Good Job – 2012 NFL Draft Analysis

30 04 2012

One of the most exciting and hotly anticipated times of the year on the NFL calendar is over and as usual it has created rigorous debate amongst fans as to who got their man and who has drafted a potential bust.

FightForTheYard takes a look at the teams that improved their chances ahead of the new season;

Arizona Cardinals

Michael Floyd, WR

Arizona produced one of the shocks of the first round with the addition of wide receiver Michael Floyd. The significance of this pick is huge as it means defences across the league will have to focus on two quality wide outs instead of all the planning going into, ‘how to stop Larry Fitzgerald’.

The addition of THREE tackles, Bobbie Massie from Mississippi being the stand out one, means the Cardinals have addressed a big need in a big way. Quarterback Ryan Lindley was taken in the 6th round and will apply some pressure to the faltering Kevin Kolb.

Staffordshire Surge lineman Tom Donlan, 22, is pleased with the weekend’s outcome.

“Michael Floyd is the one I wanted an we went out and got him. I believe Massie will be a steal in the fourth round and it’s good to see some competition at the quarterback position”.

FightForTheYard Draft Grade : B-

San Francisco 49ers

LaMichael James, RB

San Fran entered the draft with a team already capable of launching an assault on the division title and quite possibly the Super Bowl. With their first selection they acquired wide receiver A.J. Jenkins from Illinois. Jenkins was a surprise selection considering Randle and Hill remained on the board and the fact that the 49ers had already strengthened this position in the offseason with Randy Moss and Mario Manningham joining the team.

A selection I loved was the capture of Oregon running back LaMichael James in the second round. Not much was said about this kid going into the draft process, even though he had a massive year in college. The signing of James now means the 49ers can call upon either Gore, Bradshaw or LaMichael to improve that offense that struggled a little bit in 2011/12.

As for the remaining selections, the 49ers addressed some needs in the secondary and picked up defensive end Cam Johnson in the 7th round, which will have delighted defensive co-ordinator Vic Fangio.

FightForTheYard Draft Grade : B+

St Louis Rams

Janoris Jenkins, CB

At the end of the first round I was left wondering how the Rams had traded out of the second overall position all the way back to No. 14? I wasn’t the only one, Super Bowl MVP and former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner displayed his frustration on Twitter, (I mention this because I got a reply from him, no big deal.)

With the first round pick the Rams took defensive tackle Michael Brockers out of LSU. The second round was where things got interesting. With the first of three picks the Rams gave Sam Bradford a weapon, aptly name receiver Brian Quick. With the second selection they grabbed troubled cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

We all know that Jenkins could do with a bit of counselling but their is no doubt when it comes to his footballing skills that he is a top talent. Following Jenkins was Iasaiah Pead, a future replacement for aging running back Steven Jackson?

Trumane Johnson was another good bit of business by new head coach Jeff Fisher as the Rams recovered from a shaky start, where they had hoped to draft Justin Blackmon before the Jaguars traded up to get him.

FightForTheYard Draft Grade : A-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mark Barron, SS

Tampa had a disasterous season last year but made some good signings during free agency and have continued to take strides in the right direction with this year’s draft.

Trading back two places in the 1st round did not hurt them as they secured the top safety, Mark Barron with their first pick. Towards the end of the round the Bucs managed trade back in to secure the second best running back in the draft, Doug Martin. Great business.

Outside linebacker Lavonte David followed in the 2nd round with a potential game changer in Najee Goode helping to improve the Tampa defence.

Brilliant weekend for the Buccaneers

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FightForTheYard Draft Grade : A*

New England Patriots

Dont’a Hightower, ILB

The Patriots decided to trade down and collect extra picks for the later rounds… is what I was going to say but amazingly completely the opposite occurred.

New England traded up to get pass rusher Chandler Jones with their first pick and then aggravated the Ravens by pinching Dont’a Hightower from underneath their noses.

Defence was a problem at Foxborough last year even though they did make it all the way to the Super Bowl, but still, the first two picks in this draft will improve them considerably.

