Denver Broncos 2014 NFL Season Preview


Peyton Manning had a season for the ages in 2013. He set the single season record for passing yards (5477) and touchdowns (55) and had the 5th highest single season quarterback rating (115.1) in NFL history. You can argue all you want about whether or not it was the greatest regular season a quarterback has ever had in NFL history (and I do here), but one thing is for sure. It was definitely the best regular season by a quarterback in the NFL last season and he deserved to be the near unanimous MVP he was, completing 68.3% of passes for an average of 8.31 YPA, 55 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.

However, he’s unlikely to be that good again next season for 4 reasons. One, it’s really, really hard to be that good. There’s a reason they’re called records. Almost no one ever does that. As good of a career as Manning had had, he’s “only” posted a QB rating of 110+ twice in his career and “only” posted a QB rating of 100+ five times in his career. He’ll fall down to earth just by the law of averages next season. 9 other quarterbacks have posted QB ratings higher than 110 in their career. On average, they had a QB rating of 97.1 the following season (I used 2009 for Tom Brady’s 2007 season because he was hurt in 2008). That’s very good, but if Manning is in that 95-105 range in terms of QB rating, it’s going to have a noticeable difference for the Broncos’ offense.

The second reason is Manning’s age, as he goes into his age 38 season. No one ever had a QB rating as high as Manning’s in their age 37+ season like Manning did last season, so we’re going into fairly uncharted territory. Only 3 quarterbacks in NFL history have ever had a QB rating of even 100+ at age 37+, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and YA Tittle. In the following season, those 3 quarterbacks combined to have a QB rating of 61.7. I’m by no means suggesting that Manning is about to fall off of some sort of cliff in terms of his abilities, but his age is something to be mindful of. As we’ve seen from a number of different great quarterbacks in their late 30s, you never know they’re going to hit the wall.

The third reason is the loss of Eric Decker. This isn’t as big as the first two reasons as Manning largely made Decker into the receiver he is today and Manning can definitely make do with the likes of Emmanuel Sanders, Andre Caldwell, and Cody Latimer in that spot, but that is a big loss. The fourth reason is simply that the Broncos should face a tougher schedule this season. Manning’s 2013, as good as it was, came against a strength of schedule that ranked 31st, according to DVOA. Even all other things the same, trading out the NFC East and the AFC South for the AFC East and the NFC West could lead to an extra loss for the Broncos this season and a few points off of Manning’s QB rating.

I’m by no means suggesting that Manning is going to struggle this season or trying to pick him apart, but I’m trying to give an accurate representation of you can expect from him next season. Predicting he’s going to have another near record breaking season is short-sighted. He’ll be a little bit worse and that will have a noticeable effect on a Broncos offense that moved the chains at an 81.09% rate, about 3% better than the #2 team (San Diego at 78.26%).

In the last decade, 8 teams have scored 32+ points per game in a season, including last year’s Broncos. The previous 7 teams scored an average of 34.0 points per game and moved the chains at an 81.31% rate in that season and then scored “just” 29.2 points per game and moved the chains at a 78.08% rate the following season (again using 2009 for the 2007 Patriots because of Brady’s injury). It’s still a very good season, but it’s noticeably worse. If the Broncos are noticeably worse offensively, they’ll have to be noticeably better defensively to keep pace and win the AFC’s #1 seed again.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

One area the Broncos could actually be better on offense this season is the offensive line. That’s hard to do, considering they ranked 1st in the NFL in pass block efficiency, but a lot of that had to do with Peyton Manning’s fantastic pocket presence. Manning was sacked on just 11.0% of pressured snaps, best among 26 eligible quarterbacks, and took just 2.33 seconds from snap to throw, 3rd quickest in the NFL. He does a very good job of protecting his own blindside, but now the Broncos’ offensive line could be even more talented as Manning will get his blindside protector back in the person of Ryan Clady.

Clady went down for the season week 2 after 146 snaps, tearing ligaments in his foot. Clady was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive tackle in 2012. He won’t necessarily be that good again as he’s coming off of injury and that’s easily the best season of his career. The 2008 first round pick was Pro Football Focus’ 30th ranked offensive tackle in 2008, 16th ranked in 2009, 9th ranked in 2010, but 63rd ranked in 2011. However, having him back on the blindside is an obvious positive for this team.

Clady will essentially replace Zane Beadles in the starting lineup, with Beadles taking a big contract in Jacksonville. Beadles has had some solid years, but was their only offensive line starter to grade out below average on Pro Football Focus last season so the Beadles for Clady swap on the offensive line should be beneficial, provided some players can adapt to their new positions. Those two players are Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin.

Chris Clark was a savior for the Broncos upfront last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked offensive tackle and making 14 starts at left tackle after Clady went down. Clark is still a one year wonder, as the 2008 undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi had played just 226 career snaps before last season, but he’ll be moving to the easier side of the offensive line, going to right tackle, and should continue to hold up as a solid starter. Just in case he doesn’t, the Broncos used a 3rd round pick on Michael Schofield to provide insurance on the right side.

Orlando Franklin will move to left guard from right tackle to replace Beadles. That’s the riskier move as Franklin was playing so well at right tackle over the past two seasons. The 2011 2nd round pick does have some left guard experience from college and left guard is generally an easier position to play, but Franklin was Pro Football Focus’ 18th and 17th ranked offensive tackle in 2012 and 2013 respectively and there’s no guarantee he’ll be as good inside. If Clark at right tackle and Franklin at left guard doesn’t work out, the Broncos could move Franklin back to right tackle and use Will Montgomery at left guard or use Will Montgomery at center and move Manny Ramirez to left guard.

Montgomery was a free agent acquisition and he is currently slated to backup Ramirez at center. However, he’s been a solid starter at center for the Redskins over the past few seasons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th, 5th, and 15th ranked center in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. He’s going into his age 31 season, which is part of why the Redskins let him go (he was also a bad scheme fit for their new power blocking scheme), but the versatile veteran should be able to provide solid play if needed to step in at either left guard or center.

Ramirez, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to grade out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked center last season. Like Montgomery, he’s a veteran with versatility, as he’s going into his age 31 season with the versatility to also play guard. He had a better 2013 than Montgomery obviously, but he was a generally mediocre interior offensive lineman before last season and he didn’t play a snap in either 2010 or 2011. He was solid at guard for the Broncos in 2012, but struggled mightily at guard for the Lions in 2009.

Besides Clady, the only one really locked into his spot is Louis Vasquez, who had a solid 4-year stint in San Diego before taking his game to the next level after signing with the Broncos as a free agent last off-season. He graded out 27th, 26th, 30th, and 13th respectively from 2009-2012 before grading out 3rd last season. There’s no guarantee he’ll be quite that good again and he has some injury history, missing 11 games in 5 seasons and only once playing all 16 games, but it’s worth noting he had his best season in San Diego in his final year with the team and he’s only missed 1 game in the last 2 seasons. Going into his age 27 season, Vasquez appears to be in the prime of his career and one of the best guards in the game.

