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"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
NFC NORTH 2009 DRAFT
Richard L Gale finds a division full of young quarterbacks, and a couple of teams drafting to give those passers a tougher time
Adjusted Draft Grade B+
• Needing a couple of defensive ends, the Bears took two sound ones in the mid–rounds. Grabbing 'win–now' players may be easier for team selecting at the top of the draft, but in Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton, the Bears get two players with good upside, and who both come from NFL families — Gilbert's father was a starting lineman for the Saints, Melton is the nephew of former Lions CB Ray Crockett — suggesting that sooner or later they're going to be worthwhile pros. Melton is the forgotten end from Texas, the guy who played opposite Brian Orakpo, and he has workable athleticism, while Gilbert, listed by many services as an end, spent his senior year at defensive tackle, where he logged 22 tackles for loss.
• Both of the above suite the 4–3 well, and so does Marcus Freeman, an OLB taken in the fifth round who could have been high up the draft boards were it not for worries about a college career punctuated by injuries.
• It was widely believed that Jay Cutlers' targets in Chicago would not live up to the new quarterback, but the Bears added a terrific outlet receiver in Juaquin Iglesias, who runs crisp routes, has soft hands, and gets yards after the catch. He had 2000 yards the past two seasons, with 1300 more as a returner. He could be the next Wes Welker. Of course, the Bears already have Devin Hester, and later pick Johnny Knox is a small target who makes catches and has blazing speed, so it will be interesting to see how these three co–exist on the roster. Meanwhile, the Bears still have no big receiver. Kinder is a solid receiver who doesn't mind traffic, but never fully recaptured his form from an '07 injury. With last year's 3rd round pick Earl Bennett a former teammate of Cutler's at Vanderbilt, it's hard to see Kinder getting the breaks to stay.
• Cornerback DJ Moore's receiving and return skills may not be called upon much around the above talent, and he doesn't match an immediate need at corner for the Bears, but he is instinctive and could become a valuable cover player down the road. He was certainly a steal in 4th round.
• Not a great draft, but a real good draft for a team with no first day picks and a franchise QB and all–pro OT already in their back pocket. The Bears also needed a guard but went there a little late, selecting only Louis. They didn't bring in many noteworthy free agents after the draft, but QB Chase Patton of Missouri is considered by some to be a better pro prospect than the man he backed up, Chase Daniel.
Adjusted Draft Grade B
• Let's pause for a moment and appreciate what they drafted in Matthew Stafford. He is a franchise QB who can make all the throws, who justifies hope for a new beginning for a franchise and a city that needs a lift... just don't expect everything at once, because quarterbacks can't solve everything on their own. Which is why the Lions then drafted TE Brandon Pettigrew so that Stafford has a big target (Pettigrew is also an excellent blocker) alongside star receiver Calvin Johnson. And then here comes Derrick Williams, a worker who doesn't have perfect hands, but who knows how to find space in traffic and is a return threat who doubles as a nice slot receiver.
• Later TE selection Dan Gronkowski is probably more of a blocker, never having had big numbers except in the weight room, where he was a stand–out. The Lions needed some blockers, but OL Lydon Murtha was niggled through his college career, so is no sure answer to anything.
• Safety Louis Delmas was the first player selected in Round 2, and has a Round 1 temperament. His 200 lb frame means he is at the cornerback end of free safety, but he moves as well as a cornerback. He plays within himself, and won't be a liability as a rookie. The bust potential on Delmas is extremely low.
• Of the defensive players likely to be ignored by the media in the Stafford–frenzy: Zack Follett is an outside linebacker who figures well against the run, and who can force the ball loose. However, his coverage skills leave something to be desired. Conversely, DeAndre Levy is light and quick and better at coverage. Neither is convincing as anything more than special teamers or bit–part players, so they could have done better in their linebacker search. Nor on the line: Sammie Hill is a dumpy DT who is making a big jump. Keep an eye out for undrafted DL John Gill of Northwestern who, like Hill, has the ability to beat blocks and handle double–teams, but may be a better worker.
