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Top 50 Franchise Cornerstones: 2012 (COMPLETED!)
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RashaanSalaami


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 11:13 pm    Post subject: Top 50 Franchise Cornerstones: 2012 (COMPLETED!) Reply with quote

Top 50 Franchise Cornerstones: 2012
By Roshan Bhagat

A Look Back:
2011
2010
2009

In 1993, "Plan A Free Agency" went into effect and the National Football League transformed on a grand scale. A year later, the salary cap was introduced bringing along with a whole new set of challenges for franchises looking to remain competitive over the long haul. As the new era settled in, traditional dynasties bowed down to parity. Parity became hope. Hope permeated into ownerships and fanbases. Some teams looked to throw money at their problems, heavily utilizing this new avenue of free agency—and some still do. However, soon came the realization that with the salary cap, whiffing on just one or two marquee names and tying up too much money to dead weight can cripple a franchise over an extended period. Enter the strategy of drafting and developing. Though no team is entirely adverse to free agency, the great teams over the last decade like the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, and Colts have found tremendous success in replenishing weaknesses and aging players with young draft picks and allowing them to set the tone for their units and team. Tom Brady or Vince Wilfork; Ben Roethlisberger or Troy Polamalu; Ray Rice or Ray Lewis; Peyton Manning or Dwight Freeney. These prolific teams have found young, explosive, clean players to set a new tempo on and off the field. A strong scouting department and front office management are capable of single-handedly steering an organization in the right direction. As we've seen, no matter how new the franchise, how small the city, or how dreadful the past decade, turning the corner is only one player away—a franchise cornerstone.

Looking around the league, here are the players most capable of being just that. Based upon these five most important specific criteria (in order of importance) in identifying these individuals, here are the top 50 cornerstones heading into this season:
1. Youth. As I have in the past, I used an arbitrary cut-off date that should afford each player enough time to lay down imprints on the future and compete for a Championship. This cut-off requires players to be under the age of 28 by September 1, 2012.
2. Potential, Production, Risk. How good is the player right now? How good can the player be at his peak? How likely is he to achieve that peak? How likely is it that he’ll fail? A cornerstone ideally has a low chance of failure (the reason there are no rookies on this list), a good chance of becoming elite (if he’s not there yet), and some high level of productivity right now. Processing these components together yields a good idea of how valuable that player will be on the field now and in the future.
3. Maturity. An obvious criterion here is whether or not the player simple stays out of trouble and says the right things to the media. A player addicted to shenanigans will not be considered. Cornerstones are supposed to bring stability, not volatility, to an organization. Run-ins with the law are devastating to the team as they can lead to suspensions and humiliation for fans. Will the player demand a trade or miss practice to chase money? All of this does play a factor in this component, but most importantly, how well can he lead his team on and off the field?
4. Position. Quarterbacks rest at the top of the pyramid, followed by pass rushers, and so on and so forth.
5. Marketability. To me, this criterion places a distant fifth, but wasn’t completely ignored. This ties in loosely with the athlete’s position, but will he be able to sell seats? Can he become a brand or will he be someone that garners hype even among casual fans? Whether it’s speed or charisma, an athlete can not only inject wealth into a franchise by simply helping them win, but also by winning over more fans and selling products every day of the week.

NOT QUITE Honorable Mentions (in no specific order):
NOTE: These are NOT Honorable Mentions.

DeMarco Murray [RB, DAL, 24] - An explosive running back inside and outside the tackles. History of injuries, uncertainty in sustained production, and the position itself hold him back.

DeSean Jackson [WR, PHI, 25] - Antics off the field are starting to quickly surface. Already made a couple moronic decisions on it. Not the tone setter you want out of an offensive cornerstone.

Jermichael Finley [TE, GB, 25] - Tremendous potential with wide receiver body control and route-running ability. Seemed to have mental struggles getting over his knee injury leading to drops and mistakes in traffic.

Aaron Hernandez [TE, NE, 22] - A rare H-Back type, but potentially scheme-specific with limitations in traffic? Difficult body type to build around. Perhaps more of a coaching limitation if you can't get him going, which would make it an error on my part?

Antonio Brown [WR, PIT, 24] - Undersized receiver with a single year of production playing in an offense predominantly driven by Big Ben's mobility and expertise in extending plays. Great player in the system, but too many questions RIGHT NOW to be a cornerstone.

Jeremy Maclin [WR, PHI, 24] - Some size limitations, but more importantly injury questions have plagued him since he was a prospect. Given the nature of the position, not having eclipsed 1000 yards is definitely a concern as a cornerstone.

Russell Okung [OT, SEA, 24] - Injury history a concern. Doubles down in his favor from a position that is predicated on consistency and dependability.

Alex Mack [C, CLE, 26] - Not quite a dominant player and hasn't taken the next steps in that direction. Play seems to have leveled off at the tier just below.

Mike Pouncey [C, MIA, 23] - Not quite as sold on him as others. Consistent, dependable player already with a tad less upside than his brother. Improvement could jump him up next year.

Nate Solder [OT, NE, 24] - A solid, but unspectacular rookie year for a tackle that even Belichick recognized as a player that needed some work coming out of school.

Max Unger [C, SEA, 26] - A terrific 2011 campaign that falls just short of the level required to merit very serious consideration on a list with many tough cuts toward the back.

Ray McDonald [DE, SF, 27] - Difficult to build around a 34 end with one great season under his belt while surrounded by 4 players on his own team in the front 7 superior to him.

Adrian Clayborn [DE, TB, 24] - Good, not great talent. Still has to take that next level with consistency to get to "that" level.

Robert Quinn [DE, STL, 22] - With elite talent, Quinn still hasn't reach a level where he can be depended upon from down to down.

Jabaal Sheard [DE/OLB, CLE, 23] - Explosive off the edge and already a good pass rusher. Still, undersized with just less than terrific lateral agility and the inability to get there in enough ways to become an elite pass rusher. Can get there.

Ryan Kerrigan [DE/OLB, WAS, 24] - An excellent, up-and-coming defender who benefited from Orakpo on the other side. Doesn't yet have the production necessary with that type of support to merit very serious consideration as a cornerstone.

Sean Weatherspoon [OLB, ATL, 24] - A difficult position to build around, but Weatherspoon is one of the best young 43 outside linebackers.

