No Logging Permitted

How imperfect is the human memory? Why are we so consumed with the present,  so much so that we ignore the very proof that is permanently ingrained in history.

In the case of Texas Tech wide-out Michael Crabtree (6’2″, 220lbs) , we’ve forgotten that bone fractures heal, that rehabilitation regenerates health, and perhaps most importantly, that this kid caught 231 passes for well over 3000 yards and 41 touchdowns— in two seasons.

It has been the trendy draft prediction to suggest that Crabtree will fall to the Oakland Raiders at pick number seven, creating a three-headed offensive juggernaut in the black-hole (Jamarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and Crabtree). Even more ridiculously, some suspect that Crabtree will be passed by the Raiders, falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at pick number eight. My reaction, shock and awe.

Aside from the fact that Crabtree is hands down the best offensive weapon in this draft, there are also natural fits for Crabtree in the top 5, that satisfy both golden draft requirements: “need” and “value”. Let’s go numerically—pick two, three, and five.

At pick number two, St. Louis will go into their off-season program with Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton starting at wide receiver. Given the release of Torry Holt, Avery is the only viable option that can possibly hold a starting spot. The Rams are frighteningly thin at WR. Enter Crabtree.

At pick number three, Kansas City has the proven receiving threat of Dewayne Bowe on the outside, but the patchwork beneath him leaves much to be desired. With Todd Haley as the head coach, and Tony Gonzalez’s career winding down, this makes more sense than people are lead to believe. Enter Crabtree.

Finally, the fifth pick. The Cleveland Browns shipped away Kellen Winslow earlier this offseason, there goes 100 catches. Braylon Edwards has been horribly inconsistent. Joe Jurivicious is gone, and Stallworth will be soon, given his recent automotive incident. Enter Crabtree.

This kid is a true phenom. Sorry Oakland and Sorry Jacksonville.

Verdict: Top-5.

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Recession Proof

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With the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select Jason Smith, Offensive Tackle, from Baylor University. Two months ago, most people would have been left scratching their heads at this proclamation by Roger Goodell. “Jason Smith? Don’t you mean Andre Smith from Alabama?” It’s incredible what the post-collegiate draft season can bring, but here’s a look at why Jason Smith, the 6’5″, 310 pounder from Baylor makes the most sense.

Let us be clear that this kid is a phenomenal talent. He’s sculpted as a physical duplicate of last year’s offensive rookie of the year, 3rd runner-up, Ryan Clady. Both have the unbelievable athleticism, nimble feet, and tremendous agility needed to protect the QB’s blind-side. Given the recent success of highly touted left tackles (including Ryan Clady, Jake Long, Brandon Albert, and Joe Thomas), Jason Smith will likely benefit from their precedent.

More obviously, we are in one of the most severe economic downturns since the Great Depression, and all indications point to a situation similar to that which unfolded with last year’s first overall pick, Jake Long. Long was the consensus choice for the Dolphins for the fact that he was willing to accept significantly less money, when compared to the other top prospects. This will almost undoubtedly be the case with Smith, who will certainly come with a cheaper price tag than quarterback Matt Stafford from Georgia.

After the trade that acquired Julian Peterson from the Seahawks, the likelihood that the Lions select Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry decreased significantly. This left quarterback and left tackle as the Lion’s two top priorities. People will point to the golden rule, “Don’t pass on a franchise QB unless you have one”, but let’s be honest here, the Lions cannot afford to miss on another top pick. With questions still hovering over Stafford, it’s a monumental risk that this franchise simply cannot endure.

Thus in these troublesome times for our economy, and for Lions fans, Jason Smith is the pick.  The affordable and undeniably secure option who will be a fixture on their 0-line for the next 10 years.

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Onward, Upward, and Heyward (-Bey)

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This past weekend, the NFL’s 2009 rookie class descended upon Lukas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to participate in the annual NFL Combine. It is there that scouts, team officials and doctors are allowed to poke, prod and examine both the physical and mental capabilities of the future pieces of their franchise.

