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Posted 12 Oct 2013
After Week 5, Sheldon Richardson leads a deep class of good rookies
Updated: October 10, 2013, 12:29 PM ET
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Inside
I gave the Jets a good grade in my 2013 NFL draft grades, but I heard a lot of questions about their strategy. People asked about things such as why no quarterback was taken in Round 1, why there was no skill-position talent like WR Tavon Austin (who was drafted by the Rams), and why no new tight end was selected. My conclusion was, "I still think they deserve a pretty good grade for hitting a few big needs. Now, they need to be patient with QB Geno Smith."
And the Jets did hit big needs. But it turns out they couldn't afford to be patient with Smith. The good news is, he continues to rise in my Rookie Rankings, and an efficient 16-of-20, three-touchdown performance on "Monday Night Football' shows another stage in his progression.
But they still better be patient. A few reminders about how I approach on the rankings:
• The rankings reflect play over the whole season, not just the previous Sunday.
• Positional value matters, but overall performance and impact on the team matter more.
• I'm asking: Would this player be a starter on most teams? (I think that hurts QBs some).
• Total snap count matters. Great plays matter, but staying on the field is important.
With those rules in place, let's jump into the rankings after Week 5. There are 21 players listed in all.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DT, New York Jets
So far, the Jets lead all NFL teams in run defense, allowing just 3.0 yards per carry, and Richardson is one of the main reasons why. He's been consistently disruptive, showing tremendous quickness and athleticism, eliminating the chance for blockers to move him and then getting to the second level. I also like his versatility -- we've even seen him line up as a fullback on offense down near the goal line. So far, the first interior lineman taken in the draft has lived up to the billing. He also has 2.5 sacks.
2. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo
Love his production, fiery approach and the number of impact plays he's been able to make. For instance, Alonso is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (four) but is also leading the Bills in tackles with 44 (he also has a sack). He's one of the best pure athletes (if not the best) of any inside linebacker in the NFL right now. The key with Alonso is that because of his versatility, he never has to come off the field.
3. Kenny Vaccaro, S, New Orleans
I'm giving him some bonus points, because while he's made his share of mistakes and taken some poor angles, he is staying on the field and has helped the Saints orchestrate one of the great defensive turnarounds we've seen in recent years (assuming they can keep this up). Vaccaro isn't asked to do much against the run but is instead playing a lot of deep patrol. Still, he's second on the team in tackles and has recorded a sack and an interception. While he was beaten deep late in the game on Sunday against Chicago, his overall performance through the first five games has been strong.
4. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit
He leads the Lions' defense with 3.5 sacks and is quickly becoming a fear factor-type player because the offensive always has to account for him. That said, his best work hasn't even been done as a pass-rusher -- he's been good against the run, too. His pass rush is inconsistent, but he just needs to learn. He's only going to get better with more experience; despite his age (24), he hasn't played much football yet.
5. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets
He has had ups and down and has turned the ball over too much, but that's what you expect from a rookie. However, he's shown poise, has never lost his confidence, is gaining respect from his teammates, and has come through in the clutch, rallying the Jets with two late fourth-quarter drives to pull out victories against Tampa Bay and Atlanta. The Atlanta victory, in particular, was a signature win because his late play was just the icing on top of a performance with great statistical efficiency. And let's remember: He's operating without a top-flight supporting cast, yet has been able to show nice progress. He's mixed a good deep ball with savvy as a scrambler.
6. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati
He's been a key element in their big wins against Green Bay and New England, displaying the all-purpose talents that make him so valuable. When the Bengals drafted him, we knew a big reason why was because they wanted a back they could throw to. Bernard is currently leading the Bengals with a 4.6-yard average per carry, but he's also hauled in 14 receptions for a 9.2-yard average.
7. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Cleveland
He didn't record a sack against Buffalo in his most recent game, but Mingo turned in a solid performance, and he is improving after missing much of the preseason. He recorded a sack in each of the three previous games, showcasing cat-like quickness and a sustained intensity level. Mingo is still more athlete than polished pass-rusher, but he could have a big second half of the season, because once he learns to counter more off his initial quickness, he's going to be really difficult to block.
