A Breakout for Sam Bradford, What RG3 Can Learn from Aaron Rodgers, and Aldon Goes to Oakland
1. I think I’m cautiously optimistic that Sam Bradford is going to be one of the NFL’s 10 best quarterbacks in 2015 (health disclaimer implied). If nothing else I’m curious to see him go to work in Philly, where he’ll have a better supporting cast than he ever had in St. Louis. I was a glass-half-empty guy on Bradford early in his career, but during the lead up to the 2012 draft I had a discussion with a veteran offensive player who had worked with Bradford in St. Louis. I brought up the scenario that the Rams, who held the No. 2 pick that year, take Robert Griffin III (remember, there was a time when everyone wanted RG3) and dangle Bradford in a trade. “No way,” he told me. “Sam is incredible. He has pass rushers on top of him immediately on every play. He can’t step into a throw because he has guys diving at his knees, but he can still fire it from the hash to the opposite sideline. If he ever gets enough help he’s going to be great.” In St. Louis, he never did.
• SAM BRADFORD IN THE MMQB 100: A one-year fallback option for Chip Kelly, or a fallen star about to realize his potential? If Sam Bradford is ever going to re-establish himself as a franchise quarterback, this season, in this system, is the perfect opportunity.
2. I think, speaking of RG3, I can’t help but think of Washington’s fallen star when I read quotes like this one, from Aaron Rodgers: “I desperately want to be coached,” Rodgers told Peter King for a Rodgers profile that ran on The MMQB earlier this week. “I love talking football with smart coaches. I love the input, the dialogue, the conversation. I love feeling like I need to play well for my coach, like he is expecting me to play well. It’s fun to be able to make all those coaches proud.” Coming out of Cal, Rodgers’ situation wasn’t that different from Griffin’s, in that each QB was obscenely talented but needed to be re-programmed for the NFL. I’d love to see Griffin land with a more… shall we say “stable”… organization next offseason and sit and learn for two years. But mostly, I hope someone shows Rodgers’ words to Griffin and that RG3 takes them to heart.
• NO MORE HOPE: In a span of 32 months, Robert Griffin III went from rookie of the year to being demoted. As Washington mulls severing ties with RG3, Peter King looks back at where it all went wrong and which team he could play for next.
3. I think I have one more thought about the fall of RG3: When did a young quarterback sitting and learning become such a bad thing? Aaron Rodgers sat for three years. Tom Brady sat for a year and change. Philip Rivers sat for two years. Tony Romo sat for three-plus years. Drew Brees sat for a year. Carson Palmer sat for a year. Eli Manning sat for half a year. I mean, those guys are good, right? Good at football? What am I missing here?
4. I think I’m pretty sure the hearts of Raiders fans everywhere are filled with joy at the thought of Aldon Smith book-ending Khalil Mack. But boy, I hope Smith can get his life in order. Because if all those past wake-up calls are any indication…
5. I think this is a strange anomaly: You (and by you, I mean the degenerate gamblers in The MMQB’s readership) might have noticed that not one spread among the Week 1 games is greater than a touchdown (and only the Patriots moved to seven-point favorites at the 11th hour). I’m sure this isn’t the first time that’s happened, but I can’t remember the last time (and while I’m not a degenerate gambler, I did grow up in a family that ran an against-the-spread pick ’em pool—no money involved!—that I started participating in as an 8-year-old in 1987).
6. I think the internet is literally at capacity with thoughts on Deflategate, but I just have to add one: Those “Free Brady” t-shirts and posters, the ones inspired by the Obama “Hope” posters, make no frickin’ sense. What’s the crossover between the “Hope” and “Free Brady” messages? Isn’t “Free Brady” much less about hope than it is about anger and that irrational sense of victimization on which New England sports fans have seemingly cornered the market (I grew up a 15-minute drive from Old Sturbridge Village, I know it well)? But then again, if you’re a Patriots fan and you’re wearing anything but the old Pat Patriot logo, you’re doing it wrong.
