ICYMI: Trent Richardson Traded to the Colts

Late Wednesday, Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson decided to pull an ace out of his sleeve and make a rather cavalier move in trading the Colts’ first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft for former first-round running back Trent Richardson.

Perhaps the most surprised person in this whole situation is Richardson himself, who found out about his trade via the radio when going about his everyday life outside of football. The third-overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2012, Richardson tallied just under 1,000 rushing yards and scored 11 times on the ground in a Browns uniform prior to the trade. Cleveland had originally traded up to the third pick to select Richardson under previous GM Tom Heckert.

It’s a very interesting move, as current GM Mike Lombardi made it abundantly clear that the Browns are in a rebuilding mode by trading arguably the most talented player on the offensive side of the ball. Not only is Richardson gone barely over a year after the Browns traded up for him, but the first-round pick that Cleveland will receive could be a late pick if Indianapolis manages this season to match their playoff-worthy record in 2012.

For the Colts, Richardson’s addition fills a hole left when Indianapolis placed running back Vick Ballard on the injured reserve with a torn right ACL suffered in practice prior to the Colts’ week 2 game. Prior to the trade, Indianapolis was left with free-agent acquisition Ahmad Bradshaw and draft bust Donald Brown, who has tallied under 2,000 rushing yards since being made the 27th-overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. Richardson gives the Colts a new dynamic to play with, especially since the recent injury to tight end Dwayne Allen has removed a favorite target of Andrew Luck.

The Browns filled the void left by Richardson’s departure quickly by bringing in free-agent runner Willis McGahee, ostensibly to start over Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey. Cleveland may ease McGahee back into the game following an offseason of inactivity due to a broken leg, but the 31-year-old should contribute as a solid runner between the tackles.  McGahee is also valuable to the passing game as a blocker and veteran receiver, seen last year in his time as the feature running back for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos prior to the leg injury.

So what do the Browns plan to do with the future pick? If Cleveland continues their losing course this season, they’re likely to have an early pick and a late first-round pick — offering the Browns flexibility in moving up and down in the first-round. If Brandon Weeden doesn’t pan out this season, the Browns could look at drafting one of many quarterback prospects and adding another piece later in the round, or trade around for more picks.

The shocker of a trade was met by mixed receptions by Cleveland fans, as some looked at the trade as getting above market value for Richardson while others looked at it as yet another poor move by a team that has stayed in the NFL’s cellar for years now. However, the trade received almost unanimously positive reviews from NFL analysts, with CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco citing the trade as the jettison of an overvalued runner (Richardson has only managed 3.5 yards per carry since his selection) while he still has trade value and Jason La Canfora cited the devaluation of running backs in recent years as making a first-round pick an excellent haul for a team like the Browns.

In other news, The Colts promoted practice squad receiver Da’Rick Rogers to the active roster in the wake of Allen’s placement on injured reserve. Rogers was considered to be a borderline first-round prospect heading into the 2013 NFL Draft. Rogers was signed as an undrafted free-agent by Buffalo prior to his release in August.


Ravens/Broncos: What to Watch For

Today marks the first regular season game of the 2013 NFL season, and it’s a good one: the rematch of last year’s AFC divisional round thriller between Peyton Manning and the Broncos and Joe Flacco’s Ravens.

Although tonight’s game is effectively the Broncos’ first step to redemption after the double-overtime loss that cost their playoff run, both teams have been involved in roster movements that have drastically altered the names players that will be on the field. Among these moves are the Elvis Dumervil fax-gate incident, Von Miller’s suspension, and the departure of veterans Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard, and, above all, Ray Lewis in the offseason. As such, let’s take a look at some of the key players to watch in tonight’s game.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie/Tony Carter

By now, it’s clear that Champ Bailey will not take the field for the Broncos in week 1. The absence of Bailey is not something to be scoffed at, even if memories of poor play persist in the mind following last year’s heart-breaking defeat. Bailey is a team leader and still one of the most talented corners in the NFL, and it’s up to offseason acquisition Rodgers-Cromartie to step up in his absence. Look for DRC and Chris Harris to start in base sets, with up-and-coming Tony Carter taking over for Harris outside while Harris bumps inside for nickel and dime packages. Carter saw plenty of time with Denver last season in sub-packages, and is a quality corner, if inconsistent at times. If Rodgers-Cromartie and Carter can hold their own against the depleted Ravens receiving corps, then Denver has a chance to shut down Flacco’s passing attack.

