An Argument for the Chargers Trading Down in the NFL Draft

With Phillip Rivers balking at the prospect of relocating to Carson – who can blame him? – much of the Chargers draft talk is swirling around a potential trade up to snag Marcus Mariota.

Without wading into the quarterback drama, the Bolts might give some thought to trading down in this year’s draft.

The collection of talent is plenty strong in this year’s draft, but several position groups have far more depth than high-end talent. Take wide receiver. Amari Cooper is not Calvin Johnson, and no one argues otherwise. So should a team rush to the podium to spend a Top 10 selection on Cooper?

But teams drafting late in the first round or early in the second may have their choice of accomplished college wideouts like Jaelen Strong, Nelson Agholar, or Phillip Dorsett. Pair Dorsett with a Day 2 tight end like (Dorsett’s college teammate) Clive Walford, and a team’s listless passing game looks a lot healthier a few years down the line. I’m talking to you, Raiders.

The top offensive linemen, linebackers, and secondary players in this draft all have warts. But those position groups all feature quality players who should come off the board at the end of Day 1 and during Day 2.

The Chargers pick 17th. If the real draft shakes out anything like the mocks, top players like Todd Gurley, Randy Gregory, or Danny Shelton could fall into the teens. If so, the Bolts have to think strongly about taking one of them. But accumulating picks between 18 and 90, where teams will make hay in this draft, wouldn’t be such a bad Plan B.

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Blowing off some steam

Steve McNair, Jay Fiedler (!), Chad Pennington. Tom Brady (twice), Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers (twice), Drew Brees, Mark Sanchez (!!), Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson

After that painful display on Thursday night, it feels reeeeeally good to list the quarterbacks that Peyton Manning has lost to in the playoffs.

PS. Did you know his fourth year in the League, his Colts were 6-10? Six wins! (The famous Jim Mora “Playoffs?!” presser…)

Fantasy Football: the Draft was Last Month

Last month, hundreds of thousands of fantasy football drafts were held. In most drafts, LeSean McCoy was a prized pick. There was also interest in Darren Sproles, too, but it was more luke-warm.

If you looked at the ESPN.com projections for this week, you would think we were still in training camp. There is LeSean McCoy, atop the rankings (even against a thus-far fairly stout Washington front seven). Sproles? 18th.

The problem? We’re heading into Week 3, not Week 1. And through two weeks in 2014, Darren Sproles is the better fantasy running back.

True, both have scored a lot of points. McCoy has garnered more touches (51, to Sproles’s 25). Maybe McCoy is the safer bet.

But Sproles is the #1 fantasy scorer through two weeks, and facing a matchup that’s apparently favorable enough to rank his backfield mate first in projected points this week. How Sproles could rank behind such running backs as Eddie Lacy (4.5 points per game, standard scoring), Andre Ellington (7.5 pts/game), and Zac Stacy (same) is beyond logical justification. One ESPN fantasy analyst ranked Sproles behind Bernard Pierce, he of -1 fantasy points in week 1. Ouch.

It’s tough to make very many in-season decisions that affect the outcome of your fantasy season. Maybe you pick up the lone free agent who makes a difference. Maybe you can talk someone into an impact trade. But in most contested leagues, the Draft is where you get your edge. During the season, good luck.

But here, you see an opportunity. This is the rare situation where the field — including paid analysts — has failed to recognize that the preseason’s chalk is the regular season’s sucker bet.

LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are similar players, playing a fairly interchangeable role, in the same high-octane offense. Both run well out of spread looks, as they can use lateral agility to break into the open field. Both are exceptionally dangerous catching the ball in space. Both can turn a short gain into a long touchdown. McCoy’s chances are Sproles’s chances — McCoy has gotten more of them so far, but Sproles has done more with his.

So even if McCoy is the safer bet against Washington this week, Sproles is an awfully attractive play, too. Betting against Sproles is betting that a running back seeing 50% of the snaps in a Chip Kelly offense will have an unproductive Sunday. I’ll take Sproles every time.

You’ll never hear me say the same about Bernard Pierce.

Other bold moves you’ll be glad you made later the seasons:
–Drop Toby Gerhart, if you can pick up a solid free agent like Knile Davis. I liked Gerhart coming into the year. But his offensive line has proven porous, and defenses aren’t respecting the Jags passing attack. (Heck, I don’t.) I’m not confident that things pick up much for Gerhart, even if Bortles gets the nod.
–Trade away DeMarco Murray, if you can get extreme value for him. You probably paid a fortune, so this would have to be a pretty sweet deal. But you have to handicap Murray’s status for the rest of the season, and history tells us he’s unlikely to survive another 15 weeks. If you can extract an unreasonable demand from an opponent while Murray is healthy and piling up yards, do it.
–Try targeting Keenan Allen in a trade. Allen put up nearly 1100 yards his rookie year. His numbers — 10 catches for 92 yards through 2 games — look pretty pedestrian so far this year. Until you consider he did that against Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman. Allen’s numbers are due for a serious bump once he starts facing the Oakland and Kansas City defensive backfields. Look for some of those TD passes that have gone to Gates to start finding Allen.

