Thursday, May 1, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Final Mock

As we all must know by now, Miami has inked Jake Long to a 5 year, 57 million dollar contract. Congrats, and a cookie if you can name the last offensive lineman drafted #1 overall.

2. St. Louis Rams: Chris Long
3. Atlanta Falcons: Glenn Dorsey
4. Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden
5. Kansas City Chiefs: Vernon Gholston
6. New York Jets: Matt Ryan
7. New England Patriots: Derrick Harvey
8. Baltimore Ravens: Branden Albert
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Sedrick Ellis
10. New Orleans Saints: Keith Rivers
11. Buffalo Bills: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
12. Denver Broncos: Chris Williams
13. Carolina Panthers:Ryan Clady
14. Chicago Bears: Jeff Otah
15. Detroit Lions: Leodis McKelvin
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jerod Mayo
17. Kansas City Chiefs: Gosder Cherilus
18. Houston Texans: Jonathan Stewart
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Devin Thomas
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rashard Mendenhall
21. Washington Redskins: Phillip Merling
22. Dallas Cowboys: Mike Jenkins

23. Pittsburgh Steelers: Calais Campbell
24. Tennessee Titans: Limas Sweed
25. Seattle Seahawks: Kenny Phillips
26. Jacksonville Jaguars: Desean Jackson
27. San Diego Chargers: Antoine Cason
28. Dallas Cowboys: Jamaal Charles

29. San Francisco 49ers: Quentin Groves
30. Green Bay Packers: Aqib Talib
31. New York Giants: Dan Connor

Cowboys (61):DaJuan Morgan. Why Morgan? He's a talented player who projects as both a free and strong safety. While raw and injury prone, he should become a regular contributor if given some time to learn the craft. That makes him a great fit here; Ken Hamlin will likely become a free agent after this season, and Roy Williams' future is just as unsure as our knowledge of how many times he will be burned by a tight end.

Cowboys (92): Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah's strengths are his versatility and athletic ability. (Starting to see a pattern?) As SI announcer guy will inform you in the video below, Zuttah is a workout warrior, finishing amongst the top OL performers in four different events. He is probably a developmental prospect, but there's no need to rush with our line. It will be good to rest easy, however, knowing that an injury to Andre Gurode will no longer knock out any semblance of an offense. Plus,I'm pining to get a replacement for Kyle Kosier. ;)

Cowboys (163) Frank Okam. Without a question my favorite semi-obscure player in this draft. Okam transcends the adjective 'massive'; he's the largest defensive player in this draft pool. Okam is a powerful run stopper and demands multiple blockers; the definition of a nose tackle to me. When I brought his name up to Norm Hitzges a few weeks ago, he dismissed Okam as being too tall to play the nose. Bullocks! I've never understood how that was considered a slight. His flaws? He's an underachiever who takes plays off. He won't be asked to start here, so there's no reason to think he won't be productive during his limited snaps. In addition, he hails from my favored university, and-best of all- he scored a 39 on the Wonderlic score, which (very) roughly translates to an IQ of 138. This is a football player who plans to go to law school. Please, Jerry, make this happen!

Cowboys (167): Peyton Hillis. There aren't many needs on this team, but fullback's one of them. Deon Andersen showed some promise while on the field, but sustained a major injury that may persist in plaguing his career. The biggest thing I look for in a fullback is the Moose factor; I want to see him block. Unfortunately, reports on all of the top fullbacks in this class have been very inconclusive on that front. The consensus, however, appears to be that Hillis is the most capable in that respect. Also a capable receiver who ran well out of the backfield, he could conceivably take over as the team's third running back.

Cowboys (235) Matt Flynn. There's nothing wrong with grooming a young backup QB, and this draft should have some fine options available in the later rounds. Flynn hails from the national champion and displays a lot of the traits you want from your backup QB. He takes care of the ball, displays good accuracy, and shows a never-say-die attitude. Adept at eluding pass-rushers and blessed with enough speed to cut between blockers and parley the situation into a sizable gain. Flynn lacks arm strength and isn't quite as proven as you'd expect an LSU senior to be, but is a solid young prospect nonetheless.

Cowboys complete trade for Pac-Man Jones

Per Mort, It's done.
A conditional fourth this year, possibly more if he fulfills certain stipulated performance markers (or gets on the field, what a novel concept).
Supposedly, the Boys will be reimbursed if he does not get reinstated, and they've reworked his contract into a four year deal with NO guaranteed money.
What I found interesting was the mandated handout to charity. Wow, that's an enormous sum-even for a pro athlete. Step in the right direction, though. Let's hope he doesn't disgrace his new pals into refunding the check a few months later.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

NFL Mock Draft, Take 3

Merry weekend, all. In the wake of recent thrilling developments like Pro Days and Surgeries, I've taken it upon myself to write up the third of my unnecessarily premature mocks. Enjoy!

Remember, the criteria I operate by is as such: I don't conduct trades, I don't factor in sudden fits of insanity (Millen and Davis, don't spread the sickness!), and I can't be held accountable for docking your favorite prospect from the first round. Enjoy!

1 Miami Dolphins : Chris Long
2 St. Louis Rams : Vernon Gholston
3 Atlanta Falcons: Glenn Dorsey
4 Oakland Raiders: Jake Long
5 Kansas City Chiefs: Ryan Clady
6 New York Jets: Darren McFadden
7 New England Patriots : Leodis McKelvin
8 Baltimore Ravens: Matt Ryan
9 Cincinnati Bengals: Sedrick Ellis
10 New Orleans Saints: Keith Rivers
11 Buffalo Bills: Malcolm Kelly
12 Denver Broncos: Jeff Otah
13 Carolina Panthers: Chris Williams
14 Chicago Bears: Rashard Mendenhall
15 Detroit Lions: Phillip Merling
16 Arizona Cardinals: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
17 Minnesota Vikings: Derrick Harvey
18 Houston Texans: Mike Jenkins
19 Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson
20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Limas Sweed
21 Washington Redskins: Quentin Groves
22 Dallas Cowboys (from Cleveland Browns): Jonathan Stewart
23 Pittsburgh Steelers: Brandan Albert
24 Tennessee Titans: Devin Thomas
25 Seattle Seahawks: Kenny Phillips
26 Jacksonville Jaguars: Kentwan Balmer
27 San Diego Chargers: Felix Jones
28 Dallas Cowboys: Aqib Talib
29 San Francisco 49ers (from Indianapolis Colts): Antoine Cason
30 Green Bay Packers: Reggie Smith
31 New York Giants: Dan Connor

The newest Cowboy?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The New-look Mavericks: What we know

There's something to be said for judging a product that's far from finished. Which is why although I staunchly opposed to the Jason Kidd trade from the moment I first heard about it, I was willing to keep a semi-open mind on it. I wouldn't oppose the trade on principle as I did the Joey Galloway trade (trading two first round picks to add a receiver to a mediocre team= absolutely asinine. every time). Kidd's numbers are incredible, his league-wide praise is awe-inspiring. There was plenty of reason to believe that the trade would make the Mavericks better, and for that I did not feel compelled to vow against ever watching the Mavs play again.
Dateline: Right freaking now. The sample size we've been granted is sufficient to make a reasonable analysis of what old Kidd has infused into this ballclub. They've played the elite teams, competed with the pushovers, gone on a lengthy road trip and played successive games at home. What can we draw from what we've seen?
For one, this team's more motivated than it was before the deal. Dirk's driving to the hole a lot more and it doesn't have as much to do with Kidd giving him the ball at opportune places and times as it does with Dirk realizing that the clock is ticking. Damp has lost all traces of David Lafleur Hands syndrome. The games they seemed to resign to losing before the clock started? They seem to have been left behind.
In addition, there's no question that this team is better at distributing the ball than it used to be. The difference is pronounced; they're unrecognizable from the squad that we had seen since the departure of Nash. Dirk's playing with passion, but that's not all it is. He's getting good looks. Stack, a guy who will take a shot whether It's a good idea or not, is getting more good shots with the decision made for him. Brandon Bass has become a very legitimate 7th man.

However, the good comes with plenty of detriments. The Mavericks have yet to beat a really good team since the trade. One can say that the games have, for the most part been close. That's true. One can say that they have mostly been on the road. Also a fact. However, the fact remains that close isn't good enough, and as things stand right now this team would play more games Away than at Home. Their defense has slipped. Kidd's unable to keep up with the elite point guards of the West and isn't quite as good at defending the playmaking 2 as we'd heard from his proponents. His ability to make quick and brilliant decisions in facilitating shots is breathtaking; his lack of judgment in taking shots of his own can be appalling. The rebounding hasn't been what we anticipated.

This team has played in every setting, and the polarities they've encountered make evaluation difficult. The one mathchup I thought would be especially telling (vs. the streaking Rockets) was marred by the Dirk suspension. They had several chances for statement games and barely blew it (The Lakers come to the forefront). Am I less violently opposed to this trade than I am dissapointed? Yes. That's an improvement from my stance of weeks ago. We'll have to wait and see what is forthcoming from this squad; because as much as I thought at this point we'd have something to either hang our hats with pride or heads with shame with, It's premature. Let's give it a while.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Ridiculously Premature NFL Mock, Take 2

The combine has concluded, and teams are doing what they do every year Speculating on any and every player possibly available for them. You can't lend a minute bit of credence to anything that's said during this period of time, but being the sports experts that we are, we choose to do so anyway. So, here's the second of my pointless but enjoyable mock drafts. Again, I'm not going to make any trades or allow for the insanity of Matt Millen. These selections are made based on need, player ability, salary demands, and the way grilled cheese is cooked in Detroit on a certain Saturday Morning.

