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What A Picture Is Worth

November 4, 2016

By Ross Blumenfeld

Let me tell you about this picture. It was taken the night of the Cubs first World Series Championship in 108 years. It was taken just moments after Kris Bryant, with a smile on his face, fielded a softly hit ground ball and threw it to Anthony Rizzo. Grinning like a kid the first time he played the game.

First let me tell you about Yuriy Moskovoy. Seldom do you come across someone so loyal and passionate. Seldom do you find someone as selfless. He’s infectious. The way he speaks sticks so deeply in your mind that you find yourself imitating his speech patterns or humming something he said around people who have absolutely no idea why you’re chanting things to the rhythm of “Take It To The Limit”. The man is a pimp. The man is a beast. He’s the rare Pimp-Beast.

Next we have Steve Selejan. He’s someone who makes you feel better just by being in the same room as him. A cliche statement maybe, but none-the-less it’s true.  He’s the kind of man who always wants to be better than he is even though who he is is someone truly amazing and special. There’s no one I’d rather grab Chicken Planet with more than him. I appreciate him for everything he does for me and for the people I care about.

From age 11 to the early days of age 13, John Ciecholewski was an urban legend. I’d hear mention of his name and listen to stories of all the unbelievable, improbable things another junior high kid was doing. Yet I never met him. So I had to invite him to my 13th birthday party, despite never meeting him. First conversation we had with one another he handed me a $20 bill (which when you’re 13 is a fortune). Eighteen years later the urban legend is long gone and my friend is someone even more incredible.

I met Vadim Vaytsman in eighth grade. He walked onto the Skokie Jr. Vikings’ practice field with the same grin he has on his face in this picture. I couldn’t know then I’d have the privilege of attending his wedding as I did a few weeks ago. I couldn’t know he’d become one of my closest friends and someone who genuinely finds my rare (frequent) bad jokes funny. Whether it be Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Ohio State, or the night of the Rushing Attack mini-game comeback to end all Rushing Attack mini-game comebacks in my parents’ garage, he is one of the few people who appreciates the same things in life I appreciate in the same way I appreciate them.

Dan Cunix works as hard as anyone I know.  Dan is as generous as anyone I know.  He’s the kind of person who shares his successes with his family and friends.  He’s the kind of person who considers his success to be the group’s success.  I don’t know who the funniest person in my life is, but he is in the running.  He’s got an unique ability to turn a dull, mundane night into a memorable one.  As much as anyone, he can come up with the absolute perfect thing to say or find the perfect thing to do at the perfect time.  Like when he jump-kicked me through a wall.  And that’s the greatest thing he ever did.

There are people who were the room when this photo was taken who aren’t in the picture. Jennifer Litvak, Hannah James, Lauren Blackmun, Jessica Ciecholewski, and Mackenzie Wrist. I can’t tell you how happy I am that these guys in this picture, who mean so much to me, were able to meet women like you. I couldn’t realize it until now, but the group was not complete until you became a part of it.  I can’t tell you how honored I am that I am able to call you friends. You are all something special to me.

There are special people in this beloved group of friends who aren’t in the picture and weren’t there that night (so if you’re a part of this group and I don’t mention you, know I feel the same way about you). But someone I want to single out is Nate Warsaw. You’re still the man to me. You always will be.

Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States of America.  He was also a general in the American Civil War.  He’s focal point of the picture hanging in the background.  President Grant, I’ll never forget your ability to drink from sun-up to sun-down.  I’ll never forget your stern, militaristic gaze on the fifty dollar bill.  Thank you for Vicksburg.

Which brings me to my three oldest friends. The “original” Chris Bryant, Christopher Brisch, and Michael Beller.  I met Mike and Brisch when I was 4 years old playing Skokie Youth T-Ball.  I met Chris Bryant in first grade.  We sat next to each other in Mrs. Ferguson’s class.

I highlight them because they are the three people who I have watched more Cubs games with than anyone else in my life.  They are the three people with whom I wanted to celebrate this championship.

It almost didn’t happen.  Brisch had been living in London for the past two years.  Thankfully he moved back at the beginning of the summer.  I was overjoyed to hear that he was moving back to home.  Of all the things that happened on the night this photo was taken, the two of us walking the streets of Chicago, high-fiving complete strangers from Fullerton to Wrigley Field after midnight will stick out as strong as any. We walked for probably 30 minutes and didn’t say a word to each other.  We didn’t have to.  It was a perfect night that wouldn’t have been complete without him.  Maybe that’s why the Cubs lost in the NLCS last season.  Because we weren’t all together.  Or the Mets were better than us but whatever.  On the night when it truly mattered, he was there for it.  Like he never left.

In this group maybe more than anyone Bryant has been there for me in my toughest times.  Not that he or anyone would know it because if you know me, when it comes to my personal life, I internalize things, often irrationally (with the exception of this very long post).  Even with my family.  Even with my closest friends.  Whether it be by coincidence or by design, Chris frequently been a bright spot when I needed one.  I hope that I’m as good a friend to him (and everyone I have or will mention in this post) as he is to me.  Yet it’s not the tough times that define our friendship.  Because when you have friends like Chris, when you have good people in your corner, the tough times can be conquered.

Finally, we have Michael Beller.  The reason this night was special.  The reason I am a Cubs fan.  The reason Vadim is a Cubs fan.  Mike is the grandson of one of the greatest Cubs fans, Peter Masson, to ever have graced the earth.  There is an endless list as to why Pete would be proud of Mike.  One of those reasons is Mike is the embodiment of a Cubs fan.  He’s forgotten more about the game of baseball than I have ever known.  He’s forgotten more about Cubs baseball than the majority of the North Side.  I won’t go into why Mike and I are friends because there’s 27 years worth of reasons.  But I will share this story with you as to why this night is special.

Peter Masson passed away in 2004.  Like many others the Beller/Masson family purchased a commemorative brick outside of Wrigley Field to honor his memory.  That brick was engraved with the message, “Peter Masson: In Heaven And Still Waiting”.  Today in bright yellow chalk Mike updated the message.  Two simple words written underneath the original engraving.  “Not Anymore”.

The Cubs won the World Series.  I am 31 years old and I have had over a day to process this.  I still can’t.  I’m still crying.  Not just because a baseball team won a game.  Not just because the future of this team is so bright after being so dark for so long.  Not just because we’re not a punch-line anymore.  Not just because, unlike so many others, including Peter Masson, we lived to see it.  Not just because this was the year.  Because nights like this night remind me just why it is I love the people I love so much.  Because I can tell you about pictures like this.

Mock Something of Yourself

May 8, 2014

By Ross Mitchell

This season I’ve decided to approach this differently. Instead of just completing one round and providing my commentary on each team, I decided to go all seven rounds. That’s right! My longest, most detailed column of the year just got increased 7 times!

Noooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Actually the purpose of this is to try and express more information much quicker. You’ll have my unrivaled with and humor (I’m funny, take my word for it) as well as my pick-by-pick, team-by-team analysis, which in 29 years has yet to be wrong. Ever. Not once. No, you don’t need to check, just take my word for it.

You checked didn’t you? You son of a—

Anyway, here it is. It’s in the actual draft order, with Indianapolis and Washington at the end (because Indianapolis traded a first-rounder for Trent Richardson and Washington mortgaged the farm on Robert Griffin III, who will be very good this year). And I’ve also included trades. Enjoy it. Or else…

 

1. Houston Texans (2-14)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Jadeveon Clowney DE South Carolina  
2 Jimmy Garoppolo QB Eastern Illinois  
3 C.J. Fiedorowicz TE Iowa  
4 Dri Archer WR Kent State  
4 (c)        
5        
6        
6 (c)        
7        
7 (c)        

 

Clowney is the highest touted player in the draft. He comes as publisized as any player since Andrew Luck (which I guess is only two years but I digress). There are questions surrounding whether or not he tends to take plays off and whether or not he can strive in a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker. I say poppycock to all of it. That being said, I think the Texans should take Johnny Manziel. I think he’s the most dynamic offensive weapon coming out of college since Robert Griffin III (again, two years, but I’m still digressing). And look at the Texans. Two years ago they were the favorites in the AFC for the majority of the season. Last year they obviously stunk, losing 14 straight games to end the season. Not good. What was the difference? Quarterback play. Yes, with Clowney you get a potential Hall of Famer. With Manziel, in a weak AFC, you get a shot at the Super Bowl. I’m not saying Manziel is a world beater yet, and he might throw 20 picks this season, but he will also put points on the board. Houston’s defense (based on the past few years) has been outstanding. Are you telling me with moderate quarterback play they can’t unseed the Colts atop the AFC South?

 

2. and 13. St. Louis Rams (7-9)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 (2) Sammy Watkins WR Clemson (from Washington)
1 (14) Jake Matthews OT Texas A&M  
2 Jimmie Ward S Northern Illinois  
3 Lamarcus Joyner CB Florida State  
4 Marquestion Huff S Wyoming  
5        
6        
6 (c)        
7        
7 (c)        
7 (c)        

 

The big debate for the Rams appears to be whether or not they draft a quarterback to compete with and possibly replace Sam Bradford. I think the Rams do select a quarterback, but it will be in the later rounds. Bradford has been plagued by injury throughout his young NFL career. He has also been plagued by lack of talent surrounding him. The Rams have made strides in (attempting to) recreating “The Greatest Show on Turf”. But even if Bradford isn’t the next Kurt Warner, the next Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt aren’t on the roster either. A wide receiver like Watkins provides the Rams with the best non-quarterback offensive skill player in the draft. He reminds me of a young Larry Fitzgerald, only less polished, worse hands (that’s not a slight, it’s Larry Fitzgerald) and with better speed. He attacks the ball and makes plays in the open field when he gets it. With the remaining picks the Rams address needs. Jake Matthews is a book-end tackle who will help protect Bradford’s (or whomever is the quarterback in St. Louis) for the next four years. And even if Bradford isn’t the answer at QB, you now have two players that will immensely help anyone under center. On the other side of the ball, Jimmie Ward is an athletic safety who can play in the run game and surprise in the pass game. Those three players, as well as Lamarcus Joyner and Marqueston Huff round out what is already an extremely stout defense.

 

I want to point out real quick that I’m only saying a player can contribute to a team for four-to-five years. That’s because all rookie contracts run out after that time period. There is no more drafting a player with the notion that he is going to be on your team for the next decade. It just isn’t likely. If that happens so be it, but how many number one overall picks in the past ten seasons are still on the team that drafted them?

 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M  
2 Tre Mason RB Auburn  
3 Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB Nebraska  
4 (5) Brandon Coleman WR Rutgers  
4 (14) Arthur Lynch TE Georgia (from Baltimore)
5 (4)        
5 (19)       (from Baltimore)
6        
7        

 

There is a shot that if Watkins is still on the board here that Jacksonville takes him instead of Manziel. I’ve also heard that it’s probable that the Jaguars continue to neglect the quarterback position and take Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr. Watkins somewhat makes sense. He’s a great addition to any offense. Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely. The Jaguars have so many holes, they might as well draft the best player. But, and I can’t stress this enough, who is going to throw the ball? Also, and this isn’t a good reason to draft any player, the Jaguars need people to go to their games. Manziel is the only player not named Clowney who is a major draw. Again, I’m not in favor of drafting a player for those reasons, as more people will come to see a good team over a polarizing player, but I live in the real world.

 

I’m against the Jaguars drafting a defensive player in the first round because they have made some good signings in the offseason to really help solidify the defensive line. The Jaguars really may have one of the most under-rated defenses in the league headed into this season. But all that means exactly nothing if they have to deal with the same ineptitude they have experienced since David Garrard left northern Florida. Yes, that’s right, a team has struggled post-David Garrard.

 

Moving on beyond the first round, Tre Mason is my second rated back (Carlos Hyde was off the board in Round Two to Cleveland), and with Maurice Jones-Drew now teaming with Darren McFadden to create the least formidable running back duo in the league, the Jaguars need someone to carry the ball (besides Toby Gerhart). Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a steal in the third round (and that will happen, good players drop because other teams draft based on need). And Brandon Coleman and Arthur Lynch provide targets for Manziel to accompany Cecil Shorts, Mercedes Lewis, and company. Jacksonville might actually be on the road to being a decent team this season. But not as quick as they are to being on the road to Los Angeles.

 

4. New York Gians (7-9)

The New York Giants Trade their 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 2015 2nd to Cleveland for their 1st and 5th.

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Taylor Lewan OT Michigan From Cleveland
3 Paul Richardson WR Colorado  
5 (5)       From Cleveland
5 (12)        
5 (c)        
6        
7        

 

Crazy right? Maybe, but the Giants have expressed interest, significant interest in getting tougher, more physical, and doing a better job of protecting Eli Manning. They also have a desire to get better in the run game (what team doesn’t). Trading up for Taylor Lewan is bold. But the Giants have already expressed their biggest concerns on the defensive side of the ball via free agency. Yes they have to give up a lot to get Lewan, but when in the history of the draft has someone picking outside the top ten not have had to give up a king’s ransom to move into the top five?

 

5. Oakland Raiders (4-12)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Khalil Mack LB Buffalo  
2 A.J. McCarron QB Alabama  
3 Bishop Sankey RB Washington  
4 Michael Schofield OT Ohio State  
6        
7 (4)        
7 (20)       From Arizona

There is a strong possibility that the Raiders elect to draft quarterback at five, but I just feel as if Manziel is their guy. With him off the board they would likely be looking to upgrade at wide receiver. Sammy Watkins is gone. Mike Evans is a possibility. But this draft is littered with talent at the wide receiver and quarterback position. What it lacks is pass-rushers, and Khalil Mack seems to be the consensus “sure thing” at the linebacker position. Oakland needs to get better on both sides of the ball. Mack gives them a dynamic pass rusher that quite honestly gives the Silver-and-Black a nastiness and identity they’ve lacked for years.

 

From their they focus on offense. You can’t convince me A.J. McCarron cannot replicate the kind of productivity as seen by the likes of Andy Dalton or Matt Schaub (fitting). And I like Andy Dalton, and there was a time when Matt Schaub was one of the better quarterbacks in the league (two years ago). Bishop Sankey is in the conversation as the best running back in the draft. Getting him in Round Three is a steal. I’m not sold on the no-headed monster of McFadden and Mojo. Honestly one year from now there is a significant chance neither of those veteran players are on the roster. Sankey has enough game-breaking speed to make an impact out of the gate.

 

6. Atlanta (4-12)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Greg Robinson OT Auburn  
2 Kony Ealy DE Missouri  
3 Jeremiah Attaochu LB Georgia Tech  
4 Cyril Richardson OG Baylor  
4 (c)        
5        
6        
7        
7 (c)        
7 (c)        

 

No one has won the NFC South two years in a row. Carolina literally lost their top four leading receivers and their bookend left tackle… Somewhere there is manufacturing plant that has run out of red flags. Why can’t Atlanta win the NFC South this season? They were on the doorstep of the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Last year, while they had their flaws, they were plagued by injury. Are you telling me adding a tackle and guard like Robinson and Richardson, respectively, and pass-rushers like Ealy and Attaochu don’t turn two significant flaws into potential areas of strength? Sure, they could still use help in the secondary, they could replace Tony Gonzalez, they’re incomplete. Name me one team that isn’t? Even Seattle has issues. Sorry, that’s just fact. There’s no such thing as a perfect team. Watch out for a healthy Falcons team this year.

 

7. Tampa Bay (4-12)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Mike Evans WR Texas A&M  
2 Timmy Jerrigan DT Florida State  
4 Dakota Dozier OG Furman  
5        
7        

 

Best move the Bucs made in the off-season was firing Greg Schiano. I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why they hired him. You know he won as many major bowl games as I did while at Rutgers?

 

At least the Bucs got it right this time. Lovie Smith is a good if not great head coach. Is he perfect? No, is any coach? Does he have his flaws? Yes, what coach doesn’t? An offensive coordinator who understands the modern day NFL offense will be crucial in Tampa Bay’s success (I’d avoid filling the position with guys who have the first name Mike), as will adding offensive play-makers that will enable the Bucs to go toe-to-toe with the likes of New Orleans and Atlanta if need be. Ironically I think the Bucs should (and will) select a guy named Mike. Mike Evans has drawn numerous comparisons to Vincent Jackson. Oh, Vincent Jackson is already on the team. Nice. With Josh McCown now under center, Tampa Bay would be wise to try and replicate the conditions in which McCown revitalized his career. That’s give him two gigantic receivers and a solid running game. Jackson and Evans enable that.

 

And finally the Bucs take Timmy Jerrigan in Round Two. Someone has to fall. Failing his drug test at the NFL Combine won’t help Jerrigan’s cause in the draft. But pairing him next to Gerald McCoy? That’s a nasty interior defensive line. And Lovie loves his 3-technique defensive tackles.

