Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Bottom 16 Skill-Player Groups

Saturday, April 20, 2013


17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB: Josh Freeman > Dan Orlovsky > Adam Weber
RB: Doug Martin > Brian Leonard > LeGarrette Blount > Michael Smith
WR: Vincent Jackson > Mike Williams > Tiquan Underwood > Kevin Ogletree
TE: Luke Stocker > Tom Crabtree > Nate Byham > Drake Dunsmore

Skill Player Overview: Freeman's 2012 touchdown-to-interception ratio and yardage stats look pretty on paper, but the tape tells another tale. While Freeman can muscle throws downfield, his short to intermediate accuracy is the most scattershot in the league and his performance tends to go in the toilet under duress. It's not surprising the Bucs are letting Freeman enter his contract year without an extension. The jury is very much out on whether he's a long-term answer.

The biggest positives in this group are versatile workhorse Martin -- who was truly sensational as a rookie -- and physical downfield specialist Jackson. Jackson, and to a lesser extent Williams, deserve a large majority of the credit for Freeman's stats, regularly winning contested vertical shots. Williams is solid in the No. 2 receiver role. Tight end is a weakness, as the Bucs lack a passing-game weapon there. No. 3 wideout is another hole. Ogletree is thoroughly ineffective and Underwood can run but does little else well. This skill-player corps remains a work in progress.

2013 Breakout Candidate: Stocker. The draft will go a long way toward telling us whether the Bucs believe Stocker is a capable starter. Popularly compared to fellow former Tennessee Vol Jason Witten coming out of college, Stocker has managed just 28 receptions and 9.2 yards per catch through 30 NFL games. He's been primarily a blocker to this point, albeit a good one. Crabtree is another blocker-slash-special teamer. The Bucs are not bringing back free agent Dallas Clark.

18. Kansas City Chiefs

QB: Alex Smith > Chase Daniel > Ricky Stanzi > Alex Tanney
RB: Jamaal Charles > Shaun Draughn > Cyrus Gray
WR: Dwayne Bowe > Donnie Avery > Dexter McCluster > Jon Baldwin
TE: Anthony Fasano > Tony Moeaki > Kevin Brock

Skill Player Overview: While Smith lacks top-end quarterback talent -- his arm is average and he's not a plus-yardage scrambling threat -- the Chiefs aren't going to ask him to carry their team. New coach Andy Reid will expect high-percentage passing and low turnover rates. In Reid's West Coast attack, the objective will be to get the ball in Bowe and Charles' hands for run-after-catch opportunities. Charles can expect a reduction in rushing attempts under pass-first Reid, but will shatter his previous career high in receptions and can be a dynamic game changer in space. Bowe is one of the three best short to intermediate receivers Reid has ever coached, behind only Sterling Sharpe (1992-1994) and Terrell Owens (2004-2005).

No. 2 receiver will be up for grabs, with drop-prone deep threat Avery, slot/gadget guy McCluster, and Baldwin in the hunt. Baldwin was drafted 26th overall in 2011, but has been a bust to this point in his career and will be handed nothing under Kansas City's new regime. He may even be a candidate for trade. Along with Baldwin, Moeaki is a wild card with an undefined role. The Chiefs paid Fasano $16 million over four seasons and Reid has never gone heavy on two-tight end sets.

2013 Breakout Candidate: McCluster. Reid loved McCluster before the 2010 draft and likely would've selected him at No. 37 overall had ex-Chiefs GM Scott Pioli not plucked McCluster at 36. Through three NFL seasons, McCluster has been a man without a home, shuttling between slot receiver and running back. Perhaps offensive guru Reid will figure out how to use McCluster productively. He was entirely ineffective under former coordinators Brian Daboll and Bill Muir.

19. Minnesota Vikings

QB: Christian Ponder > Matt Cassel > Joe Webb > McLeod Bethel-Thompson
RB: Adrian Peterson > Toby Gerhart > Matt Asiata > Joe Banyard
WR: Greg Jennings > Jerome Simpson > Jarius Wright > Stephen Burton
TE: Kyle Rudolph > John Carlson > Rhett Ellison > Chase Ford

Skill Player Overview: The 12th pick in the 2011 draft, Ponder has been widely written off as a bust nationally after a truly putrid nine-game stretch last season (Weeks 7-16) where he completed 140-of-245 passes (57.1 percent) for just 1,267 yards (5.17 YPA!), and a 7:8 TD-to-INT ratio with two lost fumbles. This is obviously a cherry-picked stat, but Ponder completed 67.2 percent with a 7.01 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and four interceptions in his other seven starts. I'm probably one of the few football analysts yet to throw in the towel on Ponder. I've watched a lot of his tape and I think he has a better arm than given credit for with plus accuracy and athleticism.

