NFC East: Michael Crabtree
There are six receivers in the NFL earning more than $11 million per season. Does Bryant join that list with Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson? Do we need to point out the new deal DeSean Jackson signed with the Washington Redskins is with $8 million annually?
Here’s what Sando wrote about Bryant:
Bryant lined up on the perimeter for 89.1 percent of his routes last season, the highest percentage for any player on this list. Versatility is great and teams certainly feature players from the slot, but being labeled as a "slot guy" isn't the best thing for a player's value in evaluators' eyes. "It's such a difference when you have outside guys that can stretch the field," a veteran assistant coach said.
Bryant, who turns 26 in November, accounted for 29.2 percent of the Cowboys' receiving yards last season. That was the highest percentage for any player on the list. He also accounted for 39.4 percent of his team's receiving touchdowns, by far the highest for any player on this list and the third highest for any wide receiver, behind Fitzgerald (41.4 percent) and Megatron (39.4).
"You'd better pay Dez Bryant," one of the GMs said. "Jerry Jones had better pay him. The antics you see, that is raw emotion, his competitive flair coming out."
Another GM expressed some concern about paying Bryant top dollar based on Bryant's overall makeup, but both GMs ranked Bryant first on their list, as did the defensive coordinator. "Teams will bid on Bryant," a third GM said, "but not all the teams will be in on that, because of his personality."
Bryant is set to make $1.78 million on the final year of his rookie contract. He doesn’t want to leave. The Cowboys don’t want him to leave. How they reach an agreement will be interesting. Bryant did not dismiss the idea of a hometown discount in this story from Tim MacMahon last month. I’ve written that the structure will matter most.
There is always the possibility of the franchise tag.
But I will ask this question: When was the last time the Cowboys lost somebody they wanted to keep?
Nearly a third of the league inquired about receiver DeSean Jackson, but not all the teams are known. Two of those teams reportedly have fallen out of the race for Jackson -- and both have coaches who previously worked with him (Andy Reid in Kansas City and Marty Mornhinweg with the New York Jets). The assumption is that this sends up red flags about Jackson; that’s not necessarily the case.
And it’s hard to get a good feel on who is really interested. Oakland and Washington definitely are, though to what extent remains to be seen. Jackson arrives in Washington Monday and will visit Tuesday. Thus far, it’s his only reported visit.
San Francisco’s name came up when Jackson was on the trade block and the 49ers had expressed interest in free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate, among others, before he signed with Detroit. So it would make sense that they’d at least inquire about Jackson. Tampa Bay has said they'd take a look, though it was a rather tepid endorsement.
Here’s a little handicap of some teams that have expressed interest or reportedly want to get in the race:
Cap space: Approximately $7 million
Why he’d consider: It’s a premier market in a premier conference. Oh, and they get to play the Eagles twice a year. The Redskins would have a lot of speed offensively with Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed and would be a major threat down the field. Add to it an athletic quarterback who can extend plays and the off-schedule explosions would increase. Robert Griffin III’s deep-ball ability will be important -- and his ability to extend plays. Jackson’s agent, Joel Segal, has definitely taken quarterback play into consideration in the past with his receivers. If Jackson is forced to take a one-year, prove-it deal, this especially would be a factor.
Why he wouldn’t: Because other teams can offer more. Washington can’t compete if Jackson’s strong desire is to return to the West Coast and play for the team he grew up rooting for (Oakland). If they want a more proven coach, San Francisco and Tampa Bay have to be a consideration (if the Bucs are strongly interested, which is debatable). And if San Francisco truly is interested, then the 49ers clearly would offer him a better chance for team success. The Redskins still have other needs to address so they can only spend so much, and it's hard to gauge how aggressive they'll be. But the fact that they have the first visit says something.
Cap space: Approximately $13 million
Why he’d consider: They have more cap room than most teams, so they could offer the sort of contract that could get it done now -- if they wanted to go that high. They need what Jackson provides (though many teams do).