Grade: A

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

I mentioned earlier that Eric Decker left this off-season, but the two Thomases (Demaryius and Julius) still remain. Demaryius has broken out as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL statistically over the past 2 seasons, combining to catch 186 passes for 2864 yards and 26 touchdowns in those 2 years. Obviously, Peyton Manning’s arrival had something to do with that, but the 2010 1st round pick had 35 catches for 745 yards and 4 touchdowns in his final 7 games, including playoffs, with Tim Tebow in 2011. That’s 80 catches for 1703 yards and 9 touchdowns extrapolated over 16 games. He was 3rd in the NFL in YAC per catch last season and graded out 6th and 10th in 2012 and 2013 respectively on Pro Football Focus’ wide receiver rankings in terms of pure pass catching grade and they generally do a very good job of grading receivers on their own merits. He’s also one of the better blocking wide receivers in the NFL.

Manning’s arrival obviously helped, but it’s very possible that he’s just a supremely talented wide receiver who finally adjusted to the NFL in the middle of the 2011 season, once he had some time in the league and put his injuries behind him (11 games missed in 2010-2011). With Manning throwing to him, he’s even more dangerous and Manning has a 124.4 QB rating when throwing to him over the past 2 seasons. Argue how good he’d be without Manning all you want, but there’s no denying he’s one of 10 or 15 true #1 receivers in the NFL at the very least. Going into only his age 26 season and a contract year, there’s no reason to believe he’ll stop producing.

Julius Thomas’ production might be more the product of Peyton Manning. Thomas is a widely athletic former college basketball player who was drafted in the 4th round in 2011 and had caught 1 pass on 50 snaps in the 2 seasons prior to last year. Last season, he caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s a solid pass catcher, but he’s a one year wonder and he benefits a lot from having Peyton Manning under center. He’s also an awful blocker, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked tight end in run blocking grade.

Wes Welker is also still around. He “only” played 503 pass snaps last season in 13 games (38.7 pass snaps per game) as opposed to 697 pass snaps for Thomas in 16 games (43.6 pass snaps per game) and 675 pass snaps for Decker in 16 games (42.2 pass snaps per game). He’ll play a bigger role with Decker gone, as he’ll become the #2 wide receiver. However, he’s an aging player going into his age 33 season. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Welker is “only” 47th in all-time receiving yards.

He definitely showed some of this deterioration last season, missing 3 games with injury and averaging 1.64 yards per route run, pretty middle of the pack, especially considering he had the best quarterback in the NFL throwing passes to him. For comparison, he averaged 2.19 yards per route run in 2012 with the Patriots. Meanwhile, his replacement in New England, Julian Edelman, averaged 1.78 yards per route run despite having an inferior quarterback throwing passes to him.

Edelman did get more targets as he was a bigger part of New England’s offense, but he also caught a significantly higher percentage of his targets (71.9% to 67.0%) even though he commanded more of the defense’s attention. As a result, Edelman was Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked wide receiver in pass catching grade, while Welker came in at 37th. The Patriots offense wasn’t as good last season without Welker, but that was largely a result of the absence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They shouldn’t have paid Danny Amendola all that money, but they made the right decision letting Welker go. He’ll be a contributor this year in Denver, but he’s on the decline.

Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, and Andre Caldwell will try to fill Decker’s void as the #3 wide receiver and #2 outside receiver (with Welker moving to the #2 wide receiver role). Sanders is the heavy favorite for that role, by virtue of the 3-year, 15 million dollar deal he signed this off-season. He’s caught 111 passes for 1366 yards and 7 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons as a significant contributor in Pittsburgh, including a starting role in 2013. Sanders graded out very middle of the pack on Pro Football Focus, grading out 57th and 60th respectively in 2012 and 2013 among wide receivers, while averaging 1.48 and 1.34 yards per route run. He should be more productive in Denver with Manning, but he’s pretty much “just a guy” at wide receiver.

Cody Latimer, 2nd round pick rookie, could push him later in the season. Caldwell will probably just provide depth, as he has for the duration of his career. He caught 16 passes for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns on 143 pass snaps last season. Lastly, Virgil Green is their primary blocking tight end. He played 323 snaps, including 258 blocking snaps (209 run blocking, 49 pass blocking). He’s decent at what he does. Overall, it’s an inferior receiving corps compared to last year, with Decker gone and Welker aging, but there’s a lot of talent here still obviously.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

The Broncos lost 3 starters on offense this off-season. I already mentioned Zane Beadles and Eric Decker, but they also lost starting running back Knowshon Moreno. This loss won’t be as big of a loss as Eric Decker. Like Beadles, it should be a pretty irrelevant loss. Knowshon Moreno had over 1500 yards from scrimmage last season (1038 rushing and 548 receiving), but as much production as Moreno had last year, much of it was the product of Peyton Manning.

Moreno rarely faced stacked boxes and, much more often than not, was running against boxes of 6 or fewer defenders. In spite of that, he actually just rushed for 4.31 yards per carry, which isn’t a spectacular average. He was just Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked running back in terms of running grade. He’s a talented pass catcher and pass protector, but he’s an average runner at best. He’s also a one year wonder essentially, missing 20 games from 2010-2012 and had just 426 touches over those 3 seasons.

Montee Ball should be able to replace him pretty easily. The 2013 2nd round pick rushed for 559 yards and 4 touchdowns on 120 carries and caught 20 passes for 145 yards. He’s probably a more talented runner than Moreno, but the one thing that could derail him is fumbles. He fumbled three times last season on those 140 touches. If he needs to be benched for fumble problems, they don’t have many other options. Ronnie Hillman is one option, an undersized 2012 3rd round pick with 162 career touches. CJ Anderson is the other option. He has more size at 5-8 223 and can carry more of a load, but he has just 7 touches and was undrafted in 2013. The organization is high on him though.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

While the Broncos’ offense should be inferior in 2014 as compared to 2013, their defense should be improved, which is what they’ll need if they’re going to get their 3rd straight #1 seed in the AFC. They had a solid pass rush last season, with 41 sacks (13th in the NFL) and ranking 13th in the NFL in team pass rush grade on Pro Football Focus. However, they should be even better this season in that aspect.

One reason for that is the addition of DeMarcus Ware, who they signed to a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal this off-season. That deal was an overpay, especially since the first two seasons are completely guaranteed, as he’s a declining player going into his age 32 season. However, he should still be an upgrade over Shaun Phillips, who wasn’t as good as his 11 sacks would have suggested last season (just 4 hits and 32 hurries on 478 pass rush snaps).

