NFC East: justin blackmon

Cowboys' tragedy was, sadly, avoidable

December, 8, 2012

For the second Saturday in a row, a terrible and avoidable real-life tragedy has shaken up the insular fantasy world that is the NFL. Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent has been jailed on charges of intoxication manslaughter and teammate Jerry Brown is dead as a result of a one-car accident that happened early Saturday morning in Irving, Texas. Tim MacMahon has the sad details as they continue to come in:
Brent, a three-year veteran, was booked in the Irving [Texas] city jail at 4:14 a.m. Saturday morning.

Brown was signed to the Cowboys' practice squad earlier this season. He was also Brent's college teammate at Illinois.

"We are deeply saddened by the news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. "At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry's family and all of those who knew him and loved him."

The Cowboys are flying to Cincinnati for Sunday's game against the Bengals and had no comment on the accident, other than to say Brent did not make the team's charter. The players were told on the plane just before takeoff of what happened after non-team personnel were asked to go outside.

In June 2009, Brent was sentenced to two years probation and 60 days in jail as part of a plea agreement stemming from a drunken driving arrest in Champaign County, Illinois.

Just awful, and the kind of thing that obviously makes football seem irrelevant. Nose tackle Rob Callaway was promoted from the practice squad and is likely to play Sunday because starter Jay Ratliff is injured and Brent is not with the team. But the real issue here deals with the life of Jerry Brown, which is incomprehensibly over at the age of 25, and the life of Brent, 24, which will never be the same after he apparently made one of the stupidest mistakes an adult human can make -- and made it for at least the second time.

Brent already did time while in college on drunken driving charges, which means the significance of the crime theoretically should have been impressed upon him. Drunken driving is as selfish, avoidable and inexcusable a crime as there is -- especially for high-profile professional athletes, who have myriad other options available to them by the time they decide to go home after having too much to drink. Every single player in the NFL has a "safe rides" program available to him courtesy of the NFL Players Association. Many teams also offer "safe rides" programs, which provide players with a phone number they can call for a ride at any time, anywhere in the United States. And if for some reason a player doesn't want to reach out for help from such a program, he certainly can always call a cab.

The decision to get behind the wheel of a car after you've had too much to drink is flatly irresponsible -- whether you play NFL football or not. But there were a number of NFL drunken driving cases this offseason, including the Giants' David Diehl, the Lions' Nick Fairley and the Jaguars' Justin Blackmon. And although none of those cases resulted in anyone getting injured or killed, this is not the first case in league history that has. It serves as a reminder of why it's so important for the league to make its players aware of the seriousness of the issue, and the number of drunken driving cases the league still deals with serves as a reminder that the message isn't sinking in.

This is an issue that doesn't get treated seriously enough -- by our sports leagues or by our society in general. Even after reading the story of Brent and Brown, people all over Texas and the rest of the United States are going to climb into their cars later tonight after having too much to drink. Some of those people will even be pro athletes with solutions available to them that aren't available to the rest of us. The majority will arrive safely home in spite of their irresponsible decision, and every such success unfortunately makes it more likely that the driver in question will do it again at some point in the future.

The NFL and the NFLPA would do well to make this issue a higher, more public priority going forward than they have in the past. Whether that means working harder to raise awareness, imposing stronger discipline for such violations or some other solution, it needs to be done. What the NFL and its players do gets noticed, and it's even possible that if the league made drunken driving a point of emphasis, the rest of our society would start to take it more seriously. There's nothing to lose by trying harder on this and taking the problem more seriously, and if nothing changes, then what happened Saturday morning in Irving, Texas, is just going to keep happening.

