NFL: Free Agency can’t come soon enough



The NFL draft filled some clubs needs, but not all teams, and not all holes. Once the labor talks have ended, Free Agency will be fast and furious. To be eligible for unrestricted free agency, a player must have six years of playing experience.

Limited free agency in early March included San Diego signing safety Bob Sanders, Washington picking up safety O.J. Atogwe, the Panthers adding tight end Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans coming to terms with defensive lineman Shaun Rogers and the Patriots trying to fill the Richard Seymour vacancy from a year ago with his college teammate at Georgia, Marcus Stroud.

Many teams are in need of a quarterback and there’s not exactly a deep pool of signal callers. Teams like Washington, Miami, Buffalo, Seattle and Arizona failed to address the need in the draft.  Baltimore’s Marc Bulger, Houston’s Matt Leinart, Tennessee’s  Vince Young and Seattle’s’ Matt Hasselbeck are expected to garner the most interest. Veteran Redskins QB Donovan McNabb and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer are not expected to return to their current teams and may end up being the most sought after. When all is said and done, it may resemble the movie Trading Places.

There is no shortage of running backs, with Miami’s duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, San Diego specialist Darren Sproles and Cincinnati workhorse Cedric Benson possibly on the move.

A real mixed bag at wide receiver led by veterans Terrell Owens, Steve Smith and Randy Moss. The younger set of former high draft picks; the Jets tandem of  Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes along with my favorite, Minnesota’s Sidney Rice. How about Plaxico Burress? Who will give the troubled former Giants star a second chance.

Three offensive tackles with a solid pedigree, Baltimore’s Jared Gaither, Washington’s Jamaal Brown and Matt Light of the Patriots will be heavily pursued as immediate starters.

The premiere defensive lineman in free agency is Green Bay end Cullen Jenkins. Those looking for linebackers will be taking a long look at Washington’s Rocky McIntosh and San Francisco veteran Takeo Spikes.

The most sought after free agency will undoubtedly be Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The entire NFC East is said to be lining up to bid on Oakland’s shut down cover man. Other corners certain to attract interest include Washington’s Carlos Rogers and the Jets Antonio Cromartie.

Free Agency will not be limited to veterans. Clubs have had time to review and analyze top college talent that slipped through the draft. We will visit that another day.

NBA Draft: Early Entrants, Combine and Lottery


Sunday night was the deadline for college basketball stars to submit their names to be considered for the NBA draft. Some have already withdrawn, opting to  return to school, others may as well by the June 13th deadline. With uncertainty due to potential NBA labor strife, a surprising number of top players decided to forgo the draft. At the same time, others that will go undrafted, opted to hire agents, giving up their college eligibility.

In advance of the draft, a combine will be held in Chicago next week. 54 players will undergo physicals and interviews with prospective teams. Players will also have the option to participate in drills if they so choose. Historically, those invited to the combine are drafted, so the list is a fairly good peak.

Notable players withdrawing from draft (over weekend):

Ashton Gibbs- Pittsburgh

Reggie Johnson- Miami

Terrence Jones- Kentucky

Here are the top early entrants: (in no particular order)


Enes Kanter- Kentucky


Tobias Harris- Tennessee

Jordan Williams- Maryland

Derrick Williams- Arizona

Trey Thompkins- Georgia

Tyler Honeycutt- UCLA

Scotty Hopson- Tennessee

Kawhi Leonard- San Diego State

Tristan Thompson- Texas

Markieff Morris- Kansas

Marcus Morris- Kansas

Chris Singleton- Florida State


Kyrie Irving- Duke

Brandon Knight- Kentucky

Alec Burks- Colorado

Kemba Walker- Connecticut

Josh Shelby- Kansas

Travis Leslie- Georgia

Shelvin Mack- Butler

Jordan Hamilton- Texas

Klay Thompson- Washington State

Darius Morris- Michigan

Note: 20 international players have also filed eligibility paperwork

With no natural centers leaving early, expect international bigs to get attention early.

7’0″ Donatas Motiejunas (Italy)

6’11” Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania)

6’11” Jan Vesely (Serbia)

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held on Tuesday night at halftime of the Western Conference finals. In order, Minnesota, Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, Sacramento and Utah (from New Jersey) have the greatest chance of picking first. Seven teams will have two selections in the first round. Cleveland, Utah, Washington, Charlotte, Minnesota, Houston and Chicago have an extra pick due to trades.