While Ware is declining, that’s only because he was a top-4 3-4 outside linebacker on Pro Football Focus in every season from 2008-2011. He “only” graded out 8th among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2012 and 8th among 4-3 defensive ends in 2013. Those days of being an elite player are probably gone, as he goes into his age 32 season and after missing the first 3 games of his career last year, but he should still be a well above average starter and an asset for this team, especially on passing downs. He had 6 sacks, 8 hits, and 34 hurries on 372 pass rush snaps (a 12.9% pass rush rate). He’ll probably play primarily on passing downs because of how much depth the Broncos have (more on that later), though they’re paying Ware way too much for him to primarily be a nickel rusher.

The other reason the Broncos’ pass rush should be better this season is the return of Von Miller from injury. Miller tore his ACL week 16 last season so there’s no guarantee he’ll be healthy for the start of the season or that he’ll be 100% all year. Remember, his suffered his injury even later than Rob Gronkowski did last season and everyone is worried about his availability for the start of the season. However, he doesn’t have the injury history Gronk does and there’s a very good chance the Broncos get Miller for more games than they did last year (9 games, including 0 playoff games). Miller missed the first 6 games of last season with suspension.

Plus, even if Miller isn’t at 100%, he’ll still be a huge asset for this team. At his best, Miller is one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL. The 2nd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Miller won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 4-3 outside linebacker by a wide margin. That margin was even wider in 2012, when he was Pro Football Focus’ #3 ranked defensive player regardless of any position and got a Defensive Player of the Year vote (the only other player to get a vote besides JJ Watt).

He only played 9 games and 552 snaps in 2013, but he was still Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 4-3 outside linebacker by a wide margin and their #4 ranked defensive player regardless of position. He had 6 sacks, 8 hits, and 27 hurries on 256 pass rush snaps (16.0% rate) and also excelled as a run defender and held up in coverage on the 75 snaps when he was asked to drop. He plays strong side outside linebacker in base packages and moves down to the defensive line and rushes the passer in sub packages. He might not be 100% until 2015 and he needs to stay out of off-the-field trouble, but he should still be a big time asset for them this season. At the very least, having him around for the playoffs when they didn’t last season is going to be valuable for them.

I mentioned the Broncos’ defensive line depth earlier. Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson are base defensive ends who can move inside to defensive tackle on passing downs. Jackson is the better of the two. The 2012 5th round pick had a breakout year in 2013, after 120 nondescript snaps as a rookie. He played 601 snaps and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 4-3 defensive tackle in 2013.

He’s still a one year wonder, but he’s an obvious asset with the versatility to rush the passer from the inside on passing downs and also provide enough depth at defensive end that Ware can keep his snap count down somewhat and focus more on being a sub rusher. Jackson played a fair amount of defensive end in college. The reason he’ll need to play more defensive end than last season is that the Broncos lost Robert Ayers to the Giants. Ayers was solid on 516 snaps last season and his immediate replacement is Quanterus Smith, a 2013 5th round pick coming off of a torn ACL.

While Jackson is the better player, Derek Wolfe will be the other starter opposite Ware, allowing Jackson to focus primarily on defensive tackle. Wolfe graded out poorly on Pro Football Focus last season, grading out as their 46th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 52 eligible. However, he was a fairly productive pass rusher with 4 sacks, 6 hits, and 28 hurries on 370 pass rush snaps (11.4%), lining up both inside and outside. The 2012 2nd round pick was Pro Football Focus’ 54th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 62 eligible in 2012. Unfortunately, he missed from week 12 in 2013 on with seizure-like symptoms, but he’s supposed to be ready to go for training camp.

Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams will be the starters at defensive tackle, but they have so much depth on the defensive line that both with rotate heavily. Knighton will probably play more snaps than Williams because he’s the better player, but even he only played 604 snaps last season. Knighton broke out in his first year in Denver, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked defensive tackle. He was one of 5 defensive tackles (Ndamukong Suh, Randy Starks, Marcell Dareus, Brandon Mebane) to grade out top-15 in pass rushing and run stuffing among defensive tackles.

A 6-3 320 pounder with rare movement skills for his size, Knighton followed up his dominant regular season with an even stronger post-season, including a dominant, disruptive performance in the AFC Championship game against New England. He’s still a one year wonder, as he was pretty much just an average starter in the first 4 years of his career in Jacksonville, but he’s still relatively young (going into his age 28 season) so the notion that last year’s breakout season could become the new normal for him is hardly farfetched. He’s an excellent scheme fit in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s system. Del Rio was the head coach who drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL Draft with Jacksonville.

Meanwhile, Sylvester Williams was a 2013 1st round pick who played 300 nondescript snaps as a rookie. He’ll have a bigger role this season and could easily be very ready for it. I mentioned that Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson will rotate inside on passing downs. They also have more depth inside in the form of veterans Mitch Unrein and Kevin Vickerson. Unrein played 357 snaps in 16 games last season and provided decent depth. He should consider himself lucky if he plays the same role this season, barring injuries. Vickerson, meanwhile, played 402 snaps in 11 games last season before going down with an injury. Going into his age 31 season with an unspectacular history and talent ahead of him on the depth chart, he should have a smaller role this season, again, barring injury.

Grade: A-


I mentioned that Miller plays strong side outside linebacker in base packages. That’s obviously the less important part of his role, but it’s one he excels in anyway. He’s been Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in run stopping grade by a wide margin in each of the last 3 seasons, doing so last year despite missing roughly half the season. If he misses games this season, the Broncos have a number of guys who can fill in. Obviously none of them will be nearly as good in that role as Miller, but it’s not a particularly important role, the two-down linebacker role, so it’s not a huge issue.

Middle linebacker is the bigger issue. They lost Wesley Woodyard to free agency, but, after some solid years earlier in his career, he struggled in his contract year, even losing snaps down the stretch to the archaic Paris Lenon. Lenon is still a free agent, but he’s going into his age 37 season and hasn’t been good for close to 5 years so he’s not an option at the position. Jamar Chaney is currently penciled in as the starter at the position. The former Eagle has struggled mightily whenever he’s been counted on his career, including a starting job in 2011 when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked middle linebacker out of 51 eligible. He’s a special teamer at best and wasn’t in the league at all last season.

Nate Irving is another option, but the 2011 3rd round pick has never developed into the starter he was supposed to be and is now already going into his 4th year in the league. He’s played 322 nondescript snaps in 3 seasons, 280 of which came last season as a two-down base linebacker when Miller was hurt. He’s alright in run support, but unproven and possibly incapable in coverage. He’s also unproven at middle linebacker and it’s very telling that when Woodyard struggled down the stretch last season, they turned to Lenon instead of Irving.

5th round rookie Lamin Barrow is another option, but if they have to count on him for big snaps as a rookie, they’re in trouble. Whoever doesn’t start at middle linebacker will probably play early season snaps in the two-down outside role if needed. They could also rotate snaps at middle linebacker if none of these options prove anything, which could be very likely. I don’t know why they didn’t address this position in the draft until the 5th round when it was their one hole in the starting lineup.