Why he wouldn’t: The Bills aren’t a marquee team and their quarterback situation is questionable. EJ Manuel started 10 games as a rookie and showed flashes, but remains unproven. That has to be a strong consideration. None of their receivers had more than 597 yards last season, so how secure could you be? They have a good young talent in Robert Woods, a solid receiver in Stevie Johnson (nagging injuries, however) and a fast young guy in Marquise Goodwin. But that’s not exactly a Hall of Fame trio. The draft has to be an attractive option, so that could limit what the Bills would be willing to offer.
Cap space: Approximately $15 million
Why he’d consider: Because the Raiders were his favorite team growing up and he played college ball at nearby Cal. Jackson is a West Coast kid, and if his desire to return there is strong, then it will be hard to top. The Raiders need help at receiver so Jackson would fill a big hole. Also, the Raiders have more money than the other teams reportedly interested thus far.
Why he wouldn’t: The Raiders have a wait-and-see approach going on and, while they’d like him, they won’t overspend. So if another team is more aggressive, then Jackson could end up elsewhere. Also, other than going back to California, the Raiders aren’t exactly an attractive franchise. Their coach, Dennis Allen, will enter the season on the hot seat and their quarterback, Matt Schaub, is not known for throwing deep all that often. At this point, it’s uncertain if he remains a quality starting quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cap space: Approximately $12 million
Why he’d consider: They have a potentially strong structure with new coach Lovie Smith. He’s a proven coach in the first year of his regime so he’ll be around several years at least. The Bucs have another explosive receiver to pair with Jackson in Vincent Jackson. Both are dangerous down the field. Oh, yeah, and they have the cap room to absorb a bigger contract.
Why he wouldn’t: Smith’s history suggests building around the run game and the defense. Also, they have a journeyman starting quarterback in Josh McCown and a second-year guy in Mike Glennon, whom the new coach did not draft (and replaced right away). So there are questions at this spot. Their interest is said to be lukewarm, so it’s hard to imagine them overspending for Jackson.
San Francisco 49ers
Cap space: Approximately $4 million
Why he’d consider: It’s the best team, it’s near where he played college ball and it puts him back on the West Coast. They need a receiver who can stretch the field to pair with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Jackson would provide that and then some. They also have a big-armed quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who can let Jackson run under the ball and remind everyone of his explosiveness. Unlike Washington, the 49ers also have a defense that plays at a championship level, so if Jackson wants to produce and win, this could be the stop.
Why he wouldn’t: The 49ers were reportedly interested in pursuing a trade, according to Pro Football Talk. But their cap number isn’t high and they already have talent at receiver. They could opt for the draft, which is deep at this position and has a few players with Jackson-like qualities (though no one can match his acceleration on deep balls). Hard to know what the reported friction with the 49ers between general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh means for the future of either person and, subsequently, a guy like Jackson.
When the Washington Redskins play the San Francisco 49ers Monday night, the quarterbacks, who say they don’t know one another, will command attention. The question is: Which quarterbacks will we see? The dynamic elements of Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick? Or the passing-game struggles of both?
“We don’t feel Colin Kaepernick is struggling. I think he’s playing very good football. And watching RGIII on tape, I feel the same way about him,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They’ve been a very productive offense. They put points on the board. They move the football and score points against everybody that they play. I guess I don’t agree with the premise of the question.”
Both, however, remain works in progress if nothing else. Both remain capable of games that produce one highlight after another. Both remain capable of head-scratching days as well. Last week, for example, Griffin completed 17 of 35 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and a bad decision that resulted in a game-ending interception.
Griffin has had three games where he’s completed 50 percent or less of his passes. He’s on pace for 22 touchdown passes, only two more than he threw in 15 games as a rookie. This, despite throwing a lot more this season: Griffin has attempted only 21 fewer passes than he made last season. The extra passes have resulted in more bad plays: Griffin has thrown 10 interceptions, five more than 2012.
“Robert has done a lot of good things this year, too,” Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “We’re turning the ball over a lot more, but he has definitely been asked to do a lot more – he’s had to do a lot more. He’s seen a lot more different looks than he saw last year, and I think that’s part of the process.”
