How the Arizona Cardinals will win the NFC West

Arizona will win the NFC West in 2021

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

The 8-8 Arizona Cardinals were in the playoff hunt for part of the 2020 season. This is true even though head coach Kliff Kingsbury was 3-9 against the NFC West, including a 0-4 record against Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams. 

The Cardinals started 2-0 in the West, only to end on a four-game losing streak in the division. 

They were 5-2 before ending the season on a 3-6 bender.

There were a few reasons for the losing streak:

  1. Wide receiver Christian Kirk looked the part of the number two wide receiver until the final eight games. In the last eight, he managed a paltry 22 receptions, 234 yards, and zero touchdowns.
  2. Quarterback Kyler Murray got injured in Week 11 against the Seattle Seahawks. After that, the offense scores 30 plus points only once the rest of the season.
  3. Linebacker Chandler Jones incurred a bicep injury in Week 5.  He ended his season with 11 total tackles and one sack. Without Jones, the Cardinals’ defense gave up close to 28 points a game on the road.

There is also the possibility that Kingsbury’s offensive prowess is over-rated, but that could be an overstatement as the offense worked for the first half of the season.

But this year the Cardinals will not only reverse their fortunes within their division, but win the NFC West outright.

At first glance, it seems like an improbable statement. The NFC West is the most competitive division in the NFL. But it is possible, and here is why:

QUARTERBACK KYLER MURRAY

Murray showed improvement until his Week 11 injury. He finished the season with a completion percentage that was 2.8% better than the previous year.  He threw for six more touchdowns and had 40 more rushing attempts.  The rushing attempts elevated his rushing touchdowns by seven compared to last year. 

WIDE RECEIVER DEANDRE HOPKINS

There is no doubt the addition of Hopkins boosted the offense. Hopkins finished the season with a career-high 71.9% catch rate.  He was targeted 160 times and had six touchdowns.

This being his second year with Murray should make the pairing that much more formidable and the duo should put up huge numbers in 2021. 

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION

This might be the most important reason the Cardinals are set to win the division this year.  Their free agency acquisitions are more of a “win-now” mentality than let’s rebuild for the future.

Although they lost both Patrick Peterson and Kenyan Drake in free agency, they gained players (who, if they remain healthy) will help them win now.

  • Running back James Conner
  • Wide receiver AJ Green
  • Defensive end JJ Watt
  • Cornerback Malcolm Butler
  • Kicker Matt Prater

And yes, the NFC West did make some splash acquisitions. The Los Angeles Rams acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford for the win-now mentality.  The San Francisco 49ers obtained Trey Lance for the future, and well, the Seattle Seahawks attempted to upgrade their defense, with cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Pierre Desire and defensive end Aldon Smith. 

THE SCHEDULE

Depending on your “go-to” source, the Cardinals either have the fourth most difficult schedule or the 13th.  If you go by the Cbssports.com strength of schedule, the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks will face a harder schedule than the Cardinals. 

CARDINALS 2021 SCHEDULE

WEEK 1 @ TENNESSEE TITANS

WEEK 2 v MINNESOTA VIKINGS

WEEK 3 @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

WEEK 4 @ LOS ANGELES RAMS

WEEK 5 v SAN FRANCISCO NINERS

WEEK 6 @ CLEVELAND BROWNS

WEEK 7 v HOUSTON TEXANS

WEEK 8 v GREEN BAY PACKERS

WEEK 9 @ SAN FRANCISCO NINERS

WEEK 10 v CAROLINA PANTHERS

WEEK 11 @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

WEEK 12—NOV 28 BYE WEEK

WEEK 13 @ CHICAGO  BEARS

WEEK 14 v LOS ANGELES RAMS

WEEK 15 @ DETROIT LIONS

WEEK 16 v INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

WEEK 17 @ DALLAS COWBOYS

WEEK 18 v SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

WINNING THE NFC WEST

This is Kingsbury show me year.  His team has to improve against the West foes, including the zero wins against the Rams.  The Niners will have the slew of players that were injured back; the question remains it Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo under center this season.  The Seahawks are, well, the Seahawks, doing little to appease quarterback Russell Wilson’s concerns; they remain who we thought they were until proven otherwise.

The path through the NFC West appears to go through California.  If the Cardinals can break even with their NFC West rivals, there is no reason they cannot overtake the NFC West championship belt (and if there isn’t one, there should be).

 

Post NFL draft Winner and loser from each division

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

In every endeavor, there is a winner and a loser.  The repercussions from the 2021 NFL Draft are no different.  Of course, who won and who lost is all subjective until the playing actually starts.  But some teams did do better than others, and here they are.

AFC EAST

WINNERS: MIAMI DOLPHINS

It remains to be seen whether letting Ryan Fitzpatrick go handing the team completely over to Tua Tagovailoa was the right move.  However, the Dolphins did little wrong elsewhere. 

Drafting Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle should help settle Tagovailoa and the offense.  But having the sixth-ranked scoring defense return in a division that has to deal with quarterback Josh Allen and newly arrived gunslinger Zach Wilson just seems good business.

LOSERS: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Yes, the Patriots are loaded up from their spending spree in free agency, including returning quarterback Cam Newton. 

Drafting their presumptive franchise quarterback, Mac Jones feels right.  But now the Patriots have two quarterbacks with diametrically opposite skill sets. 

So what do you do? It could work, and of course, you never count the Patriots out, but….

AFC WEST

WINNERS: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers solidified and added depth to their offensive line.  They added Larry Roundtree in the sixth round, who may prove what the Chargers offense needs behind Austin Ekeler to round out what was already a very good offense.

