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D.J. Williams is not a name many have heard of or thought about in a while. Chances are most didn’t pay him much attention even when he was in the NFL.

And that’s a shame.

Superstars are the players who receive the most shine. Part of being a superstar is getting recognition, though. That puts non-skill position players at an inherent disadvantage. Teams and the media always drum up quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends. On the defensive side, they’re more likely to highlight cornerbacks, safeties or defensive ends and linemen who rack up a ton of sacks.

In fact, other than offensive linemen, linebackers might be the NFL’s most underappreciated players in general. They don’t always have the interception, sack and tackle numbers to match other defensive positions, yet they arguably often have the toughest jobs.

Indeed, players in the secondary are tasked with covering lightning-quick receivers. And teams can also fall apart if they don’t have a strong pass rush on the defensive line. But linebackers, in most instances, are the quarterback of the defense. They set the tone by making calls at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, by calling audibles and by filling various responsibilities across the plane. They blitz, stop the run, break up passes and even sometimes venture out into the secondary.

This is not an easy job to master, particularly over a long period of time. But Williams did it well throughout his career, especially during his time with the Denver Broncos.

In his first eight years with the team, he only missed a total of eight games—and those absences came in two separate seasons. He also tallied an absurd 619 tackles, in addition to another 193 assisted tackles.

Denver has always had a reputation as a team that runs out gritty defenses. This held true for most of Williams’ tenure. He was a billboard for good health until he reached his age-30 season, and he vacillated between each of the three linebacker spots.

Despite placing in the top 10 of total tackles twice during his prime, Williams never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. Don’t bother trying to explain that. It is inexplicable—and further illustration of just how underappreciated he was, even at the height of his powers, when he was spearheading a top-shelf defense for what was a semi-consistent playoff team.

June 9th, 2012

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The Las Vegas Raiders have a lot of work to do before next season if they want to make the playoffs for just the second time since 2003. Nothing, though, is more important than figuring out the quarterback position.

It has become clear that Derek Carr will not develop into a superstar prospect. He has been too erratic over the past few years. Injuries could be at fault, but inconsistency at the quarterback is too damning.

All of which has the Raiders looking in another direction—specifically in NFL free agency. They have been linked to veterans Tom Brady and Andy Dalton, and some have even suggested they take a flier on a trade for Jacksonville Jaguars QB Nick Foles.

None of these options are super appealing. Brady is a big name, but he’s very clear on the downside. The same goes for Dalton and Foles. They are recognizable names, but their production no longer matches up with their reputation.

Holding onto Carr will be cheaper. He hasn’t been paid like a star quarterback, a la Jason Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. The Raiders can float him under center without breaking the bank.

Perhaps if there were a stellar QB in his prime on the open market, the team could go in a different direction. Even then, though, adding a big name who produces will be costly. Throwing the bag at someone doesn’t make much sense when the Raiders aren’t sure they have the ancillary pieces on offense to make the most out of whoever is under center for them.

Besides, Carr might be good enough. His arm strength is in question, but he just completed more than 70 percent of his passes while posting an interception rate comfortably below two. If the Raiders can put some more competent wide receivers around him, he’ll have a chance at piloting a league-average offense.

This isn’t to say the Raiders have to view Carr as their future. Again: He hasn’t built up the goodwill on the field to deserving the benefit of the doubt. But rather than spending big money on a free-agent quarterback who doesn’t really shift their outlook, they should be open to taking one in the upcoming NFL draft.

Most of the flashiest prospects will be gone by the time the Raiders get on the clock at No. 12. They also don’t have picks in the second or third round. But they do have two first-rounders. If someone doesn’t tickle their fancy at No. 12, they should be prepared to roll the dice on a QB prospect at No. 19.

June 3rd, 2012

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Running back Darren McFadden turned in a more than admirable NFL career. He played nearly 10 seasons, rushed for over 1,000 yards twice and was, at one time, billed as a future superstar. There is no shame in that resume.

And yet, McFadden once seemed like he’d become so much more.

