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SPF's 2008 NFL Draft Awards

Although the NFL Draft still have rounds 3-7 to go, we at SPF think it is time to hand out some awards.  Except in very rare cases, team's drafts are defined by their day one picks, and we learned a lot about how the SPF slate of teams are approaching the coming season - for better or worse.

Let the cermony begin!


Runners up: Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans

John Fox and his GM Marty Hurney are on a dual hot seat in Carolina.  Owner Jerry Richardson doesn't tolerate losing and Bill Cowher lies in wait living right there in North Carolina.  Fox and Hurney resurrected the Panthers from George Seifert's reign of insignificance bringing the team to a Super Bowl before losing to the Pats.

Since then, these two men have been nibbling around the edges and making nothing more than small tweaks.  In the process, the team has lost its edge never fully faltering, but also never playing with the same urgency that brought them to the Super Bowl.

This draft the Panthers are making a statement.  They want to run the ball again with the same purpose they did when Stephen Davis was their feature back.  Following the Parcells model described above, Fox wants to grind it out on the ground so that his defense can stay rested and his passing game can become more effective.

Whether Jonathan Stewart or Jeff Otah pan out, picking them let the rest of the NFC South know that Carolina intends to punish teams physically again.

Washington, Jacksonville, and Tennessee fell barely short of winning this award since all three also loaded up on what they see as need areas.  Washington and Tennessee both believe that they have strong defenses and good young QBs.  They both wanted to load up on offensive weaponry to give their young QBs, Jason Campbell in the Redskins' case and Vince Young in the Titans', the best chance to rise to the next level.

Both teams also are bringing a new offensive voice into the mix.  Washington HC Jim Zorn is known for developing QBs as is Tennessee's new/old OC Mike Heimerdinger.  Both teams are hoping that these changes will take their respective playoff teams from a year ago to Super Bowl contenders.

Jacksonville already is a Super Bowl contender.  They have one glaring weakness, an inability to pressure the opposing QB consistently.  They went all out by trading up to get Derrick Harvey from Florida and Quentin Groves from Auburn.  SPF wouldn't be surprised if they also made a move for Jason Taylor.

All of these teams made a statement - it's Super Bowl or bust.  Carolina edged the other three out because John Fox and Marty Hurney will likely be replaced if they don't make a deep playoff run in the coming season.


Runner ups:  Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints

The Dolphins are now under the leadership of Bill Parcells.  Parcells has been part of the resurrection of four franchises, and all became playoff regulars or Super Bowl winners/participants.  He knows that it starts with good personnel people (Jeff Ireland), good coaching (Tony Sparano), and good offensive and defensive lines.

Parcells operates on some pretty simple principles - if your team can run the ball, it will wear out your opponent's defense, and if your team can pressure the other team defensively into "3 and outs", you can further wear out your opponent by keeping their defense on the field too long.

The Dolphins, despite their horrendous record last year, still have some decent pieces.  Parcells and his people are bringing in a meat and potatoes approach that favors substance over style, something that Miami has been sorely missing for years.

Dallas and New Orleans both have strong Parcells ties since Parcells helped to build the current Dallas organization and helped develop Sean Payton when he was a Parcells assistant.  Both teams drafted for need, and both moved up to get guys they specifically targeted.  Avoiding the splashy picks will help both in the long run.


Runner up: Cincinnati Bengals

The Rams took Virginia's Chris Long at #2, while the Bengals selected Keith Rivers at #9.  Long and Rivers are safe, solid picks and both bring good character to locker rooms previously filled with malcontents. 

The Rams and the Bengals are very similar in that their recent past successes were due to offensive fireworks.  These offensive players are happy when they win and often become cancerous when the team starts to lose.

Both teams needed leaders on the defensive side of the ball and both found them.

The Rams edged out the Bengals only because Cincy had a bigger need on the D-line and their top targets were off the board.  Still, Rivers meets a huge LB need that plagued Cincy all last year.


Runner up:  Indianapolis Colts

The Bucs and Jon Gruden were at a crossroads last year much like John Fox and the Panthers are going into the coming season.  Gruden beat expectations by going to the playoffs and winning the NFC South.

The Bucs turn around came with a few simple steps.  First, they drafted college players from Florida, FSU, and Miami to create interest in the team.  Second, Tony Dungy established a culture of respectful accountability from the players to the coaches to the media to the fans.

Today, the Bucs have few players from that era still on the roster.  Only Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber are still playing large roles and both are in the twilight of their careers.  Warrick Dunn's return is a nice story, but he will be little more than a complementary piece in the offense.

