Peyton Trade Rumors Speak Volumes

It is well known that the hardest part of the NFL offseason is surviving the lack of action between the end of mandatory mini-camp and the start of training camp closer to August. Luckily, last week we were presented with an interesting headline that the majority of fans probably swept under the rug. Involving arguably the best quarterback to play this game and a player considered to be NFL royalty, it was reported via Benjamin Allbright of Denver 94.1 FM that the Denver Broncos had discussed trading Peyton Manning to the Houston Texans. 

Complete blasphemy.

Before the NFL world entered complete chaos, we found out that there was not much substance to the report after the Broncos aggressively denied the news and the trade talks were reported as “very preliminary.” Case closed, right? That is of course if you are looking at the situation solely on its surface. Read carefully between the lines here, and John Elway’s nose continues to grow. 

There is an expression that I was consistently exposed to growing up and it reads like this: Where there is smoke, there is fire.

And the smog in Denver right now is at an all-time high.

The Manning trade rumors were not an attempt just to put a headline out there. This was no accident. Instead, it should signal that John Elway and the Denver Broncos front office is not all that comfortable with their 39-year-old quarterback who is entering his 18th season. Yup, Manning is no different than any player who has ever played in this wonderful league. His time has come and gone. He is mortal. The end of last season showed us first hand that all good things must come to an end. There was the letdown in St. Louis, the unraveling against Cincinnati on Monday Night Football, and of course the playoff game. Boy, was that ugly. Peyton completed 56.5% of his passes and finished with a QBR rating of 27.9.

Elway’s not stupid. He was one of the best to play the position and was winning Super Bowls at Manning’s age. He saw the pieces fall apart just like the rest of us last year, and so it is no surprise that he would field calls about Manning’s value. Now, if the Broncos were truly talking to Houston about Manning and nothing ever amounted from it, common sense tells us of course they were going to deny the reports to the media. But even if Denver is telling the truth about their signal caller, Manning still had to take a pay cut this offseason of four million dollars. Not that bad, until ProFootballTalk released that Denver initially wanted the quarterback to take a 10 million dollar cut. That is by no means chum change, and it indicates that Denver believes Manning’s performance has significantly dropped off and he is no longer the same player.

One thing is for sure, the Broncos have made clear of their doubts with Manning this offseason.

When Peyton got his restructured deal done months ago, a no-trade clause was attached to his contract in return. In hindsight, it makes sense why he would have pushed for such a thing if he knew the Broncos were looking to throw his name out on the market. Be assured, a Manning deal really never had a shot of going down. With that being said, do not be naive enough to think that the Broncos did not try to weigh their options with number 18. 

The talk is that many within the organization feel like backup Brock Osweiler’s time has come and that he is a better fit for new head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense. Kubiak likes to utilize play action and bootlegs, and so a more mobile quarterback suits as a better fit. Julius Thomas is gone, the offensive line is not the same unit now that Ryan Clady tore his ACL, and Demaryius Thomas is still in a contract dispute. There is a lot of moving parts in Denver heading into 2015, and where Manning is at this point in his career, it makes it that much harder to compete for a championship.

Although we may just see Manning’s play deteriorating, one has to wonder where he is physically and mentally. Is the desire and motivation still there to compete? For someone like Manning, the easy answer might be yes. However, the body takes a toll, and the journey to get deep into the playoffs and contend is a long one. Especially when he has struggled to exercise the demons he has consistently seen in the playoffs. These were certainly all variables Elway and the front office considered.

With a talented roster, the Broncos will more than likely find themselves in the playoffs again with a chance to make a run. Manning gives them the best chance to win, but he will need all the help in the world this season. Chances are he will not be winning another ring. So, why not see what you could possibly get for a name like Manning from a team who is thirsty for a quarterback? After the playoff game, Elway knew the show was over. That is why he most likely did talk to Houston and tried to get Peyton to take the big cut. He is uneasy about his future hall of famer at quarterback, but he certainly is not going to let anyone else know about it.

This ought to be the last rodeo for The Sheriff, and if Elway’s actions are any indication, it could get ugly.