Torrey Smith/Jacoby Jones/Ed Dickson

The Ravens are expecting big things out of the receiver duo of Smith and Jones following last year’s playoff performances, and signaled as much with the Anquan Boldin trade that left Baltimore with a glaring lack of depth at receiver. When the loss of Dennis Pitta is added in to the equation, it’s quite clear that Smith and Jones will have to perform if Joe Flacco is going to make an impact on the field. While it was expected that Flacco would rely heavily on the emerging Pitta as a safety net in the passing game, it’s up to fourth-year tight end Ed Dickson to fill that role for the majority of the season as Pitta recovers from right hip surgery. Expect the speedy Smith to be matched up with Broncos speedster Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie throughout the game, while Chris Harris and Tony Carter handle Jones.

Wesley Woodyard/Nate Irving/Shaun Phillips/Derek Wolfe

The six-game suspension of Von Miller to start the season is a decidedly big hit to the Broncos’ defense early in the season. Miller was arguably one of the league’s best defensive players and had the biggest impact last year of any Broncos defensive player not named Champ Bailey. Replacing Miller’s production is simply something the remainder of the Broncos’ linebacker corps cannot do, and as such it’s up to Woodyard not only to make an impact, but also act as a leader on the field with Bailey on the bench. Veteran Shaun Phillips will look to disrupt Joe Flacco in the pocket as primarily a pass rusher, while Nate Irving (17 career tackles) will be seeing the first significant playing time of his career at the Mike position this season. Linebacker has quickly gone from a strength for the Broncos to a weakness with the loss of Miller. Additionally, Denver’s coaching staff will be relying heavily on second-year lineman Derek Wolfe to create a pass-rush from both the end and tackle positions to make up for the loss of Elvis Dumervil in the offseason.

Michael Huff/James Ihedigbo

The Ravens are looking at an almost entirely new defensive backfield from last year’s Super Bowl winning squad. The departures of Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard have led to James Ihedigbo’s promotion to starter and the acquisition of versatile Michael Huff to man the other safety position. While the Ravens’ coaching staff would have liked 32nd-overall pick Matt Elam to make an impact in his rookie season, it’s likely he’ll only play sparingly barring injury to either Huff or Ihedigbo. Peyton Manning has an abundance of offensive weapons at his disposal to throw the Ravens’ way, including prolific slot receiver Wes Welker and a talented duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to boot. Huff and Ihedigbo will be responsible for handling Welker in base packages and relatively unknown tight end Julius Thomas, who is expected to draw the start due to Joel Dreessen’s absence. Thomas’ athleticism could make for a tough match up out of base packages for Baltimore’s safeties and linebackers alike.

Manny Ramirez/Ronnie Hillman/Montee Ball

It’s a well-known fact that the path to success in a Peyton Manning offense is to keep no. 18 on his feet. While rushing has complemented Manning’s passing attack throughout his career, it’s important to protect the star quarterback and to keep up with Peyton’s play calling and quick thinking audibles prior to the snap. Manny Ramirez, who saw time starting at guard in Peyton’s first year with Denver due to Chris Kuper’s continuing injury problems, is now the starting center following injuries to both J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen. With a new upbeat no-huddle offense intermixed with Peyton’s standard air-it-out offensive style, Ramirez’s impact at center will be important in keeping up with Peyton’s line audibles. Ronnie Hillman will have a tough task in protecting Manning and holding onto the football, as poor ball protection almost led to Hillman’s demotion from starter in the preseason and pass protection problems in the past have led to a reliance on Montee Ball for clear passing downs to increase protection for Manning. Expect Haloti Ngata to push the pocket against Ramirez on the interior line, while the duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil challenge whichever running back remains in the backfield to protect Manning, whether it’s Hillman or Ball.

Daryl Smith/Josh Bynes/Arthur Brown

The loss of a future Hall of Fame player in Ray Lewis is something that may haunt the Ravens for seasons as the team attempts to find an heir at the middle linebacker position. It was thought prior to the offseason that Danelle Ellerbe would take a step forward in Lewis’ absence, but it’s quite clear that the only impact Ellerbe will make this year concerning the Ravens will be in a Dolphins uniform when Baltimore heads to Miami in week 5. The next man in line was Jameel McClain, who was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list last week — meaning he’ll miss the beginning of the season. Instead, free-agent acquisition Daryl Smith, a nine-year veteran with 114 games as starter under his belt as a 4-3 outside ‘backer with the Jaguars, will start at middle linebacker with the Ravens for the early part of the 2013 season. Opposite him will be third-year reserve ‘backer Josh Bynes (34 tackles in 2012). Second-round pick Arthur Brown and Albert McClellan (49 tackles) will also be in the mix for snaps as the Ravens’ coaching staff scrambles to fill the hole at middle linebacker. If Denver’s offensive line can handle the Ravens’ stout defensive line, the Broncos running backs could be looking at an ideal match up in the middle of the Ravens’ linebacking corps.