With Miller’s injury and their incompetence at middle linebacker, the only spot in the linebacking corps that isn’t in doubt is the weakside spot, where Danny Trevathan is the starter. The 2012 6th round pick played 243 nondescript snaps as a rookie, but moved into an every down role in 2013, playing 962 snaps and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker. He’s still just a one year wonder, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if he had another strong season on the outside as he goes into only his age 24 season. The 6-0 237 pounder is best in coverage, but has developed into a pretty solid player against the run as well.

Grade: B-


The Broncos’ big off-season acquisition in the secondary was Aqib Talib, who they gave a 6-year, 57 million dollar contract. However, they lost Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had a fantastic season last season. There’s obvious debate about DRC’s consistency and whether or not he would have been as good as that again this season, but it’s unlikely that Talib will be as good as DRC was last season. Last season, DRC was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked cornerback, 4th in pure coverage grade, and his 44.1% completion percentage allowed was 2nd best at his position.

I don’t get the appeal of giving Talib that kind of money. He’s never made it through a full 16 game season, missing 23 games in 6 seasons since being drafted in the 1st round in 2008. He also has a variety of off-the-field problems in his past. He’s definitely flashed from time-to-time, for instance when he allowed 13 of 33 completion through 6 games last year with the Patriots, picking off 4 passes in the process, but then he suffered another injury, missed 3 games, and wasn’t the same upon return, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 58th ranked cornerback by regular season’s end. And then, he got hurt in the AFC Championship game again, the 2nd time he had done that in as many years.

He’s never graded out higher than 16th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus and, after a rough contract year in 2012, in which he missed 6 games with injury and suspension and got traded for a mid-round pick to New England, he was forced to settle for a one-year, 5 million dollar deal in free agency. He was Pro Football Focus’ 69th ranked cornerback in 2012 in composite grade (combining his grades in New England and Tampa Bay). He was better in 2013, but why is he suddenly worth 57 million over 6 years? Who is to say he doesn’t just coast and/or get in trouble again?

Opposite Talib, the Broncos are hoping to be able to play Chris Harris. However, Harris tore his ACL back in January, which is going to make it tough for him to return for the start of the season. Even when he returns, he might not be 100% all season. At his best, he’s a great cornerback though. As a pure slot cornerback in part-time work as an undrafted rookie in 2011, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked cornerback on just 465 snaps. Over the past two seasons as a full-time starter, he’s graded out 5th and 11th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. Only Jason McCourty and Richard Sherman also graded out top-11 among cornerbacks in each of the last 2 seasons. His specialty is the slot as he’s ranked 2nd and 5th in 2012 and 2013 respectively in QB rating allowed on the slot. That’s where he’ll be missed the most, but he’s also an outside cornerback in base packages.

When Harris is healthy, either Bradley Roby, Tony Carter, or Kayvon Webster will be the #3 cornerback and play outside in sub packages, with Harris moving inside. Roby is the heavy favorite for that role, even though cornerbacks tend to take a year to get adjusted to the NFL, because of his status as a 1st round pick (31st overall). Carter and Webster will provide competition though. Carter randomly had a strong 2012 season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked cornerback on just 511 snaps and allowing 49.2% completion. However, he struggled mightily on just 270 snaps in 2013. That’s probably more representative of the type of player he is. The 2009 undrafted free agent played a combined 68 snaps from 2009-2011. Webster, meanwhile, was a 3rd round pick in 2013 and struggled some on 489 snaps as a rookie. He could be better in 2014, but there’s no guarantee. If Harris misses time at the start of the season, either Webster or Carter will play a bigger role.

At safety, the Broncos will be getting Rahim Moore back from injury. Moore suffered a rare, non-contact leg injury week 12 last season and missed the remainder of the year. It recently came out that Moore could have lost his leg or even died had he waited 12-24 extra hours to consult a doctor and go in for surgery. However, he’s reportedly as strong as ever now and ready for training camp and week 1. His re-addition at full strength will be a welcome one. While he’s best known for screwing up royally on the Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones Hail Mary in the Broncos’ eventual playoff loss to the Ravens in 2012, Moore is a solid player. You can’t judge him based solely on that one snap. He was Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked safety in 2012 and he graded out about average in 2013 before the injury.

Opposite him, the Broncos will start free agent addition TJ Ward. Ward is one of the best safeties in the NFL. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd and 6th ranked safety in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the only safety in the NFL to finish top-6 both seasons. He was also 13th in 2011, despite missing 8 games with injury. That was really his only injury plagued season as he missed 2 games in his other 3 seasons combined, playing 54 games in 4 seasons, starting each of them and grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in all 4 seasons since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010. Kam Chancellor and Eric Berry give him some competition for the title, but, in my opinion, Ward is the best strong safety in the NFL. His strength is obviously the run, but he holds up in coverage as well.

The Broncos got a steal by signing him to a 4-year, 23 million dollar deal this off-season. He undoubtedly gave them a discount because they were a contender, after he spent the first 4 years of his career on a losing team in Cleveland. He’ll be a significant upgrade over Duke Ihenacho, who was the starter last season. Ihenacho, a 2012 undrafted free agent, struggled in his first year as a starter, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked safety out of 86 eligible, after not playing a single snap as a rookie. Ihenacho will now slot in as the 3rd safety in a pure depth role, which suits his skill set better.

Grade: B+


As I mentioned already, I expect the Broncos’ offense to be inferior to last year’s version. Manning is aging. Eric Decker is gone. Most importantly, they’re going to fall back down to earth just by the law of averages. They’ll still be one of the top offenses in the NFL, if not the top, but they’ll be noticeably worse and need to play better defensively. I think they will. The loss of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hurts, but they add TJ Ward and DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib can be at least a solid replacement. They should also have Von Miller around for longer this season.

The Broncos have won 13 games in each of the last 2 seasons and gotten a first round bye. I think they certainly have the talent to do that again. They didn’t have an unsustainably good turnover margin last season and they didn’t have unsustainably good injury luck. In fact, they ranked 24th in adjusted games lost and actually had a fumble recovery rate of 37.74%, which was 2nd worst in the NFL. Given how good of a quarterback they have, it’s surprising they didn’t have at least a solid turnover margin last season, even as unpredictable as turnovers are.

If they have average injury luck, a solid turnover margin, and their defense performs as well as they can, they could be an even better team than they were last season, even if their offense declines noticeably. Remember, this team ranked 1st in rate of moving the chains differential last season by a whole percent over the 2nd place team (9.23% to New Orleans’ 8.13%). I’m going to do an official wins prediction at the end of all my team previews, but I expect them to finish with a large amount of wins. One thing that could derail their bid for a 3rd straight #1 seed in the AFC is a tougher schedule.