Colts sign Jeris Pendleton

The  Indianapolis Colts today signed free agent defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton.
Pendleton, 6-2, 323 pounds, rejoins the Colts after spending the last two seasons with the team. He missed the 2014 season after being placed on Injured Reserve on August 12, 2014. In 2013, Pendleton spent time on the Colts practice squad and active roster. He made four tackles (two solo) in one regular season game appearance and saw action in both postseason contests, finishing with four tackles and one special teams stop.
He was originally selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the seventh round (228th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft. Pendleton played in four games as a rookie and made one solo tackle before being released by the Jaguars on May 22, 2013. He then participated in training camp with the Dallas Cowboys before being released on August 26, 2013, and signed to the Colts practice squad on December 3, 2013. Pendleton spent three weeks on Indianapolis’ practice squad before being elevated to the active roster on December 26, 2013.
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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

North Carolina Central WR-KR Adrian Wilkins' Pro Day on July 8

North Carolina Central wide receiver-kick returner Adrian Wilkins’ Pro Day is July 8.
The NFL supplemental draft is the following day.
Wilkins is an outstanding kick returner.
He was named as an All-American punt returner last season.
As a sophomore, Wilkins returned five kicks for touchdowns, three kickoffs and two punts.
He caught 37 passes for 427 yards and two touchdowns.
In high school, in 2010, he had 1,876 yards of total offense with 23 touchdowns.
Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider
Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

Kyle Knox suspended for four games

Veteran free agent linebacker Kyle Knox has been suspended by the NFL for four games.
Knox has played for the Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys.
He was cut by the Cowboys last month.
He played in a dozen games and had three tackles last season for the Saints.
Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider
Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

5 Things Tennessee Must Do To Win the SEC East

Looking back at the SEC East in 2014, it was a rather unimpressive bunch of teams – minus Georgia and Missouri. After all, those were the only two teams in the division that finished with a record above .500 in conference play. 

Moving forward though, there appears to be an uprising from an unlikely contender: Tennessee.

The Volunteers and head coach Butch Jones have brought back the swag that used to roam the streets of Knoxville and worry conference opponents every week. It’s something that was lost during the Derek Dooley regime and is now back in time for what looks like a time that Tennessee can take advantage of.

Although the SEC East looks a little bit stronger than it did a year ago, there are still questions about many of the teams and it looks like the division is wide open. This could be the year where Tennessee reclaims its former glory and ditches the moniker of being a slump team in the SEC. 

But can the Volunteers do it? Popular opinion is that Georgia is still the favorite to win this division, but Tennessee has been a rising dark horse choice as of late. Here are five things that Tennessee must do in order to win the SEC East.

1. Keep QB Joshua Dobbs Healthy

As it stands, Josh Dobbs could be the best quarterback in the SEC East. While Missouri’s Maty Mauk tries to become more consistent and a trio of other division foes – Florida, Georgia and South Carolina – are still uncertain who will start under center come opening week, Dobbs is already looking ahead to how much better he can be after a hot start in 2014.

When Justin Worley went down with a shoulder injury that ended his season, Dobbs stepped in and never looked back. Throwing for 985 yards in his first four games, he added eight touchdown passes in that span. But he’s not just a threat through the air as he ran for 469 yards in the six games that he played in last season, one of which he rushed for an impressive 166 yards against South Carolina. 

If Tennessee is going to win the division this year, Dobbs has to stay healthy. Yes, Tennessee has a nice running game to compliment him, but there’s no question that he is the heartbeat of this offense. Besides that, there’s really not too much depth behind him. There are some quality freshmen waiting in the wings, but the talent after Dobbs falls off quite steeply.

2. Beat Florida

Though Florida has been trending downward the past couple of years, the Volunteers just haven’t been able to take advantage of the Gators’ slide. In fact, the last time Tennessee beat the Gators was 2004, which ironically is the last year that the Vols won the SEC East. Another important thing to keep in mind is that the each of the past five SEC East champions have beaten Florida. If Tennessee can’t beat the Gators again, recent history shows that it would be unlikely that it can win the division.

This game will pretty much set the tone for how Tennessee will do in conference play. Jim McElwain’s squad is the first SEC foe that Butch Jones and the Volunteers will face in 2015, and to make matters worse, it’s in the Swamp, a place Tennessee hasn’t won since 2003.

On paper, Tennessee should beat Florida, but the Vols also should’ve won against the Gators last season. Heading into the final quarter last season, Tennessee held a 9-0 lead over an inept Florida offense only to blow it and leave embarrassed after a 10-9 loss. Needless to say this is a game that the Vols have circled a thousand times on the calendar, hoping not just to get revenge, but to also end its skid against the Gators and get on track to win the SEC East.