 

8. Minnesota (5-10-1)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Derek Carr QB Fresno State  
2 Xavier Su’a-Filo OG UCLA  
3 (8) Kareem Martin DE North Carolina  
3 (32) Ross Cockrell CB Duke From Seattle
4 Devin Street WR Pittsburgh  
5        
6        
7        

 

I’m not a big believer that teams will wait to draft a quarterback. Just tell me what sense that makes? Tell me how that isn’t just a huge contradiction to the two most prevelant themes from this past season that A) this is a quarterback driven league and B) this is an extremely talented quarterback class? Clearly the Vikings are not sold on Christian Ponder (apparently he was expected to be a finished product from the moment he stepped into the training facility). Clearly Matt Cassel is not the long-term answer. Clearly a new head coach is going to want to draft a guy that he and offensive coordinator Norv Tuner can groom. Why, oh why on Earth would they wait to draft a quarterback? What if they wait and the guy they want isn’t there?

 

Now the debate is why would I have the Vikings select Derek Carr over Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater? The answer is John Gruden. The answer is game film. The answer is the eye test. If you watch “Gruden’s QB Camp”, one of the few Draft/ESPN shows worth tuning into on a day-by-day basis you already know what I’m going to say. After watching him play, Gruden asked why Carr wasn’t being considered as the top overall pick. I know John Gruden loves everyone, but that was the only player he endorsed to that magnitude. And watching Carr, the guy shredded everyone he played. Sure you can question the talent he played against, but you can’t deny the physical tools. Also, listen to Carr explain his offensive line’s blocking schemes, listen to how he teaches a group of receivers he has never worked with before his hand signals in about 90 seconds, listen to his general understanding of the game of football. It’s so impressive. And also, he’s not his brother. So throw that notion out of the window.

 

9. Buffalo Bills (6-10)

Round Name Position School Notes
1 Eric Ebron TE North Carolina  
2 Morgan Moses OT Virginia  
3 Ed Reynolds S Stanford  
4 Taylor Hart DE Oregon  
5        
6        
7        

 

The Bills are on the verge of potentially unearthing something unique, something special. They currently have two really good running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. They have three good receivers in Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, and the newly acquired Mike Williams. Lots of complementary pieces. Lots of “good-not-great”. They have a young quarterback that shows promise and a defense that has its flaws but will win you more games than it will lose. And they have an offensive line that is one piece away from being great. Now add Ebron to the mix. Add a Tight End that has the potential to open up space on the outside an enable the wide receivers to face one-on-one coverage. Add a player that has the potential to be the next in a long line of tight ends that seem to be changing the game. From an offensive skill position standpoint, who does that remind you of? To me that screams New Orleans and New England.

 

Hold on. I’m not saying that Buffalo is on the level of those offenses, but they are on their way, especially if they add Ebron. And why not? Is that not the next step in offensive evolution? Everyone is so focused on adding big cornerbacks to combat the big wide receivers everyone is drafting now. Everyone is willing to sacrifice pass coverage ability at the linebacker position in order to rush the quarterback more effectively. Isn’t the logical step to then counter the counter by loading up the middle of the field? Buffalo man…more than just wings and Patrick Kane. Lastly, Ralph Wilson wasn’t just great for the game. He was great for the planet. Rest in Peace.

 

10. Detroit Lions (7-9)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix S Alabama  
2 (13) Davante Adams WR Fresno State  
2 (24) Jace Amaro TE Texas Tech From San Fran via KC
2 (29) DeQuan Jones DT Penn State From San Francisco
3 Pierre Desir CB Lindenwood  
4 Jack Mewhort OT Ohio State  
4 (c)        
6        
7        

 

So in case you’re wondering why Detroit has three second-round picks, I have the Lions trading Ndamukong Suh for San Francisco’s two second-rounders. “There’s no way that will happen!” “You’re crazy!” Both possibly true, but I think we forget that mock drafts are an exercise which examine the possibilities more than the probabilities. And as much as we think that we “know”, in truth it’s we “think”. So, I think this would make sense for the Lions. They’re trying to create a new image for themselves in the post-Jim Schwartz era. Detroit has been associated with thugary and boneheadedness (neither are actual words) the past few season, and Suh has been at the center of that. How much of that is warranted? Probably less than is perceived. But there is a very real dilemma here for the Lions. Suh’s contract expires after this season. You’re already paying Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson roughly one-fifth of your salary cap. Suh will probably demand $8-$10 million per season. Can the lions really afford to keep him? The trade also makes sense for the 49ers. They have been stockpiling picks since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach. And while they already have one of the most imposing defensive lines in the league, can you image the havoc they will reek if Suh is paired with Justin and Aldon Smith? Even if it is for one season, it might be the piece they need to get past Seattle and return to the Super Bowl.

 

With that trade being made, look at the Lions draft. Your secondary goes from a liability to one of the more promising ones in the league, you replace Suh with DeQuan Jones, who granted may not be productive but can certainly be a force in the trenches, and you add two weapons in Adams and Amaro that quite honestly have the potential to make the Lions the most formidable offense in the whole league. Jack Mewhort is good depth at offensive tackle as well. Suddenly the Lions are positioned for years to come as one of the deepest, most talented groups on both sides of the ball.

 

11. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

The Dallas Cowboys Trade their 1st, 3rd, and 5th Round Pick to Tennessee for their 1st Round Pick

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Aaron Donald DT Pittsburgh From Tennessee
2 Marcus Smith DE Louisville  
4 Ahmad Dixon S Baylor  
6        
7 (14)       From Chicago
7 (16)        
7 (c)        
7 (c)        
7 (c)        

 

There is no way the Cowboys draft Johnny Manziel. A) He won’t be there. B) It makes no sense. C) Jerry Jones didn’t even say he plans on drafting Manziel. He could not have endorsed Tony Romo any more if he pulled down his pants and revealed a tattoo of Tony Romo on his calf. And yes I suppose he could roll his pant leg up to show a tattoo on his calf but where is the drama/homoeroticism in that? That’s right, the 2014 NFL Draft, now with 100% more homoeroticism.

 

Lots of mock drafts have the Bears selecting Aaron Donald at 14. I think that would be great for the Bears and is a completely logical suggestion. I just don’t think there is any way he makes it that far. Jerry Jones has a knack for being aggressive on draft day. Donald has a been a player they have been targeting and a player that they have been raving about and that they do need. I know the Cowboys signed Henry Melton. Knowing how hard Melton works, I have every confidence he will bounce back from his torn ACL. But with Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach/defensive coordinator, with his desire to have numerous pass-rushers on the interior of the defensive line as well as his track-record for developing talent into the league’s elite pass rushers, with the sad display of defense the Cowboys presented to the world last season, adding Donald not only gives Dallas the top rated defensive tackle in the Draft, but has the potential to give Dallas as good a pairing at the position as we can find.

 

12. and 23. Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Cleveland Trades their 1st (24th Overall, from Indianapolis) and 3rd Round Picks to Kansas City for their 1st Round Pick

 

Round Player Position School Notes
1 (12) Anthony Barr LB UCLA From New York Giants
1 (23) Teddy Bridgewater QB Louisville From Kansas City
2 (3) Carlos Hyde RB Ohio State  
2 (11) Allen Robinson WR Penn State From New York Giants
3 (25) Ricardo Allen CB Purdue From San Diego
4 Ed Reynolds S Stanford From New York Giants
6        
7        

 

The main reason I think the Browns would trade down is because Sammy Watkins and Johnny Manziel are off the board. Cleveland has expressed interest in Manziel but were cautious about taking him in the top-five. If Sammy Watkins is available I think they’d jump at the chance to get him, but I have Watkins going to the Rams. Trading back, especially for what the Giants offered (in my mind) allows the Browns to add a lot of young talent at their areas of need. A lot of elite talent. Anthony Barr could add another dimension to an already formidable pass-rush on a generally understated, underrated Cleveland defense. Teddy Bridgewater, despite his freefall, could still be the best quarterback taken in this draft. To me, it doesn’t make much sense why so many teams have so may issues with his workout. Now, he’s a maroon for not wearing his gloves during his private workout, something he did for virtually every collegiate game he played in. But the guy beat Florida when no one gave them a chance to stay within 20 points, and has over 30 game tapes of him shredding opposing defenses. Are we really throwing all that out because he looked bad in shorts and a T-shirt?

 

Carlos Hyde is my top-rated running back. I like the Ben Tate signing, but Hyde I think is LeSean McCoy in the making. He’s strong and shifty and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He and Tate would suddenly give Cleveland a threat out of a backfield that was woeful for the majority of last season. And while everyone is so keen on the Browns adding a wide receiver in the top-five, why not Allen Robinson, who could be a carbon copy of 2013 breakout star Josh Gordon?

 

14. Chicago Bears (8-8)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Calvin Pryor S Louisville  
2 Dominique Easley DT Florida  
3 Will Sutton DT Arizona State  
4 Walt Aikens CB Liberty  
5        
6 (7)       From Tampa Bay
6 (15)        

 

Phil Emery is a master of deception. I don’t know who the Bears are going to take. You don’t either. There is a large chance Phil Emery doesn’t know who Phil Emery is going to take. Not because he’s inept or because he doesn’t know, but because that’s the way he planned it. I think it’s entirely possible the draft card he writes the draft pick’s name on doesn’t know who Emery is going to take. And not because the it’s an inanimate object. Because Phil Emery is that good. Because he’s that good.

 

I’m guessing the Bears focus on defense (or the random white guy from the western time zone that’s still on the board, which means Joel Bitonio, Scott Crichton, Jake Murphy, Trent Murphy, or Weston Richburg). I’m guessing they prioritize, or “Pyror-itize”, safety, but will draft Donald if he’s there. That’s what conventional wisdom says. Again, it’s Phil Emery, so throw conventional wisdom out the door. Also there’s a 100% certainty the Chicago Sun-Times’ headline will be “Bears Pryor-itize at Safety” if they do in fact select Pyror. Lets just hope he’s better than…Mark Prior. I’m so sorry.

 

In the second and third rounds I have the Bears selecting back-to-back defensive tackles. It’s a strategy they used before in 2004 when they drafted Tommie Harris and Terry “Tank” Johnson. Both turned out to be good players, though they both had their careers cut short for various reasons. Dominique Easley does have an injury red flag, so there is a health concern, but I think he’s going to be a very good, explosive player, regardless of what team he plays for (unless it’s the Packers, Vikings, or Lions). And if I’m wrong about Easley, I don’t think I’m wrong about Sutton, who I think has the ability to be taken in the early second round.

 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Odell Beckham Jr. WR LSU  
2 Keith McGill CB Utah  
3 (c) Max Bullough LB Michigan State  
4 Ego Ferguson DT LSU  
5        
5 (c)        
6        
6 (c)        
7        

 

After a wretched start to the 2013 season, Pittsburgh was a missed San Diego field goal away from making the playoffs. And actually San Diego did miss that field goal but…well, yeah… For the second consecutive season the starting wide receiver opposite Antonio Brown, who as it turns out is awesome, has departed for another AFC team. The defense is a year older, as is Ben Roethlisberger, who turned out one of the more productive seasons in his career. And it was actually productive, and not the media enforced “Tom Brady productive”, meaning everyone in front of a camera went out of their way to say, “You know, Tom Brady is actually having one of the better/more productive years of his career” when reality said otherwise.

 

I think the Steelers are once again contender in the division, as long as they can add a productive receiver opposite Brown. Odell Beckham Jr. is rising up draft charts, so there is a small chance he’s gone by this point, but I don’t see that happening. Keith McGill is a legit 6’3” and has the potential to match up against the bigger wideouts in the NFL. The Steelers then add two more pieces to the defense, Max Bullough, who had off-the-field issues that cost him an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl, and Ego Ferguson, who has never missed a meal. Ego Ferguson gives the Steelers a nose tackle that can command two gaps (he’s fat) and requires a double-team on running downs (very fat). Max Bullough for some reason is rumored to go undrafted. If that is due to his off-the-field issues, then okay, but I don’t know what they are and I haven’t heard anything about him being in any legal trouble. I think he’s a strong pick in any round past the second and is talented enough to “reach” for, should a team need an inside linebacker.

 

16. Tennessee Titans (7-9)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Justin Gilbert CB Oklahoma State From Dallas
2 Zack Mettenberger QB LSU  
3 Andre Williams RB Boston College From Dallas
4 Ed Stinson DE Alabama  
5 (11)        
5 (18)       From Dallas
6        
7        

 

Well…the Titans. Last year they… And this year they… Uh… They’re really good at… And their biggest area of concern is…

 

Does anyone know anything about the Titans? Does anyone know how many pieces away they are from being contenders? Because the AFC South isn’t that good. But after firing their head coach and brining in Ken Whisenhunt, the Titans have let their All-Pro running back go to Tampa Bay and the face of their franchise (Chris Johnson) sign with the New York Jets. So…the Titans.

 

They do have a really good offensive line. Kendall Wright showed big signs of improvement. And…and…ugh. Drafting Justin Gilbert does give Tennessee a weapon on the defensive side of the ball. He’s a playmaker, pure and simple. Zack Mettenberger might not be a popular pick in Round Two, but he’s a big quarterback with a reliable arm and a fairly good head on his shoulders. Does he need to get better across the board? Yes, but isn’t that the goal for every player at every position in every sport? The knee is a bit concerning, but when watching him workout that appears to be a non-issue, at least for the time being. Besides, while the game is changing and mobile quarterback are proving they are more than en vogue, last I checked pure pocket passers such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, and Eli Manning were still getting it done in the NFL. And at a high level. Lastly, I really like Andre Williams. He’s a bruising running back who can be a bulldozer on first and second down. He may not be a “three down back”, but if he’s getting you four yards on first and second down, I’d say he’s doing his job. For comparison’s sake, he reminds me of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, or even speedier version of Bam Morris. Hey, a Bam Morris reference!

 

The Titans did lose their owner Bud Adams who, like Ralph Wilson, Jr., helped found the American Football League. And like Ralph Wilson, Jr., Bud Adams will be missed.

 

17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Zack Martin OT Notre Dame  
2 Deone Bucannon S Washington State  
3 Jared Abbrederis WR Wisconsin  
3 (c) Marcus Martin C USC  
4 (c)        
4 (c)        
5 (c)        
6        

 

Joe Flacco made $20,000,000 last season. That’s roughly what I made. Give or take a few $10 million. Did he earn it? Earn is such an abstract word. But the answer is still no. He threw more picks than Joakim Noah did for Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin. He threw more picks than “Free Give Away Day” at Fender Guitar company. He threw more picks than Barbra Streisand at a booger eating contest. Not that she eats boogers. He threw more picks than Eli Manning. Oh he didn’t? Ouch.

 

Baltimore already helped Flacco by signing Steve Smith (formerly of the Carolina Panthers). Now he has two outrageously fast wide receivers in Smith and…Torrey Smith. Hmm., that could be problematic. The next, at least in my opinion, the Ravens should target offensive line help. Michael Oher is gone to Tennessee. The top three offensive linemen prospects (Matthews, Robinson, and Lewan) are off the board. The prudent choice here would be to draft Zach Martin. Lots of people rave about his versatility, citing his ability to play all five offensive line positions. To me that’s not a good reason to draft an offensive lineman, or any player, in the first round. To me, when you draft a guy in the first round, you should have a gameplan for him. You should have an idea how you’re going to develop them. Yes, the Draft, and the NFL is an imperfect science. But to draft a guy without an idea how he is going to fit your roster is somewhat short-sided. Now don’t get me wrong, Martin’s versatility is a good thing. But to me, at this stage of his career, Martin should be focused on protecting Flacco at the right tackle position.

 

And I know 100% for a fact that Ozzie Newsome knows what he’s doing better than I do. Quickly, Deone Bucannon is a player I feel is flying under the radar in terms of talent and productivity and Jared Abbrederis could be a nice complement to the down-the-field burners (Smith and Smith).

 

18. New York Jets (8-8)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Brandin Cooks WR Oregon State  
2 Joel Bitonio OG Nevada  
3 (5) Troy Niklas TE Notre Dame From Tampa Bay
3 Shayne Skov LB Stanford  
4 Vinnie Sunseri S Alabama  
4 (c)        
5        
6        
6 (c)        
6 (c)        
6 (c)        
7        

 

Okay…the Jets aren’t drafting twelve players. They have to make at some point. I’m just saying, 12 players is a lot to select and considering a handful of them might not even make the team…I’m just saying.