The 2011 NBA draft will be held on Tuesday, June 23rd at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.

NFL Draft Review: AFC West



The Denver Broncos landed Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller with the 2nd pick of the 1st round. Miller was without question the top linebacker in the draft, but may be smallish to play defensive end. As the Broncos move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, look for Miller at outside linebacker, perhaps at end on passing downs. Miller and Elvis Dumervil should help Denver improve on an NFL low 23 sacks a year ago. The Broncos picked up a pair of potential starters in the 2nd round in UCLA safety Rahim Moore and guard Orlando Franklin from the U. Moore fills a position of need and like Miller was the top player at his position in the draft. Franklin is 6’6″ 320 with versatility to play either inside or outside. Franklin may not have the athleticism to play tackle, but is expected to get a look at right tackle and left guard.

The Oakland Raiders brought in more quantity that quality, with six players capable of making a contribution. Penn State guard Stefen Wisnieski was considered a reach in the 2nd round but should start at either guard or center. Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke is a typical Oakland pick, more of a track athlete than football player. With Nnamdi Asomugha departing in free agency, corner is definitely a position of need. Ohio State corner Chimdi Chekwa is a man cover corner and was good value in the 4th round. LSU offensive tackle Joe Barksdale was a three-year starter and eventually projects as a bookend to left tackle Jared Veldheer. Oakland didn’t need a running back, but picked up small school start Taiwan Jones. Out of Eastern Washington, Jones has a blend of decent size and speed and should contribute on special teams as a rookie. Tennessee receiver Denarius Moore was very productive for the Vols and will run out of the slot.

Not an exciting draft for San Diego with a defensive tackle taken in the opening round. Illinois’ Corey Liguet figures to move outside in the Chargers 3-4 scheme, as they have a huge need at end. Clemson cornerback Marcus Gilchrist has versatility with the ability to cover slot receivers back at safety, early in his career. Home town start Vincent Brown put up excellent numbers at San Diego State and was good value given the Chargers uncertainty at wide out. Brown’s speed and size don’t jump out at you, but he runs excellent routes and should develop into a favorite of Philip Rivers. Connecticut running back Jordan Todman may turn out to be a steal in the 6th round. Todman doesn’t have the size to run between the tackles, but will be a nice spare to complement Ryan Matthews. Todman could also contribute on special teams.

The best draft in the AFC West, hands down, goes to the Kansas City Chiefs. Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin has the chance to be as good as either A.J.Green or Julio Jones. Comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald are valid, at least potentially. Baldwin is 6’5″ 230, with a 42” vertical and excellent speed. KC should be able to count on he and Dwayne Bowe for years go come. Florida State’s Rodney Hudson was arguably the top interior offensive lineman in the draft. Hudson fills an area of need as the Chiefs are aging in the middle. Georgia’s Justin Houston was considered by some 1st round talent, so getting him in a 3rd round was a real coup.  Houston is huge, 6’3″ 270, with great athleticism and speed to rush on the edge. The Chiefs also picked up a pair of defensive line who should be in the rotation immediately Miami defensive end Allen Bailey and Jerrell Powe of Ole Miss are both very talented, and real value late in the draft. The Chiefs picked up their developmental quarterback getting  Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi in the 5th round.

NFL Draft Review: AFC South



Our review of the AFC South begins in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars identified the future face of their franchise and made a move to get him.  The Jags making a move for Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. With David Garrard still on board, Gabbert will have the luxury of watching and learning without having to be force-fed. Gabbert will also benefit with a Pro Bowl running back along side and a serviceable offensive line. Lehigh guard Will Rackley, the Jags 3rd round pick, has versatility to play anywhere along the line. Jacksonville stayed small school in the 4th round with Mount Union wide receiver Cecil Shorts. A real area of need, Shorts will not only compete for a starting job at receiver, he is reliable on special teams.

The Houston Texans were pretty much guaranteed to be looking corner in the 1st round, but surprised many by taking Wisconsin defensive lineman J.J.Watt. The Texans like Watt so much they are exploring a move of All Pro defensive end Mario Williams from end to outside linebacker. Pass rush was the focus atop the draft with Arizona edge rusher Brooks Reed the selection in round two. An end in college, Reed projects as an OLB in the Texans new 3-4 alignment. Houston did get its cover corner, but waited until round two to do so, landing Miami’s Brandon Harris. Houston with great value and another corner in round 4 with Rashad Carmichael from Virginia Tech. A developmental quarterback in North Carolina’s T.J.Yates came in round five.

