NFC South: Marvin Harrison
Bobby G (Agawam, Mass): I expected after Clabo's official June 1st exit that Atlanta would have made one last move, has Ryan's contract moved to a higher priority from three weesk ago ?
Pat Yasinskas: Still think you could see something with Richard Seymour.
big blue (smynra, ga) [via mobile]: While not being politically correct who would you take first roddy or Julio?
PY: Probably Julio, especially if your parameters are for a few years down the road. But Roddy is still a very good receiver.
Patrick (Charlotte): Even though Jackson is younger than Turner shouldn't there be some concern that in terms of carries Jackson has a lot less tread on the tires (Jackson 2395 to Turners 1639).
PY: Just look back to last season. Turner obviously ran out of gas. Jackson looked like he still had something left.
Ayodele Alakija (Manchester, England): Pat, so much talk of Armanti Edwards doing well at OTA's has me interested about our WR's. Do you see the Panthers taking 5 or 6 WR's into the season? Who do you honestly think gets cut??
PY: Can easily see them keeping six. They're going to have some tough choices. Ginn and Edwards looked good in minicamp. But they also have Adams, Gettis and Pilares besides the two starters.
Marcus (Asheville, NC): What is your assessment of Armanti Edwards' mini camp performance? It seems like each year we hear rumblings of how good of a camp he is having.
PY: Not to over-hype it, but I was there and it was very noticeable that he was having a very good minicamp.
Brad (Fayetteville): Recently there has been additional talk about Steve Smith going into the Hall of Fame. Reality or does he still have a lot to prove?
PY: Probably needs to put up big numbers for a few more years. With Marvin Harrison coming eligible for HOF next year, that's going to raise the bar for WR numbers.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Sean (Vegas): Can we just get this out of the way and agree Graham is certainly a top 100 player and due to Gronk's current injury, the clear cut best TE in the NFL?
PY: I think he's easily a top 100 player. He'll be ranked highly in my NFC South top 25, which will kick off Monday.
Saints Fan Up North (new jersey): Will the Saints try to get someone in F.A. to take Butlers place or go with what they have?
PY: I think they'll give Martez Wilson a long look in the preseason. If he's ready, they'll go with him. If not, you could see them pick somebody up.
RockKnuteney (Slidell, LA): Do you know if Benjamin Watson has one of these no practice clauses, like Tony Gonzalez? Did not see him all of the OTAs or minicamp? Would like him to be part of a two-headed monster at TE for the Saints.
PY: He was there, but not participating in workouts. Was working with trainers on the side. Think he's recovering from some sort of injury, but can't remember right now what it was. Didn't seem like they were too worried about it though.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Clayton (Atlanta): How much of an impact do you think Revis will have in the early season?
PY: I think he'll be ready for start of season and will be highly motivated for opener against the Jets.
Josh (the burg): Do you really think that Luke Stocker will step up this season for the Bucs?
PY: I think he'll be a role player. Crabtree might catch more passes.
Scott (Northglenn, CO): TB possibly kick the tires on Willis McGahee?
PY: Have not heard anything definitive on that. But I started to wonder about that the moment he was released.
Here’s the complete transcript of Friday’s NFC South chat.
- The Falcons won for the fourth time on prime-time television this season. Since 2008, the Falcons are 8-4 in prime-time games.
- Coach Mike Smith posted his 56th career win. Smith’s record is 56-23. That’s the second-best record in five seasons in NFL history. Former San Francisco coach George Seifert is No. 1 at 62-18.
- Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards with four touchdowns and a 142.6 passer rating. That’s the exact same passer rating Ryan posted in last week’s win against the New York Giants.
- The Falcons are 32-1 when Ryan has a passer rating of 100 or better. His passer rating is 100.2 for the season and he has a chance to become only the second quarterback in franchise history to post a passer rating of at least 100 for a season. Chris Chandler had a 100.9 passer rating in the 1998 season -- the only time the Falcons reached the Super Bowl.
- The four touchdowns matched Ryan’s career high and he now is tied for the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (31) with Steve Bartkowski.
- Ryan was especially good on play-action passes. He completed all seven of his attempts for 109 yards and three touchdowns.
- Only three of Ryan’s passes (excluding throwaways) were incomplete due to an overthrow or underthrow. Ryan leads the NFL with only 13.4 percent of his passes falling off target.
- Receiver Roddy White joined Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Reggie Wayne as the only players in NFL history to record six straight seasons with 80 catches and 1,000 yards.
- White finished with eight catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the 35th 100-yard game of his career, and White tied his franchise record for 100-yard games in a season (seven).
- With one game remaining, White is 81 yards shy of breaking the franchise record for receiving yards in a season (1,389) that he set in 2010.
- Detroit’s Matthew Stafford didn’t have a passing touchdown. That marked the fifth time in the last six games the Falcons have not allowed a touchdown pass.
- The defense had three takeaways and the Falcons produced points each time. Atlanta now has 96 points off 29 takeaways this season.
Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez has a chance to move as high as No. 2 in career receptions Sunday. Gonzalez is currently No. 4 with 1,099 catches. Cris Carter (1,101) is No. 3 and Marvin Harrison (1,102) is No. 2. Jerry Rice is the all-time leader with 1,549 catches.
