NFL Nation: LaDainian Tomlinson



Everybody thought LaDainian Tomlinson was ready for a rocking chair at the age of 30. He was a diminished player for the San Diego Chargers in 2009, finishing the season with a hard-to-watch game against the New York Jets in the playoffs -- 12 carries, 24 yards.

The future Hall of Famer was fired by his forever team, and the Jets, of all teams, gave him a job, gambling the once great runner could reinvent himself. They looked past his pedestrian '09 numbers, determining that heart was a better barometer than his 3.3 yards per carry. They were right; he was terrific in 2010.

"This," Tomlinson said at the time, "has refreshed me, being here."

Four years later, the Jets are once again trying to catch an old lightning-back in a bottle. This time his name is Chris Johnson, and there's every reason to believe he can give them a season like Tomlinson did.

The Jets get Johnson at 28, a little younger than Tomlinson upon his arrival, but the narrative is the same: a fading star coming off his worst season.

Johnson staggered to the finish last season, looking more like CJ1K than the old CJ2K. He barely cracked he 1,000-yard plateau, managing a pedestrian 3.9 yards per rush. The Tennessee Titans decided -- and rightly so -- it made no sense to pay him an $8 million wage for 2014.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiChris Johnson cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2013 despite playing the majority of the season with a knee injury.
Clearly, the Jets aren't getting the Johnson of 2009, when he blew away the league by rushing for 2,006 yards with his sub-4.3 speed, but they should have a highly motivated back who will get an opportunity to duplicate what Tomlinson did in 2010.

That year, Tomlinson rushed for a team-high 914 yards on just 219 carries and caught 52 passes, three shy of the team leader. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Nothing jars a world-class athlete more than being told he's not good enough, that it's time to pack up and leave. Tomlinson used that as his fuel until his body finally broke down in 2011. The Jets are hoping for a similarly inspired Johnson, who's already talking about redemption.

"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday on a conference call with the media.

You'll be disappointed if you expect a 1,500-yard season out of Johnson, but he's better than what he showed last year. He played 13 games on a torn meniscus, running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season -- hardly ideal conditions for a running back.

"Chris Johnson isn't a bell cow anymore," a longtime NFL personnel executive said. "I don't know where his heart is -- there are some things underneath his hood that I don't like -- but for the right price, yeah, I think it's a good move."

The Jets paid a top-of-the-market price -- two years, $8 million -- but the cost is reasonable. Chances are, they will take a less-is-more approach with Johnson, hoping a time-share with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will preserve the remaining tread on Johnson's tires and improve his efficiency. That, of course, is based on the presumption that one of those tires isn't on the verge of a blowout.

Johnson disputed an ESPN report that said there's arthritis in his surgically repaired right knee, insisting he'll be fine. This bears watching, because the fire in his belly will burn out quickly if there's pain in his knee. If he's healthy, he'll be a plus for the offense.

"If a bad year is 1,100 yards, I'll take that all day," said ESPN analyst and former Jets tackle Damien Woody, alluding to Johnson's 1,077 last year.

Woody played for the Jets when Tomlinson arrived in 2010. At first, he wondered if Tomlinson was out of gas, but those concerns were allayed as soon as he saw the old running back on the field, doing his thing. Woody believes Johnson will respond the same way.

"The situations are really similar," Woody said. "You have two really good backs that were jettisoned from teams they had a lot of success with, dealing with the perception they're washed up. That, obviously, puts a chip on your shoulder."

The Jets have become a second-chance/last-chance stop for running backs. Before Tomlinson, there was Thomas Jones, who was outstanding before the salary-cap police decided it was time to go. A year ago, they traded for Ivory, who teased the New Orleans Saints for years.

As Woody noted, Jets coach Rex Ryan has way of reaching older players, coaxing them to give whatever they have left. Now he has Johnson, who still can be a productive runner -- as long as his wheels are as strong as his will.

Jeremy Hill is ready for NFL

February, 21, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- In our final installment of features on guys who prepared for the scouting combine at IMG Academy, we turn to LSU running back Jeremy Hill.

We'll see how he does in the workouts, but it’s clear this is one smart guy. Hill came out of college early and his reasoning for that decision is very solid.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJeremy Hill is projected to be among one of the first running backs taken in May's draft.
"If I played any other position, I would have come back for another year," Hill said. "But with the running back position with the wear and tear and the shelf life, I thought it was best for me to come out now. I didn't have any serious injuries, so I thought it was best to come out now."

