Thoughts From The Field

An Inside Look Into Anything and Everything NFL, By Field Yates

Blog Programming Note

If you notice a lack of activity on the blog in the coming days, it won’t be because of a lack of content, but rather just the platform that my work is published on.

I’ll encourage all of you to check out three websites, each of which I’m contributing to with regularity.

SBNation.com is a fast-growing site with an incredible number of staffers dedicated to staying on top of events and real-time news.  

BleacherReport.com is amongst the best websites for those interested in getting started in the sports media business to visit, and combines news, analysis and commentary that is both insightful, thought-provoking, and enjoyable to read. 

Finally, NFLSpinZone.com - a subsidiary of FanSided.com - is an up-and-comer in the football web landscape.  Keep supporting the cause as it continues on its path of growth.

And of course, keep check back to Thoughts From The Field, as I’ll aim to link some of my content back here when possible.

-Field

Chiefs re-sign Travis Daniels

     

Author’s note: this post can also be seen at the Bleacher Report

It likely won’t draw the same exuberance from fans as landing Eric Winston or Peyton Hillis did, but the Chiefs re-signed an important veteran on Wednesday, coming to terms with defensive back Travis Daniels.

Daniels, originally a fourth-round pick of the Dolphins in 2005, has been with Kansas City since 2009. He has played in the league for seven seasons, including a year withCleveland in 2008.  In Kansas City, he’s maintained a reserve and special teams role, playing in the slot and on the perimeter for the Chiefs in sub-packages. 

He’s also seen spot duty at safety, highlighting the sort of versatility that head coach Romeo Crennel savors in his defenders.

Daniels is a borderline average athlete for the position, with sufficient quick-twitch movements for a cornerback, but he makes up for his athletic deficiencies with instincts and savvy.

He’s picked up three interceptions and 43 tackles in 41 games as a Chief and will likely serve in a similar backup role in 2012.  The Chiefs will start Brandon Flowers and likely Stanford Routt, while Daniels, Javier Arenas and Jalil Brown will likely contribute to the various sub-packages Crennel devises.

In a division that includes Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, it’s important to possess a secondary with playmakers and role players to prevent them from exposing a defense.  Daniels is no star, but he’ll make a positive contribution for the Chiefs once again in 2012.

The Arizona Cardinals are on the clock

                  

Author’s note: this post can also be found over at NFL Spin Zone

In baseball, batting .500 is virtually impossible.

When it comes to NFL personnel moves, batting .500 on your two most important transactions of a given offseason isn’t so hot.

Based off of what we saw in 2011, that’s precisely what Arizona Cardinals GM Rod Graves did, as Kevin Kolb – who the team traded for and then paid like a franchise quarterback – was far from it in his first season with the team, while top draft choice Patrick Peterson has already established himself amongst the elite young players in all of football.

Thus the dichotomy: one suspect move met by a great one.

But with the draft approaching, Cardinals fans should take solace in the fact that Graves swiftly acted in grabbing Peterson last year, and may manage to acquire another franchise cornerstone in the coming draft.

It’s obvious that no matter what Arizona does leading up the start of the 2012 season, Kolb has to be vastly improved for this team to compete in the NFC West. 

Getting running back Ryan Williams – who missed his inaugural NFL campaign due to an injury – back will help, but the Cardinals could surely stand to give Kolb some sort of protection on the offensive line as well. 

Although there are a couple of pieces in place that don’t look to be going anywhere any time soon (Lyle Sendlein and Levi Jones in particular), the Cardinals need a major upgrade within their “five layers of protection,” and the draft may be the perfect place to start.

With pick number 13 in hand, how might Arizona act?

Let’s take a look:

Who they will draft: David DeCastro, guard, Stanford.  Guards aren’t usually first round commodities, but DeCastro isn’t your typically guard prospect.  He’s tough, nasty, physical, strong, smart and an absolute technician in the run game.  DeCastro would immediately start in Arizona and fortify the interior of the line next to Sendlein.  He might not be the most athletic guard around, but he has all of the skills Arizona could ask for to anchor his position for years to come.  This pick would be a great one.

Who they should draft: DeCastro.  I know tackle is more of a premium position than guard, so if Riley Reiff slips, I wouldn’t fault the Cardinals for pouncing on him in lieu of DeCastro.  But I don’t think that will happen, and rather than reaching for Johnathan Martin (DeCastro’s teammate at Stanford) or Mike Adams from Ohio State, they ought to take a player at a position of need and with tremendous value for his slot.  One way to ease the pressure off of Kolb would be to re-establish a power running game with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams – DeCastro would help that effort.