1. Miami: DE Chris Long
2. St. Louis: DT Glenn Dorsey
3. Atlanta: QB Matt Ryan
4. Oakland: DT Sedrick Ellis
5. Kansas City: LT Jake Long
6. NYJ: RB Darren McFadden
7: New England: DE Vernon Gholston
8. Baltimore: LT Ryan Clady
9. Cincinatti: S Kenny Phillips
10. New Orleans: CB Leodis McKelvin
11. Buffalo: WR Limas Sweed
12. Denver: LT Jeff Otah
13. Carolina: OLB Keith Rivers
14. Chicago: QB Brian Brohm
15. Detroit: RB Rashard Mendenhall
16. Arizona: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
17. Minnesota: DE Phillip Merling
18. Houston: RB Jonathan Stewart
19. Philadelphia: LT Chris Williams
20. Tampa Bay: WR Desean Jackson
21. Washington: WR Malcolm Kelly
22. Dallas: CB Mike Jenkins
23. Pittsburgh: G/T Brandon Albert
24. Tennessee: CB Aqib Talib
25. Seattle: RB Felix Jones
26. Jacksonville: DE Derrick Harvey
27. San Diego: DT Kentwan Balmer
28. Dallas: WR Early Doucet
29. San Fransisco: LB Dan Connor
30. Green Bay: CB/S Reggie Smith
31. New York: LT Gosder Cherilus

Friday, February 29, 2008

Wheelings and Dealings

It's the first day of NFL free agency, and things are getting done at a dizzying pace. First and foremost, things that concern us directly: The Cowboys are sending Nose Tackle Jason Ferguson, who played barely enough snaps to count on one hand throughout last year, has been dealt to Tuna. The Dolphins will trade sixth round selections with us this year and give us their 6th round selection in 2009. I don't like this deal; Ferg is a very solid nose tackle who fills a void nobody else on the roster can (He's really, really fat and plays defense). Tank Johnson can try playing NT, but the results will probably be pretty mixed. I'm not putting down Tank, who I am a fan of, but It's not an optimal situation for him. We didn't get much here other than salar relief, and Bill specializs in finding good players late in the draft. I don't think he cares much about dropping his sixth round selection twenty-seven slots.

The Browns reached a long-term agreement with Derek Andersen. This was the right decision; when you have a good QB, you lock him up. Supposedly, he gets 3 years and 20 million dollars. That's a pretty reasonable rate for a top 10 QB. I see Anderson as a Marc Bulger-type; he's got a lot of nice pieces around him and knows how to use them. He won't dazzle you, but he gets the job done.

The leading candidate for most perplexing move in sports since Juwan Howard got maxed out: Who here has heard of Tommy Kelly? He's a 27 year old Defensive Tackle on the Raiders. Kelly was an undrafted free agent who's played for four years and registered 13 sacks. He played all of seven games last year, and in fact will be coming off of reconstructive knee surgery. How much is this man worth?
Apparently, Al Davis thinks It's something in the tune of... oh, 7 years and 50 million?
That's not a typo, people. An unspectacular defensive tackle with an average track record coming off knee surgery just got paid more than the combined lifetime salary for everyone who will ever read this post. The Raiders are just silly.

The Packers slapped the franchise tag on Corey Williams a week ago, and now they've sent the defensive tackle to Cleveland for a second round pick. The Browns can completely skip out on Saturday of the draft, as they've dealt both of their first-day picks to the two best teams in the NFC. Williams is a really good player, he piled up 51 tackles and 7 sacks last year. Supposedly, he's going to agree to his own lucrative deal. Advice: Talk to Tommy Kelly's agent.

In other news... Teddy Bruschi got re-signed, Jonathan Vilma will probably be dealt to New Orleans, Asante Samuel may sign with Philly, Javon Walker is being linked with the Bovine Brethren in rumors (A trade won't happen, but don't rule out a signing once he doesn't need to get paid 8 mil+), Isaac Bruce got released (No, thanks), Randy Moss will be re-signed with the Patriots (don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise), Kris Jenkins got 5 years and 35 million dollars from the Jets, Shaun Rogers was dealt to Cincinatti for third and fifth round picks, Jerry Porter got 5 years and 30 mil from the Jaguars, and The Raiders are looking at Gibril Wilson. This makes me giggle; they have Michael Huff already. If they'd like to trade Huff, count us in!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flozell Adams Skips out on Free Agency

Possibly the most outstanding unit on the Cowboys' roster last year? The offensive line.
3 pro-bowlers. A total of two player-games lost to injury. A substantial rushing attack and terrific pass protection for a quarterback who thrives like few others when given time. A few hours ago, Jerry Jones ponied up the cash to ensure that the unit would remain potent for the forseeable future, inking Flozell Adams to a deal reportedly worth 42 million (15 guaranteed) over six years. The figures look scary at first glance, but very few players finish out deals this big. I suspect that Flo will play at most four additional years, then either retire or get cut. The possibility that he retires a Cowboy is now great. Flo should be a contributor for as long as he plays here; his contract pretty much states as much. He'll only be getting that seven million a year if he's worth it. I like this signing. Can we afford ot make a big splash in free agency now? Nope. But we didn't need to, and frankly I'm not sure there is anyone out there worth the money that he will command.
In other news, Marion Barber got the highest tender (2.5 million) and Chris Canty the second highest (2 mil). A team will have to surrender its first and third round picks to sign Barber or its first to add Canty, and in either case the Cowboys have the opportunity to match the opposing offer and retain the player. I'd say there's the outside chance that someone (Seattle would be the frontrunner) takes Barber at that rate, but I wouldn't count on him nor Canty leaving. Tyson Thompson and Oliver Hoyte were released, Thompson for his ineptitude and Hoyte because of his disposable nature. Julius Jones hits free agency tonight, and he won't be back. So does Keith Davis. I'd like to see KD back here, but if he gets an offer for a starting job he won't be retained. The same goes for Nate Jones and Jacques Reeves.
It's good to talk football again! Hockey made me dozy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mo and Luz talk hockey!

I are super-excited to present an all new feature here at AFHC. Seeing I stopped compiling hockey knowledge before the turn of the century, I've called upon some friends of mine to lend their opinions on the sport of frozen water and toothless jaws when the time is ripe. The Stars made a big trade yesterday, and I deemed it an exemplary time to debut a new feature which may not advance past the inaugural phase. Note that dialogue has been rendered coherent, a testament to my editing prowess seeing as I was speaking to my New York born-and-bred analysts on a bad phone, and they both appeared to be immersed in a cacophonous scene of their own.

Loz: The Stars are getting a good player, but I don't know if this really puts them over the top. Mike Smith is a great young goalie who's going to start in Tampa Bay for years to come. Richards is OK, but he doesn't put Dallas in the same conversation as Detroit. Turco's proven himself to be very inconsistent in the playoffs, and the Stars probably should have kept their backup goalie.

Mo: I'm not sure I agree with you about Smith. It seems like the Stars have been able to develop young goalies for quite a while now, and It's not like Turco's ancient. He's still a very good goalie who shut out Vancouver three times in one playoff round. What I don't like about this deal is that the Stars gave up Jokinnen. That's a guy who could be as good as Richards within a few years; he's cheap and in his early 20s. Richards probably makes the Stars slightly better this year.

Loz: They may be better, but how much so? The Stars need Smith, he's proven himself by now. Turco's not a full-time starter in the same way that the really elite goalies in this league are, and the Stars are going to give up more goals now that Turco no longer has his safety net.

Mo: They'll be fine defensively. Stars defensemen have always been good at limiting the other team's opportunities. I think this gives them firepower to hang with almost anyone, and It's just a question of who's going to knock off the Redwings. Other than them, the field is clear.

Damn, that really was terrible. Hockey talk is such a buzz-kill. However, that fulfills my yearly obligation to you hypothetical hockey fans. You know, until that day when your sport officially gives up and stops counting itself amongst The Big Three.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ridiculously Premature NFL Mock Draft, Take 1

I know It's an exercise in futility and, like, 80% less useful to most of you than reading more angry Maverick rants. But I like the draft. I love the draft. So there.
This draft stands apart for a number of things; and the first, and most clearly apparent, is the lack of truly elite talent at the top of the board. The consensus best player (Arkansas' Darren McFadden) would barely have squeezed onto a list of ten from last year's crop. That doesn't reflect badly on the overall strength of the draft, however. There is a great deal of depth at a number of positions, most of them of interest to the Cowboys. Defensive Backs are a dime a dozen near the top, although none merit a top 15 selection. There could be as many as five runners selected in the first round. Wide Receivers are similarly deep, with DeSean Jackson headlining a group of three or four who could easily fit into the first 31.
Disclaimer: This is not a player ranking, although I may do one of those soon. This is my prediction of which team will select what player at a particular spot. And no, I am not going to be predicting trades.
On with the useless bit of fluff!
1. Miami: Sedrick Ellis
2. St. Louis: Jake Long
3. Oakland: Glenn Dorsey
4. Atlanta: Matt Ryan
5. Kansas City: Chris Long
6. J-E-T-S!: Darren McFadden
7. New England: Kenny Phillips
8. Baltimore: Leodis McKelvin
9. Cincinatti: Vernon Gholston
10.New Orleans: Mike Jenkins
11. Buffalo: Keith Rivers
12. Denver: Ryan Clady
13. Carolina: DeSean Jackson
14. Chicago: Brian Brohm
15. Detroit: Jeff Otah
16. Arizona: Aqib Talib
17. Minnesota: Phillip Merling
18. Houston: Rashard Mendenhall
19. Philadelphia: Gosder Cherilus
20. Tampa Bay: Malcolm Kelly
21. Washington: Mario Manningham
22. Dallas: Felix Jones
23. Pittsburgh: Chris Williams
24. Tennessee: Limas Sweed
25. Seattle: Jonathan Stewart
26. Jacksonville: Derrick Harvey
27. San Diego: Kentwan Balmer
28. Dallas: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
29. San Fransisco: Brandon Albert
30. Green Bay: Antoine Cason
31. New York: Dan Connor