Rewind it all the way back to the 2010 NFL regular season. The Oakland Raiders weren’t very good; they were more mediocre. That year ended with an 8-8 record. But McFadden developed into a major bright spot, the kind that would shift their fortunes. In just his third season, he carried the ball more than 213 times and racked up 1,1157 rushing yards to go with seven touchdowns. He also added another 500-plus yards and three touchdowns as a pass-catcher.

That type of offensive versatility was more uncommon back in 2010 than it is now. McFadden wasn’t quite an anomaly, but he was pretty damn close. He sported this combination of power and finesse; he was someone the Raiders could run through a brick wall once inside the red zone but also torch defenses when catching passes and juking in space.

Superstardom wasn’t just the hope at this time. It was McFadden’s consensus trajectory. But then the 2011 regular season rolled around, and everything changed.

McFadden suffered a Lisfranc foot injury during the Raiders’ seventh game of the year and missed the rest of the campaign. Though he entered 2012 training camp talking about how he was ready to regain his previous form, he never truly did.

That year, McFadden mustered just 707 yards on 216 attempts. Then, in 2013, he ran for just 379 yards on 114 attempts while appearing in just 10 games. While he played in all 16 games the following season, including 10 as a starter, he was not afforded serious volume. He finished with over 534 yards on a mere 155 rushing attempts.

Leaving the Raiders that summer proved to be the best thing for him. He landed with the Dallas Cowboys and went onto top 1,000 rushing yards for the second time in his career during the 2015 season. But the good vibes lasted only so long. Injuries limited him to just four appearances over the next four years. He’d play his last NFL down in the 2017 season.

Injuries are fickle in this way. One early-career setback ended up costing McFadden a world of momentum. He was never the same superstar prospect, and the Raiders never recovered from losing such a promising outlook.

June 3rd, 2012

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Mohamed Sanu has never quite lived up to his NFL potential.

Don’t get us wrong: He’s squeaked out an impactful career. For someone selected late in the third round of the 2012 draft, he has absolutely yielded more value than would be typically expected.

But, at the same time, he’s always seemed to have more to offer. He has the physical tools of a No. 1 option, at 6’5” and 215 pounds, and can be used in trick-play situations as a pass-thrower. He’s been seen in practices and on video throwing 50-plus-yard bombs with fairly good accuracy. That he’s never made a Pro Bowl, or turned in a 1,000-yard season, seems weird.

Some of this can be chalked up to the situations in which he’s found himself. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, where he was never the No. 1 option. By the time he left as a free agent in 2016, he was firmly behind tight end Tyler Eifert and star wide receiver A.J. Green in the pecking order.

Upon landing with the Atlanta Falcons, Sanu was once again limited to complementary duty, behind megastar receiver Julio Jones and a dual-headed running back system. Then, a few years after that, he was flipped to the New England Patriots, a team that prides itself on spreading the ball around rather than featuring any one receiver.

There is still time for Sanu, 30, to have a breakout campaign. The Patriots are thinner at wide receiver than they have been in years past, and they might be in line to add a new quarterback should Tom Brady prove too expensive or decide to sign elsewhere. And yet, if Brady returns, he won’t have the arm to properly accentuate Sanu’s long-distance routes.

Really, if Sanu was ever going to become a star, he might’ve been better off re-signing with the Bengals in 2016. They ended up dealing with injuries to Eifert and Green, both of whom project to leave the team, which paved the way for former No. 3 receiver Tyler Boyd to emerge as a quasi-No. 1 option.

Sanu was well within his rights to bolt for a bigger contract. He made the right decision in that regard. It’s the Bengals who made the mistake. They overestimated their depth at wide receiver. Sanu could’ve ended up carving out a nice career for a team that has spent the past half-decade looking for filler production while its top pass-catchers navigate injuries.

May 27th, 2012

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When the Los Angeles Rams, formerly the St. Louis Rams, are on the clock at the NFL draft, they should have one positional focus that towers above all else: Offensive linemen.

Last year’s showing proved this much. The Rams went 9-7 and missed the playoffs while struggling to gain any sort of traction on the ground. They’re super reliant on running back Todd Gurley, but they don’t yet have the bodies up front to carve out the holes necessary to help him pick up big gains.