Alfonso Denard was chosen in the final round, a first round talent with off the field issues, should Belichick sort him out, the Patriots have a quality cornerback on the roster.

New England fan Alex Morse likes what they have been able to do; “I’m just happy we got the guy with the best name in the draft.

FightForTheYard Draft Grade : B+

Pittsburgh Steelers


Alameda Ta’amu, NT

The Steelers have had nothing short of a remarkable draft. Two future Pro Bowl linemen in guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams will help keep big Ben on his feet, where he belongs.

Sean Spence’s tape speaks for itself at linebacker and a big presence on the inside with Alameda Ta’amu adds another piece to the puzzle of this great defence.

Running back Chris Rainey has been spoken in the same breath of La Micheal James and Lamar Miller and if he can produce the numbers I believe the other two can, then Pittsburgh will be rockin’ and rollin’.

Steelers fan Julian Myles, 22, believes the team is stronger than ever; “Potentially we have two sensational linemen to protect the quarterback and a nose tackle that can learn from veteran Casey Hampton.

“All in all we have filled our gaps and I cannot wait for the season to be underway in September”.

FightForTheYard Draft Grade : A

Cincinnati Bengals

Mohammed Sanu, WR

The Bengals did all they could to cement themselves as a playoff team for years to come with some shrewd investments in this year’s draft.

The selection of Dre Kirkpatrick improves what is already a good defence operating without the big named players of divisional rivals, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson are solid signings that will stop the run and leave Kirkpatrick to dominate the passing game.

Mohammed Sanu was the victim of a hoax phone call claiming Cincinnati required his services but ironically a day later, the Bengals did come calling and he could be the man to take some of the pressure off current receiver A.J. Green.

I really like what the Bengals did this year.

.

FightForTheYard Draft Grade : A*





Neil Reynolds Exclusive

13 02 2012
“They don’t even know we play, they’d actually be quite shocked! That’s their problem.”

That is the surprise admission from NFL journalist and Sky Sports analyst Neil Reynolds, 39, who believes the British game is on the right track, even if the Americans are oblivious to the fact we even play the sport at all.

Neil Reynolds with Joe Montana

Mr Reynolds was kind enough to speak to FightForTheYard and give his views on everything football.

“I got into the sport the way most people my age did, staying up late with my dad in the eighties, watching all the best teams on Channel 4. After about a year I decided I liked the San Francisco 49ers”.

Miami Dolphins Quarterback 1983-99 Dan Marino

While the 49ers led by Hall Of Fame star Joe Montana were appealing at first, they held no real place in Neil’s heart, that spot belongs to the Miami Dolphins. When asked why he chose the Dolphins Neil could only laugh, “I like a good quarterback”. As most of you will know, Miami was home to one of the best quarterbacks of all time, Dan Marino but in more recent times players such as Matt Moore and Chad Henne have held that position and on the whole, failed.

“Obviously we’re not doing very well at the moment but Marino stood out for me and has to be my favourite player of all time. I believe the quarterback position to be the hardest in the NFL, so respect to those guys that do it”.

Having admiration for the position, Reynolds can only admire the great work that newly crowned league MVP Aaron Rodgers has done in Green Bay, “I love to watch great quarterbacks play football and this guy is special. Green Bay have a lot of weapons and are brilliant to watch at the minute”.

Watching the game is all very well and good but to fully appreciate and understand what a player is thinking, you have to have experienced the hard hitting and ferocious nature of play which Neil has.

Starting out with the Medway Mustangs in 1991, Neil played as wide receiver before moving on a year later to the Invicta Eagles where he spent four years as a tight end and kicker, a position he would hold at every team he played for.

After leaving the Eagles at the end of the 1996 season, Reynolds moved to the Kent Exiles where he would finish his playing career before being offered a job at NFL Europe.

“Again I played tight end and kicker but I also had a go at defensive end which I was awful at, I couldn’t tackle at all but loved trying to get at the quarterback. I liked to be tackled for some strange reason so that is why I was mainly on offence. My favourite tight end was Mark Bavaro of the Giants in the 80’s, the picture of him running twenty yards with three men on his back is still etched into my memory”.

