AFC South: Jordan Gross

Regular visitors know I am not big on being able to assess line play in great detail. Our left tackle power rankings probably rely on word of mouth and reputation as much as any position we’ve ranked.

As you will hear me say in the video connected to Pat Yasinskas’ post revealing and explaining our overall rankings, I don’t believe there is a consensus best guy. While Joe Thomas is a great player, a couple national folks spent time with him, fell in love, and pumped him as the best guy.

A lot of other media, in need of a best guy, jumped on board. Thomas is a very good player, but he’s not a consensus best left tackle in the league among players, scouts and coaches. If readers think he should be, it’s largely because writers have set it up that way.

So you can get the overall rankings through the above link. Here’s my ballot, one of eight that factored into things.
  1. Jake Long
  2. Michael Roos
  3. Joe Thomas
  4. Jordan Gross
  5. Ryan Clady
  6. Marcus McNeill
  7. Donald Penn
  8. D'Brickashaw Ferguson
  9. Andrew Whitworth
  10. Jason Peters

Draft Watch: AFC South

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
1:10
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: History in the spot.

Houston Texans

2010: OT Anthony Davis (49ers)

2009: LB Aaron Maybin (Bills)

2008: DB Leodis McKelvin (Bills)

2007: LB Patrick Willis (49ers)

2006: QB Jay Cutler (Broncos)

2005: LB DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys)

2004: QB Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

Last year at No. 11, the 49ers got Rutgers offensive tackle Davis, who started every game on the right side. Maybin, taken in the spot in 2009, is on the hot seat in Buffalo, where he’s not come close to expectations. In 2007, the 49ers got the excellent middle linebacker Willis 11th, when the Texans took defensive tackle Amobi Okoye the spot before. The verdict on Cutler is still to be determined, while Ware is a superstar and Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls. Other hits since the NFL-AFL merger include Michael Irvin, Dwight Freeney and Leon Searcy. Other misses: Ron Dayne, Michael Booker.

Indianapolis Colts

2010: WR Demaryius Thomas (Broncos)

2009: WR Percy Harvin (Vikings)

2008: RB Felix Jones (Cowboys)

2007: QB Brady Quinn (Browns)

2006: LB Manny Lawson (49ers)

2005: WR Mark Clayton (Ravens)

2004: QB J.P. Losman (Bills)

Last year’s 22nd pick, Denver receiver Thomas, caught 22 passes and scored two touchdowns. Minnesota grabbed receiver Harvin in the spot in 2009 and he’s one of the game’s most dynamic players already. Quinn didn’t cut it in Cleveland and ranks third now in Denver, and Losman didn’t solve Buffalo’s quarterback issues. The last time the Colts were in this spot, they took receiver Andre Rison in 1989. He played only one season for the franchise, but in 12 years he amassed more than 10,000 receiving yards and caught 84 touchdowns.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2010: DE Derrick Morgan (Titans)

2009: LB Larry English (Chargers)

2008: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Cardinals)

2007: DT Justin Harrell (Packers)

2006: CB Jason Allen (Dolphins)

2005: DT Travis Johnson (Texans)

2004: OT Shawn Andrews (Eagles)

Morgan went 16th to Tennessee last year, but suffered a season-ending knee injury early on. Rodgers-Cromartie had a big rookie season in 2008 as the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu was a huge find at the spot in 2003 and Jevon Kearse set a rookie record for sacks and led Tennessee to the Super Bowl in 1999. But others in the recent past like Allen, Houston's Johnson and Cleveland running back William Green hardly lived up to expectations. Dan McGwire, a big quarterback bust for Seattle, also went in the spot in 1991. But anyone thinking the Jaguars can’t hit a home run should know that a guy rated by many as the greatest player of all time, Jerry Rice, was selected 16th in 1985.