 

I looked it up and it turns out the Jets did in fact have an offensive unit last season. No really, it’s true. Granted they only scored 290 (as a team, so some of that could be defensive), it did exist. This year however, the Jets actually made some nice offseason offensive moves, picking up Michael Vick form the Eagles (possibly in a backup role), Eric Decker from the Broncos, Chris “CJ2K” Johnson from the Titans, and Breno Giacomini from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Jets are on the verge of- No, I won’t say it.

 

Brandin Cooks ran a 4.33 40-yard dash time at the combine. There is the old adage that the 40-yard dash time is overrated. I say it’s over valued. It is a good metric to determine just how fast a player is, but I wouldn’t necessarily value it over on-the-field productivity. It’s a good tool to use, just not the end-all-be-all of metrics. Getting back to Cooks however, a 4.33 40-yard dash should not be taken lightly. Being the fastest player at the combine should not be taken lightly. Putting him opposite of Eric Decker gives the Jets both a down-the-field and underneath element to their passing game. Adding tight end Troy Niklas only expands those options. Geno Smith was up-and-down last season, but it’s far too soon to determine what kind of quarterback he is. My guess, by adding these offensive players, you’re only going to increase the likelihood of success.

 

19. Miami Dolphins (8-8)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Darqueze Dennard CB Michigan State  
2 Jeremy Hill RB LSU  
3 Laurent Duvernay-Tardif OT McGill  
4 Ka’Deem Carey RB Arizona  
5        
6        
7        

 

Let’s talk about what happened on the field. The Dolphins somehow managed to be in playoff contention going into the last week of the season and blew it. Now let’s talk about the Jonathan Martin crisis and how Miami wet, soiled, and burned the proverbial bed.

 

Richie Incognito is one man. I’m not excusing what he did. But he’s one man. I think I might have a bigger issue with the rest of the locker room for embracing Incognito as the wrongfully accused, for embracing him as the victim. Lets make one thing clear, Jonathan Martin is the victim here. Jonathan Martin was the one who had to endure the bullying and harassment and the ridicule of what is supposed to be an environment that’s building toward unity or at the very least the same goal. It’s an imperfect world we live in. I’m not ignorant to that. Bullying happens. I’m of the mindset that sometimes you have to be bullied, especially by your friends, to learn more about yourself as a person and gain a better understanding of what you perceive to be wrong and right. But when the other 51 players not named Martin or Incognito fail to recognize that this was way beyond someone being picked-on or someone being bullied, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the institution.

 

And I’m not the biggest Joe Philbin fan in the world, but I do not blame him for this. This is on the players and the coaches directly involved. From what I gather, Philbin had no idea this was going on. Yes, he is responsible for the team as a whole, but anyone who has ever been in a management position, with a workforce this size, knows that’s impossible. This was a failure on the players behalf.

 

I only hope Michael Sam, who is actually gay, a group of people who the Dolphins players don’t seem to embrace, doesn’t get drafted by this (dis)organization.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Blake Bortles QB UCF  
2 Terrence Brooks S Florida State  
3 David Yankey OG Stanford  
4 Terrance West RB Towson  
5        
6        

 

So the Cardinals were awesome and beat the Seahawks in Seattle and didn’t make the playoffs. Probably should be on the lookout for them during the upcoming season. Is Bruce Areans considered to be among the best coaches in the league? I’m saying he is or isn’t, I’m saying he should be. That was a legitimate question because to me, after what he did during the Chuck Pagano Liuekemia crisis, and what he did with the Cardinals last season, might be the most impressive job any coach has had in the NFL in the past ten season with the exception of Mike Tomlin winning the Super Bowl and losing the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons. Is he not the Tom Thibendeau of the NFL? Maybe he can coach the Knicks and/or Lakers?

 

Carson Palmer has gone on the record saying he has no problem with the Cardinals drafting a quarterback in this year’s draft, a.k.a. his successor. Classy move by a veteran quarterback. Palmer also cleaned up his game significantly last season. Yes he threw his standard 20+ interceptions, but he brought life into an Arizona offense that was near-dead due to the likes of Kevin Kolb and Jonathan Skelton’s ineffectiveness. He also recognizes that he won’t be around forever. So does the Cardinals’ front office. Bortles reminds a lot of people of Ben Roethlisberger. I like the comparison, but I would also say he is a more mobile Carson Palmer. Fitting is it not? Bruce “The Real Deal” Areans (I don’t know why I called him that) likes his big, strong-armed quarterbacks, his prototypical pocket passers. If Bortles is there at 20, the Cardinals would have a hard time passing on him. They also round out the defense with Terrence Brooks, another safety in what I feel is an underrated position in this year’s draft, and David Yankey, who joins last year’s first round pick, Jonathan Cooper, lining as two promising young guards on a quickly improving offensive line.

 

21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Louis Nix III DT Notre Dame  
2 Jordan Matthews WR Vanderbilt  
3 Dion Bailey S USC  
3 (c) Jake Murphy TE Utah  
4 Preston Brown LB Louisville  
5        
5 (c)        
6        
7        

 

B.J. Raji has as many sacks in the past two seasons as Aaron Rodgers. Not what I would call productive. At least he’s got the best State Farm commercial that doesn’t involve the Super Fans of all time.

 

Now I know everyone will be quick to anoint either the Packers or Lions as the King(s) of the (NFC) North (thanks Reddit!). But the Packers have serious holes they need to fill first. They still have the best player in the game in Aaron Rodgers, who is good for 7 wins by himself, but they need help at wide receiver and tight end. They need to sure-up a defense that has been on barrowed time (if any time) since the 2011 Super Bowl. They need to admit that the Chicago Bears are just a better franchise. That’s right Wisconsin I said it! I said it I said it!

 

Nix III makes sense to me because you can play him at nose tackle. He can also play 3-technique is a base 4-3 or Cover 2 defense, but he’s got the speed and explosiveness to manage the A-Gap. Raji has not been good the past few seasons. That’s not a slight or me being a Bears fan, that’s just fact. On the offensive side of the ball, Jordan Matthews is a popular pick to sneak into the late first round. I don’t think he will, and I think the Packers get a really good pick with him in Round Two. Finally, Minnesota, will you please not screw the Bears when you play the Packers at home this season? I felt that was necessary to say.

 

22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Cody Latimer WR Indiana  
2 Stephon Tuitt DT Notre Dame  
3 Weston Richburg C Colorado State  
4        
5        
7        

 

Why was DeSean Jackson released? Because he grew up in the hood? Well that seems as racist as what Riley Cooper said last season before training camp, and in my opinion, it’s more harmful. Does anyone running the Eagles know what Economic Discrimination is? They might want to look it up. Using a racial slur as a weapon is stupid, ignorant, and wrong. But it’s not worse than taking away someone’s paycheck.

 

So now you take away a player that Kevin Kolb Nick Foles gelled with, who is coming off his best season as a pro, and allowed him to go to a division rival. That doesn’t seem like it worked out. Oh, and Riley Cooper, who was caught on camera dropping a racial slur, was given a new five-year contract. Hmm. It’s a good thing the Eagles are good, because this is really bad. On second thought, no, none of this is good.

 

24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

Round Player Position School Notes
1 Bradley Roby CB Ohio State  
2 Tom Savage QB Pittsburgh From New England
3 Trent Murphy DE Stanford  
4 (23)        
4 (30)       From New England
5        
6        
6 (c)        
7        
7 (c)        

 

I have Cincinnati trading with New England, allowing New England to move up in the second round to draft a much needed wide receiver. In return, the Bengals move back a few spots and get an extra Fourth Round pick. Fair deal for everyone.

 

Now what they do with that pick is draft Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage. Let me clarify, I like Dalton, this isn’t a knock on him, it’s bringing in a talented quarterback to back him up and also the real possibility of Dalton not resigning in Cincinnati. Dalton lit the world on fire for a large part of the season in 2013. He struggled at times, but he’s still a young quarterback. And he’s getting better. And he wins. And A.J. Green loves him. The only reason they Bengals would not resign Dalton, and this is a reality, is price. But the Ginger Slinger is a good quarterback, one you can win with.

 

Bradley Roby is maybe the most athletic cornerback in the draft. He had a bad first half of 2013 season at Ohio State, only in the sense that he was very, very good and not dominant like he was in 2012. But he did return to dominance after the Wisconsin game. And Trent Murphy is a high motor player that probably will be great against the run and effective in the pass-rush game.

 

25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

26. Kansas City Chiefs (from Cleveland) (11-5): Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): C.J. Mosley, Alabama

28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Marqise Lee, WR, USC

29. New England Patriots (12-4): Dee Ford, LB, Auburn

30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

2014 Wild Card Playoff Predictions

January 4, 2014

By Ross Mitchell

So last week’s article depicting Jay Cutler’s shot at redemption apparently fell on deaf ears.  Not that Cutler played poorly or that the Bears offense failed to show up.  It’s the fact the Bears defense did.  I know there’s the old adage that Bears football is “a running back and linebackers” or “built on defense”.  I’ve never bought into that.  Yes, certain teams have built a reputation for having a longstanding history at certain positions or possessing certain traits over an extended period of time.  The Steelers toughness.  The 49ers and the Packers long lineage at quarterback.  The Metrodome for collapsing (RIP Metrodome).  The Lions for offseason arrests.  That’s what the league was founded on.  That’s the lineage of the game that I love and appreciate.  But those days are over.

The NFL today compared to the NFL as recently as ten years ago has witnessed a greater shift in the foundation of the game surpassed only by the implementation of the forward pass.  Now all you need in the NFL to win is offense.  If you don’t agree with that opinion, I suggest you look at this year’s playoff field.  Look at the teams in contention for the playoffs.  Every single one had elite-to-great offenses and varying levels of defense.  Yes, having a good defense is nice to have, but it isn’t a necessity.  Isn’t that right Denver?  Isn’t that right San Diego?  Isn’t that right Green Bay?  Isn’t that right Philadelphia?  Isn’t that right Dallas?

Anyway, my point is that the Bears defense sucks and cost them the postseason.  And Shea McClellin’s nicknames should be “Crashdown”.  If you need that joke to be explained, watch every play where his assignment to hold containment on the line of scrimmage.

Let’s focus on the teams that are still playing.  Home team in bold:

Kansas City Chiefs over Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are the biggest unknown in this entire field.  They’ll either lose badly on Saturday or run the table and win the Super Bowl.  They’ll be unable to get out of their own way or win by double digits from now until February 2nd.  This season the Colts are 4-0 against San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City and 0-2 against Miami and St. Louis.  The Colts are a very good team but they’re inconsistent.  So is Andrew Luck.  There have been games where he’s been worthy of the title of number one overall pick in last year’s draft.  There have also been games where he has been nothing short of brutal.  If Indianapolis is going to win this weekend, they need him to be at his best.

Offensively, the Colts are essentially a one dimensional team.  Trent Richardson has yet to find his form in a Colts uniform.  Donald Brown has had flashes of brilliance but is mainly a weapon in the screen game and is hit-or-miss as a ball-carrier.

The Colts defensively are an enigma.  They rank 20th in yards and 26th against the run, but 9th in points allowed and 13th against the pass.  Robert Mathis won the NFL’s sack crown after recording 19.5 sacks but the rest of the team had 12.5 combined.  In terms of takeaways, they’re run-of-the-mill (27 for the season, tied with Dallas for 15th).  I know the Colts went into Arrowhead two weeks ago and handled the Chiefs to the tune of 23-7, but I don’t believe that will happen twice.

Why?  What’s the Chief’s M.O.?  Run the ball, ball security, rush the passer, turn the ball over.  The Chiefs have the second highest turnover +/- ratio in the NFL (second only to Seattle).  They are second in the NFL in takeaways, also second only to Seattle.  Alex Smith is having maybe his best season as a pro.  So is Jamaal Charles.  The Chiefs finished in the top-ten in rushing yards per game and seventh in time-of-possession (the Colts finished 21st and 22nd respectively).

What could be the deciding factor however are the Chiefs’ special teams.  They’re the best in the league and it’s not even close.  How Dave Toub doesn’t receive consideration for head coaching positions is something I cannot understand.  You can say “he’s just a special team’s coach”.  So was John Harbaugh.  How’s he doing?  If you had the benefit of watching NFL Red Zone this season (and if you didn’t, why?), you can attest to the obligatory Chiefs’ game changing special team’s play.  A blocked punt, a big return, solid coverage success across the board.  Dexter McCluster has transformed himself into the most dangerous and dynamic all-around weapon since Devin Hester’s first season at wide receiver.  This unit wins games.

I see the Chiefs in control most of the game.  Luck may orchestrate a few late drives to close the gap and make it competitive in the closing moments, but it will be too little too late.

Final Score: Chiefs 27, Colts 20

Philadelphia Eagles over New Orleans Saints

The Saints were my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl.  So for that reason alone they’ve been eliminated from contention.  Sorry NOLA, you’re a wonderful city!

I’m not going out on any limbs in saying I predict this game to be a shootout.  Two explosive offenses.  Two opportunistic defenses.  Two innovative, offensively minded head coaches who have dominated their field for the better part of a decade (Sean Payton in Dallas and New Orleans, Chip Kelly at Oregon and in Philly).  A Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees leading maybe the greatest passing offense of all-time versus two MVP runner-up candidates Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy.  Both teams can hit you from so many different directions.  Both teams can unleash formidable blitz packages that disrupt the timing of the opposing offenses.  This game will be one part chess match, one part prize fight.  Blow-for-blow, haymaker-after-haymaker.  Putting the opponent in a various states of check.

Final Score: 3-0.

Teams never want to back into the playoffs.  They want to be hot.  They want to be coming into their own.  At a point where they are truly mastering the caveats and wrinkles of their systems.  Philadelphia has been red hot since the start December (excluding the farce in Minnesota and the Snow Game against Detroit), winning 7 of their last 8.  They managed to keep the worst-to-first streak alive (when a team finishes in last place one season and first the next).  It’s happened every season since the NFL has gone to an eight division alignment.  What does it mean?  Nothing.  But it’s a fun factoid.

The Saints on the other hand were all but a lock to win the NFC South after stomping the Panthers 31-13 in Week 14.  All they had to do was win one of two road games against the Rams or the aforementioned Panthers.  They didn’t.  Now they’re on the road, a place where they’ve struggled all season (3-5 overall).  Could the Saints win?  Sure.  They’re an outstanding team.  A Super Bowl contender.  But Philly is playing as well as any team in the league.  In fact I’ll go so far as to say they’re playing better than any other team in the league.  They’re ninth in the league in passing offense and first in rushing offense.  The one red flag is…the Eagles are last in passing defense.  The Saints passing offense ranks second only behind the Denver Broncos.  They’re also second in passing defense.  Punch, counterpunch.

I touched on this earlier but Nick Foles has been awesome.  It would be hard to overstate this.  How unlikely is it to think that he might be the best quarterback from last season’s stellar class.  Think about it?  Heading into the season he was the second best quarterback on his team.  Now the only competition he has in my mind is Russell Wilson.  He’s been better than Andrew Luck.  He’s been better than Robert Griffin III.  He’s been better than Ryan Tennehill.  He’s been better than Ryan Lindlay.  Oh, scratch that last one.  He’s also been better than Tom Brady.  He’s also been better than Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers (due to injury), Jay Cutler, and Matthew Stafford.  Now the question is whether or not he’s been better than Drew Brees this season.  I think he has been.  But why don’t we settle this on the field?

Final Score: Eagles 42, Saints 38

Cincinnati Bengals over San Diego Chargers

This is streak versus streak!  The Bengals undefeated home record versus The Team That Opens Against the Eagles Goes on to Win the Super Bowl.

Can we stop questioning Andy Dalton?  Two guys finished the season with more touchdown passes than he did, and their names are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.  Six guys threw for more yards.  I’ll grant you that he threw too many interceptions.  But there’s something that needs to be addressed right now.  Interceptions are not nearly as backbreaking as they once were.  Every quarterback throws them.  And with the increased volume of passes throughout the NFL, why wouldn’t the number of interceptions go up as well?  They’re not good.  I don’t pretend that they’re ideal or to be overlooked.  But the Seattle Seahawks were unbeatable at home until Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals beat them in Week 16.  When both teams had something to play for.  By the way Carson Palmer threw 4 interceptions in that game.  Russell Wilson threw one.

Speaking of quarterbacks, how about the season Phillip Rivers has put together?  Four months ago he was a foot out the door, needing a change of scenery, or possibly even washed up, done, caput.  Guess who’s going to the Pro Bowl (or whatever the hell the Pro Bowl has become).  How about the season of Ryan Matthews?  On the verge of being cut, being labeled as a first-round bust, he finished 7th in the league in rushing yards.  Essentially on two downs with Danny Woodhead serving as the situational back in passing situations.  So if he’s in the game, defenses are thinking he’s running the ball, which means they’re stacking the box.  And he still averaged 4.4 yards per carry.  There are two guys in the league you can say that about.  Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.  Good company.