Griffin still is learning how to read coverages faster and throw with more trust and anticipation. He’s done that at times – he made three excellent throws using those qualities versus Minnesota, for example. But at times if he’s slower to go through his progressions, it forces him to throw with less-than-ideal mechanics. Other times his protection does not afford him much time – or results in him throwing with hands in his face. On a missed throw to Santana Moss in the fourth quarter Sunday, for example, a defender had a hand in his face forcing an adjusted throw.
He also took a sack/fumble at the 5-yard line because he held the ball too long, rather than throwing to tight end Jordan Reed in a one-on-one matchup at the goal line.
And Griffin also sometimes hesitates on throws, allowing windows to close. It’s all part of what coach Mike Shanahan calls his growing pains.
Like Griffin, Kaepernick’s numbers are inconsistent. He’s had four games of 50 percent completion or less; he has thrown only 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions and his passer rating is 81.8. However, the Redskins coaches – and many others -- say part of the problem has been his receiving corps, which is still missing Crabtree.
But keep in mind: Three of Kaepernick’s four worst games occurred against defenses currently ranked in the top four in total yards and top five in passing yards allowed. The Redskins rank 28th in total yards and 32nd against the pass. Griffin hasn’t faced a defense that’s currently ranked in the top 16.
“I haven’t seen anything that’s changed based off what I’ve seen from last year to this year,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of Kaepernick. “He’s a great athlete. He’s got great speed. He’s got a big-time arm. He does a great job with their zone-read. I think he’s running the offense as well as he can. I think he’s doing a nice job.”
Kaepernick is in his third year, but only second year as a starter (he has 17 career regular-season starts to Griffin’s 24). Both came off hot play last season, leading to big hopes for both – even with the receiver injuries for Kaepernick and with Griffin coming off knee surgery.
“With expectations, you want that. You want guys to expect you to succeed – to be great – and for us there was a lot of expectations coming into this season and we just haven’t lived up to them and that’s unfortunate,” Griffin said. “You can either look at adversity and say, ‘Look, I’ll let you beat me and we’ll be down and out and we’ll quit on the rest of the season,’ or you can buckle up, stare adversity in the face and let it know that you won’t be beaten. That’s the way I approach it.”
Anyway, Bill's got the New York Giants ranked among "The Best" in his rankings, behind only the Ravens, Lions and Packers. He picks a "best value pick" and a "cornerstone pick" for each team, and for the Giants he lists wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (29th pick, 2009) as the best value pick and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (15th pick, 2010) as the cornerstone. Based on the results alone, these are both very good picks for the Giants, and they offer different types of examples of the Giants' broad-thinking approach to the first round.
The Giants believed Maclin and Nicks were both top-15 value picks that had slipped into the second half of the round. They had them rated very closely together and believed each offered something special. With Maclin it was his raw speed and special-teams ability. With Nicks, it was his studious nature and everything they'd been told by his college coaches about his attention to detail and the level of responsibility he'd assumed as a leader of the wide receiver corps at North Carolina. They were ecstatic to get him at 29. If not for the saturation of first-round wide receiver talent in that particular year, they might not have been able to sniff either guy. They took advantage of a rare and exciting confluence of value and need to make that year's first-round pick, and it's paid off.
As for Pierre-Paul, we've been over this story a million times. The Giants were picking in the middle of the first round that year, and the value at that spot was going to be pass-rushers, which is their wheelhouse. Five defensive ends went in that year's first round, and the names of Brandon Graham and Derrick Morgan were being kicked around for teams in the middle of the first round. Pierre-Paul was a mystery man -- raw and inexperienced but unquestionably gifted as a pure athlete. Everybody saw the tape of him doing the backflips. No one -- not even the Giants -- knew for sure how that would translate into NFL football.
The Eagles traded up to get Graham at 13 -- a move that has subjected them to derision in light of Pierre-Paul's rapid ascent and Graham's health struggles (and the fact that safety Earl Thomas went one pick later). And with the seemingly more NFL-ready Morgan still on the board, the Giants picked Pierre-Paul. They didn't know he'd be one of the best defensive players in the league two years later. They thought maybe he could eventually be that, and that his potential combined with their program made him worth the pick. This was a pick that made more sense for the Giants than it might have made for any other team picking in that spot. They identified that, and again, it has paid off.