3. Lose Only One Conference Game

Sure this is easier said than done, but in order to win the SEC East you can only afford one slip up if you want to be crowned the division champion. Only one team has lost more than one conference game in route to winning the SEC East and that was South Carolina in 2010, the only team in the division to finish with a record above .500 in conference play.

Although any schedule in the SEC is pretty tough, Tennessee’s is actually pretty favorable when you look at it. It’s certainly a good year to have to travel to both Florida and Alabama as both programs are likely to experience growing pains. Other than a road bout against defending SEC East champs Missouri, Tennessee gets its other two toughest opponents at home in consecutive weeks – Arkansas and Georgia. If Tennessee can get that much needed win against the Gators in Gainesville, it could set off a domino effect that gets the team rolling and puts it on the right path towards a SEC East title.

4. Keep Pressure on Opposing Quarterbacks

The SEC East will be full of fresh faces under center when 2015 rolls around, and if there’s one thing young signal callers hate, it’s the constant pressure of the defense in their face. And if last season was just a taste of what we could see in 2015, then quarterbacks beware of the Tennessee defense that could prove to be the most disruptive in the SEC this season.

There may be no better destructive duo than the one Tennessee has in LB Curt Maggitt and DE Derek Barnett, who combined for 21 of Tennessee’s 35 sacks last season. Both of these guys are legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidates and it shows through the numbers they put up.  With a duo like this constantly forcing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball before they want to, it’s no wonder that Tennessee was able to nab 16 interceptions, which was tied for third in the SEC.

Getting to the quarterback is a key for any defense, and in a weak SEC East that could truly be the x-factor for Tennessee coming away with a win in close games. Along with Maggit and Barnett, the Vols will also be adding Kahlil McKenzie to the mix, a highly touted pass rusher that will surely see a lot of reps this season. If McKenzie can turn that duo into a trio then this will without a doubt be a nightmare of a defense for an offensive line to try to slow down.

5. Take Care of Business at Home

There’s a reason why the term home-field advantage was coined. However, Tennessee doesn’t seem to take advantage of playing on its home field when matching up against conference opponents. Over the past four seasons, Tennessee has a stunning record of just 4-12 while playing SEC games at Neyland Stadium. That doesn’t bode well for a team trying to win the SEC East as the last four division champs have all won at least three games on their home turf and have a combined record of 12-3. 

The Volunteers have four home games against conference foes this year, and all four are actually very winnable on paper. Tennessee gets Arkansas and Georgia in back-to-back weeks, which will be tough contests, but if the Vols can at least break even in those two games they’ll be in good shape for the rest of season. Then South Carolina and Vanderbilt each travel to Knoxville later on in the season, and Tennessee should take care of business in both of those games.

If Tennessee can win three of those four home games against SEC opponents they stand a real good chance of winning the division. On top of that, it’ll take pressure off the team when it has to hit the road for its tougher matchups against Florida, Alabama and Missouri.

West Georgia players Darrius Caldwell, Dalvon Stuckey to work out for 20 NFL teams on Thursday

West Georgia defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey and outside linebacker-defensive end Darrius Caldwell are working out for NFL scouts on Thursday at 2 p.m.
Twenty NFL teams have said they plan to attend the workout.
Stuckey, Caldwell and North Carolina Central wide receiver-kick returner Adrian Wilkins have declared for the NFL supplemental draft. It’s scheduled for July 9.
Stuckey had 40 tackles, 9 1/2 for losses, and four sacks last season.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder was a top junior college recruit at Pearl River Community College where he had 85 tackles, 23 for losses and eight sacks as a freshman.
Stuckey signed with Florida State out of high school and also had offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Iowa State, Louisville, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
All three players are represented by agents Justin VanFulpen and Josh Kranish of Summit Sports.
Wilkins is an outstanding kick returner.
He was named as an All-American punt returner last season.
As a sophomore, Wilkins returned five kicks for touchdowns, three kickoffs and two punts.
He caught 37 passes for 427 yards and two touchdowns.
In high school, in 2010, he had 1,876 yards of total offense with 23 touchdowns.
Caldwell is a 6-foot-4, 245-pound hybrid pass rusher.
Caldwell recorded 69 tackles, 18 1/2 for losses and a dozen sacks last season.
Caldwell is a junior college transfer from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.
Caldwell originally enrolled at Illinois where he had 17 tackles, five for losses, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He was a four-star recruit growing up in Georgia who chose Illinois over Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina and West Virginia.
Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider
Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

