>Tuesday Lunch: Young Stars in the AFC, LT

Posted: February 23, 2010 in Uncategorized
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>   Before I start my column, I have some breaking news to announce on here. Monday afternoon, I was thinking about the awesome song Evan post last week (check out Thursday’s post to see it for a thirteenth viewing), and I was wondering how Clint Dempsey’s teammates thought of the song. I decided to TWEET USMNT Striker Jozy Altidore on my personal Twitter account if he jokes and gives him crap about it, and to my surprise, he responded with this: “@wrobinson91 oh of course I do every chance I get!” There it is, ladies and gentlemen. The inside scoop you have ALL been waiting for. Anyways, here’s my new piece:

   Hey again guys! I know you have all been looking forward to my next piece, so due to popular demand, here it is. First off, I would like to apologize to all of you Cowboy fans (cough, Russell, cough) for excluding your team’s best season in a while. For one, Jerry Jones’ new stadium is simply amazing. I mean, he has the biggest high definition TV in the world in his stadium! On the gridiron though, Dallas finished 11-5, won their first playoff game since 1996, where oddly enough, they beat the Vikings, whom if you remember, beat Dallas in the divisional round this most recent postseason. Things look very bright for Dallas, however. They have arguably the best pass rush tandem in the league (with the young Anthony Spencer and All-Pro DeMarcus Ware), and have some young and solid playmakers that Tony Romo has missed since TO’s first year with them. On that note, I decided to do something special this week. After listening to ex Baltimore/Cleveland scout Daniel Jeremiah’s podcast, “Move the Sticks,” he ranked the best young players for each team. I decided that I would do the same, starting from the AFC West and doing the AFC this week (due to time constraints and school, and of news that broke out on Monday):

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Ryan Clady – I remember watching the Denver/Indy game, and I saw Dwight Freeney sacks Kyle Orton late in the game, and I thought this was the first time I saw Clady give up a sack. Upon further review, however, he allowed his first full sack against San Diego in week five. Still though, Clady has dominated pass rushers in his entire career (two years granted), and made the first team all-pro team last year. He’ll be the franchise tackle in Denver for years to come.

Kansas City Chiefs

Jamaal Charles – I remembering seeing Charles at Texas and thought he was really good, and that he would be a high draft pick. Then on draft day, he fell to the third round. His knock coming out of school was that he wasn’t a great pass catcher and needed to be better at running between the tackles. Obviously, he has improved in at least one of those areas, as he averaged nearly six yards per carry last year! He made everyone forget who Larry Johnson was after he thrashed defenses last year.

Oakland Raiders

Jamarcus Russell – Totally kidding here. I can’t even joke about this guy

Zach Miller – This was a hard pick, because Al Davis does not know how to draft for a football team. Miller had a decent year last year, but has shown significant signs that he can be an elite tight end. With the revolving door at quarterback, he has been a top ten TE. Just imagine if he had someone of at least Matt Schaub’s caliber.

San Diego Chargers

Antonio Cromartie – He only had three interceptions last year, but he’s only a few years removed from the longest play in NFL history and a ten interception season. The Chargers are currently shopping him (allegedly) and has rumors of some off the field problems. Nevertheless, he has been hurt a decent amount of the last two years, and has shown he can be good. I believe he is their best young defensive player right now.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice – This was a tough call between Rice, Joe Flacco, Michael Oher and Le’Ron McClain, but Rice was one of the best running backs last year. He was also one of the most versatile. He reminded me a lot of Mo Jo in Jacksonville. Like Charles, I thought this guy was great at Rutgers, but he slipped in the draft. Seeing players like him who are extremely talented but fall in the draft make me ask one thing: how come the Broncos could not have gotten someone like him? He averaged approximately six yards per touch (receiving and rushing), and racked up eight total touchdowns. I’ll look forward to watching him next year.

Cincinnati Bengals

Johnathan Joseph – It was another close call between him and his fellow corner that plays on the other side of the field, Leon Hall. He and Hall both had the same amount of interceptions (six), but Joseph had a lot more return yards than Hall as well as a defensive touchdown. I do think that Cincy has one of the, if not the best corner duo in the league. They can anchor the outside receivers for a few more years.

Cleveland Browns

Joe Thomas – Along with Clady and Jake Long in Miami, Thomas is up there in elite left tackles, the most important player on the offensive line for a right handed quarterback. Despite having crappy players take snaps for him his entire career, Thomas has held up and been the bright spot on the team, including Josh Cribbs and this year, Jerome Harrison. He will be their franchise tackle for at least the next seven or so years.

Pittsburgh Steelers

LaMarr Woodley – Two years removed from being world champions, the Steelers had an off year. However, their defense is still the definition of the team despite Big Ben having phenomenal passing performances this year (503 yards in ONE GAME!). However, with Polamalu being out a majority of the year and James Harrison completing an off year compared to his Defensive Player of the Year Campaign, Woodley put up big numbers after starting slow. He recorded three more sacks this most recent year than the Steelers’ Super Bowl year. Like some of the people on this list, how did he drop to the middle of the second round?

