AFC West: John Clayton

For now, Matt Flynn is the starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders.

Flynn
Flynn
That all may change if Terrelle Pryor performs well Thursday night at Seattle in the preseason finale. While playing against lesser competition, Pryor has shown some promise in the preseason. Flynn, acquired from Seattle in the offseason to be the starter, has not been good in the preseason.

However, in his annual quarterback ratings, ESPN's John Clayton went with Flynn because he is still officially the starter. But Clayton isn’t high on Flynn, listing him as the No. 29 starting quarterback.

This is what Clayton had to say about Flynn:
The trade to the Raiders finally gives him the chance to start. The bad news is that he is playing behind one of the worst offensive lines seen in years. Things got so bad last week he may have played himself out of a starting job. He opened the door for Terrelle Pryor to start because of Pryor's mobility.

Again, if Pryor is the guy, it will all be moot. And we will wait to see where Pryor ranks on Clayton’s next list.

Earlier this week, we looked at whether San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was snubbed because he is not part of ESPN.com’s top 100 lists of offensive players.

I reasoned that while I think Rivers can still be a solid player, because of his turnover issues the past two years and the influx of excellent young quarterbacks; it is not a surprise Rivers isn’t on the list.

However, Thursday, Rivers received some support. In his annual rankings of quarterbacks, John Clayton placed Rivers, who comes in at No. 11, in his “elite" group.

This is what Clayton had to write about Rivers: "Whether it's Rivers or the roster around him, the Chargers' offense seems to going down the wrong river. Last year his yards-per-completion average dropped from 7.9 to 6.8. His 66 percent completion-rate days are diminishing. He has thrown 53 touchdown passes over the past two years. But his offensive line has gotten worse, and we really don't know if he has enough good pass-catchers. Mike McCoy was hired to allow Rivers the chance to throw shorter, quicker passes."

I like Rivers a lot and agree most of his problems are out of his control (a terrible offensive line and decreased skill-position talent), but I was a bit surprised by the No. 11 ranking. What do you think?
ESPN's John Clayton thinks the Denver Broncos have the best chance of getting to next year’s Super Bowl.

One of the reasons Clayton is so high on the Broncos is that they have the easiest schedule in the NFL next season based on the 2012 records of their opponents.

Why does Denver have such an easy schedule? Its three AFC West opponents won a combined 13 games last season.

In other AFC West news:

Former NFL general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian stacks the 2013 free agents in a way only an experienced GM can. Check it out. Fascinating stuff.

John Clayton: Professor Ponytail

September, 6, 2012
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I’ve known John Clayton for 15 years.

At least, I thought I knew Clayton. After seeing this, well, I’m confused.

You really have to stop what you are doing and check this latest SportsCenter ad out. It’s getting so much buzz, many in Bristol think it is the best SportsCenter commercial of all time.

What’s your favorite part? It’s got to be the ponytail for me.

 
John Clayton’s annual quarterback rankings are on ESPN.com. He has some interesting thoughts on the AFC West’s signal callers. Let‘s take a look:

6. Peyton Manning, Denver:

Too high, too low or just right: Just right. Manning is still an elite player, but ranking him higher after a year off might not be wise. Six is a good, solid spot for him.

7. Philip Rivers, San Diego

Too high, too low or just right: Just right. Rivers is an elite quarterback, but he lacks a Super Bowl ring. So, he can’t be ranked higher than he is. Being the seventh best quarterback in a golden age isn’t too shabby, though.

20. Matt Cassel, Kansas City

Too high, too low or just right: Just right, although he wouldn’t be surprised if he makes strides this year. He has a lot of pressure on him, and he has looked good in the preseason. But as of now, you can’t argue with No. 20.

21. Carson Palmer, Oakland

Too high, too low or just right: Too low. I think Palmer’s best days are behind him, but I think he can still be a positive player. I’m surprised he is ranked last among the AFC West quarterbacks.
It appears that one of the biggest challenges for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as he comes back from a serious neck injury is throwing to his right.

ESPN guru John Clayton pointed it out to me this summer. While he thought Manning was his usual self throwing to his left, he had issues throwing to the opposite side. After two preseason games Clayton explained to me that he thinks Manning has improved in the area but that he still has problems when the passes are more than 10 yards. He believes Manning will continue to improve, and more importantly, will have overall success.

I talked to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and he said he too has noticed that Manning seems more comfortable throwing to his left. I asked if he thinks opposing defenses can close up that side of the field and force Manning to throw to his right on a regular basis during the season.