Brooks Reed [OLB, HOU, 25] - Could be one of the next great pass rushers at OLB. Only 6 sacks show he's a step away still.

Pat Angerer [MLB, IND, 25] - A sure tackler and a true middle linebacker in the classical sense.

Jason McCourty [CB, TEN, 25] - Overshadowed by Courtland Finnegan the last two years, a very good corner in his own right. Will need to emerge from Finnegan's shadow this year as a top corner.

Sean Smith [CB, MIA, 25] - A very strong season will need to be backed up with another to prove he's a consistent corner. Would be surprised to see him emerge into an elite corner with his size and relative tightness in flexibility.

Dashon Goldson [S, SF, 27] - As we've seen for the last decade, no safety has been elite for consecutive seasons besides the two hall of famers. Nick Collins came close before his injury. Can Goldson become the next? Wouldn't build around that uncertainty.

Kam Chancellor [S, SEA, 24] - An up and coming safety with size and range. Again, the position has very up and down in general around the league.

TJ Ward [S, CLE, 25] - Injury derailed an otherwise strong start to a career. Again, won't buy a safety without consecutive great seasons or something truly special.

Richard Sherman [CB, SEA, 24] - Great size, but a good looking physical, press corner...a lost art. Will be interested to see where he takes his career after a strong rookie season.

Alterraun Verner [CB, TEN, 23] - Has played very well behind Finnegan and McCourty the last two years. Has upside in great movement skills, athleticism, and instincts. Will need to show he can do it full time for an entire season.

Honorable Mentions:
In no specific order,

Matt Flynn [QB, Seattle Seahawks, 27] - Shown the ability to manage an offense. A total question mark, but definitely seems smart enough to lead a solid offense on a ballclub playing turnover differential.

Maurice Jones-Drew [RB, Jacksonville Jaguars, 27] - A step below special and age is definitely a concern. For a smaller back, seems to have taken a bit of punishment up to this point in his career.

Ryan Mathews [RB, San Diego Chargers, 24] - Could be a tremendous all-around running back if he can stay healthy. Still only showed this talent in stretches last season. Needs more consistency and durability.

Dwayne Bowe [WR, Kansas City Chiefs, 27] - Age and ego hold him back a bit. Strong #1 with a questionable QB situation, but not the character of player you want to build around. Plenty of talented receivers in this league and Bowe falls short of special.

Bryan Bulaga [OT, Green Bay Packers, 23] - Strong run-pass right tackle. Has played LT at times, but looks primed to be one of the best rights in the game. As I've said numerous times, value of RT on the rise in the game today.

Jared Veldheer [OT, Oakland Raiders, 25] - Big, athletic tackle that has performed well with questionable quarterbacks behind him. Solid run-blocker as well.

Tyron Smith [OT, Dallas Cowboys, 21] - Rookie season slightly overrated, but not bad overall. Had strongly considered him inside the top 50 before realizing his performance on the field last year didn't merit it. As I've said with tackles, it's a position whose value derives from consistency. One solid year isn't enough.

Brandon Mebane [DT, Seattle Seahawks, 27] - Strong run-stopping tackle, but this game is won and lost on 3rd downs and he's not special enough there.

Phil Taylor [NT, Cleveland Browns, 24] - Tremendous force in the center of the Browns defense. Look for him to improve with age.

Ahtyba Rubin [DT, Cleveland Browns, 26] - Part of one of the better interior triangles in the game.

Henry Melton [DT, Chicago Bears, 25] - Tremendous pass rusher with plenty of upside. Finding a pass rush from the middle can be the most valuable asset in the game today. Needs to do it for more than a year.

Lawrence Timmons [ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 26] - Regressed after an all-pro caliber season the year before. Coincidence that Harrison and Woodley also missed time last season?

Connor Barwin [OLB, Houston Texans, 25] - One of many talented pass rushers on a stacked unit.

Sean Lee [MLB, Dallas Cowboys, 26] - After some strong arguments made in his favor, definitely worthy of an HM. Has some way to go in M2M coverage, but strong against the run and in zone drops.

Daryl Washington [ILB, Arizona Cardinals, 25] - Instinctive player that can do many things from the position. On the rise.

Curtis Lofton [MLB, Atlanta Falcons, 26] - Strong, physical linebacker in the middle of the Falcons defense. Has the physical and mental makeup to lead a defense.

Jerod Mayo [ILB, New England Patriots, 26] - Good nose for the football and sure tackler. Not much of a playmaker that separate the good from the great.

Lardarius Webb [CB, Baltimore Ravens, 26] - One very strong season is not enough at the corner position. Needs another.

Vontae Davis [CB, Indianapolis Colts, 24] - Improving corner with the physical skill-set and stretches of great play. Needs to show more consistency.

Brandon Carr [CB, Dallas Cowboys, 26] - Strong, physical corner who will now have to emerge out of the shadow of Brandon Flowers on a team where he's top dog.

Jarius Byrd [S, Buffalo Bills, 25] - Proved to be more consistent, dependable, and a better tackler since his rookie year where he was more a benefactor of circumstance with all the picks.

Too Bad 59 isn't an even number:
In no specific order,

Ryan Clady [OT, Denver Broncos, 25] - A strong tackle that hasn't developed into an elite player in pass pro or run blocking.

Carl Nicks [OG, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27] - The best guard in the game probably deserved a spot inside the top 50, but value of the position seems a little off. Playing in front of Brees may also inflate his value in pass protection.

Duane Brown [OT, Houston Texans, 27] - One elite season is not enough for a position that defines value by consistency.

Ryan Kalil [C, Carolina Panthers, 27] - Age drops him behind Pouncey, though his game is a tad better at this point in their careers.

Charles Johnson [DE, Carolina Panthers, 26] - Had him inside the 50 in several iterations of the list, but missed the final cut. Great pass rusher, but below the tier of elite.

Mario Williams [DE, Buffalo Bills, 27] - A little overrated, but still not easy being a premier lineman on your team. Rarely benefit from the positioning of OLBs and carry more responsibility in the run game. Has put up solid, not spectacular production in such a position.

James Laurinaitis [MLB, St. Louis Rams, 25] - A solid all-around linebacker on a unit devoid of talent. Dominance could only be a line away?

Leon Hall [CB, Cincinnati Bengals, 27] - Consistent top 5-7 corner in the game for many years now. Age knocks him down a tad.