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mavs management relent to Cuban's impatience, condemn team to impending abysmality

stupid, Stupid. STUPID!
It's primarily a blessing to have an owner as committed to winning as Mark Cuban. He's incredibly involved, desperate to win, passionate to a fault. The third surfaced today.
According to innumerable reports, the Mavericks have traded (deep breath) Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse, DeSagana Diop, Devean George, Maurice Ager, and two first rounders to New Jersey in exchange for Jason Kidd, Malik Allen, Antoine Wright, and a second round selection.
My question is this: If Devin Harris doesn't get injured a week and a half ago, does this happen? I think not.
If the Mavs don't embarrass themselves in front of Philadelphia and Detroit, does this happen? I don't believe so.
And that's what irks me. This isn't a move done in the best interests of the team. Kidd isn't going to take the Mavericks over the top any more than Harris would. He's thirty-five, and even a physical freak like him declines at that advanced stage. Exceptions only occur with the inclusion of Brian McNamee into the picture. For this player, the Mavs dealt a rising star ten years younger and three members of their rotation (Although Stack will probably be back in a month)
. What's that? We also gave up any minute chance to add good young players in the next two years?
Freaking fantastic. Excuse me for not writing more, but I've got a Mark Cuban portrait to tear to shreds.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cowboys Roster Evaluation: Receivers

Greetings, ye comfortably outspread masses! I've held out on this one for a while, primarily due to that bane of all humans (Trigonometry) and a quest to finish Season 2 of Arrested Development (A venture I'd highly reccomend to one and all). But let's get back to business. Today's write-up will focus on the Cowboy prospects at wide receiver and tight end. As usual, I'll begin by running down the current guys in order of prominence and value, then move on to evaluating potential draftees and finally free agent or trade additions.

1. Jason Witten. I know he's a distant second in the Prominence bracket, but whatever you do, don't disparage Jason Witten in my presence. Witten's impact on this team's offensive attack is immeasurable. He's one of the premier blocking tight ends in all of football, and happens to be arguably the best of them all when it comes to receiving. 96 receptions, 1145 yards, 7 TDs. The numbers speak for themselves. Anyone who's watched the Cowboys knows that Witten is Tony Romo's secrity blanket; he makes the big 3rd down plays, he always manages to fall ahead of the first-down marker, and he is one of the toughest players I've ever seen strap on a helmet. Not to say that the headpiece is necessary for a player of his capabilities; I need not remind anyone here of the timeless play against Philadelphia in which he had his helmet dislodged but rumbled on and recorded his longest reception of the season. He's the consummate professional and from all indications a stellar human being. The icing on the cake? The 5th year Tennessee 3rd rounder played this season at the age of Twenty Five.

2. Terrell Owens. This was a terrific year for a large number of the NFL's most infamous, as much-maligned players like Jamal Lewis and Randy Moss revitalized their careers with terrific seasons mired in contentedness. Perhaps most conspicuously inconspicuous amongst that list was our very own star wideout. The 4 year old was a playmaker in every sense of the word. Through fourteen and a half games, TO registered 81 catches, 1355 yards, and a stunning fifteen touchdowns. He seemed virtually unguardable with anything less than a fully devoted secondary. The best part? The only popcorn necessary was that which TO resolved to consume in a celebratory antic. Hyde has become Jekyll. Owens is evidently unaffected by human eventualities like age and prolonged rehabilitation for serious injuries. Barring the unforseen scenario in which he loses immortality, TO will likely submit two or three more productive campaigns.

3. Patrick Crayton. Crayton was thrust into immense shoes this season and delivered beyond all expectations. While not nearly the deep threat that Terry Glenn posed, Crayton proved himself more than a capable #2 receiver playing primarily in the slot. The heartbreaking lapses in the playoff game notwithstanding, Crayton proved that his hands were as good as anyone's on this team. He doesn't have the breakaway speed many imagine when seeing his slight build, but Crayton is quick and elusive. An exemplary third receiver who will likely return to that role next year, Crayton will earn fourteen million dollars over the next four seasons. Not a bad haul for a seventh-round selection out of Northwestern Oklahoma State.

4. Terry Glenn. It may be unconventional for me to list a player who recorded a single reception throughout this team's schedule at #4. Throughout his career, however, Glenn has been a terrific player. Drafted first overall by Tuna's 1996 Patriots team, Glenn has been one of the top deep threats in the NFL when healthy. He's also been a consistently excellent route runner with good hands. His slight, fragile frame is probably the thing going most prominently against him, and that's all that held him back from being an elite player throughout his twelve seasons. Glenn may not be retained for next season, as he will likely opt for microfracture surgery which has ended the career of many an athlete. His contract, however, is very reasonable (1.74 million) and could be restructured further.

5. Sam Hurd. This undrafted free agent has an aura of determination to him. Full of charisma and dead-set on becoming a great receiver, the 22 year old Hurd has shown flashes of what is to come. He lacks the speed to consistently seperate, but can make catches downfield. Hurd has very reliable hands and will fight as hard as anyone for the ball. Most of his receptions come in the air, whether his momentum propels him horizontally or vertically. I'm a big fan of Sam, and if given time I could see him becoming a very capable slot receiver in this league.

6. Anthony Fasano. Many looked at his selection in the second round as dubious. Fasano's not a very good blocker and can't stretch the field any further than most fullbacks. I believe he was taken with the intent of an impending transition to the two-tight end offense. He has, however, disappointed during his first two seasons. Fasano seemed a good receiver during his Notre Dame days, and the Cowboys need that aspect of his game to resurface. He isn't as elusive as described, and while he is courageous, that doesn't translate to production in this case. Fasano will need to step up his game to cement his spot firmly behind Jason Witten on this team.

7 . Miles Austin. 6'3, 215, and speedy. The combination tantalized the Cowboys enough to bring Austin on despite a lack of refinement and hands of stone. While promising, Austin's biggest contributions have come on kickoffs and Defensive Pass Interference Penalties. Frankly, he's not a receiver at this point-just an athlete. A terrific athlete, but one whose game does not translate to the wide receiver position right now. It'd be a shame to see it, but I have a feeling Austin may not be on the team next year. He simply has not shown enough in two years to warrant a spot over the next talented project...

8. Isaiah Stanback. There's no reason to believe that Stanback will be any more successful than Austin, but there's no basis for belief otherwise. Stanback is the unknown; that guy likely to bite you in the ass if you give up on him too early. A natural athlete who actually got drafted by the Orioles despite not playing college baseball, Stanback played QB for the University of Washington but was seen by most as a wildcard coming into the NFL. People had him tabbed at positions as varying as cornerback, running back, and finally wide receiver. He sat out this entire season, both to rehabilitate from injuries and to learn the position. Stanback did return a few kicks, however, and looked impressive doing so. I'm not raising my hopes too high for the immediate future, but for Stanback, the only way to go is up. And the slope could be tremendous.

Tony Curtis. He's succeeded Mike Vrabel as the NFL's best endzone threat. Curtis turns everything he catches into six points. Whether this is due to his enormous frame, cool goatee, or superhuman abilities remains unknown. This mysterious, legendary figure transcends a ranking, and is only listed behind everyone else due to his inhuman humility.

I'm not a fan of drafting first-round wide receivers. The bust rate is high and they're rarely ready to contribute right off the bat. It seems likely that the Cowboys will select a WR fairly early in this years draft, however, due to the fact that their best receiver is 34 and they lack proven commodities behind him.
If anyone wants to bet with me on the odds that they draft another tight end, though, I'm willing to go 10:1. Seriously.

Desean Jackson. The concensus top wideout in the draft, Jackson's.... really, really fast. The Ted Ginn comps are very valid, although to me he seems to be a bit more refined and an even better return man. He's small, though, and his route running could use some work. Jackson will likely be gone before a score of teams make their selections, but if he's there at 22 expect The King to debate the selection long and hard.

Limas Sweed. I hear Roy Williams, and It's a good comp in many respects. When I look at Limas Sweed, though, I see Vincent Jackson. Williams is more of a possession receiver, Sweed and Jackson are big guys with good hands who go up for the deep ball with a fair deal of regularity. I love Sweed's game, and the only thing holding him back from a mid-first round grade is newly established injury concerns. He looked solid as a rock coming into the season, but since then has suffered two worrisome injuries. He'll likely be a late first or early second rounder unless he shows up at the combine and wows people with a no-longer maligned 40 time.

Mario Manningham. Michigan fans fell in love with Super Mario, and It's very likely that the team selecting him will wind up reaping the same windfall. Manningham is fast, strong, and has good hands. His blocking leaves much to be desired and he doesn't escape well from jams, but aside from injuries there's nothing else not to like about Manningham. A concensus first-round talent that could go as early as #15 but will likely fall to the mid-20s. Marvin Harrrison's an awfully ambitious comp, but if everything works out there is that chance.