Chargers-Seahawks Takeaways

A few thoughts on the Chargers’ second preseason contest:
• Seattle reminded us that the quick passing and draw game, not some all-world offensive line, saved Phillip Rivers from a pounding last year. The Chargers’ front was embarrassed by the ‘Hawks defensive linemen at times on Friday.
• Kellen Clemens cannot read a defense like Phillip Rivers (How many mortals can?), but he gets the ball out in a hurry with some zip on it. He is having a late-career resurgence.
• Speaking of resurgences, Malcolm Floyd caught several balls in traffic the other night. He looks out to prove that there is more to his game than the go route…
• Anyone paying attention sees that Manti Te’o has serious limitations in his game (even when he is on the field). He has never used his hands effectively, and with a suspect defensive line in front of him, he has seen too many linemen with a clean release on him. He routinely gets beat to the edge, too: Friday night, it was Robert Turbin and Russell Wilson in the same series. Not exactly Darren Sproles, either of them. Te’o is a modest downhill thumper with a mounting injury history. Players who fit that description don’t last long in the NFL.
• Jerry Attaochu continues to show he is an athletic freak – including lightning quickness of the snap and astonishing speed chasing the play – even as he consistently misses assignments…
• With Manti Te’o out for awhile and Dwight Freeney’s reps limited, next man up in the outside linebacker rotation may be Tourek Williams. And for good reason. He has heavy hands but quick reactions in the run game, and plays with good discipline. He’s an underrated pass rusher, too.
• Brandon Ghee probably makes the 53-man roster. Though the Bolts are suddenly flush with replacement-level-or-better cornerbacks, Ghee has more length than his peers. The Chargers will want that flexibility when facing bigger wideouts.

Trent Richardson is not a fast-twitch athlete and doesn’t run through tackles very well.

Someone had to say it! He looks like he spent the offseason playing World of Warcraft!! The man is a professional and deserves all the credit in the world for taking a pounding on Sundays, but lets not delude ourselves into thinking he’s the best running back in Indianapolis.

Also, the Cots offensive line stinks.

Wondering how Manziel projects? Look no further than this rising NFL star.

Johnny Manziel was the proverbial ‘black box’ of this year’s NFL Draft: even seasoned analysts and coaches were compelled to shrug with uncertainty when asked how his seat-of-the-pants style would translate to the NFL. Yes, the chicken-legged gunslinger made SEC defenders look silly for two seasons. But on Sundays? No one was quite sure how to peg Manziel’s projection to the next level.

Watching Manziel execute against professionals for the first time on Saturday, the contents of the black box were revealed. Manziel’s pro game compares to a current NFL quarterback, with some physical limitations built in.

Manziel is a six-foot Colin Kaepernick.

Lets get the obvious differences out of the way. Kaepernick has a much stronger arm, effortlessly zipping the ball downfield on a line. Manziel, by contrast, really needs his legs to do the work on his throws. If Saturday is any reflection, Manziel seems unlikely to gallop gazelle-like through NFL defenses in quite the same way Kaepernick has for nearly two seasons. (Manziel saw less daylight than we’re accustomed to on his scrambles in part because the Browns offense draws more defenders into the box than the Texas A&M spread.)

manziel
kaepernick

But Manziel and Kaepernick have more in common than you think. Both players can make defenders miss with the ball in their hands. Both players are transitioning from a spread offense in college to a pro-style approach, and consequently struggle to progress through their reads. And both players show less accuracy than you would like. Manziel will make some of the same jaw-dropping plays that Kaepernick has made routine; Kaepernick’s struggles will be Manziel’s.

Was “Colin Kaepernick Light” worth the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft? Tough call. Even with their quarterback a regular feature on Sportscenter, the 49ers generally go as far as their defense and smashmouth running game take them. When Josh Gordon gives way to the likes of Miles Austin at the end of training camp, this Browns team may well wish that Brian Hoyer had Kelvin Benjamin to throw to. Or another piece in the secondary. Or help along the offensive line.

But Manziel, for all his limitations, will probably give this team an offensive dimension that it has lacked for so long. He will frustrate with his penchant for bailing from the pocket, and errant balls that fall harmlessly to the turf in August may land in the arms of the first-team defenders Manziel will face during the regular season. But he will also get this team first downs with his legs; he’ll keep plays alive when less athletic QBs might have gone down; and he may eventually command enough attention that his receivers will find a bit more running room across the middle of defenses.

It will be fun to watch Manziel grow as an NFL quarterback. And while his future is unwritten, we do have a bit of a roadmap: a raw, lanky, exceptionally athletic gunslinger that emerged from a spread offense a few years ago. Browns fans can only hope that their team’s fortunes turn the way the 49ers’ did.

Grading the Buffalo Bills’ Draft

The idea that a team could “win” a trade where it sacrifices two top-10 picks and a fourth-rounder for the number 3 pick in the Draft — at least absent the option to draft a quarterback of RGIII’s caliber — is as antiquated as taking a running back in the first round.

Next up on the Bills agenda:
–Assigning its R&D team to design helmets made from dried animal skins instead of shock-absorbant synthetics
–Scheduling train trips to and from road games instead of flying contraptions
–Scheduling games outdoors in frigid conditions in December (wait, they actually do that…)

Apparenlty not everyone in the media sees things the way I do, though.