Eric Weddle [S, San Diego Chargers, 27] - Dependable for several years, but only one year of elite game-changing production. More circumstance or do instincts really develop year 5 to produce more turnovers in one season that the previous 4 combined.


50. Andy Dalton [Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals, 24]
Stats: 3,398 yards, 58.1%, 6.59 YPA, 20 TD (21 total), 13 INT, 80.4 QB Rating
Some coaches and personnel men would prefer to avoid building around a quarterback in Dalton's mold. He has average tools for a starter, adequate size, and at best, his accuracy could be described as streaky. Depending on offensive philosophy, however, Dalton could be a tremendous bargain at the position for a team predicated on turnover differential and a controlled offense focused largely on possession. For a 24 year old, 16-game starter, the TCU product has leadership, smarts, instincts, and moxie made for winning in this league. No, he won't sell seats. And no, he doesn't have tremendous upside, but with Dalton at the helm, fans will know their team will remain competitive down to the final whistle so long as the rosters are reasonably well-matched, primarily because of his decision-making. In just his rookie campaign, he threw 15 touchdowns and 0 interceptions inside the red zone. Still, his most underrated asset is his mobility and prowess outside the pocket. Dalton does a great job of anticipating pressure (and coverage) and is arguably at his best in the boot game and on the move. Outside the numbers, he remains poised, makes intelligent decisions, and delivers accurate balls making Dalton an unspectacular, but very dependable option under center and at the head of his offensive unit. Over the course of the next couple years, Dalton could take some leaps and be known as one of the 8-12 best quarterbacks in the league.


49. Joe Haden [Cornerback, Cleveland Browns, 23]
Stats: 65 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 STF, 19 PD
After slowly easing himself into the starting lineup in a strong, unheralded rookie season, Haden failed to make the great leap often made from year one to year two by many players. Still, he quickly established himself as the top corner on the roster in 2011 and proved to be an effective and active run/pass defender. Of course his position as a cornerstone has some merit—he has great size, strength, and athleticism for a slot/boundary corner and natural instincts that prevent many gifted athletes from even standing a fighting chance at the position. His numbers from last year show just that—the progress he's made on the climb to his peak and the distance left to be trekked. He allowed completions on maybe a shade over half of the passes thrown his direction and deflected nearly a quarter of them. Still he allowed nearly 8 yards per ball thrown his way indicating that passes completed on him went for substantial gains. Though cornerback is arguably the most difficult position under today's heavy non-contact rules, building a defense around a perimeter player just isn't that easy. It takes a truly elite corner to neutralize a large part of the field, eliminate a receiver from the game plan, or force a quarterback to alter his progressions. Haden can reach that mark and become of the league's best, but he has to improve his technique and consistency and steer clear of the league's substance policy.


48. Adrian Peterson [RB, Minnesota Vikings, 27]
Stats: 208 car, 970 yards, 4.7 avg, 12 TD, 18 rec, 139 yards, TD
Some couldn't see a 27 year old running back coming off an ACL injury as a foundational piece. In most cases, this would be absolutely true, but over the past five seasons, there has been no better running back than Adrian Peterson. He's a special athlete in a historical sense and there's something to be said when you have the opportunity to play and build around with one of the all-time greats. When he returns to the field, Peterson should still retain the title as the position's best all-around athlete even if he loses just a quarter step in speed and agility. With the quickness, long speed, and most importantly the punishing physicality, Peterson is one of the few running backs you have to strongly consider shutting down during the week if you want to be successful in doing it on Sundays. He's a player that can force a defense to change the way it plays. Reflecting back on the past five seasons in Minnesota, they've had a single season of great quarterback play, but finished with a respectable offensive output in every year, but one. Since his rookie campaign, Peterson has faced with deteriorating offensive line play, while managing to keep his output strong. In today's game, no back dictates defense like Peterson. As we saw with a rejuvenated Brett Favre in 2009, the value of an exceptional running back, even for 4-6 years can bring enormous value to a young franchise (and quarterback) looking to bring stability and confidence to its offense.


47. Brandon Flowers [Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs, 26]
Stats: 59 tackles, 2 STF, 4 INT, 20 PD, TD
There are a number of things to be said about Brandon Flowers, but after allowing 6 touchdowns a year ago, it's easy to understand why one of my favorite corners in the league has dropped from last year's position at #25 on this list. The cornerback position is one where value is derived almost entirely out of consistency. To play the first 40 snaps a game the right way is not enough if on the 41st a corner slips or bites on a fake. Perhaps for some it will be harder to understand why he hasn't dropped entirely outside the top 50: high ankle sprain. The cornerback position is also the most difficult to play injured because even a margin as small as a half step can be exploited for a big gain. To play the position banged up—especially the way Flowers plays it with physicality and aggression—he exposed a weakness every snap on the field. In '09 & '10 seasons combined, Flowers allowed just a clip over 50% of passes to be completed against him at a rate of less than 6.4 yards per attempt, while the Chiefs ranked 2nd over that period in defending opponents’ top receivers allowing 6.3 YPA. In 2011, the Chiefs collectively weren't shaken off that mark against top receivers, though Flowers allowed nearly a yard more per pass on average and a couple more touchdowns than usual. Still, at his peak, where he can be expected to return and remain, Flowers is one of the best all-around corners in the game. Between the tough-as-nails attitude, the ability to jam receivers at the line, the quickness and agility after a smooth transition to shadow receivers in man coverage, to even the value provided in run support, Flowers is capable of performing to the level of a true impact player on the perimeter.