Lions fan fined, given community service for laser pointer incident

Detroit Lions fan Marko Beslach was fomed $235 and given 80 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
Beslach, 18, shined a laser pointer at Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton last season to try to distract him.
The Lions issued a statement that laser pointers were banned.
Beslach got caught because he bragged about it on Twitter.
He was banned from Ford Field and the fans who brought him to the game had their season tickets revoked.
Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider
Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun

2015 College Football Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

Coming out of the Big Ten conference is a team that is trying to return back to their former glory, the Penn State Nittany Lions. Last season was an excellent year for the Lions as they went to their first bowl game since the end of their post-season ban. They also had a respectable 7-6 season but a disappointing 2-6 conference record. Let’s take a look at the outlook for their 2015 season:
2015 Schedule:

  1. Sept. 5th—at Temple
  2. Sept. 12th—Buffalo
  3. Sept. 19th—Rutgers
  4. Sept. 26th—San Diego State
  5. Oct. 3rd—Army
  6. Oct. 10th—Indiana
  7. Oct. 17th—at Ohio State
  8. Oct. 24th—Maryland (played in Baltimore)
  9. Oct. 31st—Illinois
  10. Nov. 7th—at Northwestern
  11. BYE
  12. Nov. 21st—Michigan
  13. Nov. 28th—at Michigan State

The offense for the Nittany Lions last season was hard to watch to say the least. First, let’s look at their rushing game. Last season, only one running back was able to rush for over 100 yards in a game, and that was junior back, Akeel Lynch. The number one spot is unquestionably his, but the number two spot is still up for grabs between sophomores Mark Allen, Nick Scott, and Jonathan Thomas. The passing game has a rising star in its midst, a junior QB named Christian Hackenburg. Hackenburg is NFL material. He just has to be more of a consistent passer and make better decisions. Last season was rough for him as he threw for just under 3,000 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. The main target for Hackenburg will be DaeSean Hamilton. Thankfully, they have a deep WR staff this year to take the pressure off of Hamilton and reduce heavy coverage. The offensive line will also look to improve from an underwhelming season seeing as they gave up, on average, three sacks per game. The O-line does have a lot more experience and should be much better than last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions did an excellent job. Their run defense was one of the best at slowing down the rushing attack by allowing on average only 100.5 rushing yards per game (3rd in the nation) and 2.95 yards per carry (2nd in the nation). Senior Defensive Tackle and top draft prospect Anthony Zettel hopes to remain the anchor for this defense and keep those low run totals down. He will have some help on the interior from junior lineman Austin Johnson. Both of these guys are great inside and will be important to the pass rush and run defense for the Lions. The hardest part of heading into this new season will be replacing LB Mike Hull and his 140 tackles from last season. When you have a player that productive, he is hard to replace. The pass defense for Penn State was, likewise, great last season. They allowed on average only 178.2 passing yards per game. Their secondary is stacked, led by senior safety Jordan Lucas. Also, their corners have great depth and are tough for receivers to deal with. Expect the defense for the Lions to be suffocating once again this year.
2015 Outlook:
Strength of Schedule: 5 out of 10
Penn State has a fairly soft schedule this season. They play a lot of low par teams this season at home (Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army, and Indiana). Also, they avoid top conference foes such as Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa. The only reason I don’t give them a 4 out of 10 is because they do face Ohio State and Michigan State, both on the road. While both should be great games, the odds are not in their favor, and the Lions will likely lose those two matchups. On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions are set to have a suffocating defense, but with not knowing what to expect from the offense, this season is up in the air. I do expect Penn State to best last year’s 7 wins and go to a decent bowl game this year, but there is no chance of them winning the Big 10.
Three 2016 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch:
#14 QB, Christian Hackenberg, Junior—6’4”, 234 lbs
#98 DL, Anthony Zettel, Senior—6’4”, 274 lbs
#9 SS, Jordan Lucas, Senior—6’0”, 198 lbs
Austin Morris is the creator of The Scouting Lab. He is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. He can be reached at