Tennessee Titans

2010: LB Rolando McClain (Raiders)

2009: OT Eugene Monroe (Jaguars)

2008: DE Derrick Harvey (Jaguars)

2007: DE Jamaal Anderson (Falcons)

2006: S Donte Whitner (Bills)

2005: S Antrel Rolle (Cardinals)

2004: CB DeAngelo Hall (Falcons)

McClain went to Oakland eighth last season and was second on the Raiders in tackles his rookie year. Jacksonville had the spot the two years before that. The Jaguars think they got a long-term left tackle in Monroe, but Harvey might be done already. Jordan Gross is a topflight tackle for Carolina and receiver Plaxico Burress was a Super Bowl hero for the Giants. But receiver David Terrell busted for the Bears, receiver David Boston didn’t fare much better in Arizona and running back Tim Biakabutuka was a dud for the Panthers. Sam Adams’ long career clogging up the middle as a defensive tackle started in Seattle. The last time the Titans had this pick, they landed Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak, who’s now the team’s coach.
NFC Draft Tale: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Mike Reinfeldt’s cautionary war room tale is the same as many executives who were involved with picks anywhere in close proximity to Minnesota at No. 7 in 2003.

“I have one good story of chaos,” said Reinfeldt, who classifies most draft rooms he’s been in as relatively serene. “The year that Kevin Williams got taken by Minnesota, they didn’t get their card in.”

The Vikings insisted they drafted at No. 9 the same player they would have taken seventh if draft talks didn’t bog them down and allow both the Jaguars to draft quarterback Byron Leftwich and the Panthers to take offensive tackle Jordan Gross before they got their card in for Williams, a defensive tackle.

Reinfeldt was an executive in Seattle, which had the 11th pick.

“It’s Ted Thompson and Mike Holmgren and Bob Whitsett and everybody kind of froze, nobody really knew what to do,” said Reinfeldt, now GM of the Titans. “And Ted Thomson was great, because he said ‘Write Marcus Trufant’s name down right now and be ready to turn it in.’

“Those moments never really happen but all of a sudden this moment did happen and Ted knew exactly what he wanted to do. As it turned out, they got their pick in and we still got Trufant, he was the guy that we wanted, we felt we would have taken him at sixth if we had sixth.”

It was a Boy Scout moment in terms of always be prepared.

“You’ve got to be ready for the unexpected,” he said.
 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Duane Brown has improved his play at left tackle in recent years, along with the image of the Texans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

HOUSTON -- While left tackle Duane Brown worked against Mario Williams during OTAs in the spring and summer, Chester Pitts took notice.

"He blocked Mario, who is, if not the best, top three at that position, fairly well," said Pitts, the team's left guard. "He used the scheme to help him stop a really good player.”

But that was not the only thing about Brown's work that was attention-grabbing. In 2008, when Brown was a rookie, he leaned on Pitts to make the calls and he jumped out for a rest on every third series, when Ephraim Salaam jumped in as a reliever.

Emerging Stars
A series examining a potential breakout player in each division.
Tues.: AFC West | NFC West
Wed
.: AFC North | NFC North
Thurs
.: AFC South | NFC South
Fri
.: AFC East | NFC East
Last year, Brown had felt compelled to thank Pitts after every game for all that help sorting through what he was supposed to do.

"He gets out there now and before I can get it out, he's said the call, boom, we're ready to go," Pitts said. "We're getting to where we don't have to make every call, we are grunting with each other, saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' or 'Go, go, go.' It's real simple, quick and short and we are on the same page. Things like that are really, really important on an offensive line, it's a group position."

The Texans' 76 sacks allowed in their debut season in 2002 left an indelible mark on a lot of people and 43 in 2004, 68 in 2005 and 43 in 2006 didn't do a lot to erase the stigma. But the number was down to 22 in 2007. And last year Houston's quarterbacks were taken down 32 times, just below the league average.

"They are starting to respect us more as a line," Brown said. "I didn't know too much about the history of the offensive line here before I got here, but once I did a lot of people told me that that was a big problem. I guess last year we did pretty good as a unit and you have to give us some kind of credit since we were the No. 3 offense in the league."