LOSERS: DENVER BRONCOS

If the Broncos passed up their chance to draft a franchise quarterback because they know something we don’t, my apologies.  But under current conditions, it appears to be an omission that will come to bite them in the ass.

AFC NORTH

WINNERS: BALTIMORE RAVENS

In two of the past three drafts, the Ravens have taken a wide receiver.  It has not helped.  The third time is the charm?  Rashod Bateman has the skill set to be WR1 in the Ravens offense (albeit a low bar), but if he can help the Ravens pass/run ratio become more equitable, it is a win.

In a division historically known for its defense, adding edge Odafe Oweh to their top-ranked defense is a bonus.

LOSERS: PITTSBURGH STEELERS

It could all work out; after all, tight end Pat Freiermuth is known for his blocking skill set.  But the offense, which finished last season 32nd in rushing yards per game (84.4) and yards per attempt (3.6) per teamrankings.com, needed to improve the 31st ranked run-blocking offensive line.

Fun fact Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 676 more rushing yards than the entire Steelers team in 2020.

AFC SOUTH

WINNERS: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

With the number one pick and nine total picks, the Jaguars got their franchise quarterback and seemingly faster on offense. 

There was really nowhere to go but up.

LOSERS: HOUSTON TEXANS

They could not have won this.  The Texans needed a lot.  Their first pick was not until round three, and they managed only five total picks.  Thanks to Bill O’Brien, the Texans did good with what they were given, but winning wasn’t an option.

NFC WEST

LOSERS: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks had the 30th ranked defense in passing yards last season.  They lost Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar in free agency.  And they only had three picks in this year’s draft. 

Their first pick was a wide receiver, D’Wayne Eskridge.

WINNERS: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

It may be more accurate to say winner Trey Lance.  Going to a team that, but for injuries, is a playoff contender is a win. 

Now Kyle Shanahan has the quarterback of his dreams, and the 49ers are back in playoff contention.

Can we just acknowledge that this might be the most competitive division in the NFL?

NFC EAST

This was the hardest division to project a loser because basically, they all got what they needed.  However, it must be done.

LOSERS: WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Depending on Ryan Fitzpatrick this season, okay, I get it.  But not getting a quarterback for the future may prove costly.

WINNERS: NEW YORK GIANTS

It remains to be seen if stockpiling 2022 NFL Draft picks will win the day.  Not getting offensive line help for quarterback Daniel Jones may hurt this season.

NFC SOUTH

LOSERS: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints needed a cornerback.  Their first two picks were defensive end and linebacker.  There is also the questionable acquisition of quarterback Ian Book in the fourth round. 

It all seems so muddled. 

WINNERS: ATLANTA FALCONS

Taking arguably the best player on the board seems like a smart choice.  Adding him to an already prolific offense is a no-brainer.  Picking up much-needed help in a secondary that allowed 293.6 passing yards per game, check.

NFC NORTH

LOSERS: GREEN BAY PACKERS

I don’t know if further pissing off your reigning MVP quarterback counts as a loss, but it should.

WINNERS: CHICAGO BEARS Jumping up to #11 to pick up the second-best quarterback in the draft is a w

Top 10 NFL Prospects and their pro comparisons

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

In reality, five of the top 10 prospects could be dominated by one position.  Where is the fun in that?  So this time, we will take three quarterbacks, three wide receivers, three running backs, and a tight end evaluating their positives and negatives going into the 2021 NFL Draft and who is their most comparable NFL player.

Of course, the comparison is a subjective opinion and widely varies for a few of the prospects. 

QUARTERBACKS

TREVOR LAWRENCE-

Lawrence has been called a “generational talent” so much that comparing him to a current NFL pro seems unrealistic.  So he is often compared to those not currently in the league, Andrew Luck, John Elway, and Joe Montana.

Strengths: High football IQ, size, arm talent, scheme recognition, and the ability to process defenses and coverages.

Weaknesses: Pocket management vs. Virginia Tech faltered against their blitz,

The comparison I like the most: “Similarities to Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert; however, Lawrence is more advanced than Herbert from a mental processing standpoint both before and after the snap.  And while I’ll give the edge to Herbert when it comes to his touch at all three levels, Lawrence possesses equally as an impressive touch over the top on passes that travel 20-plus yards in the air.  Lawrence is also faster and more elusive in the open field as a runner.”

JUSTIN FIELDS-

Fields is seemingly the enigma of the draft. 

Strengths: Toughness, athleticism, size, throwing on the run, and confident when throwing into intermediate zone windows.

Weaknesses: Tendency to hold on to the ball too long requires improving eye manipulation and forcing receivers to slow for deep throws.

The comparison I like the most: “He can fly. You know who he reminds me of? He reminds me of Colin Kaepernick.  Really fast, straight away speed.  Cannon arm that maybe gets away from him occasionally that he has to clean up.”

ZACH WILSON-

Wilson is the “It Boy” with the gunslinger mentality.

Strengths: Good instincts and awareness, quick release, gunslinger balls have energy, and v Houston carved up man coverage.

Weaknesses: Durability and is he a one-year wonder?

The comparison I like the most: “He reminds me of Baker Mayfield.  Just a little taller, a little more slender, more athletic, but the mentality.  Both guys have tremendous confidence in their arms; they’re going to throw some balls you think they shouldn’t throw.  They’re excellent off-platform throwers, too, and they can get outside the pocket and run, but they’d rather still throw the ball, even when they break contain, which makes them both very dangerous.  He’s really a gunslinger, like Mayfield.”