Hill’s right that the shelf life of running backs isn’t that long. He might as well get into the NFL as quick as he can. And it didn’t hurt that an advisory board projected him as a first- or second-round pick.

Hill could be the first running back taken, according to many draft gurus. He views himself as NFL ready after working with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a former NFL coach, at LSU.

"Coach Cameron put me in a great position and I’m proud of my production," Hill said. "He had an opportunity to work with Ray Rice and LaDainian Tomlinson. He always talked about those guys and was always comparing their every-day habits and the way they practiced to mine. And he was always telling me what I needed to do to get to their level."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pretty well set at running back with starter Doug Martin and backups Mike James and Bobby Rainey. But, if Hill is the best player on their board at any given time, anything is possible.

"The one surprising thing is he’s got great hands," IMG Academy director of football operations Chris Weinke said. "We see it every day out here. He’s big and strong and he’s quicker than I thought he would be at 235 pounds. He’s a load coming downhill. I think you could utilize him in a lot of different ways at the next level. I think he has the ability to run inside and outside and you can use him in the passing game. Whoever drafts him is going to get a good all-around running back who is ready to play right away."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Sometime in his first several days as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator, Norv Turner walked past a picture in the team offices of Adrian Peterson from his record-breaking 296-yard game during his rookie season. Peterson could be seen racing down the San Diego Chargers' sideline, on the way to a game-clinching 46-yard touchdown.

The coach of that Chargers team was Turner. And when he looked at the picture, he saw himself watching Peterson run by.

"I’ve seen him at his best first-hand," Turner said. "I don’t know how you can compare guys at that level because they all have their own way of doing things."

Turner started his NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams when Eric Dickerson was still there. He was Emmitt Smith's offensive coordinator in Dallas, and had LaDainian Tomlinson on those Chargers teams. His legacy in the NFL has been made primarily through his contributions to the downfield passing game, but when Turner's teams have been at their best, he's had a dominant running back, too.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson rushed for 296 yards against Norv Turner's Chargers in 2007.
He knows what an asset Peterson can be to him in Minnesota, and Turner has made ingratiating himself to Peterson one of his early goals with the Vikings. Peterson was a staunch supporter of former coach Leslie Frazier, and reserved judgment on the Vikings' hiring of head coach Mike Zimmer until he saw whom the team would bring in as its offensive coordinator. When Turner was hired, Peterson praised the move. The two also talked recently on the phone, Turner said.

"He was excited. It was a very casual conversation," Turner said. "At this time of year, you don’t talk football, but I think players and coaches know about players and coaches in the league. He’s talked to people I’ve coached and been with. I think he understands that the biggest thing to me is we’re trying to win. He’s at a point in his career where he’d like to go, No. 1, be in the playoffs, and No. 2 have success in the playoffs and ultimately win a championship. I think he’s at a point in his career where he’s done a lot of things in individual goals and accomplishments. And he expressed that whatever it takes for us he wants to do."

Under Turner, the Vikings' plan for Peterson could look slightly different than how the 2012 NFL MVP has been used in the past. He talked about wanting to get Peterson the ball in space more often, which could sound like sweet poetry to Vikings fans who have wondered why Peterson hasn't been used as a receiving threat more over the years. The best season of Peterson's career as a receiver, not surprisingly, came in 2009, when he caught 43 passes for 436 yards from Brett Favre, who used running backs as receivers with great success during his career.

"He’s run the ball in closed-in quarters with a lot of defenders there and he makes a lot of long runs, making people miss or running over people," Turner said. "It’s hard to do, but we would like to get him in space and getting the field spread a little bit better for for him."

If Turner is able to get Peterson in the open field more often, either by throwing him the ball or by reducing the number of defenders in the box, it could help take some of the wear off a running back who just had his third surgery in as many years and will be 29 in March. Peterson has logged more carries against eight-man fronts than any running back in the NFL the past two years, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Under previous offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Peterson played in a system that often employed two tight ends or bunched receivers close to the line of scrimmage, inviting defenders to crowd the box. Rather than creating more traffic -- some of it there to help Peterson -- Turner wants to see if he can make the running back's yards easier by isolating him against defenders.

