Inside the NFL Draft: Eagles team needs

The Philadelphia Eagles and head coach Andy Reid have to find upgrades at the linebacker position and look for help along the offensive line. With WR DeSean Jackson expected to see the Franchise Tag, let’s take a look at some prospects that match the Eagles top needs heading into the draft.

2011 RECORD: 8-8


Luke KuechlyICONBoston College LB Luke Kuechly.

Luke Kuechly ILB, Boston College: He's not the biggest, strongest or fastest of athletes. But he's instinctive, plays faster than he times, finds the football in all areas of the game and can really tackle. He's going to be a bit limited in coverage, but he's instinctive enough to play on third down in zone and should end up being one of the NFL's top tackling linebackers for years to come.

Dont'a Hightower ILB, Alabama: Looks like a potential impact caliber 34-inside linebacker who has the skill set to win inside vs. the run and create pressure on third down as a savvy rush guy as well.


Jonathan Martin OT, Stanford: He's got the NFL size, length and overall athletic skill set. However, he's not a natural anchor player and doesn't strike me as a guy who is ever going to be real physical at the next level. He can mirror in space, but struggles to stick through contact and isn't real heavy handed. Looks like a finesse tackle who will get over drafted because of athletic talent, but is going to have a hard time keeping the edge clean at the next level.

Andrew Datko OT, Florida State: He's a solid athlete who can bend, re-direct and block in space. However, he's had some struggles with power when trying to stay engaged and hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his career. Nevertheless, in a weak offensive tackle class, he's one of the few prospects that possess the skill set to start in the NFL.


Trenton Robinson FS, Michigan State: Is coordinated and can keep his feet under him, but looks tighter when asked to turn and run. Tackles well and looks like at best a low end starter who needs to play in tighter areas to be effective in coverage.

Brandon Taylor FS, Louisiana State: He can tackle in the box and in space, despite being a bit inconsistent at times. Displays some natural coverage ability and looks capable of maturing into tweener starter/nickel safety at the next level.

Chase Ford TE, Miami: Had a good showing at this year's East-West Shine game and for a guy at his size with his body control looks like a option you can draft late and try to mature into an every down type option. Has the frame to add weight and get much bigger.

Rhett Ellison TE, Southern California: Isn't an elite straight-line athlete or dominant in-line guy. However, has the ability to be successful in both the run and pass game at the next level. Doesn't look like a starter to me, but may be able to earn playing time early during his NFL career.

Click here to see the NFP Big Board.

Follow the NFP on Twitter: @FootballPost

Steelers to release Hines Ward

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced their intentions to release wide receiver Hines Ward on the team's website on Wednesday.

Ward, who finishes his Steelers career with 1,000 receptions on the nose, was scheduled to make $4 million this season, but his release will give Pittsburgh some much needed salary cap relief.

“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said.

It will be interesting now to see if Ward wants to continue to play by hooking on with another team or will decide to retire.

Follow me on Twitter @TitanInsider247 and @terrymc13

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for

Will Henne generate interest on the open market?

While the Chad Henne era is by all accounts over in Miami, that isn't going to prevent certain teams from kicking the tires on the former University of Michigan signal-caller.

According to Alex Marvez of, the 26-year-old has emerged as the hottest potential free agent commodity at the quarterback position not named Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning.

Chad HenneWith a lackluster stint in Miami behind him, Henne will look to his next opportunity.

“Henne is drawing the strongest consideration from teams seeking a “1A” option,” writes Marvez. “The guy who can push a suspect starter for the job but not command starter’s money.”

Although the former second-round draft pick is not expected to come at a bargain price, he is perceived to be a better option than journeymen pivots such as Vince Young, David Garrard and Kyle Orton, among others. Marvez also notes that Henne is expected to sign a contract averaging between $4-5 million annually.

Teams mentioned as possibilities to pursue the fifth-year veteran on the open market include the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets — who are believed to have legitimate interest in re-uniting Henne with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.

While it's highly unlikely that Henne goes on to set the world ablaze in another city, he can still offer quite a bit to an organization not seeking a completely new face to the quarterback position, like Miami. In today's shrewd business-first league, a legitimate second opportunity to start is not easy to come by. In Henne's case, he will get that second opportunity — and be paid good money for it.