Only six teams last season averaged fewer yards per rushing attempt than the Rams. That, in turn, forced them into third-and-long situations in which they needed to trust the arm and precision of quarterback Jason Goff. And though they signed him to a record NFL extension months prior, he just didn’t play the way expected of big-money QBs.

Improving the offensive line depth will go a long way toward helping both Gurley and Goff. Another pass-catcher to stretch defensive coverages would be good as well. Unfortunately for the Rams, they might not have access to an immediate difference-maker.

Looking at the depth chart, they need at least one offensive tackle and one interior offensive lineman. The problem: They don’t have their own first-round pick. They flipped it as part of the Jalen Ramsey trade. And not only does their first pick doesn’t come until the second round, but they won’t be on the clock until the end of it, at No. 52.

Many draft experts don’t even have them taking an offensive line contributor at that spot. There aren’t a ton of notable names expected to be available in that range. This year’s second-round well is flush with defensive tackles, players in the secondary and the occasional position offensive player.

Maybe the Rams will get lucky and fall into offensive guard Damien Lewis out of LSU. Given the year he just had, though, most don’t believe he’ll make it out of the 40s.

With no clear offensive-line options on the board, the Rams shouldn’t force it. They can pick up a defensive tackle or, more preferably, roll the dice on another receiver. Jalen Reagor from TCU and K.J. Hamler from Penn State are two downfield weapons that could still be on the board when the Rams make their initial selection.

Whatever they end up doing, it sure seems like they won’t be able to immediately plug their holes on the offensive line in the draft—at least not before Round 3.

April 24th, 2012

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After missing the NFL playoffs for a 17th consecutive season, the Cleveland Browns once again find themselves entering the draft with a ton of needs to fill. Fortunately, they have the equity to address their most glaring holes.

Cleveland has seven picks in the upcoming draft, including all of its own picks through the first four rounds and also the Houston Texans’ third-round selection. They don’t have any of their own selections in the final three rounds, but they do boast the Arizona Cardinals’ sixth-rounder and Green Bay Packers’ seventh-rounder.

Those five picks in the first four rounds will be the Browns’ bread and butter, the assets most likely to shore up their rotation. Their most glaring concerns at the moment are on the offensive line, safety, defensive line, and linebacker. They could use another receiver and tight end, but those issues will be secondary to everything else.

Experts expect the Browns to go with an offensive tackle when they’re on the clock with their first pick at No. 10. They need to find a way to better protect quarterback Baker Mayfield and offer more blocking for running back Nick Chubb. The name most likely to monitor here is Andrew Thomas out of Georgia.

After that, it makes the most sense for the Browns to focus on deepening their secondary, specifically at safety. They were 17th in passing touchdowns allowed last season, and the going doesn’t project to get any easier. Ashtyn Davis out of California is the player most are calling for, assuming he’s still available.

That brings us to the third round, where the Browns own picks No. 74 (their own) and No. 90 (Houston’s). Picking up another offensive line talent at No. 74 could become the goal; it would give the Browns more bites at the apple. But if linebackers Jordyn Brooks from Texas Tech or Malik Harrison from Ohio State are still on the board, we can reasonably expect either of them to end up in Cleveland.

The defensive line will then become the focus at No. 90—although another offensive lineman could be in play here, too. The best fit among realistic options is Jordan Elliott, an inside defensive lineman from Missouri who would do wonders for their pass rush.

Finally, to cap off our four-round look at the Browns, we could see them going with a pass-catcher. Still, this is where we think they’ll inevitably lean toward another offensive line addition. The name we’re watching is Solomon Kindley from Georgia. Along with everyone else we’ve mentioned, he’d go a long way toward improving the Browns’ chances of returning to the playoffs.

April 20th, 2012

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The Los Angeles Rams, formerly the St. Louis Rams, don’t have a knack for draft-day drama. They’ve traded away picks in advance, but they seldom complete deals to move up while on the clock when the draft itself rolls around.

True to that form, the calls for them to pull off said moves don’t typically gain a ton of steam. Not since the 2012 draft, when many were begging for them to trade up and land Trent Richardson, has there been momentum for them to deal their way up their draft-day ladder.