And when it's time for Peterson to do his heavy work, Turner wants much of it to come at the end of games. It was no accident that during his MVP season, Peterson logged a NFL-best 361 yards in the final 10 minutes of games his team was leading, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2013, Peterson had just 56 yards in those situations; third-string running back Matt Asiata, who filled in for Peterson in two games he missed because of injury, had 99.

Turner reminisced about Smith's days of being one of the game's great closers, churning through tired defenses and running the clock out with first downs for the Cowboys, and wanted to get the Vikings back to a point where Peterson could do the same thing. That makes sense for any running back, and the Vikings have been built to play with a lead.

The difference is, when they've fallen behind in recent years, they haven't had the passing game to make the game close and make Peterson effective again.

"You have to be good in enough things so that when a team overplays the run, you can throw it," Turner said. "Having a runner like Adrian can and should able to help a young quarterback. It can be a hindrance sometimes because if you aren’t giving him the ball, it's like you aren’t trying to win. Those are things that I’ve tried to manage."

Richardson going back to school

February, 5, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson will spend the offseason with the mind frame that he’s in school.

Learn, learn and learn the playbook some more. That will be his mentality as he knows the critics are still there and he knows the excuse of not knowing the Colts’ offensive system can no longer be used.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsColts running back Trent Richardson will spend his offseason trying to regain his form from 2012.
Richardson spent too much time thinking when he took the handoff than running with the type of speed and force that made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

“Learn the system, not just memorizing it,” Richardson said. “Learning the whole concept of the system. There's a difference between having it memorized and feeling comfortable with the system. I’m going talk to a lot of veteran players, talk to Adrian (Peterson), talk to (LaDainian Tomlinson) , talk to Emmitt Smith to make sure I’m the best I need to be next year.”

The Colts went from pulling off the biggest trade of last season when they acquired Richardson from the Cleveland Browns for a first-round pick to currently having the move favor the Browns after Richardson only averaged 2.9 yards a carry. The thought of the dynamic duo of Richardson and quarterback Andrew Luck has yet to come together. Richardson ended up losing the starting running back position to Donald Brown on Dec. 1, 2013.

Colts general manager Ryan Grigson defended the trade during his season-ending press conference last month. It is too soon to call Richardson a bust because he got acquired during the middle of the season. He needs a full offseason of OTA’s, minicamp and training camp before a better evaluation can be given on him.

“This is more a problem of not being in the system long enough for me,” ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards said as part of the top 50 offseason questions. “He's clearly got talent. But getting traded in the middle of the season is tough for any player, and his offensive line in Indianapolis wasn't very good this season. Indianapolis also needs to mix up the game plan with Richardson more when he's in the game. Too often, he would come into the game and it would be obvious the Colts were handing him the ball. He'd get hit behind the line.”

Richardson will split his offseason between Indianapolis and his hometown of Pensacola, Fla. He won’t be on the pretty beaches of Florida building sandcastles with his kids. He’ll be on the beach running sand hills and training with his old school coach.

“I’ve got a big motivation for next season,” Richardson said. “My big thing, I want to contribute to the team. As far as putting on a big show every weekend for the team, the city, the fans, I’m going to do whatever it takes. That’s a lot of motivation for me.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the third consecutive offseason, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has plans to go under the knife. ESPN's Josina Anderson reported Wednesday night that Peterson soon will have groin surgery in Philadelphia. Dr. William Meyers, who operated on Peterson's sports hernia last season, will perform the surgery.

Although this operation is arguably minor compared to the knee surgery Peterson had at the end of 2011, or the sports hernia operation he had after 2012, it's still a sign of the wear and tear he can expect to face as he gets into the final years of his prime.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsThe Vikings could consider reducing Adrian Peterson's workload to limit the potential for injuries.
The decision is probably the right one for Peterson. Having surgery now should give him plenty of time to get ready for the 2014 season, and as he's proven the past two years, he's not someone who needs much preseason work to get ready. As he gets older (he'll be 29 in March), these kinds of offseason cleanups could become more routine than he'd like.

It's a good time to ask whether the Vikings should think about giving another running back a few of Peterson's carries during the season, though it's questionable whether Toby Gerhart would want to come back for a supporting role when he could have bigger opportunities coming as a free agent this spring.