As the Texans are poised to shed several labels they've earned in their seven years of existence and make a run at a playoff spot, Brown's expected to emerge as a franchise left tackle who can help it happen, covering the blind side for Matt Schaub and helping punch holes for Steve Slaton. That's why Brown is our choice as the AFC South's Emerging Star for 2009.

"For a guy going into his second year, he's very advanced and he has a great opportunity to be a dominant player, no question," said Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, a new offensive assistant coach for the Texans. "He's a big, strong, powerful, agile good athlete who's smart. Just learning and getting the reps, that's going to be his deal. He has a good attitude about it too."

Said Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had three sacks and a forced fumble in two games against Houston in 2008: "I think Duane is a good athlete, a young guy who definitely as a lot of upside and potential. He's definitely one of the better tackles in our conference and our division. He has a lot of room to grow. One thing he definitely has going for himself is his effort and his ability to catch on quickly. ...

"Now with the pieces that they have and with some guys coming back with a couple years experience together, I think they should be a force to be reckoned with."

What suggests Brown is primed for a big jump?

Well, the conditioning issues that were partially responsible for him getting rotated out are gone, as is Salaam.

Brown played his final two seasons at Virginia Tech in the 305- to 312-pound range and he was 315 at the NFL scouting combine. But from his pro day to the start of his first training camp, he didn't focus on fitness the way he should have. He indulged in chicken parm and pizza. He wound up playing much of the season around 325.

Since then, he gave up the fried foods in favor of a diet heavy on tuna fish, big salads, vegetables and fruits. Brown played in regular offseason basketball games with teammates including J
acoby Jones
, Vonta Leach and Frank Okam at the Meyerland Plaza 24 Hour Fitness. Those efforts got him back in that more desirable weight range.

Film study has extended beyond Freeney and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch, rushers he faces twice a season in the AFC South, to Matt Light, Jordan Gross and Chris Samuels, successful tackles he feels he can emulate.

Across the Texans' line, right tackle Eric Winston makes it sound like Brown burns a lot of calories with enthusiasm alone.

"Duane is super intense," Winston said. "Everything he does, he's almost hyper about it and that's a good thing. When you're in this kind of business, you do the same things over and over and over again and that's the key, trying to perfect it without it getting boring. He's got that intensity about him where he can keep that up

"He doesn't get bored because he's trying so hard every time, and that's a good trait to have."

Brown also realizes how fortunate he is to have found such a perfect fit. The league is littered with players who can't find their niche, who don't fit their team's schemes. In the zone-blocking run scheme the Texans brought in Alex Gibbs to install and operate, the team asks its linemen to run. Athleticism and mobility are the most desirable traits. The Texans don't covet guys like Baltimore's 6-foot-9, 350-pound Jared Gaither or San Diego's Marcus McNeill (6-7, 336).

"That's what our whole scheme is about, is us running," Brown said. "My main responsibility is pass protection, protecting the blind side of course, and on the backside of our run plays, trying to get that cut back crease. Me having the athleticism I have, I'm able to do both of those jobs."

"I feel like I've become a much better player and I expect a lot from myself. God willing, I stay healthy, I feel like I should be here for a while."
Scott Boehm/Getty Imagese



Duane Brown has improved his play at left tackle in recent years, along with the image of the Texans.


Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

HOUSTON -- While left tackle Duane Brown worked against Mario Williams during OTAs in the spring and summer, Chester Pitts took notice.

"He blocked Mario, who is, if not the best, top three at that position, fairly well," said Pitts, the team's left guard. “He used the scheme to help him stop a really good player.”

But that was not the only thing about Brown's work that was attention-grabbing. In 2008, when Brown was a rookie, he leaned on Pitts to make the calls and he jumped out for a rest on every third series, when Ephraim Salaam jumped in as a reliever.











Emerging Stars


A series examining a potential breakout player in each division.
Tues.: AFC West | NFC West
Wed.: AFC North | NFC North
Thurs.: AFC South | NFC South
Fri.: AFC East | NFC East











Last year, Brown had felt compelled to thank Pitts after every game for all that help sorting through what he was supposed to do.