RUNNING BACKS

TRAVIS ETIENNE

Ideal fantasy spot per Fantasypros.com: A team where he is utilized heavily on outside zone runs to take advantage of his speed and athleticism.

The comparison I like the most: Daniel Jeremiah, in his ‘Move the Sticks’ podcast, compares Travis Etienne to Alvin Kamara. “I see a lot of Alvin Kamara after studying these three games.  Both guys have rare quickness and burst.  Kamara is more advanced as a route runner, but Etienne has the tools to achieve that level of performance.  They also share a natural feel for the position.  Kamara doesn’t need to touch the ball 25 times to have a major impact on a game.  The same can be said for Etienne.”

NAJEE HARRIS

Best fit per ProFootballNetwork.com: Offenses that keep it between the numbers and not run on the perimeter.

The comparison I like the most: Honestly, the comparisons for Harris were all over the place.  CBSsports.com “Eddie Lacy but not as massive, David Montgomery with more size and more athletic ability and Todd Gurley’s collegiate game but slower.”

JAVONTE WILLIAMS

Ideal fit per Draftnetwork.com: The featured running back.

The comparison I like the most: “Williams projects to be the best after contact running back since Marshawn Lynch in his prime.”

WIDE RECEIVERS

JA’MARR CHASE

Strengths: Explosive with phenomenal vertical acceleration and has great focus and concentration.

Weaknesses: Challenged getting off the press and tends to rely on his athletic gifts on route releases.

The comparison I like the most: SportsIllustrated.com says that Chase mirrors what makes DeAndre Hopkins special from a talent and play style.

JAYLEN WADDLE

Strengths: Has a wide catch radius that is coupled with raw, straight-line speed.  Has cheat-code speed.

Weaknesses: His size, and he is coming off an injury.

The comparison I like the most: CBSSports.com: “While Waddle has the same level of explosiveness, twitch, and athleticism as Tyreek Hill, the better comparison is to a faster version of Tyler Lockett with better leaping ability.”

DEVONTAE SMITH

Strengths: Smooth route runner that can run inside or out.

Weaknesses: His frame and durability issues.

The comparison I like the most: NFL’s Daniel Jeremiah: Smith is comparable to Marvin Harrison because of his lean build, crisp route running, excellent hands, and toughness.

TIGHT ENDS

KYLE PITTS

When they are throwing around the “generational talent” designation, perhaps no player in this 2021 NFL Draft is more deserving than Kyle Pitts.

In comparison, we really want to know what to expect for our fantasy teams, so let’s just leave the last word here, with Pro Football Network:

“At this point, it is unlikely that Pitts falls outside of the Top 10, and if he does, he won’t fall far beyond that.  Pitts is listed as a tight end.  However, he’s truly a position-less unicorn, for whom “weapon” would be a more accurate designation.”

COMPARISONS

It is unfair to compare players to players, especially when a lot will depend on where these rookies are drafted.  There are similarities with body frame and style of play, but each player brings his own special skills to the field. 

It will be a lot easier to get a feeling once the draft is over.  So stick with us, and we will navigate you through your fantasy season and rookie drafts. 

Top 3 Landing Spots for Malik Hooker

Where will FA Malik Hooker sign?

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

There is one truth, if Malik Hooker could stay healthy, he would be a top-five safety in the free agency market.  Heck, the Indianapolis Colts would have picked up his fifth-year option.  Unfortunately, Hooker has been injured a lot: his rookie season 2017 played in seven games before his season was cut short with MCL/ACL tear; 2018, he was plagued with hip and foot issues; 2019 season ended with a torn meniscus, and 2020 another season cut short with a torn Achilles.

So as the 2021 NFL Draft approaches, Hooker is still out of a job.  Luckily, for Hooker the safety class this year isn’t particularly strong. Perhaps there will be a team that will take a chance on an injury-prone veteran?

TENNESSEE TITANS

The Titans ranked 29th in passing yards allowed last season.  They also allowed opponents to convert an NFL-worst 51.9% of their third downs. The Titans also lost Malcolm Butler, who was tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Kenny Vaccaro, who recorded one sack, five passes defended, and 72 tackles last season from their secondary. Also, free agency casualties included Adoree Jackson and Desmond King. Per Pro Football Focus, Jackson allowed a 146.3 passer rating, while King was responsible for a 107.5 passer rating with 44 solo tackles, two sacks, and five missed tackles. 

The Titans also have a very recent reputation for giving injury-prone defensive players a one-year make-it deal.  Ahem, enter Jadeveon Clowney’s one-year try last season.  The Clowney experiment was a failure.  Clowney played eight games and ended the season after eight games to have surgery on his left meniscus.  For $13 million, the Titans received zero sacks, 15 solo tackles, six assisted tackles, and one forced fumble.

According to CBS, the projected market value for free-agent safeties is between $11-$15 million. 

Due to injury concerns, Hooker will command nowhere near that amount.  His projected contract is for one year, $2million, with zero guarantees.  The cash strap Titans could take a chance on that.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

The Raiders’ secondary ranked 31st in the NFL for the 2020 season; this makes four straight years they have been languishing on the bottom. 

The Raiders did re-acquire the services of Karl Joseph. Joseph was the Raiders’ first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.  He will join the Gus Bradley-led defense with 2019 first-round pick Johnathan Abram, who played half a game as a rookie, and cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen and last year’s first-round selection Damon Arnette. 