Who they could draft: Michael Floyd, wide receiver, Notre Dame.  Like Reiff, I’m not sure Floyd will be available by the time Arizona submits its draft card, but he’d be a major coup if he his.  Yes, Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald and a sufficient supporting receiving cast around him, but there’s no such thing as too much explosiveness in the NFL, and Floyd would seamlessly transition into a starring-second-receiver role.  Finally, and pardon the broken record syndrome here, the Cardinals need to surround Kolb with talent – that’s how you optimize the play of a quarterback searching for traction.  Floyd has loads of it.

Who they shouldn’t draft: Johnathan Martin, offensive tackle, Stanford. It’s not so much that I don’t think Martin is a capable NFL left tackle, it’s more that picking him at 13 is a slight reach.  The draft is about moving and shaking and leverage, and Arizona should be able to find a trade partner to shift backwards just a few spots in lieu of taking Martin with their current pick.  That would equate to more picks and finding guys that meet their need and value requirements.  Arizona isn’t just one player away from being really good, so acquiring picks and filling roster gaps in a trade-down scenario makes sense for the team.

Demetrius Bell to Philly?

                                 

Author’s Note: this post can also be found at the Bleacher Report.

The Eagles will likely be without star left tackle Jason Peters for much or all of the 2012 season after he tore his Achilles’ during a recent offseason workout, but the team is closing in on tabbing a potential replacement for him, as according to a report, Philadelphia is the “frontrunner” to land free agent LT Demetrius Bell.

Bell, an athletic young tackle with the ability to swing to the left or right side, has attracted interest from a number of clubs this offseason, but has been patient in deciding upon his new team.

Buffalo has been interested in retaining him, but it appears Bell wants more money than the club is willing to invest in him.

Originally a 2008 seventh round pick out of Northwestern State, Bell has spent the entirety of his four-year career with the Bills, playing and starting in 28 games.  In 2011, the Bills finished 4-3 in the seven games that Bell played in, and just 2-7 during those that he missed.

He helped to provide blindside protection for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and would be called upon to protect the strong side for Michael Vick – who is left-handed – in Philadelphia.

Bell is still a work in progress as a player, as he didn’t start playing the game until he enrolled at Northwestern State.  Buffalo drafted him with development in mind, and they were able to hone his physical skills into a dependable left tackle.

He’s 6’5” and solidly built at just over 300 pounds, and Philadelphia has long had a history of developing linemen as well.

While it remains unclear what the Eagles may be willing to offer Bell, it’s possible that the team could invest in Bell on a one-year deal while Peters is on the mend.

Bell, who has experienced a slower market for his services than he likely expected, may opt to sign a one-year pact as a platform to set himself up for a payday next offseason.  He also needs to prove that his durability is not a concern to teams, as he does have an injury history that includes a season-ending knee injury in 2009.

Bell is the son of NBA legend Karl Malone, although the two have a unique, strained relationship. 

Washington, Green Bay, and Arizona are all teams rumored to have interest in Bell as well.

Big Tuna to the Twin Cities?

                                           

Author’s note: this piece can also be found at the Bleacher Report.

Just when we thought the 2012 NFL offseason couldn’t get any zanier, a report has surfaced that Vikings Owner Zygi Wilf is pursuing current ESPN analyst Bill Parcells to both coach his team and oversee his personnel department.

Parcells – as many are aware – is reportedly contemplating an opportunity to coach the New Orleans Saints on an interim basis while head coach Sean Payton serves a season-long suspension, but Wilf’s offer may prove even sweeter than the “rental” gig Parcells would take in the Big Easy.

The report ran in the New York Post, which went on to say that Wilf isn’t just interested in the idea of handing the keys of the franchise over to Parcells, he told the future Hall of Famer to “name his price,” in order to get a deal done.

There’s a lot of unknown here, including how serious both sides are truly about a potential deal.  While Wilf’s interest in Parcells is understandable – he’s a master of turning downtrodden franchises into winners – the Vikings just promoted Rick Spielman to the role of general manager and have done nothing to suggest his job isn’t safe.

Parcells may have doubts about both the Saints and the Vikings deal, as the report says he told a group of people he was having a recent dinner with – a group that included Payton – he speculated about whether the game had “passed me by.” 

As for Leslie Frazier, the Vikings current head coach, he’s likely feeling the heat this morning, regardless of the veracity of the report.  His team stumbled to just three wins in 2011, and although the offensive nucleus is forming with Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin and potential top draft choice Matt Kalil, 2012 may prove to be another difficult season in the Twin Cities.

Wilf may believe that rather than being patient and riding the wave with Spielman and Frazier, he’d rather insert Parcells into the mix and hope for an expedient franchise turnaround.

Stay tuned.

Ranking the NFC North head coaches

               

Author’s note: this piece can also be found at the Bleacher Report.

Entering the 2011 season, there was some concern surrounding the fact that the Packers players didn’t organize a team workout during the lockout, unlike many of their counterparts throughout the NFL.

Turns out it didn’t matter so much, as the Packers nearly finished the 2011 season without a regular season loss. 

One reason why: the man in charge of organizing and overseeing workouts and practices when the team isn’t handcuffed by a work stoppage.