8. Larry Warford, OG, Detroit
Although I didn't grade him out as high this past week against Green Bay as in the four previous games, Warford has done a very solid job overall for the Lions. He doesn't give up any inside pressure in the passing game, and he can get a push in the run game, with the power to move defenders. He'll get better, and he's off to a great start.
9. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina
He drops some just because he hasn't been on the field as much as some others, but he also got to sit a lot during a blowout win against the Giants, and Carolina has already had a bye. During the 150 snaps he's seen so far, Lotulelei has proven to be the block-occupying run-stopper he was drafted to be. Carolina is allowing just 3.6 yards per carry, a clear improvement from last season, and Lotulelei is a big reason why.
10. Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona
He has a knack for impacting a game in a very positive way. His instincts are top-notch. Against Carolina on Sunday, he recorded five tackles (all solo) and also made his presence felt behind the line of scrimmage. He had a sack, a tackle for loss, and a pair of QB hits. He's stayed on the field regardless of down and distance, is second on the team in tackles, and can play either deep or close to the line. So far, the Honey Badger looks like a third-round steal.
11. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
Two weeks ago he was the top rookie here, but he's cooled off some the past two weeks, with just four total catches for 50 total yards. He'll need to find a way to create more space against good defenses, which is what he saw against Seattle and San Francisco. He has 22 catches and 293 yards so far, and has the skill level to become a Pro Bowl player.
12. Eric Reid, S, San Francisco
He dropped an easy interception against Houston but played very well overall. He's fourth on the team in tackles, has a pair of INTs, and is another young safety who doesn't come off the field. The 49ers moved up to draft him out of LSU, and they clearly had big plans for him when they did.
13. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis
I'd like to see more game-changing plays from a player with his talent and explosiveness, but you can't deny the fact that he's been around the ball. He's tied with James Laurinaitis for the team lead with 36 tackles (32 of Ogletree's have been solo tackles). The key for Ogletree is pursuit and fundamentals. He can overpursue and fail to get into good position for tackles, which is why he's missed more than a handful. But he'll get better.
14. Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England
He's had a few drops along the way, but the undrafted free-agent find out of Cincinnati is second on the team with 18 catches for a 15.2-yard average, and he leads the team with three TD receptions. I'm actually giving Thompkins a little more credit than his numbers might imply, based on his targets. Tom Brady has thrown to him 44 times, and the tape shows that Thompkins can create space to get those targets. He just needs to haul in a few more of them.
15. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas
After a messy start to the season, he's been really coming on of late, and he could be a star of the not-too-distant future if he becomes a little more consistent. Over the past two games, he has 11 catches for 222 yards. Tony Romo is warming up to the rookie now that Williams has a better idea of where he's supposed to be on the field.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona -- Averaging 6.7 yards per carry, and is a factor in the passing game.
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas -- Has been strong after some early struggles. And he's healthy.
D.J. Fluker, RT, San Diego -- Has held up well as a pass-blocker, though his rep is as powerful run-blocker.
Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo -- Had chemistry with EJ Manuel. Will he get targets now that Manuel is injured?
John Jenkins, DT, New Orleans -- Overshadowed but effective on the revamped defense.
Kawann Short, DT, Carolina -- Needs more playing time, because he gets to the QB when he's on the field.
Posted 24 Sep 2013http://espn.go.com/n...=espnapi_public
QuoteFive years ago, Damon Harrison quit his job as an overnight stock boy at Wal-Mart and left his home in Lake Charles, La., for a college he knew nothing about.
Harrison didn't know William Penn University existed until a couple of days before his recruiting trip, when he searched the school on a computer. He thought he was visiting William & Mary. When the recruiter mentioned "William" in their conversation, he immediately assumed it was the school in Virginia.
[+] EnlargeDamon Harrison
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDamon Harrison tackles the Patriots' Stevan Ridley back in Week 2.
No matter. Harrison wanted to play football, not stock shelves for $14 an hour, so he was all-in.
One of his former coaches at Northwest Mississippi Community College, Steve Miller, was the new defensive line coach at William Penn, and he needed players. Harrison met Miller and six other potential recruits at NMCC in Senatobia, Miss., and they crammed into a Jeep Cherokee for an eight-hour drive to Oskaloosa, Iowa, home of the William Penn Statesmen -- an NAIA school.
On the drive north, Harrison saw snow for the first time.