Early Doucet. Unlikely to become anyone's top threat, Doucet is probably the safest pick of the bunch. He's not especially big, fast, or generally talented. But his hands are excellent, he's elusive, a good blocker and an all-around hard worker. Doucet has never really been 'the man' at LSU, and should play a similar role in the NFL. He compares to our own Patrick Crayton in more ways than one. I expect to see Doucet taken in the early second round, but a team looking for a low-risk contributor could spend their first selection on him.

Malcolm Kelly. Similar to Sweed, Kelly's a big old Texas boy with good hands who's been blessed with enough speed for occasional big plays. He's not quite the deep threat that Sweed presents, but offers less risk of sitting on the IR for prolonged stints. He's a very talented athlete who is known for huge games, but inversely does not offer consistent production on the same level as most first round players. If a lot of things fall into place, he could be a player similar to Braylon Edwards.

There's really only one free agent target who interests me. That's the Bears' Bernard Berrian. Berrian is the consummate deep threat and has been pretty much the only admirable part of the Bears' offense during the past two seasons. Despite the total absence of anything resembling a supporting cast, he's been a consistent threat both in the ball-control offense and when Rex Grossman found it in him to air it out. The catch, as always, is money. Will Berrian want to be paid like a #1, or will he take 6 million or so to play second fiddle to TO?

There are several trade targets who have been mentioned in conjunction with America's Team. The first, and most oft-debated, is Detroit's Roy Williams. Roy is a terrific slot receiver, perhaps the surest-handed big WR in all of football. He's stated his desire to get back to Texas, and the Lions have been linked to rumors involving a first day selection returning in his stead. I don't see it happening; Jerry doesn't need to take on any more highly-paid receivers, and Williams certainly will be that. He's also quite prone to injury. As much as I'd love it, I remain doubtful.
I'll address the second, although I believe the possibility of his arrival to be on the 'extremely low' end of the scale. I'm speaking of Chad Johnson. Ocho Cinco is a king-sized personality and a terrific player. I don't want any possibility of TO returning to his dissatisfied persona, and believe that bringing CJ in here could have that effect. It would make our receiving core beyond incredible but cause more trouble than It's worth.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Weep, Massachusetts! Weep!

It's about time.
I'm not one to delight in the misery of others. We have enough sports sadness of our own in this city. But the residents of the greater New England region, and Boston in particular, simply had it coming.
We used to root for Boston's teams. The Red Sox were the lovable losers; always doing their best to usurp the mighty empire that was the Yankees, limping along in a sad parody of the once-great franchise that was the Celtics, winning unlikely games against unlikely teams. They Patriots who upended the Rams' paradisal year were truly fun to support.
No longer.
Amongst the crimes of the Patriots: Taunting last year's super bowl champions upon beating them in the regular season with completely baseless expletives, beating teams by thirty points just to prove a point, planning a championship parade, and trademarking 19-0 before the Super Bowl-and that only scratches the sharpest visible point of a veritable iceberg.
Their fans bought into the hype. I'd like to blame them, but I can't. As unquestioning followers, we react on emotion and instruction. When our team is pumped up, we follow their lead. Moreso based on the region we inhabit, and so especially relevant for obnoxious Northeastern fans, but this rule stands for everyone, everywhere.
The Pats had it coming to them. and for the first time ever, I went through a game cheering the improbable continued good fortunes of the New York Giants.
Incidentally, if it turns out that New England did film that Rams practice, Bellichick is going to be suspended for a full year. I kid you not, and neither does this site.

Man, what a game. And a reminder to us all: Don't tease the sports gods, or you're going to end up with more horror than heroism.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A New Hope

Smiling, dual-thumbs-up Mark Cuban represents everything we stand for in this town, and henceforth on this blog. If you're here for the first time, welcome. Let me give you a short thistory of Or's Sports Blog: I started this thing in May of '07, intending to cover transactions of every kind throughout sports and locales. At some point, however(And this is where the old-timers can pay attention again) I realized that I wasn't getting too much out of this format-frankly, I don't give a crap about the Charlotte Bobcats' draft strategy. Don't get me wrong, I'm stil fascinated and in love with all things involved with the practice of being a GM. But my dreams extend only to the teams I care about. And after giving it some thought, I decided that focusing upon the teams in general rather than giving my readers a concentrated assessment of the Rangers' search for a middle reliever was a much healthier route for my sanity and a more enjoyable one for those kind enough to grace my URL.

So basically, the theme of this blog is disappointment. That's not to say I've gone emo on you, I'm still as sane, rational and life-loving as always. It's simply an admission of reality; this town has given us more unfulfilled hope, more dreams falling right into our lap and crawling out while we daydreamed- than most of us could have imagined possible. The new name makes quite a bit more sense now, eh?
I've got to temper any presumed enthusiasm or headaches by stating that this will not be a daily event for me. I realize that some people grew disenchanted with this place, and that's very much my fault. I didn't post for a few months following the Cowboys-Patriots game. There's one basic reason for this: I bit off more than I could chew, and wasn't enjoying the process of blogging anymore. So I retreated to my various personas on other peoples' blogs, throwing in the occasional line-long reply to other peoples' posts. I'm back, baby. But I'd like this stint to enjoy a greater degree of permanence than my last one, so I'll be doing two posts a week if that. They will be polished posts, chock-full of whatever it is that made you people visit this site in the first place. I aim to please. But please, don't hold me to the expectations levied upon guys who do this for a living, or even the enormously devoted fans who run the SB Nation sites.

Thanks for dropping in. Do so often and you won't be disappointed.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Cowboys Roster Evaluation: Defensive Line

While not quite the position of strength that the Linebacking corps presents, the Cowboy defensive line is strong in several respects. There is considerable depth, as was demonstrated by the lack of fallout suffered from a full year without the starting DT. There is a very good player who can play anywhere on the line, and the unit as a whole is startlingly young. The guys up front don’t pile on the sacks to par with teams like New York, but they occupy blockers very well and are stellar against the run.

Individual evaluations, again listed in terms of perceived value in my eyes.

#1: Jay Ratliff, Defensive Tweener: End/Tackle. Ratliff is a seventh rounder from Purdue who has exceeded the expectations of everyone other than maybe his mother and significant other. Ratliff is 6’4 and 298 pounds, having bulked up a bit for his role as a tackle this season, but has fluctuated below that in the past. His physical tools are solid but lacking in awe-value. Rat does everything well: He can overpower blockers, do his nickname proud by sneaking by, or even restrain himself and wait for the ball carrier to foolishly rush into his merciless clutches. He sets others up very well, and a lot of his best work doesn’t show up prominently in stat reports; I believe he led the team in QB pressures throughout the season. Rat is 26 and just signed a 5 year, 20.5 million dollar extension which should make all involved parties quite happy. Expect him to return to DE next year, for reasons I will go over later in the presentation.

#2: Chris Canty, Defensive End. Canty’s one of those guys who is declared a steal by EVERYONE on draft day. A projected first rounder who slid due to some injury/character issues, Canty lasted until the second to last selection in the fourth round. King Jerry was certain that the Patriots would pick up CC with the very next selection, and traded with Philadelphia to acquire the prior selection. The 25 year old Canty is an imposing presence. #99 stands 6’7, weighs 300 pounds, and flexes his considerable biceps in a signature move after every big play. He’s stout against the run, and overpowers defenders often. He’s certainly panned out better than most second-day selections, and there’s no reason to think that his future in Dallas won’t be a long and prosperous one. He is a restricted FA this year, but the team is expected to hang on to him.

#3: Tank Johnson, Defensive Tackle. Johnson’s taken a great deal of flak throughout his short career over his off-the-field problems, but anyone who’s invested more than a cursory glance into the situation knows that his role in these unfortunate incidents is greatly overblown. Johnson seems to be a decent guy who Kept It Real to too great an extent and has the wrong passion (Automatic weapons) but never set out to hurt a soul-again, the key word being off the field. Johnson isn’t one of those controversial figures whose play is unquestioned, he’s far from a superstar. But the aptly-named Tank is a force against both the pass and run. He can’t be manhandled with ease, and brings the occasional relentless bulrush, to the extent of almost knocking a QB’s head off (as was the case in one game this year, when Johnson actually got penalized for his sack being too highlight-reel worthy). Johnson’s 26 and signed to a shockingly reasonable contract for next year, and should fill a similar role to this past year: Backup Nose Tackle.

4. Jason Ferguson, Defensive Tackle. I’m going to catch some of the misplaced flak from Tank’s shooting range on this. Quarterbacks aren’t threatened by Ferguson, he made exactly ONE tackle this year, and he’s 33 years old. But when healthy (And he has been, historically, throughout 11 NFL seasons) Ferguson is the prototypical Nose Tackle: He plugs gaps, draws two blockers, and will allow nobody to run by little radius. He anchors the run-stopping game much in the same way that the Williams duo does for Minnesota, making everyone else’s job much easier. He should start next year, but allow for fairly measurable backup duty from the Tank.

5. Marcus Spears, Defensive End. I know, here comes the bitterness. Spears is decent in every way, and I may be shunning him because he’s a BP lovechild and a first round pick. And it’s probably unfair that I hate him when I didn’t lash too harshly at Bobby Carpenter, who isn’t even logging snaps. But I simply don’t like Spears; his overly jovial attitude whenever he’s in the vicinity (That’s the key word) of a substantial play, his inability to be the pass rusher we held inflated hopes for, and the retrospective fear based on the fact that he was almost selected instead of D-Ware at #11. But In all actuality, Spears is a very serviceable player. He’s solid against runners and can deliver mean hits and meaner raps.