Only last year Neil was offered the chance to return to the Exiles for their 21st year Anniversary, an invitation he was pleased to accept, “I went back for the anniversary and was inducted to the All Star Team ring of honour as a tight end which was great”.

One thing Neil doesn’t miss about his playing days are the aches and pains from playing a hard game, “When I was younger I would ache for a day or two afterwards but as I got older I would ache until the following Friday, that wasn’t fun”.

“I do miss being part of a team though, that was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole experience, being in the locker room before the game, getting psyched up and then the elation or despair afterwards. To enjoy it you really have to love the game”.

So the question is how did the kicker for the Invicta Eagles come to write for NFL UK and co-present on Sky Sports?

“I always had a fascination with journalism at school and at age 14 I decided that’s what I want to do, so I did”

As most aspiring journalists will know, getting a gig for a company like the NFL requires a lot of hard work, “I did a week’s work experience at First Down magazine in 1991 which was brilliant and I continued to work with them by freelancing and covering the London Monarchs game’s in the 1991/92 season”.

“From there I worked for the Kent Messenger and literally started off as the tea boy, it wasn’t pretty but it was necessary, I’d cut out the stories I had written and stick them in a scrapbook and by 1996 I was fully qualified journalist, visiting flower shows to write about the goings on in the flower world”.

Neil’s tea making days were firmly behind him when he got his first big break, “I became a reporter for First Down magazine and I did that for three years, I loved it, writing about football was what I had always wanted to do. One day I received a call offering me the position of PR Manager at NFLEurope.com I was so pleased to be headhunted for the position”.

“I was there from 2000/02, I enjoyed it a lot. I also helped to launch NFL UK, so overall it was a fun job”.

Neil Reynolds with co-presenter Kevin Cadle

Currently Neil writes for NFL UK and is also a permanent fixture on the Sky Sports NFL shows. “I love the job that I am doing at the moment, maybe one day I’ll take Rich Eisen’s place on the NFL Network, I have the hair for it anyway”, he says jokingly.

“When doing this job you can’t please everybody and I’m aware of some criticism but at the end of the day I’m being paid to watch football and talk about it on television so I’m not too bothered”.

Taking a trip across the pond is another perk to the job, “I get to visit America for around two weeks of the year as part of my role, which isn’t as much as I’d like obviously, but it’s still more than most. I go for a week during training camp and then I go again for Superbowl week which is manic”.

International Series 2010

Since 2007 the NFL International Series has been played at Wembley Stadium giving hope to the idea of having a London based NFL franchise, something which Neil is backing, “I think it is definitely a possibility especially with Roger Goodell as commissioner of the league, he really wants it to happen”.

“Part of the business plan is to have a team play multiple games in the UK and see how they connect with the fans. It could take ten years or so to develop but it would be fantastic”.

With the recent news that the St Louis Rams will take on the New England Patriots next year and then return for another two years it seems the Rams are that team.

Continuing with the British game, Neil spoke favourably about the work being done in this country to raise the profile and standard of the game.

“The game over here is growing and growing and that is a great thing. It is probably helped by the Wembley game being such a big event which in turn has increased participation at both university and senior league level”.

He continued; “I’d love to see more of our players make it over to the States and receive scholarships at colleges but the reality of it is playing in BUAFL is the best it is ever going to get for many but that shouldn’t detract how valuable an experience it is. To the players padding up with friends means everything to them and they give it their all which I think is brilliant”.

San Francisco 49ers Quarterback 1979-92 Joe Montana

Being a journalist, Neil has interviewed plenty of famous faces but his most treasured moment came a couple of years ago when by chance he came face to face with NFL Royalty, Joe Montana.

“I was in California and had a spare day to myself; I knew Joe Montana lived close by so I thought I’d ring his agent asking for an interview. He said he’d ask Joe so I thought nothing of it thinking that would be that. Not long after I received permission to go to Joe’s house and speak with him. I nervously made my way over to his house and he gave me a guided tour while telling me stories. I spent an hour there and got the interview, it has to go down as one of the greatest and most surreal moments of my life, I had to pinch myself afterwards”.