I like the Bengals in this game.  I like them next week too.  The defense could have folded when Geno Atkins tore his ACL.  They didn’t.  This team has showed a lot of resolve to get to where they are.  They’ve also beaten a lot of good teams including the Packers (with a healthy Aaron Rodgers), New England, San Diego in Week 13, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh.  In fact the Bengals played four teams with a sub .500 record.  They went 4-1 against those teams (1-1 against the Browns), 4-3 against teams that went 8-8, and 4-0 against playoff teams (or teams with a winning record).  It speaks volumes, to me at least, when you go undefeated against the upper echelon of the NFL.  San Diego put together a nice season.  They have a bright future.  But their season ends on Sunday.

Final Score: Bengals 34, Chargers 20

San Francisco 49ers over Green Bay Packers

I want someone to tell me how Green Bay is going to win this game.  Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best player in the league, but he’s not playing the Bears putrid secondary this weekend.  He’s going to have deal with an actual pass rush instead of whatever Chicago attempted to throw at him (which on 4th-and 8-would be everything).  Think of how Green Bay won last weekend.  They scored 33 points, six of which occurred on a fumble that the Bears picked up and dropped because they thought the play was over, and another six on the most poorly called, poorly relayed, poorly executed fourth down play I can recall in recent memory.  Give credit to Green Bay for taking advantage of the opportunities which presented themselves, but I sincerely doubt those same opportunities will present themselves against the defending conference champions.

This is simply a bad matchup for Green Bay.  The Packers are seventh in the league in total rushing yards thanks to the immergence of rookie running back Eddy Lacy and veteran James Starks.  Bad news.  San Francisco is fourth in rushing defense, allowing just 95.9 yards per game.  Green Bay is third in total yards per game offensively, but San Francisco is seventh.  Green Bay is eighth in the NFL in points-scored-per-game.  San Francisco’s defense is again third best, allowing just 17.0 points per contest.

Meanwhile San Francisco’s offense, a perfect balance of running and passing, ranks eleventh in PPG (25.4), third in rushing yards per game, and second league in giveaways, turning the ball on 18 occasions all season.  Green Bay was tied for 23rd in takeaways.  They were 25th in total defense in yards allowed (24th against the pass and 25th against the rush).  They gave up 2,000 yards rushing alone.  Now yards can be misleading.  What really matters is points allowed per game.  And…it doesn’t get any better.  The Packers allow 26.8 PPG, which was tied with Houston for eighth worst in the league.  The one area in which the Packers excel defensively is sacking the quarterback (9th best in the league).  But Clay Matthews is out with a thumb injury.  And when he’s been hurt the Green Bay pass rush just isn’t the same.

Green Bay could surprise people.  They’re playing a California team on (cue the audio) “The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field”.  The temperature will probably dip toward zero.  Aaron Rodgers is as dangerous as they come.  But I’m not buying it.  San Francisco has too many weapons.  Flat out, they’re just a better team.  And with their win, that sets up a third-and-final showdown between them and the Seattle Seahawks.  Let the hate-mail from Green Bay begin.

(I was going to say “commence”, but then I remembered people from Wisconsin would be reading it.  Boom!  I love you Wisconsin, you’re  good sports)

Final Score: San Francisco 37, Green Bay 28

Finally here are my playoff predictions.  I only got two games wrong last season.  I picked Minnesota over Green Bay in the wild card, not knowing Christian Ponder wasn’t playing.  Neither did the NFL as they fined the Vikings $250,000 for not putting Ponder on the injury report.  I also picked Houston over New England in the divisional round because I’ lack intelligence.

Wild Card Weekend (Read the article):

3. Cincinnati Bengals over 6. San Diego Chargers;  5. Kansas City Chiefs over 4. Indianapolis Colts

3. Philadelphia Eagles over 6. New Orleans Saints; 5. San Francisco 49ers over 4. Green Bay Packers

Divisional Playoffs:

1. Denver Broncos over 5. Kansas City Chiefs; 3. Cincinnati Bengals over 2. New England Patriots

1. Seattle Seahawks over 5. San Francisco 49ers; 4. Philadelphia Eagles over 2. Carolina Panthers

Conference Championships:

1. Denver Broncos over 3. Cincinnati Bengals

4. Philadelphia Eagles over 1. Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl:

1. Denver Broncos over 4. Philadelphia Eagles

What Will Actually Happen:

1. Seattle Seahawks over 4. Indianapolis Colts

Redemption Song

December 24, 2013

By Ross Mitchell

“Won’t you help to sing; These songs of freedom?; ‘Cause all I ever have; Redemption songs; Redemption songs.” -Bob Marley

January 23rd, 2011.  The day it all started.  Bears-Packers.  NFC Championship Game.  6/14, 80 yards, 1 interception, Quarterback Rating of 31.8.  Then the knee injury.  Then the players taking to social media.  Then the media scrutiny.  Then the questions surrounding his toughness.  Then the questions surrounding his drive.  Then the questions surrounding his leadership.  Then the fan backlash.  Then the questions surrounding his body language, his facial expressions, his decision making.  Then the thumb injury.  Then the sacks.  Then the “Push”.  Then the label as a coach killer.  Then the groin.  Then the ankle.  Then the backup.  That was then…

This is now…

Of course I’m talking about Jay Cutler.  Who in Chicago isn’t?  And of course the timeline isn’t that one-sided or negative.  There have been lots of positives as well.  Cutler has gone from being perceived as frail or fragile to having a reputation as one of the toughest players in the league.  He has gotten married.  He became a father with another child on the way.  He was reunited with his close-friend Brandon Marshall.  He endured a Swiss-cheese offensive line and stone-handed wide receivers only to command the third highest scoring offense in the NFL.  He became the Bears franchise leader in virtually every passing category.  He has gotten better, despite protests, despite denial, not just as a player, but as a leader, as a father, as a man (not that he was ever a bad man).

I know there are a handful of people out there, maybe at the moment the majority of people out there, who feel differently.  Who think I’m crazy for continuing to believe in a quarterback who has experienced just one division championship in his career as well as the same number of playoff wins.  A player who, statistically, has been outplayed by a man who now stands on the sideline holding a clipboard.  Look, I can’t argue, Josh McCown has been nothing short of miraculous.  There were times when he was simply playing at another level.  You can credit the offensive talent around him, you can credit the coach staff and the system, and you should.  But firstly, you should credit McCown.  Because for the month that Cutler was out with an ankle injury, McCown not only succeeded, he thrived.

So why would I be in favor of handing the keys to the car back to Cutler?  Why would I continue to have faith in a player who continues to turn the ball over?  Who led the Chicago Bears to 11 points against a mediocre-to-bad Philadelphia Eagles defense?  Why, when Josh McCown was so efficient and so careful with the football?

That brings us to Sunday.  Back to the Packers.  Back to Green Bay.  Back to starring the demon in the face.  Back to the monkey on your back.  Back to the elephant in the room.

Once again the season is on the line.  No, it isn’t for a shot at the Super Bowl.  Truth be told neither the Bears nor the Packers, even with Aaron Rodgers, have a sunny outlook after this weekend.  I’m not saying there is no chance.  Crazier things have happened.  Three seasons ago the Packers had to win back-to-back games just to get into the playoffs.  They did (including one against the Bears in the Week 17 season finale).  Two seasons ago the Giants were 7-7 going into Week 16 (I know, I make this point all the time).  Last year the Ravens fired their offensive coordinator after Week 14, lost the next week, their third in a row, and backed into the playoffs.  And all three went onto win the Super Bowl.  But the Super Bowl isn’t the issue here.  That’s weeks away, if at all.

What is here is a chance at redemption.  A chance for not just the Bears but Cutler to avenge the 2011 loss.  A loss that has lingered and festered and left a bad taste in the mouth of Bears players, management, owners, and fans alike.  A loss the Second City still hears about from Packers fans.  A loss that probably will never heal.  That will always sting.  And while the subplots are plentiful, there is one that dwarfs them all.

Not whether Aaron Rodgers will play.  Not whether Eddie Lacy will suit up.  Not how many rushing yards will the Bears porous defense allow.  Not any of these things.  It’s obvious.  In fact it was almost destined to end up this way.

How will Cutler play?  More importantly, will he lead the Bears to victory?  Because if he wins, even if he plays like shit, it won’t matter.  Division champs.  Playoff bound.  Season sweep on the Packers.

I’m going to address this first, because it is the most hotly debated topic in Chicago since Derrick Rose’s knee.  Or the implementation of the Ventra cards.  Yes, I think Cutler is playing for a contract on Sunday.  I have gone on the record stating I think the Bears and Cutler already have a contract worked out.  I came to this conclusion after General Manager Phil Emery said he was hesitant to use the franchise tag on Cutler (he later amended his comments saying he would use the tag to keep Cutler in a Bears uniform if need be), and after Cutler himself said, “I know Phil (Emery) has a plan.

Those comments lead me to believe that there is some kind of agreement already on the table and that sooner-rather-than-later an extension will be announced.  I know the Bears have stated publically that they aren’t negotiating with players during the season, but this is too important an issue to set aside for four months.  This signing/non-signing will literally shape not just Cutler’s career, but Emery’s and Head Coach Marc Trestman’s as well.  It is the most important single event Phil Emery’s has to make.  You don’t just shelf that.

Yet if Cutler falls flat on his face and the Bears lose there is always the possibility that the Bears franchise tag him.  It would be shocking to me if the front office lets him walk.  Not when Emery hired Trestman with the intention of maximizing the quarterback position (and Emery didn’t mean Josh McCown).  But if Cutler lays an egg perhaps this contract is put in a drawer for a year.  Until we see how Cutler evaluates after another season under Trestman’s tutelage, another year in the Quarterback Whisperer’s system, as the Bears continue to “evaluate”.

Quick tangent: Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year (if I don’t talk to you)!

Now…

Chicago is a city divided into four factions.  There’s the Cutler loyalists, the Anti-Cutler crowd (who just don’t like Cutler and probably never have, the group of fans that would rather have the Bears lose on Sunday rather than see Cutler play well, or bad fans as I like to call them), and the Josh McCown supporters (the fans who fell in love with McCown due to his performance and honestly believe he gives the Bears a better chance at winning than Cutler, or as I like to call them, people with a different opinion than mine, one that I can respect and appreciate).  There’s also Bears fans.  Who don’t care about all the hype and fanfare.  Who just want to see their Bears win.  Bless them.  I happen to be one of them.  Despite this article.

I’m writing this article for that fourth group.  For the Bears fans.  The ones who sat through every grueling play of the Eagles debacle.  Who have endured their friends and family and seemingly everyone else spew this complete and utter nonsense about a nonexistent quarterback controversy.  The ones who never wavered in their love for the NFL’s charter franchise.  You guys deserve this article, even though it feeds the fire and fans the flames.  You guys deserve recognition.  The ones who just want to see another notch in the win column.  The ones who remember how to be fans, an art that is rapidly fading throughout the country.  This article is about your perseverance as much as it is about Cutler’s redemption.

But this is article about Cutler.  This is about his shot at redemption.  This is about casting three years of scrutiny and ridicule aside.  This is about the contract and the future.  This is a lot of eggs in one basket.

I believe Cutler will play well.  Not because I’m wearing blinders.  Because the Packers defense is horrid.  Yes, so was the Eagles, but one doesn’t have to do with the other.  If you want me to justify that opinion, the Eagles are a unit which the past few weeks have been coming into their own and literally every player on the Bears took a deuce on the field.

I also believe Cutler will be able to overcome a slow start.  Even if the Soldier Field crowd turns on him.  I’d almost have this game be played on the road if Cutler wasn’t awful in Lambeau Field.  One interception, one three-and-out, one fumble, virtually anything but an opening-drive touchdown and it’s all but assured a chorus of boos will reign down in Cutler’s direction, deserved or not.  But I believe that won’t be an issue.

I believe Cutler and company will get off to a fast start.  I believe the line will block, that they will rebound from last week’s 5-sack embarrassment and keep Cutler clean.  I believe Forte will have lanes to run through and that Martellus Bennett, Alshon Jeffrey, and Marshall will impose their will on a struggling Packers’ secondary.  I believe Green Bay’s defense is in for a long day.  And I believe Cutler will be the best player on the field.

So why do I believe this?  Why do I believe the Bears will be successful against a team that has owned them the better part of twenty-years?  Why do I believe Cutler will rise to the occasion where he has faltered so many times before?  Maybe the fact that he’s a good player playing a bad unit and we’re all reading way too much into the sideshow and nuances.  Maybe this is one of the few things I can’t quantify.  But I have to believe that things don’t come full circle like this just to let us down.  I have to believe in happy endings.  I have to believe in redemption.

“All I ever had; Redemption songs; These songs of freedom; Songs of freedom.” -Bob Marley

NFL Week 1 and Season Predictions: I’ve Gone Off the Rails

September 9, 2013

By Ross Mitchell

Note: I was way behind on my deadline so I didn’t edit this for grammar or spell check.  Seriously, if I were any later Vince would beat me up.

So I tried writing the article a multitude of different ways.  From the perspective of a fan to my typical jaded attitude toward the media.  Ultimately I decided that I’m happy football is back.  Both collegiate and professionally.  I love waking up on Saturday and catching whatever games happen to be one: Northwestern vs. Iowa, Ohio State versus Michigan State, Kansas State v. Texas, and Texas A&M vs. Florida, all at the same time.  Followed by USC versus Stanford, The Bedlam game, and Indiana versus Purdue.  Cap it off with Alabama-LSU and Oregon versus UCLA, and you have yourself a nice little Saturday.  But as much as entertaining as that can be, the it all comes down to Sunday.  Red Zone, Fantasy Football, and the NFL.  You know the feeling.  You know what I’m talking about.  Sitting on your sofa, starring into the TV, pretending the world doesn’t exist outside of 16 NFL stadiums and from wherever the pizza delivery guy appeared.  It’s glorious.  Glorious.

 Below are my week one picks.  I wasn’t able to get the spread to accommodate the degenerate gambler who follow this blog (you shouldn’t bet, there, now I can’t be sued).  I’ve included what I think about each team in the upcoming season and finally my season predictions; team record, individual awards, and how the post season will play out.  In the end, football is back.  And we are all so, so happy.

 (Home teams in bold)

Denver Broncos over Baltimore Ravens

Denver: Lofty expectations for the men from Mile High.  Lots of turnover too.  The defense will struggle while Von Miller serves his six-game suspension.  However, they should be fine with perhaps the most potent offense in the league.  If you were to ask me which is more likely, Peyton Manning throwing for 5,000 yards or Peyton Manning not throwing for 5,000 yards, I’d take the former.

Baltimore: This team could absolutely win the Super Bowl again.  Yes they’ve been bitten by the injury bug, yes there are a lot of new faces.  But the pass-rush featuring Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil should be better than last year.  As will the defense as a whole.  And I think we can stop questioning Joe Flacco now.  I see a return to the playoffs, and career bests by Torrey Smith and some guy named Ray Rice.

Note: I wrote this before Peyton Manning went insane and threw for 75 touchdowns.

New England Patriots over Buffalo Bills

New England: Quiet offseason in Foxboro.  Not much to report about.  In all seriousness, on the field, it going to be hard for anyone to challenge the Patriots for the division crown.  Not because New England are world beaters.  But because they have a competent offense and defense.  No one else in that division an claim that.  Tom Brady will be fine, so will Rob Gronkowski.  But for everyone who says Danny Amendola will just step in and replace (and surpass) Wes Welker’s production, I say to you, “hahahahahaha”.

Buffalo: I said when E.J. Manuel was drafted the Bills wasted their first round pick.  I said that they failed to learn their lesson after firing Chan Gailey and hiring Doug Marrone.  So far I’m willing to admit that Manuel looks not only competent, but good.  I’m not sold on Marrone yet.  The Bills are an interesting team because C.J. Spiller has such high upside, but until the defense shows a hint of reliability, I can’t trust them to win week-in and week-out.

Carolina Panthers over Seattle Seahawks

Game Note: One of the more underrated stats in the NFL are how bad teams are when traveling cross-country in early games.

Carolina: When Cam Newton first broke into the league he was as successful as any quarterback (not just rookie quarterback) we have seen.  He simply dominated.  Much of that was attributed to Carolina’s ability to run the football and the defense’s inability to hold a lead.  They ran early, passed late.  Toward the second half of the 2011 season, and the first half of 2012, Carolina got away from what made them successful.  They were a pass heavy team and in turn, Cam earned the “turnover prone” stigma.  Now with a defense that could elevate to elite status this season, Carolina is on the verge of returning to the postseason.  However, I think they fall just short.

