If I called the shots (cont.)
Last season, in the two games against the San Diego Chargers, who happen to be a very big physical defensive team, Denver scored a total of six points. Against the stronger Jacksonville Jaguars, they scored 14 and mustered only 47 yards rushing. At times during the 2007 season when playing the bigger, more powerful teams, the Broncos looked like a 2A high school team trying to step up in competition to beat a 5A team. They were simply overmatched in the line.
It is critical in the NFL to have symmetry with your personnel. Right now, the Broncos don't have that fluid feel to their offense. They have a tremendous drop-back passer in Jay Cutler, but a smallish offensive line. The two pieces don't work well together.
Cutler is at his best when he can stand behind the center and throw the ball all over the field. He has very unique skills that can eventually lead a team to the Super Bowl, but he needs to have an offensive line that can highlight those skills. The Broncos need to acquire bigger bodies to help protect Cutler, not only to throw the ball down the field but also to control the line of scrimmage.
Cutler was uncanny last year in his ability to throw the ball with defensive lineman all around his legs. But Cutler took too many unnecessary hits and the Broncos needs to do a better job of securing him in the pocket.
Many teams in the NFL stole the Broncos approach to running the ball, now the Broncos need to steal other teams' approach to rebuilding their offensive line. This draft is critical for the Broncos to add size if they want to compete with the big, physical teams in the AFC.
If I worked for the Raiders, I would ...
Draft Darren McFadden. The alternative, likely Ohio State LB/DE Vernon Gholston, has too many questions marks. Gholston might work out like a demon, but his physical play is very inconsistent. Once he arrives in the NFL, the pass protection schemes he will face won't have him dealing with smaller running backs; he will have to defeat big offensive lineman to get to the quarterback. That will cause some adjustments in his style of play.
The Raiders may have been the slowest offensive team in football last year. They finished 29th in the NFL in plays over 20 yards. They have no one on their offensive team that their opponents would worry about defending. McFadden's running style fits the style of the Raiders running game. It's a zone scheme with very little decision making involved, which would clearly highlight McFadden's big-play ability. Drafting McFadden allows the Raiders to take the burden off their young quarterback as they try to slowly find an offense that best suits the talents of JaMarcus Russell.
Beyond the draft, the Raiders greatest challenge will be trying to find the right system of offense that can utilize the skill set of Russell. The Raiders will have to go through the same process that Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid went through with a young Donovan McNabb. Reid attempted to work the west coast offense around McNabb, but as he learned more about the skill set of his quarterback, he was forced to modify and change to what McNabb did best. What Reid learned about McNabb was that he was clearly more accurate throwing the ball up the field than he was throwing short passes. So the Eagle offense stayed with its basic concepts of the west coast offense, but added dimensions that would showcase McNabb's tremendous talents.
It will take more than 20 games for the Raiders to get the right feel of what Russell does best. In the meantime, drafting McFadden allows them to have a home run threat in the back field and some much needed speed for their offense.
If I worked for the Saints, I would ...
Draft Jonathan Stewart. The Saints badly need a full-time running back. Deuce McAlister is coming off his second major knee injury and will be 30 during the season. It may be difficult at this point in his career for McAlister to regain his powerful and effective running style. Reggie Bush is a "run a play" back, meaning when Bush is in the game, everyone knows he is going to get the ball or at least be a decoy. Because Bush cannot pass protect, it's impossible to run the entire Saints offensive playbook when he is in the game. They have to run specific plays for Bush. In the NFL, when you run a specific play instead of your offense, you become a much easier offensive team to defend. Last year Bush's longest run was 22 yards and his longest pass reception was 25 yards. Hardly big time numbers for someone who is supposed to be a game changer.
With Stewart, they would get a big back who is very hard to tackle, allowing Bush to be a complement player. The former Duck has outstanding running skills, he can pass protect, he can catch the ball with ease and has a powerful body that can handle the punishment. Every time he touches the ball, he is capable of making the big play. He may be rookie of the year under the creative mind of Saints coach Sean Payton. Without another running back in their rotation, and Bush as the main runner, the Saints are vulnerable and predictable on offense.
If I worked for the Eagles, I would ...
Fix my offensive line. I know the boo birds will be calling because everyone in the city wants the Eagles to draft a wide receiver. But McNabb was sacked 44 times last season, the second most in his NFL career, and the Eagles allowed 49 sacks overall, ranking 28th in the NFL. What is more alarming about their sacks total is they allowed 19 sacks on first down, ranking 31st in the NFL. And first down is regarded as the optimum down in the NFL to throw and avoid sacks. When you allow that many sacks on first down, there is something wrong with the performance of your offensive linemen. Right now, the Eagles offensive line does not match up well in their division against the stronger defensive lines they play twice a year. And until that gets turned around, it does not matter who plays wide receiver for them.
Michael Lombardi has 22 years of NFL experience, working in player personnel with the Broncos, Raiders, Browns, Eagles and 49ers. Email comments to email@example.com.
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