There is also the expectation of what a Bradley secondary will look like.  Historically, Bradley’s defense, specifically the secondary, required a safety that was athletic and rangy.  A person who can cover large areas of the field as the center of the cover 3 defense.  Think Earl Thomas in the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom prime days. 

The Raiders do have eight picks in this year’s 2021 NFL Draft.  However, the safety class is not the strongest.  Their best hope is Trevon Moehrig from TCU.  Even then, the services of a veteran who can (when healthy) fill the role in Bradley’s defense is an option.  Especially when his services can be acquired for minimal cost.

Hooker has amassed 117 total tackles, one tackle for loss, 11 passes defended, seven interceptions, and two fumble recoveries in his 34 NFL games.  In a one-year deal, gambling on his health, if he stays healthy, is a win for the Raiders. 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Per PFF, the Jaguars’ secondary finished last season ranked 30th.  Their safety Josh Jones was graded out 39.2 coverage grade. 

The Jaguars did bolster their secondary with Rayshawn Jenkins and Johnathan Ford’s signings while keeping Josh Jones.  But this would be a chance for Hooker to be reunited with his college coach Urban Meyer and defensive backs coach Chris Ash. 

The problem is the Jaguars already bolstered their secondary and have 10 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft to add depth. 

MALIK HOOKER

Hooker’s fit is a defense that will employ him in a single-high safety role.  The problem is his durability.  His best season per Pro Football Focus was 2018, where he graded out at 81.6.  Since then, he has not graded above 60.

His new projected contract on one year, $1.25 million with zero incentives, should be palatable enough for a team to give him a try.  The Titans have proven they will take a flyer on injured players, and for a lot more than Hooker’s price.  The Raiders seem to always be in a gambling mood, this season being no different.  The Jaguars will give Meyer a chance to rehabilitate one of his collegiate players. 

Hooker just needs to stay healthy for a season, something he has yet to accomplish.

RB Draft Targets For Buffalo Bills: Should The Bills Draft a RB in Round 1?

The Buffalo Bills will enter the 2021 NFL Draft without any immediate worries.  After finishing last season 13-3 only to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game (24-38), the 2021 NFL Draft is here to provide them with depth. With seven picks in the draft, adding depth is what they should do. 

But do they need to draft a running back?

2020 RUN GAME

While the 2020 run game wasn’t a disaster, it wasn’t great either.  The team ranked 24th in rushing yards per game (104.2), 21st in average yards per rush (4.2), and 19th in rushing touchdowns per game (0.9). 

Of course, some of the meh results can be attributed to an offensive line ranked 29th in the league in their run blocking win rate.  And then some of the results have to be placed on the legs of the running backs themselves.

NFL 2020 third-round selection Zach Moss experienced an ‘okay’ season?  In 13 games, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry.  Moss had 114 rushing attempts for 481 yards and four rushing touchdowns.  He did add one receiving touchdown on 18 targets to the stat sheet. 

His counterpart, Devin Singletary, was on the receiving end of 52 targets for 269 receiving yards and zero receiving touchdowns.  He did account for a 4.4 rushing average on 156 carries.  But that resulted in only two rushing touchdowns.

While both backs were ‘capable’ during the 2020 season, it is clear that the Bills’ running game lacks explosiveness and speed.  Both of which can be had in this year’s draft.  Do they dare?

There are two ways the Bills can go about acquiring a running back for the offense.

GOING EARLY IN THE 2021 NFL DRAFT FOR A RUNNING BACK

The Bills could use the 30th selection in the first round or the 61st selection in the second round to acquire more speed and explosiveness in their run game.

TRAVIS ETIENNE, CLEMSON

According to profootballnetwork.com, Etienne has speed, explosiveness, and NFL caliber receiving ability.  He weighed heavier than his playing weight at his pro-day but still finished the 40-yard dash in 4.4.  He completed his senior year at Clemson, leading the ACC in rushing yards. 

His ideal role is a featured back that can attack the edges and contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. His stats speak to his versatility and explosiveness.  He led the ACC in rushing yards (4952); he also added 70 rushing touchdowns, he was also on the receiving end of 102 receptions for 1155 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns. 

There is also the running back from Alabama that can be considered in the first two rounds:

NAJEE HARRIS, ALABAMA

Harris also returned to play his senior year, a year in which he had 26 rushing touchdowns and 1466 yards.  He also added four receiving touchdowns and 425 receiving yards on 43 receptions.  Per ProFootballFocus.com, Harris ranked second in the nation in missed tackles, third in yards after contact, and seventh in carries of 15-plus yards (this is in the SEC).

The DraftNetwork defines Harris as a “blend of power, determination, and versatility as both a between-the-tackles runner and a perimeter rushing threat…Another key attribute on his resume is his ability to finish drives with touchdowns.”

Either running back would add to the Bills’ running offense immediately.  But there are other options.

GOING LATER IN THE 2021 NFL DRAFT FOR A RUNNING BACK

There is a player who may drop to the third-round and be a steal for the Bills.

KENNY GAINWELL, MEMPHIS

Gainwell opted out for the 2020 season after losing three family members to Covid. 

He only has one solid year of tape, but it was a very good year.  Tony Pauline’s draft analysis of Gainwell states, “Explosive and creative ball carrier who is also a solid pass catcher.  Quick, creative, and plays with balance.  Has a burst through the hole, immediately gets to top speed, and has enough speed to turn the corner.”

In Gainwell’s 2019 season, he averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 231 attempts.  He finished with 13 touchdowns and 1459 yards.  He added 610 receiving yards on 51 receptions and three receiving touchdowns. 