When asked who he would like to interview most out of the current crop of football stars the answer was instant.

“Ray Lewis, it has to be Ray. He is so intense and fascinating; he can get a little carried away but what a character”.

If Neil could be in Roger Goodell’s hot seat for just one day he would change only two things, “Coaching time outs drive me crazy, if you’re losing by more than two touchdowns in the 4th quarter then what’s the point? It slows the game down and puts new fans off”.

Another rule change that would be implemented is the victory celebration;”Why is it okay for the Packers to jump into the crowd and perform the ‘Lambeau Leap’ but Chad Ochocinco gets pulled up for a silly dance? I agree pulling mobile phones out of goal posts is too far but let them enjoy the moment”.

Chad Ochocinco

All this talk of celebrations reminded Neil of a time when he scored a touchdown and went a little bit too far, “When I used to play, one of my coaches used to make us run up this steep hill in training as a punishment, so one time I scored a touchdown and the hill was positioned by the end zone so I ran to the top, put my hands on my hips like Superman or something and had the whole offensive line running up after me, it was hilarious”.

FightForTheYard would like to thank Neil Reynolds for offering his time and commitment to this interview.





Superbowl XLVI Preview

5 02 2012

The Patriots coming off the perfect season were expected to brush aside baby Manning and his New York cronies in Miami four years ago but a miracle scramble from Eli and then a catch from the gods themselves helped set up the game winning drive with only 00:00:35 left on the clock.

Fast forward to the present day and once again we have the New England Patriots hosting the New York Giants in Superbowl XLVI in Indianapolis. This time, nobody really knows who will win so Fight For The Yard will try to dissect the facts and stats giving you a better idea of who will be victorious.


Tom Brady, New England Patriots Quarterback

Patriots Offence

If you was to sum up the Pats offence in one word it would be Brady. The future Hall of Fame quarterback has had a special season even for his standards. Surpassing Dan Marino’s regular season passing record (albeit not the only one this year) would have been a boyhood dream but under the guidance of head coach Bill Belichick, it seems all of Tom’s fantasies have become reality.

Career high totals of 611 passing attempts and 401 completions are impressive but could he have done so well without the man of the moment Rob Gronkowski?

Gronkowski along with his position partner Aaron Hernandez, have revitalised the Tight End position and become one of the most feared double acts in professional football. The tight end has previously been used as an extra blocker for the run game and occasionally thrown to for short gains but in more recent times and with athletes such as these two beasts, they have become the primary attacking option for New England and have caused defensive coordinators massive headaches.

Gronkowski finished the regular season with an NFL record 17 touchdowns for a tight end with Hernandez adding another seven. Unfortunately for Patriot fans, reaching the showpiece event has not come without a heavy price to their main man. Big Rob suffered a nasty looking ankle injury in the win over the Ravens and is officially listed as questionable. Should New England come out on top, you would think that Gronkowski would need to play a key role.

Quietly going about his business and having a very good season is wide receiver Wes Welker. He is another player who has had a career season, leading the NFL with 1,569 yards and 9 touchdowns although his production slowed down towards the back end of the campaign.

Giants Defence

New York Giants

Jason Pierre-Paul has become one of the most feared pass rushers in the National Football League in only his second season. His production has been remarkable with 16.5 sacks and 86 tackles in a ferocious New York defence.

Fellow lineman Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have contributed with nine and five sacks respectively. If the Giants are to disrupt the Brady passing machine then these three will play a crucial role.

One of the more touching stories to grace this year’s finale is the life so far of linebacker Mark Herzlich. Diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in 2009, he was signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent last summer. Now fully recovered and a fully fledged NFL professional, he enters his first Superbowl having played eleven games, making 12 tackles.

Eli Manning, New York Giants Quarterback

Giants Offence

For years New York head coach Tom Coughlin has been a run first man but for one reason or another, the passing game has become his new bread and butter. One reason for this could be the emergence of wide receiver Victor Cruz who before the season began was used sparingly but has since become the surprise star man.