Williamson said it could be an issue for Denver, but because Manning’s game is predicated on adjustments and on the mental side of the game, he will work through the issues.

“If anyone can do what is needed to get away with throwing with field limitations, it is No. 18,” Williamson said.

Manning has been upfront this summer that he is a work in progress and that he is not 100 percent. His imperfections throwing to his right is an example of the challenges he faces as he embarks on this comeback.

Poll: More or Less

June, 26, 2012
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Last week, ESPN.com’s John Clayton put together a win count for each NFL team for our More or Less project.

Clayton set Denver at 10-6, San Diego at 9-7, Kansas City at 7-9 and Oakland at 5-11.

What do you think of Clayton’s call? Let us know what prediction is the closest to what will happen in the division in 2012. Take the poll and explain your thoughts for your vote in the comments section below. We will review the poll results Wednesday.

Fox: Chiefs are on Luck(y) pace

September, 28, 2011
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Indianapolis, Kansas City, Minnesota, St. Louis and Miami are all 0-3.

Thus, the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick and for the right to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in on. The chase for No. 1 hasn’t been as closely followed in recent years as it is now because Luck is considered a rare prospect.

So, this will be a topic all season. In fact, Wednesday, it is the Hot Button topic on ESPN.com. There is an AFC West angle -- a big one. Columnist Ashley Fox thinks the Chiefs will end up with the pick and with Luck. John Clayton thinks Miami will be the winner after being the big loser.

Here are some of Fox’s thoughts on why she thinks Kansas City will have the worst record in the NFL this year: Instead of building on their 10-6 season of a year ago, the Chiefs have regressed. Given general manager Scott Pioli's conservative approach to free agency and the loss of three starters to season-ending knee injuries already, it is unlikely that their outlook is going to change. Jamaal Charles, the NFL's second-leading rusher in 2010 with 1,467 yards, isn't coming back. Neither are tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry.

Those losses would be tough for any team to overcome, but they are particularly tough for the Chiefs, who lack depth and need upgrades across the board.

And that schedule? It is getting easier for the next few weeks with the winless Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts up next followed by a bye. But mid-November to mid-December looks like this: at New England, Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at the New York Jets and Green Bay at home. Given how the Chiefs have struggled to move the ball, there is not a winnable game in that bunch.

My thoughts? Yes, I think the Chiefs could stay in the Luck conversation for a long time. We’ll find out a lot about them after the next two games. If the Chiefs lose both of those games, the Luck Watch will have be on full alert.

Meanwhile, Oliver Luck, the father of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, has a history with the Chiefs, so if his son ends up there, he might be comfortable with it.
It’s being reported that San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson and New England guard Logan Mankins still may get in the way of the CBA. Jackson and Mankins want $10 million because they are unhappy about being franchised. Jackson denied the initial reports Tuesday and the talks went away, but they have resurfaced.

With the talks getting down to the nitty gritty, we should know the truth soon. In the end, there is little chance two players are going to get in the way of nearly 1,900 players getting back to work.

In other AFC West nuggets Wednesday night:

In an Insider piece, the Football Outsiders believe the San Diego Chargers have the most to lose in free agency. It is true. But the Chargers will have the resources to re-sign the players they want. The Chargers will lose some players, but they should be able to keep their top choices.
  • ESPN’s John Clayton looks at 10 potential salary-cap possibilities. None reside in the AFC West, but I could see a couple of these players being pursued by teams in the AFC West if they get whacked.
  • Here’s a piece that shows opponents blitzed (bringing in five or more pass rushers) Oakland at an extremely high rate. If the Raiders don’t continue to shore up their offensive line, I’m sure opponents will continue to bring the heat against them in 2011.
On one hand, Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis deserves credit for being proactive prior to the lockout and signing several players to extensions.

However, there were built-in risks. Davis committed a load of money to 2011 without knowing the salary-cap rules.

That’s why ESPN’s John Clayton ranked the Raiders as one of the teams in the worst position heading into free agency. Clayton ranked the Raiders third on his list as being in a bad spot prior to the start of free agency as far as the salary cap goes.

Here is Clayton’s reasoning: Davis was aggressive in re-signing eight players for contracts totaling $85.48 million. But if the cap is at $120 million, the Raiders may have issues. If new cap rules exclude some $26 million in "dead" money for players whose contracts were voided to make them free agents this year that would help. If accounting rules include the "dead" money, the Raiders would be $14.78 million over the cap and would have to cut some players. Their payroll of $103.2 million isn't out of line, but the "dead" money issue could cause them problems if it isn't cleared up.