6. Jason Hatcher, Defensive End. The 2006 3rd round pick has caused dispute amongst the more devoted Cowboys fans; those who actually know his name. He’s a fairly effective pass rusher when in the game, although he hasn’t shown enough to be placed above Spears or Canty on the depth chart. He is what he is; a 25 year old with a decent deal of value to this team, and a lot of potential that may or not materialize if we give it a chance to. I wouldn’t feel comfortable inserting him into a starter’s role, but he’s a very suitable backup.

7. Stephen Bowen’s a fairly raw 23 year old who was picked up by the team last year after not being drafted. He’s likely going to be a backup in the foreseeable future, as he hasn’t shown enough snaps, or enough during his meager quantity of aforementioned plays, to justify much more. His one career sack was against Jon Kitna, I like the name of his college (Hofstra) and he has a semi-stache, which I approve of. Much like Justin Rogers, however, I can’t tell you much about him as a player.

Possible draftees: Ah, the most nebulous part of this whole process. I just love taking shots in the dark on players who will probably never impact the Cowboys directly. Again, let me preface this by saying that these are not in any way personal suggestions for draft day; I’m just listing guys who project around where the Cowboys will be picking as things stand now. In fact, I’d be very surprised if they picked a defensive lineman. I won’t concentrate on the three truly premium Defensive linemen in this draft, as they will likely all be gone by pick #6 or 7. Cursory mentions: Glenn Dorsey is likely a Kevin Williams, Chris Long a Jared Allen, Sedrick Ellis an enigma who offers everything but height, and will likely turn out the best of the bunch

But that doesn’t rule out some very good players who should be available late in the first round. In no certain order (Other than Longhorns guys first, because UT rox!), as I’m not going to rank these guys, here are a few.

DT Frank Okam is very comparable to another phenomenal Texas DT: Shaun Rogers. He can be dominating on some plays, but disinterested and sloppy on many others. If he ever realized that this game is a good way to get fawning and fortune, he’d become wildly successful in the NFL. However, I’m afraid to say I’m skeptical about taking him with a first-round pick after seeing what lazy payers are like.

DE Derrick Harvey is a physical specimen in the mold of our very own Demarcus ‘The Dominator’ Ware. He’s big, fast, has an exceptional first step and loads of potential. There have been questions about Harvey’s ability to stay at DE as a 260 pounder, as well as his abilities against the run. The chances are, Harvey won’t be there at 22. But if he is I’d jump on that as if it were Jessica Alba.

DE Calais Campbell is possibly the most vertically intimidating football player I have ever seen. He’s 6’8 and looks it, weighs a lithe (It feels very strange to type that with this number) 280, and takes advantage of his athletic gifts. To what extent, however, it remains to be seen. Campbell is gifted much along the same lines of a Julius Peppers. Much like Peppers, however, he can go through extended maddening periods of time in which he simply disappears. Campbell’s stock was as high as the Top 10 at one point, but he has slid precipitously and may even be a second round pick by now, albeit an early one.

DE Phillip Merling is more of a combo DE than the previous two specimens; he can get to the quarterback, but is not the prototypical pass rusher. He is more stout against the run than either of them, and the Clemson End has shown versatility in more ways than that one-he used to play tight end. Merling is likely a top 20 selection.

DT Kentwan Balmer was a very highly recruited high school star who is 6’5 and 300 pounds, yet runs a sub-5 40 yard dash. Balmer’s a complete player who is a productive tackler, yet can penetrate the line of scrimmage and create pressure. NC’s star is shooting up draft boards faster than any tackle, and may vault himself into the top 20. As it stands, he’s a late first round pick.

Prospective free agent pickups: Ah, the veteran addition. Scott Pioli has perfected the craft of picking up journeymen defensive players to surround his core with, and many aspire to that tactic. If Jerry decides to take his shot, expect a few things. Firstly, there will be no Albert Haynesworth signing. I don’t care how good he is; he played for a contract this year, and I don’t believe that the cleat to the face of Andre Gurode will be forgotten so quickly. Take note to forget any daydreams about Jared Allen; he will come at a very steep rate, and this team has other needs. I do love a dominant 25 year old pass rushing End from Dallas, though…

I really don’t see JJ signing any impact DLmen this year; he doesn’t need starters to a great extent, the backups are more than sufficient, and there’s not much cash to spare. But here is one name to keep in mind, just so I can cite this as a stroke of genius in a weird sequence of events.

Ebenezer Ekuban. I know, we went down that road before. But he’s been better since departing and will come cheap. He becomes this team’s best pass-rushing Defensive End and offers veteran leadership. Jerry’s shown he’s not one to pass on a good player because of mere bad blood in the past. The chances are slim, but I could see this transpiring.

Cowboys Roster Eval Continued: Linebackers

First things first: I’d like to address a player who became a really hot topic during senior bowl week and I didn't get a chance to talk about in my Defensive back evaluation. That player is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Let’s start with some fun facts.
Cromartie is, indeed, the cousin of the peerless Charger cornerback named Antonio.
He attended-this is not a typo-Tennesee State. This is a result of not playing organized football until his senior year of high school.
He’s the most athletically gifted player in this draft. Bar none.
Cromartie’s 6‘3. He has a mysteriously unofficial 40 time, but most project him in the mid-4.3s. While slender at 180 pounds, Cromartie has the strength to jostle with most receivers. He’s been blessed with terrific agility and playmaking ability. Why is this guy not treated as the second coming of Deion? He’s got a couple of big question marks.
The first is his collegiate background. Hailing from TSU is by no means a plus to NFL scouting directors; when asked by Scott Wright about the toughest receiver he’s faced, he cited Efrem Hill of Samford. Hill is an undrafted Browns WR who has yet to catch a pass in the NFL.
The second concern is tied in with the first, and that is a supposed lack of polish. This is a common detriment listed for the really talented players; while they have vast athletic potential, they are not quite the finished products that the hard-hatted, cerebral players can be. Cromartie isn’t seen as ready for the unquestionably major trials that will come with a move from Division-II football to the NFL.
Comparison: Obviously, his cousin comes to mind. The Cromarties are similar players, and it is only natural to compare the two. Another name comes to mind, however; that of Rashean Mathis. Mathis is also a tall cornerback, attended a small school, and was not seen as proven enough to compete with the big boys. If DRC can live up to his potential, he could be as good as either of these shut-down Defensive backs.
I think Cromartie is a perfect fit for the Cowboys. Number one: They must be kicking themselves when considering the ‘06 draft, in which they had the opportunity to draft Antonio with the 18th selection and instead picked up the benchwarming Bobby Carpenter (read on for more on him).Cromartie was taken by San Diego one selection later. I don’t think Jerry will let a similar specimen get away.
Second: This team can afford to slide Cromartie in. Look at last year’s first round cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Aaron Ross. Both were selected as experienced college cornerbacks, and therefore thrust into the spotlight on their new teams. Cromartie, if drafted here, would be the third cornerback behind Newman and Henry- comfortably positioned in a spot from which he can slowly adjust to this league.

Now, on to the linebacking corps!