Top 5 NFL Running Backs

I realize that this topic can be the subject of debate and conversation. In saying that, when I made my list of the top running backs currently in the NFL, career production and the ability to sustain that top production were part of the criteria.
Durability and longevity are two criteria that go into making a back great. Having been part of 30 NFL drafts, I know that when a club drafts a running back, they are hoping that they can get four of five good years out of that player. The player getting to a second contract is almost an afterthought. The great ones have a way of staying healthy and being productive for a long period of time.
Adrian Peterson – Minnesota
In all my years of scouting, I don’t think I have ever seen a running back quite like Peterson. Most backs with his physical style don’t last long as the wear and tear on their bodies breaks them down long before they would want. That hasn’t been the case with Peterson. He has had his fair share of injuries, yet still comes back strong, and his play has not dropped off. He still has the speed and burst he had as a young back and still runs with a very violent style. He is one of the most punishing running backs in football.
Having missed most of the 2014 season because of off field issues, Peterson may just be better than ever. The year off has only given him a chance to rest his legs, and he should be in top form right from the get go. It would not surprise me to see him run for over 1500 yards in 2015.
Marshawn Lynch – Seattle
Like Peterson, Lynch is an extremely violent runner. He may even be more explosive on contact than A.P. It is my feeling that if it weren’t for Lynch, Russell Wilson would not be nearly as productive as he is. Having Lynch in the backfield keeps defenses honest and allows Wilson to do more.
This is Marshawn’s ninth year, yet the last four years have been his most productive. Over that time span, Lynch has run for 5357 yards for a 4.53 yards per carry average and 48 touchdowns. Like Peterson, he shows no signs of slowing down. Lynch has also been a very good receiver over that span with 124 receptions and nine touchdowns.
What I find amazing about Lynch is that he is not that big. He is listed as being 215, but he looks and plays much bigger. His durability over the last five seasons has been amazing, and he has not missed a game over the last three seasons.
LeSean McCoy – Buffalo
When McCoy came out of Pittsburgh for the 2009 draft, I had no idea he would be as productive for such a long period of time because of his build. He just isn’t a very big guy. He plays between 204-208 but looks like a 190 pound guy.
As small as he is, his durability has been excellent. He has missed only six games in six seasons and has never had a major injury. The worst injury he has had to deal with is a severe ankle sprain. That said, he should be able to play productively for at least another three years.
While Peterson and Lynch are power backs, McCoy is an elusive “scatback”. He can move laterally almost as quickly as he moves straight ahead. He has a rare burst, and his instincts are second to none.
As far as production, it’s top notch. In six years, he has run for 6792 yards and 44 touchdowns. He has also had 300 receptions for another 2282 yards and another 10 touchdowns.
I felt McCoy was a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, but obviously, Kelly didn’t feel the same way. It will be interesting to see how McCoy fares in Buffalo in a new scheme. Buffalo always seems to get production out of their backs.
Matt Forte – Chicago
This pick may surprise some, but in my opinion, there may not be a better all-around back in the league. Forte is a very good runner and an excellent receiver. He just may be the best receiver out of the backfield in the NFL. There is no back, other than McCoy, who compares with Forte as far as being able to both run and catch.
Forte has had a few injury issues, but he has always bounced back and been productive after. This will be Forte’s eighth season, and the former second round draft pick has run for 7,704 yards and 41 touchdowns. In that time, he has also caught 443 passes for another 3727 yards and 16 touchdowns. The 443 receptions is at the top as far as running backs go.
Forte has good size at about 6’2 – 218, but he isn’t a power back. He is more of a glider who has very good instincts, and he doesn’t take many big hits. While Lynch and Peterson are collision runners, Forte is the opposite.
At 29 years of age, Forte does not have many years left, but being on a John Fox coached team, you know he is going to have a very strong year. Fox has always had a way of making the running back a key part of the offense. Forte’s best year as a rusher was 1349 yards in 2013. He could top that this year.
DeMarco Murray – Philadelphia
I was a little hesitant at putting Murray in this slot, but after watching tape from last year, I feel that DeMarco is just beginning to come into his own. The beneficiary of that will be the Philadelphia Eagles as Murray should be able to put up some huge numbers in that offense. Granted, he won’t be playing behind the line he had in Dallas, but the Philly line is plenty good.
This will be Murray’s fifth year in the NFL. His first two years were average to say the least with him running for a total of 1560 yards in those two seasons. The last two years have been outstanding. In 2013, he ran for 1121 yards and nine touchdowns, while last year, he had 1845 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has also shown that he is a very good receiver out of the backfield with a career total of 171 receptions in four years. 110 of those catches have come in the last two seasons.
What I like about Murray is that he is a physical runner similar to both Lynch and Peterson, and he still should be able to improve his game. If he has a weakness, it’s that he fumbles a bit more than most would like.
Others that I thought about for this list were Frank Gore and Jamaal Charles. As good as Le’Veon Bell was in 2014, he still hasn’t done it over a period of time. He could be on this list in another year or two.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