Seattle: I’m not in love with Seattle like everyone else is.  In fact I think people still see them as the offensive juggernaut that beat up two bad teams and blew out the 49ers when San Francisco was playing for nothing in Week 16.  Imagine that, Pete Carroll running up the score on people.  Nor does anyone want to see that offensively, the Seahawks have made minimal, if any improvement (until (if) Percy Harvin returns).  Or that one of their 11 wins was the Failmary, I love Russell Wilson.  But he, like RGIII, Andrew Luck, and Colin Kaepernick, will now draw the ire of every defensive coordinator in the league.  Lots of things went right for Seattle in 2012.  Will the same thing happen in 2013?

Chicago Bears over Cincinnati Bengals

Chicago: Lovie Smith, fired.  Brian Urlacher, retired.  Lots of change on the lakefront.  Despite going 10-6, the Bears failed to qualify for the playoffs.  General Manager Phil Emery replaced Smith with CFL Coach and offensive/quarterback guru Marc Trestman.  He replaced Brian Urlacher with veteran D.J. Williams and impressive rookie Jonathan Bostic.  Most importantly he has attempted to repair an offensive line that in recent memory, actively tried to kill quarterback Jay Cutler.  The defense appears to be an elite unit once again, and the offense is bursting with potential.  But that doesn’t translate into wins.  Personally, I’m as big of a Jay Cutler supporter as you will find, yet I have no reservations saying he was bad for long stretches last season.  Nor do I have any hesitation saying he has to experience both team and individual success this season if he wants the lucrative contract every player in the NFL so desires.  A lot rides on his shoulders this season, specifically his right one.  He finally has the tools around him to reach his potential.  Interesting correlation.

(However, even if he bad this season, that validate all the unnecessary criticism he has received in the past.  Most of his struggles were due to external factors, not because he is the updated version of Jeff George, or he doesn’t care, or he’s soft, or whatever inaccurate statement is tossed out there.)

Cincinnati: I love the Bengals.  They’re my pick to win the AFC.  Geno Atkins is this season’s breakout defensive player (though he’s already the best defensive tackle in the game).  James Harrison will revitalize his career in the tiger stripes.  The defense as a whole is stout.  The coaching staff is as good as they come.  Giovani Bernard has offensive rookie-of-the-year ability.  Andy Dalton might be the most underrated quarterback in the NFL, with a top-five offensive line protecting him.  And A.J. Green is a game-breaker.  They could win this game by 21.  They could lose by 21.  Regardless, I expect the Bengals to take a tremendous step forward, playing in as late as early-February.

Cleveland Browns over Miami Dolphins

Cleveland: If it weren’t for the aforementioned Bengals, I’d pick the Browns to be my worst-to-first team.  Instead (and don’t ask me to explain this because I can’t) I have them finishing third behind Cincinnati and Baltimore.  But they will be better.  And they could surprise.  Say what you will about Norv Turner the head coach, Norv Turner the offensive coordinator has experienced decades of success.  Brandon Weeden will benefit from his ingenuity, as will Trent Richardson and the Browns young-but-talented receiving core.  The defense is solid, led by shutdown cornerback Joe Hayden, Super Bowl champion Paul Kruger, and rookie Barkevioius Mingo.  My mother considered naming me Barkevious, then the anesthetic kicked in.  Lastly, the Browns could have the best offensive line in the league.

Miami: Remember how unlikeable the Dolphins’ coaching staff was on Hard Knocks in 2012?  They’re still there.  Remember how valuable Reggie Bush was to the Dolphins offensive?  How everything ran through him?  He’s not still there.  Neither is their bookend offensive tackle Jake Long.  Instead they added Mike Wallace, who is in my opinion the best “take-a-top-off-a-defense” receiver in the league, and moved Jonathan Martin from right tackle to left.  A lot of people are high on the Dolphins.  I’m not.  I think the rift between the players and coaches will increase beyond repair.  I think Joe Philbin is fired by the end of the season and the Dolphins finish last in the division.  Because honestly, tell me what the Dolphins do well?  Tell me what their strengths are?  Even if you can, nothing can counteract talent like poor leadership.

Detroit Lions over Minnesota Vikings

Detroit: The NFC North is wide open in my opinion.  Literally every team has a realistic shot at winning 10 to 12 games.  Each team has question marks, each team has strengths.  For the Lions there strength, obviously, is their offense.  Last year Matthew Stafford set an NFL record, becoming the first quarterback to pass the ball 9,000,000 times per game.  Their weaknesses are lack of discipline, the secondary, and to a lesser extent, the running game.  I say to a lesser extent because the Detroit offense is truly indicative of the modern-day NFL.  Instead of trying to be something they’re not and sign a between-the-tackle ball-carrier, they inked Reggie Bush.  While Bush is certainly capable of getting gritty yardage, he is perhaps the best pass-catching running back in the NFL.  Look for Detroit to supplement their runs with swing passes and screens.  Put Bush in open space.  And oh yeah, toss the ball up to some guy named Calvin Johnson.  Matthew Stafford threw for 20 touchdowns last season, Calvin Johnson had 4 touchdowns.  Expect both to double, at minimum.  As far as the other weaknesses go, Glover Quin is an upgrade at safety and Darius Slay is a promising cornerback.  In terms of discipline, that comes from the coaching staff.  Jim Schwartz and company had better improve upon the brain-fart that was last season, or they will be out of a job.

Minnesota: I don’t know if you know this but Adrian Peterson isn’t human.  Example: I blew my shoulder out over ten years ago.  I still lack full range of motion.  Adrian Peterson blew out his knee in Week 16 of the 2011 season, then proceeded to fall eight yards short of the single-season rushing record.  And while Peterson lacks my athleticism, his success was nothing short of remarkable.  Did I say lacks my athleticism?  Because what I meant is I get winded tying my shoes.  The Viking defense, headed by Jared Allen and Chad Greenway is more than reliable, while Greg Jennings is the best pure receiver the Vikings have had since Randy Moss.  But the biggest question mark remains the quarterback, Christian Ponder.  Personally, I think Ponder can be good this year.  Do I expect him to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady?  No.  But it’s his third season.  He made tremendous strides from Year One to Year Two, much like Joe Flacco, much like Andy Dalton.  He can win help win games.  And defenses keying in on stopping Peterson, even a slightly improved Ponder should be able to capitalize on unsuspecting defenses.

Indianapolis Colts over Oakland Raiders

Game Note: The Raiders are involved in this game so they’ll probably lose.

Oakland: There isn’t much to look forward to for the Raiders.  You might say that this season will be played…in a black hole!  Apologizes.  That was terrible.  But not as terrible Oakland’s team.  Boom!  Take that millionaire professional athletes!  This season will be highlighted in Week 3 when Sebastian Janikowski makes his annual trip to the thin-air of Denver, Colorado, and tries to achieve his never-ending-dream of kicking a 70-yard field goal.  Besides that…maybe Terrelle Pryor turns into a dynamic playmaker?  Maybe the defense proves to be an up-and-coming unit (I do like rookie D.J. Hayden a lot).  Maybe Darren McFadden plays well in a contract year?    Maybe all these things happen.  Even if they do, what’s the ceiling?  8-8?  9-7?  My guess is come the NFL Draft (that now for some reason is in May), the Raiders have yet another top-five overall pick.

Indianapolis: T.Y. Hilton is a potential pro-bowler.  He is a candidate for most improved player of the year.  However, I’m not in love with the rest of the team.  While I do think Andrew Luck will improve his overall game, I’m not in love with the Colts offense.  Yes, I know Pep Hamilton was his college offensive coordinator and now calls the plays for the Horseshoe.  I know that they have implemented a series two tight-end set to take advantage of Luck’s strengths as a passer.  But, Pep Hamilton is his offensive coordinator.  He has no experience as a play-caller on an NFL level.  He is replacing Bruce Arians, the man who should have won coach of the year last season.  The man who has proven success on multiple teams with multiple quarterbacks on the professional level.  With respect to Pep Hamilton, he’s not an upgrade over Bruce Arians.  As far as the defense goes, Chuck Pagano a brilliant defensive mind, but what is that team’s identity?  Who are their playmakers?  At this point, I’m not ready to call Indianapolis a playoff team.  They’re the last team out.

 Kansas City Chiefs over Jacksonville Jaguars

Game Note: I don’t care.

Kansas City: Did you hear?  They’re remaking the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Raw Deal.  It’s starring Alex Smith as the quarterback with the highest completion percentage in the NFL, including going 18/19 in his final performance, before getting injured then replaced by a more dynamic playmaker.  He then watches his team make it to the Super Bowl (or one win further than the previous season) before being traded to the 2-14 Kansas City Chiefs.  I’ve had multiple conversations about Alex Smith this offseason.  Why?  I don’t have a good excuse.  He is what he is, and that’s a productive quarterback who can win games if used correctly.  He won’t have eye-popping stats, nor will he turn the ball over.  If you are going to quantify his numbers or compare his athleticism, he’s going to fall short.  But if you’re trying to run an efficient offense be content in the postseason, find me a quarterback the past two seasons with more wins.  That being said, the Chiefs should be much improved this season.  I have them going 8-8 and I freely admit that could be a few wins less of which they are capable.

Jacksonville: Can we stop with all the Blaine Gabbert hate?  Seriously.  He’s not the world quarterback in NFL history.  He’s not even the worst starting quarterback in the league.  Was he drafted too high?  Sure, but that can be said for almost every quarterback ever taken.  That’s the way the business works.  QB Inflation, get used to it.  That being said, Gabbert improved his completion percentage by 7.5%, as well as his yards per game by 18.4 yards and touchdown-to-interception ratio to 3:2.  He’s not a finished product.  He has room for growth.  Again, I don’t pretend he is a world beater, but let’s not write the book on his career while he is still in the early chapters.  As far as the Jaguars go, I think they will be a “good-bad team”, or a team one year away from being competitive.  Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon are promising receivers, and I truly believe Luke Joeckel has pro-bowl ability.  A healthy Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars offense could be better most…  On second thought, I’m not going to finish that sentence.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers over New York Jets

Game Note: The defenses will score more touchdowns than the offenses.  Can I start Darrelle Revis at WR in my fantasy football league…leagues…seven leagues?

Tampa Bay: If anyone drops the “Tampa Bay had the best run defense in the league” argument, your counter should be, “that’s because everyone and their mother was passing on them, to the tune of 297.4 yards per game”.  That was the worst in the league.  Yes, worse than the Saints, if that’s even possible.  To their credit, the Bucs went out and addressed their needs through the draft and free agency, signing Dashon Goldson, trading for Darrelle Revis, and drafting Mark Barron.  What was the worst secondary in the league in 2012 could be the best in 2013.  However, while the passing yards against should decrease significantly, I don’t expect the Bucs to have the top rushing defense in consecutive.  On offense, Doug Martin is a special talent, and Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are the most underrated receiving combination in the NFL.  But I don’t think this team finishes above .500.  I’m not a Greg Schiano fan.  I like Josh Freeman but he can be his own worst enemy.  Ultimately, they strike me as a very mediocre team.

New York Jets: Speaking of mediocre…or, not good enough to be mediocre, the Jets!  I’ll keep this brief.  Bad offensive line, quarterback controversy, no offensive weapons, coach on the hot seat.  There is a strong chance the defense returns to being an elite unit, good enough to win games against teams with otherwise equal talent.  But unless the defense starts housing interceptions and fumble recoveries on a game-by-game basis, we are looking at perhaps the most offensively inept franchise since, well, the Jets.

New Orleans Saints over Atlanta Falcons

New Orleans: The Saints are out for blood this year.  After the “Bountygate” debacle and his year-long suspension, Sean Payton is going to do everything and everything to get back at Roger Goodell for tarnishing his reputation and denying him millions of dollars.  The best way to do that?  Force Goodell to hand him the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.  Look, I’m not stating anything we don’t already know when I say that New Orleans has one of the elite offenses in the NFL.  Drew Brees is my pick for league MVP this season.  The big question mark has to be the defense.  But they don’t need to be world-beaters.  They just need to be middle of the pack and opportunistic.  Quite honestly they can’t be any worse than last season, because statistically last season they were the worst defense, ever.  I see that happening.  In fact I see the defense being flat out good.  Just how good?  Check out my picks at the bottom.

Atlanta: Mike Smith is Jay Peterman.  Seinfeld reference.  That show ended in 1999, which is also the last time the Falcons went to the Super Bowl.  Last season was there chance.  They had the 49ers right where they wanted them and couldn’t seal the deal.  The window has closed.  The Falcons might be competitive, but I think the ship has sailed.  Am I out of metaphors?  Yes I am.  While I love Roddy White and Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Matt Ryan, I’m not nearly as excited about Steven Jackson as everyone else.  Mainly because the Falcons’ line can’t run block.  And how did the defense, which was borderline average, get better?  One of my bold predictions for the season, is that Atlanta finishes under .500.  At the end of the year I’m certain I will look like an idiot, but I’m confident it won’t be because of this pick.

Tennessee Titans over Pittsburgh Steelers

Tennessee: The Titans offensive line looked ridiculous in the preseason.  The best comparison I can make is to the complete and utter decimation Alabama inflicted on Notre Dame in the national championship game.  There were holes wide enough for me to run (waddle) through.  So good in fact that I believe Tennessee will vie with the Cleveland Browns as the most improved offense in the AFC.  Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene are a dynamic and versatile backfield.  Jake Locker is poised for a huge step up in his production.  And Kenny Britt (if his knee is back to 100%) and Kendall Wright can both spread the field and take the top off a defense.  I was so excited about Tennessee I originally had them going 9-7 and finishing as my sixth playoff and second wild card team.  Then I remembered the defense.  Ouch.

Pittsburgh: It’s weird.  I think Mike Tomlin is as good of a coach as there is in the NFL.  I still think Ben Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback.  That defense remains formidable.  But I can’t get excited about the Steelers this season.  Maybe it’s the feeling that they’re due for a bad year.  Maybe I’m 100% wrong about this and they make another deep playoff push.  But whether it be a lack of a clear number one running back in a run-heavy system, the questions on the offensive line, the good but not great receiving core, or how highly I hold the other teams in the division, I’m convinced Pittsburgh will struggle this year.

Arizona Cardinals over St. Louis Rams

Arizona: Since the NFL has gone to the eight-division format, a team that enters the season having finished last in their division has gone on to win their division the following year.  The popular choice in 2013 is the Kansas City Chiefs.  I’ve even heard a few people say the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Detroit Lions.  I’m going against the grain.  Powerfully against the grain.  I’m going against the two teams most experts have picked as the perennial favorites to win the NFC (San Francisco and Seattle).  That’s right, I’m picking the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC West.  Commit me now.  Here’s my thinking: 1) there is an actual NFL quarterback on the roster.  Yes Carson Palmer throws a lot of picks, but he throws for a lot of yards and touchdowns too; 2) the offensive line is better, as is the running game, with the return of Levi Brown and addition of Eric Winston and Rashard Mendenhall; 3) this is the breakout defense of the 2013 season.  Patrick Peterson is the best cornerback west of the Mississippi River.  And the Honey Badger, Tyrone Mathieu is going to win defensive rookie of the year.  This game in particular might be a tall task, considering the Rams pass rush (I said the offensive line is better, not good), but I’m going to stick to my guns.

St. Louis: The Rams are another team that people think will break out this season.  I see them as a .500 club.  I like the defense, I like Sam Bradford, I like Jake Long and the offensive line.  But I don’t like a team that has a multitude of big-play, rookie wide receivers topping their depth chart.  Tavon Austin and Chris Givens can blow by a cornerback almost at will, but can they run crisp routes?  Can they make the difficult catches across the middle of the field on 3rd-and-7?  Eventually, yes.  But there are going to be growing pains.

San Francisco 49ers over Green Bay Packers

San Francisco: Boy that Colin Kaepernick sure was impressive in the 10 games he played in on the Niners way to (and-including) the Super Bowl.  San Francisco better hope he’s just as good and doesn’t struggle now that teams have spent all season scheming against the read-option.  I will give him credit, he was outstanding.  He was given an opportunity and he thrived.  But I’m not ready to call this guy a hall-of-famer like so many others.  I’m not ready to call him elite.  Same with Luck, same with RGIII, same with Russell Wilson.  I want to see a player excel for more than just a handful of games before I anoint them as something special.  Just look at Cam Newton.  He was “nothing we’ve ever seen” and will “revolutionize the game” in 2011.  In 2012 he was a pouter, a poor passer, and turnover prone.  A good fantasy quarterback but we’ll wait and see on his actual NFL career.  However, the Niners defense is the best in the NFL.  Their line is fantastic, as is the ageless (and often overlooked) Frank Gore (who should be in the Hall of Fame himself if he manages to win a ring before he retires).  It will be another strong season on the Bay.

