AFC South: NFC North

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson was a finalist for the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator job last season before he left Pittsburgh to join coach Mike Zimmer's staff. Now, Wilson could get another shot at his dream of being a coordinator.

The Jacksonville Jaguars contacted the Vikings for permission to speak to Wilson about their offensive coordinator opening, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Wilson, who has never been an offensive coordinator, would reportedly be competing for the job against former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

We've heard there has been interest in Wilson for a few jobs this winter, and the job he did with the Vikings' running backs in the absence of Adrian Peterson could put him in line for his chance. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, who had 47 NFL carries between them before 2014, ran for a combined 1,108 yards on 279 carries this season despite injuries that took two of the Vikings' best run blockers -- Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt -- off the field for 18 combined games. The Vikings finished the season with the league's 14th-best running game, and as we discussed last month, Wilson's work this season could be a solid addition to his coaching resume.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If Matt Cassel hadn't already learned plenty about the value of keeping his mouth shut and going to work -- and during his years as Tom Brady's understudy in the School of Belichick, there is a good bet he did -- he probably realized it last season, when the Minnesota Vikings sent Cassel through what had to be the most bizarre season of his career.

Cassel went from being praised by his teammates for his assertiveness in guiding the Vikings to their first win of the season, to unseating Christian Ponder for the starting job, to the inactive list in a matter of three weeks. He reclaimed the job at the end of the season, after the Vikings seemed to have realized neither of the 25-year-olds on their roster (Ponder and Josh Freeman) were their long-term answer at quarterback, but the process left Cassel confused.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMatt Cassel on if he plans to be the Vikings' starter in 2014: "I do. That's my mentality, absolutely."
"I don’t think I always knew where I stood from week-to-week," he said Tuesday. "As you guys well know that there was always something going on, and you never really knew until Coach would tell you what’s going on."

There should be no such ambiguity for Cassel next season. He has a new two-year, $10 million deal with the Vikings, who were eager to bring him back after Cassel opted out of his original 2014 contract to get a better deal and guaranteed money. He's had a warm introduction to new coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and a year after Cassel came in repeating the Vikings' talking point about how he was there to back up Ponder, there was no such talk from Cassel on Tuesday.

Asked if he plans to be the Vikings' starter in 2014, Cassel said, "I do. That’s my mentality, absolutely. I go in with the expectation to be the starter and that won’t change. At the same time, you've got to go out there and prove it and compete. There’s going to be two other quarterbacks, maybe three other quarterbacks in here competing, as well, and that’s what it is on every NFL roster."

The only scenario I see where Cassel isn't the starter in Week 1 is if a rookie comes in and plays so well that the Vikings can't keep from going that direction. That scenario might be even more far-fetched if the Vikings don't take a quarterback with the eighth overall pick -- though as Russell Wilson proved in Seattle, good rookie quarterbacks can come from further back in the draft. But if Cassel was here to be an insurance policy for Ponder, at least initially, in 2013, he's here for a much more significant reason this year. The bizarre carousel ride seems to have come to a smooth stop for him, for now.

"I felt comfortable -- like if you turned on that film from last year that you’d see that I could play and was confident in my abilities," Cassel said.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Rds. 4-7

April, 27, 2013
Join our NFL experts for Rounds 4-7 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at noon ET. See you there.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Rds. 2-3

April, 26, 2013
Join our NFL experts for Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 6 p.m. ET. See you there.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Round 1

April, 25, 2013
Join our NFL experts for the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.

We'll be analyzing every pick from 1 to 32. We'll get started an hour early at 7 p.m. ET, so submit your questions and comments and we'll see you there.

Live: #bloggermock draft

April, 23, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they play general manager for their divisions and execute a 2013 first-round mock draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at noon ET. You can also participate via Twitter using the hashtag #bloggermock. See you there.

Double Coverage Live: Game-day experience

April, 9, 2013
The NFL claims it is trying to improve the game-day experience for fans. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert traded thoughts on Twitter. Now we want to hear from you.

Cheaper concessions? Cracking down on drunks? What's your idea? Join us at 12:15 a.m. ET as we discuss the possibilities. You can also contribute via Twitter. Send your thoughts to @espn_afcsouth and @espn_nfcnblog. See you there.

Texans cannot slow Megatron

November, 22, 2012
DETROIT -- What’s the attraction of the Alan Ball-Calvin Johnson matchup for Wade Phillips? That’s the question we’re all wondering at halftime at Ford Field, where the Lions lead the Texans 21-14.

Johnathan Joseph typically follows a team’s best receiver because he’s the Texans’ best corner, but he’s out with a hamstring injury.

I presumed Houston would play Kareem Jackson and Joseph’s replacement, Ball, on sides with Brice McCain lining up in the slot. As Johnson moved around, I figured they’d all be involved in covering Megatron, with plenty of safety help.