He laughed at the memory as he stood last week in the plush New York Jets locker room. He starts at nose tackle for the Jets, only one year after arriving as an undrafted free agent. "Big Snacks," the nickname he received as a rookie, is now a Big Deal.
"The whole journey in itself, it's a whole lot more than people know," said Harrison, who once served as the water boy on his middle school team because he wasn't good enough to play. "It's amazing, man. It's a blessing."
The Jets' area scouts spend the entire fall on the road, driving from school to school in search of talent. The typical scout is on the road for 150 days a year and will visit 42 to 44 schools, knowing ahead of time that at least 20 of those schools will produce no one good enough to hear their name called at Radio City Music Hall in April.
For every Michigan, there's a William Penn.
But they make the trips anyway, because you never know.
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"We're all hoping," Jeff Bauer said. "As an area scout, you know that on 50 percent of your stops, you won't see anyone that will be drafted. But you keep grinding, looking for that one guy."
Bauer is the Jets' director of college scouting, but he spent 11 years as their Midwest scout, covering Minnesota to Texas and Kansas to Indiana. At heart, he's an Iowa man. He lives in Ankeny, where he was born and raised, and he played football at Iowa State. He knows the state better than MapQuest.
Before the 2011 season, Bauer was assigned to write a report on a 6-foot-2, 347-pound defensive tackle named Damon Harrison, whose name appeared on the NFL scouting combine's list of prospects. At the time, Harrison was just one of 400 names on the list.
But you never know.
Bauer got in his car in September 2011 and drove to Oskaloosa, a city of 11,500 in the middle of the state. It was only the second time he had visited William Penn.
Harrison tried out for his middle school football team. He got cut.
He tried out the following year. He got cut again.
He wanted to stay involved, so he accepted a position as a water boy. That lasted only a couple of weeks because he got tired of being ridiculed by his friends.
"Being told you're not good enough that many times ... all your friends are playing. My brother played football in high school -- yeah, it was discouraging," Harrison said.
So he stuck with basketball, his first love, becoming a highly skilled, 205-pound point guard. Football seemed over for him, but a series of random events led him back.
In his junior year, Harrison came down awkwardly with a rebound and his knee swelled. He'll never forget the date -- Nov. 29 -- because it was his birthday. It was a torn meniscus, which required surgery -- the first of four operations, two on each knee.
During his convalescence, Harrison ballooned to 255 pounds. There aren't too many 6-foot-2 power forwards, so he decided to give football one more chance. This time, he made the team, but he wasn't happy on the bench. He was on the verge of quitting when the offensive lineman ahead of him suffered an injury. Just like that, the water boy was starting.
[+] EnlargeDamon Harrison, Geno Smith
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesHarrison consoles quarterback Geno Smith after the team's loss to the Pats.
His high school career consisted of seven games, but Harrison wanted to play in college and earn a degree. No one recruited him, so he decided to do his own recruiting. He went to the computer in the school library -- his family didn't own one -- and he fired off e-mails to dozens of college coaches.
Only two replied, and one was Miller, an assistant at NMCC. He studied Harrison's basketball tapes and saw a freakish athlete, so he offered him a spot on the team as a left tackle.
Harrison's joy was short-lived because, by the time he arrived in Senatobia, he had lost his spot to a transfer from the University of Miami. He was victimized by the politics of college sports. He also discovered that, with only one year of experience, he was far behind the others in terms of fundamentals. He was gray-shirted, meaning he had to pay his own way.
"He was very unhappy," said Miller, who had accepted a position at Arkansas State before the season.
Unwanted by NMCC, Harrison went home to Lake Charles and started stocking shelves, thinking his football career was finished before it really started. He had only one thing working for him: his relationship with Miller. That, as it turned out, changed everything.
When Miller landed the job at William Penn, he invited Harrison to visit the school. So Harrison bought a ticket on a Greyhound bus and rode to Senatobia, where he met Miller and six others for the long drive to Oskaloosa.
Miller estimated the average size of each player was 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, making the car a can of sardines on four wheels. It was so jammed with bodies and luggage that it took 20 minutes to reload the Cherokee after a rest stop.
"There was no room for a bag of peanuts," Miller said.