Peterson, for that matter, isn't one to ask for less work, but he might be getting to an age where both he and the Vikings are better served by an attempt to reduce his mileage somewhat.

Peterson's ticket to a lesser workload could actually come through new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who became San Diego's coach at a similar point in LaDainian Tomlinson's career. Tomlinson was 28 when Turner took over the Chargers in 2007, and as Turner leaned more on San Diego's passing game, the Chargers dialed back Tomlinson's workload. He carried 315 times in 2007 -- down 33 carries from his 31-touchdown season of 2006 and the second-fewest of his career to that point.

In 2008, Tomlinson got 292 carries at age 29, but still ran for 1,110 yards before injuries slowed him in 2009.

Peterson is still healthy and effective enough to take on a bigger workload than that, but the Vikings would be better-served on offense, and Peterson's longevity would be helped, if they can get more balance. Remember how effective their pick-your-poison backfield was with Peterson and Brett Favre in 2009? Peterson carried 314 times that season -- to date the fewest carries he has logged in a season where he's played all 16 games.

Groin surgery shouldn't prove to be a major impediment to Peterson this fall. It'll help him get his top speed back, which he seemed to be missing at the end of the season, and he'll be ready in plenty of time for training camp. But at this juncture in his career, it is a reminder that the Vikings should think about how to best manage Peterson.
SAN DIEGO -- Blocking for San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is an offensive lineman's dream.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Ryan Mathews
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsRyan Mathews has emerged as a running back this season, to the delight of his linemen.
At least that's the way the team's longtime center Nick Hardwick describes it. Hardwick says opposing defenders shy away from contact when Mathews gets his legs churning.

"He is built like a block of granite," Hardwick said. "He is a pretty intense specimen, so when he gets going downhill, he is inflicting some pain on these linebackers and safeties."

Mathews' physical running style is something the rest of the offensive line feeds off of, according to rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker.

"I love blocking for Ryan," Fluker said. "Ryan just makes people look bad on the field. DB's don't want to hit him. They're scared of him because he's physical with them. It's great to see him have a great season. And it's been great to see someone go out there and give everything they have for their teammates."

In his fourth NFL season, Mathews has finally emerged from the immense shadow of being drafted as the replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson as the No. 12 overall selection in the 2010 draft.

The Fresno State product topped 1,000 rushing yards for the second time as a pro, rushing a career-high 236 times for 1,012 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Mathews has run for 415 yards after contact, which is No. 7 in the NFL.

"It's been good, really good," Mathews said after the Denver game last week, in which he ran for 127 yards. Mathews carried the ball 58 times in two games over four days.

"I'm sore, but that's what they are asking of me, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm just going to keep grinding, and doing whatever this team needs."

Added receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, who played with Mathews at Fresno State: "He's always been tough. But there's just something about this year that has been special. He's running hard, and everyone can see it. He just looks like a different back, and obviously he's running confident."

Mathews has stayed healthy, and is on track to play a full, 16-game season for the first time as a pro. And he's avoided putting the ball on the ground. Heading into the 2013 season, Mathews had fumbled 12 times, losing seven of them through three seasons. But this year, Mathews has fumbled just twice, losing one of them.

Mathews has five 100-yard rushing games this season, which is tied with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for the most in the NFL.

But more than anything, at 26-years old Mathews has shown maturity. He's done a better job of taking care of his body, preparing himself for the rigors of an NFL season with a rigid regimen before the season started, one which included reporting to training camp at the appropriate weight on his 6-foot, 220-pound frame.

"He puts a lot of work in," fellow running back Ronnie Brown said. "There's a lot of stuff that's not seen. People give him a hard time. But he runs the ball hard. He prepares hard in the offseason. And he puts in the work that's necessary, and I don't think a lot of people see that, so it's not appreciated."

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he first noticed a confident and decisive Mathews during offseason work by watching his feet. Rivers said Mathews benefitted from offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt streamlining the team's running playbook, focusing on a steady diet of inside and outside zone running plays.

"There have been less schematic things, which gives him a lot of reps at the run packages that we have," Rivers said. "He has been able to rep them over and over and over again, going all the way back to OTAs. As a runner, much like as a passer, if you run it five times you feel decent, but if we throw it 50 times over the offseason then you feel a lot better.