But the Texans have deployed Ball as if he’s Joseph and he’s shown he certainly is not.

Johnson’s got five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown that gave the Lions their lead with 1:49 left in the second quarter.

Let’s see what Phillips and the Texans try against Johnson in the second half.

And if Houston can feature Andre Johnson a bit more in a potential shootout.

Countdown Live: Texans-Bears

November, 11, 2012
Join our NFL experts for the game of the week as the Houston Texans take on the Chicago Bears.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Week 5 NFL inactives

October, 7, 2012
Here are today’s inactives from around the NFL. Click here for Tristan H. Cockcroft's inactives analysis for fantasy football.

Week 4 NFL inactives

September, 30, 2012
Here are today’s inactives from around the NFL. Click here for Tristan H. Cockcroft's inactives analysis for fantasy football.

NFL: Week 3 knee-jerk reactions

September, 25, 2012
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you may have even heard it here. So are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

Week 3 NFL inactives

September, 23, 2012
Here are today’s inactives from around the NFL. Click here for Tristan H. Cockcroft's inactives analysis for fantasy football.

Week 2 NFL inactives

September, 16, 2012
Here are today’s inactives from around the NFL. Click here for Tristan H. Cockcroft's inactives analysis for fantasy football.

NFL Blog Network mock draft

April, 2, 2012

The NFL's transformation into a pass-happy league has sent teams scrambling for ways to keep up defensively.

Perhaps that explains why defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebacker types dominated's first NFL Blog Network mock draft for 2012.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson snapped up three of them for the division he covers. Six other defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers found homes elsewhere in the first round.

Offensive linemen (seven), defensive backs (five) and wide receivers (five) accounted for most of the remaining first-round selections.

In keeping with the pass-oriented theme, Alabama's Trent Richardson was the lone running back selected, landing in Cleveland with the fourth overall choice.

And, of course, we kicked off the mock with a couple of quarterbacks.

Big Board Bar

Analysis: They look at Luck and see a young guy who reminds them of the quarterback the franchise selected first overall in 1998. (Paul Kuharsky)

Analysis: Not much mystery here. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to get to this spot, from which they believe they're taking their next franchise quarterback. The only way they don't take Griffin here is if the Colts take him, in which case the Redskins will happily take Luck. (Dan Graziano)


Analysis: The Vikings would love to trade down a few spots, presumably with a team that wants to draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But barring a deal, Kalil is the best player remaining on the board and the Vikings just so happen to need a long-term starter at left tackle. We're not buying (yet) any of general manager Rick Spielman's posturing about LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: Not buying the speculation that the Browns will take Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill here. The Browns tipped their hand when coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert skipped Tannehill's pro day to watch Richardson, the draft's only elite running back who can be the centerpiece of Cleveland's offense. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: The Bucs could be considering Richardson and he's a possibility if he stays on the board. But Claiborne is the top cornerback in this draft. The Bucs need a long-term replacement for veteran Ronde Barber and could need a short-term replacement for Aqib Talib, who could face prison time or a league suspension. (Pat Yasinskas)


Analysis: The Rams are eager to find weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford. They had a tough time addressing that area during free agency despite an aggressive approach that led to deals with Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells and others. The last time the Rams drafted a WR sixth overall, they landed Torry Holt. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: If he catches on quickly and can have an impact as a pass-rusher, Ingram can be the final piece for a very good defense. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: Tannehill shot up the draft boards fast and may be a tad overrated at No. 8. But Miami needs a quarterback of the future in the worst way, and this is the best of what's left. Both Matt Moore and David Garrard have one year left on their contracts, leaving it open for Tannehill to take over in 2013. (James Walker)


Analysis: There's a common assumption the Panthers are locked in on getting a defensive tackle. That could end up happening. But they're open to all options and Kuechly might be the best player available. This team needs help anywhere it can add it on defense. (Pat Yasinskas)


Analysis: Going receiver here is the sexy pick. But getting an offensive tackle to protect QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side is the smart pick. Reiff received great coaching at Iowa, which has become Offensive Tackle U. He closes Buffalo's revolving door at left tackle for the foreseeable future. (James Walker)


Analysis: The Chiefs would be thrilled to see Poe on the board at 11. He is the best player available who fits their biggest need. Poe has a chance to be a dynamic player on a defense full of young talent. (Bill Williamson)