Follow me on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

'Skins targeting receivers in free agency

While it's no secret that the Washington Redskins have a major need at the quarterback position, the team has also been seeking reinforcements at the wide receiver position since last offseason.

Vincent JacksonCould Vincent Jackson be headed for Washington?

According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the team is preparing to add an impact player to its receiving core.

“The Washington Redskins are making plans to add a high-profile wide receiver in an NFL free agent market,” writes Maske, citing several sources close to the team. “People with knowledge of the team’s plans say they appear to be focusing on the free agent market, rather than the draft, for that player”

Adding a top flight receiver would certainly protect any sort of investment Washington could make in the quarterback position come draft time.

Among possible targets listed by Maske are Vincent Jackson of the San Diego Chargers, Colts duo Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne, and Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints.

The Washington Redskins will head into free agency as one of a handful of teams with a significant amount of free cap space. It will be interesting to see what they do with the financial flexibility and the free-spending mindset of owner Daniel Snyder on March 13th.

Follow me on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

Is it time to rethink the Combine?

The 2012 Combine marked my twenty-fifth visit to Indy but the very first time I heard scouts, GMs and coaches talk about overhauling the process. And as a side note, it’s also the first time I've ever had a client injured at the Combine. OL Markus Zusevics tore a pectoral ligament on the sixth rep of his bench press test. Markus will be fully recovered in 4 or 5 months and the injury will not affect his career. His injury will not affect my philosophy of encouraging my future clients to work out each year in Indy.

I do however, believe the Combine has some archaic components that can use some change. For one, the entire process creates duress and stress for the players in attendance. There is a lot of hurry up and wait, standing around, and the players usually don’t know what’s next. Secondly, the players must get up very early and get to bed very late. All players suffer from a lack of sleep. This process in no way emulates a game week or even a camp week.

One of the biggest complaints I heard from one veteran AFC Head Coach is that the league is trying to turn the Combine into an entertainment piece. The stadium is no longer a sanctuary for evaluation. I share his concern.

Here are some of the good and bad ideas I heard this week:

AFC Head Coach: “I’m tired of watching guys take 10 minutes to warm up to run a forty. Just line them all up side-by-side by position in two groups and let them race it out on the sound of a whistle, just like the snap of the ball. Each lane will have a clock and it’s a better emulation a game situation.” My Take: Good for TV but players won’t do it.

Does anyone really evaluate O-Linemen on their 40 times?

A GM of an NFC team said he would like to “see DB’s and LB’s covering WR’s, RB’s and TE’s. They do it at the all-star games, why can’t they do it here?” Good idea!

AFC O-line coach: He doesn’t understand why any NFL lineman should run a 40-yard dash for time. (More linemen tweak their hamstrings preparing for this test than anything they do). He also said the mirror drill (when they put their hands behind their backs) is worthless. He wants more game-type functional movement drills. I agree!

An NFC director of scouting said he would like to “see more functional position movement drills. Some of the drills work for some positions but we need more position specific movements that truly emulate game situations. When a guy has been practicing the same drill for six to eight weeks he’s probably going to do it well. Why not change the drills each year so the players don’t know what to expect just like they may see at their pro days.” Decent idea!


Carl Nicks: 'I don't want to be franchised!!!!'

Carl Nicks is new to the world of Twitter.

He joined it five days ago and already the New Orleans Saints All-Pro guard has his account verified. As of this writing, he’d shared 46 tweets with the Twitterverse from his handle @bigbrickhouse77.

Just earlier this afternoon, Nicks let it be known that he has no interest in the franchise tag.

“I don't want to be franchised!!!!” Nicks tweeted.

It’s hardly an original thought, but it’s a mechanism the Saints have by virtue of the collective bargaining agreement. The deadline for clubs to use the franchise tag is Monday. Quarterback Drew Brees will be wearing the tag if he doesn’t have a long-term deal before then.

But Brees and the Saints are smart enough to realize both sides need to get a deal done in order to help the team. Because if Brees had a deal done the Saints can go ahead and place the tag on Nicks, provided the Saints carve out just enough cap space to make the move.

We’ll see what happens here. Few players welcome the franchise tag but the reality is if Brees gets a deal done in time, Nicks very well may be tagged. We’ll have to see what he has to say if and when that happens.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Cardinals, Saints will play in Hall of Fame Game

The Arizona Cardinals will face the New Orleans Saints in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game Aug. 5.