That would be head coach Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy, along with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and GM Ted Thomspon, are the rocks behind the Packers’ recent success and promising future. 

Where does he measure up in my NFC North head coaches rankings?

Click through to find out.

Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers

McCarthy stands right where he belongs, and that’s on top of the list.  He has the credentials on his resume and the traits to sustain success, and the Packers will once again be the class of the division in 2012.

McCarthy probably has been underrated on the national scene in recent years, which could stem from his humble demeanor and dedication to keeping the focus on the field.

He’s a guru on offense and a master play-caller.  He’s also become an impressive groomer of coaching talent, as several Green Bay assistants have received promotions – with the Packers or elsewhere – under McCarthy’s watch.

Simply put, he’s one of the best in the NFL.

Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears

It was a tight race between Smith and Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, but let’s not forget that Smith has taken Chicago to the Super Bowl and hosted the NFC Championship game as recently as the 2010 season.

His players love to play for him, he remains calm under all circumstances (perhaps too calm at times for some Bears’ fans liking), and he’s a quality personality manager.

Smith is under contract for two more seasons in Chicago after inking an extension shortly after the conclusion of the 2010 season, and it will be interesting to see he and new GM Phil Emery work together in concert as the Bears look to bounce back from an 8-8 2011.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions

A year from now, Schwartz could very well be looked at in a different light, because his team may prove even more explosive and dangerous in 2012 than it was in 2011.

Schwartz – who many in the NFL recognize as a football Einstein because of his educational background that includes a degree from Georgetown – is fiery and passionate, so much so that he and Jim Harbaugh nearly came to blows after the Lions loss to San Francisco last season.

He’s turned a downtrodden Detroit franchise into a winner and a playoff team, and with a young nucleus that features Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford on offense plus Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril on defense, the Lions could challenge Green Bay for the division crown in 2012. 

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings

Frazier took over for Minnesota when Brad Childress was canned during the 2010 season, but not much has improved for the Vikings since then.

He’s a trusted and respected defensive mind, but Minnesota’s defensive potency has severely tapered off since the 2009 season.  Righting that ship – along with addressing a multitude of personnel needs – will help Frazier and the team in its rebuilding efforts, but it wont be easy.

A valuable piece to that puzzle is the number three draft pick that Minnesota owns, which has recently become the subject of trade rumors.  Should a team express enough interest in Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill (Miami comes to mind), they may need to leapfrog the Browns (they pick fourth), who reportedly have interest in him as well.  That may lead to Minnesota acquiring additional draft picks, an outcome Frazier would be more than happy with.

Until he has sufficient talent in place (which he doesn’t now), it will be difficult to judge his long-term arc as a head coach.

Will Jonathan Vilma be the odd man out in New Orleans?

                      

Author’s note: this post can be read at the Bleacher Report

It doesn’t even require reading between the lines, really; Jonathan Vilma’s future in New Orleans – his punishment from the Bountygate fallout notwithstanding – is in doubt.

The Saints made yet another addition to their linebacking core late this afternoon, signing former Seattle inside backer David Hawthorne to a five-year deal.

Hawthorne mans the middle of a defense (similar to Vilma), and is an exceptional run defense player (he has just limited third down value, however).

He’s also not the only new linebacker in town, as both Curtis Lofton and Chris Chamberlain were previously added during the free agency period.

The commitment from New Orleans to those three adds up to 13-years (Hawthorne and Lofton were both signed to five-year deals, Chamberlain a three-year pact), and a numbers crunch that could make Vilma the odd man out.

Despite not knowing what punishment Vilma will receive from the league – it’s a safe bet he will be punished, however – the Saints may be engaging in both preventative maintenance and a push towards the future. 

Should Vilma see a multiple game suspension (a possibility some are counting on), New Orleans has already assured itself that the linebacking core wont need to go digging for a fill-in for his services.  Beyond that, the Saints could view Vilma as a decreasing commodity.  He averaged a career-low 4.91 tackles per game in 2011, and his tackle total has regressed in each of his four seasons with the Saints.

Vilma’s value to the team is more difficult to gauge then the numbers suggest, however, as he’s long been an emotional leader on the New Orleans defense and a player that teammates – veterans and rookies alike – turn to for leadership.

He’s signed with the team through 2013, which includes a base salary of $5.4 million in 2012 and $5.9 million in 2014.  That total, combined with the investment made into the trio of new linebackers, suggests that the Saints will have to reconsider their linebacking expenses, and it’s possible that Vilma no longer fits into the team’s long-term salary cap plans.

For now, it’s too early to tell what Vilma’s fate in New Orleans will be – he’s yet to hear from the league about a potential punishment, and the Saints have a multitude of other issues to tend to as Sean Payton’s suspension draws nearer. 

All that being said, the signing of David Hawthorne today could signal the impending release of Vilma from New Orleans.