The NFL Draft Bible says he is “Extremely explosive in tight spaces.  Gainwell is a blur once he breaks past the second level.”

BUFFALO BILLS 2021 RUN GAME

The Bills have drafted a running back in the third round in the last two years (Singletary 2019, Moss 2020). 

This year’s draft is being praised for its depth in the wide receiver position.  This is an excellent chance for quality running backs to fall.  So maybe the Bills focus on a cornerback and the edge position in the first two rounds.  There will still be quality for their seemingly annual third-round running back acquisition.

NFL 2021: Arizona Cardinals 7-Round Mock Draft

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

The Arizona Cardinals have had a pretty productive free agency period, signing JJ Watt, AJ Green, and Malcolm Butler.  But there are still pressing needs the team needs to address, like running back, cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, and maybe a safety? 

Holding six picks in the upcoming draft should help, but remember they only have two picks in the first two days.  The remaining picks will be in rounds five through seven. 

So who should they pick? 

ROUND 1-PICK 16

CORNERBACK, JAYCEE HORN, SOUTH CAROLINA

It isn’t just the loss of Patrick Peterson.  The Cardinals defense gave up 226.4 passing yards per game last season while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete an average of 22.8 passes a game, with a completion percentage of 64.04%. (stats from teamrankings.com)

Now back to Horn; if the name sounds familiar, it should.  Jaycee Horn is the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn.  Make no mistake about it; Jaycee is his own man.

He played both inside at nickel and on the outside.  Horn is physical at the line of scrimmage, showing a combination of hand strength and lateral mobility, while profiling as the premier press-man cornerback in the 2021 class. Per Sports Info Solutions, Horn allowed nine completions on 29 targets for 130 yards. That gives him a completion percentage of 31% on 4.5 yards per target.  He broke up eight passes and intercepted two, and all this production was done in the very competitive SEC. 

The most heard complaint is that he will be penalty prone at the next level.  During the 2020 season, he was flagged for five penalties on 466 snaps.  He competes on every snap, is aggressive, has the ball-hawking skills, speed, and athleticism to make a difference in the Cardinals secondary. 

ROUND 2 PICK 49

RUNNING BACK, KENNETH GAINWELL, MEMPHIS

The Cardinals offense scored the fifth-fewest points in the league over the final three weeks, losing five of their final seven games and missing the playoffs. Some of the offensive woes can be attributed to the run game or Kyler Murray’s run game; the Cardinals were 0-3 when he did not run for 20 yards and 2-4 when he ran for under 30.

According to the Washington Post, Kenyan Drake was stuffed the second-most times in NFL.  Drake is gone.  There is some trepidation about picking a running back this early, but remember, the Cardinals will not pick again until round five.

Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season.  The important fact is that Gainwell is a running back who is a pass-catching specialist.  Pro Football Network’s draft analysis on him includes “explosive and creative ball catcher who plays with balance.  Deceptively strong, with good vision, and is a terrific receiver.” During his 2019 season in Memphis, he lined up in the slot, outside, and in the backfield. 

He won’t be a three-down back, but the Cardinals have Chase Edmonds, so they aren’t necessarily looking for one.  Gainwell will provide an extra element to Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. 

ROUND 3 PICK 79

This pick now belongs to the Las Vegas Raiders

ROUND 4 PICK 122

This pick now belongs to the New England Patriots from Arizona through Houston Texans

ROUND 5 PICK 160

WIDE RECEIVER, SAGE SURRATT, WAKE FOREST

Surratt has not played since November 2019, when he suffered a shoulder injury.  In the 2019 season before injury, he played 686 snaps, 148 snaps were from the slot, and 529 were wide.  Pro Football Focus gave him an overall receiving grade of 83.4 and an 85.2 grade vs. man coverage. 

He opted out of the 2020 season.  At 6’2″ and 215 pounds, he has good size and good hands.  Although he does not have some of the other wide receivers’ speed and athleticism in this class, Surratt can get vertical and plays to his size.  Most importantly, he is an excellent blocker both against the rush and downfield. 

Per ProFootballnetwork.com draft analysis, “He tracks the pass in the air effectively times receptions and displays soft hands.”

ROUND 6 PICK 201

This pick now belongs to the New York Giants

ROUND 7 PICK 243

DEFENSIVE BACK, TRE NORWOOD, OKLAHOMA

Norwood played both corner and safety for Oklahoma. In the 2020 season, he had five interceptions, seven pass breakups, and 23 tackles.  He will also bring kick and punt coverage experience with him. 

ROUND 7 PICK 247

OFFENSIVE TACKLE, SPENCER BROWN, NORTHERN IOWA

Murray completed 77.1% of his passes when throwing from a clean pocket.  That percentage dropped to 32.8% when pressured. 

Unsure if Brown will last this long and perhaps a flip with pick 243 if he is still on the board?  His draft status has fallen slightly, as his showing at the Senior Bowl was good but not great.  He also opted out of the 2020 season, which isn’t a negative, but teams have less to go on. 

However, per NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein, Brown is a “towering tackle prospect with the hands, feet, and length in place to become a quality pass protector on the next level.”

2021 NFL DRAFT

There has already been plenty of movement in the draft position, and the draft is still two weeks away.  The Cardinals took measures to tighten up their defense during free agency.  The acquisition of AJ Green can be seen as a nod to the offense, but it is clear that Murray needs more than just his own rushing ability and DeAndre Hopkins. 

Maybe they acquire more draft capital, but as it stands, drafting with what they have will require some hard choices in the first two rounds and some deep dives in the last days of the draft.

Top Draft Targets for Seattle Seahawks: Is Pass Protection a Priority?

Make no mistake about it; the Seattle Seahawks will limp into the 2021 NFL Draft with only three draft picks currently available.  And although they have made some necessary free agent moves, there is still a lot to be done.

LAST SEASON

The Seahawks finished last season 12-4.  They lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card Playoffs 20-30. 

And while the Seahawks offense was spectacular the first half of the season it faltered the second half. Quarterback Russell Wilson was rocking a 91.3 passing grade (second-best in the NFL) for the first eight games. After that his passing grade plummeted to a 75.2 (14th in the NFL).

That was the exact opposite of what the defense did, they were bad the first half of the season giving up 29.1 points per game. They turned it around the second half, thanks in part to a lighter schedule and the acquisitions of Jamal Adams and Carlos Dunlap. In the last seven games they gave up an average of 13.1 points per game.

For all the uproar regarding their offensive line, Pro Football Focus had raked them as the 14th best offensive line in the NFL for the 2020 season.  They received a ranking of 16 as a pass-blocking unit, which is the highest they have been ranked since Wilson has been in Seattle. Sure Wilson was sacked 47 times, the third-most in the league, but he has to shoulder some of the blame. 

According to Next-gen stats measurements of how long it takes a quarterback to release the ball from the point of snap, Wilson was fifth on the list.  This translates to him holding onto the ball longer than most quarterbacks.  The quarterbacks above him were: Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield.  So maybe ease up on the sky is falling because the offensive line is so bad narrative?

The defense was not particularly good last season, even with the second half surge.  The Seahawks defense allowed 285 passing yards a game (31st in the NFL), the back unit had a 51.8 coverage grade (29th in the NFL) while they forced only a 6.4% incompletion rate (29th in the NFL).  The defense was 25th ranked defense in pressure rate, with none of the defensive linemen ranking in Pro Football Focus’s top 45 players at their position in pass-rush grades. 

2021 FREE AGENCY

The Seahawks list of departed players include:

Shaquill Griffin, cornerback; Carlos Hyde, running back; Jacob Hollister, tight end; and David Moore, wide receiver, defensive end Carlos Dunlap was released. 

The Seahawks list of players retained or acquired during free agency include:

Chris Carson, running back; Poona Ford, defensive tackle; Ethan Pocic, center; Nick Bellore, fullback and left guard Gabe Jackson will all be playing in Seattle for the 2021 season.

2021 NFL DRAFT

Although it is expected general manager John Schneider will work his draft day magic and acquire more picks, the Seahawks currently have three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.  They are scheduled to pick in round two, round four, and round seven. 

TOP THREE DRAFT TARGETS

ROUND 2, 56TH PICK: JOE TRYON, EDGE, UNIVERSITY of WASHINGTON, 6’4”, 251 pounds

Tryon opted out of the 2020 season.  His stats for 2019 include eight sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss in 13 games.  According the thedraftnetwork.com, “Setting the edge in the NFL will be no issue for this player.  He is explosive off the edge and projects with elite upside with pro-coaching.  He has true schematic versatility in that he can be an outside linebacker in an odd front scheme or can gain weight and be a 4-3 defensive end.”

ROUND 4, 129TH PICK: ALARIC JACKSON, LEFT TACKLE, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, 6’5”, 321 pounds, WINGSPAN 83”, ARM 32.5”, HAND 9.5”

IOWA’S PRO DAY:

20 REP ON BENCH PRESS

25” VERTICAL JUMP

7.70 SECONDS IN THREE-CONE DRILL

5.38, 40-YARD DASH TIME

Jackson started all eight games at left tackle in the 2020 season.  ProFootballNetwork.com projects Jackson as one of the few tackle prospects who can project to the interior.  They also commented that Jackson is a “strong, powerful blocker and has a tangible mauler mentality.”

ROUND 7, 250TH PICK,  ROBERT ROCHELL, CB, CENTRAL ARKANSAS, 6’2”, 176 pounds

The 2021 NFL Draft is loaded with cornerback talent. With the limitations in draft options, the Seahawks will be looking for the “diamond in the rough” in this position, enter Rochell.  Rochell’s 2020 was uninspiring, including his Senior Bowl appearance. 

Walterfootball.com reports that Rochell recorded nine interceptions over the past two years and possesses good height and length for the NFL.  

CONCLUSION

There is an argument to be made that the Seahawks will need to acquire a third wide receiver with the departure of Moore.  While the 2021 NFL Draft is also deep in the wide receiver position, there are still quality wide receivers that can be acquired via free agency.  Unless Schneider can work some magic on draft day, the options for the Seahawks are limited.  The necessity will be to bolster a bad defense and perhaps appease a disgruntled quarterback with a throw-in option.

3 Quarterback Targets For Washington Football Team

Who Should WFT Target?

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

Against all odds, the Washington Football Team made the playoffs last season. Yes, it was mostly on the backs of their defense but the offense wasn’t horrible. And now with the 2021 NFL season getting underway the WFT has eight picks in the 2021 NFL Draft to rectify the problem. More importantly, however, they have approximately $58.8 million available is salary cap space to get their offense back on track.

HOW IT STARTED

The WFT started with medium level of concern for their offense. The worry of course was directed on the position under center. They started with Dwayne Haskins as the starter. There was recently acquired Kyle Allen as his backup, newly healed Alex Smith as the third option and undrafted Steve Montez on the practice squad.

HOW IT IS

Now at the beginning of 2021 things look slightly different. Haskins has been shipped off to Pittsburgh, Allen is an exclusive rights free agent who is recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in his fourth start after replacing Haskins. Smith who replaced Allen, suffered an injury that led to him not being able to play in the wild -card round was recently let go a saving the WFT about $15 million against the cap.

Speaking of which Taylor Heinicke was called from his studies to come in and play. Called up in December, Heinicke started in the wild-card round of the playoffs replacing an injured Smith. In that game the Heinicke tossed two touchdowns and had 346 yards from scrimmage.

Heinicke signed a two-year $8.75 million contract with Washington.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

So with Heinicke under contract and undrafted Colorado University product Steve Montez as the two quarterbacks left standing, the WFT needs to at the very least get competition in the quarterback room. At the most they need to get a veteran starter under center to compete in what has suddenly become a more competitive NFC East division.

There are three quarterback options the team needs to target if it has a chance to retain their crown.

QUARTERBACK #3

MARCUS MARIOTA, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Although it has been reported that the trade market has dried up for Mariota, it is because of his incentive laden contract, not because of performance anxiety.

Mariota played in one game last season. He had 26 passing attempts, 17 completions, 226 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception and one rushing touchdown on 88 rushing yards. He showed a glimpse of why he was drafted second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. For his six seasons he has a 62.9% completion with 77 passing touchdowns a 45 interceptions. He has also rushed for 1487 yards and 12 touchdowns.

There are downsides to this acquisition. Trade for Mariota is not an option, it would be too costly. Although his base salary of about $10 million is palatable, the incentive-laden contract could be worth $37.5 million. And then of course there are the issues with his health. In six seasons he has had an MCL sprain, a broken fibula, sprained elbow, neck stinger, and pulled hamstring. But what is perhaps the biggest barrier, is that Mariota has been consistently linked to the New England Patriots. This scenario has the Patriots waiting patiently for the Raiders to cut Mariota and then they will swoop in and acquire his services.

ESPN appears to be the loudest voice in the Mariota to New England claim. Which is okay, the WFT has other options.

QUARTERBACK #2

TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, CAROLINA PANTHERS

It is pretty clear that the Carolina Panthers are looking elsewhere for their starting quarterback for the 2021 season. From courting Matthew Stafford to vying for the services of Deshaun Watson, they clearly believe that Bridgewater is not the answer.

Bridgewater started off the 2020 season pretty good. In his first nine games he threw 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions. In Weeks 3-5, he had five touchdowns, one interception while completing 74% of his passes. He was also only sacked two times.

And then he suffered a knee injury in Week 10 that forced him to miss a game. His offensive line became unstable and the start running back Christian McCaffrey became unavailable. In their last five games, Bridgewater threw two touchdowns, four interceptions, with a 62.9% completion rate and was sacked 12 times. He went 0-8 on game winning or tying drives and finished the season 4-11.

While this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, keep this in mind. The WFT put a franchise tag on Brandon Scherff, solidifying their offensive line. And then there is the familiarity card, offensive coordinator Scott Turner was the quarterback coach when Bridgewater was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

QUARTERBACK #1

CAM NEWTON, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Speaking of familiarity, Newton wins this hand. He would be potentially be reunited with head coach Ron Rivera (2011-2019) and Turner who was Newton’s quarterback coach in 2018 and 2019. That means he walks into the door knowing the playbook right from the start.

Last season in New England was less than stellar, but so was his supporting cast. The wide receiving corps was led by Jakobi Meyers who finished the season with 729 yards and zero touchdowns.

That Newton may still possess a glimpse of what made him so valuable to a team is certified by the fact that last season he was second on the team in rushing yards (592) while leading the team in rushing touchdowns (12). He also ranked 14th in Pro Football Focus deep passer rating, going 14-of-29 for 414 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, and one drop.

Even though Rivera ended up picking up Allen instead of Newton last season, he did heap high praise on Newton stating, “Honestly, if the circumstances would have allowed us, I would have had no issues signing Newton.”

The circumstances suddenly seem to be favoring a Newton-Rivera reunion. Newton signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last season that only guaranteed him $550,000 and a base of only $1.05 million. Now Newton has a little more to prove and paying for a one-year deal, with the WFT just feels right.

Top 3 Landing Spots for Keanu Neal

Where Will Neal Land?

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

To say that Keanu Neal’s NFL career has been a roller coaster of productivity is an understatement. His 2016-2017 seasons he accumulated 222 total tackles, six tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and one interception. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in the 2017 season.

“Keanu Neal” by Thomson20192 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Both his 2018 and 2019 seasons were cut short due to injuries, a torn ACL, and a ruptured Achilles. He finished those two seasons with a combined 16 total tackles and one quarterback hits. He played in a total of four games for the two seasons.

Last season during a global pandemic he had a bounce-back year. Playing in 15 games he collected 100 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and one interception.

Two things are clear about Neal. He is more of a glorified linebacker than a deep free safety. He likes to tackle. Pro Football Reference had him down for a 9.9% missed tackle percentage. In 2020, he was in on 27 of the Atlanta Falcons blitzes and he collected six pressures. According to 247Sports, he excels as a box safety but shows weakness in coverage. To sum that up, last season opposing quarterbacks had a 98.3 passer rating when targeting him (66 attempts). He gave up 74.2% of those targets for 564 yards and a touchdown. But he is a tackling machine who when allowed to play near the line or in the box excels.

The second is because of his durability issues, Neal will most likely be signed on a one-year prove it contract. That shouldn’t be a problem as there are plenty of teams whose defense can use a run stopping safety.