Analysis: The Seahawks ranked fifth in takeaways, seventh in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed last season, but their pass rush was lacking. Coples would give them a badly needed pass-rusher opposite Chris Clemons, who had 11 of the team's 33 sacks during the 2011 season. Linebacker is another need position. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: The Cardinals could also use an offensive tackle and possibly another receiver. Michael Floyd was a consideration here. But in Upshaw, the team would be targeting a potential No. 1 pass-rusher, providing welcome support for promising youngsters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. The Cardinals have no second-round pick, and pass-rush help is at a premium. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: They were hoping Upshaw would fall to them, as he'd upgrade the pass rush instantly and could make Anthony Spencer expendable before long. But with Upshaw gone one pick before, the Cowboys stick with the national champs and take a safety to upgrade their biggest 2011 weakness: the secondary. (Dan Graziano)


Analysis: Michael Brockers was tempting, but the pick here is Cox because he provides a pass rush from the interior of the defensive line right away and could be more NFL-ready than Brockers at this point. The Eagles are a win-now team that relies on its defensive line to pressure the passer, and Cox fits nicely into their interior line rotation. (Dan Graziano)


Analysis: The Jets would like to go defense here under head coach Rex Ryan. But with Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron both off the board, drafting Floyd is a good fallback option. Floyd has a chance to start from Day 1 opposite Santonio Holmes and gives quarterback Mark Sanchez a much-needed weapon. (James Walker)


Analysis: The Bengals need a starting right guard, and DeCastro is the best guard in the draft. Smart and fundamentally sound, DeCastro is one of the safest picks this year and would extend the Bengals' recent good fortune in the draft. (Jamison Hensley)

Analysis: Mercilus is the best pass-rusher on the board at No. 18 and the Chargers would be happy to take him. He could be a slight over-draft, but he has big league potential. (Bill Williamson)


Analysis: Coach Lovie Smith expressed confidence last week in left tackle J'Marcus Webb, but rarely will you hear a coach say otherwise until he has an upgraded replacement. Webb was penalized 15 times last season and gave up 12 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Martin would provide an upgrade at a key position. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: They can go many different directions, but Kamerion Wimbley doesn't solve their pass-rush issues by himself, and Perry can help. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: Cincinnati has done a great job in bolstering the depth at cornerback in free agency, signing Jason Allen and Adam Jones. But the Bengals, who eventually need to replace veteran Nate Clements, can't pass on the second-best cornerback falling into their laps. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: The Browns need speed and a deep threat. Look no further than Hill, who averaged 29.3 yards per catch last season (albeit 28 receptions) and ran faster than Baylor's Kendall Wright at the NFL combine. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: colleagues chose Gilmore in my absence based on an obvious need the Lions have at cornerback. Starter Eric Wright departed via free agency, and the Lions' pass defense collapsed in the second half of 2011. General manager Martin Mayhew doesn't draft for need, but Gilmore would address a big one. (Kevin Seifert)

Analysis: Inside linebacker is a big need for the Steelers after they released James Farrior. Hightower excelled in Alabama's 3-4 defense and was the unquestioned leader on the nation's top defense. Seems like a perfect fit. (Jamison Hensley)

Analysis: The Broncos would gladly snag Brockers. Defensive tackle is, by far, their most pressing need, and the versatile Brockers is a good value at No. 25. (Bill Williamson)


Analysis: Randle's size will make him a nice target for Matt Schaub and the Texans, and he brings a lot of upside to an offense that's already quite good. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: The Patriots need athleticism on defense and the ability to rush the passer from the outside. Branch can help replace the combined 20 sacks New England lost this offseason with the departures of DEs Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. (James Walker)


Analysis: In my absence, colleagues chose Konz, the draft's top center, knowing that veteran Jeff Saturday is likely a one-year bridge from departed starter Scott Wells. General manager Ted Thompson will almost certainly draft a center, but he might wait until a later round knowing he has 2012 insurance in Saturday. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: The Ravens have a history of top prospects falling to them in the first round. Their luck would continue with Glenn, an athletic and versatile blocker who would start immediately at left guard. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: Receiver was the team's obvious top need heading into free agency. Adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham bought some flexibility, but Moss represents a short-term investment. The 49ers could use another young receiver to grow with Alex Smith and, eventually, Colin Kaepernick. (Mike Sando)

N. Alabama

Analysis: The Patriots were surprised such a top-end talent is available at No. 31. Sure, Jenkins comes with some character concerns. But New England's strong locker-room leadership will make sure it gets the best out of Jenkins, who has the physical ability to develop into a legit No. 1 corner. (James Walker)


Analysis: This was a tough call, because Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones just looks so much like a Giants pick. He's a super-athletic, high-upside pass-rusher from Tom Coughlin's alma mater. I mean, if Adams weren't on the board, this would have been a slam dunk. And the Giants still could go this way, or with Nebraska LB Lavonte David or Stanford TE Coby Fleener. But there's nothing wrong with Adams' upside potential, either. He becomes the Giants' starting right tackle right away, and if Will Beatty doesn't pan out, Adams has the ability to someday play on the left side. (Dan Graziano)