Anyway, the other teams in the NFC East are much further down the list, all in the bottom-17 portion of Bill's list labeled "The Rest of the Rest." He picks Sean Lee as the Cowboys' value pick and Tyron Smith as the cornerstone. The Eagles' value pick is Jason Kelce (sixth round!) and the cornerstone pick is LeSean McCoy. The Redskins' value pick is Roy Helu (fourth round!) and their cornerstones are Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, though the Redskins are hoping the real cornerstone is the guy they're picking No. 2 overall next week.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Yes, it is raining here this morning, but it's nothing too heavy, and the forecast is calling for occasional showers throughout the day. The NFC Championship Game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers might be played in the rain at Candlestick Park, but it shouldn't be anything that affects the game too terribly much.
Stumbled on a couple of neat morning links for you. This one's from Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com, who spent some time talking to members of Antrel Rolle's family about why Rolle is so outspoken. And Sam Farmer from the L.A. Times has a cute story about Donald Toomer, father of former Giants receiver Amani Toomer, who will be operating the play clock for the NFL for today's game.
I will be heading over to Candlestick in a few hours to watch the AFC game while we await the 6:30 p.m. ET start of the NFC game. NFC West blogger Mike Sando will be there as well, along with Ashley Fox and the whole ESPN New York crew. Meantime, per our Sunday tradition, here's one reason for Giants fans to be feeling good about today's game and one reason for concern:
Feeling good: The Giants' defense won't have to cover as many scary receiving threats as it's had to worry about over the past few weeks in elimination games against the Packers, Falcons and Cowboys. San Francisco's offense is more basic, leans harder on the run game and doesn't offer its quarterback as many sensational downfield options as those teams offer theirs. The Giants will have to cover big tight end Vernon Davis, who had a huge game last week against the Saints, and watch out for top wideout Michael Crabtree. But if they can cover up those two, they should be able to devote the rest of their energy to getting after quarterback Alex Smith, which is the Giants' bread-and-butter on defense.
Cause for concern: San Francisco's defense is much more punishing than those against which the Giants have been playing in this current stretch. They are the best in the league at stopping the run. They forced 38 turnovers in the regular season and five more last week in their playoff game. They're aggressive and opportunistic and fast, and all of that forces opposing teams into mistakes. Eli Manning has been much more responsible with the ball this year than in past years, but he still forces (and completes) a lot of very tough and dangerous throws. If Manning is thrown off by the speed and relentlessness of the 49ers' defensive front, and if his line can't get him enough time to throw the ball, he could find himself forced into a mistake or two the likes of which he hasn't been making. And in a game like this, it might only take one or two mistakes to make a difference.
What it means: The Eagles, Redskins and Giants have identical 3-2 records, although the Skins are 2-0 against divisional opponents. Quarterback Kevin Kolb was sharp from the start, showing the Eagles could perhaps survive an extended absence from Michael Vick. Kolb was 21-of-31 for 253 yards and one touchdown in the win. He didn't take many shots downfield last week against the Skins, but he was getting big chunks of yards from the start Sunday night. Kolb also showed he could scramble by taking off on a 19-yard run on a third-and-18 play. He's obviously not as exciting on the run as Vick, but he's definitely a mobile quarterback. This was a really important game for him no matter when Vick returns to the lineup.
Takeaways: It was a mixed bag for a defense that gave up 309 yards passing and three touchdowns to Alex Smith. The Eagles had two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. On the play where Mikell scored a touchdown, rookie defensive end Brandon Graham was closing in on Smith. But it looked like the quarterback just let the ball pop out before Graham even made contact. Mikell scooped up the ball in stride and headed for the end zone.
Most interesting postgame quote from Andy Reid: "Michael is still the starting quarterback so we won’t get that controversy going there," Reid said of Michael Vick, who is recovering from a rib cartilage injury.
By the numbers: The Eagles are 26-5 under Andy Reid when scoring a defensive touchdown. It's something they've accomplished three consecutive times at Candlestick Park.