• THE PREDICTABLE PATRIOTS: Tom Brady dominated, Rob Gronkowski was unstoppable and the opponent accused New England of subterfuge. Peter King writes that it was the same song, new season for the reigning champs on Thursday night.
7. I think, while you’re counting down the hours to kickoff, you should spend some time with The MMQB Read of the Week: Jenny Vrentas on how J.J. Watt, inspired by Lawrence Taylor’s line-up-anywhere approach, is using pre-snap movement to bring his game to another level. Among other insights, Watt reveals himself as something of an evil genius (well, from an opposing quarterback’s perspective):
How many options could you have in any defensive call?
Watt: “Heh, heh, heh. On any call, really, I could do just about anything, as long as I make sure it’s communicated with the rest of the guys.”
How late before the snap can you decide what you’re going to do?
Watt: “Heh, heh, heh. That’s one thing that, as the year went on, you can start to make it later and later because we got more and more comfortable. That’s why, in Romeo’s second year, we’re so in sync and we’re so far ahead of where we were a year ago at this time. They know what I’m thinking, I know what they're thinking, so all we need to do is a look, or a little hand signal, and we're good to go.”
8. I think these are three guys I like in FanDuel one-week leagues:
RB Jonathan Stewart ($7,100) vs. Jacksonville: With DeAngelo Williams landing north in Pittsburgh, the Panthers’ backfield belongs to Stewart. He averaged 104.7 scrimmage yards per game over the last six games of last season (as well as more than 20 touches per game). With Carolina figuring to (a) be protecting a lead in Jacksonville and (b) go extremely run-heavy with a depleted receiving corps regardless of the score, Stewart is the top bargain to be had among running backs.
WR Davante Adams ($5,500) vs. Chicago: The big boss highlighted Adams’ fantasy prospects in his Friday column, and I was stunned to see the blue-light special price tag on him for Week 1. Jordy Nelson he is not, but the Packers thought highly enough of Adams to spend a second-round pick on him in 2014, and… well, c’mon, the guy is Aaron Rodgers’ No. 2 receiver. Do I have to draw you a picture?
TE Tyler Eifert ($5,000) vs. Oakland: With the Jermaine Gresham era mercifully coming to a close in Cincy, Eifert, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, steps up as the top tight end and likely No. 2 target for Andy Dalton (considering Mohamed “Slo Mo” Sanu is the other starting receiver opposite A.J. Green). Eifert caught 39 passes while playing only 62.8% of Cincy’s offensive snaps (according to our pals at Pro Football Focus) as a rookie in 2013 (he suffered a dislocated elbow and separated shoulder in the first half of last year’s opener and spent the next 15 games on IR). At 6-foot-6 Eifert is a red-zone threat, and the increased playing time makes him a no-brainer at that Week 1 price tag.
9. Thirteen-plus things I think about Sunday’s 13 games:
a. Sure, Seahawks fans should be a little freaked out at the prospect of a Kam Chancellor-less secondary. But if Seattle struggles in the Edward Jones Dome again, it probably won’t be because the defense was lit up by Nick Foles, Benny Cunningham and company.
b. Seeing Fred Jackson in Seattle’s backfield for the first time is going to be both weird. And, maybe, weirdly emotional. (I mean, Oh God, the feelings.)
c. I’ve done the math: There is no better place to be on an autmn Sunday than Orchard Park, N.Y. when the Bills are playing. (Sorry Green Bay, you’re a close second…). Tough opener for Andrew Luck and his new 2010 Pro Bowl supporting cast. This feels like an Allen-and-Fleener type of day for the Indy offense.
d. Let’s see what you got, Adam Gase. Instead of Peyton and the Thomases, Gase has Jay Cutler and a short-handed receiving corps (no Kevin White, Alshon Jeffery maybe less than 100%), for his chess match with Dom Capers.
e. Today’s the day: A Chiefs wide receiver is going to catch a touchdown pass in Houston. Alex Smith to Jeremy Maclin for a catch-and-run TD. (Don’t have time to look it up but I think the last Chiefs wideout TD was Dave Krieg to J.J. Birden.)