Could the 2020 NFL draft be different?

Many think it should be. The Rams already traded away their first-round pick as part of the Jalen Ramsey blockbuster. They clearly have no regrets about that home-run swing, but they also have more needs on the roster than strictly beefing up their secondary.

Chief among their most pressing holes is acquiring another pass-catcher, either at the wide receiver or tight end slot. Last year’s trio of Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods underwhelmed relative to expectations. They’re all rock-solid options, but they’re not the type of wideouts who can thrive without a top-shelf quarterback or another No. 1 wideout option. Really, all three of them are best suited as second wheels.

Knowing that a primary receiving playmaker is their top target makes this a complicated discussion. They’ll need to acquire a pick that’s pretty high up in their draft order for that to be their immediate solution.

Remember: After trading for Ramsey and giving QB Jason Goff one of the richest extensions in NFL history, the Rams are firmly operating on a win-now timeline. They don’t have the freedom to select someone who will take years to groom.

Fortunately, this year’s draft has a couple of immediate impact players. Jerry Jeudy from Alabama, CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma, Tee Higgins from Clemson and Henry Ruggs III, also from Alabama, all loom as potentially instant contributors at the pro level.

The problem? Getting in a position to take them.

All four names project to go in the top 15 of the 2020 NFL draft. The Rams don’t have the expendable asset equity to climb that high when they don’t have a first-rounder of their own to dangle.

They can always hope to strike gold in the second round, but for what they need, it’s probably best for them to be most aggressive on the free-agent market. Trading up in the draft isn’t going to cut it this year.

April 19th, 2012

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Ahead of the 2012 NFL draft, everyone could only find the time to talk about one wide receiver: Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon.

In three seasons at school, he totaled 253 receptions, 3,564 yards, and 40 touchdowns. His swan song at Oklahoma State before declaring for the 2012 NFL draft consisted of an eight-catch, 186-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece in the Fiesta Bowl.

Though Blackmon declined to hold any private workouts following the conclusion of his collegiate career, his draft stock didn’t suffer any sort of hit. Teams were still smitten with his mix of speed and coordination. He didn’t need the NFL combine. His college resume and performance at Oklahoma State’s Pro Day were enough to ensure his first-round status.

Plenty of squads were linked to him leading into the draft, even those that didn’t necessarily need him. The Minnesota Vikings were badly known to need help elsewhere at the time, but even they were considered a possible landing spot for him.

It was the Jacksonville Jaguars that eventually got him. They traded up to land the No. 5 pick from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The move was considered a borderline no-brainer at the time. Blackmon, after, had drawn comparisons to Terell Owens and Anquan Boldin. Jacksonville thought it had acquired the next superstar wide receiver.

But things never panned out as planned.

Blackmon turned in a somewhat promising rookie season, during which he racked up 865 yards and five touchdowns. However, he battled myriad off-field issues and subsequent suspensions over the next few years, punishments that stemmed from arrests for driving under the influence and marijuana possession and for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

While Blackmon remained on the Jaguars’ payroll for a couple of years following his rookie season, he would only ever appear in four more games, giving him a paltry 20 appearances for his career. Even now, more than a half-decade since he played his last NFL down, it’s tough to prevent your mind from drifting down the what-if rabbit hole.

Blackmon is only 30 years old; he is technically someone who should still be in his prime. Whether we’ll see him play football again is a different story. He completed the terms of his probation for a 2015 DUI arrest in August 2017, and he remains on the Jaguars’ reserve-list roster, but the NFL had yet to grant him reinstatement as of the conclusion of the 2019 season.

April 19th, 2012

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Remember when the Cleveland Browns last made the NFL playoffs? You’ll be forgiven if you don’t.

Because it was in 2002.

Correct, the Browns have not made the postseason in nearly two decades. And there’s no guarantee that drought ends imminently. Putting together Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Baker Mayfield, and Nick Chubb gives them a clear path to a successful offense, but is it enough? 

Time will tell. For now, it isn’t hard to see the root of the Browns’ problems: The NFL draft. They’ve been lauded for some selections, particularly when they’ve scooped up picks in the late first round, but overall, they’ve missed on waaay too many prospects.