McCoy's a dual threat: LeSean McCoy had another big week with 92 yards rushing on 18 carries and a touchdown. He also caught five balls for 46 yards. His 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter was pretty remarkable. He's running with more power this season and he's really shifty once he gets in the open field. That's supposed to be a fairly tough defense that he shredded.
What's next: The Eagles will host the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons won a sloppy game over the Browns on Sunday. Matt Ryan's an excellent young quarterback, so the Eagles need to get Asante Samuel back in the lineup. Philadelphia gave up way too many yards in the middle of the field to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. A win at home over the Falcons would give the Eagles a 4-2 record heading to Tennessee, a team that has owned the Beast so far this season.
The Washington Redskins were the only team in the division to keep this draft from being all about defense. The Giants' once-vaunted defense was embarrassed in '09 and general manager Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin spent three days trying to rectify the situation. Who will start at middle linebacker, though? It's a fair question.
It was a memorable three days in the Beast. Now, let's take a look back at what transpired. It's never too early for some knee-jerk reaction.
I think Cowboys owner Jerry Jones moving up three spots in the first round to select Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant may have been the best move in the division. He's a top-10 talent (No. 8 on the Boys' board) who comes with some baggage. Yes, there were teams scared of him. But I couldn't find a scout around the league who said he would've passed on Bryant at No. 24 overall. It was also a shrewd move because the Ravens were waiting for Bryant at No. 25. Patriots coach Bill Belichick blocked an AFC playoff team by making the trade with Jones.
Other teams were worried about Bryant's association with Dallas area businessman David Wells, who helped guide (his nephew) Michael Crabtree into a holdout last fall. I'm told by folks at Valley Ranch that Jones knows exactly how to deal with Wells and that it shouldn't be a problem. The unfair thing for Bryant was that some folks assumed he wasn't a good kid because his stock was falling. Of the eight or nine scouts I asked about Bryant during the buildup to the draft, every one of them said he was essentially a good kid. He was just extremely immature and had a problem showing up to places on time. He's hands down the best receiver in the draft and I think the potential reward far outweighs the risk -- especially where he was drafted. The Tim Tebow trade immediately trumped Bryant's selection in terms of excitement, but Bryant will be contributing a lot sooner than the former Florida quarterback.
You'll think I'm crazy (as usual), but the Redskins choosing Oklahoma left tackle Trent Williams No. 4 overall is one of the riskiest moves of the draft. I agree that he has tremendous potential, but he's not a finished product at left tackle. Oklahoma State's Russell Okung would have been a no-brainer starter at left tackle from Day 1. Williams has more versatility and he's a better fit in the Redskins' zone-blocking scheme, but it's wrong to suggest that he's anywhere close to the "safest" pick in the top-10. If you want to know why I'm a little skeptical, go back and watch the OU-BYU game on tape. Sam Bradford remembers what I'm talking about.
Most surprising move
Maybe I haven't been fair enough to Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. On the second day of the draft, I was really impressed by the way he moved all over the board and kept acquiring extra picks. I'd heard from both Eagles and Cowboys sources that the fourth round was going to contain a ton of "value," and Roseman apparently took that to heart. By trading down twice in the 50s, he basically took over the fourth round. The Eagles had four picks in the fourth and then they found another pass-rusher in the fifth with Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp. He's an undersized player who has exceptional quickness. I think he probably reminded Andy Reid of Trent Cole, a player who the Eagles landed in the fifth round a few years back. I guess the "surprising" aspect of all this is how comfortable Roseman looked while running his first draft. Even the stoic Andy Reid admitted that he was entertained by watching Roseman at work.
It was also bold to move from No. 24 to 13 in order to land Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham. ESPN's Sal Paolantonio has reported that Reid and Roseman may have wanted to preempt the Giants from taking Graham. Of course, general manager Jerry Reese will never acknowledge that he coveted Graham, but it's an interesting theory.
File it away
I could almost sense that Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese were seething about the '09 season during this draft. Everyone wanted them to take a middle linebacker in the first round, but it didn't happen. The Giants made this draft about reclaiming the line of scrimmage. They started out with the immensely talented, but somewhat unproven, South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and then selected an enormous defensive tackle from East Carolina named Linval Joseph in the second round. Even when you thought they might turn to offense in the sixth round, they went with a sleeper defensive end out of Williams & Mary named Adrian Tracy. This pick had Reese written all over it because he loves overachieving kids from small schools. Tracy's not a three-down lineman by any stretch of the imagination, but he gives the Giants more options. If the Giants are able to become an elite defense again, we'll point back to the 2010 draft as a major turning point. In terms of potential impact players, this reminds me of the '07 draft. And that's a great thing for Giants fans.
One other thing to file away
The Cowboys moved up to take Penn State linebacker Sean Lee in the second round. They see him as the eventual successor to Keith Brooking at inside linebacker. Other scouts around the league were very concerned about Lee's torn ACL that caused him to miss the '08 season. If he's healthy, the Cowboys will have a starter in the near future. And you can probably go ahead and say goodbye to the Bobby Carpenter era. I'll say one thing for Carpenter. I've never seen a guy respond to intense criticism with such extreme grace. Perhaps he'll find a team that will truly value his ability to cover running backs and tight ends in space.
I'd give that until at least Week 2 of the season. The Cowboys had more pressing needs on their roster than wide receiver, but in the end, Bryant's value at No. 24 was too much to ignore. Jones claimed that Bryant was one of the top-10 players on the Cowboys' board -- and I believe him because I've talked to other scouts around the league. The wide receiver dropped into the 20s because he had considerable baggage, not the least of which is he's using the same advisers who helped guide Michael Crabtree into a holdout last fall.
And there's this little thing about Bryant being habitually late to meetings. In scouting parlance, Bryant had some "life skills" issues. That's why Bryant would've been too much of a risk in the top 10, but Jones was comfortable taking him at No. 24. Jones joked that a fellow Arkansas native who ended up in the Oval Office also had an issue with punctuality.
“It’s no concern,” said Bryant. “I felt like all those things happened my freshman year, and I looked up to the older guys and I matured from them and I matured from my coaches. My sophomore year, my junior year, I felt like those years went well. And from there, things were just great.”
Jones and coach Wade Phillips danced around a barrage of Williams-related questions. Reporters wanted to know if they'd reached out to the receiver to offer reassurance. Phillips said he had a team meeting this week to tell all his players not to be concerned about the players selected in the draft. I'm not sure that will do the trick.
Jones had spent the offseason saying it would be highly unlikely for the Cowboys to draft a wide receiver in the first round, so you knew there was at least a chance. He admitted Thursday that his top targets in the first round were Texas safety Earl Thomas, Idaho guard Mike Iupati and Bryant. Thomas and Iupati were off the board by No. 17, but Bryant continued to fall. When Denver moved up to No. 22, Jones started to feel uneasy. The Broncos took Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, but Jones said he was already "twitchy" at that point.
The Cowboys certainly needed depth along the offensive line or a safety a lot more than a wide receiver, but they think Bryant is a rare talent.
“We saw it coming, so we didn’t have to hesitate or be apprehensive about it,” said Jones. “We felt pretty strongly that we should go on in there and get him when we did.”
A lot of people will write that Jones went after Bryant because of his regret over not taking Randy Moss in the first round 12 years ago. Jones said too much was being made of that angle. And it’s not fair to compare Bryant to Moss, who had a criminal record when he entered the league. From the start of the scouting process, I was told that Bryant was essentially a good kid. Of course, it didn’t help his cause that he lied to the NCAA about a meeting with former Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders last summer and had to miss most of his junior season at Oklahoma State.
Jones made it clear he wouldn’t devote “extra resources” to monitoring Bryant when he’s away from the building. He was very clear that he expected Bryant to show up on time, pointing out that practices wouldn’t be planned around the wide receiver.
For Williams, Thursday was yet another setback. There’s no way he can feel good about his future with the club despite the $13 million in guaranteed money coming his way in 2010.