f. Browns and Jets will play a game that defensive connoisseurs will appreciate. I’m especially curious to see how Todd Bowles uses his safeties, specifically Calvin Pryor, a disappointment under Rex Ryan last year but exactly the type of guy who should thrive under Bowles. Considering who the Jets have at corner (and who the Browns receivers are), Bowles should be able to be as creative as he wants to be.
g. The hope is that Bill Callahan works Washington’s line into the kind of precise and mauling unit he oversaw in Dallas. If they can consistently move the ball with a heavy dose of Alfred Morris this year it would go a long way toward making fans forget the RG3 debacle. Of course, standing in their way this week is one Ndamukong Suh.
h. The Panthers got hot late last season by riding a run-heavy attack. They might as well dust off some old Pop Warner single-wing playbooks, because with Kelvin Benjamin sidelined no one will respect their perimeter receiving threats. In Jacksonville this weekend, we could easily see a 65/35 run/pass split.
i. The returns of Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington mean Bruce Arians can use every page of his playbook again. At least judging from the spread (Cards giving less than a field goal in the desert?!) folks seems to forget that, before Ryan Lindley and his unique take on the forward pass stepped into the postseason spotlight last January, this offense was plenty formidable. The Cards were 6-0 and averaged 25.8 points per game with Palmer under center last season. Rob Ryan and the Saints’ rebuilt defense will have their hands full.
j. Teryl Austin, this is your post-Suh life. The general consensus is that Detroit’s defensive coordinator will have to get creative and blitz more with Ndamukong Suh (as well as Nick Fairley) departing as free agents last winter. Of course, the Lions just happen to be opening in San Diego against Philip Rivers; no quarterback is better at recognizing and adjusting to the blitz pre-snap. It’s going to be a fascinating afternoon of chess.
k. One more thing on San Diego: When we’re all a little older and wiser, we’ll look back at the 2015 offseason and recognize Stevie Johnson as one of the offseason’s free-agent steals. His unique (and elite) route running didn’t mesh with EJ Manuel or Colin Kaepernick, young quarterbacks trying to master multiplication tables while the rest of the league is doing calculus. Johnson and Philip Rivers should make beautiful music this year.
l. Jameis vs. Mariota in an unprecedented 1 vs. 2 matchup in Tampa this afternoon. I’m very interested to see just what the Titans have designed for Mariota. But I’m more interested to see what Ray Horton and Dick LeBeau are going to throw at Winston. One chapter of the book on Winston—and something he admitted to in August—was that he has some issues processing when linebackers take deep drops. For Winston, Tennessee’s zone-blitz concepts are going to look like something out of a Wes Craven flick. (And, by the way, our Jenny Vrentas is at Raymond James and will have something for ya’ll later this week.)
m. Sure, you can get giddy over Carr-to-Cooper. But the one guy I’ll be watching closely in Raiders-Bengals is Geno Atkins. This is his second year back from a torn ACL, and if the glowing reports coming out of Cincinnati hold any merit he’s ready to re-claim his spot as the NFL’s most disruptive defensive lineman not named Justin James Watt.
n. Can an old dog whose had multiple neck surgeries and limped through the second half of last season learn new tricks? We’ll get our first real look at the Peyton Manning-Gary Kubiak marriage today. It will come against a Baltimore team that everybody loves, but one that Peyton has torched twice (regular-season only, please) in his Broncos career.
o. An educated guess (though, as Demetri Martin says, “How bad does a guess have to be to be an uneducated guess?”): Sunday night will make fine fodder for those in the “Dallas won’t miss DeMarco” camp. I’m not sure how they’ll work their running back rotation, but I do think there will be plenty of plays on which the back of choice will gain four yards before he’s touched. Wedgies, wet willies, the dreaded “rear admiral”... the Cowboys’ O-line is going to bully this Giants front seven. The G-Men weren’t very good against the run last year (NFL-worst 4.94 yards per carry allowed), and they’ll sorely miss JPP and his relentless pursuit. Plus, no Jon Beason tonight. Yikes.
10. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…