Posting figures of nine touchdowns and 1,536 receiving yards Cruz has become the go to man for Manning. Hakeem Nicks has been the only other noticeable contribution in the receiving ranks with seven touchdowns and 1,192 yards.

Eli Manning has a Superbowl to his name yet people are still hesitant to categorise him as an elite quarterback. Constantly in the shadow of elder brother Peyton of the Indianapolis Colts, he has had an uphill battle to prove himself and add to that the media spotlight of playing in New York, you start to feel sorry for the guy but this season has been a turning point.

Throwing for 4,933 and 29 touchdowns, Eli propelled the G-men into pole position in the NFC East but a min crisis when they allowed the Dallas Cowboys to have a say in the title race but consecutive wins orchestrated by Eli over the Cowboys saw them dominate the end of the regular season and power through the post season.

The running game suffered early on but in recent weeks it has become more prevalent with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs scoring 16 touchdowns between them in a hard hitting running game.

New England Patriots

Patriots Defence

With the 31st ranked defence in the NFL, it is miraculous that the Pats were in the playoffs never mind the Superbowl … well that’s what you would have said a year ago but with the 15-1 Packers being ranked 32 and dead last it, appears to be a recipe for success and the old saying that ‘Offence wins games and Defence wins Championships’ seems to be, well, old.

Giving up 21.4 points per game may have been semi acceptable in the regular season but if they do the same in the big game, they’ll be no victory parade in Foxborough come Monday afternoon.

Vince Wilfork has been the stand-out performer on the line this year weighing in with a career high 3.5 sacks and a modest 29 tackles. A pass rush will be crucial to disrupting the flow of Manning and Wilfork will be the one the Patriots will be looking to to supply that pressure.

Fans Opinions

  • Michael Gill, 21, Staffordshire Stallions OG, believes moving Brady from the pocket will be key to a Giants victory, “I reckon it will be 22-17 to the Giants. Eli has become a clutch quarterback and when it matters he delivers. The pass rush is key because if they give Brady too much time then he’ll pick them off”.
  • During a recent interview Fight For The Yard conducted with Sky Sports analyst Neil Reynolds, he predicted a New England victory, “I am quite proud of myself after backing the Patriots in pre-season although I am shocked that neither the Packers or Saints will be playing against them. Patriots for me”.
  • Terrance Martin, 21, Staffordshire Stallions OLB, can only see one winner, “Giants. Eli is determined to win in Peyton’s house. I cannot wait!”.

Half time show

Madonna has been selected to perform in the world famous halftime show. She joins acts such as U2, The Who, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Tom Jones in featuring in the prestigious twelve minute slot. Other acts LMFAO, Cee-Lo Green and Nicki Minaj will also be performing at some stage.

Madonna

While most of the world will be admiring the pyrotechnics on display, former Colts head coach and NBC analyst will watching a three minute video about adoption and has encouraged everyone to download it. I won’t be but feel free to at http://www.adoptionjourney.com/share/dungyhalftime/

Prediction

The New York Giants go into the game as the ‘hot’ team beating the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers on their journey to the big game while the Patriots have only had one real test coming against Baltimore Ravens after breezing past the much hyped Denver Broncos.

Brady’s main offensive weapon has been wearing a medical boot all week and his practice limited so for the Pats to realistically trouble the Giants defence they will have to try and get some sort of running game established to halt the impressive New York pass rush. Having said this, if one man can win it for New England then Brady is that man.

Being a Peyton Manning fan myself, I won’t begrudge his little Eli from winning this one and getting one over his old nemesis Tom Brady.

Giants 24 – 17 Patriots





NFL Playoffs Division Games P1

14 01 2012

Anyone got the time? Don’t look confused, you know what I’m on about . . .

It’s TEBOWTIME!

The Denver Broncos train rolls into Foxborough this weekend but before that is a tasty encounter between the free scoring New Orleans Saints and the rejuvenated San Francisco 49ers.

The Saints led by the record-breaking Drew Brees have taken the second half of the season by storm going undefeated since week 8 of the regular season.