The Seattle Seahawks are on the clock

              


Author’s note: this post can be found over at NFL Spin Zone. 

As Josh can attest to, the Seahawks will be making some major changes to the way they’ll look this season, and I’m not talking about roster transactions.

That’s right, Seattle appears to be the team most impacted by the NFL’s decision to adopt Nike as its official uniform and apparel provider, ending its previous run with Reebok.

But the change that Seahawks fans would love most in 2012 would be an improvement in the win-loss column, as Seattle needed a late season surge just to climb to 8-8 last year.  Optimism stems from the play of RB Marshawn Lynch down the stretch, as well as the signing of free agent QB Matt Flynn – who although he remains largely a mystery (he’s only started two NFL games – appears to be an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson. 

Defensively, the Seahawks are loaded in the secondary, with young talent in place at every position and budding stars in safeties Kam Chancenllor and Earl Thomas, as well as promising young corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.  That’s a good start to any unit, and count on that group making another major impact in 2012.

It’s not far-fetched for the NFC West to be a lot tighter than many expect it to be next season, as although San Francisco enters the year as the odds-on favorite, Seattle and Arizona – who each struck out in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes this offseason – look to be stronger.

Long before the season begins, however, the Seahawks will make their picks in the upcoming NFL draft.

Here’s a strategical look at pick number twelve, Seattle’s first choice:

Who they will draft: Melvin Ingram, defensive end, South Carolina.  Just ask Pete Carroll what his defense needs to improve.  Here’s a hint: the pass rush.  Ingram, a blessed athlete with explosion and closing speed off the edge, has the ability to get after the passer and become a force for Seattle.  He’s long, powerful and instinctive enough to compete from day one.  The primary concern with Ingram?  He forced just one fumble in his career at South Carolina – that means he needs refining.

Who they could draft: Courtney Upshaw, defensive end/outside linebacker, Alabama.  For a defense that likes to mix up its fronts, Upshaw makes perfect sense for Seattle.  He’s capable to put a hand in the dirt, get up the field and rush, while also savvy enough to drop into space and read the quarterback.  Alabama relied on him quite a bit last year, and that counts for something given that program’s NFL-style system on all sides of the football.

Who they should draft: Upshaw.  Supposing Ingram and Upshaw are both available, Seattle cant got wrong grabbing either rusher.  The reason I lean towards Upshaw is his complete game package.  He has the skills and football IQ to do more for a defense than Ingram, who projects to be a fine rusher, but lacks in other departments.  That’s splitting hairs however, as either would make Seahawks fans justifiably happy.

Who they shouldn’t draft: Whitney Mercilus, defensive end, Illinois.  Depending on who you talk to, Mercilus projects in either the top half or the bottom half of the first round of the draft.  The people I’ve talked to tend to see him as a bottom half of the round prospect, so Seattle ought not to reach at pick 12 to snag him.  Barring an early run on athletic rushers, Seattle should be able to land a better pass rush option than Mercilus.

Ranking the NFC East head coaches

                              

Author’s note: this post can also be seen at the Bleacher Report

When it comes to evaluating players and coaches in the NFL, it’s a what have you done for me lately league. 

Perhaps no division highlights that fact better than the NFC East.

Rewind back – if you will – to the tail end of the 2011 regular season.  Tom Coughlin, the veteran Giants head coach, was seemingly coaching for his life each week.  A loss in either Week 16 or 17 may have meant unemployment for the former Super Bowl winner; a win simply seemed to ensure he’d live to see another day on the job.

Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? as Coughlin, like his quarterback, is firmly entrenched amongst the elite at their respective jobs, with two Super Bowl wins to show for it.

But is Coughlin the top ranked head coach in the NFC East in my eyes?

Keep reading to find out.

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants

Of course he is, as Coughlin accomplished what many believed to be impossible in beating the Patriots – and the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – not once, but twice on the game’s biggest stage.

Coughlin believes in preparation, discipline, and attention to detail.  He doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks about him, and he knows how to motivate his players to excel at the right time – as was evidenced in both 2007 and 2011. 

He’s not just the best coach in the NFC East, he’s amongst the best in all of football (you’ll find out later this week where he ranks in my complete list of all head coaches). 

The Giants are wisely working to sign him up for a long-term pact, and that means more wins and more success for Big Blue.

Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles

My belief about Reid: he’s the best coach in the NFL to not have won a Super Bowl.  He’s been there, gotten close on three other occasions, and has catalyzed a decade-plus long run of consistency (mostly, at least) in Philadelphia, all the while doing so with incessant chirping from fans for the Eagles to cut ties with him.

Reid is amongst the best technical teachers in the game – he’s a quarterback genius, and he loves to groom players with tools after others could not.  He’s a risk taker and an evaluator and players respect him.  He may never get a Super Bowl victory, but Reid is a darn good football coach.