"He gets out there now and before I can get it out, he's said the call, boom, we're ready to go," Pitts said. "We're getting to where we don't have to make every call, we are grunting with each other, saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' or 'Go, go, go.' It's real simple, quick and short and we are on the same page. Things like that are really, really important on an offensive line, it's a group position."

The Texans' 76 sacks allowed in their debut season in 2002 left an indelible mark on a lot of people and 43 in 2004, 2005 and 2006 didn't do a lot to erase the stigma. But last season, Houston's quarterbacks were taken down 32 times, just below the league average.

"They are starting to respect us more as a line," Brown said. "I didn't know too much about the history of the offensive line here before I got here, but once I did a lot of people told me that that was a big problem. I guess last year we did pretty
good as a unit and you have to give us some kind of credit since we were the No. 3 offense in the league."

As the Texans are poised to shed several labels they've earned in their seven years of existence and make a run at a playoff spot, Brown's expected to emerge as a franchise left tackle who can help it happen, covering the blind side for Matt Schaub and helping punch holes for Steve Slaton. That's why Brown is our choice as the AFC South's Emerging Star for 2009.

"For a guy going into his second year, he's very advanced and he has a great opportunity to be a dominant player, no question," said Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, a new offensive assistant coach for the Texans. "He's a big, strong, powerful, agile good athlete who's smart. Just learning and getting the reps, that's going to be his deal. He has a good attitude about it too."

Said Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had three sacks and a forced fumble in two games against Houston in 2008: "I think Duane is a good athlete, a young guy who definitely as a lot of upside and potential. He's definitely one of the better tackles in our conference and our division. He has a lot of room to grow. One thing he definitely has going for himself is his effort and his ability to catch on quickly.

"Now with the pieces that they have and with some guys coming back with a couple years experience together, I think they should be a force to be reckoned with."

What suggests Brown is primed for a big jump?

Well, the conditioning issues that were partially responsible for him getting rotated out are gone, as is Salaam.

Brown played his final two seasons at Virginia Tech in the 305- to 312-pound range and he was 315 at the NFL scouting combine. But from his pro day to the start of his first training camp, he didn't focus on fitness the way he should have. He indulged in chicken parm and pizza. He wound up playing much of the season around 325.

Since then, he gave up the fried foods in favor of a diet heavy on tuna fish, big salads, vegetables and fruits. Brown played in regular offseason basketball games with teammates including Jacoby Jones, Vonta Leach and Frank Okam at the Meyerland Plaza 24 Hour Fitness. Those efforts got him back in that more desirable weight range.

Film study has extended beyond Freeney and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch, rushers he faces twice a season in the AFC South, to Matt Light, Jordan Gross and Chris Samuels, successful tackles he feels he can emulate.

Across the Texans' line, right tackle Eric Winston makes it sound like Brown burns a lot of calories with enthusiasm alone.

"Duane is super intense," Winston said. "Everything he does, he's almost hyper about it and that's a good thing. When you're in this kind of business, you do the same things over and over and over again and that's the key, trying to perfect it without it getting boring. He's got that intensity about him where he can keep that up

“He doesn't get bored because he's trying so hard every time, and that's a good trait to have."

Brown also realizes how fortunate he is to have found such a perfect fit. The league is littered with players who can't find their niche, who don't fit their team's schemes. In the zone-blocking run scheme the Texans brought in Alex Gibbs to install and operate, the team asks its linemen to run. Athleticism and mobility are the most desirable traits. The Texans don't covet guys like Baltimore's 6-foot-9, 350-pound Jared Gaither or San Diego's Marcus McNeill (6-7 336).

"That's what our whole scheme is about, is us running," Brown said. "My main responsibility is pass protection, protecting the blind side of course, and on the backside of our run plays, trying to get that cut back crease. Me having the athleticism I have, I'm able to do both of those jobs."