46. NaVorro Bowman [Inside Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers, 24]
Stats: 143 tackles, 2 sacks, 11 STF, 3 FR, 8 PD
Bowman graduated from special teams with the Niners in what would have been his final season of college ball and earned himself a starting position beside Patrick Willis in year two in the NFL where some say he even outperformed his 5x All-Pro teammate. For a second year pro and first year starter, he showed savvy beyond his years and a style that should remain effective for over a decade. With a game built on instincts, angles, and lateral agility, Bowman can shoot the gaps and be a disruptive force in the backfield or hold more second level responsibilities in both run and zone (pass) defense. He wholly embodies the common definition of a quintessential middle or inside linebacker with toughness, determination, and hustle any defensive coach hopes to see at the heart of his unit. Still, the Penn State product finds his strongest ally in his own self-confidence. He's generally quick to read the ball, and even if he doesn't make the correct reads all the time, he's as quick as any in the game to pull the trigger on his diagnosis, showing up much faster than his timed speed would estimate. His single biggest limiting factor right now is also the same thing that some felt helped punctuate and elevate his performance in 2011—his teammates. With tremendous pass rushers and attention-seekers in Justin Smith and Ray McDonald up front, Aldon Smith off the perimeter, and Patrick Willis at the heart of it all, it was promising to see NaVorro Bowman rack up a team-leading 143 tackles and a 1st team All-Pro nod. On the flipside, it also meant he was often freed up and kept clean, given numerous opportunities to make plays and rack up stats; and while the potential for Bowman is immense, it is uncertain if he can put up similar production while being forced into a more physical game in a game-plan centered around him.


45. Sam Bradford [Quarterback, St. Louis Rams, 24]
Stats: 2,164 yards, 53.5%, 6.06 YPA, 6 TD, 6 INT, 70.5 QB Rating
Bradford will have to prove himself on a professional field before the barrage of criticism stops and the label of an Oklahoma gun and spread kid disappears. So far, his transition to the pro level has been far from smooth though he also hasn’t been afforded the talent to put him in a position to succeed. As a former number one overall selection, there’s still plenty upside. From a tools perspective, he has ample arm strength and good mobility. He has great mechanics—a quick and clean set-up, great balance in the pocket, a consistent throwing motion, and a blink-of-an-eye release. To hear his own teammates come out and attest to his grit, toughness, and determination to lead the team as Steven Jackson did last year, there's still plenty to love and build around Bradford. Hope has not been lost. But the crossroads are nearing where after 26 games as a starter, each mistake will be more heavily scrutinized, the pressure will mount faster and heavier, and he could lose supports of his fans. From there, it's almost always downhill for a leader. He needs to step up, find his confidence, and start hitting his stride in the intermediate range. Right now, he throws a nice deep ball, anticipates throws well, protects the football, and is generally accurate, but it's the intermediate range will make or break a quarterback in this league. Herein lies the risk of building a franchise around Sam Bradford, a quarterback who has scarcely shouldered that responsibility to this point in his career.


44. Victor Cruz [Wide Receiver, New York Giants, 25]
Stats: 82 rec., 1,536 yards, 18.7 YPC, 9 TD
An unknowing fan attending an upcoming Giants practice or game will surely be showered by what sounds like a chorus of boos. Perhaps it's the Rocky sentiment—from practice squad to 2nd-team All-Pro in a year. Perhaps it's the 8-mile drive down Route 21-South from his birthplace to MetLife Stadium. Or maybe it's the team-leading 82 receptions, 1,536 yards, and 9 salsa dances in a Super Bowl season. Whatever it is, hometown Giants fans can't get enough of Cruuuuuuuuz this year. The boiling point has been reached where even some Giants players can't take it anymore (ok, it's really just Corey Webster and crew when they see Cruz catching yet another pass in camp). Though all of these great stories can't combine to make Cruz anymore a cornerstone than he is in New York, his quickness and burst out of the slot, courage in traffic, and ability to flat-out blow the top out of a defense will translate to any offense in the league. Cruz may not have the versatility or size of #44 on this list, but can do as much damage out of the slot as any receiver in the league, as the Patriots recognized in Super Bowl XLVI when they built a defensive game-plan with Cruz as one of the focal points. Matching his mature-beyond-his-years route running ability with explosiveness that allows him to separate from defenders before or after a catch, Cruz can manage to find room in the short and intermediate game or simply blow past man coverage or through deep zones.


43. Jordy Nelson [Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers, 27]
Stats: 68 rec., 1,263 yards, 18.6 YPC, 15 TD
When he isn’t working on his family farm in Kansas, Jordy Nelson enjoys using every inch and pound of his 6’3, 220-pound frame to dominate smaller corners around the league. Leading by example, Nelson will bring the humility and blue-collar work ethic instilled upon him on that farm many years back to his locker room. Though he just finished his first full season as a starter, he managed to find the endzone 15 times in all in a variety of ways—and coaches and players within the organization were none too surprised when it happened. Growing in McCarthy’s system famous for its ridiculous quantity of formations and packages and a passing machine reliant upon heavy doses of pre-snap and mid-route adjustments, Nelson has become an accomplished and clever route-runner at the X, Y, and Z positions. As a premier receiver, his unique skillset combining versatility, size and sneaky long-striding deep speed can be utilized in number of ways. By delivering quick hitters to an isolated Nelson on the perimeter, his strength and deadly stiff arm can create easy yards after catch, as he did a year ago when he averaged 6.4 YAC per reception. Pairing him with a quarterback with a quick release, this can provide sporadic relief to a sputtering run game, but more importantly help Nelson transform the threat of that play to utilize his deep speed on vertical routes. Of course the vertical routes can also be used as a pivot to throw the back-shoulder fade, which Nelson regularly reels in with impressive concentration and precision. All told, the former college standout receiver and punt returner is the complete package at receiver and has flourished in his many roles within the Green Bay offense. Given his versatility in playing all three receiver positions and his ability to outmuscle and out-jump smaller corners, removing Nelson from the offensive game-plan is nearly an impossibility.


42. Jon Beason [Linebacker, Carolina Panthers, 27]
Stats: (2010) 121 tackles (90 solo), 1 sack, 9 STF, 2 FF, INT, 8 PD
If it weren’t for the Achilles injury in week one that forced him to miss the entire 2011 season, Beason would almost assuredly place inside the top twenty. Watching Ray Lewis and London Fletcher dominate and quarterback their defenses at 37 years of age, 27 year old Jon Beason has plenty of time in front of him. Returning from a dangerous Achilles injury that could cut his time short, it will be uncertain if he'll return to the field with similar pre-injury explosiveness, lateral agility, and speed. What’s doubly concerning is that Beason’s exceptionality derived from his athleticism, so to see it gone would indicate a need to reinvent his game to a degree. When healthy though, there is no MIKE with more range or more effective at playing the position the way he does. Quick to process information and playing with sound angles, Beason plays the position and arrives to the ball as fast as anyone. He's strong in coverage and is a player that has to be accounted for on every snap. Surround him with a little bit of talent up front and keep him relatively clean and he will elevate a defense to a top unit.