"It's the same way in the running game. If I run inside zone against every look they have 50 times throughout the offseason, I'm going to feel a heck of a lot better about it than if I get a lot of different ones. I think that is one thing I can see. I felt confidence in his feet, confidence in his vision grow over this whole offseason throughout training camp and all year long."

While Rivers has shown the ability to pick opponents apart through the air, Mathews provides the hammer in the run game, keeping defenses honest and closing out games by grinding out first downs to run the clock.

Once considered a good bet to leave town when his contract ends at the end of the 2014 season, Mathews has proved that he's a good fit long term for the Chargers.

Welcome to the 30s, Aaron Rodgers

December, 2, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Favre won all three of his NFL Most Valuable Player awards before the age of 30.

The former Green Bay Packers quarterback was 26 when he won the first one in January of 1996. He won his three MVPs in consecutive years, meaning his last one came at the age of 28.

Aaron Rodgers was 28 he was named the NFL’s MVP on Feb. 4, 2012.

The Packers' current quarterback turned 30 today. So does that mean his best years are behind him?

Probably not.

That Favre’s MVP seasons all came in his 20s has not been the norm for award-winning quarterbacks in recent years.

Dating to the 2001 season, for which St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was the MVP, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. Seven of them, including Warner, were in their 30s.

Rodgers is under contract through the 2019 season thanks to the extension he signed in April. He will be 36 years old when that deal expires.

How many more MVP-type seasons would be it reasonable to expect? This season, even if Rodgers returns this week from his broken collarbone -- which is still a big if -- is lost in terms of his MVP candidacy. However, based on the past winners, the answer to that question would seem to be several.

An NFL scout told me last week he thought Rodgers had four more “great seasons” in him.

Three non-quarterbacks have won the MVP since 2001. All were running backs, and all were in their 20s -- Shaun Alexander (28), LaDainian Tomlinson (27) and Adrian Peterson (27). That’s not surprising considering the shelf life for running backs is much shorter than for quarterbacks.
PITTSBURGH -- Calvin Johnson won’t be the only Detroit Lions player who presents serious matchup problems for the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field.

Reggie Bush has just under 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in eight games this season, and Ryan Clark said Bush is so good in open space that he reminds the Steelers' free safety of LaDainian Tomlinson.

Bush
Bush
“As far as his ability to make guys miss, I think it’s LaDainian-like,” Clark said.

That is high praise considering Tomlinson is fifth all-time in the NFL with 13,684 rushing yards and is a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Like Tomlinson was during his decorated playing career, Bush is a dual threat, and he has added balance to the Lions’ offense after signing with Detroit in the offseason.

The eighth-year veteran has rushed for 623 yards and added 343 receiving yards.

Clark said Bush is also comparable to Saints’ scatback Darren Sproles, because of his receiving and open-field skills.

“He’s a guy who’s cat-quick, extremely elusive in the open field, and so they feel like any opportunity with Reggie in space against a defender other than a corner they have an athletic advantage," Clark said. "They try to get him in space.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Bush is more than just a running back who also has good hands.

“He’s one of those few running backs that has wide receiver skills in terms of his ability to drop his weight and create separation at break points,” Tomlin said.

Many of the Steelers will play against Bush for the first time.

The only other time he faced the Steelers was during his rookie season in 2006.

Bush rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, and caught seven passes for 50 yards in helping the Saints beat the Steelers at Heinz Field.

He has never quite lived up to the hype that accompanied him to the NFL, but Bush has carved out a solid career.

And the former Southern Cal start is still one of the more feared players in the NFL when he gets into the open field.

“You have to get to him as a unit,” said Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who isn’t expected to play Sunday because of a calf injury, “because he does a great job of breaking tackles and finding a lane and taking it to the house.”
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner has coached the NFL's leading rusher five times. Could running back Trent Richardson be the next one?

Richardson
Turner got every fantasy football owner's attention Tuesday when he indicated Richardson could carry the ball 300 times this season. All five players who cracked 300 carries last season ranked in the top six in the NFL in rushing.

"If that player is your best player, then I think it’s probably a good thing to have him in the game and give him the ball," Turner said, via The Plain Dealer. "So I would hope Trent would have that many carries. That means he’s playing healthy and playing at a pretty high level."