Again, the Raiders were in a tough spot. They had a ton of free agents and they secured the likes of Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley and John Henderson, among others. But it may be difficult to keep free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller, Michael Huff and Michael Bush as a result. It could also be difficult for Oakland to add outside free agents.

The Raiders knew they were taking a risk extending the players they did prior to the lockout. But teams can’t keep everyone and the Raiders made their decisions on their priority free agents. So, as a result, the Raiders’ offseason movement period may be complete for the most part because of the possible salary-cap realities.

Sound-off: Terrelle Pryor

June, 21, 2011
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There has been a lot of talk about former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor's future in the NFL. He plans to enter the supplemental draft.

There has been a lot of talk about Pryor’s future. ESPN’s John Clayton thinks the Raiders are the best bet in the NFL to land Pryor. A few weeks ago, we looked at the chances of Pryor ending up with each AFC West team.

What do you think?

Let me know what AFC West team you follow and whether you would want your team to spend a 2012 draft pick on Pryor in the supplemental draft this summer. Hit my mailbag with your thoughts. I will post some of your responses later in the week.
Add ESPN’s John Clayton to the list of those who think the Oakland Raiders are the favorite to draft former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft this summer. I could see the Raiders being in play, but I’m not so sure the Raiders should be considered the favorite to pull the trigger on Pryor. Oakland has never used a supplemental pick.

In other AFC West nuggets Wednesday evening:

A joint statement released by the NFL and NFLPA said that among those participating in this week’s discussions were Kansas City owner Clark Hunt and San Diego owner Dean Spanos as well as Kansas City guard Brian Waters. All three men have been involved in earlier discussions at different points this offseason.
  • Another look at whether or not Philadelphia may be players for Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in free agent. There was a previous report that said the Eagles may not be in hot pursuit of Asomugha.
  • Don’t expect the Panthers to simply give away receiver Steve Smith if they trade him. He has been connected to San Diego, Oakland and Denver in potential trade talks.

The kings of the underrated

June, 10, 2011
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It’s Underrated Friday (if that’s even possible) here at ESPN.com.

Earlier Friday, our blog network presented an underrated player for each NFL team. Our AFC West selections went this way: D.J. Williams (Denver), Brandon Carr (Kansas City), Marcell Reece (Oakland) and Antonio Garay (San Diego).

The great John Clayton complemented the package with his All-NFL underrated team. The AFC West was well represented. Six of the 22 players named by Clayton play in the AFC West. It was the most of any division in the NFL.

OK, so, the AFC West may be the division with the longest Super Bowl appearance drought in the NFL (Oakland represented the division in 2003), but at least we can hang our hat on something. Being underrated is better than being overrated.

Here are the AFC West players who Clayton tabbed for his team: Kyle Orton (Denver), Brandon Flowers (Kansas City), Jacoby Ford (Oakland), Shaun Phillips (San Diego), Garay and Reece. I can see the case for all of the players Clayton picked.

I think Flowers and Ford are soon to be Pro Bowl players and Phillips has long been a steady pass-rusher. Orton may soon be packing his bags. Denver is probably happy to see him make Clayton’s list. Anything that stokes the trade winds.
Cam Newton, Tim Tebow & Blaine GabbertGetty ImagesMany scouts are saying they'd take Cam Newton, left, or Blaine Gabbert, right, over Tim Tebow.
The Tim Tebow debate rages on one year after he was the most dissected prospect in the 2010 NFL draft.

Last year, the Denver Broncos shocked the NFL by taking Tebow with the No. 25 overall pick. Now, it is the Broncos who are considering Tebow’s future.

The Broncos are working out or visiting with several of the top quarterback prospects in the draft. Legendary Denver quarterback and new Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway has said Denver’s interest in quarterbacks is not a smokescreen to confuse other teams. Yet Elway also said the team’s interest in quarterbacks doesn’t mean the team is not sold on Tebow. Elway insists the Broncos simply don’t want to bypass a franchise quarterback if he’s available.

Earlier this week, ESPN’s John Clayton said he thinks Elway might take a quarterback in the second round and admit that the Tebow pick -- which was made by former Denver coach Josh McDaniels -- was a mistake. With Tebow’s future perhaps unclear again, we polled several draft experts and experienced NFL scouts about what they think Denver should do and how Tebow stacks up against the better quarterback prospects of 2011.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Barry GutierrezJohn Elway and the Broncos may be looking for Tim Tebow's replacement already.
Tebow remains a polarizing figure. The experts are divided. Some think Tebow is a born leader. Others wouldn’t touch him because of an unrefined throwing motion.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper still has a difficult time grading Tebow because he doesn’t think he can be a pro-style quarterback. Kiper thinks Tebow would likely be a fourth-round pick in 2011. Former NFL scout Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. thinks Tebow is the answer in Denver because he projects better to the NFL than Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who could be the No. 1 overall pick by Carolina. Horton said it would be “ridiculous” and Denver would be “absolutely crazy” to draft Newton or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert at No. 2 and ignore its massive defensive needs after drafting a quarterback in the first round last year.

The other quarterbacks who could be taken in the first three rounds are Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Florida State’s Christian Ponder, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi. Kiper and Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson and Steve Muench think most of them are better NFL quarterback prospects than Tebow.

“Tim Tebow is interesting because so many people have different opinions about him,” Muench said. “That’s what Denver is probably trying to figure out right now. In a lot of ways, I’d say there are a lot better options than Tebow, but then, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Tebow succeeds because of what kind of person and leader he is. … It’s not easy.”

Muench said Scouts Inc. had Tebow rated as a late second-round or an early third-round prospect last year. He was the fourth-rated quarterback on Scouts Inc.’s list behind Sam Bradford (who went to St. Louis at No. 1), Jimmy Clausen (No. 47, Carolina) and Colt McCoy (No. 85, Cleveland). Muench said this year’s quarterback class is much better than the 2010 class. Thus, he thinks Tebow would be a fourth-round prospect, and a similar prospect to Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor. Some teams think Taylor is best-suited for another position. Last year, Kiper looked at Tebow as an H-back prospect (and perhaps some teams did, as well). Kiper’s thoughts haven’t changed.

“I don’t think many teams would look at him in the second or third rounds,” Kiper said. “He’s not up there with Newton and Gabbert, then he’d be behind second-level guys like Andy Dalton. Ponder is moving like crazy. … I think Tebow would certainly be the fourth or fifth, sixth or seventh quarterback on teams' boards.”

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesSome scouts thought Tim Tebow would be better served as an H-back in the NFL.
Still, Horton would rather have Tebow than Newton, who’ll certainly be a top-12 pick.

“There are football questions about Tebow, but there’s also football questions about Newton,” Horton said. “There are no intangible questions about Tebow. But there are intangibles questions about Newton."

Horton thinks Denver should either let veteran quarterback Kyle Orton start the season and replace him with Tebow when the season goes south or go with Tebow to start the season. Horton reasons that quarterbacks emerge as top draft prospects every year and there will be plenty of options next year if Tebow fails, perhaps even Stanford gem Andrew Luck.

“If it doesn’t work with Tebow, well, then you move on, but you have to see what he can do,” Horton said. “Tebow was drafted as a developmental guy. Don’t run out of patience with him before he gets a chance to develop.”

Williamson said he never thought it was a good idea for Denver to draft Tebow and he would support Elway’s decision to pull the plug now. He thinks there are several second-round type prospects who would be better options than Tebow in Denver.

“I would certainly rather have Gabbert, Newton and Ponder over Tebow, in that order. And there could be an argument made for the others,” Williamson said. “I would take Mallett for sure over [Tebow]. Tebow and Locker are similar -- big, strong guys with suspect accuracy/passing skills, but Locker is further along coming out of school than Tebow.”

However, former Carolina and St. Louis draft executive Tony Softli said he had Tebow ranked as a low second-round pick last year when Softli was with the Rams. He said he wouldn’t draft a quarterback this year. He believes in Tebow. Softli raved about Tebow’s leadership ability, his history as a winner and his intelligence. Softli said Tebow, Matt Ryan, Bradford and Josh Freeman were the brightest quarterback prospects he’s seen in the past 10 years when it came to working on the grease board and breaking down the game.

“I understand why Denver is looking at quarterbacks -- they’re doing their homework and that’s smart -- but I think Tebow is going to be the guy,” Softli said. “I think the Broncos should forget about his throwing motion and just let him be who he is. His intangibles are off the charts. When it’s Tebow time, he’ll show he’s the answer.”

It’s clear. The Tebow debate is not over.

Evening AFC West notes

March, 25, 2011
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Current ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer is one of the most astute quarterback students alive. His words need to be digested.

Dilfer compares TCU quarterback Andy Dalton to Super-Bowl winner Aaron Rodgers. This is of interest to the AFC West because Kansas City is working out Dalton. I know he doesn’t have the classic cannon Al Davis loves, but I think the Raiders should consider him in the second or third round as well.
  • Former Kansas City and San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer talks about his new role as an UFL coach in a radio interview.

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