Seemingly scoring at will, Brees surpassed Dan Marino’s long-standing regular season passing yards record with a total of 5,476 in a year that has been dominated by the quarterback position with Brady and Stafford also throwing for more than five thousand yards.

Brees’ biggest weapon has been second year tight end Jimmy Graham out of Miami. Graham caught the ball 99 times and made 1,310 yards scoring 11 touchdowns in the process and if New Orleans are to make yards on a tough 49ers defence, this partnership must flourish.

Drew Brees

Possibly the greatest acquisition in the preseason throughout the entire league was Darren Sproles. The 5ft6″ dynamo looks like a talent reborn after his release from San Diego Chargers and is just as big a threat when thrown to as he is dancing through opposition defences.

The team standing between the Saints and a potential mega showdown with the reigning Superbowl champs Green Bay is the NFC West conquerors San Francisco.

The turn around from last season has been outstanding, no great changes to the roster were needed  with the exception of sacking supreme Aldon Smith. Rookie Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has given confidence to a stuttering franchise and unlocked the talent in Alex Smith that niners fans have been waiting to see since they gave up the opportunity to draft Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Aldon Smith

The main running threat for the niners is Pro Bowler Frank Gore who finised the regular season with over 1,000 yards rushing and 8 hard fought touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball the Niners have been nothing short of brilliant, conceeding only three rushing touchdowns all year. When looked at closely this becomes an even greater achievement as they are in the same division as running backs Marshawn Lynch and Steven Jackson who are able to power through most defences at will.

Linebacker Patrick Willis has been a rock in defense in his five years in San Francisco and that isn’t going to stop anytime soon. This season has seen a slight dip in on field performance but his impact on the team is still huge and he will once again be key to the 49ers chances.

If San Francisco are to win then it will have to be a close game because they do not have the offense to be involved in a high scoring shootout. New Orleans are the form team coming into this game and I believe that will be a key factor with the Saints coming out on top. As long as they can cope with an open air stadium. . .

New Orleans Saints 32 – 17 San Francisco 49ers

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New England are in the playoffs, AGAIN, yawn!

Brady and his poor defense have made it through to the post season once again and almost nobody even noticed.

Gronkowski and Hernandez have been exceptional for the Patriots and have been able to dig the defence out of some deep holes on the way. Rob Gronkowski has scored 17 touchdowns and made 1,327 yards to Aaron Hernandez’s 7 touchdowns and 910 yards.

Rob Gronkowski

On the outside wide receiver Wes Welker has had his biggest season to date with 1,569 yards and 9 touchdowns, a far cry from his unproductive days in sunny Miami.

The New England defense is ranked 31st in the league, the only team ranked worse is 15-1 Green Bay Packers ‘0_O’, and if it wasn’t for Tom, the Pats would be in dire straits.

Vince Wilfork has only 3.5 sacks so far this season and that goes some way to explaining the problems faced on defense so far. Devin McCourty was a ProBowl selection last year but has failed to reach the same heights this year.

With the option attack of the Broncos on the horizon even the most die-hard Patriot fans will be fearing Timothy and his merry men.

Tim Tebow, what can I say that hasn’t been said?

Tim Tebow

Tim started the season behind starting quarterback Kyle Orton on the Denver Broncos depth chart much to the annoyance of the Bronco fans who have been ecstatic since his arrival in 2010 NFL Draft.

When he got his chance after Orton’s woeful beginning most critics were, well, critical of the teams chances with this unconventional quarterback at the helm but as Tim does best (apart from fourth quarter drives), he proved them all wrong by leading them to the playoffs, something that looked a distant fantasy a few months back.

Von Miller was Denver’s first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and he has stepped up to the professional game with absolute ease culminating in 11.5 sacks and that was with a cast on his right hand. Add Miller to the mix of Bailey, Dumervill and Williams and you have one very productive defense.

Denver have a strong running game with McGahee, Ball and of course Tebow and have one of the best offensive lines in the business to protect the elusive Tim.

I think it’s clear to see who I favour in this contest (Denver Broncos) but I do believe Brady and his poor defense will come away with the victory.

Denver Broncos 13 – 21 New England Patriots