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Paul Posluszny – Another product of JoePa’s Linebacker U in State College, PA, Posluszny put up big numbers last year. He recorded 110 tackles, three forced fumbles and three picks playing at mike. He also only played 12 games last year! He actually recorded the same amount of total and solo tackles in 12 games last year as he did in 16 games in 2008. By that pace, that equates to approximately 147 tackles, and would have slotted him second behind Patrick Willis. He’ll enter his fourth year next year. Look for him to put up bigger numbers if he remains healthy.

Miami Dolphins

Jake Long – Long was a big story before his draft day, as one of the true football geniuses, Bill Parcells, made a deal for Jake Long before being drafted. He has great size and ability at left tackle, and punishes people on the edge. He allowed only four sacks last year, 14 of the games with his virtually rookie quarterback, and four-year starter at the University of Michigan, Chad Henne, taking snaps. While Henne showed some good signs last year, he did struggle quite a bit. Long will be the franchise player for the Fins until I finish college (eight years or so).

New England Patriots

Jerod Mayo – The NFL Team of the 2000s, who were built on defense, have struggled on that side of the ball as of recent. But, I can tell you whose fault it’s not: Jerod Mayo’s. In his rookie year, he recorded 128 tackles, 100 of which were solo. An MCL strain sidelined Mayo for three games, and the mediocre defense looked horrendous. Fortunately, for the Pats, he was their first round pick, and will be under contract for at least another three years. Don’t expect Belichick to let him go easily.

New York Jets

Darrelle Revis – Unquestionably the foundation of the New York Jets tenacious defense, Revis flat out dominated opposing wide outs this year. He punished them. He has tremendous speed, and was able to hold the following receivers to under 50 yards: Andre Johnson, Randy Moss (2x), Marques Colston, Mike Sims-Walker, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne and Chad Ochocinco (2x). He did allow Vincent Jackson to go for seven catches and 111 yards, but his team got a big win, on the road, in the playoffs. He will constantly be at or near the top of the best cornerback discussion.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Brian Cushing – Cush showed any and all doubters he had before the draft that he could play in the NFL. Just look at this Defensive Rookie of the Year statline: 134 tackles. Two forced fumbles. Five sacks. Four interceptions. His ex-teammate who was drafted by Green Bay (Clay Matthews) put up an equally as impressive year as their main edge rusher, Cushing got more tackles than his young partner did at Middle Linebacker, Demeco Ryans, last year. Expect to hear his name repeatedly. He’s still at least four years from his prime.

Indianapolis Colts

Austin Collie/Pierre Garçon – Both of these young receivers have been talented for Manning this year, and I believe in tandem they are better as opposed to their individual entities. It is almost impossible to fully shut down the Colts offense, as Manning is so talented, but also with the wealth of targets at his disposal. He didn’t have his second string receiver this year (Anthony Gonzales), but Collie and Garçon filled in amazingly. Next year, barring another injury or a trade, Manning will have six quality targets (Wayne, Clark, the aforementioned young duo, Gonzales, Addai), and the offense will keep trucking along.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Maurice Jones-Drew – MoJo is one of the toughest football players in THE National, FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Yes, that was my Ron Jaworski impersonation, and just about everybody on ESPN. Anyways, for real, Jones-Drew is probably the toughest pound for pound guy in the league. Remember when he DESTROYED Merriman? There was a 50 pound, 5 inch advantage on Merriman, and he got lit up. He ran for 15 touchdowns last year, and will only get better.

Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson – Chris Johnson electrified the combine last year when he ran a blistering 4.24 on his 40 time, and rose up the draft boards. Even though Ray Rice, Steve Slaton, Tim Hightower, Johnathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forté, Jamaal Charles and Tashard Choice have all had some form of success, Johnson became the first person since Jamal Lewis did in 2003 to gain 2000 rushing yards in a season. He can get to the outside edge with such ease; it looks like he isn’t even trying at times. He has not had the fumblitis Adrian Peterson has had, and has shown to be a better receiver from the backfield, but he isn’t as tough between the tackles as Peterson has shown. If he can break more tackles as opposed to eluding them, he can be the most dangerous weapon the NFL has seen since Barry Sanders.

   When I heard that the Chargers released LaDainian Tomlinson on Monday, I wasn’t shocked, but it was upsetting. Since I have been knowledgeable and aware of what goes on in football, LT held the title of best running back in the game. He holds 28 San Diego Franchise records. He is currently eighth on the all time rushing leaders list, and is the highest active member. Just watch some of his highlights from his TCU days to his best NFL ones.

   Despite being a Broncos fan, I wish the best for LT and hope he can find somewhere to play next year, so he can change his place in history through the stat line. I hope you enjoyed this week’s post, and hope you read next week when I cover the news that happened in the week between then and now, as well as my young stars in the NFC.

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