The Panthers will have another new starter at weak-side linebacker Sunday. Coach Ron Rivera said Jason Phillips will get the start in place of Jason Williams. Phillips appeared in nine games for Baltimore last season, but this will be his first career start.
Drew Brees has had a recent string of interceptions, including several that went off the hands of his receivers. But the New Orleans quarterback said he still trusts his receivers.
The Buccaneers might want to take a lesson from Carolina’s mistakes and kick away from Chicago return man Devin Hester on Sunday. Punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen has been booming the ball, but it might be wise to turn to directional kicking against Hester.
- Atlanta’s Michael Turner usually is thought of as a between-the-tackles runner, but the numbers are showing that’s a myth. Against Carolina, Turner ran outside the tackles 13 times for 105 yards (8.1 yards per carry). Between the tackles, Turner ran 14 times for 34 yards (2.4 yards per carry). This is not a new trend. Turner entered the day averaging 5.6 yards per carry outside the tackles, while averaging 4.1 yards per rush between the tackles.
- The Falcons scored 30 or more points for the third time this season. They’re 3-0 in those games.
- Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez now is No. 4 in all-time receptions, but he could move up to No. 2 very quickly. Gonzalez has 1,099 catches. Cris Carter is No. 3 with 1,101 and Marvin Harrison is No. 2 with 1,102. Jerry Rice is the leader with 1,549 catches.
- For the 15th time in his career, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. The Falcons are now 22-3 in home games in which Ryan has played.
- Atlanta coach Mike Smith is now 15-3 in games after a loss.
- Kicker Matt Bryant has made 24 consecutive field goals, dating to last season. That’s the second-longest streak in franchise history. The record is held by Norm Johnson, who made 26 straight in 1992 and ’93.
- Ryan finished with a 101.1 NFL passer rating Sunday. That was the first time this season he’s topped the 100 mark. For his career, the Falcons are 17-0 when Ryan has a passer rating of 100 or better.
- The Falcons came up with three turnovers Sunday. They now have forced at least one turnover in 25 straight regular-season games. That’s the longest active streak in the league.
- Defensive end Ray Edwards, who was Atlanta’s top free-agent signing, got off to a slow start, but is coming on now. Edwards recorded one sack Sunday, marking the second straight game in which he’s had a sack.
The question is, when will it happen?
Common sense would lead you to believe Gonzalez will retire from the Atlanta Falcons and, five years later, he’ll get in on the first ballot. But recent history tells us that common sense may not apply when it comes to putting tight ends in the Hall of Fame, especially on the first ballot. Tight end is a unique position, and voters obviously view it that way.
Take a look at this list of Hall of Famers, sorted by position. You’ll see that kickers are the only group with less representation than tight ends. There are more than double the amount of “contributors’’ than there are tight ends in the Hall of Fame. Same for coaches.
There are currently just seven tight ends in the Hall of Fame. That number will increase to eight later this summer when Shannon Sharpe is inducted. The mere mention of Sharpe’s name and Hall of Fame voting shows that it’s not a slam-dunk that Gonzalez will go in on the first ballot.
A few years back, Sharpe was in pretty much the same spot Gonzalez will be in. Sharpe retired in 2003 as the holder of virtually every all-time record for tight ends. He also had three Super Bowl rings.
When Sharpe was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2009, he was passed over. The same thing happened in 2010. There’s a school of thought that some Hall of Fame voters wanted to make Sharpe wait for a couple of years, simply because he was a tight end.
"When Shannon retired, he was the most prolific tight end in all the categories, and if that's not a Hall of Famer, then I'm trying to figure out what the definition of the Hall of Fame is," Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson said after Sharpe came up short in his second year of eligibility. "There hasn't been a tight end ever on the first ballot, but this was his second, so I was thinking and hoping that they would do the right thing.’’
Gonzalez is simply the best tight end ever. Sharpe might have held that title for a while. But, within a few of years of Sharpe’s retirement, Gonzalez started breaking all of his records. The two aren’t even close in most statistical categories anymore. Gonzalez has 12,463 receiving yards. That’s almost 2,403 more than Sharpe. Gonzalez has 1,069 career receptions. That’s 254 more than Sharpe.
The gap is only going to get bigger. At 35, Gonzalez may not be what he was in his prime as he was back in 2004 with Kansas City when he set a single-season record for catches by a tight end with 102. But in an Atlanta offense that’s already good and could be even better with the addition of rookie Julio Jones, Gonzalez remains an important role player.
Let’s just say Gonzalez has another season something like last year, when he caught 70 passes for 656 yards and six touchdowns. Anything close to that, and he adds another layer of insulation between his records and what Sharpe did.
Anything close to last year and Gonzalez will have numbers that basically double what Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow did. With the San Diego Chargers back in the 1980s, Winslow revolutionized the tight end position. Tight ends used to be pretty much just blockers, but Winslow made catching passes part of the job description.
In other words, Winslow changed the game and the position. If you do that, you should be a Hall of Famer. Gonzalez has done that. He’s left Winslow and Sharpe far behind in the argument about the greatest tight end ever.
Gonzalez is the guy who opened the door for a generation of former basketball players to start becoming as important as wide receivers in many offenses. That brings us to another point about Gonzalez and why he should go in on the first ballot.
He’s a tight end, but he’s got numbers that are just as good as some Hall of Fame wide receivers. Gonzalez has more receiving yards than guys like Charlie Joiner, Don Maynard, Michael Irvin and Lance Alworth.
Yeah, those guys played in different generations when the league wasn’t as geared toward the passing game. But Gonzalez created a whole new generation of tight ends. Yeah, it sometimes takes too long even for wide receivers to get into the Hall of Fame. Guys like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were placed on a waiting list for about two decades and there’s a backlog still sitting there.
But Gonzalez shouldn’t have to wait just because he’s a tight end. Gonzalez currently is No. 6 all-time with 1,069 receptions. The only guys ahead of him are Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Terrell Owens.
If Gonzalez catches 34 more passes, he’ll move up to No. 2. He’ll be behind only Rice, which says a lot. When Rice was first eligible for the Hall of Fame, voters skipped over the usual ritual of making wide receivers wait. That’s because there was a universal agreement that Rice was the best wide receiver ever to play the game.
There's universal agreement Gonzalez is the best tight end ever to play the game, and he deserves the same treatment.
There’s one other argument that could be used against Gonzalez. He’s never played on a Super Bowl champion. He’s never even gone deep into the postseason. For the longest time, a lot of Hall of Fame voters seemed to think a Super Bowl ring was a requirement for selection.
That idea seems to have faded some in recent years. But there is one way Gonzalez can make sure that’s not an issue. He can go out and help the Falcons win a Super Bowl this season. Then, he could go out in a blaze of glory or he could even stick around and pad his résumé for another year or two.
But Gonzalez shouldn’t have to worry about adding much more to his résumé. He’s already done enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Next week: Top 10 safeties.
Take eight football writers scattered from Seattle to Tampa and ask them to come up with a list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the National Football League.
Sounds easy enough, in theory. You take the golden gunslingers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and let everyone else fall naturally into order after that. Well, it didn’t quite work out that simply in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings for quarterbacks.
Heck, we couldn’t even come up with a top 10. We’re going with a top 11 because Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Dallas’ Tony Romo tied for No. 10 with five points each in our voting system.
Even at the top, there was more disagreement than you might expect. Brady emerged as No. 1, but it wasn’t unanimous and, although Manning finished a strong second, two ballots had a man some consider the best quarterback ever at No. 3.
But let’s start analyzing the rankings by focusing on just Brady and Manning. Six voters put Brady at No. 1, but Paul Kuharsky and Mike Sando put Manning in the top spot. Let’s hear them out.
“Brady's fantastic, let's start with that,’’ said Kuharsky, who covers the AFC South, also known as “The Division Manning Built and Owns." “But no one is asked to do more or does more as a quarterback than Peyton Manning. He almost plays a different position. And while Brady's got three rings to Manning's one and is the reigning MVP, look at their touchdown and interception numbers in their last four playoff games. Manning's are better.’’
Sando has no horse in this race, because voters unanimously agreed the NFC West is the division that forgot quarterbacks, at least until Sam Bradford gets another season under his belt.
“Brady has the better stats over the last couple seasons, but the Colts would undoubtedly be far worse off than the Patriots if both teams had backups under center,’’ Sando said. “Once that was established, Brady's recent postseason struggles became a deciding factor. These quarterbacks have, to an extent, switched roles recently. Manning has won a championship more recently than Brady has won one. Brady has seven touchdowns, seven picks and one victory in his last four playoff games. Manning has seven touchdowns, two picks and two victories in his last four.’’
For rebuttal, let’s head up to the AFC East, to the man who covers Brady and the New England Patriots.
“I'm not sure why everybody needs to consider career achievements when filling out a Power Rankings ballot,’’ Tim Graham said. “Power Rankings are a snapshot of the moment and are expected to change regularly, not encompass years of work. But if the reason for selecting Manning ahead of Brady is recent playoff performances that go back a few years, then Ben Roethlisberger should be ahead of Manning with that logic. Roethlisberger has been to a pair of Super Bowls and won his second title more recently than Manning's only championship.’’
We’ll come to Roethlisberger in just a moment, but nobody put him ahead of Manning on his ballot. Kevin Seifert and I each put a quarterback ahead of Manning.
Seifert put Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers at No. 2.
“Mostly, I didn't think I could face NFC North blog readers if I voted any other way,’’ Seifert said. “Seriously, I think the big advantage Manning and Drew Brees have over Rodgers is time. They've been playing longer and therefore have mostly better career numbers and a bigger frame of reference for knowing how they will perform in the long term. But when you take out longevity, Rodgers is right there with them. All three have one Super Bowl victory. Rodgers has a higher career passer rating than any quarterback in the history of the NFL with qualified attempts, better than Manning and Brees and Brady for that matter. So to break the tie, I think you can look at what they did most recently. I think Rodgers had a better 2010 season than Manning or Brees, and that's how I would justify this order.’’
I put Brees at No. 2 and don’t really want to write a story in which I quote myself, so I’ll just say Brees and Manning each have one Super Bowl ring and Brees’ numbers over the last four years are just as good or better in most categories. Plus, Brees hasn’t spent most of his career surrounded by the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James.
In the final analysis, Brees finished third and Rodgers fourth. Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl rings, came in at No. 5. San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who has zero Super Bowl rings and some gaudy statistics, is No. 6. Relatively speaking, the order from Brees to Rivers, the guy who took his place with the Chargers, was pretty clear-cut.
After that, we had some close calls, strong differences of opinion and one very big coincidence. At No. 7, we’ve got a tie between Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who each finished with 26 points. For those who don’t see the irony in that, Vick was the face of Atlanta’s franchise for a long time and Ryan now holds that role.
Eli Manning of the New York Giants came in at No. 9, and Flacco and Romo tied for the final spot. Only three other quarterbacks received votes. They were Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who I think could be near the top of this list in another year or two, Houston’s Matt Schaub and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel.
On to some other notes about the Power Rankings.
“The only reason Michael Vick didn’t make my top 10 is because I, after an offseason of thinking, have Michael Vick as my No. 11 quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “That still makes him elite. I have 12 elite quarterbacks. Vick moved into the elite category with his performance last year, but it’s just one year. He can clearly move up the list this season, but he’s in the mix and knocking on the door of the top 10. A year ago, he wasn’t a consideration.’’
Fighting the Eli fight. Speaking of Clayton, let’s continue to ride that train as we discuss Eli Manning. Seifert, Sando, Graham and I didn’t even include Manning in our top 10, but he still made the list.
“I will continue to fight the argument Eli Manning is an elite quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “I moved him to No. 8 above Tony Romo, but if Romo had a full season last year, he might have been ahead of Eli. Remember that Carson Palmer, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb dropped from my elite quarterback categories, which moved guys like Eli up in the mix. Eli has a Super Bowl ring. He’s a 4,000-yard quarterback. He wins.’’
No tiebreaking here. Speaking of Romo: Clayton and Sando each had him at No. 9. AFC North blogger James Walker had Romo at No. 10. That was good enough to get Romo five points and a tie with Flacco. One interesting note here: Flacco wasn’t on Walker’s ballot. I respect James for not doing the easy thing and being a "homer," although I’m sure some Baltimore fans might have different opinions.
"Joe Flacco is a good quarterback, but I don’t consider him an elite, top-10 quarterback just yet,’’ Walker said. “I need to see more consistency, especially in the playoffs and other big games against the Steelers. Flacco has a lot of natural ability, and I believe he’s ready to break through. But, in my book, Flacco needs to first prove it on the field in the biggest games to be elite.”
The final analysis. If you look at this list from a distance, you could say the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots are the big winners. The Patriots, of course, have Brady, but they also drafted Cassel, whom they later traded to Kansas City. If you want to get really technical, the Chargers drafted Brees and Eli Manning and worked a draft-day trade with the Giants to end up with Rivers. If you count the few minutes Manning and Rivers were crossing paths, you could say the Chargers, at one time or another, had three guys on this list. You also could say the Falcons drafted Vick, Ryan and Schaub, who finished in a tie with Freeman for No. 12.
“There’s no 'throw me the ball' from Marques,’’ New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said Sunday after throwing two touchdown passes to Colston in a 31-13 victory against the St. Louis Rams.
That trait alone might set Colston apart from any wide receiver who has played the game. Talk to any quarterback who has played in the NFL, except for Brees, and they’ll tell you they never met a wide receiver who didn’t insist he was open on every play.
“The only time Marques talks is if he gets mad at himself, or coach [Sean Payton] asks him to break down the huddle,’’ defensive back Malcolm Jenkins said.
Yes, America, there really is one big-time wide receiver who genuinely lets his play do the talking. That is Colston, a fifth-year pro out of Hofstra, who moved within five yards of 5,000 receiving yards for his career Sunday.
Teammates, coaches and opponents will tell you Colston belongs in the Pro Bowl. They’ll also tell you Colston is one of the league’s top wide receivers. But Colston is not the kind of guy who is going to tell you how good he is.
In fact, when he walked into the interview room Sunday, Colston started ripping apart his game.
“From the second quarter on, I didn’t play well,’’ Colston said.
While it’s true both of Colston’s touchdowns came in the first quarter and he failed to come up with a couple of catchable balls later in the game, he did finish with five catches for 46 yards and the Saints had complete control of the game from the moment Colston pulled in his second touchdown.
Heck, even when the Saints were getting ready to play the Cincinnati Bengals in their previous game, the New Orleans media tried for two days to get Colston to talk. He avoided the locker room totally the first day. On the second day, he ran into a couple of reporters as he walked to the training room.
Very politely, he told them something like, “I know where you’re going and I respect that. But I’d rather stay out of that fray."
The fray Colston was referring to was the obvious story of the week -- Cincinnati’s attention-grabbing wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens going up against a player who is the anti-Ochocinco and the anti-Owens.
As a general rule, the better a receiver is, the more he talks. Think Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Brandon Marshall, Keyshawn Johnson, Michael Irvin and Mark Duper as just a few examples. Players such as Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison were generally viewed as guys who didn’t seek out attention, but those who played with them and media members who covered them said each at least had a touch of the prima donna personality so common among receivers.
“Unfortunately, people want to listen to them,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in a conference call with the New Orleans media a couple of weeks ago.
The question specifically was about Ochocinco and Owens, but Lewis could have been talking about virtually any receiver.
“They don’t have much substance to say very often, particularly when they leave here,’’ Lewis said. “They do have an audience for some reason.”
Wide receivers love audiences. When Smith and Johnson spent the 2007 season together with the Carolina Panthers, there was one certainty when the locker room doors opened after a game or practice -- Smith and Johnson would be sitting at their lockers waiting to talk to the media. On at least one occasion one of them privately chided a reporter for using more quotes from the other receiver.
There’s even a story about a very well-known wide receiver who got an idea when Ochocinco changed his last name from Johnson. This particular receiver went to the team’s public relations department and website workers and told them he wanted to be referred to by his nickname in team record books, media guides and on the team website. Only a very stern talk -- in other words, “You are not going to do that’’ -- from a powerful owner and a once-powerful coach prevented that fiasco.
There’s absolutely none of that with Colston. He usually avoids the locker room when the media is in there during the week. If he talks at all, he doesn’t say much.
If you watched Colston’s body language as he spoke in front of the cameras and recorders Sunday, you would have thought he was drawing triple coverage in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. He wasn’t seeking attention. He was running from it, even squirming.
“It’s just me,’’ Colston said. “I’m comfortable being me.’’
It’s not just that way with the media. Colston is the same way with coaches and teammates.
“Marques doesn’t talk around us,’’ Jenkins said. “He’s a quiet guy. He just goes out and makes plays.’’
With Colston as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver, the rest of the receiver corps follows his lead. Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson might form the quietest group of receivers in the history of the NFL.
“We are a tight-knit group,’’ Colston said. “We all had humble beginnings.’’
Other than Meachem, none of those receivers were high draft picks. Colston was a seventh-round choice, but he came into the league and instantly became New Orleans’ best receiver. It hasn’t changed.
With the Saints at 10-3 and trying to defend last season’s Super Bowl title, Colston has been consistent. At the moment, he has 76 catches for 921 yards and seven touchdowns, including five touchdowns in the past four games.
Project Colston’s numbers for three more regular-season games and you’ve got Pro Bowl numbers. Colston would be the last guy to lobby for a Pro Bowl berth, so I’ll do it, and I’ll turn to Brees for some more weighty words.
“Usually, the guys who make the most noise get the most attention,’’ Brees said. "That might not be fair, but that's kind of just the way it is.''
But it’s time for that to change. It’s time to put Colston into the Pro Bowl because he is the one wide receiver who belongs there for all the right reasons.
"The wide receiver is a very special human being," Mandell wrote. "He shares many features with actors and movie stars. He is narcissistic and vain and basically a loner."
Here are a couple more excerpts from the Mandell profiles on wide receivers:
"They love to be the center of attention. They need to be noticed. They have an imperviousness in that they don't seem to mind criticism about being like that. All players want the respect of fellow players. Showing off usually is not an admired characteristic by most players, but by wide receivers it is very admired."
"They are interested in looking pretty, being pretty. They are elegant, interpersonally isolated. Wide receivers don't group, they don't mob out. They are actors, uninflected about showing off, individualists, quite interested in their own welfare, their own appearance."
Think about it a bit. Mandell’s profiles on all the positions were pretty accurate, but I think he put it in the upper deck with wide receivers. Marshall, Holmes,Chad Ochocinco, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, Keyshawn Johnson -– they all fit the profile. As a general rule, you can say the more a guy fits this profile, the better he is as a wide receiver. Of all the wide receivers I’ve ever covered, I’d say former Carolina player Keary Colbert came the furthest from fitting the profile. Colbert wasn’t full of himself and he wasn’t hyper-competitive. Those may be among the reasons he never fulfilled his potential.
Yeah, you can say that guys like Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison succeeded without fitting the profile. But that’s not really true. Rice and Harrison might not have been all that flamboyant, but people who played with them or coached them will tell you they had a controlled selfishness about them.
Receivers are a very rare breed. As the Panthers and the Bucs look at drafting receivers next week, I think personalities will play into it. Obviously, their focus is on talent, but they have to find the right kind of receiver to fit in nicely. Carolina needs a guy who can co-exist with Smith. Tampa Bay needs a guy whose ego can fit in a locker room with tight end Kellen Winslow.
It’s a balancing act. Almost every wide receiver comes with some sort of baggage. You’ve got to take all that into consideration and determine which one you really need on your team.
Reminds me of a story from long ago. My high school baseball coach, the late and great Paul Fearick, had a strange dislike for guys who were on the wrestling team. In his own way, Fearick viewed them the same way Mandell described wide receivers.
When Fearick saw a sophomore, who also happened to be on the wrestling team, goofing off in practice one day, he erupted.
“Schubert, I don’t need you,’’ Fearick screamed. “You wrestlers are all crazy. I had a wrestler last year. But the guy could hit and he could play the field. We needed him. You? We can do just as well without you.’’
Turned out Fearick was setting some ground rules. He needed Eric Schubert, who pitched a few big games for us after we had some injuries late in the year and he became Fearick’s ace the next two years. Fearick, although not really thrilled about it, was willing to endure some quirks to get what he needed.
When it comes to wide receivers, the Bucs and Panthers have to ask themselves which ones they really need and how much they’re willing to turn their heads to all the other things that come with any given receiver.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The second week of training camp in the NFC South is shaping up to be even more dangerous than the first.
Last week, the Panthers lost Maake Kemoeatu and the Falcons lost Harry Douglas for the season. In the last 24 hours, there's been a rash of injuries, including some to very prominent players. None of them is season-ending, but they're all going to hurt.
Carolina coach John Fox never puts timetables on how long injured players will be out. But the agent for Steve Smith said the receiver will be out at least two weeks. Smith may be the best player in the NFC South and injuries are never a good thing. But, if Smith is only out two weeks, this isn't all negative. Smith is a veteran and knows the offensive system well. As long as he's healthy for the regular season, the Panthers will be fine. The side benefit to this one is it will give third-year pro Dwayne Jarrett a lot of work with the first team and that could help him clinch the No. 3 receiver spot.
The injury to Antonio Bryant potentially has much bigger consequences for Tampa Bay's receiving corps. Bryant's going to miss the entire preseason and you have to be a little concerned that it could spill over into the regular season. Michael Clayton, the other starting receiver, also is banged up. Yes, this provides some opportunities for guys like Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter, but the Bucs are probably going to have to make a roster move to get an experienced receiver. They've sniffed around a bunch of big names previously, but it might be time to make a move for someone like a Marvin Harrison. Also, keep an eye on the Plaxico Burress situation because the Bucs sure are.
New Orleans linebacker Mark Simoneau has a torn triceps muscle and is going to be out for several weeks. That cuts into the depth at linebacker, where the Saints already lost Dan Morgan to retirement and rookie Stanley Arnoux to injury. Once again, go ahead and start the cries for the Saints to sign Derrick Brooks. But I still don't think that's going to happen.
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant, who missed some time with a leg injury last week, reportedly appeared to aggravate the condition in Tuesday morning's practice. Missing more time isn't going to help Bryant in his battle with Mike Nugent.
|Who's not in the Hall of Fame who should be? ESPN.com's panel makes the case for Dermontti Dawson, Cris Carter, Doug Flutie and Rickey Jackson in future classes.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
But future classes should.
At least that's the argument our four-man panel (Jeremy Green, Matt Williamson -- each from Scouts Inc. -- Football Today producer Jay Soderberg and myself) makes in this edition of Double Coverage. In this series, we usually debate matters. But we're not going to debate this time. We each make our cases and we're going to make them passionately.
That's because each of us reacted strongly when we were asked to nominate a player who is not in the Hall of Fame but deserves to be. As the NFC South blogger, I instantly threw out Jackson's name because Saints fans have been hitting me with pleas for his case since I've taken this job. I know Green spent a large chunk of his life in Minnesota around Carter and he took all of about three seconds to nominate him.
Williamson was so eager to make his case for Dawson that he sent me his argument the day we were assigned this project two weeks ago. Soderberg owns up to the fact he's a Patriots fan, but claims that's not the only reason he thinks Flutie has been shorted.
Enough with the introduction. Listen to the discussion by clicking here , and read the presentations below.
RICKEY JACKSON (by Pat Yasinskas)
I started off this project knowing Jackson was a darn good player. I got hit with statistics and passion when I asked Saints' fans for input. But I didn't want to rely just on my own recollections of Jackson's playing career, the numbers or folks who might be biased.
|Rickey Jackson piled up some impressive numbers: six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks.|
I wanted to hear from someone up close why Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame. That's why I turned to the trusted veteran eyes of Carolina Panthers assistant head coach Jim Skipper. He was a New Orleans assistant coach during Jackson's time with the Saints. He saw him in games, in practice and in the locker room.
"The City Champ belongs in the Hall of Fame, no doubt," Skipper said. "He was as good as anyone who's in there. ... He's the guy who made the Dome Patrol (which also featured linebackers Sam Mills,Pat Swilling and Vaughn Johnson) go and some people say they were the best group of linebackers ever. It all started with him. You want to talk about tough? Rickey was so tough, he once got into a car accident and broke his jaw. He still went out and played in that game."
How do you top that?
You don't. You just throw in the numbers -- six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks. You can point to the fact that New Orleans is a small market. But Jackson moved onto San Francisco near the end of his career and got a Super Bowl ring. The only thing he's missing is a spot in the Hall of Fame. It's long overdue.
DERMONTTI DAWSON (by Matt Williamson)
I fully understand that the position of center, and the offensive line in general, is not
a glamour position. Arguing for or against such players as potential Hall of Famers is a very difficult chore. But Dawson deserves enshrinement.
A 10-year starter, Dawson followed Mike Webster, one of only six centers in the Hall of Fame, to establish a legacy at the position like none other in the history of the game. During that stretch, Dawson started 171 straight games, went to seven Pro Bowls, was All Pro six times and was selected to the 1990s All-Decade Team. He started 13 playoff games, three AFC Championships and Super Bowl XXX. In comparison, Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson played in just 114 games with five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections.
Dawson's statistics are surely impressive, but his scouting report is even more extraordinary. In protection, bull rushing him was nearly an impossible chore, as he pass-blocked with tremendous leverage and technique. The ultra-quick upfield defensive tackles rarely beat Dawson. He routinely snapped the ball, pulled with his great athleticism and led an outside run with precision and grace. He also was able to quickly get into a defensive tackle who was lined up over the guard and neutralize that defender's charge while his teammate acted as a pulling guard. You just don't find centers who do that.
Dawson did it all as well as anyone who has ever played the position and he did it with consistency, longevity and class. It is a crime that he has yet to be inducted into the hallowed Hall of Fame.
CRIS CARTER (by Jeremy Green)
One of the biggest oversights in Hall of Fame voting history is former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter.
|Cris Carter is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101 catches.|
If there is ever a player who should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it's Carter [who became eligible in 2008). He is arguably the second-best wide receiver to ever play the game behind only one man: Jerry Rice, who has yet to become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot.
Despite not having blazing speed, Carter adapted into a big-time playmaker in Minnesota. He could play the X and Y positions. He was unbelievable in the slot in the Vikings' 3-deep wide receiver concept during the Dennis Green era [Editor's note: Dennis Green is Jeremy Green's father]. Carter is the second- best route-runner I've ever seen, ranking behind only Rice. I had the pleasure to watch both in numerous practice sessions and live games from both field and coaching box levels.
The numbers do not lie when it comes to Carter. He is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101, trailing only Rice (1,549) and Marvin Harrison (1,102). Despite playing the majority of his career opposite another receiver who will be in the Hall of Fame in Randy Moss (13,201 career receiving yards), Carter currently ranks seventh on that all-time list with 13,899 yards. Carter is fourth on the all-time touchdown reception list, trailing only Rice (208), Terrell Owens (141) and Moss (136), with 131 receiving touchdowns.
The statistics were there for Carter to be a first-ballot HOF candidate. What I think is almost as important: Carter is a man who changed his life. After battling both alcohol and drug use in his early years with the Philadelphia Eagles and being released, the Vikings were one of the few teams willing to take a chance on him. They picked him up for a $100 waiver claim and Carter rewarded them by changing his life and blossoming. In my mind, he's second-best receiver to play the game.
DOUG FLUTIE (by Jay Soderberg)
We probably should start by saying that my bias for New England Patriots players is well documented, but that is not what has led me to the belief that Doug Flutie belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What has led me to this conclusion is the name of the shrine in Canton itself: PRO FOOTBALL Hall of Fame, and Doug Flutie was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in the Canadian Football League.
Flutie, who retired from the NFL in 2006, does not become eligible for Hall Of Fame consideration until 2011. But he's got plenty of ammunition, in my opinion.
His career stats in Canada alone are worth noting: 61.4 completion percentage, 41,355 total passing yards, 270 passing touchdowns and only 155 picks in a pass-oriented league. He was the first quarterback to pass for more than 6,000 yards in a season; he did it twice and came close a third time. He won three Grey Cup championships, and was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player a record six times.
Flutie was never given a real chance to be a starter in the NFL, whether battling the issue of his height (he's listed as standing 5 feet, 10 inches), battling for a job as a backup (with Rob Johnson in Buffalo, Drew Brees in San Diego), or being labeled a "scab" for crossing the picket lines early in his NFL career with the Patriots. Combine the stats from all three professional leagues he played in (he played one year in the USFL for Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals) and his numbers -- 58,179 total passing yards, 369 passing touchdowns, 6,759 rushing yards and another 82 rushing touchdowns -- are definitely worthy of consideration. Don't forget his numerous, memorable fourth-quarter comebacks.
Just for kicks, let's add that he was the last player to drop-kick an extra point during an NFL game.
Listen to the podcast for more on our nominees and join the discussion below.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Not a huge surprise because the Bucs have been linked to just about every available or possibly available receiver this offseason. Names like Plaxico Burress and Marvin Harrison have been thrown around. Nothing's happened yet, but it's a pretty safe bet the Bucs, despite their youth movement, will bring in a veteran receiver at some point.
The only sure thing they've got at receiver is Antonio Bryant. They're also counting heavily on Michael Clayton, who's not a sure thing. After that, they've got nothing but a bunch of young guys, although some of them have upside.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Our all-decade offense has been revealed and there's not one true NFC South player on it.
Sure, tight end Tony Gonzalez is now with Atlanta, but he's spent the entire decade up to now with Kansas City. You could also make a claim to fullback Lorenzo Neal, who spent a couple of years with Tampa Bay, but that was back in the 1990s.
I'm looking around for oversights, but not truly seeing any. You could start to make an argument for Drew Brees, but that ends once you realize that Tom Brady, who made the team, and Peyton Manning, who did not, are ahead of him.
What about Carolina's Jordan Gross? He might be the best offensive tackle in the league right now, but you can't really argue that he was better than Walter Jones and Jonathan Ogden over the course of the decade.
Or Carolina's Steve Smith? Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt, who made the list, each won Super Bowls and that speaks for itself. Randy Moss and Terrell Owens didn't make the list and you can make an argument for either one. But I'd put Smith right there with Moss and over Owens.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Although Burress still faces the possibility of jail time, Munson said it's unlikely commissioner Roger Goodell will suspend him before the resolution of the legal case. That means Burress could be available to at least start this season and the only NFC South team that has shown any reported interest is Tampa Bay.
Would the Bucs really go out and sign Burress while there's still the possibility of him going to prison? Anything's possible, but such a move could have only a very short-term benefit if Burress ends up in prison.
There's no doubt Burress is a very talented player. There's also little doubt the Bucs are looking for another receiver to go with Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, and the salary cap is a non-issue as they have $30 million in space. They've been sniffing around several receivers in recent months. I think Burress remains a possibility.
But the name I keep hearing is Marvin Harrison. I'm not saying there is anything imminent. But I know there's been some contact between the Bucs and Harrison's representative. I'm not sure how much Harrison has left and his age doesn't really fit with Tampa Bay's youth movement. But, at least, he's definitely available.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Next stop on our tour of team-by-team mailbags is Tampa Bay.