Harrison was only 250 pounds when he arrived at William Penn, where he made sure to capitalize on the school's meal plan. Based on Miller's observation, Harrison didn't get enough to eat at home, where his mother worked two jobs to support the family. At college, he was a fixture in the dining hall, sometimes sitting for an hour per meal.
He ate his way to 360 pounds, yet managed to maintain his small-man athleticism. It was on display during one memorable day in the gymnasium.
Iowa defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn, who would become a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011, created a stir on campus when he showed up and wowed onlookers with a dunking exhibition. People urged Harrison to give it a try. He grabbed a ball, and the former point guard one-upped Clayborn with a one-handed, 360-degree dunk.
"It was 360 degrees at 360 pounds," Miller said. "The whole gym went crazy."
Despite Harrison's weight fluctuations, due in part to the multiple knee surgeries, Harrison dominated on the NAIA level. Division I schools tried to steal him away, but he remained true to William Penn. By his senior year, pro scouts started showing up on campus.
A Bucs scout was the first to arrive. After watching Harrison's tape, the scout told Miller, "Coach, this is very rare."
When Bauer arrived at William Penn on behalf of the Jets, he watched tape of Harrison's junior year and the first couple of games of his senior season. He sat with Harrison for an hour, a get-acquainted chat. That's one of the advantages of scouting at a small school -- a scout can spend quality time with the players.
Bauer learned Harrison's story -- about his late start in football, about his wasted year at community college, about his strong desire to provide for his family and about his history of knee injuries. The knee problems, Bauer concluded, contributed to Harrison's conditioning issues. This wasn't a lazy athlete, as some scouts assumed.
"You just knew this kid had what it took," Bauer said. "He dominated at that level -- not all the time like you want to see, but he got better and better."
Bauer, with cross-checking from fellow area scout Matt Bazirgan, wrote a glowing report of Harrison, giving him a seventh-round grade. He was a "sticker" player on the Jets' 2012 draft board.
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Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum established a practice in which each area scout was allowed to identify one priority free agent by placing a sticker of himself -- a mug shot of the scout -- next to the player's name on the board.
Bauer picked Harrison.
The sticker guy stuck, the only undrafted free agent to make last year's team out of training camp. He didn't play much, only a handful of plays in five games, but he'll never forget his NFL debut. It was "Monday Night Football" against the Houston Texans, and he was so awed by the moment that he was oblivious to conversations around him.
"Mo (Wilkerson) and Mike DeVito were trying to talk to me," Harrison said, "but I didn't hear anything."
It was a long way from William Penn, where the average home crowd was about 800.
This season, the former water boy, capitalizing on an injury to Kenrick Ellis, has claimed the starting nose-tackle job. From the outside, Harrison might be seen as the outcast on a defensive line that includes three first-round picks -- Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson -- but his value transcends his football pedigree.
In Sunday's win over the Buffalo Bills, Harrison was on the field for four of the Jets' eight sacks, setting up Richardson's sack by bulldozing center Eric Wood -- the same Wood who recently signed a four-year, $25 million contract extension. After the game, Richardson gave Harrison a shout-out on Twitter.
"I always knew he was special," said Miller, his old college coach, "but I didn't realize he was NFL special."
Meanwhile, somewhere on the road, Bauer is smiling.
"It makes you proud," he said. "I love Damon as a person. He's one of those kids you want to cheer for. We spend a lot of time on the road. To see it pay off, yeah, it's fun."
Because you never know.
Posted 23 Sep 2013Browns | Willing to trade two WRs
Sun, 22 Sep 2013 08:04:32 -0700
The Cleveland Browns are fielding offers for WRs Josh Gordon and Greg Little and are open to the possibility of trading them.
Comment (0) | Share: Tweet! Share on Facebook | Source: ESPN - Adam Schefter
Read more: http://kffl.com/play...n#ixzz2fjEOy8MN
Holmes, Hill, Gordon... Geno would have some nice weapons. Gordon looks like hes worth a second round pick. He does have some off the field issues but gordon said publicly that he believes he'd be suspended for an entire season if he got in trouble again. If he's saying that out loud and in public, he may know its time to sack up and be responsible. I doubt this team goes after him, but for a 2nd rounder, it's a fair price for a potential stud.(2nd rounder is my opinion on what the browns may be looking for in return).
Also some SPECULATION that the patriots could be the team that made an offer to the browns.
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