Under Turner, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams and LaDainian Tomlinson all won rushing crowns and handled a major workload in doing so. Smith carried the ball 365 times in 1991 and 373 times in 1992. Williams had a whopping 383 carries in 2002. And Tomlinson ran the ball 315 times in 2007.

Few running backs have to take such a pounding these days. In the previous two seasons, only seven players have carried the ball more than 300 times. The past 10 rushing champions, however, have averaged 353 carries during their respective league-leading seasons.

Richardson did some heavy lifting as a rookie last year under coach Pat Shurmur even though the No. 3 overall pick battled injuries. He played 702 offensive snaps in 2012, which was ninth-most among NFL running backs. Richardson established himself as a workhorse despite undergoing a knee scope early in training camp, breaking his ribs in Week 6 and missing the season finale due to an ankle sprain. He finished 18th in the NFL in rushing with 950 yards but tied for fifth in the league with 11 rushing touchdowns.

Turner was asked how Richardson measured up against the likes of Smith and Tomlinson.

"Just watching him and seeing him against us when I came here in October and then watching the tape, yeah, he’s that type of runner," Turner said. "Obviously he’s the third pick in the draft. I think he has a lot of great days ahead of him. I always have a problem comparing players because each guy has his own unique style, but I think he’s capable of doing great things."
ESPN.com’s SportsNation "Madden NFL 25" cover vote is in the second round.

The old-school AFC West players are faring way better than three new-school players from the division. Denver linebacker Von Miller was the only current player from the division to march on.

However, all four old-school AFC West representatives have marched on: Terrell Davis of Denver, Marcus Allen of Kansas City, Tim Brown of Oakland and LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego.

You can vote here for your favorite players -- or against your least-favorite players, of course.

Steven Jackson by the numbers

March, 15, 2013
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A day after the fact, Atlanta’s signing of running back Steven Jackson continues to be the hottest story in the NFC South.

I don’t see that changing anytime soon, unless the Tampa Bay Buccaneers suddenly make the trade for Darrelle Revis. So let’s feed the Jackson talk a little more with some by-the-numbers nuggets from ESPN Stats & Information.
  • The three time Pro Bowler has rushed for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. Only Emmitt Smith (11 straight seasons), Curtis Martin (10 straight) and Barry Sanders (10 straight) have longer streaks than Jackson.
  • Jackson also is a receiving threat out of the backfield. He has had seven seasons with 1,000 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards. LaDainian Tomlinson and Walter Payton, who each accomplished that feat eight times, are the only players to do that more than Jackson.
  • Jackson also can make things happen after contact. Over the past four seasons, Jackson has run for 2,172 yards after contact. Adrian Peterson (2,918 yards) is the only player with more yards after contact in that same span.
  • Among active running backs, Jackson ranks first with 2,395 career carries, first with 10,135 rushing yards and is tied for fifth with 56 touchdowns.
  • Also, in this Insider post, Football Outsiders takes an in-depth look at what Jackson brings to the Falcons.
The "Madden NFL 25" cover vote is now on in SportsNation.

This year, there is a new-school and old-school competition.

In the new-school vote, there are some tough assignments for some AFC West players.

San Diego’s Antonio Gates is a No. 16 seed. He goes against top seed Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco. Oakland’s Carson Palmer is a No. 15 seed and he is facing No. 2 seed, NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. Denver’s Von Miller is a No. 6 seed, but he faces the popular Victor Cruz of the Giants, a No. 11 seed. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles is a No. 6 seed and he is facing Darrelle Revis of the Jets, a No. 11 seed.

In the old-school vote, this one will upset some folks. Marcus Allen is representing the Chiefs and not the Raiders. The Hall of Fame running back played 11 years for the Raiders and five years for the Chiefs. He is a No. 6 seed and faces No. 11 Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots.

Oakland's Tim Brown is a No. 6 seed and he faces Chad Johnson of the Bengals. Denver’s Terrell Davis is a No. 10 seed and faces Buffalo’s Jim Kelly, a No. 7 seed. San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson is a No. 10 seed and he faces Randall Cunningham of the Eagles.

On guards: How early to draft best ones

February, 24, 2013
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General managers and coaches have been known to send figurative smoke screens from the NFL scouting combine regarding their draft intentions.