• Considering they were choosing from the top and had two first round picks, the Lions didn't ace the draft, but they took the player that they needed psychologically, and immediately set about giving him teammates he could use. There several other players here who will need to find their niche, and Lions fans can expect no quick fix, but after an 0–16 campaign, this looked a lot like progress, and any flicker of that is good.
Green Bay Packers
Adjusted Draft Grade A
• The Packers were 26th in the league against the rush last season, contributing to a defensive outing that undermined their 8th ranked offense. They addressed that in the draft, bringing some defensive terror in the form of Raji and Matthews, who give the Packers teeth now and for the future respectively. Raji is being sold to the media as an interior sack artist — he has eight in '08 — but he is here to shut down runners and he will do that. It is Matthews who will seek out opposing quarterbacks. The son of former Browns linebacker Clay Matthews, this USC product might be the best of the Trojan pass–rushers in a year or two, progressing as he did in college from walk–on to special teamer to starter. To begin with, he'll bring some situational zeal only, but he could play OLB or DE for the Packers for years.
• The Pack needed some offensive linemen too, and located a fierce battler in TJ Lang, who played both right and left tackle in college but could be an offensive guard in the pros. He could be valuable line depth until a start job opens up. Left–side lineman Jamon Meredith is quick and athletic enough to handle speed rushers, and was clearly undervalued in the 5th round.
• Another need addressed was at CB, where late–drafted Brandon Underwood represents good moves and height. He played at both free safety and corner his senior year, and racked up some good statistics, but needs to hone his body a little before he can be declared a steal.
• Also of note: Fullback Quinn Johnson, a pure battering ram recruited from high–school as a linebacker, and undrafted free agent tight end Brandon Ledbetter, a productive yet slightly built 6–5, 236 receiver who is more like a big wideout. Add in 7th rounder Brad Jones, and the Packers at least addressed seven of what I consider their top eight needs — all eight if Ledbetter makes the grade. All of these players fit the Packers offensive and defensive systems well, and there was a good mixture of 'now' and 'later' prospects.
Adjusted Draft Grade C
• Percy Harvin is one of the biggest talents in the draft, fast and slippery in space, a threat to make a big play every time he touches the ball, which he has done both as a receiver and out of the backfield. He also has a long history of incidents on and off the field, and his coachability may be an issue was he prepares for his first pro–style playbook. He's also not a big player, and has had several injuries. There is a high risk–reward factor here.
• Phil Loadholt is a rangey (6–8, 332) right tackle with long arms who is a physical beast when he gets his hands on an opponent; however, speed rushers can take advantage of his lack of quickness, and he may simply be too tall to move inside to guard. He seems destined for right tackle, but despite the size, may not be as good as he measures beyond the running game. A possible undrafted keeper is Alex Kemp of Wisconsin, a better pass protector who could develop into a valuable lineman eventually.
• CB Asher Allen can't cover the deeper speedier threat, but is a good CB who makes good decisions, and for that reason can contribute early in nickel and dimes. He's probably the safest bet amongst these Vikings selections.
• Big (6–1, 250) ILB Jasper Brinkley looks like a heck of a steal if he ever completely recovers from torn knee ligaments in 2007. Robert Francois of Boston College also joins the Vikings in camp, and is a tackler who has played outside, but could stick as an inside player for the Vikings.
• Also of note, and arriving undrafted is Ian Johnson of Boise State. Johnson's statistics as a senior took him off the radar, as he became a victim of sharing the load. He rushed for 1700 yards and 25 scores in 2006, 1000 yards and 16 scores in 2007, and 760 yards for 13 scores in 2008. He has good vision and burst, and if he didn't peak too early, he could find latch on as a reserve rusher here.
• It was a short draft, and the Vikings failed to land a quarterback or defensive tackle depth. Neither of these things is in itself a huge flaw — Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels could finally emerge as a leader this season — but the draft suffers from above–average risk. A draft this small leaves no margin for error, and Harvin and Brinkley are both risks, while Loadholt may be all measurables. These player could all make it, and it will be a gem of a draft. It may equally vanish without trace.