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins

Ten years ago, Shanahan would be in the conversation for the best coach in all of football, but the road has been rocky since.  He took over in Washington two offseason ago, and the results have been fruitless: two losing seasons, multiple personnel mishaps, and very little to suggest the franchise is moving forward. 

That may soon change, with Robert Griffin III assuming the role of face of the franchise, but it’s up to Shanahan to prepare the roster around him to succeed. 

The franchise way overpaid for receivers this offseason, and inking safety Brandon Meriweather to a two-year, $6 million deal made no sense, but curious decisions are the norm in DC.

In the end though, rings don’t lie, and Shanahan sits comfortably at third on this list.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

At one point, Garrett was recognized as one of the best young assistants in football, and a sure-fire head-coaching star. 

Well, he’s a head coach for the team with a star on his helmet, but Garrett hasn’t yet achieved that stardom. 

He earned the full time Cowboys gig before the 2010 season, and the team made strides in 2011 with a near playoff birth.  That counts for virtually nothing in Big D, and Garrett’s questionable game management skills came into focus throughout the season.

Coaches’ fortunes are often tied to their quarterback, and in the case of Garrett, he needs to either entrust Tony Romo in crunch time (which I know can be risky), or move forward in a different direction. 

Wavering gets you nowhere in the NFL.

What to make of Mo Claiborne’s woeful Wonderlic score

               

Author’s note: this post can also be read at the Bleacher Report

Before Browns, Buccanneers and Rams fans send themselves into a tailspin over the report that LSU cornerback Mo Claiborne scored just a four (out of 50) on his Wonderlic test, let’s take a moment to step back and re-examine the significance of this news.

Claiborne, a top-flight cornerback with shutdown potential, has long been viewed as the best defensive player in this year’s draft class, and a shoo-in to land within the top six picks.

Cleveland, Tampa Bay and St. Louis all happen to be in that range and in the market for a player like Claiborne, but perhaps the intellectual gaffe of struggling through the Wonderlic will shy them away from the former LSU Tiger.

A few things to keep in mind:

1.     The Wonderlic is not a football test: in fact, it’s much more like a test you’d see in a classroom setting.  It’s about logic, reason, and problem solving.  Never does it ask you about the intricacies of cover four and when to man-turn versus zone-turn when carrying a vertical route.

2.     He’s a cornerback: not a quarterback, and although every position in football requires intelligence, playing defense – and especially playing in the secondary – is about being able to react – not decipher coverages and recognize blitzes.

3.     Motivation: let’s be honest, it’s entirely possible Claiborne hardly exerted effort in taking this test.  He knows his draft fate – he wont slip out of the top six picks, and he knows he’ll make his fortune by correctly guessing when to undercut slant routes, not multiple choice questions involving arithmetic and similes.  I’m not suggesting this is the case, but we shouldn’t discount the notion that Claiborne simply looked past and breezed through this test without care.

It wont be long until we find out if and how this report affects Claiborne’s status, but the fact remains that a Wonderlic result is just one piece of the draft puzzle.  Lest we forget the three years of standout film that Claiborne has to fall back on.  

Ranking the AFC West head coaches

                      

Author’s note: This post can also be seen at the Bleacher Report

It’s not often a head coach gets a second chance in the NFL; just don’t tell the teams in the AFC West that.

Norv Turner, John Fox and Romeo Crennel – of the Chargers, Broncos and Chiefs respectively – sputtered in their final seasons as head coaches prior to their current gigs, but that didn’t prevent any of them from landing back on their feet.

In fact, one of them is likely to advance to the playoffs again next season, and John Fox now patrols the sideline Peyton Manning will walk to between offensive series.

Crennel, meanwhile, has the most complete roster in the division, with a defense ready to win now and an offense coming together through the offseason.

And Turner.  What to say about his tenure in San Diego?  He’s underachieved many years, perhaps overachieved once (early in his tenure), and all the while done so with a unique, at-times borderline out-to-lunch sideline demeanor.

But who stacks up as the top coach in the AFC West?  Let’s take a look.
1. John Fox, Denver Broncos

Fox gets the nod here because of what he’s accomplished in the past and what looms in the future.  He built the Carolina Panthers into a winner and nearly guided them to a Super Bowl XXXVIII victory, coming up short against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots.  He was personally pegged by John Elway to succeed Josh McDaniels in Denver, and with a little help from Tim Tebow, made the playoffs in year one on the job.

Now the offensive cabinet is slightly more well stocked, with Peyton Manning under center and a set of skill players improving by the day.  Fox is a defensive guru, however, and we’ll need to keep a critical eye on his work this season.  Manning will make the Broncos undeniably better, but can this defense – under the partial direction of Fox – improve enough to make Denver relevant amongst the AFC’s elite?

2. Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs

Things I know: Crennel struggled during his first go-around as a head coach and that Norv Turner has substantially more wins as a head coach.  I also know that Crennel is a great football mind and his situation in Kansas City is tailor made for him to succeed.  The players respect him to the nth degree, will work hard, practice hard, and play hard for him, and he has a strong track record against Peyton Manning.

What does it all mean?  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crennel and the Chiefs unseat the Broncos this season as AFC West champions, and for him to earn a new level of respect from many about his ability to lead a team. 

3. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers

Some were amazed that Turner was retained after another underwhelming season in 2011, but Chargers ownership opted for one more shot with he and GM AJ Smith at the helm.  Turner is a brilliant offensive mind, he just hasn’t flexed the ability to get his to team to consistently compete like it should.  While it’s up to the players to execute on the field, ultimately the head coach bears a portion of that responsibility as well.

Now, the Chargers may finally be in a position heading into the season that they are more comfortable in.  The Broncos are the early favorites (by betting standards, at least) to take home the division, and San Diego may have slid behind Kansas City after a strong offseason for the Chiefs.  Perhaps Turner and his squad will take to the underdog role and finally hone the abundance of talent they have on the roster.

4. Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders

Despite the fact that he’s been in office for just a handful of months, I’ve already taken to new Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie.  He targeted and ultimately hired Dennis Allen, which leads me to believe the guy has what it takes to succeed as an NFL head coach.

It’s unfair to look simply at a coach’s previous results to gauge what he’s capable of as a head coach, because the duties of a head coach entail so much more than just what is delivered on the field – media responsibilities, offseason program planning, daily maintenance, and the ability to manage personalities. 

That being said, the memory of Tom Brady carving Allen’s supposed stout defense in the AFC Divisional Round during the 2011 playoffs has me a little weary.  I also know it will be a tough road to hoe in year one for Allen, with a roster slim on talent, starved for youth and with just one draft pick in the first four rounds.  Ouch. 

All that being said, we should be patient in coming to judgment on Allen, and take some time to look past what the wins and losses column says at the conclusion of the 2012 season for Oakland.  Simply getting the team to play with discipline and consistency would be a major step for the new head coach.  

What the Kansas City Chiefs should do at pick 11

               

Author’s Note: This post can also be found at NFLSpinZone.com

Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel recently suggested that his team had filled most of its roster gaps via free agency.  I don’t necessarily disagree.

Kansas City’s major coup was an effort to bring prized free agent right tackle Eric Winston in for a visit and not let him get away without a contract. 

Mission accomplished. 

Winston is now a Chief, and Kansas City’s offensive line is shaping up for 2012.

Beyond that, the Chiefs managed to lure running back Peyton Hillis away from Cleveland on a team-friendly one-year, $2.6 million deal that may serve notice to Hillis that if he runs again in 2012 like he did in 2011, he’ll never get the lucrative long-term contract he has sought since bursting onto the scene in 2010.

Additionally, the Chiefs plucked a pair of former Raiders in tight end Kevin Boss and cornerback Stanford Routt, both of whom were cut by Oakland this offseason.  Each came at a fraction of the cost their former team was paying them, and each should fill an important roster role, as Boss will assume the second tight end responsibilities and Routt should likely start opposite Brandon Flowers in the secondary.

With those four players locked in, as well as a handful of other less newsworthy transactions, GM Scott Pioli has in fact addressed most of the teams major needs.  With that being the case, the Chiefs have an opportunity to sit on their number eleven pick, see how the draft falls in front of them, and act accordingly – rather than anxiously bracing themselves for a last minute trade up to snag the player they are desperately seeking (that’s something a team like Miami may be forced to do if they are in fact as interested in Ryan Tannehill as we’ve been led to believe).

It’s an enviable position to be in on draft day, and let’s take a look at how the team may proceed come April 26th.

Who they will draft: Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Boston College.  Find a major defensive award handed out in college football last season, and it likely belongs to Kuechly.  On an otherwise woeful Boston College team, Kuechly kept the Eagles program relevant and worth watching in 2011.  He was simply everywhere and everything to his defense, and he’s about as close to a ready-made NFL prospect as this draft class offers.  His physical abilities are matched only by his mental makeup and character, and he’d instantly upgrade the Chiefs already above-average linebacking core.  Crennel would install Kuechly next to Derrick Johnson as an inside linebacker, and they’d give Kansas City a pair of three down players – a growing rarity in the NFL. 

Who they should take: Kuechly.  Jovan Belcher is a fine young player, and he’s done well to transform himself into a hit and run linebacker after four years with a hand in the dirt as a defensive end in college at Maine, but he has limited physical abilities and is not a major factor in the passing game.  In adding Kuechly, Belcher could be realigned into a backup linebacker and core special teams player role – that’s closer to where he belongs in the NFL.