Supplemental Declarer Jackson Signs with Dallas

Toby Jackson, one of the players who declared for the 2013 NFL Supplemental Draft that occurred in mid-July, became the first of the six declarers to sign with an NFL team.

The defensive end, who declared for the supplemental draft following an academic dismissal from the University of Central Florida, was ineligible to play in 2012. Jackson played in nine games in 2011, including two starts, totaling three tackles and a blocked punt. Dallas will likely utilize Jackson as depth at both end and tackle in their new 4-3 defensive scheme, as both Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff are expected to be out until the preseason at the earliest.

No other supplemental declarer has received interest from teams at this point, although representatives of multiple NFL teams were in attendance for ex-Southern Alabama defensive back Damond Smith’s pro day just days prior to the draft on July 11.


Training Camp Complications

There is a reason why the phrase “on paper” is used so commonly in sports: not only does a well constructed team sometimes under or over perform, but often unforeseeable events can wreak havoc on the best laid plans.

With the beginning of training camp for NFL teams across the country this week, so has the onslaught of training camp injuries that plague each and every team. Additionally, this rash of personnel complications is only compounded upon by the further analysis of past injuries to determine whether players should suit up as camps begin — with Percy Harvin’s labrum tear perhaps the most prominent example. Seattle will surely decide whether Harvin will have season-ending surgery prior to letting the recently acquired speedster dress for camp.

Another west coast team received bad news on the very first day of training camp, as Chargers linebacker Jonas Mouton (2011 2nd-round pick) tore his right anterior cruciate ligament and will end his third professional season with only five snaps played after also missing the entirety of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. Mouton’s injury is especially worrying for the Bolts due to a torn left ACL suffered by 2012 first-rounder Melvin Ingram during organized team activities back in May. San Diego’s defense will have to scramble to make up for the lack of depth following the loss of both Mouton and Ingram.

Arizona also received very bad news this week in the form of the premature retirement of sixth-round pick wide receiver Ryan Swope due to concerns around multiple concussions during his collegiate career. Swope, a Texas A&M alumnus, amazed scouts with under 4.40 times on the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. The Cardinals drafted Swope with the knowledge he had suffered four documented concussions during his time as an Aggie, and a fifth concussion during OTAs convinced Swope thathe was better off taking a break for the time being. Arizona still holds the rights to Swope should he make the decision to return in the future.

Meanwhile over on the east coast the Patriots are struggling to find a replacement for last year’s dominant duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez now that the former is likely to miss some time to start the season and legal issues have led to the release of the latter. Now, it seems that former Giants tight end Jake Ballard may be less of a complement for New England’s offense because of a very slow recovery from reconstructive and microfracture surgeries that kept Ballard out for the whole of the 2012 season. Undrafted rookie Zach Sudfield could very well end up as the starting tight end come week 01 against Buffalo should Gronkowski’s recovery from multiple back surgeries delay his start of the season.

Baltimore joins New England as a team in search of tight end help following injury to Dennis Pitta, whose breakout season in 2012 (61 receptions, 669 yards and 7 touchdowns) played a big part in Baltimore’s championship run. Originally the dislocated hip that will likely land Pitta on the injured reserve was thought to be a more minor injury, but recent reports have Pitta’s chances of playing this season at very slim to none. Baltimore headed into camp with more of a two tight end system after the trade of Anquan Boldin in the offseason, with Pitta and Ed Dickson the main benefactors of the offensive adjustments. However, Pitta’s loss will make Baltimore rethink their offensive scheme as Dickson’s receiving abilities are remarkably inferior to those of Pitta and with the lack of receivers on the roster the Ravens may consider relying on a rushing attack consisting of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.

Offensive issues have escalated elsewhere in the east, as new Eagles coach Chip Kelly must now worry about what receiver to pair with DeSean Jackson in addition to what quarterback is going to lead the offense. Philadelphia will have to scramble to replace the contributions of Jeremy Maclin after the fifth-year wideout tore his right ACL on Saturday. Although the likeliest replacement on the roster is fourth year on-and-off contributor Riley Cooper, although Kelly could look towards a veteran the likes of Brandon Lloyd or Laurent Robinson as a replacement as a possession receiver opposite the playmaking Jackson.