Season Prediction: 12-4 1st in AFC West




18 Remaining NFL Free Agents Who Could Have An Impact

The draft is over, but teams with needs still have hope. The end of the draft usually kicks off a 2nd wave of free agency featuring players that teams were waiting until after the draft to sign. I did a list like this last year and it included some players that went on to have big impacts in the 2013 season. That list included John Abraham, who signed in July and had 12 sacks for a 10-win Arizona team, Quentin Mikell, who signed in September and started 13 games for a Carolina defense that was one of the best in the NFL, Karlos Dansby, who rehabbed his value in one year in Arizona and signed with the Browns on a 4-year, 22 million dollar deal this off-season, and Daryl Smith, who rehabbed his value on a one year deal in Baltimore and re-signed with the Ravens on a 4-year, 16.1 million dollar deal this off-season. In addition, from that list of 18 players, 8 were starters in 2013. This year’s list isn’t as good, partially because last year’s was so good, partially because the draft was 2 weeks later this year (Anthony Spencer would have definitely made the list, but he signed a week before the draft. Miles Austin also already signed), but there are still a number of guys available who could end up being starters this season.

G Travelle Wharton

Why he’s still available: Wharton is heading into his age 33 season and is considering retirement. More likely, teams just aren’t meeting his asking price as he’s likely asking for a multi-year deal, which could be tough for him to get, even after a strong 2013 season, because of his age and injury history. He missed the entire 2012 season with injury.

What he can still bring to a team: Wharton only started 12 games last season and only played 851 snaps, but after signing on a cheap one-year deal, Wharton proved to be a savior on the offensive line for the Panthers, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked guard.

Who could be interested: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina

DT Kevin Williams

Why he’s still available: This is another combination of age and asking price. Williams is going into his age 34 season and, after 11 seasons in the NFL as one of the league’s premier defensive tackles, he doesn’t seem willing to play for anything less than his asking price and is willing to retire.

What he can still bring to a team: As I mentioned, Williams has been one of the league’s premier defensive tackles for a long time. He’s graded out above average on Pro Football Focus every season since their origin in 2008. The future Hall-of-Famer was a top-3 defensive tackle in 2008-2010 and didn’t finish below 9th until last year. Even last year, he was 27th. He presumably still has another year or two left in the tank, but the price will have to be right.

Who could be interested: Dallas, Seattle

OT David Stewart

Why he’s still available: Stewart is going into his age 32 season and has shown decline on the field over the past 2 seasons. He’s also missed 8 games over the past 2 seasons. Finally, he’s a pure right tackle, which is a devalued position in the NFL when compared to the left tackle position.

What he can still bring to a team: Even though he’s on the decline, he’s still graded out above average on Pro Football Focus since its origin in 2008. He’s not the 3rd ranked offensive tackle he was in 2008 and 2011, or the 6th ranked offensive tackle he was in 2009, but he can still play. 32 years old isn’t completely over the hill, so, if healthy, he should still have something left in the tank. I think he’s still a starter on the right side somewhere.

Who could be interested: Houston, Baltimore, Arizona, Carolina

S Quintin Mikell

Why he’s still available: Mikell makes this list for the 2nd straight off-season. He was forced to settle for a one-year deal with the Panthers right before last season started and now he’s going into his age 34 season. He could have to settle for a similar deal near or at the veteran’s minimum this off-season.

What he can still bring to a team: Mikell only signed so late last off-season because he had a higher asking price earlier in the off-season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked safety in 2012, excelling against the run and as a blitzer, though struggling in coverage. Upon joining the Panthers, he had a positive impact, grading out above average on 688 snaps for one of the NFL’s best defenses. He should be able to have a similar impact for a team on a deal near the minimum.

Who could be interested: Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Carolina

G Harvey Dahl

Why he’s still available: Dahl is going into his age 33 season and graded out below average on Pro Football Focus for the first time in their history last season. He’s also missed 9 games with injuries over the past 2 seasons, including 7 last season.

What he can still bring to a team: He may have graded out below average last season, but only barely and he’s been a great player in the past. He’s graded out above average every season since 2008, maxing out at 5th in 2010. He’s old, but not quite so old that it would be improbable that he has another season as an average starter left in the tank if he can stay healthy.

Who could be interested: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina, Seattle

CB Drayton Florence

Why he’s still available: Drayton Florence’s career seemed over when he was part of the Panthers’ final cuts last off-season, after bouncing around from Buffalo to Denver to Detroit during the 2012 season and struggling mightily in 2011 with the Bills. The Panthers re-signed him mid-season in September, but now he’s going into his age 34 season.

What he can still bring to a team: Florence might not have been on a team until September last season, but he randomly had a great season once he was on the field for the Panthers, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked cornerback on 600 snaps, allowing 54.4% completion into his coverage. There’s no guarantee he can repeat that season, after struggling mightily the previous two seasons and going into his age 34 season, especially if he’s without Carolina’ dominant front 7 in front of him, but he could still be a solid addition.

Who could be interested: Washington, Minnesota, Tennessee, Baltimore, San Diego, Carolina, San Francisco

G Brian Waters

Why he’s still available: On a list of old players, Waters is the oldest, going into his age 37 season. He’s played just 7 games and 344 snaps over the past 2 seasons, retiring briefly for the 2012 season and then suffering a season ending injury mid-season in 2013.

What he can still bring to a team: While he’s old, he’s also a potential future Hall-of-Famer and he showed he had something still left in the tank last season, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus. In his last full season in 2011, Waters graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked guard with the Patriots, making the Pro-Bowl, his 8th career Pro-Bowl appearance.

Who could be interested: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina, Seattle

OT Tyson Clabo

Why he’s still available: Clabo was also on this list last off-season. He signed with the Dolphins towards the end of the off-season and started 15 games for them at right tackle, but he showed noticeable decline. Now going into his age 33 season, he should have a harder time finding work than he did last off-season, when he signed a 1-year, 3 million dollar deal.

What he can still bring to a team: While Clabo did show decline last off-season, he still graded out about average on Pro Football Focus. Before last year, he had graded out well above average on Pro Football Focus since 2008 and he’s been incredibly durable. He’s not over the hill year in football years and he could conceivably have at least a year left in him as an average starter. He struggled mightily early in the season, but turned it on down the stretch, even though he was miscast in a zone blocking scheme in Miami. I think he can still be a starter in a power blocking scheme.

Who could be interested: Houston, Baltimore, Arizona, Carolina

G Uche Nwaneri

Why he’s still available: Nwaneri was cut by the Jaguars earlier this off-season because they didn’t think he was worth his salary, going into his age 30 season. He hasn’t had a shortage of visits since he’s been released, visiting with the Titans and Bengals and drawing interest from a few other teams reportedly, so it’s possible his asking price is too high after being scheduled to make about 5 million dollars in 2014 originally.