NFC East combine primer

February, 22, 2012
With the NFL scouting combine kicking off, let's take a look at some of the story lines involving NFC East teams in Indianapolis this week. We'll do them in draft-pick order:

Washington Redskins

Biggest need: Well, it's quarterback, as everyone within 500 miles of the beltway knows. But the Redskins will also be talking to wide receivers, defensive backs and offensive linemen at this year's combine. They have a number of needs, and a number of different things they can do with the No. 6 overall pick. The key question is whether they'll stay at No. 6. A big part of the combine is the after-hours interaction between team executives, agents, etc. By the end of this week, if they don't already, the Redskins might have some idea about what it would cost them to trade up to No. 2 overall and ensure they could draft Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Once they have some idea of that price, they can decide whether Griffin is their answer at quarterback or whether they need to find one in free agency and use the No. 6 pick on a receiver or a defensive back.

Interview targets: The Redskins will surely want to talk to Griffin, along with other, lower-ranked quarterback prospects such as Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler and Brandon Weeden. At other positions, it makes sense for them to be keeping an eye on wide receiver Justin Blackmon, cornerback Morris Claiborne and maybe an offensive tackle such as Riley Reiff.

Later-round sleepers: Boise State safety George Iloka is a second-day type of player on whom the Redskins could have their eye if the chips fall correctly. LaRon Landry looks like he may be a goner in Washington, and they could use some help at safety. And there's some buzz right now about Midwestern State tackle Amini Silatolu, who projects as a guard in the NFL and might look nice on the left side of the line next to Trent Williams.

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest need: They have several, but none so glaring as cornerback. When one of your starters gets hurdled by two fullbacks in the division title game, you know you have a problem at the position. The Cowboys pick 14th in the first round, and if they've addressed cornerback in free agency they could use the pick on a pass rusher, a safety or even an interior offensive lineman like Stanford's David DeCastro. But even if they pick up a big-name free-agent corner, it's not out of the question they could draft another in the first round. Their need at the position is that desperate.

Interview targets: With Claiborne almost certain to be gone by 14, the two corners on which the Cowboys have their eye are Janoris Jenkins and Dre Kirkpatrick. But they'll surely check in on DeCastro as well as pass rushers such as Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw. Mel Kiper had the Cowboys taking Alabama safety Mark Barron in his most recent mock draft, and with Abram Elam's 2012 status in doubt, it wouldn't be a huge shock to see them take the top available safety at 14.

Later-round sleepers: Todd McShay's recent post on possible combine sleepers mentions Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson and McNeese State safety Janzen Jackson as guys who could be there for the Cowboys at need positions after the first round.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest need: The Eagles need linebackers — at least two of them. The issue is whether there is value at that position in the first round. If Boston College's Luke Kuechly is still there at No. 15, it would make a ton of sense for the Eagles to take him. But Andy Reid's draft history doesn't indicate that he likes taking linebackers that high. In spite of their disappointing 2011 season, the Eagles don't look, on paper, like a team with a lot of obvious needs. If they don't take a linebacker at 15, I'd expect them to either move down or pick a big defensive tackle such as Fletcher Cox, Devon Still or Dontari Poe. And if DeSean Jackson is traded or leaves via free agency, they could target a wide receiver such as Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright.

Interview targets: All of those names above, but I'm going to throw the two cornerbacks in here as well — Kirkpatrick and Jenkins. The Eagles obviously love to stock up on cornerbacks, and if they trade Asante Samuel for salary/overcrowding reasons, it's not crazy to imagine them deciding one of those corners has too much value to pass up. As for their troubled pasts... hey, this is Andy Reid we're talking about here.

Later-round sleepers: Michael Vick's not going to be around forever, so don't be surprised to see the Eagles spend an early-round or mid-round pick on a quarterback such as Osweiler or Nick Foles. But those guys aren't really sleepers, because you've heard of them. Nebraska's Lavonte David is a well-regarded, if undersized, linebacker prospect. At wide receiver, remember the name Tim Benford from Tennessee Tech.