Don’t take our word for it. See for yourself. Here’s every Browns first-round pick since they last made the playoffs in 2002, which means we’ll begin with the 2002 NFL draft:

  • 2002: William Green, RB, No. 16 pick
  • 2003: Jeff Faine, C, No. 21 pick
  • 2004: Kellen Winslow, TE, No. 6 pick
  • 2005: Braylon Edwards, WR, No. 3 pick
  • 2006: Kamerion Wimbley, DE, No. 13 pick
  • 2007: Joe Thomas, T, No. 3 pick; Brady Quinn, QB, No. 22 pick
  • 2008: No first-round pick
  • 2009: Alex Mack, C, No. 21 pick
  • 2010: Joe Haden, DB, No. 7 pick
  • 2011: Phil Taylor, DT, No. 21 pick
  • 2012: Trent Richardson, RB, No. 3 pick; Brandon Weeden, QB, No.22 pick
  • 2013: Barkevious Mingo, LB, No. 6 pick
  • 2014: Justin Gilbert, DB, No. 8 pick; Johnny Manziel, QB, No. 22 pick
  • 2015: Danny Shelton, NT, No. 12 pick; Cameron Irving, C, No. 19 pick
  • 2016: Corey Coleman, WR, No. 15 pick
  • 2017: Myles Garrett, DE, No. 1 pick; Jabrill Peppers, S, No. 25 pick; David Njoku, TE, No. 29 pick
  • 2018: Baker Mayfield, QB, No. 1 pick; Denzel Ward, CB, No. 4 pick
  • 2019: No first-round pick


As you can see, there aren’t a whole lot of hits. Most notable is the Browns’ inability to draft a franchise QB. They’ve picked up some quality receivers and defensive players in the first round, but their bites at the apple under center have not gone great.

Mayfield’s future looms large for this franchise. They assembled a score of explosive talent around him, and they still ended up placing in the bottom half of the league in offensive output for the 2019 season. That’s a problem.

It could be the Browns whiffed on yet another first-round QB investment. Or it could be that this latest core will take time to marinate. 

All we know for sure is the Browns franchise, by and large, needs to do a better job of hitting on their top draft picks.

April 13th, 2012

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Back in 2012, with general manager Ozzie Newsome at the helm, the Baltimore Ravens had developed a strong reputation for finding gems later in the draft. That’s why when they selected Tommy Streeter at No. 198, everyone expected him to play. 

Except, well, he didn’t.

Streeter would go on to play just two games in his NFL career, and neither of them came with the Ravens. Those lone two appearances were, in fact, with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This isn’t to say that Streeter was a bust or a pick to be held against the organization. Later-round selections don’t work out. It happens. But it’s fair to wonder whether the Ravens deserved the reputation they built at the time as end-of-draft connoisseurs. 

Consider that Baltimore’s two biggest success stories who were drafted after the third round between 2006 and 2012 were running back Le’Ron McClain and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the latter of whom never actually played for them. They did select quarterback Derek Anderson in the sixth round of the 2005 draft, but he, too, never took the field under center for them.

It is somewhat amazing, then, that the Ravens were applauded so heavily for maximizing their late-draft resources under Newsome. They found some gems relative to draft (and undrafted) position, but that’s true of nearly every team. Baltimore really just received more of the benefit of the doubt than most teams during that time, because they were considered to be among the NFL’s best squads—especially between 2008 and 2012, a period of time that includes their last Super Bowl victory.

If there’s one thing to credit the Ravens for throughout their draft history, though, it’s their ability to recognize franchise quarterbacks. They picked up Joe Flacco in Round 1 of the 2008 draft, and he stayed under center for them until early in the 2018 season. They then immediately transitioned into Lamar Jackson, who they had the foresight to trade up for and who went on to become a unanimous MVP by 2019.

Early-round draft picks are seldom considered steals. Those guys are supposed to be sure things. But the NFL draft is a crapshoot, and finding franchise QBs is tough. The Ravens should be commended for the efficiency with which they’ve acquired their past two—particularly Jackson, who they scooped up with the final pick of the first round in 2018.

April 13th, 2012

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