Green Bay: Message to everyone who thinks Green Bay is better when they run the ball more; You’re taking the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hand.  Running the ball does not correlate with success.  You don’t need to do it to be successful in the NFL anymore, that’s a fact.  Being able to run for a yard when you need a yard is important, as is keeping a defense honest by running the ball, but Adrian Peterson ran for almost 2,100 yards and the Vikings barely made the playoffs.  Aaron Rodgers had his worst season in three years and the Packers won the division.  Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin might enable the Packers to run the ball more effectively when they do run the ball, but the Packers running for the sake of running is just about the worst idea I’ve ever heard.  Now, on a whole, I see the Packers taking a step back in 2013.  The defense lost their leader (Charles Woodson) and the offensive line has gone from bad to worse with the injury of Brian Bulaga.  However, a step back for the Packers is still a 10-win season.

Dallas Cowboys over New York Giants

Dallas: Tony Romo’s a good quarterback.  He dropped an extra-point seven years ago.  Time to move on, they would have gotten trounced by the Bears the next week anyway.  He throws some backbreaking interceptions every now and then.  So does every quarterback.  The Cowboys haven’t made the playoffs in recent history because of the defense.  Because of the lack of a running game.  Because of sheer bad luck.  I do think it’s hilarious that, heading into Week 17, they’ve had the opportunity to win the division three years in a row, and all three years they’ve lost to the three other teams in the division (the Eagles in 2010, the Giants in 2011, and the Redskins in 2012).  But it might all be worth it if that translates into a Super Bowl in 2013.  The defense has to play more consistently for the Cowboys to reach the playoffs, and DeMarco Murray has to stay healthy, especially in November and December (and early January).  I think they will, and Jerry World hosts its first postseason game in its short but wildly over-zealous history.

New York Giants: The Giants are hard to figure out.  They will dominate New England, Denver, and San Francisco, only to lose to the Panthers, Eagles, and Dolphins.  Perhaps they’re a microcosm of today’s NFL, a week-to-week team that can truly win or lose on any given Sunday.  Or they’re mediocre.  A lot rides on David Wilson’s shoulders this season now that he’s receiving the lion’s share of the carries.  Even more fall on Eli Manning’s.  Again, I think the Giants are an average team, but if any one squad can sneak into the playoffs and catch fire at the right time, it would be the G-Men!

Washington Redskins over Philadelphia Eagles

Washington: I just want Rex Grossman to play.

Philadelphia: Someone explain to me how Chip Kelly’s high tempo offense will revolutionize the game when the Eagles are constantly going 3-and-out?

Houston Texans over San Diego Chargers

Houston: Arian Foster is fine physically.  Andre Johnson isn’t washed up.  Matt Schaub is good enough to win a Super Bowl.  The defense is one of the best in the league.  Houston is a Super Bowl contender.  The question is whether or not they are able to take the next step.  I think they will be, making yet another deep playoff run.

San Diego: I used to loath Phillip Rivers.  I was the first one to say he was a product of the talent around him and he in fact did not make those around him better.  Now that he has no talent around him I can see that I was wrong.  He’s not mobile, which means he needs a good line to excel.  He makes receivers and tight ends play to a higher level than they are otherwise capable, but if he can’t get the ball off because he’s flat on his back, the point is moot.  I wonder if he will be in another uniform at the end of the season, as I don’t expect the Chargers to be very good this year.  However, I fully admit that the defense might be better than I give them credit for, and they could sneak into that final playoff seed in the otherwise awful AFC (I think Cincinnati, Houston, Denver, New England, and Baltimore are all playoff caliber teams.  The final spot is a crapshoot between Miami (though I don’t like them), Kansas City, Indianapolis, and dark horses like Cleveland, San Diego and Tennessee).

And now my season predictions.  I took some long shots because why not:

AFC

East

(4) New England Patriots              (10-6)

Buffalo Bills                                        (6-10)

New York Jets                                    (6-10)

Miami Dolphins                                (5-11)

North

(1) Cincinnati Bengals                      (12-4)

(5) Baltimore Ravens                        (10-6)

(6) Cleveland Browns                         (9-7)

Pittsburgh Steelers                             (7-9)

West

(2) Denver Broncos                          (12-4)

Kansas City Chiefs                              (8-8)

San Diego Chargers                         (6-10)

Oakland Raiders                               (3-13)

South

(3) Houston Texans                         (11-5)

Indianapolis Colts                               (9-7)

Tennessee Titans                                (7-9)

Jacksonville Jaguars                          (3-13)

NFC

East

(4) Dallas Cowboys                           (10-6)

Washington Redskins                       (9-7)

New York Giants                                 (8-8)

Philadelphia Eagles                          (4-12)

North

(3) Chicago Bears                             (11-5)

(6) Green Bay Packers                   (10-6)

Detroit Lions                                        (8-8)

Minnesota Vikings                             (7-9)

West

(2) Arizona Cardinals                       (11-5)

(5) San Francisco 49ers                   (11-5)

Seattle Seahawks                               (8-8)

St. Louis Rams                                     (8-8)

South

(1) New Orleans Saints                   (11-5)

Carolina Panthers                               (8-8)

Atlanta Falcons                                    (7-9)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers                   (6-10)

MVP: Drew Brees

DMVP: Geno Atkins

Coach of the Year: Sean Payton

Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Giovanni Bernard

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Tyrone Mathieu

Most Improved Offensive Player: Mark Ingram

Most Improved Defensive Player: Shea McClellin

Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Smith

Playoffs

 AFC Wild Card

3. Houston Texans over 6. Cleveland Browns; 5. Baltimore Ravens over 4. New England Patriots

NFC Wild Card

3. Chicago Bears over 6. Green Bay Packers; 4. Dallas Cowboys over 5. San Francisco 49ers

AFC Divisional Playoffs

1. Cincinnati Bengals over 5. Baltimore Ravens; 3. Houston Texans over 2. Denver Broncos

 NFC Divisional Playoffs

1. New Orleans Saints over 4. Dallas Cowboys; 3. Chicago Bears over 2. Arizona Cardinals

AFC Championship

1. Cincinnati Bengals over 3. Houston Texans

NFC Championship:

1. New Orleans Saints over 3. Chicago Bears

Super Bowl XLVIII

1. New Orleans Saints over 1. Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl MVP: Drew Brees

Year 2 Many: My Dissatisfaction with the Chicago Cubs

July 21, 2013

By Ross Mitchell

Recently I made the observation that the Cubs had once again become a “watchable” team.  This sparked debate from friends, colleagues, and former teachers who are now friends.  Some remained skeptical, some were cautiously optimistic, and some had the audacity to question my loyalty as a Cubs fan.  Before I go any further, allow me to clarify something; I am a Cubs fan.  I am a Bears fan, I am a fan of every Chicago sports team with the exception of the White Sox, and I hold no ill-will toward the South Siders.  When Chicago does well, regardless of the team, I’m happy.  But, when I analyze a team or make an observation or write an article such as this, I don’t formulate my opinions on what I want to see.  I develop them based on what I do see.

Anyway, my statement that the Cubs have returned to the status of “watchable” is due to more than their recent-yet-mild success.  They still lose more games than they win, they are still comfortably under the .500 mark.  But they are competitive.  I can watch a full nine innings without wanting to bang my head against a wall, most of the time.  The debate then shifted into the future of the Cubs franchise.  It was then when I stated my dissatisfaction with Cubs President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer.  Which is when I was asked the question.  “Why?”  Why don’t I like the Epstein Regime?

It’s something I’ve touched on multiple times but never really gone into full detail.  The follow is the answer.  The following is why:

First let me state that I am well aware that Jed Hoyer is the general manager of the Chicago Cubs.  That he is tasked with the major and minor league rosters and for putting a winner on the field.  But let me state that I’m also aware that it is Theo Epstein who calls the shots.  And while his responsibilities span well past just the baseball aspect of the organization, the Rickett’s family didn’t hire him to not be directly involved with constructing the roster.

My discontent with the Epstein Regime goes back to the introductory press conference when Mr. Epstein stated the organization would “build the team through the minor league system”.  Of course the front-office would go about improving the roster through free agency and trades, but it was made it very clear that the primary organizational objective was to develop the strongest farm system in all of professional baseball.  And by doing so, in time, the Cubs would be perpetual contenders at the major league level.

In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with the aforementioned statement.  In fact I support it 100%.  I understand that every team needs a strong farm system and essentially the Cubs were operating with a Bronze Age philosophy in terms of scouting and player development.  Speaking on what they have done to change certain fundamental principles on which the Cubs organization operates, specifically regarding scouting and acquiring new talent via overseas and through the draft, I commend the efforts of the Epstein Regime.

But at times it seems like the front office is concerned with adding prospects even at the detriment of the major league roster.  They are so fixated on what will happen five years down the line that I feel as if they simply ignore any opportunity to win three years down the line, or sooner.  How often have we heard about a Cubs signing, “The Cubs signed Player X to a one-year deal.  Hopefully at the deadline they can trade him to a contender looking for help for prospects,”?  If Player X is good enough to help another team win this year, why doesn’t that apply to the Cubs?  True the Cubs are still developing their core, but the core as of right now is Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija, and Travis Wood.  Are you telling me Nate Schierholtz has no role in the Cubs future?  Kevin Gregg?  Matt Garza?

What’s ironic about this whole situation is building a champion through the minor league system is not at all how Mr. Epstein won in Boston.  He won because he inherited a team that had a $125 million dollar payroll in an era when there weren’t $125 million dollar payrolls.  He won not because he is a sabermetrics guy, or due to an influx of prospect which he drafted on the major league roster, but because of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, and the rest of the “Idiots”.  In fact when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, there were only 6 players on the roster originating from the Boston minor league system, one of which was Nomar, and we all know how that story ended.  In 2007 there were a few more players from the Red Sox farm system including Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Clay Buchholtz, but it was essentially the same core as in 2004, only now the payroll topped $150 million.

(Also don’t forget the 2004 offseason and how desperately the Red Sox tried to trade for Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod was still considered to be the best player in baseball. Eventually the Yankees eventually swooped in and the rest is history)

For all the pub the Epstein Regime gets for building the minor league system (and they have made some promising additions such as Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Junior Lake, and Javier Baez), the Cubs have virtually nothing in the minor leagues in terms of pitching.  Keith Law recently submitted his Top 50 prospects throughout baseball during the Future’s Game at this year’s All-Star Weekend.  The Cubs had 4 players on the list, not one pitcher.  According to MLB.com, of the Cubs top 20 prospects, only 4 are pitchers.  Which leads me to the following:

In the past two seasons the Cubs have had Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Jeff, Samardzija, Scott Feldman, and Paul Maholm (amongst other pitchers).  I name those six because a rotation of any five is arguably the best in the major leagues.  So why does it seems like the moment the Cubs traded for Garza, they have been desperately trying to unload him?  Now, in 2-3 years when everyone assumes the Cubs prospects will be ready to compete for a championship, when Baez and Soler and Lake and Castro and Rizzo have a few campaigns under their belt, wouldn’t it be nice to have a staff that’s 5 deep?  Wouldn’t it be nice if, heading into a win-or-go-home series, the Cubs can send Garza, Wood, and Samardzija to the mound?  True they may still have Wood and Samardzija, but are those two good enough to get the Cubs into the postseason, let alone make a run?  And what if either gets hurt?

What if one or two of the “can’t miss” prospects, does in fact miss?  Sending a proven commodity such as Garza to your opponents for something that “could be” is never a wise strategy.  It’s like being on a game show when the host shows you a car behind Door #1, a trip to Hawaii behind Door #2, or the mystery box behind Door #3.  You just don’t roll the dice there.  Yes it could be a million bucks, but it would be a dirty shoe.

Now I know I’m highlighting the negative.  To be fair, the Epstein Regime has made some good moves.  While I initially hated the Sean Marshall for Travis Wood trade, both sides have benefited thus far.  Trading Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo looks like a steal, and electing to play Rizzo at first instead of paying Prince Fielder $20 mil a year may end up being the right and more economic move.

(Speaking of economics, I won’t even get into the renovations the Wrigley nonsense.  Or when Theo Epstein himself says the Cubs need these renovations to win.  You’re trying to make a buck.  And I don’t fault him for that, but don’t say the success of the team depends on a scoreboard in left-center field.  Because you sound like an idiot)

But we also can’t ignore the signing of Ian Stewart, or Edwin Jackson currently making $2 million per win this season, or Kyuji Fujikawa, or Scott Baker.  Nothing signings that seem to be the mantra of this organization.  Players who haven’t been relevant for years suddenly being marketed as “contributors” while the “real team” develops.  Essentially the Epstein Regime is telling a fan-base that hasn’t seen their team win a title since Teddy Roosevelt was in office to “wait”.

(Nor can we ignore how absolutely infuriating the Matt Garza situation has been handled.  I just don’t understand how the Cubs can be so content with trading him while they sign Edwin Jackson to a 4-year, $40 Million contract.  There’s no justification for it.  It’s yet another poor decision in series of poor decisions)

Which brings me to my next point; I don’t think Mr. Epstein respects Cubs fans.  I think he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else.  I think his mentality is “I’m from Boston.  Everybody knows Red Sox Nation is a better fan base and a better baseball town.  Cubs fans aren’t as passionate, they’ll support the team no matter what.  They’ve been waiting this long, what’s a few more seasons?  And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll go elsewhere.  No big deal.”  Again, he’s trying to convince us that the Cubs need money from the city of Chicago in order to put out a winner.  Not that he’s the team president and the Ricketts family likely told him that he needed to do everything in his power to get this deal done, but because somehow, someway the new restrooms at Wrigley will help Starlin Castro once again hit over .300.

For those of you screaming, “What’s he supposed to say?”  How about he says nothing?  How about he says it will make the experience better for the fans?  The renovations are cosmetic.  They’re designed to make money.  Which would be fine if they spent the money if free agency.  Speaking of which…

There is a strong possibility that Epstein is afraid to pull the trigger on a big-name free agent after the way his tenure in Boston ended.  This scares me to death.  The Carl Crawford and John Lackey deals are still scrutinized as two of the worst contracts in recent memory.  And by the 2011 season Mr. Epstein was shelling out cash to anything that looked good more frequently than a Wall Street stock broker in 2007.  The Red Sox blew a 9 game lead in September after going 7-20 to finish the season.  Mr. Epstein lost his job because of the collapse.  His dream job.  And he looked dumb.  For someone who prides himself on being the smartest man in the room, for someone with a reputation of being a “wiz-kid”, for an academic, looking dumb is the equivalent of a power-pitcher losing his velocity.  And in the interest of fairness, I will give the Epstein Regime a pass for this past offseason due to the fact that A) the free agency classes were less than stellar and B) the Cubs didn’t have the money to spend.

But that leniency only applies to not inking the big names with big price tags, not for the players the Cubs did chose to bring into the organization, and not for the reason they were signed.  Because the next time The Epstein Regime signs a player to a long term (or even multi-year) contract, with the intention of having that player contribute to the Cubs “eventual” post-season run, and not to trade for prospects (or international money), will be the first time.  And now that the Cubs have been granted seemingly everything they’ve asked for in the Wrigley renovation deal, now that they have an influx of revenue, the excuse of not being able to “afford it” is no longer acceptable.

For me, this offseason is make-or-break for Mr. Epstein and company.  Everything I just said criticizing their philosophy, their efforts, and most importantly their results, will be either proven or proven wrong based on what steps the Cubs take from December to February.  If it’s another offseason of “wait for the kids to grow up”, then everything I’ve just listed is validated.  Year 3 of the Epstein Regime just cannot be another throw away season.  Year 3 cannot be sacrificed for Year 4.  It can’t be spent on rebuilding.

(I’d also like to point out that the St. Louis Cardinals lost Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols and the very next season were one game away from going back to the World Series and are currently the best team in baseball.  So maybe rebuilding isn’t as arduous of a process as we are being led to believe.  And yes, the Cardinals were a better team to begin with, but come on).

Contrarily, if the Cubs do decide to sign or trade for a player (or players) that address immediate needs, so the major league team can win games in 2014 and beyond, then I’m wrong.  And I’ll no problem admitting it.  I’ll have no problem apologizing and eating crow and receiving the jibes and insults I would so rightfully deserve.  Understand, I want to wrong about this.  I want the Cubs to win the free agent race and win the NL Central and win the National League Pennant and win the World Series.  But I just don’t see that happening, not when the message coming from the top is, “Wait ‘Til Next Year”.