"I feel like I've become a much better player and I expect a lot from myself. God willing I stay healthy, I feel like I should be here for a while."
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Concluding our periodic look at the history of the relevant first-round draft slots, we examine No. 8 before Jacksonville drafts there for the second year in a row.

Here are the previous entries on Tennessee at No. 30, Indianapolis at No. 27 and Houston at No. 15.

The No. 8 Pick Since 1999
Year Pos. School Player Team Comment
2008 DE Florida Derrick Harvey Jacksonville Contract dispute killed
chance at a big start
2007 DE Arkansas Jamaal Anderson Atlanta Has missed only one game;
just two sacks
2006 S Ohio State Donte Whitner Buffalo Has started 42 of 48 games
2005 CB Miami Antrel Rolle Arizona Has moved to safety
as some projected
2004 CB Virginia Tech DeAngelo Hall Atlanta Is he worth big contract
from Skins?
2003 OT Utah Jordan Gross Carolina Pro Bowler is a key cog
for Panthers
2002 DB Oklahoma Roy Williams Dallas Weak in coverage, now a
free agent
2001 WR Michigan David Terrell Chicago Five-year career,
128 catches
2000 WR Michigan State Plaxico Burress Pittsburgh Troubled but very productive
1999 WR Ohio State David Boston Arizona Nine years, four teams,
315 catches, 25 TDs
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Early this week I invited you to join me in playing a little fantasy football and asked this: If the Jacksonville Jaguars could add any one player in the NFL, who would the best choice be?

Response from Jaguars faithful -- hello, anyone out there? -- was minimal, I must confess.

Here's a small sampling, and by sampling I mean virtually everything useable I got in comments or the mailbag.

A.J. from Sioux Falls, S.D.: Haynesworth would be great to reestablish that menacing run defense that the Jags made their name on in years past. But what about Michael Crabtree, which seems a little more realistic considering the Jags spot in the draft. He could finally give Garrard a downfield threat, making life easier for the resurgent Matt Jones and the always dangerous MJD.

tglasser31: Jordan Gross is a very real possibility for free agent acquisition. If a left tackle is drafted, gross could eventually move to the right side.

edo0725: I would have to say they would pick up a dominant DT. Hopefully that would inspire John Henderson but also it would help their young pass rushers they drafted last year. I've heard a lot of talk about how they need secondary help, but I feel that if they can get their D-line back to its old form they are actually a pretty strong bunch. Their offense was not very good this year but with a dominant defense i think it would do the job. Get rid of Porter and other then that its a very similar group to the one that won the playoff game last year. He does not get a lot of media attention but pay attention to Mike Walker at WR he has a lot of potential. Both him and Brandon Marshal came out of UCF but Walker was the better of the two in college before he missed time for a knee injury. Obviously college is way different then the NFL but still I think the potential is there. Pick up somebody like Haynesworth then use the #8 pick on a LT and I think the Jags are in solid shape to at least fight for a wild card spot. That being said they are most def not going after any big free agents this year.

SQclosers09: The Jags need a WR like Larry Fitzgerald, so their QB has a decent receiver to throw to. The current WR's are garbage or getting ready to go to jail for drugs......

The Jaguars would benefit from a big-play receiver like Fitzgerald or Steve Smith. A dominant interior lineman like Albert Haynesworth might help get John Henderson back on track and return the team to an identity it loved when it was Marcus Stroud and Henderson in the middle. And a lockdown corner like Nnamdi Asomugha would certainly help them slow division opponents like Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson.

All indications are the Jaguars believe that their rebuild has to start with a refortification of their lines and because of how important their run-first mentality is to their offense, I'm looking to that side of the ball. I'm a believer that when a bad team has a lot of needs, it's hard to argue against a stud left tackle. Khalif Barnes is not coming back and Richard Collier is, unfortunately, not part of the plan any longer.

I think Gross will be re-signed or franchised in Carolina.

Still...

In the AFC South Blog's Plus One, the Jaguars select Jordan Gross.

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