41. Darren McFadden [Running Back, Oakland Raiders, 25]
Stats: 113 car, 614 yards, 5.4 avg, 4 TD, 19 rec, 154 yards, TD
Minus the pure physicality of Adrian Peterson, McFadden has the ability to become a special back in his own right—one that demands constant attention throughout the week and perfect defensive execution on Sundays to contain. With acceleration, vision, speed, strength, and the ability to start and stop on a dime, Run-DMC is a multi-faceted threat that can beat a defense between the tackles, on the perimeter and as a receiver out of the backfield. Surrounded by inconsistency on offense ranging from quarterback to receiver to the offensive line for the past four years, McFadden exploded on the scene in 2010 looking to bring some stability to an offense that could use a centerpiece. When on the field, the 2x Heisman Trophy runner-up has done just that over the past two years. With a league leading 14 carries for over 20 yards in 2010, he proved to be a dangerous weapon, forcing defenses to maintain gap integrity and play with less of an aggressive edge. Using patience and well-timed acceleration, he added 500 yards receiving that year to bring the screen game back to life in the league, further forcing discipline against opposing defenses. And though he isn't much for pass protection, McFadden's size, catching radius, and ability to react to off-target passes afford quarterbacks more room for error under duress when throwing in his direction. Averaging 5.3 yards per carry and over 6 yards a touch over the last two seasons, McFadden has become a terrific all-around weapon doing everything in his power to help his offense. Still, dependability has been missing at the running back position where the Raiders have expected to play, on average, 5 games per season without their stud running back. The attractiveness of a centerpiece with low mileage and terrific efficiency in an inconsistent environment is made tepid only by durability concerns.


40. Jamaal Charles [Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs, 25]
Stats: (2010) 230 car, 1,467 yards, 6.4 avg, 5 TD, 45 rec, 468 yards, 10.4 avg, 3 TD
After a 41-7 blowout loss to the Bills in Week 1, the Chiefs season quickly came to a sudden halt with a rash of injuries that included their offensive star Jamaal Charles tearing his ACL in Week 2. Elite vision combined with elite speed and acceleration allowed him to challenge Jim Brown's long-standing records for yards per carry in 2010, which he fell short on by mere hundredths of a yard. As an explosive back and quite literally a threat to take the ball the distance on any play with just a tiny crease, he forces defenses to play on their heels, bringing to life the theory that sometimes it's better to wait for the offense to make a mistake conceding 4-5 yards at a time then to let a player like Charles bust off a big gain. Of course there is a some risk in an undersized, speedy back coming off an ACL injury which will only bring uncertainty into the equation until he can prove to be the same player the league faced in '09 and '10. In today's league where the workhorse has been replaced by a multi-back system, a player like Charles can flourish in a role where he sees a combined 15-20 touches per game on the ground and through the air. Traditionalists may choose to stay away from a back like Charles, but in today's game with more and more specialization, a player like Charles can be a game-changing player with limited touches, especially in the fourth quarter against dead legs and achy bodies


39. BJ Raji [NT, Green Bay Packers, 26]
Stats: 22 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FR, 1 STF, 2 PD
Raji struggled in 2011 to take on double teams at a more frequent rate while still logging over heavy snaps for the Packers defense. Though he was the only nose tackle over the past two seasons to play over 800 snaps over the past two seasons (82.6% of his total defensive snaps), he must continue to improve his conditioning and at the very least concentrate his focus on holding the point of attack in the center as the key to a base 34 front. But that isn't what makes a well-rested Raji special. His pass-rushing skills from the interior are as good as any for a player his size, allowing his defense to play a 24 nickel defense with adequate run defense, an enormous relief in shifting pass-first league. He's an intelligent, instinctive player who knows how to read, react to, and execute different looks shown to him by an offense. Playing within a scheme that enjoys moving him across the middle, he has shown the ability to generate a strong push from the interior on both run and pass downs with the crafty handwork that allows him to disengage from defenders and meet ball-carriers head-on or chase plays. Raji's versatility allows a defense schematic flexibility crucial to some defensive coordinators that very few others at his position can bring. As shown under one of those defensive coordinators in 2010, he has the potential to become the anchor of one of the league's top defenses. The value and uniqueness of his skill-set prevent him from sliding off entirely from this list after a somewhat disappointing season following an elite one.


38. Maurkice Pouncey [Center, Pittsburgh Steelers, 23]
Stats: 2.5 sacks allowed, 3 penalties
Pouncey's position is probably amongst the most undervalued in the league today. Not only have the salaries come down with an increasing complexity of defenses, but the rejuvenation of the 34 front over the last decade has placed an even bigger load upon the center's shoulders post-snap. Though they lack the herculean build of a modern day left tackle, on average they are the most intelligent players on the field up there with quarterbacks. Within 15 seconds of coming to the line of scrimmage (or even less with an growing number of teams looking to quicken the pace), the center must identify the MIKE linebacker in a given defense, pick up on keys (particularly safeties) to identify a blitz, slide the protection, and communicate assignments with his teammates. Then they must snap the ball, keep their head on a swivel while attempting to block the 330-pound behemoth lined up inches away and a blink of an eye away from breathing down your neck. And though I don't believe Pouncey was deserving of All-Pro honors in either of his first two years as a rookie, he has been the best linemen on the Steelers for two years running. Pouncey has the size, strength, and athletic ability of the ideal modern day center that can make consistent protection calls, anchor against a pass rush, and advance to the second level in the run game. He may not be there quite there yet in any of those regards, but in his first two years, he's communicated well with his teammates and been a trustworthy best friend to Roethlisberger on the field. However, like with other linemen, their value drops because as we've seen with the Steelers, no single lineman, including the center (or left tackle), can leave an overwhelming mark on the game.