Who they could take: Dontari Poe, nose tackle, Memphis.  One could argue with the assertion Crennel made (which I referenced at the top of this piece) about not having a roster hole, because many believe the Chiefs need a nose tackle in the worst way.  It’s true to a degree, but my belief is that Crennel doesn’t feel the need for the Chiefs to force the issue in picking one up unless they believe him to be a sure-fire starter and producer.  It’s a difficult position to evaluate and find talent at, making Poe all the more juicy for teams in need of an athletic specimen on the defensive line.  He’s blessed with amazing physical gifts – so much so that he could be long gone before the Chiefs pick – but also has a pedestrian track record of production.  To boot, there are reports that he hasn’t always played hard, something that – if it’s true – would likely cool Pioli on Poe. 

Who they shouldn’t take: Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Texas A&M.  The Chiefs are rumored to be working Tannehill out in a private setting in the near future, and that means they’re one of a handful of teams interested in his services.  My beef with picking Tannehill is that the Chiefs are ready to compete for the playoffs now – with Matt Cassel under center – and investing in a young quarterback could mean having to wait on his development and maturation into being a leader.  The team has stood by Cassel since trading for him in 2009, and rather than veering off course with an unproven youngster, I believe the Chiefs ought to roll with Cassel and see what this roster – the best one Pioli has assembled yet – can do when at full strength.    

Ranking the AFC South Head Coaches

                           

Author’s Note: This post is part of an eight-part series that can be seen over at the Bleacher Report

We continue on with our rankings of the NFL head coaches, moving on today to the AFC South. 

In terms of experience, it’s hard to find a division with less of it than this one.

Two franchises are starting fresh with new coaches this season – Jacksonville and Indianapolis – and their coaches have a combined two years of head coaching experience. 

The Colts dipped into the Baltimore coaching staff to peg Chuck Pagano as their new head coach, and he’ll get his first crack at leading a team with a roster depleted of talent in the post-Peyton Manning era.

Gary Kubiak, who remains a relatively new head coach, is the most senior member of the group, and the only coach to have reached the playoffs (with his lone trip coming last year). 

So how do the coaches stack up?  Take a look.

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans

It’s hard to understate the work of Kubiak in 2011, as although the AFC South was a weak division, he kept his team on track after losing two starting quarterbacks, star defensive end Mario Williams, and offensive standouts Andre Johnson and Arian Foster for multiple games.

That left Kubiak with unknown and untested TJ Yates leading the way, but the Texans managed to hardly skip a beat, earning the third seed in the AFC and giving Baltimore all it could handle in the Divisional round.

With Matt Schaub back under center, Johnson healthy, Foster signed to a long-term deal and an exciting young defense, Kubiak’s team is an early favorite to push New England in the AFC.

Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans

Hats off to Munchak for leading Tennessee to nine wins in 2011, as I was more than a bit skeptical about the talent on his team leading up the season.  Amazingly, Tennessee succeeded with an atypical season from Chris Johnson, who was a non-factor in an unacceptable number of games last year.

Munchak’s tough, workmanlike approach to playing the game (he’s already been enshrined in the Hall of Fame after a standout career as a Houston Oiler guard), has translated as a coach, and it showed in 2011.

You have to appreciate those in football who care solely about winning and losing, and not the attention their profession affords them.  From all indications, Munchak is cut from that cloth.

Chuck Pagano, Indianapols Colts

This pick is a little bit of a leap of faith, as Pagano’s never been a head coach before and is staring a long season in the eyes with a roster that’s been severely trimmed in a rebuilding effort.  Even so, Pagano was revered in Baltimore – where he coordinated the defense from 2009 - 2011 – and brings a fire and passion to his craft that is contagious.

Chief amongst his tasks in Indianapolis is finding a way to surround Andre Luck (assuming he’s the number one pick) with enough talent to keep him on his feet next year, and implementing a defensive system that eventually yields results similar to what he accomplished with the Ravens. 

In time, I truly believe the Colts will look back at the Pagano hire as a home run pick to start fresh with.

Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars

Mularkey was underwhelming during his tenure in Buffalo as the Bills head coach from 2004 - 2005, but has since beefed up his stock by tutoring Matt Ryan in Atlanta and turning him into a promising young franchise quarterback. 

He’ll have his hands full trying to pull off a similar trick in Jacksonville, where he must soon decide if Blaine Gabbert – despite being a top 10 pick just one year ago – is the quarterback of the future. 

We know Mularkey will work hard to install a system that Gabbert can succeed in, but until both sides have flexed more muscle than what they’ve shown in the past, Mularkey remains up for judgment as a head coach.

Ranking the AFC North Head Coaches

                      

Author’s Note: This post is part of an eight-part series that can be seen over at the Bleacher Report

On Friday I began my list of head coach rankings, broken down by division.

Up first was the AFC East, headlined by a guy that few other coaches in NFL history – much less in today’s game – stack up to in Bill Belichick. 

In the AFC North, our next stop on the tour, the gap between the top competitor and the rest of the field isn’t so wide, as you could justifiably make a case for a pair of coaches as being the best.