  1. Demarcus Ware, Outside linebacker. There’s no way for me to give a fair critique of Demarcus Ware. I simply love this man too much. But I’ll try to be objective here. Ware placed third in the league in sacks, notching fourteen. He also forced four fumbles and held his own in coverage. Put this in perspective: Amongst all players with nine or more sacks, Ware was first in tackles. His closest competitor (Julian Peterson) had fully ten less. Ware is the most dominant outside linebacker in the NFL. He’s one of the top five defensive players overall. He’s solid as a rock, consistent as the sunrise. In short, he’s a player you can build a defense around. And he’s only twenty five.
  1. Bradie James, Middle Linebacker. I’m going to catch some flak with this selection. It’s hard to argue against Greg Ellis in this spot, but hear me out. James has been a key cog in this defense during the last three years. He leads with both his words and his play, he shoulders the blame when it is due, and he plays every facet of his position. Bradie registered 101 tackles and three sacks. The former is certainly an impressive number, the latter does not seem that way-until one realizes that middle linebackers simply don’t put up major sack numbers. What I like best about James doesn’t have anything to do with his mentality or his physicality. It’s his knack for being in the right place at the right time. He can take advantage of opportunities; whether he sees a big hole in the middle of the offensive line or a wideout thinking himself clever, Bradie can usually be relied on to exploit the situation. He’s capable against the run, in coverage, and blitzing. He’s the type of middle linebacker everyone wants. Not a star, but a complete player in every way.
  1. Greg Ellis, Outside linebacker. Games played: thirteen. Sacks: Twelve and a half. I won’t deny that Ellis was a dominant pass rusher when he came back from the injury he sustained against Arizona. I also won’t deny, however, that he has evolved into a situational player whose ceaseless whining is every bit as annoying as his blitzing acumen is a amazing. I’m starting to wonder about Ellis; while it can’t be denied that the defense is better with him in the lineup, could he be creating dissent in the locker room? Internal consternation has torn many a good team apart before. All it takes is one strong, veteran presence handing out dirty leaflets and besmirching the king for everyone with a beef to pound on the manor’s front door demanding extravagant signing bonuses and weekends off. That, combined with his age (32), are what caused me to place Ellis below Bradie James. I love his play. But he worries me nonetheless.
  1. Akin Ayodele, middle linebacker. The invisible man. Ayodele isn’t very noticeable on the field or the stat sheet. He doesn’t turn the tide of games or run his mouth. But Ayodele is a solid cover linebacker with good run-stopping tendencies. He seems to be an endearing, personable guy to the media as well as his teammates. He never blitzes in this scheme, but has done so in the past. Ayodele’s capable; that’s the best one-word description I can come up with for him. If he’s your second Inside linebacker, you’re in good shape.
  1. Anthony Spencer, outside linebacker. Spencer was drafted out of Purdue with the Eagles’ selection in this past draft. I didn’t agree with the selection because we had already invested enormous resources into our linebackers, and if you told me that Greg Ellis would play like he has I would have screamed bloody murder. But Spencer was sufficiently impressive, and as I stated Ellis sufficiently concerning in some areas- that I am more at peace with his selection than I once was. Joe Thomas, now a premier left tackle in this league, was asked about the toughest player he’d had to block in college. He named Anthony Spencer. Spencer’s a big linebacker who played mostly Defensive End in the NCAA, but seems to have adjusted well. He’s primarily a pass rusher who can defend the run adequately well. I didn’t get a chance to gauge his coverage abilities. Regardless of Greg Ellis’ future with this organization, Spencer is a darn nice piece to have.
  1. Kevin Burnett, linebacker. Drafted out of Tennesee, seen as a playmaker- Burnett seems to have become a younger Ayodele. Don’t blow anyone up, don’t get burned. If you stay out of the highlight reels, you’re in good shape. I wouldn’t say the second round pick is a disappointment, just that he’s different from what he was perceived to be. A good special teamer who’s filled in well when needed at linebacker spots (Inside from what I’ve seen) who is only 25 years old. He’s a nice piece to have around and will definitely be retained.
  1. Bobby Carpenter, Linebacker Tweener. The Ohio State grad formerly known as Captain Caveman should have kept the ‘stache. It was the one thing going for him. Carpenter ranks behind only Julius Jones and Roy Williams on the list of most oft-berated Cowboys, and It’s not hard to see why. He’s been limited to special teams during his first two seasons in the league. I’m not ready to write him off; there’s a reason guys get selected in the first round. A lot of them struggle at the forefront for various reasons, then become the players they were meant to look like all along. (See: Colombo, Marc) He may even become that player with this franchise. But It’s hard for most of us to envision that, simply looking at his track record with our team of choice.
  1. Justin Rogers, linebacker. To be honest, I don’t know much about Rogers. I scoured the internet and came up with this: He went to SMU, likes to hunt (gave his grandmother a coyote rug), was drafted in the 6th round by the Patriots, and was a very undersized player when he first showed up to college. I didn’t really spot him on the field much this year, but that may be a good thing- He didn’t have the Nate Jones factor (Hi, I’m a situational player! You know me- I’ll be the dude eating a receiver’s dust!’).

I seriously, seriously doubt that the Cowboys will look for a linebacker in the early rounds of this draft. Just for the sake of preparing for all contingencies, however, I’ll run over a few of the guys projected to go in the first.

Keith Rivers, Outside linebacker. The USC senior is the most highly regarded of the LBs in this draft, and is projected in the top ten or fifteen by most. He’s got athleticism but lacks size (a mere 220 pounds) and is considered a hard worker. His tackling is reminiscent of the much-maligned Roy, as he will try to force fumbles and cameras, rather than wrapping up the ball carrier. He isn’t held in high regard as a coverage linebacker, but can blitz with the best of them. Best case comp: Jevon Kearse.

Dan Connor, Outside linebacker. The Penn State grad draws reports eerily similar to Bobby Carpenter’s: He’s considered solid in every aspect of the game, plays hard, and is considered polished-but has trouble shedding blockers and lacks strength. I can’t think of a great comp offhand, but Connor should become a solid linebacker, albeit never considered a superstar.

We move to the free agents. This class is highlighted by one standout (Lance Briggs) one young, exciting player (Karlos Dansby) and a bunch of mid-level guys mostly of the reliable, lunch-pail mold. This isn’t necessarily a rip on the class; teams like the Patriots have done great things with a lot of average FA pickups. And the Cowboys aren’t going to be looking for any superstar linebackers in the first place, we’re fine at that position. Just for Stool and Giggles, though, I’ll run down a few of the more highly regarded mid-range guys. We have the legendary Tedy Bruschi (although it remains to be seen whether he will retire) the highly-regarded Kawika Mitchell who is making a name for himself with the Giants, and Boss Bailey the Lion, who is good when not injured. Mid-level guys include Na’il Diggs, Darryl Blackstock, and Demorrio Williams.

I’d like to acknowledge Scott Wright’s NFL Draft Countdown ( and Football’s Future ( for a lot of my information. I gather my info from a lot of places and couldn’t possibly name them all without making this into a dissertation, but those two are my primary sources. Props to both of those sites.

I really need to space these out, rather than doing it all in one night :P
Hope you guys are enjoying them, though. I’ll address the defensive line next.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Not a secondary priority

Howdy. In lieu of other things to fill my head this offseason (bashing on patrick Crayton doesn't count, I've yelled at him several dozen times internally in the last week) I've taken it upon myself to write up a rundown of every facet of this team's roster; evaluating the current players, their performance, expectations, and salary impact. I will also look at prospective additions to that facet of the roster. I will start with the most oft-lamented portion of this squad: The coverage team.
The format I will use is as such: I will begin by listing the relevant players, going from the one I value most to least. After running through the current performers, I'll turn to the potential newcomers.

Terrence Newman, cornerback. Honestly, there is only one fault I can find with T-New. He's only played for five years, yet he'll be thirty next year. Newman is the truest definition of 'shutdown corner', and he put forth, when healthy, his best season yet. I honestly cannot bring to mind the last time a wide receiver truly burned him in a game; the dropoff between a lead receiver covered by our #2 corner and a lead receiver covered by Newey is incredibly pronounced. He doesn't put up the greatest of numbers, but this can be attributed to the fact that quarterbacks simply don't throw his way. While it's true that he doesn't have the best hands, he can take advantage of a badly thrown pass often enough. If not for his (relatively)advanced age, N would be looking a huge deal in the eyes after next season. Keeping him is a priority, as the secondary is in shambles without Terrence.

Ken Hamlin, safety. I am still shocked by the contract Ham got last season. He was barely 26 years old, going into his fifth year in the league, and had established a stellar track record both in pass and run defense, showing the ability to play at either safety slot. Yet he settled for a contract worthy of someone trying to prove his worth; 1 year at 2.5 million. Needless to say, Hamlin has more than lived up to expectations. He was centerfielder in a defensive unit that sorely needed one, a big hitter and an opportunist with more awareness of the goings-on in his vicinity than we've seen since Darren Woodson. Keeping him will be a big priority, but we can't account for some team not changing its tune from last year and giving Ken a contract beyond his value. I see him getting four years at approximately sixteen million, and he's worth every penny of that to this team.

Anthony Henry, cornerback. The antithesis of Terrence Newman, Henry gambles regularly, gets thrown at even moreso, and therefore gets beat a lot but can also turn the tide of a game. He's still a usable second corner, but at 31 he won't be for much longer. While not a liability, he gets beaten fairly easily by most receivers who exhibit a semblance of speed. Henry is capable in run support, a decent tackler with good instincts. He's under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable rate, so don't expect a cut- but he could see his role on the team decrease through the time he has left with America's team.

Roy Williams, safety. Frankly, he earns a spot above Jacques Reeves purely on his past performances. Roy was a terrifically impactful player in college and in his first few years in the bigs, but has fallen off drastically since then. Still more than capable in run support, Roy can make the occasional big hit. But the frequency of the hits has decreased as his attempts at executing them have increased, and this is unacceptable. Too often he makes powerless tackles that fail to even impede the ballcarrier. Roy needs to return to the player he once was; we've all come to accept that he's a liability in pass coverage. But the least he can do is wrap people up once he gets there, knock out the occasional fumble when the situation calls for it, and capitalize with an interception every now and then. He's changing his number next year, in a straw-graspingly desperate move for a new beginning. Let's hope changing the 31 to a 38 is not a solitary move; that Williams actually makes an effort to return to the star player he once was.

Jacques Reeves, cornerback
. A 4 year vet from Purdue, the seventh round draft pick has performed beyond expectations during his time here. That, however, is not necessarily an indication that he's a great asset. Reeves is a third corner; he has decent speed and coverage skills, is mediocre against the run, and can't cause turnovers with a great deal of regularity. The 25 year old is the magnet that must exist in the Cowboys' scheme; when Newman's receiver only gets a throw or two per game, the QB has to put it somewhere. Playing alongside Terrence can swell your tackle and INT numbers; Reeves hasn't taken much advantage of this. It will also cast you as the goat who gives up tons of plays; and he certainly has been typecast that way. Reeves is not terrible, every team has a third corner. He's a nice piece to have, and should be retained.

Nathan Jones, cornerback
. Selected 18 slots ahead of Reeves in the '04 draft, the Rutgers alum has seen limited time throughout his tenure here. Keep in mind; 18 slots ahead of Reeves still leaves him a 7th rounder. Jones is not someone you want to hang out to dry, he's a backup and recognized as such. You need guys like this, look what they've done for the Giants and their incredible ruin of a secondary. When you create constant pressure, an inadequate secondary suddenly becomes sufficient. Jones will likely be back at an affordable rate.