37. Earl Thomas [Safety, Seattle Seahawks, 23]
Stats: 98 tackles (69 solo), 5 STF, 1 FF, 2 FR, 2 INT, 7 PD
Though short, quick-footed, and fast, Thomas can also lay the wood and make an ordinary wrap-up tackle, making him a rising fear at the safety position for quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs alike. As a fleet-footed, quick, and agile safety prospect out of Texas, Thomas was considered a potential convert to corner at the next level for some teams. Sticking at free safety for the Seahawks, he has patrolled the outfield well with great range, helping to allow the defense to remain confident in their ability to defend the deep ball with bigger, slower corners on the perimeter. Most impressive about his transition to the pros thus far has been able ability to soak up knowledge and demonstrate it on the field without losing a step. Generally most first and some second year players are still getting fully acclimated to their scheme and playing without full confidence in their reads. When Thomas steps out onto the field, his knowledge seems to move to his subconscious and his instincts take control. He reads quarterbacks, has great route anticipation, and breaks on his reads quickly and swiftly. Single high. Cover two. Run support. Blitz. Wrap-up. Slot man. In just two seasons, Thomas has done it all for a defense predicated on versatility. More importantly, he's put together two consecutive seasons at a high level, a rarity at the safety position in today's landscape. Though Earl Thomas is already a vocal leader, as he continues to refine his game and reach his peak, he has the potential to become a true difference maker at the safety position.


36. Matt Forte [Running Back, Chicago Bears, 26]
Stats: 203 car, 997 yards, 4.9 avg., 3 TD, 52 rec., 490 yards, 9.4 avg., TD
With an improving run-blocking unit and arm capable and willing to fling the ball all over the field, Forte was given a fighting chance to elevate his game to the next level—and he delivered. With nearly 1500 yards from scrimmage in just over 11 games, the former Tulane superstar proved to the league to be amongst the most versatile and consistent performers in the league. At 6'2, 220 pounds, Forte has excellent size and strength, but it's his deceptive speed, vision, and quickness that make him great. He's a traditional between-the-tackles runner that maximizes each run by wiggling through the tiniest crease and crashing forward upon contact in traffic for an extra yard or two. With soft hands, patience, size, and moves to handle any defender thrown at him in space, he's also one of the best receivers out of the backfield adding a level of dynamism to any offense. So as his size and natural running instincts lends him well to a bellcow role in a traditional offense, his receiving potential out of the backfield and ability to even split out wide on occasional snaps brings value to an offense with a greater variety of passing and spread concepts.


35. J.J. Watt [Defensive End, Houston Texans, 23]
Stats: 56 tackles (48 solo), 5.5 sacks, 9 STF, 2 FR, 4 PD
At 6'5 285 pounds, the physical specimen from Wisconsin landed in Houston and stepped off the plane as an impact player, starting 16 games for the new Wade Phillips 34 front. With towering size and length, Watt often seems in control of his battle in the trenches. Only a punch, slap, or rip away from defeating or shedding his block, Watt can hold the point can disengage at will to make a play on the ball. Or as is more common in the Phillips 34 front, he does an outstanding job of shooting the gaps to create disruption in the backfield right off the snap. While many first year pros were hitting the "rookie wall", Watt was just getting into high gear. Though he finished the regular season with 5.5 sacks, 16 hits, and 21 hurries, he added 14 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a pick six in his postseason encore. With a motor and energy that can fire up any defense, beyond-his-years knowledge of the game, and remarkable precision and work ethic at his craft, Watt has flourished in his role in the Texans' defense. With his rookie year accomplishments alone, there's little doubt that he could pick up a number of other positions in various schemes and be every bit as versatile to his scheme as a Justin Tuck is to his own. Here is a terrific, versatile, complete player in the making.


34. Chris Johnson [Running Back, Tennessee Titans, 26]
Stats: 262 car, 1,047 yards, 4.0 avg., 4 TD, 57 rec., 418 yards, 7.3 avg.
After a down season, it would be easy to turn away from Chris Johnson, but with four seasons with over 1400 yards from scrimmage, including a record-setting 2,509 yards in 2009, Chris Johnson still has plenty of cornerstone in him. Maybe his body is better fitted to a role like Jamaal Charles, or maybe he just needs better team support, but on a majority of teams in the league, he's probably still going to be "the guy" a defense hones in on to stop the offense. His game-changing speed begins with his first few steps where he can take seemingly in-position defenders and make them well out of reach. A defense can slow Johnson down by getting early penetration in the backfield making him question his reads and challenging his confidence. For the rest of the game he can become uncommitted and hesitant as a runner, which is something he must improve upon if he's going to return to his 2009 level of play. Still, this is a dangerous defensive strategy because his lightning-quick acceleration and speed can often turn the slightest misstep into an open-field run, which is generally a long score. Also because of his great hands, patience, and lethality in space, Johnson prevents a defense from pinning its ear back on the passer with the threat of the lobbed screen or a swing pass to the perimeter. Playing the past two years with a fading offensive line and quarterback and the lack of another viable option out of the backfield, Johnson's production diminished. Adding any of the three dimensions, even if against his will, could provide a boost to productivity, efficiency, and overall value.


33. Arian Foster [Running Back, Houston Texans, 26]
Stats: 278 car., 1,224 yards, 4.4 avg., 10 TD, 53 rec., 617 yards, 11.6 avg., 2 TD
The Texans' have built a great model for success, due in large part to Arian Foster on offense. His dual-threat ability has forced defenses to shift attention away from the passing game and back onto the running game, an area that helps feed the big playaction plays. At 6'1, 229, Arian Foster has great instincts, balance, and ample long speed to make it work as a one-cut runner. After Mike Shanahan's Broncos popularized it, backs in this system have often been thought of as easily replaceable though there are several organizations that have yet to make it work completely, including the McCarthy's Packers. Foster makes this system work in Houston because of his daunting size, patience, and ability to explode out of a hole after choosing it. He's a strong receiver in the backfield as he's able to snag balls on swing passes and screens. Much of what makes him exceptional as a receiver also separates him from other backs in the system as a runner. Arian Foster is able to see two moves ahead—after making a defender miss in space and on the perimeter, he knows where to take the run, while also keeping in mind that the shortest distance between two points (and to the end zone) is often a straight line.


32. Ray Rice [Running Back, Baltimore Ravens, 25]
Stats: 291 car., 1,364 yards, 4.7 avg., 12 TD, 76 rec., 704 yards, 9.3 avg., 3 TD
At 5'8, 212 pounds, Ray Rice keeps himself in tremendous shape to stay injury-free and able to provide so many touches to his offense. Though he may not retain his athleticism and legs for the rest of his career, his value will be prolonged as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield. At 25 though, there's no need to begin contemplating that just yet. With vision and patience that ranks out among the league's best and a low center of gravity that allows him to knock defenders back upon impact, Rice can be handed the ball out of traditional sets and be expected to carry a load on any given Sunday. His greatest value may derive from simply building a culture over the next 4-6 years where dependable ball control offense around Rice can give a young quarterback plenty of confidence and room to grow and succeed at his own pace. Surpassing the 70/700 mark this past year, his skill in the pass game compounds this value. Though not an easy model to re-build, Rice, like Foster in Houston, has found his ideal home in Baltimore, an organization committed to defense and toughness.