Each year, there is the proverbial “work-out warrior”, where one player puts up dazzling numbers in the various measurement drills. Warriors of years past include Vernon Gholston (New York Jets), Vernon Davis (San Fran 49ers), Broderick Bunkley (Philadelphia Eagles), and a whole host of others- each of whom got significant paychecks on draft day. This year’s version- Darrius Heyward-Bey, the junior Wide Receiver from the Maryland Terps.

Not only did Heyward-Bey run the second fastest 40-time this decade by a WR (4.3 seconds), but also, he stood out in his position drills, running fluidly and catching the ball well. This was a timely performance seeing that the consensus top wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, has had nothing but adversity consume his name this past weekend. Crabtree reportedly has a stress-fracture in his left foot, which follows the ankle problem that bothered him this past season.

Cue the truly money-making performance by Heyward-Bey, who was originally thought to be a top-25 pick, but now, likely won’t be available past pick number 15.  Hopefully his performance translates into production- which is alarmingly rare, especially when one looks at the names of the past “workout warriors” above. However, there is no reason to believe that DHB won’t succeed in the NFL. His college production matches the dominance of his combine numbers, and he will likely excel at the next level.

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All’s Wells That Ends Wells

Chris Wells

I’ve heard speculation that this year’s draft class doesn’t have the upper first-round “feature back”, that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the drafts of recent years (ie. Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson). To this suggestion, I wondered how you could ignore six feet and one inch, 237 pounds, over 3000 career rushing yards, and 30 touchdowns. His name is Chris “Beanie” Wells, the junior running back of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

If you are one of his skeptics, I suggest you rewind the clocks of time to 2007, Wells’s sophomore year, to the specific date of the yearly showdown with the Michigan Wolverines. It was then that Wells managed to rush for 222 yards, adding a pair of touchdowns, and leading the Buckeyes to victory. It was a career defining performance for Wells, and gives a pretty convincing snapshot of how dominant he can be when healthy.

This game serves as a microcosm for Wells’s career, often acting as the very engine that drove Buckeyes’s offense, regardless of the inconsistent quarterback play that plagued them. Even with a true freshman at quarterback (Terrell Pryor), and missing three games due to injury, Wells was still able to break the 1000 yard mark this past year,  rushing for more than 100 yards on all but two occasions.

The red flag commonly raised with Wells’s is his tendency to be injured. This past season he missed three games, but more notably disappeared in the second half of the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Texas with an undisclosed injury.

My response to this is simple. A kid by the name of Adrian Peterson from Oklahoma had similar caution flags when entering the 2007 draft. He won the NFL’s rushing title this past season. And just for the record, in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas, Wells rushed for over 100 yards before leaving the game. In the first half.

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Seniority Rules

B.J. Raji

For those who are experiencing horrific withdrawal symptoms in lieu of the one week lay-off from NFL action, fear not, for the 2009 Under Armour Senior Bowl is here to save the day. Slotted conveniently on the bye-week preceding Superbowl 43, it effectively directs a ray of spotlight toward the up and coming senior prospects, while ensuring that the football faithful are not tortured through a two-week drought.

Of course, regardless of the convenient television scheduling, the far more pressing issue is the opportunity for the long list of collegiate seniors (104 to be exact) to earn the respect that they undoubtedly feel they’re due. Though tabbed as an all-star game, it is no mystery that the Senior Bowl acts much more as a showcase, giving the draft’s senior class the final say before post-season work-outs begin.

As the game itself is set to take place on Saturday evening, Senior Bowl practice has been going on all week, with a number of players already taking full advantage of their opportunity. Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji (see photo) is effectively silencing his critics by reportedly overpowering each and every offensive lineman he encounters. Other names who have caught the eyes of scouts include Ohio State wide reciever Brian Robiskie, Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, and California Bears versatile offensive lineman Alex Mack.