Both the Jets and Redskins will also be looking for help on special teams with injuries to cornerback Aaron Berry (New York) and Keenan Robinson (Washington). Berry’s tenure in Detroit was derailed by off-the-field issues that led to his release in 2012 following two seasons as depth in the Lions’ backfield. With the departure of Darrelle Revis via trade, Berry was one prospect for increased playing time and was thought to be a threat to Kyle Wilson’s projected starting spot opposite Antonio Cromartie. For Washington, Robinson did very little after a fourth-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft due to a torn right pectoral muscle in November. Robinson was expected to compete for playing time with Lorenzo Alexander signing elsewhere in free-agency, but a torn left pectoral means he’ll miss the entirety of the 2013 season.

Expect injuries only to increase as camps continue and players are put through more contact drills. Injuries are a sad reality in the NFL, and one part of succeeding as a team is recognizing and utilizing individual players who can most make up for the losses suffered during the grueling seven month season.


Bucky Brooks on the Mannings’ Camp

Hundreds of high school football players made the trip to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana for a special event this past weekend: the 18th annual Manning Passing Academy.

While the camp features players and coaches at several levels of the professional and collegiate levels as camp counselors, it’s the after hours activities that interest scouts and NFL coaches, when the collegiate participants get to show off their abilities in the offseason. Among the analysts in attendance were Mike Mayock and Bucky Brooks. Both NFL.com’s quarterbacks guru (Mayock) and the former player/scout (Brooks) made some interesting observations about the participating quarterbacks.

One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the departure of Johnny Manziel from the Mannings’ camp due to a reported illness, while others cited that Manziel had been sent home due to a bit too much partying. Labeled as “just the latest saga in the summer of Johnny Football” by ESPN anchor Rece Davis, Manziel’s publicity seems to be in full-blown media mania mode following many off-the-field stories stemming from his activities at Texas A&M and unprecedented reception of the Heisman Award as a freshman in December.

Regardless of the media’s coverage of Manziel’s off-the-field antics, the sophomore phenom still receives a good deal of attention due to his playmaking style of quarterbacking o”n the field. Brooks’ thoughts regarding Manziel revolve around the prediction that Manziel’s pre-draft evaluation by scouts and coaches — will the ‘sandlot’ quarterback draw reviews closer to Tim Tebow or Russell Wilson? Brooks tends to believe the Manziel’s mental approach is more suited to comparisons to the latter of the two — especially if he continues to develop as a proficient pocket passer.

While Johnny Football indeed favors improvisation and an ability to make plays via scrambling outside of the pocket, it became clear to Brooks during the interview process that Manziel understands the necessity of learning the pocket passer approach. The same approach is what has made perhaps the other most-discussed college quarterback famous at Alabama: A.J. McCarron.

Katherine Webb, McCarron’s girlfriend and celebrity personality, may have gotten more camera time in the past six months of the collegiate offseason, but McCarron is clearly in for a media-filled senior season as the ever-constant scrutiny of professional talent evaluators as his draft chances hang in the balance. Alabama’s pro-style offense has led scouts to label McCarron as one of the more pro-ready quarterbacks for the 2014 NFL Draft class.

McCarron can do it all — he has everything a scout looks for in a prospect — but the question is whether he can make the jump to an even more competitive level of play. Brooks came away impressed with McCarron’s “team-first” mentality and surprising aspirations to mirror Brett Favre’s “gunslinger’s mentality” as an expression of McCarron’s belief that he can be a playmaker at the professional level.

Each draft class features a player who receives the label of being the most physically talented quarterback of the group. Brooks believes that this label is most appropriately given to Miami junior Stephen Morris, whose impressive arm strength and pinpoint accuracy impressed scouts at the Manning camp. Other than passing abilities that include polished senses of touch and ball placement, Brooks came away with an impression that Morris’ anticipation and timing could make him a top quarterback in an impressive field of 2014 passers.

Brooks named several other passers in attendance as possible sleeper candidates for next May, including the likes of Devin Gardner (Michigan), Bryn Renner (North Carolina) and James Franklin (Missouri). Both Gardner and Franklin displayed impressive athleticism in combination with passing ability that could make either player appeal to professional scouts in the way Denard Robinson did this offseason. Renner’s claim to fame (according to Brooks) is an under-utilization of his passing talents in the Tar Heels “dink and dunk” offense that could lead to a late round ‘steal’ selection in May’s draft.

Mayock came away with similar impressions from the same collegiate passers as Brooks, with his most polished honors going to Renner and McCarron (although Mayock emphasized McCarron’s less-than excellent arm strength). Morris was mentioned in Mayock’s report as having been “developed well over the past couple years” due to notable mechanics, tight throws and impressive accuracy. In addition to Gardner, Mayock cited Florida passer Jeff Driskel as a raw quarterback prospect with passing ability and plus athleticism to keep an eye on as he starts his junior season.