Ready for Impact

Coming into the NFL as a rookie, much is expected of these young men: to come in and help make a positive impact and a contribution to the team, to learn, in most cases, a new offense or defense, and to familiarize yourself with new coaches and teammates. Not to mention, many are now living on their own for the first time, playing in a city they might have never visited before.  So, it’s no surprise that in the second season of a player’s career is where the biggest improvement can be seen. I’ve identified six players, entering their second season, that will be expected to make bigger impacts on their respective teams in 2015. Some were held back due to injuries, while others needed some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NFL. These players not only have the talent to succeed, but are in the right situations with the proper supporting cast to help them. Most, if not all, I feel will one day be playing in the Pro Bowl.
Telvin Smith – Jacksonville Jaguars
6’ 3” 218 lbs. Linebacker
2014 Stats: 104 Combined Tackles, 2 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Interception
What I like: A fifth round pick out of Florida State in last year’s draft, Smith came on strong in the second half last season.  Smith racked up 64 tackles (six for loss) in the final six games, with 31 tackles coming in the final two, which led the NFL. Smith’s breakthrough game came in Week 7 versus the Browns, where he intercepted a pass, which led to a touchdown, and also had a key sack strip late in that game earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Smith enters this up-coming season as the starting weak side linebacker for Gus Bradley’s Jaguars defense. With his athleticism and speed, Smith has shown the ability to cover down field, while at the same time being aggressive versus the run. The knock on Smith coming into the draft was his size. He started last season weighing 218 pounds but admitted that he played below that number during the season. The key will be adding good weight to Smith’s frame with hopes that he will be able to survive an entire NFL season. The Jacksonville coaches have been raving about the work Smith has put in this offseason. The expectation entering his second season in this defense, predicated on his speed and aggressiveness, is that Smith will blossom into one of the best linebackers in the league.
Davante Adams – Green Bay Packers
6’ 1” 215 lbs. Wide Receiver
2014 Stats: 38 receptions 446 yards 3 touchdowns
What I like: Typically, the wide receiver position sees the biggest jump in production from a player’s rookie season to their second. With more sophisticated NFL offenses and increased game speed, it takes a full season to adjust. Packers’ receiver Davante Adams is no exception. As he enters his second season, Adams looks to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers another weapon to go along with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The thought of another toy for Rodgers sends chills down the opposing defensive players’ spines. Adams had an inconsistent rookie campaign with his best game coming against the Patriots in week 13 where he had six catches for 121 yards. Adams gave everyone a glimpse of what he can do in the Packers’ playoff win versus the Cowboys. In that game, Adams had seven receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Through the offseason, Adams has been taking snaps with the first team offense due to Jordy Nelson being sidelined with an injury, and he has stood out. Adams has improved his strength and conditioning along with his route running, earning high praise from both Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy proclaimed Adams the MVP of their offseason. With improved route running, coupled with Adams ability to go up and make contested catches, topping the 1000 yards and double digit touchdowns are well within his reach.
Crockett Gilmore – Baltimore Ravens
6’6” 251 lbs. Tight End
2014 Stats: 10 receptions 121 yards 1 touchdown
What I like: Gilmore is a big tight end with soft hands and, in limited snaps last season, showed the ability to make tough catches. Predominately used as a blocker by former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, Gilmore has made it a point of emphasis to work on his route running and his quickness in and out of breaks this offseason. With the need at the position, caused by the departure of Owen Daniels and injury to Dennis Pitta, Gilmore has a great opportunity to open the season as the starter. The Ravens did draft two tight ends in Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle who will compete with Gilmore. The Ravens replaced Kubiak with former Bears Coach Marc Trestman who runs the west coast offense and loves to utilize the tight end. Looking back to last season, the Bears’ Martellus Bennett had 90 receptions on 129 targets. Just like Bennett, Gilmore is tall at 6’ 6” and gives the quarterback a big target. Although not blessed with blazing speed, Gilmore did, at times, show the ability to break open down the seam. The tight end will have a big role in the Ravens’ offense this season. With Gilmore’s size and ability to catch, he could become one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, especially in the red zone.
Bene Benwikere – Carolina Panthers
6’0” 195 lbs. Cornerback