31. Calais Campbell [Defensive End, Arizona Cardinals, 25]
Stats: 72 tackles (53 solo), 8 sacks, 7 STF, 2 FF, FR, INT, 10 PD
It's hard to even begin a legitimate conversation about Campbell without mentioning his towering 6'8, 300-pound body that terrifyingly swallows up ball-carriers immediately upon contact, as it did on 73 occasions last year. In what now seems like a glaring omission from last year's list (after placing #40 the year prior), Campbell has steadily improved as a player, this year becoming a better pass rusher after becoming a better run defender a year ago. With 8 sacks, 10 hits, and 17 hurries, the long-limbed athletic specimen from The U is a match-up nightmare for any offensive tackle. With better top-end speed than short area explosiveness, Campbell has worked on improving his pad level (a difficult feat for a 6'8 behemoth) on a consistent basis and upon reading his opposition to understand what is being thrown at him (more often a "who"—and literally at his knees). His game is also noticeably stronger with his hands where he can dispose of or control defenders to squeeze plays and end them himself, as evidenced by an increase in tackles over his four-year career. Because he lacks an elite first two steps, it's difficult to see Campbell making another big step to move into the "special" tier; however, with a couple baby steps, he can still be among the position's elite defenders.


30. Geno Atkins [Defensive Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals, 24]
Stats: 47 tackles (26 solo), 7.5 sacks, 5 STF, 2 FF, 2 FR, 2 PD
With a first-team All-Pro caliber season a year ago, Geno Atkins came out of nowhere and took the league by storm, though I wonder how many recognized? On a per snap basis, no interior tackle provided as much individual support as a pass rusher as did Atkins, whose 7.5 sacks, 12 hits, and 19 hurries are all amongst league leaders at his position. As an undersized tackle, Atkins' 4.75 40 yard dash at the Scouting Combine wasn't enough to erase concerns over point play, consistency, and his ability to get off of double teams. After falling to the fourth round, it's obvious scouts mistook him for a straight-lined athlete, but since arriving in Cincinnati, his short area quickness and first step are amongst the best in the league and his talents come in an area of the field where all teams strive to be dominant, first and foremost. His crucial improvement from rookie to an All-Pro sophomore campaign fueled a rise for the Bengals defense from a below average unit to one that ranked inside the top 10. With his pass rush skills highlighted, his impact in run defense shouldn't be shrugged aside as the team finished just inside the top 10 there too, with even more robust numbers up the middle. Geno Atkins cleared his first hurdle last year dominating the trenches week after week, but must now prove to be able to do it again in 2012 with the biggest target now on his head and the double teams regularly rolling his direction.


29. Brian Cushing [Inside Linebacker, Houston Texans, 25]
Stats: 114 tackles (76 solo), 4 sacks, 5 STF, 2 FF, 2 INT, 5 PD
The only blemish in Cushing's professional career is the 4-game suspension in 2010 for the alleged performance-enhancing drugs he tested positive for, which came after rumors of his involvement with them in college at USC along with other teammates. I won't speculate, but let's assume for now that that's behind him. Separating his only discernible "weakness" as a cornerstone is a second All-Pro caliber season (3rd team for this observer). On a defense oozing with talent in the front seven, Cushing has probably earned the most praise and accolades from within the organization. Moved from outside linebacker in the 43 to strong-side linebacker in the first year of the Phillips' 34, Cushing is expected to move to the weak-side in 2012. There, he should be free to play in more space and utilize his instincts, speed, and nose for the ball to create even more impactful plays as he did his rookie year when he seemingly iced every win for the Texans. Brian Cushing is a fiery player who plays every play at full capacity, initiating every contact with jarring explosion and playing to the whistle with hustle. It's the conjunction of these two notable positional traits—energy and playmaking ability—that separates Cushing from other similarly-gifted linebackers around the league. With proven ability to defend the run, drop into coverage, and rush the passer from a variety of positions across different schemes, Brian Cushing is one of the best foundational defenders in the league, which now give the Texans a pair.


28. Josh Freeman [Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 24]
Stats: 3,592 yards, 62.8%, 6.52 YPA, 16 TD (20 total), 22 INT, 74.6 QB Rating
It's safe to say Josh Freeman suffered a setback a season ago after a season in which he nearly led his team to the postseason. Analyzing his splits, it's difficult to pinpoint a particular area where he fell short because it would appear he regressed across the board. In 2011, his average pass was 0.8 yards shorter than in 2010—a significant increase that shows his greater reluctance in pushing the ball downfield. Enter Vincent Jackson. As a young quarterback maturing in the league, success is often as dependent upon situation as it is natural ability and adding a huge receiver like Jackson will force Freeman to be more aggressive down the field, for his own benefit. Now in a position to flourish and return to be among the league's up-and-comers, Freeman dropped 20 pounds coming in to training camp and is committed to his new coaching staff and leading his organization. With tremendous size and mobility, the sleeker Freeman's further improved escapability this upcoming season (if possible) should help fuel offense and big plays that were nonexistent last year. With great accuracy from the pocket and the courage to hang tough under duress, Josh Freeman could become an unflappable, demoralizing opponent if he ever puts it together. And I believe he will beginning this season where the game should continue to slow down and the decision-making process will quicken and improve, helping him get the ball out on time and out of opponents' hands. While the downside of building a franchise around Freeman includes several years and hope committed to a quarterback with his best season behind him, the upside is quickly prevalent if you rewind the tape to 2010, where he was a cerebral player hitting targets all over the field and especially lethal with the game on the line.