The bottom line is that the Cowboys would not have taken Bryant if Williams had come anywhere close to meeting expectations. On Thursday night, the Cowboys began planning for life without him.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:
The Cowboys can't allow the Saints' receivers to run wild. I watched the Saints receivers destroy an overwhelmed Giants secondary earlier this season. You cannot allow them free access to their routes. Cornerbacks Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick must get solid jams and make the Saints receivers compete. Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson are vertical route runners who can destroy you on any play. Marques Colston does an excellent job of working across the middle. Communication will be the key. If you mess up on one play, Meachem will be dancing in the end zone. Sean Payton has done an amazing job of convincing every receiver that he's a No. 1 guy. When Lance Moore gets back out there Saturday night, he won't be thinking of himself as a No. 4 guy. Drew Brees doesn't care who he's throwing to -- as long as the guy's open. The Cowboys' corners will have their hands full like never before.
The Eagles' defense can't be lured into another shootout. Conventional wisdom suggests Donovan McNabb and the offense will score enough points to win but we've also seen this Eagles team go belly up against teams such as the Raiders. The defense was embarrassed by all the missed tackles against the Giants last Sunday. They allowed more than 500 yards of total offense but benefited from an Eli Manning self-induced fumble. In this game, Trent Cole and the defensive ends have to get some hits on Alex Smith. The 49ers' quarterback has been playing a lot better in recent weeks and the ball's coming out quicker than in the past. It also helps that he has an explosive receiver like Michael Crabtree. The former Texas Tech star is great at catching balls in tight windows and he'll turn upfield and take it to the house if you don't watch it. Players such as Asante Samuel and Quintin Mikell have to do a much better job of wrapping up. And you better not give Frank Gore too many cutback lanes. If you're too aggressive off the snap, Gore will make you pay dearly. This is the most underrated Beast game of the weekend.
With Albert Haynesworth back, the Redskins need to have another huge game in the pass rush. If you give Eli Manning too much time in the pocket, he'll pick you apart. The Giants hung more than 500 yards of total offense on the Eagles on Sunday. The last time the Redskins and Giants played, left guard Rich Seubert and Haynesworth had quite a battle. Rookie outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is seeing more time at defensive end and that's been a great thing for the Redskins' defense. He had four sacks against the Raiders and he's a matchup nightmare for the Giants' offensive tackles. His bull rush is already one of the best in the division. But the problem for the Skins is that LaRon Landry refuses to stay back on deep balls and is susceptible to getting burned. I could see Hakeem Nicks having a big game. He's a strong receiver who can beat the jam and get vertical in a hurry. For the Redskins to get the upset, they'll need to have three or four sacks and cause a couple of turnovers. And by the way, it wouldn't be that huge of an upset.
The Cowboys better account for Reggie Bush on every play: When Sean Payton returned to Texas Stadium in '06 and hung 42 points on Bill Parcells, he used a guy named Mike Kearney to expose the Cowboys' defense. On Saturday night in the Superdome, I think he'll try to line up Reggie Bush all over the field. The Cowboys will assign a cornerback to him at times but he'll also end up against linebackers. If Keith Brooking is chasing Bush across the middle, that's a bad situation for the Cowboys. Of all the favorable matchups the Saints have in this game, this one could end up giving the Cowboys the most nightmares.
The Giants have been able to grind out wins against the Redskins with the running game in the past. For some reason, I smell a big game for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Tom Coughlin has hated the fact this offense has lost its identity. He believes with all his heart you win games in December in the Beast by pounding the ball on the ground. The Giants have spent a ton of time trying to solidify their running game. And Jacobs is starting to gain some confidence. This might be his game. Please clip and save this last piece of advice. Everything coming out of the Meadowlands suggests the Giants are going to run it like crazy against the Skins. Have a wonderful football weekend.
NEW YORK -- The Beast just took part in the NFL Play 60 youth football clinic in Central Park. On a brilliant day (72 degrees where I'm standing), nine prospective draftees showed up to lead kids in a variety of drills, some of which appeared to be helpful.
|ESPN.com's Matt Mosley|
|Matthew Stafford answers questions following an NFL Play 60 youth football clinic.|
Later, the players fanned out across the makeshift football field and spoke with reporters about their big day Saturday.
Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford obviously drew the biggest crowd -- and he seemed to enjoy every minute of it. He said he hasn't talked to his agent Tom Condon since last night and that he "has no idea" whether something will get done before the draft. But mostly, he cracked jokes and talked about how remarkable it is that three of the players (who may go in the top five) all grew up in a 10-mile radius in Dallas.
"I guess that shows that Texas football is king," said Stafford before thanking the Beast for the set-up question. "It's pretty amazing that we were all right there together."
Smith has asked the Beast to join his entourage for dinner this evening. We'll keep you posted on that situation. I'm sort of craving sushi and Smith wants steak.
Who will win this epic power struggle?
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
NEW YORK -- After a slight delay (two hours), the Beast arrived in the city a little past midnight Thursday. This morning, I'll join my pal Randall Liu from the league office and nine players for a youth football clinic in Central Park. Here are the players attending this weekend's draft:
- Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
- Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
- Brian Cushing, USC
- Josh Freeman, Kansas State
- Eugene Monroe, Virginia
- Michael Oher, Ole Miss
- Brian Orakpo, Texas
- Jason Smith, Baylor
- Matthew Stafford, Georgia
The nine players will begin their day with an appearance on CBS' "Early Show" before heading over to Central Park for the NFL Play 60 Youth Clinic. There's a remote chance I'll be speaking at the clinic, so I've prepared extensive notes. For some reason, the kids in New York are dying to hear about ESPN.com's Blog Network.
The players will then visit Mt. Sinai Children's Hospital before ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. A photo shoot in front of the Radio City Music Hall marquee is next on the agenda, and the players will be interviewed by ESPN and the NFL Network at Radio City after that.
Pretty full day. I'll tag along as long as the league will allow it, which is probably not long. We've been offered access to Curry, but I'm quickly finding out that pretty much every reporter in the country has a similar arrangement. I'll check in via Blackberry every now and then.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News is reporting that the Giants' hopes of trading for Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards are "all but dead." A recent Yahoo! Sports report indicated that a deal was "imminent," but now it appears the Browns' asking price (reportedly first- and third-round picks) is too steep for Giants general manager Jerry Reese's liking.
Vacchiano reports that the Giants have offered second- and fifth-round picks for Edwards. I'm not quite ready to put this thing to bed, though, because things could change if the Browns take Michael Crabtree in the first round Saturday. Maybe they come down on their asking price if they feel like Crabtree can immediately be a No. 1 wide receiver. We'll keep you posted on this.
Right now, I have to break away to write a column about what the Eagles are going to do at running back in this draft. Check back here in about two hours or so.
|With Plaxico Burress, left, and Terrell Owens gone, the Giants and Cowboys have huge voids to fill at wide receiver.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Now that the New York Giants have been praised far and wide for releasing troubled wide receiver Plaxico Burress, it's time for the following reality check: The Giants don't have anyone who resembles a No. 1 wide receiver on the roster.
Sure, the eternal optimists among Giants fandom (like my buddy Dan F. from South Orange) look at Mario Manningham and see a budding No. 1, but that's just because he has the team Web site bookmarked. The truth of the matter is the Giants appear to be set at every position except wide receiver, and there are no guarantees when it comes to the draft -- especially when holding the No. 29 overall pick.
The Giants, though, can take solace knowing that the other three teams in the NFC East could also enter the '09 season with questions at receiver. Say what you will about Terrell Owens and Burress, but they remain two of the most feared players in the game. The Giants and Cowboys are selling the tried and true "addition by subtraction" line to their fan bases, but that campaign only seems to work in the offseason.
With that in mind, let's attempt to figure out what each team in the Beast is thinking as we sprint toward the draft, which by the way, can be viewed on ESPN:
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree is saying he's going to run a 40-yard dash in late March and then have surgery to repair the stress fracture in his foot. I think Crabtree's representatives should try to talk him out of this scenario. Teams know what he can do. It's not like he's going to run a 4.3 40-yard dash.
He should have the surgery now, so he'll be ready for the minicamps. Based on film alone, he'll be a top-10 pick. And there's a good chance he's a top-five pick. I don't think anyone would hold it against him if he goes ahead and has the surgery. In fact, he should've had it before Tech bowl game.