But in the end, only one coach has laid his hands on the most prized trophy in all of football, and for that Mike Tomlin takes the cake as the AFC North’s finest.

Check out the full list. 

Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

Tomlin isn’t just amongst the most enjoyable press conferences you’ll witness amongst coaches, he’s also a – still young – coaching superstar.  He already has a Super Bowl trophy on his resume, and nearly secured another one during 2010 season. 

Some will point to the loaded roster Tomlin inherited, but history in sports has shown that taking over for a legend – which he did in following Bill Cowher – is no easy task.  Tomlin has earned the respect of his veterans and helped catalyze a youth movement that includes the development of young skill players such as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, as well as offensive line anchor Maurkice Pouncey.

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens

Trust me, the gap between Harbaugh and Tomlin was supremely slim.  Harbaugh mans a Baltimore team that exemplifies toughness in football, and his teams are amongst the best prepared on a week-in, week-out basis. 

Like Tomlin, Harbaugh took over a roster with more than enough ready-made pieces, and he’s been able to establish consistency in winning, especially at home. 

Before the 2011 season, Ray Lewis infamously said – amongst other things – that the Ravens were inches away from competing for a Super Bowl trophy.  How right he was, as a Lee Evans drop in the AFC Championship kept them from playing the Giants in Indianapolis. 

With Harbaugh leading the way, the Ravens wont ever be far from contention.

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

2011 was resurgent for the Bengals franchise, Lewis included.  More than a few people asked the question of whether or not Lewis was the right man to lead a rebuilding effort in Cincinnati, but he proved fit for the task in paving the way to nine wins and a playoff birth last year. 

Lewis has a unique way about him and how he handles his players publicly, but winning games will continue to buy him time in Cincinnati.  If he can continue his young nucleus on the development path, the Bengals are primed to challenge Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the division for years to come.

Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns

Despite the fact that he’s coached a full season, we really don’t know much about Shurmur other than the offensive system he wants to run.

The Browns were a trendy pick to overachieve in the beginning of 2011 with what looked like a cakewalk schedule in the first 11 games, but that proved not to be the case, and Shurmur’s head coaching career started out rockier than he likely bargained for.

What will it take for us to know what he’s made of?  Well, finding a quarterback for the team to commit to long-term will help, and it appears Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M may be their target in the draft.  Until then, the story remains incomplete on Shurmur.

The Bills are on the clock

                                 

Draft chatter is picking up with amazing speed, and that means we’re further capable to understand teams’ plans.

In most cases, that means filling in holes left during free agency. For the Buffalo Bills, the number of holes dramatically reduced with the signing of Mario Williams.

Williams, an elite rusher, immediately transforms the identity of Buffalo’s defense, and allows new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt to mix in a bevy of wrinkles with his secondary.

And while the Bills defense is far from perfect, on paper it looks better than the one that often impersonated a sieve down the stretch in 2011.

As for the offense, Buffalo hasn’t yet been able to come to terms with free agent LT Demetrius Bell. While Bell is no star, he was solid protecting Ryan Fitpatrick in 2011, and may soon find work elsewhere.

Alas, what direction do the Bills turn at pick 10? Glad you asked.

Who they will draft: Riley Reiff, offensive tackle, Iowa. Assuming the Bills don’t re-sign Bell, that leaves OT and WR as the primary offensive positions of need. Deciding between Reiff and Michael Floyd of Notre Dame sounds like a good problem to have in my eyes, and I think the Bills ultimately go with the blindside protector for Fitzpatrick.

Who they should draft: Reiff. Another Iowa tackle was considered at top 10 pick a couple of years ago, but Bryan Bulaga ultimately slid towards the bottom of round one and ended up in Green Bay. Reiff shouldn’t experience a similar fate, and I think he fits as a day one starter in Buffalo at a premium position. That counts.

Who they could draft: Floyd. Again, the Bills aren’t totally set at wide receiver, and if you’ve followed the start to this series, you’ll understand my affinity for Floyd. He’s explosive, tough, strong and physical. The Bills have done well to groom receivers in recent years, including Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, and a host of others. Floyd could come in to an organization ready to take off and blossom.

Who they shouldn’t draft: Alshon Jeffrey, wide receiver, South Carolina. You’ll find some healthy debate about Jeffrey’s pro prospects, and here at NFL Spin Zone we’ve got a few people of a different mind on the former South Carolina Gamecock. He had some dazzling moments in college and impressed at a recent pro day, but even though he’s controlled his weight during the pre-draft process (which, by the way, is the most important four month process of his life, so of course he has), it doesn’t eliminate the fact that weight has been and may continue to be an issue. There’s only so much a team can control in its players at the NFL level, and monitoring every calorie they put in their body isn’t realistic. Jeffrey will still be a fine pro in my eyes, he just isn’t a top 10 pick.