On the surface, at least, the rest of the NFC West has to hope Arizona general manager Steve Keim is serious when he says the Cardinals would consider drafting a guard with the seventh overall choice in the 2013 NFL draft.

No NFL team has taken a guard among the top seven overall choices since the Kansas City Chiefs used the seventh pick of the 1986 draft for West Virginia guard Brian Jozwiak. Jozwiak started three games in three seasons before suffering a career-ending hip injury.

Some of the tackles drafted among the top seven overall choices have transitioned to guard in the NFL. The Cardinals used the second pick of the 2001 draft for Leonard Davis, who had played tackle in college. They moved him to guard, with so-so results. Davis went to Pro Bowls years later with Dallas.

Michael Vick was the first overall choice in that 2001 draft. Justin Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson and Richard Seymour joined Davis among the top six overall choices. Each would have brought more value to the Cardinals than even a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, in my view. Steve Hutchinson, drafted 17th overall by Seattle, was the best guard in that 2001 class.

As the chart shows, teams rarely draft college guards among the top seven picks. That is because teams value other positions higher than they value guard. Teams figure even a great guard isn't going to help the team as much as a very good player at many other positions.

"If you think he is a Pro Bowl guard, how high is too high?" Keim said in explaining his reasoning. "If you're convinced that player is a Pro Bowl talent and an elite type player, you take him and don't look back. People say that's too high to take a guard or take a tight end. But I don’t subscribe to that theory."

The Cardinals have used free agency to target guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder in recent offseasons.

Division-rival San Francisco used the sixth pick of the 2006 draft for tight end Vernon Davis, who has grown into a very good player. Arizona used the 10th pick that year for quarterback Matt Leinart. In that case, drafting a tight end would have made more sense than drafting a quarterback. I think that is one of the points Keim is addressing. He'd rather have a Pro Bowl guard than a disappointing player at a position of greater value.

That is a reasonable position to take. Still, all else equal, the Cardinals would be better off getting a good player at a position of greater value. Their NFC West rivals would have an easier time preparing to face a top guard than they would have preparing for a top player at most other positions.
It has been a special season in Denver thus far. Could it also be historic?

The Broncos, who clinched the AFC West on Dec. 2, are 11-3, have won nine consecutive games and are on pace for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are widely considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Denver has been dominant on both sides of the ball. Although Denver’s season has been a team effort, the work of two players, in particular, stands out: quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Von Miller.

Manning and Miller have arguably been the best offensive and best defensive players in the NFL this season. Both are leading candidates for major hardware: Manning is in the mix for the NFL MVP award; Miller is a top candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

If both players win, it will, according to ESPN Stats & Information, be just the second time in league history that teammates have won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. San Francisco’s Steve Young won the NFL MVP and cornerback Deion Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994. The 49ers went 13-3 and ended up winning the Super Bowl.

Let’s look at Manning’s and Miller’s candidacies:

Manning: This is shaping up as a close, intriguing race. There is no runaway MVP choice; Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and New England quarterback Tom Brady are competing hard with Manning. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers could also make a case.

Still, there is reason to think Manning -- in his first season with the Broncos -- has a chance to win his fifth MVP award.

Brady is having a strong season, but the Broncos are 11-3 and the Patriots are 10-4. If the Broncos finish with a better record, Manning could have the edge. Coming back at age 36 from a neck injury that kept him out last season, he's had an immense impact on his new team.

Like Manning, Peterson is coming off a major injury, so the two will fight it out for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as well. Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady, Peyton Manning
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady, left, and Peyton Manning are in another tight competition for MVP honors.
Interestingly, Dickerson was not the MVP that year. Miami quarterback Dan Marino won the award. Marino had a monster year, breaking six NFL season pass record, including most touchdowns and most passing yards.

Manning is not having quite that type of season. But his team is having a much better season than Peterson's, and Manning’s stats are strong.

Consider these numbers supplied by ESPN Stats & Information: This is Manning's 12th season with 4,000 yards; he leads NFL in Total QBR, which measures the all-around impact of quarterback play; and his 11 wins are most by a player after missing an entire season. Denver hasn’t won this many games since 2005. If the season ended today, Manning would be the fifth player ever with at least 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and a 67 percent completion rate while throwing 10 or fewer interceptions. Three of the four previous players won the MVP award.