Mock and Roll: 2013 NFL Mock Draft

April 19, 2013

By Ross Mitchell

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the tragedy which took place at the Boston Marathon on Monday.  All I’ll say my thoughts, love, and prayers are with the entire city and all those affected by this senseless act of terrorism.  I’m hard on Boston sports fans.  I’m hard on the city.  But I have no hesitation in saying it is one of the great American cities this wonderful nation has to offer.  As of Tuesday I began running again.  Not for my health, not to lose weight, not because I like it.  Because 3 people, including an eight-year old were murdered.  Over 170 more people were injured.  I run for them.  I run for Boston.  The next step is always the hardest.  There are a handful of cities that can overcome an attack of this magnitude and come out stronger.  Boston is one of them.

Moving onto my annual mock draft from there might seem trivial and trite.  But let’s do it.  We haven’t had much reason to smile this past week, I can at least try to remedy that.  So, without further ado…

My mock draft was the last article I wrote back in 2012 before making like Bruce Wayne and vanishing from society.  Also like Bruce Wayne I’ve been urinating in mason jars and spending most of my time in a cave for the past calendar year.  And people say I don’t know how to have fun.  Let’s hope I don’t pull another disappearing act.

While writing this I decided to play general manager for all 32 teams in the NFL, which I should be.  I took the liberty of exploring a few potential trades I thought could lead to interesting avenues.  At the end of the first round I have also included the complete draft for the Chicago Bears.  Phil Emery you have my number.  They’re on the back of those photos I’ve been sending you.

(I’ve been sending him high resolution shots of Mike Ditka’s mustache.  Wait, what did you think I meant?)

Up, up, and away:

1. Kansas City Chiefs; Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M University.  The Chiefs had a nightmare season last year.  Literally as bad as it gets both on the field and off it.  Hopefully this is the first (or second if you count the Alex Smith trade) step toward returning to playoff contention, and, if nothing else, stability.  Joeckel is the most NFL ready tackle in the draft and makes OT Brandon Albert expendable.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars; Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Bingham Young University.  Derrick Harvey, Quentin Groves, Terrance Knighton, Tyson Alualu, Larry Hart, Austen Lane, and Andre Branch.  Those are the defensive ends the Jaguars have drafted since 2008.  If you don’t remember seeing those players on the field, neither do the opposing teams’ quarterback.  Why not spend the second overall pick on a developmental player?  Makes sense, considering they’re also paying Jason Babin’s contract.   When’s the move to L.A.?  And did Maurice Jones-Drew ever get that contract he was holding out for?  Or did he get fined a boatload of money and suffer a season ending injury like every other running back in the history of the NFL who holds out that isn’t named Emmitt Smith?

3. Oakland Raiders; Sharrif Floyd, DT, University of Florida.  I want to apologize to Sharrif Floyd and his family.  Don’t take this personally.  It’s an objective analysis.  I would never insult anyone so viciously as to say they would be drafted by the Oakland Raiders if I did not think it true.  In fact it can be taken as a complement…  The third overall pick?  No, no it can’t.  The Raiders were horrendous against the run last season.  They were also horrible against the pass.  Floyd is a two-way stand-out and a dynamic athlete.  And with the departure of Tommie Kelly they need a player with his potential to build upon.  Signing Nick Roach and Mike Jenkins does make them betterslightly…but not enough for me to think that the Raiders won’t be picking within a few spots of this slot next year.  Oh who am I kidding, they’ll probably draft a quarterback after trading for Matt Flynn, or maybe a receiver because, well, that’s what the Raiders do.

4. Philadelphia Eagles; Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan University.  He’s the most athletic of the tackles projected to be selected in the early rounds.  And with the exception of the Arizona Cardinals nobody had a more dismal offensive line this past season than the Eagles.  Jason Peters is returning off a twice-torn Achilles injury so there is no guarantee he ever returns to form, but even if he’s 75% of what he used to be, adding both him and Fisher already makes life easier on Michael Vick.  It’s also important to have a versatile athlete such as Fisher with the implementation of Chip Kelly’s new fast-paced offense (I assume it will be based on what he ran at Oregon).  Ah the Pac-12, where if you cheat well enough you can earn both you and your school a fistful of dollars, earn national praise, then bolt to the NFL just as the NCAA sanctions are about to come down.

(At least Oregon has to give back the ill-gotten-gains.  They don’t?  Did they receive any kind of punishment?  They put themselves on self-imposed sanctions?  That’s like a teenager being caught with a beer by his parents and saying “I was out of line.  As punishment I will drink in my room”)

5. Detroit Lions; Dee Milliner, CB, University of Alabama.  Three national championships in four years?   Not a bad haul for the Crimson Tide.  Please, I do that all the time in NCAA Football.  Actually what I do is raise my fake dynasty from mediocrity to a perennial powerhouse, win a couple titles, violate a few bylaws, then leave for the NFL.  Oh, I just made that joke?  Don’t you just hate it when someone the same obnoxious joke over-and-over again?  If only someone would take preventative measures to ensure I can’t make the same joke over and over again without any kind of ramifications.  Or leave unscathed for a higher paying job with a more prestigious organization.  As far as Dee Milliner goes, he is a very physical cornerback, a position at which the Lions desperately need to improve.  Don’t be surprised if Detroit is competitive again in 2013.

(While we’re on the subject of gutless coaches, how about Mike Rice?  I try not to judge people, but this guy is in a league of his own.  He should also be brought up on criminal charges.  And for those of you who say “he’s old school” or “it’s part of the game”, how about we find a fully grown man to chuck a ball at your son or daughter’s head while he calls him such inventive names like “fag” or “fairy”.  To be fair, what Rice lacked in basic human decency he also lacked in ability)

6. Cleveland Browns; Dion Jordan, DE, University of Oregon.  The Browns pass-rush last year was about as effective as me on a 4X1600 relay team.  There was a lot of huffing and puffing but ultimately it was just a bunch of fat guys sweating while failing to arrive at their destination.  Jordan is an extremely gifted athlete who can have an instant impact.  And since I promised to make bold predictions, I’m going to make this one now: The 2013 Cleveland Browns win more games than the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.  Is that the popular pick?  No.  Is that the smart pick?  No.  Do I regret making that statement on the internet?  100%.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (from Arizona); Star Lotulelei, DT, University of Utah.  Look what we have here?  A trade!  Everyone knows the Chiefs are trying to ship offensive tackle Brandon Albert to another team.  With the drafting of Joekel first overall this enables them to do so without any hesitation.  And there isn’t a team in the league who needs an offensive tackle more than the Arizona Cardinals.  Seriously, their offensive line was David Carr on the Texans bad.  All John Skelton replica jerseys came pre-ripped with grass stains on the back (not that anyone bought a John Skelton jersey).  And newly acquired Carson Palmer isn’t exactly fleet-of-foot.  In a division that features the pass rushes of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and St. Louis Rams, protecting Palmer is priority #1.  The trade consists of the Chiefs giving Arizona their 2014 first-round pick, a 2013 third-round pick (63rd overall), and a 2013 fifth-round pick (134th overall).  Kansas City also gets Arizona’s third-round pick (69th overall) and the 176th overall pick which Arizona acquired from Tennessee through Minnesota.  As far as Lotulelei goes, he may not be a need, he does have a health concern, and they did draft Dontari Poe last season, but he is extremely talented and could pair quite nicely with Poe in Andy Reid’s 4-3 defense.

(Also there isn’t really a pair of dominant defense tackles on one team anymore is there?  The last one was the Williams Brothers (Kevin and Pat) on the Minnesota Vikings.  Lotuelelei and Poe have that kind of ability, though neither one has a nickname like “Fat” Pat Williams.  Unless my suggestion of Dontari Poe Boy Sandwich catches fire…)

8. Buffalo Bills; Chance Warmack, OG, University of Alabama.  The OG stands for original gansta, not offensive guard, though Warmack is both.  Seriously, this guy is as good of an interior offensive line prospect as there has been since Leonard Davis in 2001.  He’s the best offensive lineman in the draft.  Losing Andy Levitre was tough, but I would argue Warmack will be an upgrade in the very near future.

9. New York Jets; Barkevious Mingo, DE, Louisiana State University.  I can see this pick going one of three ways:

1.  The Jets draft Geno Smith and create an even bigger media frenzy at the quarterback position.

2.  The Jets draft a position of desperate need such as running back (they lost Shonne Green to Tennessee) or wide receiver (they lost no one of significance because they went into the offseason with no one of significance).  They pick either Eddie Lacy, the running back from Alabama or Tavon Austin the wide receiver from West Virginia.

3.  They go defense again and continue to ignore the offensive side of the ball.  If I were laying odds I’d say 70% defense, 30% Geno Smith, 0% addressing their needs.  Mingo is an explosive pass-rusher with a great first step and good hand movement.  He is a fine addition to any team’s defense.  But why?  Why oh why not help Sanchez or Tebow?  Just, why?

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Tennessee Titans); Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia University.  I don’t believe Greg Schiano is sold Josh Freeman despite the K-State alum throwing for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns (if Jay Cutler had those numbers I’d be squealing like a school girl…more so than I already am).  In fact with this selection he may end up being traded to a team like the Jets, Eagles, or Jaguars later in the draft.  And while I don’t think the Chargers or Dolphins would draft Smith before the Bucs have the opportunity to, there is no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL.  All moving up three spots costs Tampa Bay is a 4th round pick.  Now they have Smith and Doug Martin, perhaps the best young backfield in the league.  Wide receiver is also an option here but Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams were wildly underrated and there’s bound to be a more viable option in the later rounds.  And just so we’re clear, I like Josh Freeman.  I think he’s good.  I was the beneficiary of his 5 TD performance during Week 16 of the 2010 season that won me and 1,000,000 other fantasy owners their league championship.  But he is inconsistent and I’m not certain Schiano wants to hitch his horse to a wagon that’s so hit-or-miss.  I said it, hitch-his-horse.

(There is about a .0000001% chance this happens, but it’s a different caveat.  And if I’m going to make that justification I’m going to ask you to ignore the “this is an objective analysis” comment I made seven picks prior)

Update (4/21/13): 10. Tennessee Titans; Sheldon Richardson, DT, University of Missouri.  So the Buccaneers did make a trade, just with the Jets instead of the Titans.  And pending a physical, Darrelle Revis is headed to Tampa Bay in exchange for the 13th overall pick (among others).  Geno Smith to Tampa Bay was always a very, very, very, very long shot.  Now it isn’t going to happen.  As far as the Titans pick at ten, there is a chance they elect to take Tavon Austin, but I think they stick with Richardson because he address their biggest need and is worthy of a top ten pick.

11. San Diego Chargers; Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia University.  The popular pick here is that the Chargers draft an offense lineman to help keep Rivers upright.  Lane Johnson of Oklahoma perhaps?  D.J. Fluker of Alabama?  No.  Looking at the Chargers roster, I just have one question; who are the playmakers?  Who on that team gives a defense pause?  Danario Alexander?  Antonio Gates’ shell?  Ryan Mathews?  Say what you will about Phillip Rivers regressing the past few seasons, there is a strong case to be made that his struggles are directly correlated with the decrease in talent at the skill positions around him (thanks A.J. Smith).  Seriously, at one point Rivers had LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, and a healthy Antonio Gates sharing a huddle with him.  Now his most viable option is a journeyman wide-out or a man last relevant when he punched Ruxin out in season 1 of The League (he did drop a 40-burger).  Austin, if nothing else, is a deep threat.  He has the potential to open up the underneath routes for Alexander, Gates, Malcolm Floyd, Robert Meachem, Michael Spurlock, and Eddie Royal.  And Phillip Rivers loves to throw the deep ball, he’s as good as anyone in the league at throwing the deep ball.  Want proof?  Vincent Jackson is making $11,000,000 a year.  It’s true the Bolts could upgrade the front five and feel as if they’ve taken a step forward, but in drafting Austin, a true-burner, they could bolt in the right direction.  See what I did there?

12. Miami Dolphins; Lane Johnson, OT, University of Oklahoma.  If Joekel is the most NFL ready tackle in this year’s draft and Fischer is the most athletic, Johnson has the highest upside.  And if it sounds like I’m quoting Todd McShay it’s because he provides nearly the exact same analysis.  Johnson has been a road-grater in the run game and a wall in pass-protection.  Jake Long leaves large shoes to fill protecting Ryan Tannehill’s blindside.  It may take a few seasons but Johnson, if nothing else, can win one-on-one matchups against the majority of defensive ends in the NFL.  Also, the Dolphins are not-so-quietly becoming a trendy pick among experts and analysts as this season’s “breakout” team.  Apologies to Joe Philbin, who I was very critical of early last season.  He has far exceeded my expectations and made Tannehill a potential Matthew Stafford-esq type player in a short period of time.

13. Tennessee Titans (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Sheldon Richardson, DT, University of Missouri.  Another team that could breakout in 2013 is the Titans.  The additions of Andy Levitre (how many times can you reference a guard in one article?) and Chris Spencer provide both stability and versatility to the offensive-line.  The wide-receiving corps is seemingly healthy.  Jake Locker appeared capable when he was on the field.  The one unit that still needs to improve is the defense, in particular, the defensive line.  Adding a big, athletic body like Richardson might not be a sexy pick, but it fills an overwhelming need.  I feel as if the Texans have reached their ceiling.  I feel that once again the Colts are the class of that division.  This is a very transitional year in the AFC.  Something as simple as controlling the interior line of scrimmage may prove to be the defining factor in Nashville in 2013.  Sink-or-swim gentlemen.  Lastly, Nashville should also stock up on beer just in case Bears fans decide drink the city dry again.

Update (4/21/13): New York Jets; Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia.  The Jets might, and I stress might do the right thing here and draft an offensive skill player to help the slew of quarterbacks they already have on the roster.  My guess is they won’t.  It’s fitting that the Jets send the most valuable defensive player in the league since 2005 (albeit injured) to another team for a prospect who is perhaps the most criticized “top-overall” quarterback entering the draft since Alex Smith, also in 2005.  I’m not sold that Smith is the right pick here.  I’m not sure he’s better than Sanchez or Tebow.  What I am sure about is like the current Jets signal-callers, he will have no help from the running game, no receivers in which to throw.  What’s interesting here, in my opinion, is the increased likelihood that sometime in the near future Mark Sanchez is playing in a different uniform.  But what do the Jets expect to get for him?  Matt Flynn cost the Raiders a 5th round and conditional draft pick.  Colt McCoy cost the 49ers a 5th and 7th round pick.  Sanchez has led the Jets to two AFC Championship games and a 34-30 record yet remains one of the most scrutinized quarterback in the game today.  Is his value higher or lower than the two aforementioned players?  Personally I say he’s worth a 5th and 6th round pick.  And if you actually give him time/receivers, he has proven he can win.  But again, this is the Jets we’re talking about and there’s a real possibility they draft their second linebacker of the round.

14. Carolina Panthers; John Jenkins, DT, University of Georgia.  Luke Kuechly is an absolute beast.  Imagine the type of production he would have with a big space-eater like Jenkins in front of him eating up blocks.  Sylvester Williams might be the better prospect, but similar to the 2000 Ravens with Tony Siragusa and Sam “The Keg” Adams eating up guards and centers enabling Ray Lewis to roam free, and to a lesser extent the 2001 Bears with Ted Washington and Keith Traylor ensuring Brian Urlacher remained untouched around the line of scrimmage, the pairing of Jenkins and Dwan Edwards could enable Kuechly to rack up an insane amount of tackles.  If there’s anyone who knows how to coach both defense and linebackers, its Bob Babich’s predecessor, Ron Rivera.  Also Jenkins will shore-up the run defense if for no other reason than he weighs 359 lbs., or one me.

15. New Orleans Saints; A bag of cash to pay Sean Payton.  In actuality, Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State University.  Rhodes is a big, athletic corner back.  He is physical and mean.  While he does need to develop in terms of “reading-and-reacting”, he has all the tools to be an instant contributor to a defense that at times was non-existent last year.  Seriously, was Sean Payton suspended or was it the entire Saints defense?  And similar to the NFC North, the NFC South is loaded with pass-heavy offenses and tough, imposing receivers.  I’m talking about you Roddy White and Julio Jones.  They hear me.