Gruden focuses on the offense, and he allows DC Monte Kiffin to run the defense.  Kiffin has been able to pick defensive players as the last two first round picks.  The Bucs are old on defense so they need this help.

However, the Bucs are also old on offense, but Gruden seems to like it this way.  Gruden has quite a bit riding again on the gutsy, but brittle Jeff Garcia with no effective back up yet in sight.  Garcia is one solid hit away from retirement.  Without him under center, the Bucs were not able to move the ball effectively last season.

SPF has continually pointed out that Gruden's offense is so complex that it demands veterans to properly execute it.  Unfortunately, those same veterans are often injury-prone.

SPF still stands by our opinion that Gruden needs to simplify his offense so that young player can help his team now.  The risk of basing an offense around Jeff Garcia is to great.  Besides, Carolina and New Orleans both rightly believe that they are equal,  if not better than the Bucs are, at least from a talent perspective.

Maybe the Bucs are ready to make a Super Bowl run this coming season.  SPF just doesn't see it.

Indianapolis is still one of the best teams in the AFC with a Super Bowl win in their recent history, but the Colts sure showed signs that they are starting to fall back.  The Chargers, Pats, and Jaguars are all close to them and the Titans are close as well.  The Colts also are in the toughest division in football which guarantees them 6 difficult games next season.

The offense is showing signs of age and the defense is thin.  The Colts can't become complacent and waste Peyton Manning's next few years while he is still at the top of his game.



As Miami Dolphins turn around their fortunes, the Falcons are quickly taking their place.  Owner Arthur Blank says he follows the lead of Jerry Jones, but he really has been following soon to be ex-Dolphin owner  Wayne Huizenga.

Huizenga wanted so badly to win with Dan Marino and didn't that he has been placing way too much emphasis on finding other personalities like Marino.  In the process the team just got worse and worse until he finally gave up, hired Bill Parcells, and sold his team to Stephen Ross.

Arthur Blank picked Michael Vick as his Marino, and it worked for a time.  Much like Marino, Vick could help the Falcons win at times and be marketable all the time, but there was always doubts that he could win a Super Bowl.

Now Vick is in prison for reasons everyone knows.  Fans are bitter and divided over him since he was the face of the franchise and many still believe in him.  Since Blank put so much into Vick, from his money to his own credibility, he now wants to run away from Vick.

This is a mistake.  Vick is a distraction, but the best way to deal with distractions is to recognize them and not let them mushroom.  Blank, first of all, should learn to be quiet.  Every time he opens his mouth about Vick he gets into trouble.  Vick is a team asset that they will deal with at the appropriate time. 

Take a lesson from the Titans and how they handled Pacman Jones.  They never spoke much about him.  They never came out and condemned him during his suspension.  They just said it would be handled at the appropriate time.  Everyone knew Pacman would never play for the Titans again, but the team never had to say it.  Now, he is Dallas' problem.

Instead, Blank keeps flapping his gums about Vick:

"I would characterize it this way; as we've been saying for a while, we have to move on, and we're moving on as if Michael is not here.  We retain his rights, and at the right time we'll deal with that."

So, it is clear to everyone that Steve Young of ESPN was right in saying the the pick of Matt Ryan was Atlanta's way of "moving on" from Michael Vick.  Let SPF say without reservation that this is bad business.

Vick is going to be out of football for at least another two seasons.  After two seasons, Atlanta and the rest of the league should know whether Matt Ryan is truly a franchise QB.  If he isn't, then doesn't the Vick distraction come back again?

Read Terrence Moore's column today, and he nails it.  Drafting Ryan doesn't necessarily solve anything except for some good PR until the 2008 season begins.  There are many top 5 QBs who have been busts over the past 10 years.  Those teams were set back a good 5 years by investing in the wrong QB: Ryan Leaf (Chargers), David Carr (Texans), Tim Couch (Browns),Joey Harrington (Lions),  Alex Smith (49ers).  All but the 49ers have moved on from their mistake.  Instead, the 49ers are on their third OC in three years.

Everyone in Atlanta's SEC country saw Glenn Dorsey lead LSU to a National Championship.  Why wouldn't you draft him, make him your Warren Sapp, and focus the attention away from the QB position.