What he can still bring to a team: Nwaneri is actually one of the younger players on this list and graded out about average on Pro Football Focus last season, as he does in most seasons. He’s also missed just 1 game in the last 4 seasons. Unless he has a steep drop off in level of play at age 30, Nwaneri should still be a solid starting guard somewhere in the NFL, at the right price of course.

Who could be interested: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina, Seattle

MLB Erin Henderson

Why he’s still available: Henderson was cut by the Vikings and has since found a cold market after being arrested for DUI twice in a three month span towards the end of last season. He was benched for the first one and released for the second one. There’s a chance any team that signs him will be without his services for the first few games of the season as he could be facing suspension.

What he can still bring to a team: Off-the-field aside, Henderson is only going into his age 28 season and he graded out about average on 868 snaps last season. Henderson’s best season as a pro was in 2011, when he dominated as a two-down outside linebacker, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked 4-3 outside linebacker against the run, but he struggled when moved to three down work in the middle in 2012, eventually getting benched and moved back to two-down work, where he wasn’t the same. He was given another shot as an every down middle linebacker in 2013 though and seemed to be a much more complete player, though still not as dominant as he was against the run in 2011. That was before the off-the-field problems. If he can keep his head right, he could be a solid starter at middle linebacker.

Who could be interested: Houston, Miami, Kansas City, Denver

S Mike Adams

Why he’s still available: Adams is going into his age 33 season and was benched for unproven former undrafted free agent Duke Ihenacho before the start of last season.

What he can still bring to a team: While he was benched to start the season, he eventually became a starter again when injuries struck in the Broncos’ secondary. He graded out above average on Pro Football Focus, something he had done in 2011 and 2012 as well, with the Browns and Broncos respectively. He has versatility to play both safety and slot cornerback. His age is an issue, but he deserves to be on a team competing for a role in the secondary somewhere.

Who could be interested: Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Carolina

TE Dustin Keller

Why he’s still available: Keller has caught just 28 passes in 8 games over the last 2 seasons combined, missing 24 with a variety of injuries, including all 16 games last season with a devastating knee injury suffered in the pre-season. He tore 3 ligaments and dislocated the kneecap, causing some nerve damage that made many wonder if he’d ever play again. A once promising once tight end now goes into his age 30 season with major injury questions.

What he can still bring to a team: That being said, Keller is still relatively young by this list’s standards and the former first round pick of the Jets is just 2 seasons removed from catching 65 passes for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns despite having Mark Sanchez under center. He’s a great natural passing catching tight end and, if relatively healthy, could be a solid addition to a team as a #2 move tight end.

Who could be interested: Oakland, Buffalo, NY Giants, Green Bay, New England

TE Jermichael Finley

Why he’s still available: Like Dustin Keller, Finley is coming back from a serious injury, suffering a neck injury last season and undergoing spinal fusion surgery that made many wonder if he’d ever play again. Finley has missed a combined 26 games in his 6 year NFL career and has never surpassed 55 catches for 767 yards and 8 touchdowns despite playing with Aaron Rodgers throughout his career, struggling with drops primarily.

What he can still bring to a team: Finley is only going into his age 27 season, making him the youngest player on this list, and he’s still a starting caliber type end when healthy. Like Keller, he could be a solid addition to a team as a #2 move tight end and I could definitely see Green Bay bringing him back in some form on a cheap one year deal.

Who could be interested: Oakland, Buffalo, NY Giants, Green Bay, New England

C Jonathan Goodwin

Why he’s still available: Goodwin is one of the oldest players on this list, going into his age 36 season and he’s shown noticeable decline on the field over the past few seasons. The 49ers replaced him with Mike Martin in the 3rd round of the draft and there aren’t a lot of teams with open spots in the starting lineup at center. Goodwin may not be willing to be a backup or to play for less than a certain amount of money. He’s reportedly considering retirement.

What he can still bring to a team: While he’s shown decline, he still graded out above average as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked center last season, struggling some in pass protection, but continuing to excel as a run blocker. On run blocking alone, he was 7th at his position. Centers tend to have among the longest careers in the NFL and the 6-3 318 pounder would be a great fit for a run heavy, power blocking team, at the right price of course.

Who could be interested: Jacksonville, Green Bay, Cincinnati, New Orleans

TE Fred Davis

Why he’s still available: Like Keller and Finley, Davis is a young, talented tight end with issues, but the difference is his issues go deeper than injuries. Yes, Davis did 9 games with a torn Achilles in 2012 and struggle upon his return in 2013, catching just 7 passes in 10 games, but he’s also a failed drug test away from a season long suspension and he had issues with his coaches after he was benched for rookie Jordan Reed last season. He’s also a below average and, at times, unwilling blocker in the run game.

What he can still bring to a team: Davis is only going into his age 28 season and caught 83 passes for 1121 yards and 3 touchdowns over a 19 game stretch from 2011-2012, which is 70 catches for 944 yards and 3 touchdowns over 16 games. He’s another year removed from that injury now and a change of scenery might do him some good. He’d be a good fit somewhere as a move tight end in a strong organization that could handle him.

Who could be interested: Oakland, Buffalo, NY Giants, Green Bay, New England

TE Ben Hartsock

Why he’s still available: Hartsock is going into his age 34 season and has a combined 4 catches since 2009.

What he can still bring to a team: Hartsock is listed at 6-4 265, but might be even bigger. He doesn’t offer anything in the passing game, but he acts as a 6th offensive lineman, holding up in pass protection and excelling as a run blocker. He was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked tight end last season in terms of run blocking and he would have ranked 8th in 2012 had he played enough snaps to qualify.

Who could be interested: Carolina, New England

OLB James Harrison

Why he’s still available: Harrison is a former Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and could be a Hall-of-Famer after he retires, but he’s going into his age 36 season. He missed 8 games from 2011-2012, leading to his release from the Steelers, and last season ended up in Cincinnati as a two-down run stopping outside linebacker in a 2013, playing just 383 snaps, including just 143 pass rush snaps. His pass rush skills have mostly eroded.

What he can still bring to a team: Harrison may be old, but he showed enough last season as a run stuffer to suggest he could still play a two-down run stuffing role somewhere. He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker against the run last season, despite his limited snaps and he was a top-3 run stopping 3-4 outside linebacker from 2010-2012 with Pittsburgh. It would have to be at the veteran’s minimum, but I could see either of his former teams, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, signing him for a situational role.

Who could be interested: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

S Kerry Rhodes

Why he’s still available: Rhodes wasn’t in the NFL at all last season. There were some rumors that it was because of the rumors that he was gay, but more likely it had to do with his history of issues with coaches, the bizarre homophobic way he reacted to his the rumors that he was homosexual (which including claiming that he might be the father of ### #######’s baby), and his high asking price. He reportedly turned down a 3 million dollar offer.