Given the recent surge of quality underclassmen who have declared, it will be interesting to see the fire that these seniors showcase on Saturday night. They have taken a beating from scouts and media alike, and would love nothing more than to show them the character, composure and polished athleticism that comes with a college degree.

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The Surprise Candidate

Sanchez

USC Trojan junior quarterback Mark Sanchez has abruptly ended his career in So-Cal, and has opted to enter this April’s NFL draft. The decision appropriately shocked those in football circles, but as a matter of simple arithmetic, it all added up for Sanchez:

1. An impressive junior campaign, where Sanchez and the Trojans lost only one game. Bearing in mind that USC plays in the cake-walk PAC-10, the Trojans silenced their critics with the highly publicized decimation of the Ohio State Buckeyes in front of a nationally televised audience. Furthermore, Sanchez’s personal stats included 34 passing touchdowns, versus only 10 interceptions over the entire season.

2. A stellar bowl performance in the 2009 Rose Bowl, which saw Sanchez throw for 4 touchdowns and add one on the ground as the Trojans trounced the then No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions. Sanchez looked flawless, throwing for a career-high 413 yards, evading pressure, showcasing his arm strength, and emulating the composure of a great leader.

3. The decisions of both Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford to return to both Florida and Oklahoma, respectively. Both would have been near, if not at the top, of most scout’s quarterback rankings, and their abrupt omission from draft boards seemingly opened the door for Sanchez. He now only faces competition from Georgia’s gun-slinger Matthew Stafford for the title of number-one rated quarterback.

So what does this equate to?

Sanchez, all-of-a-sudden, becomes a realistic option for the Detroit Lions with the number one overall pick in the 2009 Draft. With their franchise amidst one of the biggest identity crises in sports history, the Lions may look to duplicate the success of the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, in drafting a first-round “franchise” quarterback.

It must be said that both Matt Ryan (Atlanta) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore) are anomalies. Rookie quarterbacks are supposed to be lack-lustre and it would be unfair to hold Sanchez to this expectation. Given the publicized failure of recent underclassmen quarterbacks declaring for the draft, in addition to Sanchez’s blatant lack of starting experience, he undoubtedly has a lot of proving to do, before and after draft day.

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Wide Receivers Follow Suit

Harvin, Crabtree, Maclin

In what has been an exciting set of developments, this year’s crop of underclassmen wide receivers have mimed their offensive counterparts in the backfield. It seems as though declaring for the draft as a young-gun is more “in vogue” this year than any in recent memory, as illustrated by the two most critical offensive skill positions.

The most notable wide receivers that have declared for the pros are: Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech), Jeremy Maclin (Missouri), Percy Harvin (Florida), Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland) , Kenny Britt (Rutgers) and Hakeen Nicks (North Carolina). Crabtree is the most alluring prospect, often being cited as the number one talent in this year’s draft, regardless of position.

But beyond the Crabtree-mania, there exists a group of receivers that represent a complete 180 degree turn-around from the first-round drought that we witnessed last year at the WR position. Maclin has the potential to climb into the top-15, Harvin into the top-20, and each of the remaining prospects all have a realistic shot at being late first to early second-rounders (assuming they work-out well, and perform strongly at pro-days etc.)

So what are the consequences of this eminent double-cohort at the wide receiver position. It is frighteningly similar to the situation unfolding at the tailback position, where established seniors are being forced down the totem poll, by the more athletic, more skilled and more confident list of underclassmen. This is obviously bad news for the likes of  Derrick Williams (Penn State), Louis Murphy (Florida), and all other senior wide receiver prospects. Not only was the glut at the position unexpected, but it will ultimately cost these college graduates millions of dollars on draft day.

So much for the cliche “stay in school”, these underclassmen have apparently been far more influenced by the Steve Miller Band… “take the money and run”.

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