The 2014 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks is shaping up to be a group to watch this season.


Friday Football: The Supplemental Draft

Unless you’re an avid football fan, you probably missed last night’s excitement around the NFL — or rather, the lack thereof.

Last night marked the 37th year of the NFL’s Supplemental Draft, where teams can acquire players who did not enter the NFL Draft due to extenuating circumstances, such as academic ineligibility or late filing for the draft itself. If a team selects a player in the current year’s supplemental draft, then they would forfeit the corresponding pick for the following year’s draft.

In it’s history, some notable players have been selected by teams — including the likes of Bernie Kosar (’85), Brian Bosworth (’87), and Ahmad Brooks (’06) to name a few. To select these players, teams must put in a bid corresponding to a pick in the following year’s draft, and the team with the highest bid is awarded the player. For example, the Cleveland Browns selected receiver Josh Gordon (Baylor) with a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, and thus forfeited the seventh pick in the second-round this April.

The most recent selections (in the past five years) in the supplemental draft are as follows: Gordon, Terrelle Pryor (Raiders, 2011), Josh Brent (Cowboys, 2010), Harvey Unga (Bears, 2010) and Jeremy Jarmon (Redskins, 2009). Since 2000, the supplemental draft has passed without a selection only five times (2000, 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2013).

So why were there no selections made last night? Simply put, no NFL teams decided that there was a deserving player in the pool of six eligible individuals.

Name College Pos.
James Boyd UNLV DE
Nate Holloway UNLV DT
Toby Jackson Central Fl. DE
DeWayne Peace Houston WR
O.J. Ross Purdue WR
Damond Smith So. Alabama DB

That’s not to say of these six players there isn’t a chance that they’ll latch on with a team in camp — in fact both Ross and Peace have received attention from teams in anticipation of both the draft in April and last night’s uneventful draft. At least several of the aforementioned players would have drawn interest as undrafted free-agents if not for the rule barring players who failed to file for the draft in April signing with teams.

Both Ross and Peace have been judged as talented receivers, yet problems with academic ineligibility and concerns about maturity from coaches at both the collegiate and professional levels will be a potential road block to success in the NFL. With the draft over and all six players now regarded as free-agents, expect several teams to take fliers on most, if not all, of the six.

There are several receiver needy teams that will likely be bringing in Ross and Peace for tryouts in the near future, foremost of which are the offensively-challenged New York Jets. Boyd, Holloway and Jackson could appeal to teams that have hybrid schemes or are looking for personnel to fill out holes in a new defensive scheme, like the Saints or Cowboys. The Lions, Colts, Saints and Dolphins had personnel in attendance for Damond Smith’s workout earlier this week, where the South Alabama dropout showcased exceptional athleticism that could attract any of the four teams to add a player to their defensive backfields.

I’ll be sure to provide updates on each player as developments arise in camps across the country.


Abbreviated Friday: Ravens Rookie Juszczyk Shaping Into Offensive Role Player

Today’s column is a bit late and abbreviated due to some home improvement (resurfacing driveways isn’t a 5-minute task).

The selection of Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth-round was a bit of a surprise back in April, as the Ravens already had talented fullback Vonta Leach on the roster — coming off of his third consecutive All-Pro and Pro Bowl season nonetheless.

Leach, who was set to enter the final year of a three-year, $11 million contract signed prior to the 2011 season. However, Leach’s talents are largely limited to lead blocking for a run-oriented offense, yet the 31-year-old is still one of the best run blockers in the game. However, the replacement of former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with ex-Colts head coach Jim Caldwell in a highly publicized move mid-season cast doubt on the utilization of Leach — and therefore also his worth to the team.

Within a couple weeks of Juszczyk’s selection, Leach was released by the Ravens. In Juszczyk, Baltimore had found a capable lead blocker who offered more than Leach in the way of versatility — having played both tight end and fullback for Harvard, Juszczyk had already proved himself as a capable blocker and pass catcher out of the backfield. Naturally, this means that Caldwell can utilize Juszczyk in various roles and in various formations to fool defenses.

It seems the Ravens are already revealing a bit of their hand, as the Akron Beacon Journal has reported that Juszczyk has been lining up as a lead blocker, H-back, tight end and even out of the slot as a pure receiver in camp. In an offense that lost Anquan Boldin and added little in the way of receivers, Juszczyk could be in for a decently-sized load in the way of 20-30 receptions.

With recent developments, it’s all-but certain that Juszczyk will not only make the active roster as a rookie, but quite possible that the 22-year-old could be in for a surprise impact in his first professional season.


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