2014 Stats: 33 Tackles 1 Forced Fumble 1 Interception
What I like: Benwikere, a 5th round pick out of San Jose State, made an impact on the Panthers defense last season. He won the nickel back position coming out of training camp, where he earned the nickname “Big Play Bene”. Benwikere got injured in week 5, and would miss six games because of the ankle injury. When he returned, Benwikere was inserted as the starter at corner, starting six games and helping Carolina make a successful playoff push. What Bene has is great vision and the keen ability to read the offense, which gives him the confidence to jump receiver routes or to stray off his assignment and make a play on the intended target. Panthers’ coaches have noticed the improvement in Benwikere this offseason, with a better grasp of the defense now. Instead of thinking out there, he is reacting. Carolina brought in veteran corner Charles Tillman to compete with Benwikere for the starting position. Coach Rivera and Tillman are familiar with each other dating back to when both were with the Bears. Tillman has missed a big chunk of the past two seasons with triceps injuries. So Tillman will not only need to beat out Bene in training camp but also prove he can stay healthy an entire season. Whether starting outside at corner or inside as the nickel back, expectations are that “Big Play Bene” will be out on the field for the Panthers, making plays and solidifying the back half of the defense.
Jason Verrett – San Diego Chargers
5’9” 178 lbs. Cornerback
2014 Stats: 19 Tackles 1 Interception
What I like: What Jason Verrett lacks in height and size, he more than makes up for in speed and quickness, not to mention the heart and determination he shows out on the field. Coming into the 2014 draft, many had second to third round grades on Verrett, mostly due to his lack of size. Scouting Verrett last season, he was one of my favorite players to watch on tape. The aforementioned speed and quickness were evident as was the aggression he attacked opposing receivers with and the way he came up to play the run. The San Diego Chargers made him their first round pick and, during training camp, veterans, like safety Eric Weddle, had nothing but praise for the football character and professionalism Verrett displayed. Unfortunately, Verrett’s season was limited to just five games as he tore the labrum in his left shoulder making a sensational interception that helped seal the victory versus the Raiders. During his final season at TCU, he had torn the labrum in his right shoulder. Staying healthy is a key factor for Verrett, who currently is listed as the starter opposite Brandon Flowers. Verrett, having rehabbed both shoulder injuries, has spent part of the offseason training with the Saints Brandin Cooks, working on his speed, agility, and quickness. Verrett will always be at a disadvantage when going up against the big tall receivers, but with his 4.38 speed and 39 inch vertical and tenacity, he will make things difficult for receivers. Jason also is explosive out of his back pedal, can open his hips, turn and run with the receiver downfield, and has strong hands allowing him to get physical while also going to make a play on the ball. Verrett also has the ability to move inside and cover the quicker slot receivers when the Chargers go to their nickel defense.  If Verrett can avoid major injuries and stay on the field, he has the ability to be a difference maker for the Chargers’ defense.
Brandin Cooks – New Orleans Saints
5’10” 189 lbs. Wide Receiver
2014 Stats: 53 Receptions 550 Yards 3 Touchdowns
What I like: Brandin Cooks was well on his way to a terrific rookie season last year before breaking his thumb and missing the final six games. The four games prior to the injury, Cooks was finding his groove within the offense, as he had 18 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Cooks enters this season feeling healthy and confident. With his thumb healed, Cooks is now playing faster than last season. As with most second year players, he is doing less thinking and just playing football. Cooks says he now has a full grasp on the offense, and others agree. After the recently completed minicamp, reports surfaced that Cooks was the best player on offense not named Brees.  Besides knowing the offense, what also is setting up Cooks to have a big year are the trades of tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills. Gone with those two players are 148 receptions and 209 targets combined. Cooks is destined to be a prime beneficiary of some of those receptions and targets left behind. Plus, head coach Sean Payton has always found a way to get the ball into the hands of fast, quick receivers and backs. Case in point how he utilized both Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles when both players were Saints.  Payton will have the option of utilizing Cooks, not only split wide outside the numbers, but also inside at the slot receiver position and lined up in the backfield. It would not surprise me if Cooks ends up with over 100 receptions and ten or more touchdowns. With Cooks’s speed and quickness, coupled with Payton calling the plays and Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints have another playmaker who, when he has the ball in his hands, is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56