Again, the vote will be close, but there is no doubt Manning will be in the MVP conversation. If history is any indication, it could come down to Manning and Brady. The last time a non-quarterback won the award was in 2006, when San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson won. A quarterback has been shut out just four times in the past 20 years.

Miller: Denver took Miller with the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011. Last season, he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He could easily win the Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season.

Miller was considered a top-flight pass-rusher as a rookie. However, he has worked to improve his overall game. He is now strong in coverage and against the run in addition to being a complete terror as a pass-rusher.

“To me, Miller is the best defensive player in football,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Still, the chase for top defensive honors this year is as close as the MVP race. Miller is competing with a pair of fellow 2011 first-round picks -- Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston -- and Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

When asked about his chances of winning the award, Miller said he wants it, but his plan is this: “I’m just going to keep on playing with a fanatical effort and a relentless pursuit to the ball.”

It’s working.

Miller has 16 sacks, 3.5 off the pace set by Smith and Watt.

Watt is leading the league with a combined 37 sacks and tackles for losses. Miller is second with 29; Smith is third at 21.5.

Because Watt has made several big plays and is the best player on a strong defense on a winning team, he is probably the leading candidate for the award. But Miller has his supporters, too. In the end, I think Manning’s chances of winning may be higher than Miller’s, but both have made major impacts in Denver’s success in 2012.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:29
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Big rookie test: Andrew Luck will attempt to become the first rookie starting quarterback to win at New England since Kerry Collins for the Panthers in 1995. Since then, Peyton Manning, Byron Leftwich and Mark Sanchez have all lost, while combining to throw for three touchdowns and nine interceptions. (Manning lost his first five regular-season games in New England.) If Luck picks up his seventh win of the season, he will tie Sam Bradford for the most wins by a rookie quarterback selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the common draft era.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesMatt Schaub burned the Jaguars on play-actions passes in Week 2, completing 14 of 16.
Schaub’s success: Since Week 7 of last season, Matt Schaub -- with a 12-1 record as a starter -- has the best winning percentage for a quarterback in that span in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jay Cutler is 11-2, Matt Ryan 15-4 and Aaron Rodgers 14-4. Although Schaub is first in win-loss record in that time, he’s just eighth in touchdown-to-interception ratio (2.6 TDs for every INT). When the Texans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville in Week 2, Schaub was 14-of-16 (87.5 percent) on play-action passes. That’s the second-highest completion percentage on play-action throws since the start of 2008 (minimum 15 attempts).

Jaguars’ woes: Jacksonville has lost six consecutive games, the team's longest losing streak since dropping six straight in 2002-03. The Jaguars have lost seven straight games only once, back in their inaugural season of 1995. Jacksonville has played the NFL’s toughest schedule thus far, with its opponents carrying a combined 50-32 record (.610). According to Elias: Since the 1970 merger, there have been 15 matchups in Week 10 or later featuring a team with one or fewer wins against a team with one or fewer losses. The team with one or fewer losses is 12-3 in those matchups. The last such underdog to pull off a win? The Jaguars in 2003 when they beat the Colts.

Reggie Wayne's reliability: Luck and Wayne have connected downfield in ways that Manning and Wayne didn’t in their final seasons together. Wayne has 37 catches of more than 10 yards downfield through nine games, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In his final four years with Manning as his quarterback, he never had more than 33 in a full season. Luck’s average pass has traveled a league-high 10.3 yards downfield, but his short passing has gotten better recently. Luck has completed at least 69 percent of his throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage in the Colts’ last four games. He had completed fewer than 60 percent of those throws in four of his first five games.

Also: Arian Foster has scored a touchdown in each of his past 11 games, tied for the second-longest streak in the past 10 years. LaDainian Tomlinson had an 18-game streak spanning the 2004 and 2005 seasons. ... New England and Indianapolis face each other for the 10th time in the regular season since 2002, which is when the current division format was created. Only one other pair of non-division opponents played each other as many as nine times over that same span: Carolina and Arizona. ... The Colts are getting a league-high 42.7 percent of their yards from scrimmage from rookies. Washington is No. 2 at 37.9 percent. ... The Titans have their bye this week.

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