At this point we move to prospective additions. This free agent crop is tremendously rich with high-level cornerbacks but almost devoid of safeties other than our own. The problem: The three elite guys (Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Marcus Trufant) will probably cash in to the tune of a long term deal at about 10 million per annum. This is far too much for the Cowboys to afford; they have their own needs to address. They likely will look to an inexpensive veteran , such as Drayton Florence or Shawn Springs, to fill a cornerback slot.

This year's draft is absolutely overflowing with first-round DBs. There are foreseeably six who should earn that distinction, and only one of them (Hurricanes safety Kenny Phillips) is widely projected to go off the board before our first selection at #22.

Mike Jenkins is the best of the rest. Jenkins has terrific size and speed, can force turnovers, sticks with receivers in both man and zone coverage. He's likely the most experienced of this group. He does, however, lack the sure tackling displayed by most and has some character issues. It may seem like a bit of a leap, but PacMan Jones' skill set and resume jumps to mind (Keep in mind, I wouldn't dare insinuate that Jenkins is ^&*@-ed up to quite that degree). Fun fact: He was born in Germany.

Malcolm Jenkins (no association) is probably the most talented defensive back in this draft. He's huge, runs a supposed 4.3 40, and QBs usually don't look his way. On the other hand, Jenkins is lacking in complementary tackles, does not break up many passes, and hasn't made many interceptions. Strangely, he has trouble with smaller receivers.The Ohio State grad could make someone very happy if things go right, but there is a big bust factor. A good comp doesn't come to mind, but Antonio Cromartie is the absolute best case scenario.

Antoine Cason is the 2007 Thorpe award winner. He's got decent size, good quickness, shows great awareness and terrific hands. He has home-run ability, having run back several of his picks for Six. He is, however, a bit lacking on bulk and struggles at bringing his man down. Despite his height, he has displayed difficulty in coping with large receivers. Best case comp: Marcus Trufant.

Aqib Talib is one of my personal faves. He's not quick, he's not one to turn an INT into a TD, but he makes plays of every kind. One of the larger cornerbacks you'll see, Talib displays excellent coverage ability, footwork, and hands. He's very stout against the run and has done great things against some very good receivers. One glaring problem is his lack of big-time speed, and that could come back to bite him down the road. My first thought when considering Talib was Ronde Barber, but that may be a bit steep. He's actually quite a bit like our very own Anthony Henry.

Reggie Smith is a very interesting prospect. The Oklahoma junior is a tandem safety-cornerback, and as one would expect is drawing many critics. There are those who say that his lack of a clearly defined role will hurt him in the long run, that in the NFL you must specialize in a single position to be truly good at it. I, for one, believe that knowing how to play in two (or in this case, three) spots is a major asset. Smith is the classic jack of all trades. Good in coverage, good timed speed, good change of direction and footwork, stellar at recognizing how the play breaks down and stout against the run. He won't cause sensation with anything he does, however, and that wil deter some people come draft day. I'm having a hard time finding a comp for this guy, to be honest. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Leodis McKelvin is yet another player who is useful because he fills multiple roles. McKelvin is fairly diminutive, not known primarily for his abilities as a cornerback, and comes from a small program. However, he's absolutely electric on kick returns and has shown all that one can show at Troy as a DB. Demarcus Ware's one-time teammate is shooting up draft boards, and rightfully so. He hasn't been tested to the extent of the big-conference coverage guys, but as I said-shown all he can. Comp: I'm having a hard time with this one too. I thought Devin Hester, but McKelvin brings more than that on defense.

That was exhausting. It's about time I found a use for the intervals of time between my classes, though =D
If you're looking for further information on all this stuff, I'd strongly recommend Scott Wright's NFL Draft Countdown and Football's Future.
Next on the docket: The linebacking corps!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Darren McFadden, the next 60 million dollar baby? Don't count on it.

Darren McFadden is a premier player. He's far and away the most dynamic, capable, sure-thing running back in a draft year overflowing with them. He may be the best player in this entire draft class.
However fortunate he was to receive such physical gifts, the luck did not extend to this year's NFL standings. Let's take a look at the worst teams in the league this year.
Miami is absolutely freaking dreadful. I vomit several days' worth of spinach and saliva just imagining their squad.... and there goes a new keyboard.
There's one position they're quite strong at, though. Ronnie Brown was averaging a staggering 5.2 runs per carry and shouldering a great deal of carries before becoming sidelined prior to the season's midway point.
The Rams are fairly bad. Not quite as awful as most people may think upon glancing at their record (I can't recall another team that was hit by injuries this badly all at once). In adhering to St. Louis tradition, however, they have some terrific skill-position players, foremost amongst them feature back Steven Jackson.
The Raiders' offense looks like a collegiate one at times. Take a look, however, at their box scores during the last five games. Justin Fargas has been producing at an outstanding level. This is not to say that he's the long-term asnwer at the position, but It's something to consider. And if he keeps this sort of production up, the woebegone Raiders should look elsewhere with that top five pick.
Now we come to the Falcons. Oh good god. People enjoyed harping on Michael Vick, and I don't count myself amongst the minority who defended the man. But his lack of presence is being clearly felt in Atlanta. I've long held this theory about running quarterbacks: They cause the running backs to instantly look a ton more productive. The defense devotes people to staying back and watching the QB, and it not only keeps rushers on the edge rather than in his face-but allows the tailbacks room to move. The once-ageless Warrick Dunn has suddenly hit an insurmountable wall, and Jorius Norwood isn't getting enough carries to justify a starting spot to. And with the Petrino resignation, that situation will not become any less turbulent.
However, I think the Falcons go after a QB in this draft. Brian Brohm, Andre' Woodson, and Matt Ryan are all very, very justifiable names at the top of a draft board, and this team is in dire need of a QB after letting 2 good ones go this offseason.
The Jets may be the best fit. A third round pick begat Thomas Jones, but aside from a random 100 yard game against-of all teams- Pittsburgh, he's been merely mediocre in New York. McFadden would seem like a perfect fit, but for whatever reason most mocks I've seen have them going with a defensive player (Chris Long/Sedrick Ellis/James Laurinitis).
San Fransisco? Oh, how I feel for them. And for the rest of the league. Because this selection now belongs to the New England freaking Patriots. Perhaps one of the greatest teams in this league's history will wind up with a draft pick forseeably as high as #2. I fankly have no idea where NE will go with this pick, and it is possible that they draft McFadden to alleviate the sophomorely slumping Laurence Maroney, but I doubt they will spend two first rounders in three years on running backs.
The Ravens? Until this season, it would have been a perfect match. But Baltimore has found Wilis McGahee, and that relationship has gone satisfactorily. Mcgahee's playing like many foresaw before his big collegiate injury.
To be frank, I think the worst team that would certainly take McFadden if he fell into their laps is Cincinatti. And while they're certainly not a great squad, their pick shouldn't be higher than 7 or 8.
If McFadden's available for the Panthers' pick, he will be gone faster than a 12 oz steak in front of Tony Siragusa. But they aren't one of the truly woeful teams in this league. Not that they're anywhere near mediocre. The Chiefs? It'd make sense if they hadn't given Larry Johnson a record contract a few mere months ago. Da Bears? Same dilemma as the Falcons, accentuated by the fact that they made the mistake of taking Cedric Benson #4 not too long ago.
My point is this. I personally am not one of those who condones trading for the rights to Darren McFadden. But if Jerry makes up his mind and refuses to budge, the cost could be a lot more reasonable than what I'm hearing from most people.
And if he slides past the top 5, expect Jerry to frantically hit the phones directly prior to either the Panthers or Bengals.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kobe Bryant is Still a Malcontent. And Leaves Change Color in Autumn.

There's very little that annoys me more than the continuing saga of Kobe Bryant. Billion Dollar talent, ten-cent head. The guy's never ponied up to any blame, not once taken responsibility, and I can't remember the last time he made a decision to assist another at his own detriment.
This situation is just another example of the exasperating nature of Kobe. The man is a blessing and a curse in the greatest sense of the word.
Supposedly, he's going to either Chicago, Dallas, or Phoenix. I'm here to tell you that he's not going anywhere.
It's another bit of acting by Bryant, another performance by Lakers' management-an attempt to prelude the inevitable trade. But don't confuse inevitable with impending.
Kobe's got two seasons to go before he can opt out and leave LA with nothing to show for their superstar. While they have him, there's no reason for Jerry Buss and co. to sell low on one of the 3 best players in the NBA. They'll milk his talent for all It's worth, and next offseason the highest approved bidder will claim Bryant.
What would Dallas give up to get Bryant? Howard and Terry seem to be the common factors in every suggested deal. They'd need to throw in either DJ Mbenga and Mo Ager, or alternatively DeSagana Diop; probably draft picks as well. That's one borderline all-star and a one-dimensional shooting guard, as well as two extremely raw youngsters and a late first rounder. Does that make LA better?
Chicago: Tyrus Thomas, Ben Gordon, and Tyson Chandler. Deal or no deal? If LA does this, it would be for potential. I really can't find fault with that way of thinking. But look at it this way; there is nothing remotely approaching a sure thing involved in this deal. Gordon is best used as a backup, and in LA he'd be the second best player on the team. Chandler is a good young center, but the Lakers are trying to develop their own. And Thomas could become Chris Bosh or Tyrus Thomas.
Phoenix: Marion+Diaw? I'm not convinced that Phoenix would do that, although it would give them the scariest threesome in history. Stoudemire straight up? I'm not sure that either club would pull the trigger; Phoenix because of his ability to dominate and his youth, LA because of his injury history.
To conclude: I simply don't see it. It may be me being overly skeptical, but this looks like showboating, overdramatization, making a mountain out of a molehill. Kobe Bryant will not be a Maverick on opening day, and he probably won't be a Bull or a Sun either.
But next offseason, I'll be watching.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What goes around comes around