What he can still bring to a team: Maybe a year out of the league has lowered his asking price. It’s always risky signing someone who has been out of the league for a year, especially a mercurial player like Rhodes, but he’s only going into his age 32 season and he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked safety in 2012. I could see a safety needy team bringing him in for a workout and offering him to a minimum deal. It would then be up to him to accept.

Who could be interested: Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Carolina




Chicago Bears re-sign WR Brandon Marshall

This extension will give Marshall 30 million in new money over 3 years, in addition to the 9.3 million he’s owed this season. A total of 23 million is guaranteed, including this year’s salary, which was already essentially guaranteed because the Bears weren’t going to cut him. This deal essentially adds 13.7 million in new guaranteed money, including a signing bonus and Marshall’s 2015 salary. It’s basically a 2-year, 23 million dollar deal fully guaranteed with options for 2016 and 2017 at a combined salary of 17 million.

Marshall has had some issues with teammates and off-the-field, but on the field, he’s been as steady as they come, with 7 straight 1000 yard seasons in which he’s missed a combined 4 games. As a result, he’s already 55th all-time in receiving yards with 9050. Among active receivers 30 or younger, only Calvin Johnson has more and if he keeps this up, he has an outside shot at the Hall of Fame.

Last season, he was actually Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver by a large margin. That was mostly because of his absurd run blocking grade and that’s obviously not his primary job, but he was still Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked pass catching receiver and the fact that he can dominant on the outside on running downs is a nice added bonus. A 10 million dollar average salary would put him 7th among NFL wide receiver in average salary and he’s probably a top-5 wide receiver so the money, while it’s a lot, is about right for him.

One issue is his age, as he goes into his age 30 season, but this contract only takes him through his age 33 season. He should be on the decline by that point, but the steep decline for wide receivers doesn’t really come until age 34-35 and, given his talent and how few problems he’s had with injuries in his career, it would shock me at all if Marshall is still playing well come his age 32 or age 33 season. Even if he isn’t, the guaranteed money only goes through his age 31 season and he should have at least 2 more seasons at near his peak production left in him. This deal isn’t a tremendous value, but it’s an appropriate value for a team whose strength has quickly become their passing game.

Grade: A-




Cleveland Browns re-sign CB Joe Haden

When Richard Sherman got a 4-year, 56 million dollar extension last week, I didn’t love it because it was a ton of money for a cornerback, but I understood why he deserved that and why they had to make the move. Joe Haden’s extension this week is actually longer and worth more in maximum money, full guaranteed money, and guaranteed for injury money than Richard Sherman’s. Sherman’s 4-year, 56 million dollar deal has 40 million guaranteed, with about 12 million fully guaranteed, while Joe Haden’s deal is worth 68 million over 5 years with 45 million guaranteed, 22 million of which is fully guaranteed. Sherman’s deal is worth more in annually value, but Haden is still getting a massive deal.

Joe Haden is a terrific cornerback, but I don’t think he’s quite at the level of deserving what Sherman got so I don’t understand this deal quite as much. I think Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis are the top cornerbacks in the NFL and there’s a big gap between them and the rest of the league. In 3 years in the NFL, Richard Sherman has allowed 115 of 248 (46.4%) for 1621 yards (6.54 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, while deflecting 34 passes and committing 26 penalties. Meanwhile, Darrelle Revis has allowed 43.1% completion, 5.41 YPA, and 12 touchdowns, while picking off 20 passes, since 2008.

In 4 years in the league, Joe Haden has allowed 179 of 331 (54.1%) for 2250 yards (6.80 YPA), 17 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, while deflecting 50 passes and committing 21 penalties. That’s very impressive, but it’s not at the same level as Sherman or Revis. Revis has graded out among Pro Football Focus’ top-3 cornerbacks in 4 of his last 5 healthy seasons. Meanwhile, Richard Sherman has graded out 2nd and 6th in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Joe Haden has never graded out higher than 6th in 4 seasons, doing so in his rookie year in 2010, and he came in 13th, 20th, and 18th in the last 3 seasons respectively. That’s still very impressive, especially considering the volatility of the cornerback position. He’s been one of Pro Football Focus’ top-20 cornerbacks in each of the last 4 seasons, something only the supremely underrated Jason McCourty can also say (Revis missed 2012 with injury and Sherman was still in college in 2010). Haden might be the #3 cornerback in the NFL and he’s definitely top-5, but he’s not at the same level as Sherman and Revis so this deal is a bit of an overpay.

I understand the Browns have a lot of cap space to play with and need to pay players a premium to pay for them or continue playing for them. However, the Browns obviously have designs of getting out of the cellar and building a team that will be competitive yearly in the NFL over the next few seasons. That’s going to eventually get expensive and it’s going to be harder to do that when Joe Haden’s cap number if 14.5 million in 2017. I’m not saying re-signing him was a mistake, but I think they overpaid a little. I like Sherman’s deal better than this one.

Grade: B




Seattle Seahawks re-sign CB Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman’s extension will make him easily the highest paid cornerback in terms of average salary at 14 million dollars yearly (4 years, 56 million added on to the one year remaining on his current contract). It’s a lot of money, especially when you include that 40 million of it is guaranteed, though the Seahawks will have options to get out of his 2015 and 2016 salaries within 5 days of the Super Bowl. However, Sherman deserves to be the highest paid cornerback in the NFL.

In 3 years in the NFL, Richard Sherman has allowed 115 of 248 (46.4%) for 1621 yards (6.54 YPA), 8 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, while deflecting 34 passes and committing 26 penalties. No other NFL cornerback really comes close to that, with the exception of Darrelle Revis, who has allowed 43.1% completion, 5.41 YPA, and 12 touchdowns, while picking off 20 passes, since 2008. Sherman is essentially Revis with better ball skills, less of an injury history, and 3 years younger, only going into his age 26 season.

He deserved to get more than the 12 million yearly Darrelle Revis got from the Patriots. It’s hard to say that 56 million over 4 years is a great value, but it’s appropriate and the Seahawks really did need to keep him. The guaranteed money seems like a lot, but, again, it’s not all fully guaranteed and this deal only takes Sherman through his age 31 season so it’s unlikely, barring injury, that the Seahawks will see the need to let Sherman go at any point throughout the duration of the guaranteed money.

Grade: B+




Buffalo Bills trade WR Steve Johnson to San Francisco 49ers

Trade for Bills: Steve Johnson was as good as gone after the Bills traded up for Sammy Watkins, after trading for Mike Williams before the draft. The Bills will go into 2014 with Watkins, Robert Woods, and Mike Williams as their top-3 wide receivers and there wasn’t a place for Steve Johnson, who was scheduled to make 3.925 million between now and the end of the season. Given that, credit the Bills for somehow getting a 4th round pick (with the potential to turn into a 3rd round pick) in the 2015 draft. The Bills’ decision to trade two first rounders for Sammy Watkins remains puzzling, but this helps a little bit.