We strongly disagree with Pat Yasinkas, formerly of the Charlotte Observer but now with ESPN.COM who wrote a column praising the pick.  Here's a telling passage:

[T]his choice [of Matt Ryan] wasn't just about taking a passer who broke some of Doug Flutie's records and won a bunch of games.This was also about erasing the bitter memories of Vick and Petrino. Anyone who thought Vick might return to the Falcons after he's released from a federal penitentiary now can forget it. As a highly drafted quarterback, Ryan's going to face big expectations, although he's probably going to get a pretty significant grace period.

Significant grace period?  Are you kidding?  The only grace period that Ryan will get is from now until he takes his first pre-season snap.  People in Atlanta don't know him like they knew Michael Vick who played at Virgina Tech.  Ryan is a one year wonder from Boston College.  He's not a Manning who played in the SEC.  He's guy that Mel Kiper and other draft experts are saying is "clearly" the best guy in a draft where Brian Brohm, who went in the second round to Green Bay, would have been the best guy if he had declared last year as a junior.

Blank's biggest problem is that he continually underestimates his fan base.  Even before his legal problems, Vick was quickly becoming a polarizing player.  The downtown fans loved his exciting play, but the "outside the beltway" SEC faithful wondered whether he could really win the big game.  When part of your fan base loves him for what he represents and the other is judging him on his wins and losses, this player will never fully win everyone over without a Super Bowl ring.

Blank put this young, inexperienced kid in this position, and the whole thing blew up in his face.

Now, he is taking another young kid, Matt Ryan, and putting the weight of the franchise on him.  Ryan will say and do the right things for now, but he still has the same expectations and fan bases that Vick had.  Ryan won't easily win over the Vick loyalists, and he already has those outside Atlanta looking at him suspiciously.

Columnist Troy Johnson is one of our favorites.  Because he writes for the Ledger-Enquirer down in Columbus, GA, this allows him to write about all things Georgia in sports (from Atlanta sports to the major colleges) but he also writes about Auburn and Alabama and high school sports as well.  Better than most, Johnson understands the entire scope of the Southern sports fan.

After writing a column warning against the Ryan pick on Friday, Johnson blistered Blank and his latest group of puppets (GM Tom Dimitroff and HC Mike Smith) in this morning's paper:

The Falcons went with Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan over Louisiana State defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, whom ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. merely labeled "the best player in the draft." In contrast, Ryan topped a particularly sparse group of quarterbacks, which is sort of like wearing the sash of Miss Dahlonega...

Even though Atlanta owner Arthur Blank publicly stated he wouldn't dictate the terms of this draft, the Ryan selection looks more like a decision based on improving public perception than actually strengthening a woeful football team.

Arthur Blank has won the hearts of analysts on ESPN, but he continues to alienate the football-frenzied people that lies in his region.  Until Blank realizes what Wayne Huizenga did too late that your fans aren't dumb and you can't fool them with hype, the Falcons will remain insignificant.

And as to at Yaskinkas' expected "grace period", it is already over.  If you add Terrence Moore's and Troy Johnson's respective columns to Coley Harvey of the Macon Telegraph and his direct comparison of Matt Ryan to Joey Harrington, you can see that public opinion is already being swayed toward the premise that Ryan is nothing more than a PR move, and a bad one at that.

(Yes, the Falcons have officially become SPF's whipping boy for the coming season replacing the now credible Jacksonville Jaguars.)



Like the Falcons, the Texans lie in a football hotbed while failing to engage these fans.  While the Falcons fail due to incompetence, the Texans fail due to insignificance.

The Texans have gone from horrible to mediocre in a division where only excellence will get your team into the playoffs.  They have the most lightly regarded coach in the divsion and their roster has no superstars.

SPF will not stop pointing out that the Texans had a chance to take Vince Young - a Houston kid who led Texas to the National Championship.  They instead decided to stick with David Carr (take note Atlanta) and picked DE Mario Williams.

Vince Young has led the Titans to an 18-14 record and a playoff berth in the last two years while beating the Texans each time the two have played.

The Texans continued their ho hum approach by trading down and selecting an offensive lineman that many saw as a reach.  This is the kind of pick a playoff team makes, not the bottom team in a good division.

It may sound counter to our criticism of Atlanta, but SPF does believe in PR.  The problem with Arthur Blank is that he plays PR games in the off season to mask on the field incompetence, and this never works.  The Texans' problem is that they seem completely oblivious to the fact that they are a last place team with little apparent ability to change that situation yet they keep moving as if they are close.

Listen closely and you'll hear the sound of crickets...

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Southern Pro Football,
New Orleans,
North Carolina,

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