The Vikings badly need a No. 2 wide receiver -- they'll likely draft one -- but the rest of the skill-player group looks strong. Peterson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer with at least two monster seasons left. Jennings doesn't stretch the field quite like he used to, but his hands and patterns are among the most reliable in football. Rudolph isn't as explosive as the Gronkowskis, Grahams, and Hernandezes, but he's as good as any of them in scoring position. Wright is a promising 23-year-old slot receiver who flashed some big-play ability as a rookie. The Vikings could vault into the high teens among skill-position units if Ponder (simply?) becomes Chad Pennington.

2013 Breakout Candidate: Wright. The former Arkansas Razorback's breakout chances will diminish if Minnesota drafts a first-round receiver, which seems likely. Wright's role should grow regardless. The 2012 third-rounder is blessed with explosive receiving ability inside the numbers and averaged 14.1 yards per catch as a rookie, also flashing some deep threat tools.

20. Philadelphia Eagles

QB: Michael Vick > Nick Foles > Dennis Dixon > G.J. Kinne
RB: LeSean McCoy > Bryce Brown > Chris Polk
WR: DeSean Jackson > Jeremy Maclin > Jason Avant > Arrelious Benn
TE: James Casey > Brent Celek > Clay Harbor > Evan Moore

Skill Player Overview: At pre-draft minicamp, Eagles players talked up Chip Kelly as if he will take the league by storm, getting playmakers McCoy and Jackson into space and allowing the weapons to play fast and "free." It's not out of the question that Kelly's offense could rejuvenate Vick at age 33, although his recent performance, persistent durability woes, and a forthcoming camp battle make quarterback look like a liability on this roster. Because it's the most important position on the field, a skill-position group with major QB question marks can't rank particularly high. The Eagles have explosive pieces, but they're best approached with a wait-and-see mindset.

Maclin has been a disappointment as the 19th pick in the 2009 draft, showing an inability to stay healthy or play physically when he is on the field. Vick has 30 interceptions and 32 fumbles over the past three seasons, and Kelly won't hesitate to bench him if Vick's ball security remains problematic. Kelly places a heavy emphasis on ball handling at quarterback. Jackson is entering year six of his career and has been unable to maintain -- let alone build upon -- the fast start to his career. The backfield is the clear strength of Kelly's skill group. McCoy is a versatile feature back with some of the NFL's best lateral shake. Brown was exceptionally raw as a rookie, but offers great speed and natural power. Kelly's offense is run-based. McCoy and Brown will be his foundation.

2013 Breakout Candidate: Casey. Misused as a fullback by Gary Kubiak's staff, Casey will essentially play receiver in Philadelphia. Kelly's run game succeeded at Oregon due to brilliant usage of on-field spacing, flooding the grass with four wideouts to create favorable matchups. Casey will be one of two slot receivers, perhaps along with Avant or Benn. At 6-foot-3, 246 with great hands, Casey drew Dallas Clark comparisons coming out of Rice. He'll finally get his chance to play like Clark.

21. Miami Dolphins

QB: Ryan Tannehill > Matt Moore > Pat Devlin
RB: Lamar Miller > Daniel Thomas > Marcus Thigpen > Jonas Gray
WR: Mike Wallace > Brian Hartline > Brandon Gibson > Davone Bess
TE: Dustin Keller > Charles Clay > Michael Egnew > Kyle Miller

Skill Player Overview: The statistics didn't cooperate due to glaring deficiencies in Miami's supporting cast, but Tannehill looked every bit the part of a future franchise quarterback in his rookie season. He is smart, athletic, accurate with a plus arm, and handled the underrated pre-snap phase like a savvy veteran. Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, who is obviously on the hot seat entering the final year of his contract, desperately attacked the skill positions in 2013 free agency. Ireland signed Keller, Wallace, and Gibson, and re-signed Hartline for a combined $48.5 million in guaranteed money.

All things considered, Wallace was probably the best value of the group. Otherwise, they signed a bunch of mediocre players. Keller is coming off an atrocious season, while Gibson is a classic just-a-guy receiver without separation or run-after-catch skills. Hartline also doesn't get open consistently. Lacking playmaking ability, Hartline scored one touchdown on 74 catches last season. He has reached pay dirt just twice over his last 42 games. Under Ireland, the Dolphins have consistently overrated and misevaluated their internal talent. They did it with Chad Henne. They're doing it now with Hartline and Thomas, the latter of whom is a significant on-field liability.

2013 Breakout Candidate: Miller. It's impossible to not be intrigued by Miller's explosive run talent, but the Dolphins are essentially handing the feature back role to a fourth-round pick who struggled with the playbook and blitz protection as a rookie while earning only 51 carries. The competition-free commitment to Miller is head scratching to say the least. Still, if Miller is going to run the ball 250-plus times, he'll be an obvious breakout candidate. His one-cut style fits Miami's zone scheme, and Miller's 4.40 forty led all running backs at the 2012 Combine.


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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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