New York Giants

Biggest need: Offensive line. The champs patched it together in January with a line that wasn't very good in the first half of the season but played big when it needed to. But Kareem McKenzie looks set to leave as a free agent, David Diehl won't play forever and the Giants need to be thinking about what their offensive line will look like in the future. They haven't taken an offensive lineman in the first round since Luke Petitgout in 1999, but at No. 32, their pick is barely in the first round, and they'll take the best player available, as they always do. Don't be surprised if that player is a tight end such as Clemson's Dwayne Allen. The Giants did lose two tight ends to knee injuries in the Super Bowl. Oh, and if they lose both Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas in free agency, they may need a cornerback.

Interview targets: Allen and Stanford's Coby Fleener at tight end. Mike Adams and Bobby Massie at tackle. I also wouldn't be surprised to see them look at a versatile rush linebacker like Marshall's Vinny Curry. I always think the Giants need help at linebacker, though they never seem to agree.

Later-round sleepers: Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green could fill a need for them in the middle rounds if his knees check out this week. And the Giants like to take late-round running backs, so keep an eye on Senior Bowl star Doug Martin from Boise State.

Mock draft: Kiper on the NFC East

February, 15, 2012
By now, all of you draft-crazy maniacs must know that Mel Kiper Jr. has released his second mock draft. It's Insider Insider (and no, we're not just doing Insider stuff today — it's a coincidence, and for goodness' sake, it's a mock draft!), but I asked Mel and he said it'd be OK if I told you guys who he has the four NFC East teams taking. Just this once.

6. Washington Redskins: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. Mel believes the Redskins could move out of this slot***, in particular if they make a play to move up and take quarterback Robert Griffin III. But Mel's mocks don't deal in potential trades, and he believes Claiborne represents the best value for Washington at No. 6, even given the team's obvious needs on offense. Mel says Claiborne "is actually a better pure cover corner than Patrick Peterson, the No. 5 overall pick from last year." No question, that would help.

14. Dallas Cowboys: Mark Barron, S, Alabama. Yes, a big percentage of this year's first round will be players who played in the BCS National Championship Game. Mel thinks Dallas' biggest need is defensive back, and he thinks the safety Barron represents better value at 14 than the next-best cornerback he has still available (Barron's teammate, Dre Kirkpatrick). As ever, the caveat is what happens in free agency. If they get a bunch of defensive backs in free agency, I believe they'll be looking for a pass rusher here. The next pass rusher off Mel's board is Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, whom he has going to Tennessee at No. 20.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox, DT Mississippi State. Mel has Luke Kuechly gone already, and while linebacker is the Eagles' greater need, he doesn't see value for them at that position in this spot. I kind of agree, though if they don't get a linebacker here I think they need to make sure and get one in Round 2 or 3. Cox would help shore up the middle of Jim Washburn's defensive line rotation.

32. New York Giants: Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson. The champs lost two tight ends in the Super Bowl, and if Allen's still on the board at 32, he makes as much sense as anyone. If not, my guess is they pick an offensive lineman here.

***NOTE: This isn't, per se, an NFC East point, but it does affect the Redskins, at least tangentially. Mel has the Rams taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the No. 2 pick, and it made me think about the Rams' leverage in these negotiations with the teams that will want the pick to ensure they get Griffin. Even if, say, the Redskins become the only team willing to trade for the pick, the Rams still have plenty of leverage. Someone like Blackmon or USC tackle Matt Kalil would fill a major need for them, and if no team wants to give them the multiple-first-round-picks package they'll surely be seeking in exchange, they can very easily stay right where they are and get a potentially great player who can help them for years to come. It's not as though the Rams need to be out of No. 2. They'll only do it if they get blown away. Worth keeping in mind.

Mel Kiper's first mock draft is up!

January, 18, 2012
Aw, yeah, fans of teams that aren't still playing this week. Do we have some fresh meat for you. Our NFL draft expert, Mel Kiper, has posted his first mock draft of 2012, and here it is in all its glory. Looks like it's an Insider piece, so you have to pay to read the whole thing. But in the interest of keeping the blog fed, the masses happy and reasons for people to pay for Insider access obvious, I'll let you know what he's got for our four teams. The comments here are mine, not Mel's.