What have we said about the Cowboys throughout this year? They're terrific in the second half, capitalizing on enormous bruisers that wear people down. And any one of their receivers has the ability to take over a game in conjunction with the rest of the offensive unit.
Ouch. That can be an effective strategy when used against you too, can't it?
The Cowboys looked dead out of the gate. That was to be expected, they've been that way all season long. The 14-0 lead seemed insurmountable, however, when you consider that Dallas went three and out on consecutive game-starting drives. In fact, the fearsome Cowboy attack amassed negative yardage through their first 8 plays.
Yet somehow, they managed to make the game genuinely interesting for a while. They'd score 24 of the next 31 points, actually taking a 24-21 lead. At this point the fans were giddy, the players looked hopeful, and Bill Belichick stopped sullenly grimacing, and instead looked sullenly contemplative. For a very short while, anyway. Because the Patriots would score 27 of the next 30.
What happened? It's really quite simple. Dallas put up a great fight yesterday, but a couple of things buried them. First and foremost was allowing the Patriots those lengthy early possessions. I believe the Patriots reached 20 plays before the Cowboys had 10, and the Cowboys received to begin the match. The Patriot linemen wore our rushers down to their last breaths, and their receivers turned our secondary players' legs to grape jelly.
Additionally, these penalties have got to stop. The Cowboys' red zone woes were largely brought about by Flozell and Company, as our team regressed by 98 yards spread over 12 plays. One play represents the struggle with the zebra-men best of all: 31-24 New England, 4th and one. Marion Barber powers his way to a first down, and the Metroplex rises in glee. But a few seconds later, we vent our fury to the huddled masses following the game through media mediums, as the play is undone with five additional necessary yards, via a holding call. Dallas was forced to punt, Brady led the Patriots down the field for another score, and the Cowboys never got closer than 11 points.
Speaking of 11 points... what the profanity was up with going for a field goal down 14 in the 4th? Under that logic, you'd have to completely and utterly stifle the Patriots twice, which you have shown no indication of being able to do- then come back and score two more touchdowns. What the hell are the chances of that happening? On 4th and goal at the 4 against this opposition, you've got to go for that every single time. I consider myself as die-hard and faithful as any Cowboys supporter, but at that point I turned away from the CBS coverage in disgust and took out my frustration on the Madden-rendered Patriots.
What was good last night? Our running game and our run defense. Barber and Jones rushed only 14 times, mostly due to being behind for almost the full extent of the game. But those 14 rushes resulted in 98 yards, for an average of 7 yards an attempt. On the other end of the ball, Patriot backs rushed 26 times for only 70 yards- less than 3 an attempt. That same sort of play will be very important against the Vikings next week, as they're a team that heavily relies on the running game.

Random observations
This team badly needs Anthony Henry back.
So much for the fabled matchup of 81s. Barely 130 yards between them.
Demarcus Ware is a truly premier defender. I love this man.
Why was the Romo-Witten connection so intermittent? Our QB went to our TE twice at the end of the second, both very successful completions. But the ball barely got near him through the other 59 minutes.
The secondary got burned time after time, but for once it wasn't really Roy's fault.
The Patriots seem to force deeper kickoff than us.
Terrence Newman probably should have waited for that plantar fasciitis to fully heal. He looks slow, and what is he without speed?
Better luck next week.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Conflict of Collossi

5-0. The Cowboys hadn't done it for two decades. The winningest single-decade quarterback in NFL history couldn't take us there, neither could the league's all-time leading rusher or a historically effective offensive line. But questions emerge; questions that those lauded squads didn't have to put up with.
Is the secondary stable enough? Is Tony Romo sufficiently reliable? Are two runners really no runners?
And most prominent, has this team played anyone competent enough for us to anoint them into the class of elite clubs in the 2007-08 NFL based on numbers alone?
One thing is for certain. If the Dallas Cowboys are still undefeated by Sunday evening, the last of these questions will have been answered, for The Patriots are clearly a juggernaut in every way. The league's best passing game is accentuated by a fearsome running attack, for which the way is paved by a justifiably feared offensive line. The defensive secondary includes two superstars (Asante Samuel and Rodney Harrison), and the defensive line is up there with the very best, with cornerstones like Brushchi, Thomas, and Wilfork. Let this sink in: They have yet to score less than 34 points, and yet to give up 17. And they've played two or three teams probably better than anything the Cowboys have faced.
Can the Cowboys win? The Bills looked like they were going to last week, so sunshine does indeed use a canine's behind as a landing pad occasionally. But going in line with that euphemism, it doesn't happen often.
What will the Patriots do? Allow me to preface this assessment by saying that Bill Bellichick's greatness lies in his ability to adjust on the fly. If something's not working, he'll change it up.
I believe that Bellichick's perceptive enough to take a leaf out of the Bills'' incompetence last week. Buffalo was incapable of putting pressure on Tony Romo, and look what happened? Romo got comfortable and got careless. Bellichick has the personnel to force Romo into scrambling around in the pocket, but I regret to say that he won't-because he will have realized that this is where Romo is at his best. Bellichick will rush four or five for the entirety of the game, concentrating more on coverage and leaving a linebacker or two back to contain our relevant halfback. If Romo's performance last week was a harmless aberration, praise the gods and realize that you may have a shot at not only victory in this game, but in a playoff matchup for the first time in over ten years. But if my fears are proven to be well founded, woe and calamity.
Offensively, the Patriots will do what they always do. Brady is a completion machine, as automatic as it gets .They have a crop of receivers rivaling our own and a stalwart group of blockers to allow the league's best quarterback time to be his usual opportunistic self. Oh, they've also got a two-eheaded monster better than ours, with Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris.
If the Cowboys want to win this thing, they'll have to do everything right. Don't give an inch on either side of the ball; knock their feet out from under them and shove their faces into the turf, grabbing the ball in the process. Don't make mistakes, another 6-turnover performance will get this team absolutely routed. Force your own, and you've got a shot.
Asante Samuel's not exploitable, as he's one of the top cornerbacks in this entire league. But if TO is on anyone else, use him. I expect Jason Witten to be covered like a sleeping baby in a blizzard for the full extent of the game, so get creative. He can catch the ball through a regiment of thermal blankets and five shadows if It's well-placed. Trick plays are there for a reason; Jason Garrett, It's time to pull out ALL the stops. Leave not a stone unturned, any potential at an opportunity must be seized, turned over, and exploited to its full extent.
In short, It will take a lot for the Cowboys to win this one. This is not in any way a derogatory statement on America's True Team, because New England is very possibly the mightiest squad to have graced the green plains of the NFL since their upcoming opposition circa fifteen years ago.
New England: 31
Dallas: 24

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


The local football team's taken the league by storm. Baseball's playoffs have taken a decidedly upwards turn, greatly spurred by the Yankee loss last night (How's that for an evening of delight?). College football is in full force.
But people seem to have forgotten that last year's top regular season NBA team exists.
I won't say I'm complaining. We all got a bit overexcited last year, some crowning them as the champs before the season was over, others-myself included- scoffing at the matchup against Clown Coach Don Nelson and his brand of basketball. It was not to be.
But yeah, the Mavericks are nearing another season. They come back with the squad almost entirely intact, as the only departee with any name recognition is the spare 3rd string shooting guard Greg Buckner. Notable additions include Trenton Hassell, Nick Fazekas, and Eddie Jones.
Low key additions, to be certain. Two one-dimensional players and a has-been who may not play as many minutes as Buckner did last year.
I like it.
The best core in the league is fully composed. All there is to do is add the supporting cast. Do we have that guy who can step in during a critical time and truly contribute? Do we have an Alonzo Mourning, a Fabricio Oberto, or, as we make use of the way-back machine, a Rick Fox?
I don't know, but this team has been adding candidates for the position. And this pleases me.
Dirk will be Dirk. He's vowed to come back with a better interior game, and I'm sure he'll post up more. But he'll still play his game, because that's what makes him great.
Josh Howard's a genuine all-star. We've tagged him as the MVP's sidekick for several years now, but last year we saw him take his game to another level. He's now part of the second tier; Those 10-15 players who aren't quite legitimate superstars, but are necessary to any championship team.
I believe that Devin Harris has a chance to join that tier as well. He's back motivated, rich, and still humbled by last season. He'll be the starting point guard this season, there should be no further experimentation with Jason Terry in that role. If he can refine his abilities to finish at the rim, the Tony Parker projections will materialize.
The shooting guard position is deep to an unprecedented level. There's the proven scorer in Jet, the hard-nosed sparkplug in Stack, the proven veteran is Eddie Jones, Trenton Hassell the defensive ace, and the inconsistent but usable Devean George. Minutes will be hard to come by, and I could see Devin and Josh's minutes getting cut simply because the depth here is so irresistible.
The Center position will be iffy until the return of Big Damp, but I believe that with 5 minutes a game from Fazekas, Nowitzki, and Mbenga we can hold down the fort.
Do us all a favor and don't predict a championship. Don't even predict 60 wins. Just know that there is reason for optimism.