Marc in Pittsburgh writes: I'm a big Buccaneers fan and there is plenty of talk about the Buccaneers wanting to get a veteran quarterback. They keep wanting to add to their offense but they don't add to their defense. What do you think the possibility would be that the Buccaneers would try to trade with the Browns again and get Derek Anderson and a defensive tackle Shaun Rogers since he wants out of Cleveland.
Pat Yasinskas: I like both Anderson and Rogers and think they could be nice fits with the Bucs. But I haven't heard any indications that the Bucs are pursuing either one. That could change between now and the draft. But the potential barrier I see to this is the cost. A package of Anderson and Rogers likely would require several draft picks. The Bucs already traded their second-round choice to Cleveland for tight end Kellen Winslow. I'm guessing they'd have to give up a first- and third-round draft choice (at least) for Anderson and Rogers. I don't see general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris wanting to be without a pick in the first three rounds in their first draft.
Christopher in parts unknown: I know the Bucs are in the middle of a youth movement still, but with quality guys like Torry Holt, Jason Taylor, and Marvin Harrison still available do you think it's possible for any of them to come to Tampa?
Pat Yasinskas: That doesn't fit the profile of what the Bucs are doing so far. They're going with youth just about everywhere. However, if they go through the draft without addressing all their needs, you could see a veteran or two come in. But, again, I think that will be limited to veterans who are sitting out there after the draft.
Chris in Honolulu writes: Hey Pat... I was just woundering do the Bucs really believe that Josh Johnson can be the QB of the future, and if they do why would they spend their first pick on a guy like Josh Freeman dont they have about the same amount of potential?
Pat Yasinskas: I don't think the Bucs can count on Josh Johnson as their quarterback of the future right now. He could develop into something, but it's premature to really think that can happen this year. Johnson was drafted as a project last year. Now, the Bucs are going with a whole new offensive system, so he'll be starting almost from scratch. I know there's speculation the Bucs might draft Freeman at No. 19, but I don't think that will happen. I think the Bucs need to be competitive right away and they don't have the luxury of a lot of time for Freeman to develop. I still think the Bucs will bring in a quarterback to compete with Luke McCown, but I think it will be someone with experience. Some names out there (and these probably won't excite you) are Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman and Kyle Boller.
Saood in Tampa writes: Pat, What kind of options do the Bucs have left at DT in the free agency and what DTs would be suitable for the Bucs this upcoming draft. I have heard a lot of good things about Raji out of Boston College, he must also be somewhat familiar with Jeff Jags, any chance we can land him?
Pat Yasinskas: I think B.J. Raji would be a tremendous pick for the Bucs, who need to solidify the middle of their defensive line some more. The problem is, it looks like Raji probably will be gone before the Bucs pick at No. 19. If he's somehow there, I've got to think he's a real possibility. If the Bucs really want to go with a defensive tackle in the first round and Raji is gone, Mississippi's Peria Jerry could be a possibility.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The New Orleans Saints are the next stop in our series of team-by-team mailbags.
Cory in Dallas, TX writes: Pat, here we go again. I emailed you last week and you posted it about the rumor of LT coming to the Saints. I initially thought it was bogus. But, a part of me was excited and quite frankly, hopeful. Now there are stories all over the web about Drew talking to LT about the possibility of him playing in New Orleans. I just want to know what your take on all this is. Obviously we would have to drop some players to make room (Jason David hopefully). Just need to know if it I should hold my breath.
Pat Yasinskas: The latest news on the LaDainian Tomlinson saga is that he still is talking to the Chargers about restructuring his contract. But, if those talks blow up, I think New Orleans is a logical landing spot. We all know about his connection to Drew Brees and the fact the Saints need some consistency in the running game. My only word of caution is that, if Tomlinson comes, he might not carry the Saints straight to the Super Bowl. He's got some mileage on him and is not the same player he was a few years ago. I think he can be a nice role player if he can be added at a reasonable price. But the bottom line is the Saints have to keep fixing up their defense if they're really going to be a contender.
Kenny in Biloxi,MS writes: What about the Saints adding a veteran receiver like M. Harrison?
Pat Yasinskas: Marvin Harrison is a great receiver, who can still bring leadership and experience wherever he goes. But I'm not sure the Saints really need him. I think New Orleans has the potential to have one of the league's best receiving corps. Marques Colston and Lance Moore are two very good starters. Devery Henderson is a nice deep threat and he made big strides with his overall game last year. The two wildcards here are the young receivers, Robert Meachem and Adrian Arrington. Meachem has struggled in his first two seasons, but still has lots of potential. Arrington was having a very nice rookie preseason before he got hurt. If those two guys can play up to their potential, the Saints have all the receivers they'll need.
Brandon in Lafayette writes: What are the chances that teams ask Roy Williams to change positions from saftie to olb and what are the chances the Saints would be interested in a move like this?
Pat Yasinskas: That's a theory that's been thrown around with Roy Williams before and I think some teams would consider it. But I think the Saints are in decent shape at linebacker. I think safety is a much bigger need and Williams, who is not good in coverage, doesn't fit that need. I think the Saints have to go out and get a free safety who can make some big plays. That's their No. 1 need right now.