6. Washington Redskins: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. This came up in this morning's breakfast links, with John Keim of the Washington Examiner suggesting cornerback at a spot where most people have been hoping or assuming the Redskins would take a quarterback or wide receiver. But Mel's got Andrew Luck gone to Indy at No. 1, Robert Griffin III gone to Cleveland at No. 4 and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon gone to St. Louis at No. 2, and he doesn't forecast trades. He also doesn't have another quarterback going in the first round, so second-tier options like Ryan Tannehill could still be available there if this were to come true. I'm curious to see whether Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd could get this high, though he said this week that he's dropping out of the Senior Bowl, where Mike Shanahan and the Redskins will be one of the coaching staffs.

14. Dallas Cowboys: David DeCastro, G, Stanford. Seems high for a guard, and it would seem odd for the Cowboys to spend top-15 picks on offensive line two years in a row. But other than cornerback, interior offensive line is the Cowboys' biggest need position, and Mel has Claiborne and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick gone in the top 10. I wonder if the Cowboys would maneuver to grab a pass-rushing outside linebacker such as Alabama's Courtney Upshaw or South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, who are gone at No. 10 and 12, respectively, in Mel's mock.

15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College. No question linebacker is the Eagles' biggest need, but will Andy Reid really go far enough out of character to take one in the middle of the first round? Everybody loves Kuechly for his instincts and tackling, and those are two aspects of their linebacking corps the Eagles desperately need to improve. I could see, as Mel says he could also, the Eagles taking a safety here. (Mel has Alabama's Mark Barron going next, to the Jets.) And if they part ways with DeSean Jackson, the Eagles could certainly look for a wide receiver in the first round. But Kuechly seems like a big pile of exactly what Philadelphia needs.

29*. New York Giants: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State. The Giants will pick in this spot if they lose Sunday, 31st if they win Sunday and lose the Super Bowl and a very happy 32nd if they win the Super Bowl. Tackle's not a bad way to go, since they have some question marks there. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie is a free agent and Will Beatty didn't look like the answer at left tackle before eye surgery ended his season. David Diehl has played well there since, but he's 31, and it can't hurt to add young depth at a spot like this. The Giants could use help at linebacker and maybe in the secondary depending what happens with Terrell Thomas, but clearly, since they're still playing this week, their needs appear to be relatively few.

Draft watch: Justin Blackmon

December, 8, 2011
Lots of draft-related queries already flowing in, even with four games left in the season. So I'll try and take a look every now and then at some draft-related news that could be of interest in our division.

Today's big draft news is that Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon has decided to enter the draft. Blackmon ranked second in the nation this year with 113 catches and fourth with 1,336 receiving yards. Both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have him rated as the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the 2012 draft, and both have him in their top 10 overall. Mel says he's "a better prospect than recent OSU star Dez Bryant," and Todd lauds his "great hands, ball skills and body control."

The most obvious fit in this division is the Washington Redskins, who would have the No. 5 pick in the draft as of right now and could use an impact wide receiver. Washington is desperately in need of a quarterback and likely would be wiser to take one there instead of trying pull off what the Bengals did in the 2011 draft when they took receiver A.J. Green in the first round and quarterback Andy Dalton high in the second. But if the Redskins found some other way to address quarterback -- say, by acquiring a highly-regarded, starter-ready backup like the Packers' Matt Flynn, a stud receiver like Blackmon could end up being their first-round target.

The only other NFC East team for which Blackmon might fit is the Philadelphia Eagles, and that's only if they were to cut ties with DeSean Jackson. If they franchise or extend Jackson and bring him back along with Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles are set at receiver and wouldn't need to burn a high draft pick on one. But if Jackson, who has been open about his dissatisfaction over his contract situation, is gone after this year, it's not out of the question that the Eagles might try and find a replacement for him in the first round. Through Week 13, they would be picking eighth.



Sunday, 1/25