16. St. Louis Rams; Eddie Lacy, RB, University of Alabama.  Would you go into the season with Daryl Richardson as your starting running back?  Would the Rams?  It is entirely possible that Lacy, a near carbon copy of former Crimson Tide teammate Trent Richardson, doesn’t make it this far.  What’s to keep a team in need of a running back (say the Steelers or Colts) from jumping ahead of the Rams and vulture Lacy?  Allowing him to fall to this point, in a sense, is a risk.  But, a small risk, a gambit worth taking.  Lacy is a powerful runner who can carry a heavy workload.  He isn’t the pass-catcher Stephen Jackson was, nor is he as athletic as Jackson in his prime, but he is a battering-ram (eh?  eh?) who can wear down a defense.  And ironically enough, in selecting Lacy, he once again splits the backfield with another Richardson.  What does that mean?  I have entirely too much time on my hands.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers; Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, University of Tennessee.  Free-fall is 9.8 meters per second per second.  Thought that was apt when discussing the Steelers.  Mike Tomlin is a phenomenal coach.  If there is anyone with the wherewithal to adapt to the not-so-subtle exodus of core members on both sides of the ball Pittsburgh is experiencing, it’s Omar Epps’ clone.  But you don’t just lose a Mike Wallace, James Harrison, and Rashard Mendehall (albeit injured and fried of the PUP List) and expect to be over .500.  Patterson is the closest thing to Wallace in this year’s draft.  They have to give Roethlisberger some kind of downfield threat or opposing teams will simply sit on his receivers’ routes and jump them at will.  In my mind 2013 is a rebuilding season in Steel town.  (Did someone say the Cleveland Browns…?  I did, foolishly)

18. Dallas Cowboys; Sylvester Williams, DT, University of Michael Jordan.  With Rod Marinelli replacing an overweight Jeffrey Lebowski (you may know him as Rob Ryan, and that’s Dude, not Jeffrey Lebowski), the Cowboys will need an athletic 4-technique defensive tackle who can command blockers up-front, freeing up the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff.  Williams is that player.  Kenny Vaccaro is a popular pick here, but knowing what I know about the Marinelli Cover-2 (which is a lot), the key to that defense is pressuring the quarterback, preferably up the middle.  Williams has the potential to be a disruptive force much as Tank Johnson and Israel Idonije (in his defensive tackle days) were for the Bears.  I won’t make the comparison to Tommie Harris or Henry Melton because they were 3-technique defensive tackles and Williams won’t be asked to perform the same responsibilities (at least from the get-go).  If he very easily could become that caliber of player as Rod Marinelli is one of, if not the best defensive line coach(es) in the league.  Then again, Jerry Jones could just draft a kicker.  Never know.

19. New York Giants; Alec Ogletree, LB, University of Georgia.  This was a tough decision.  D.J. Fluker is still on the board and the Giants could upgrade at offensive line.  At the moment David Wilson is “the guy” in the backfield, but that is a fluid situation, so Monte Ball is a possibility, as are Tyler Eifert, and Desmond Trufant.  Ultimately I went with the biggest need and selected Ogletree.  Yes, he has had some off-the-field issues.  But going to a small market team with a tranquil, understanding, logic-oriented fan-base like the New York/New Jersey Giants will be the perfect fit for the former Georgia Bulldog.  He can just ease into the position and come along at his own pace.  Or, not.  Or the exact opposite.  Or bricks through the window, cocaine in the locker-room, guns in his sweat-pants at a nightclub and shooting himself in the leg!  Oh!  They might have canceled Playmakers in 2003 but they can’t stop the New York Football Giants!  Ogletree can play on inside of both a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme.  I honestly believe he has a shot at defensive rookie of the year if he is drafted by the right team, and the Giants fall into that category.  You could say he could be a giant contributor.  A giant contributor.  A giant…contributor.

20. San Francisco 49ers (from Chicago): Kenny Vaccaro, S, University of Texas.  The Bears traded down?  Are they still picking in the first round?  Is it too late to bring back Rex Grossman?  Brian Urlacher?  Jerry Angelo?  Yes, yes, never, probably, and not if I have anything to say about it.  The 49ers at last count have 7,000 picks.  What’s that?  It’s 7,500?  Cool.  In reality it’s 12, and that’s after trading two away for Anquan Boldin and Colt McCoy.  They need to get rid of them, and not just the later or compensatory ones.  The high ones, the ones which demand the most cap space.  Where better than Jim Harbaugh’s old team?  The trade sees the 49ers getting this spot (20th overall and the Bears 2nd round pick, 50th overall).  The Bears get the 31st overall pick, the 49ers pick from Kansas City (34th overall), and the 49ers 3rd round pick (93rd overall).  It seems a bit much for the 49ers to give up, but when you consider they are hard-pressed against the cap and they still have 9 selections to spend or siphon away, moving up for an instant impact player such as Vaccaro makes a lot of sense.  And considering Kenny Vaccaro is the perfect replacement for DaShaun Goldston, the 49ers reaffirm my opinion that they are the team to beat in 2013.

21. Cincinnati Bengals; Jonathan Cooper, OG, University of North Carolina.  Here is this year’s version of the Houston Texans.  Big, big steps this season.  They’re ready.  Now, offensive line isn’t a weak-point for the Bengals.  Truth-be-told the Bengals don’t have a “weak” point on the entire roster.  But Cooper has top-10 talent.  Adding him at 21 gives the Bengals the one of the five best offensive-lines in the league (if Andre Smith resigns).  And it’s way too good of a value not to snag the Tar Heel.  Look for the Bengals to draft at another wide receiver in the second round to add an outside threat complimenting A.J. Green.  With the Texans window closing and the Ravens window being slammed shut, the Bengals could be the team that steps into elite status in the AFC along with the Patriots and Broncos.

22. St. Louis (from Washington); Jarvis Jones, LB, University of Georgia.  Jarvis Jones has the talent to go in the top-ten.  He’s here for no other reason that circumstance.  After drafting Lacy the Rams could elect to select a wide-out with this pick, but I feel of the players left at that position, compared with Jones, the value is too much to pass up.  Teaming Jones with James “Road Warrior” Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar gives the Rams one of the most complete linebacking corps in the league, right up there with San Francisco and Houston.  And while both Dunbar and Jones are natural weak-side linebackers, having cache of exceptional, explosive athletes is never a bad thing.  The Rams could very easily duplicate the success the Vikings experienced in 2012.  In fact they could be better.  True they are in a division with two of the three best teams in the NFL (San Francisco and Seattle), but with a stout defense like the Rams will have at their disposal, any game is winnable.

23. Minnesota Vikings; Manti Te’o, LB, University of Notre Dame.  Warning: I am going to make a Ronadlo Tuiasosopo joke in two picks.  It’s going to be lousy, but it’s going to happen.  That aside, here’s my take on the Te’o girlfriend story-line…  He’s a good kid who made an unfortunate mistake.  He tried to rectify it the best he could and made some additional poor decisions in the process.  But again, I used the word “kid” because he is.  He’s not even 23 yet.  Somewhere along the line people lost sight of this, just as they lost sight of (or disregarded) his collegiate Hall-of-Fame career because he had an awful National Championship game.  Similar to his on-field game, as a person Te’o is not a finished product.  Who among us is?  He was the victim of an otherwise victimless crime.  This kind of thing happens every day, but in his case he’s in the public-eye so it’s amplified.  And he’s a public figure so we hold him to a higher standard, for what reason I don’t quite comprehend.  But enough is enough, let’s put it behind us.  He’s going to Minnesota now where they’ve never experienced any kind of scandal in recent–love boat!!!!  Oh.

My one on-field concern with Te’o is his speed.  I do think this is overstated, but the jump in talent from the NCAA to the NFL is, obviously, significant.  I think he will be a very good player for many, many years.  Wait, he’s a Viking?  Bust!

24. Indianapolis Colts; Monte Ball, RB, University of Wisconsin.  As much as everyone wants to say this draft class is light in terms of quarterbacks, running backs, and top-flight wide receivers, the NFL is an offensive league.  Offensive skill players are the most important assets a team can have.  So there is this concept I refer to as “inflation”, which as you can guess, is the probably that a specific position will be more sought after than another.  Obviously quarterback inflation is the most drastic.  They are the highest demanded player in the shortest supply.  All that considered, I see the Colts taking the former Heisman Trophy finalist a round earlier than most experts have him going. Indianapolis could upgrade at corner or defensive end or linebacker.  A player like Desmond Trufant is an option.  But running back is just as big of a need for the Colts as any position I have previously stated.  I compare Monte Ball to Jamaal Charles.  He doesn’t have Charles’ breakaway speed but he is a better pass-catcher and has an understated toughness between the tackles.  He can lineup in the slot as a receiver and is reliable in pass-protection.  Andrew Luck played out of his mind last season, but he will be hard-pressed to duplicate his success if teams make the Colts one dimensional.  Ball gives the Colts balance and in turn, a shot at the AFC South championship.  You could say, Monte can really…ball.

25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle); Ronald Tuiasosopo, Prankster, Jokes on U.  Yyyyyyeeeeeeeesssssss!!!!!!!!!!  Reunited and it feels so good…  The actual pick is Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State University.  And for the record the Vikings do get both picks in on time.  Werner can be a truly efficient pass-rusher.  He has a good athleticism and quickness.  He ran an impressive 4.83 40-yard dash and a respectable 25 repetitions of 225 lbs. on the bench press.  And learning from Jared Allen, Samurai Mike Singletary (he stops ‘em cold), and Leslie Frazier every day in practice is even more reason to believe in Werner.  The same way Batman and Jim Gordon believed in Harvey Dent.  Uh-oh.  The Vikings could also draft a wide receiver but again, value.  Horse, dead, beating it.

26. Green Bay Packers; D.J. Fluker, OT, University of Alabama.  Aaron Rodgers is going to sign a contract in the very near future that will pay him more than most countries’ Gross Domestic Product.  He was also sacked more times than an English castle in the medieval ages.  Partially due to the Packers’ propensity to throw the football, also because the offensive line is terrible.  Fluker is 6’6”, 335 lbs.  He takes up space—he’s fat.  Also he’s a winner and an outstanding run-blocker (not that Green Bay ever runs).  If the Packers want to return to the Super Bowl this season, and let’s hope they don’t, ever, somewhere along the line they will have to defeat the elite pass rushes of San Francisco and Seattle, and the very formidable pass rushes of the Bears, Giants, Vikings, Rams, and Cowboys.  They have to replace Charles Wooden at safety, but that unit is a lost cause so “f” it.  Unless J’Marcus Webb is matched-up against Clay Matthews.  Then.ugh…  Ultimately, Green Bay fans hope this pick isn’t a Fluker.  That it isn’t a fluke-r–

(Hold on I’m being handed something…  It’s a memo.  I’ll read it.  “Dear Mr. Mitchell, if you make another pun, you will be banned from the internet.  You’re not funny.  No one likes you.  Sincerely, Al Gore, Inventor of the Internet”.  Banned from the internet?  But that’s where I watch my cat videos!…and porn)

27. Houston Texans; Tyler Eifert, TE, University of Notre Dame.  Complementing Andre Johnson with another dynamic pass-catcher would do wonders in helping Matt Schaub develop his game.  And he’s not a young player anymore.  The developmental stage is behind him, so this pick may not be enough.  Owen Daniels is a solid tight end but he can’t be counted on to stay healthy.  In the copycat league that is the NFL, the two-tight end set seems to be the latest trend.  Combined with the value of drafting the top player at the position at 27, this is a win for Houston.  Getting Brian Cushing back from his knee injury is also crucial.  And for those of you skeptical on whether or not “Cush” will be able to return-to-form from such a grueling injury, remember that clip where Cush head-butts Browns’ guard Shawn Lauvao without his helmet?  Yeah, I’m not betting against that guy.

28. Denver Broncos; Desmond Trufant, CB, University of Washington.  Champ Bailey isn’t getting any younger.  And while the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie improves the secondary, his contract is only for one season.  Trufant can be the reliable cover corner of the future.  In recent years the AFC has come down to who can pass and who can stop the pass.  Little else has mattered.  The Broncos will run away and hide with the AFC West.

(One counterargument to disprove that statement is the past four teams to play against the Eagles in Philly’s home opener have gone on to win the Super Bowl.  This year that’s the Chargers and they never grossly fail to meet expectations.  And what I mean by that is if there is anyone team that can bring this streak to an unceremonious end…San Diego, Super Chargers)

29. New England Patriots; Robert Woods, WR, University of Southern California.  I’m going to say this once.  Danny Amendola is not an upgrade over Wes Welker.  This is not an opinion, this is fact.  You cannot objectively say a player who has seen the field a total of 42 times in his career, including 12 out of last 32, a player who in his career has 182 more yards and one more touchdown than Welker recorded last season is a better option than a player who perpetually finishes in the top-3 in receptions and yards year-in and year-out.  To quote Mike Singletary, “Can’t do it!”  In a matter of months the Patriots have gone from riches-to-rags in terms of offensive talent.  Robert Woods had an underwhelming senior season, but make no mistake, he has all the tools to have a very good, very long career.  Quick side note, the Tommie Kelly signing was a really good.

30. Atlanta Falcons; Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford University.  Staying true to the two-tight end theory, Atlanta selects the heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez.  Match-ups abound.  Ertz is big, strong, and technically sound.  He runs good rounds and has possibly the best hands in the draft, and I don’t mean for tight ends.  Also he gets to benefit from the tutelage playing beside the best tight end to ever play the game.  Atlanta does need to find a replacement for Duanta Robinson, but again, there’s nothing wrong with taking a strength and making it stronger.

31. Chicago Bears (from San Francisco); Brian Urlacher, University of New Mexico.  Sorry, separation anxiety.  Kevin Minter, LB, Louisiana State University.  This is a tough decision because there are so many viable choices at offensive line and linebacker (hello Arthur Brown).  Even Florida International safety Johnathan Cyprien (yes I spelled that right) and Florida safety Matt Elam are enticing choices.  But Lovie Smith is gone so one can only hope that the Bears annual safety selection has run its course.  Minter is a solid athlete who has excellent point-of-attack skills.  He is good at reading-and-reacting and a reliable tackler.  There is room for improvement on all facets of his game, but that’s true for every player coming out of college.  My concern is his pass-coverage ability.  If new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker runs his defense anywhere near to Rod Marinelli’s systematically, the most important element of the middle linebacker’s game is taking away the middle of the field on passing plays.  It is reasonable to believe the Bears have an offense-heavy draft.  Every move they have made indicates that is the direction they are heading.  A wide receiver such as Justin Hunter or Keenen Allen could come off the board here.  But linebacker is a position at which they have to get younger.

32. Baltimore Ravens: Johnathan Cyprien, S, Florida International University.  Ray Lewis is gone.  Ed Reed is gone.  Anquan Boldin is gone.  Matt Birk is gone.  Paul Krueger is gone.  Dennell Elerbe is gone.  Yikes.  The Ravens have worked wonders patching the holes that which come from the disassembly of a Super Bowl championship roster.  But I wouldn’t expect many wins in Baltimore this season.  Enjoy the $20,000,000 Joe Flacco.  Because everyone who helped you earn that contract is either wearing a different uniform or enjoying retirement.  Cyprien isn’t Ed Reed but he does posses good ball-skills, which as any Ravens’ fans will tell you, is the biggest attribute to what made Reed so great.

Quickly, here are the Bears picks.  Remember, in my mock draft I had them trade with San Francisco, so if you’re checking online and see they don’t have a third-round pick, that’s because it was included in the deal:

Round 1: Kevin Minter, LB, Louisiana State University.

Round 2: Justin Hunter, WR, University of Tennessee.  A deep threat that can take the top off the defense and open up the underneath routes for Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, and Martelius Bennett.

Round 3: Brian Schwenke, OC, University of California-Berkley.  The Bears seem high on him and this would be a prime opportunity to bring in the successor to Roberto Garza.

Round 4: Kwame Gathers, DT, University of Georgia.  The Bears are thin on the interior offense line.  At 6’5 3/8” and 342 lbs., being thin is not a problem.  Gathers can eat up blockers allowing the back seven to move in space and make tackles unencumbered around the line of scrimmage on opponents such as, oh say, Adrian Peterson.  Again, the Bears need size up front, and Gathers is a biggin’.

Round 5: Jake Stoneburner, TE, The Ohio State University.  If he can catch a pass from Braxton Miller he can catch a pass from anybody.  He isn’t the most gifted blocker in the world and he doesn’t have the best speed, but he is a play-maker.  Again, offensive talent will be a trend in the draft for the Monster of the Midway.

Round 6: Rodney Smith, WR, Florida State University.  Another big, strong, athletic wide-out.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with drafting multiple big-bodied pass-catchers and creating mismatches by utilizing your size.  Additionally, Jay Cutler likes big receivers.  Another option here is a third-string quarterback like Landry Jones (though he’s probably be off the board), Zac Dysert, Sean Renfree or Jordan Rodgers.  Yes, that Rodgers.

And I’ll just tabulate the score now.  Correct Picks: 0.  Jokes on U.