Grade: A

Trade for 49ers: I don’t get this move for the 49ers. They obviously needed wide receiver help, but they needed that wide receiver help way more in the long-term than the short-term. Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are more than serviceable starters, but the long-term issue is that Crabtree is going into his contract year and Boldin is going into his age 34 season. They had an excess of 2014 draft picks and could have spent a couple on young wide receivers.

Instead, they traded a pick in next year’s draft for Steve Johnson, and a fairly high one at that. Johnson is obviously more of a help in the short-term than a rookie would have been, but the 49ers are going to get very expensive over the next two off-seasons so Johnson will have to really impress for the 49ers to pay him his 6.025 million dollar salary for 2015. They’re basically trading a 2015 mid round pick for a year of Steve Johnson at a 3.925 million dollar salary.

That’s way more than a rookie would have cost. That’s probably more than a 2nd round rookie would have cost over 4 years. That’s a big deal for a team as pressed against the cap as the 49ers. They’ll get some cap space freed up on June 1st when Carlos Rogers comes off their books, but they’ll need all of that, and maybe some more, to sign their rookie class and fill out their roster. They may have to restructure some contracts and push money forward to the future, which is a dangerous precedent. I understand the desire to win now, but the 49ers are still a young team that can be very good for the next 5-7 years. They don’t have to sell out for this season. It seems like a misuse of resources for a team that is going to have to properly use them over the next few off-seasons if they’re going to maintain their status as a perennial contender.

The one thing that could make this deal make more sense is if the 49ers do decide to let Frank Gore go. Frank Gore has a 6.45 million dollar cap number and the 49ers can save all of that on the cap if they were to let him go ahead of his age 31 season. Gore was still a productive player last season, but he hit a career low in yards per carry at 4.1 and his 16 catches were his lowest since his rookie year. He’s going into his age 31 season with 2518 career touches and, after drafting Carlos Hyde with a 2nd round pick that they might have originally used on a wide receiver, they may feel comfortable going into 2014 without him. He’s not worth that kind of money anymore, especially for a team this pressed against the cap, and the 49ers can get away with Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter, and Marcus Lattimore as their top-3 running backs going into 2014.

Grade: C




2014 NFL Day 2 Mock Draft

* = Player had private visit with team

33. Houston Texans- DT Louis Nix (Notre Dame)

34. Washington Redskins- OT Morgan Moses* (Virginia)

35. Cleveland Browns- WR Marqise Lee (USC)

36. Oakland Raiders- QB Derek Carr* (Fresno State)

37. Atlanta Falcons- TE Jace Amaro* (Texas Tech)

38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- QB Jimmy Garoppolo* (Eastern Illinois)

39. Jacksonville Jaguars- C Weston Richburg (Colorado State)

40. Seattle Seahawks- DE DeMarcus Lawrence* (Boise State)

41. Buffalo Bills- OT Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama)

42. Tennessee Titans- RB Carlos Hyde* (Ohio State)

43. New York Giants- DT Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota)

44. St. Louis Rams- S Terrence Brooks (Florida State)

45. Detroit Lions- WR Cody Latimer* (Indiana)

46. Pittsburgh Steelers- WR Martavis Bryant* (Clemson)

47. Dallas Cowboys- DE Kony Ealy* (Missouri)

48. Baltimore Ravens- S Keith McGill* (Utah)

49. New York Jets- WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)

50. Miami Dolphins- MLB Chris Borland (Wisconsin)

51. Chicago Bears- DT Timmy Jernigan (Florida State)

52. Arizona Cardinals- OT Joel Bitonio (Nevada)

53. Green Bay Packers- TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington)

54. Philadelphia Eagles- S Ed Reynolds (Stanford)

55. Cincinnati Bengals- DE Scott Crichton (Oregon State)

56. San Francisco 49ers- C Mike Martin (USC)

57. San Diego Chargers- OLB Jeremiah Attachou* (Georgia Tech)

58. New Orleans Saints- CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste* (Nebraska)

59. Indianapolis Colts- DE Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame)

60. Carolina Panthers- G Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA)

61. San Francisco 49ers- OLB Trent Murphy (Stanford)

62. New England Patriots- TE Troy Niklas (Notre Dame)

63. Denver Broncos- OLB Telvin Smith (Florida State)

64. Seattle Seahawks- WR Davante Adams* (Fresno State)

65. Houston Texans- QB Tom Savage* (Pittsburgh)

66. Washington Redskins- CB Phillip Gaines (Rice)

67. Oakland Raiders- G Brandon Thomas* (Clemson)

68. Atlanta Falcons- OLB Kyle Van Noy* (BYU)

69. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- OT Billy Turner* (North Dakota State)

70. Jacksonville Jaguars- WR Allen Robinson (Penn State)

71. Cleveland Browns- OT Zach Mewhort (Ohio State)

72. Minnesota Vikings- G Gabe Jackson (Mississippi)

73. Buffalo Bills- TE CJ Fiedorowicz (Iowa)

74. New York Giants- DE Kareem Martin (North Carolina)

75. St. Louis Rams- QB AJ McCarron* (Alabama)

76. Detroit Lions- S Dexter McDougle* (Maryland)

77. San Francisco 49ers- WR Paul Robinson* (Colorado)

78. Dallas Cowboys- S LaMarcus Joyner* (Florida State)

79. Baltimore Ravens- WR Jarvis Landry (LSU)

80. New York Jets- OLB Carl Bradford (Arizona State)

81. Miami Dolphins- G Trai Turner* (LSU)

82. Chicago Bears- CB Walt Aikens* (Liberty)

83. Philadelphia Eagles- MLB Jordan Tripp* (Montana)

84. Arizona Cardinals- WR Donte Moncrief* (Mississippi)

85. Green Bay Packers- WR Bruce Ellington (South Carolina)

86. Philadelphia Eagles- CB Dontae Johnson* (NC State)

87. Kansas City Chiefs- WR Kevin Norwood (Alabama)

88. Cincinnati Bengals- DE Will Clarke (West Virginia)

89. San Diego Chargers- DT Da’Quan Jones (Penn State)

90. Indianapolis Colts- CB Pierre Desir (Lindenwood)

91. New Orleans Saints- RB Tre Mason (Auburn)

92. Carolina Panthers- OT Antonio Richardson (Tennessee)

93. New England Patriots- C Travis Swanson (Arkansas)

94. San Francisco 49ers- CB Aaron Colvin* (Oklahoma)

95. Denver Broncos- RB Jeremy Hill (LSU)

96. Minnesota Vikings- RB Bishop Sankey (Washington)

97. Pittsburgh Steelers- DE Brent Urban (Virginia)

98. Green Bay Packers- MLB Jordan Zumwalt (UCLA)

99. Baltimore Ravens- OT Cameron Fleming (Stanford)

100. San Francisco 49ers- MLB Christian Kirksey (Iowa)