Minnesota Vikings

Last season the Vikings were 23rd in yards per carry allowed (4.6) and allowed an average of 393.3 yards per game which was 27th in the league. Although the Vikings’ defense weak link is in coverage, and there is a chance they lose Anthony Harris to free agency, the Vikings defense gives up too many big plays, allowing scores on too many drives, and just isn’t as dominant in any phase of their defense. The physical nature of Mike Zimmer’s defenses has been missing. That is where Neal excels. In addition, according to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings have missed 135 tackles in the 2020 season, 30 more than last season. Another area where Neal excels.

The major obstacle is that the Vikings are predicted to be $9,449,781 over the salary cap. There is no money to bring in a free agent of Neal’s caliber unless they do some drastic slashing.

New York Jets

The good news in New York is that the Jets are predicted to have $68,725,814 to spend in free agency, according to Overthecap.com. They also have 10 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.

New head coach Robert Saleh has spent all of his 15 years in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball. His defensive coordinator, Jeff Ulbrich, was most recently the linebackers and interim defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.

Last season the Jets’ defense was 27th in yards allowed and 31st against the pass. They were somewhat competent in stopping the run, ranking 12th in that category. They were however, second in that category in 2019.

With Saleh it is expected that the Jets’ defense will concentrate on bringing pressure from the defensive line. (Saleh has stated that he will not be calling plays, leaving that to his defensive coordinator). And rumors out of New York include talk that the Jets will concentrate more on defense this year than on offense. That is where Neal enters into the conversation. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, “be surprised if the Jets don’t show interest in the Falcons’ safety,” given his experience with Ulbrich.

Neal would fit into what Saleh likes on his defense, speed and tackling. And there is a defensive coordinator who knows his skill set.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars need help on both sides of the ball and are in a position to get it. Not only do they have the number one pick in the NFL 2021 Draft, but are predicted to lead the NFL in available cap space with $77,514,963.

The Jaguars’ defense finished 30th in opponents rushing yards per game allowed (153.2) and 31st in opponents points per game allowed (30.8) per NFL teamrankings.com. After giving up most of their defensive playmakers in that last couple of seasons, they need to start acquiring playmakers.

If it weren’t for his two injury plagued seasons, Neal would be commanding more attention in free agency. As it is, last season he showed a glimpse of his capabilities. Although the Jaguars will have Jarrod Wilson starting at one safety position, it is a completely different skill set.

Neal’s ideal working space is near the line of scrimmage and in the middle of the field. With a completely revamped coaching regime, most taken from the collegiate ranks, it is unclear what exactly the Jaguars will look like on either side of the ball. But taking a one year shot at Neal who could return to his Pro Bowl form (or be hampered with injuries) seems like a safe bet on a team that was once known for its quality defense.

Neal

Pro Football Focus has Neal ranked as one of the top 100 free agents available. Given the talents that are obviously there a team getting Neal on what will most likely be a one-year prove it contract is a bargain.

3 Potential Landing Spots For Ricardo Allen

Where Will Ricardo Allen Land?

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

The Atlanta Falcons are entering 2021 with a new head coach, a new general manager and -$11,686,845 over the salary cap. That is even after releasing Ricardo Allen and Allen Bailey.

Allen has spent his six season with the Falcons, after being drafted in the fifth round in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was cut, then put on the practice squad. From there he became a starter, a Super Bowl starter and eventual team captain.

“Ricardo Allen” by Thomson20192 is marked with CC0 1.0

Last season he had 25 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games. For the 2021 season where will he land?

SAN FRANCISCO NINERS

The Niners are entering the 2021 season with a new defensive coordinator, and 37 players entering free agency. Of the 37, six are cornerbacks that suited up in 2020. In addition they currently only have $20,448,360 to spend in free agency.

It is predicted that not much will change from Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme to new DC DeMeco Ryans’. So the scheme that puts a premium on the big bodied boundary corners that excel in zone coverage, does not exactly fit Allen’s style.

Allen stands at 5’9″. But he has played both safety and zone. And his work ethic cannot be denied, along with his leadership qualities. If the Niners cannot resign Richard Sherman, and it is beginning to look like they won’t, Allen provides the combination of on-field ability and veteran presence the Niners will need.

DENVER BRONCOS

The Broncos have no cornerback under contract for 2021 season who started at least 10 games last season and is not returning from injury. The three cornerbacks that are returning: Bryce Callahan, Essang Bassey and Duke Dawson all finished last season on the IR.

The Broncos finished the season with the NFL worst turnover margin (-16), which wasn’t helped by the offense, but also due to the fact they were tied for 23rd in the NFL with only 10 interceptions for the season.

The Broncos need at cornerback could include obtaining the veteran Allen at a lower price, than the bigger named cornerbacks on the market.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Stay with me here, the Rams new defensive coordinator is Raheem Morris, IS fresh off his stint as interim head coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Allen was one of the most vocal voices to keep Morris as head coach.

Allen is preparing for his life after playing football. How intriguing would it be for Morris and wonderkid Sean McVay to hire Allen in a coaching capacity?

This is something that Allen is looking to do. His words, “But even if this league doesn’t want me no more then they’re going to have to coach against me. Hey, if they’re ready to get me on that other side and they’re ready to retire me out of here, sooner or later they’re going to have to coach against me. I’m ready for my opportunity. I’ve been blessed enough to be with this team for seven years now. I’m a smart player, I do pretty good with my money so I put myself in pretty good opportunities.”

There is no reason one of the best landing spots for Allen isn’t on the field playing but on the field coaching.

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