Darren Urban, who writes for Arizona’s team Web site, announced the news via Twitter. It had already been reported the Saints will be in Canton, Ohio, for the weekend to see longtime Saints offensive lineman Willie Roaf inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The date means the Saints and Cardinals will both play five preseason games. They will also open training camp about a week ahead of the other 30 teams because of the extra game. Will the Cardinals have an extra game in order to get comfortable with a new quarterback who previously played in Indianapolis? Only time will tell.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Browns to make a move for John Carlson?

Coming out of Notre Dame, John Carlson was viewed as a balanced tight end with upper echelon receiving ability and high marks for overall athleticism. Then-Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren played a large part in selecting the talented Carlson with the 38th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft.

John CarlsonICONIs John Carlson headed for a reunion with Mike Holmgren in Cleveland?

After recording a total of 1,201 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in his first two seasons, Carlson's last two campaigns have been plagued by injury and bad luck.

Looking ahead to the 2012 offseason, Carlson is an unrestricted free agent and his former coach, Mike Holmgren, is now the team president of the Cleveland Browns — a franchise that could certainly benefit from the former Irish star's skills.

According to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinal, the “word” is that Cleveland will sign the free agent tight end.

Although it is still considered speculation at this point, the Browns will certainly be in the market for some help on offense, as the unit ranked 29th in the league in 2011. It's plausible that Carlson will receive a few short term offers on a 'prove it' basis.

Carlson missed the entire 2011 season after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Follow me on Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

Will Jets take a look at Peyton?

New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum wouldn't completely rule out taking a look at Peyton Manning, though he professed happiness with current quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Tannenbaum's comments came on ESPN Radio and were reported by the New York Post, as he was asked specifically if the Jets would “kick the tires” on Manning if he is released by the Indianapolis Colts on March 8.

“It’s really important that we always try to improve the team,” Tannenbaum said. “With that said, I expect Mark Sanchez to be our quarterback next year, but when we have opportunities to improve our team that’s what we’re going to do.”

Sanchez took his share of criticism with 26 turnovers as the Jets finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs in a year where Coach Rex Ryan had predicted a Super Bowl.

Follow me on Twitter @TitanInsider247 and @terrymc13

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for

Big Ten pre-spring power rankings

Today at the NFP marks the third of seven pre-spring conference power rankings, continuing the series with the Big Ten.

Click here for the ACC pre-spring power rankings, which ran on Monday.
Click here for the SEC pre-spring power rankings, which ran on Tuesday.

After spring practice season, we will revisit these rankings before the dog days of summer kick in.

Here is the schedule for the rest of the week:

Thursday: Pac-12
Friday: Big 12
Saturday: Big East
Sunday: non-AQs

Click here to see when your favorite Big Ten team begins spring practice.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans begin life without Kirk Cousins, one of the Big Ten’s most impressive players both on and off the field. Andrew Maxwell will take the reins from the three-year starter, and he could inherit Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, a receiver who may be cleared to play for the upcoming season. But the team must identify other options at the position this spring in case Arnett isn't made eligible to play until 2013. So keep an eye on receiver Bennie Fowler. The running game will be strong, but the Spartans will miss do-everything receiver/returner Keshawn Martin. Defensively, finding a tackle to replace All-American Jerel Worthy is critical. Overall, the Spartans may be the most athletic team in the Big Ten.

Bret BielemaICONBret Bielema's coaching staff was shaken up this offseason.

2. Wisconsin: With success, comes attrition on the coaching staff. Head coach Bret Bielema has had to hire six new assistants this offseason, and all eyes will be on new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who replaces new Pitt head coach Paul Chryst. Russell Wilson is gone, so Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips will battle for the starting quarterback job along with Joel Stave and Joe Brennan. Budmayr and Phillips, however, are both coming off of injuries. Could Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien end up in Madison this summer? Prolific running back Montee Ball returns, but he’ll be running behind an offensive line that must replace three high-quality blockers. Defensively, end David Gilbert returns after missing most of last season with a broken foot.