As Peyton Manning continues to age, it becomes more and more important for the Indianapolis Colts to provide excellent protection up front. Massive offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, 6’7″ 315, comes via Boston College and will eventually be tasked with protecting Manning’s blind side. In the 2nd round, the Colts stayed with big uglies getting Villanova lineman Ben Ijalana. Ijalana has the versatility to play inside or outside. Indy with an absolute steal in the 3rd round, getting LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis. Nevis is an ideal fit for the Colts one gap scheme. Nevis’ interior penetration reminds me of Nick Fairley lite. In the 4th round, the Colts added another running back to a very crowded, competitive situation. Delone Carter from Syracuse is a load at 5’9 225 pounds.

The biggest surprise of the first round was the Titans selection of Washington quarterback Jake Locker. It was no surprise that Tennessee selected a quarterback, just that Locker was selected with Gabbert still on the board. The Titans bolstered their defense in the 2nd and 3rd rounds with UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers and  USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. It would have come to no surprise had both been selected much higher in the draft. Tennessee focused on selected productive players at big time programs, Miami linebacker Colin McCarthy, Clemson fullback Jamie Harper and Auburn defensive lineman Zach Clayton all fit the bill.

We wrap up our previews tomorrow with a look at the AFC West

NFL Draft Review: AFC North



Another solid draft for Pittsburgh. At the top, the AFC champs addressed both lines. Cameron Heyward can play inside or outside in the 3-4 and along with D’Qwan Bowers has the biggest upside at the position. The Steelers continue to rebuild their aging D-line, Heyward is a nice complement to Ziggy Hood. Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert also has excellent upside. Like Heyward, Gilbert has the versatility to play multiple positions and could contribute at both guard and tackle as Pittsburgh has a need at both. Texas defensive back Curtis Brown should also be part of the rotation as a rookie. Brown also excels on special teams both as a return man and as a gunner.

The Cleveland Browns were the recipient of a draft day gift courtesy of Atlanta. The Falcons giving up five elite picks for the right to move up to take Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.  Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor is a load and should start from day one as Cleveland moves from the 3-4 to the 4-3. Pitt’s Jabaal Sheard was a nice pickup in round two and will provide rush on the edge. With their extra 2nd rounder, Colt McCoy gets a much-needed target in North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little.  One of many Tar Heels sitting out 2010 due to off the field issues, Little is tremendous running after the catch. The Browns went to the Pac 10 in the 4th round, getting Southern Cal tight end Cameron Jordan and Stanford  fullback Owen Marecic. Jordan, a former basketball player brings athleticism to the position, while Marecic was a two way star for the Cardinal. With Peyton Hills at tail back following the lead blocking of Marecic. the Browns should have a nice power running game.  The gift keeps on giving as the Browns will have Atlanta’s 1st and 4th round picks in the 2012 draft.

Three teams are the prototype for rebuilding through the draft while staying competitive. The New England Patriots, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore identified two players that fit a need prior to the draft and got them both.  Colorado Jimmy Smith was a top-15 talent that slipped due to “character” concerns. Smith was the second best cover corner in the draft, behind only the freakish Patrick Peterson. Age is creeping up on the Ravens defense and Smith may push for a starting role in September.  Baltimore picked up the fast, athletic receiver they needed in local product Torrey Smith. Smith was electrifying in the return game at Maryland and will be the perfect complement to Anquan Boldin. Jay Reid arrives from Central Florida and projects as the long-term bookend offensive tackle with Michael Oher. I like what the Ravens did at the end of the draft getting Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Georgia Tech running back Anthony Allen. GM Ozzie Newsome is raving about what Taylor may add, while Allen is a nice power back option to supplement Ray Rice.

The Cincinnati Bengals are at a crossroads as older big name players are moving on. Quarterback Carson Palmer and receivers Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens appear to be moving on. A.J, Green was the most complete receiver in the class and will start from day one. Green and Jordan Shipley should be a nice combination for years to come. What will the Bengals do at quarterback? Andy Dalton was the man they targeted and they were elated to pick him up in the second round. Dalton appears a perfect fit for new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s west coast offense. LB Dontay Moch runs an amazing 4.4 and brings athleticism to the linebacker corps. Along with former USC studs Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers, Cincinnati appears to be in good shape at linebacker for quite some time.

Tomorrow we review the AFC South