon Beason have proved young linebackers can make a major impact.


STI in Danbury, Conn., writes: Tim--there seems to be some sort of disconnect between your point of view and Reese's and Lombardi's. After all, if they're claiming Cassel will get the Patriots a "high first," then that means he has to be traded *before* the draft, while you're saying they won't be able to. Have you talked to them about this? Personally, I think the bigger question is whether or not O'Connell's ready--after all, the Pats were willing to have Cassel as Brady's only backup in 2006. Also, on a minor note from your recent chat, Morten Anders
en isn't eligible for the HOF yet--he just retired in December--so his not being there says nothing about Vinatieri's chances.

Tim Graham: Thanks for reading so closely, STI. In the original story for which I interviewed Michael Lombardi and Floyd Reese about how a Cassel trade could go down, Reese explained the Patriots would be at no disadvantage waiting until training camp to make a deal.

Here is Reese's response to my question about the Patriots waiting until late summer to pull the trigger:

It's definitely a seller's market. A team like New England can sit back and bide their time.

If you take the actual number of franchise quarterbacks in the NFL, there's maybe 15. Who's Detroit's starting quarterback? You can go down a long list. All of those teams would be in the bidding.

You don't have to be in a hurry. There's always teams out there in need of a quarterback, teams who'll think "We don't like this guy. We can't win with him."

As for Morten Andersen not being eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame yet, you're absolutely correct in noting that fact, which I failed to do. The point I was trying to make, however, is that in the 90-year history of the NFL, only one pure kicker or punter is in Canton.

It's difficult to imagine a kicker floodgate opening for Adam Vinatieri. Andersen -- and Gary Anderson -- will get in before Vinatieri. Not only might that take several years, especially when they're competing with a mounting backlog of worthy position players each year, but it might not ever happen. Kickers simply haven't been valued by the Board of Selectors. There will need to be a significant philosophical shift.


John in Garner, N.C., writes: One thing I do not believe Joe Namath gets enough credit for is that he called the plays. He guarenteed victory yet saw that Baltimore could not stop Matt Snell. How many would have tried to win the game themselves? Agree or disagree?

Tim Graham: I'm sure you're responding to my ranking of the six Super Bowl MVPs from the AFC East (although I bent the definitions a little to include the Jets' landmark victory even though they still were in the AFL). I do agree with you that Namath deserves credit for running the offense in a restrained and highly efficient manner. But Snell was the best player on the field in Super Bowl III.


Mr. Anonymous from Birmingham, Ala., writes: After the whole fiasco with Mcnabb this season, and how he didn't know about a tie situation, I found myself wondering about overtime and a tie situation in the playoffs. Could you shed some light on this? And thanks for the great blog you always write. Go Pats!

Tim Graham: From the NFL rule book ...

Following a three-minute intermission after the end of the regulation game, play will be continued in 15-minute periods or until there is a score. There is a two-minute intermission between subsequent periods. The teams change goals at the start of each period. Each team has three timeouts, and all general timing provisions apply as during a regular game. Disqualified players are not allowed to return.


Stephen from Nashville writes: What Will the Patriots do with the running back situation? Will they draft another back or go into free agency .

Tim Graham: The Patriots don't need to stress about it. They have done a fine job establishing the concept of running backs as interchangeable parts. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, an undrafted rookie who was cut before the season and came off the practice squad, can run for 100 yards. But to answer your question, the Patriots probably will look to the draft and free agency. They're wily that way.


Algonquin from Parts Unknown writes: How many NFL quarterbacks have taken 2 different teams to the Super Bowl?

Tim Graham: Kurt Warner is the third quarterback to lead two franchises to the Super Bowl, joining Craig Morton (Cowboys, Broncos) and Earl Morrall (Colts, Dolphins). But Morton was the first to start both Super Bowls. Bob Griese came back from injury in time to start Super Bowl VII in place of Morrall.

Name the player: Add anyone to Patriots' roster

January, 29, 2009
1/29/09
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The New England Patriots have a marvelous track record when it comes to locating talent.

While it might be unfair to the rest of the AFC East to let the Patriots cherry-pick any player they want, we can't exclude them from our endeavor.

As explained in the previous post, I'm posing this question for each AFC East club:

If money, contracts and salary-cap restraints were no object, and you could choose any player in the NFL to add to your team, whom would you acquire?

The Patriots went 11-5, but that wasn't good enough to return to the playoffs. They have weaknesses.

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten would represent the offensive weapon Benjamin Watson hasn't become. New York Giants guard Chris Snee would help even up a line that has Pro Bowlers on the left side.

But maybe defense is the way to go. Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison fits the mold of overachievers and former castoffs the Patriots always seem to maximize. Or what about placing Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason next to Jerod Mayo?

The most effective injection, however, might be in the secondary. Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu would replace an aging Rodney Harrison and create all sorts of new defensive possibilities.

Cornerback has been a need since Asante Samuel split. The Patriots might consider Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders or Cortland Finnegan of the Tennessee Titans. Then again, they could swipe one of the New York Jets' best players in Darrelle Revis.

Those are some thoughts to get you started. Please share your thoughts below or drop a line in my AFC East mailbag. I will gather the responses and make a selection Monday based on what you have to say.

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