27. Marcell Dareus [Nose Tackle, Buffalo Bills, 22]
Stats: 43 tackles (32 solo), 5.5 sacks, 4 STF, 1 FR, 2 PD
Charge a defensive mind with personnel decisions and many old school minds would begin their search with a player like Dareus in the middle. Coming from Nick Saban's brutally physical program in Alabama, Dareus flashed stretches (and often games) of dominance in the middle, but sort of disappeared through others. Such is the nature of his role and especially so for a rookie. With an exceptional combination of size, strength, and movement skills, Dareus is well on his way to becoming one of the league's elite. At 330 pounds, he moves astonishingly well and is capable of getting gap penetration if his role calls for it (5.5 sacks, 4 hits, 13 hurries as a pass rusher in 2011). However, his official job description can be more accurately assessed as a space-eater for a team that has been nothing short of porous in run defense over the past few years. Though the Bills didn't make a drastic improvement in Dareus's first season, there were baby steps in the right direction, particularly up the middle. He possesses two positional qualities mandatory to serve as a longtime starter for a single team: good pad level and great hands, which includes a jarring punch. Beyond studying film to better understand how offensive lines may block him, Dareus will just need experience in playing with two men in front of him at the professional level to take the next step. When he reaches the pinnacle of his career, he may never be recognized with the accolades of a player that makes game-changing plays himself, but he'll be every bit as valuable behind the scenes as the man who allowed him to do so.


26. Patrick Peterson [Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals, 22]
Stats: 64 tackles (59 solo), 1 sack, 2 INT, 13 PD, 4 Return TDs
Gather all of the General Managers together and hold this draft with empty rosters. Peterson wouldn't be near the top of many lists simply because his position isn't generally considered a cornerstone and projecting an elite corner (strictly defined) is incredibly difficult. Why? Because instincts, consistency, and concentration will define a cornerback and those are traits difficult to accurately recognize and impossible to quantify and contrast. Their opinion is well understood, but there would be a minority market in love with Patrick Peterson, especially in today's league littered with physical specimens at their counterpart position. Allowing completions on a clip over 50% of the 100+ balls thrown his way last year and 8.7 yards per pass, Peterson has a way to go before becoming even a good number one corner in the league. However, more often than not, when Peterson was beaten a year ago, he was generally no more than a step too late or a split second late in getting his head around, which indicates he has a very bright future ahead once the game slows down and the film study seeps into his subconcious. At that moment, Peterson's speed will be difficult to test, the grace of his footwork will look like a lost art, and his strength and physicality bringing a new dimension to the cornerback position. The 6'1, 219 LSU phenom began drawing comparisons to Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson his junior season and at current level, isn't far off his path as a tackler on the in the hole and in space. With the complete skill set, Peterson is the closest defensive counter-piece to the Calvin Johnson, which will bring tremendous value to a defense as the passing game turns to a more jump-ball/back-shoulder contest. In the meantime, Peterson's ridiculous value to the return game should be enough to compensate for some of his growing pains defensively, though the typical giant leap from rookie to sophomore can be expected here.

THE TOP 25


Last edited by RashaanSalaami on Wed Sep 05, 2012 12:53 am; edited 30 times in total
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Adrenaline_Flux


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 11:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Looking forward to this.
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candyman93


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 12, 2012 11:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I appreciate the props you gave to Sheard, Ward and Mack.
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khodder


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 12:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We get a new #1 this season as the reigning Champ from 2010 and 2011 hangs up his belt.
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RaisinBran


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 12:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wonder where Josh Freeman will end up this time? haha
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fly eagles fly


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 1:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm assuming we'll see LeSean McCoy make a pretty significant jump from not making the top 50 last year
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incognito_man


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 1:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Will Detroit get 3 in the top 5?

I'd probably put Stafford and CJ at 1 and 2 respectively. Other guys I'd consider for top 5 (off the very top of my head): JPP, Newton, Suh, Von Miller, Revis, Thomas, Matthews and Willis.
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RandyMossIsBoss


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 1:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Can't wait for this. The opening paragraph was quite epic.
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JaguarCrazy2832


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 2:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wondering if a Jaguar even makes it, but Derek Cox should after this year if he isnt up there now
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texans_uk


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Is Vince Young too old now?
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DrawABlank


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

RaisinBran wrote:
I wonder where Josh Freeman will end up this time? haha


NFC South QB always make the top 10 in their first full year - but they struggle to stay as high.

Ryan went from 9th to 16th then 13th. Will probably be fringe top 10 this time.

Freeman was 5th last year but probably in the 30s this time.

Cam could be in the top 5 (almost certainly in the top 10), so we'll see if the trend continues.

----

Idle speculation but I wonder how high some of the 2nd year players will go. Cam, Von Miller, Aldon Smith - all high positional value and very young. Will Patrick Peterson make the 50? Always a good read this list; probably the best thing published on the main site.
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DrawABlank


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Also, there are some players I've forgotten if Kam Chancellor and Sean Weatherspoon can't even make honourable mention, even with positional value (as they both tick off criteria 1-3 on your list and #5 only really applies for offensive skill positions)

Looking forwards to seeing who I've missed and/or debating this.

---

If you would like to read my speculation over who makes it in, highlight the text below


Off due to age (8):
Vernon Davis, Tamba Hali, Nick Mangold, Greg Jennings, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Sebastian Vollmer, Haloti Ngata, Aaron Rodgers

Confirmed as dropped (2):
Jermichael Finley, DeSean Jackson

Likely to be dropped (3/4):
Terrance Knighton, Devin McCourty, Ryan Clady, Sam Bradford??

Certain to be included (4):
Jason Pierre-Paul, LeSean McCoy, Jimmy Graham, Von Miller

Likely to be included (11):
Aldon Smith, Andy Dalton, Navorro Bowman, Duane Brown, Geno Atkins, Lardarius Webb, Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson, JJ Watt, Patrick Peterson, AJ Green

Possibilities (8):
Jarius Byrd, Carlos Dunlap, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith, Marcel Dareus, Adrian Clayborn, Jared Veldheer, Brandon Pettigrew, Marshall Yanda (only makes age cutoff by 2 weeks and a guard)
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BlaqOptic


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't imagine 50 young players better than Hernandez... But looking forward to this as always.
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vikingsrule


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

My guess would be Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will all be in the top 4. They are the definition of cornerstones.
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Texas_OutLaw7


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

BlaqOptic wrote:
I can't imagine 50 young players better than Hernandez... But looking forward to this as always.


There are apparently more than 50 -since the players listed are not the HM individuals.

Although, I can't think of nearly that many players who I would consider better than Lee.
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