3. Michigan: Greg Mattison was able to transform the Wolverines defense into a strength last season because of his emphasis on strong defensive line play. With Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen departing, this area needs extra attention this spring to help make up for a secondary that is still green. Offensively, Denard Robinson will enter his final season in Ann Arbor with a year of Al Borges’ offense under his belt. “Shoelace” is unquestionably a rare talent, but 15 interceptions cannot happen again if this team wants to return to a BCS game.

4. Nebraska: Head coach Bo Pelini must replace linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and defensive tackle Jared Crick — three of the Big Ten’s best defenders, although Crick missed most of last season due to injury. This Cornhuskers defense has underachieved the last few seasons, and they’ll be breaking in a new coordinator in John Papuchis. On the offensive side, Taylor Martinez must continue to develop as a passer after staying healthy last season. He still just completed over 56 percent of his throws last fall, but he will enter his second year in Tim Beck’s offense.

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will not be going bowling in 2012, but the program has been revived under former Florida head coach Urban Meyer, who brings two national championships to Columbus. But all eyes will be on the coach who burned out and suffered health issues in Gainesville. On the field, though, he has the prototypical quarterback for his spread offense in dual-threat Braxton Miller, and he’s coming off of a recruiting cycle that featured SEC-type defensive linemen — exactly the type of situation to excite co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers.

6. Iowa: The Hawkeyes will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball this spring, as Phil Parker and Greg Davis will be running the defensive and offensive shows, respectively. For Parker, his main concern has to be along the defensive line, where the Hawkeyes lost three starters, including tackle and future pro Mike Daniels. Offensively, Davis will need to find a running back to replace Marcus Coker, who transferred to Stony Brook. Jordan Canzeri and Jason White will get the early looks, but will a freshman emerge in fall camp?

7. Penn State: Former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will be ushering in a new era of Penn State football this spring. The players on the Nittany Lions roster will need to get comfortable with the new staff, and the new coaches will need to implement their new systems. O’Brien will have to work wonders with quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden if the offense has any chance of complementing the defense, a unit whose strength will be at linebacker. Coordinator Ted Roof will look to rebound from a rocky stop at Auburn.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers once again have a plethora of quarterbacks to choose from in the preseason, as Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve will be joined by Rob Henry and Sean Robinson in the derby — and all have starting experience. Keep an eye on Henry, who has been cleared to practice and likely would have started last season if not for a knee injury. However, TerBush started every game in 2011. Defensively, another new coordinator has arrived in West Lafayette — the third consecutive season a change has been made. Tim Tisebar takes over this spring and will look to infuse some new energy into a unit that struggled to create turnovers last season (bowl game aside).

Kain ColterICONKain Colter will produce on offense no matter where he lines up. But can NU's porous defense improve?

9. Northwestern: The Wildcats are always going to score points while running the spread offense, and Kain Colter will likely be the quarterback operating the scheme in 2012. But head coach Pat Fitzgerald must be able to rely on at least an average defense, and that’s something he hasn’t been able to do since being the face of the program. Young players such as defensive end Tyler Scott and linebacker Collin Ellis saw action last year, and the hope is that they will mature as starters. But the woeful secondary will lose their best players — including All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters and four-year starting cornerback Jordan Mabin.

10. Illinois: The Fighting Illini will begin the Tim Beckman era after Ron Zook failed to win consistently in Champaign. The biggest loss for the Illini, however, may have been Vic Koenning, who left to run North Carolina’s defense. The Illini played hard for Koenning, so new DC Tim Banks will have to command respect immediately. He’ll have a good defensive line to work with despite the loss of All-American end Whitney Mercilus, who was nothing short of studly last fall. Meanwhile, co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty will have to choose between quarte
rbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole.

11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill endured a rough first season with the Golden Gophers, both on and off the field. But if Minnesota is to improve in Year 2, dual-threat quarterback Marqueis Gray needs some playmakers to emerge around him. Defensively, coordinator Tracy Claeys may have to be creative in lieu of a lack of talent on all three levels.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers hope to provide head coach Kevin Wilson a smoother campaign in his second year on the job. New offensive coordinator Seth Littrell will try to help quarterback Tre Roberson in the passing game, but this team cannot compete if the defense is as woeful as it’s been in recent years. Young players like safety Mark Murphy and end Bobby Richardson need to play consistent, and junior college players brought in such as linebackers Justin Rayside and Jacarri Alexander need to contribute immediately.

Email or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave