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Apr 212014
 
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Troy Niklas, New York Giants (November 2, 2013)

Troy Niklas – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Tight Ends

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

Current Tight Ends on NYG Roster:

Kellen Davis – 29 – Signed through 2014

Adrien Robinson – 26 – Signed through 2015

Larry Donnell – 26 – Signed through 2014

Daniel Fells – 31 – Signed through 2014

Where They Stand:

Jerry Reese has made a few attempts to increase the quality of the group over the years without a high level of aggression. The one time he went after a quality free agent in Martellus Bennett, their passing game was elevated to another level. However both prior to him and in 2013 with Brandon Myers, there was little-to-no threat of a pass catching presence at the position. It has held the passing game back from taking a step up to the next level. Davis and Fells were signed as veteran stop gaps. Neither pose as a threat to the defense but both can be serviceable backup types that block well. Davis is the one with starting potential; as he came in to the league with a high ceiling and he’s proven to be an OK player that can be depended on to do some of the little things well. Robinson has yet to live up to even half the hype that we’ve been led to believe. He may be gifted physically, but he’s had issues staying healthy and has shown nothing that should impact the Giants approach to the position in the draft. Donnell is a name I still have some hope for, as I think he has some more football skills to work with. All in all, this is a poor group of tight ends that needs an upgrade as soon as possible.

Top 10 Grades:

1 – Troy Niklas – Notre Dame – 6’7/270: 81

2 – Jace Amaro – Texas Tech – 6’5/265: 79

3 – Eric Ebron – North Carolina – 6’4/250: 79

4 – CJ Fiedorwicz – Iowa – 6’6/265: 76

5 – Marcel Jensen – Fresno State – 6’6/259: 75

6 – Crockett Gilmore – Colorado State – 6’6/260: 74

7 – Alex Bayer – Bowling Green – 6’4/257: 71

8 – Arthur Lynch – Georgia – 6’5/258: 70

9 – Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Washington – 6’6/262: 69

10 – Colt Lylerla – Oregon – 6’4/242: 67

Day One Target:

Troy Niklas – Notre Dame

There aren’t any tight ends worthy of the #12 overall pick on my board. But if NYG somehow trades back towards the end of round one, Niklas should be a thought. Niklas if a former defensive player that came on strong at TE this year. I think his upside is limitless, as I think he is already the best at the position in this class despite not having a lot of experience there. I think his floor is very high as well because he is going to be a dominant blocker in the NFL. He is violent, strong, and agile. He can man up defensive ends or get out in to space and stick with linebackers/safeties. Niklas’ size and ball skills are something that will present major matchup problems for opposing defenses and when it comes down to building up an offense, that’s what it is all about. I think we are talking about an early contributor that could turn himself in to one of the top dual threat TEs in the game.

Runner Up: Eric Ebron – North Carolina

Day Two Target:

Jace Amaro – Texas Tech

I think Ebron will be a first round pick, thus why I put his name above and not here. Amaro is likely going to slip in to round two and I think he will present good value there. He is another big-bodied pass catcher that plays the game with a toughness that NYG has been missing out on for awhile. He put up enormous numbers within a pass-friendly offense but has limited experience as an in-line blocker. That’s an issue when it comes to being brought in to the NYG offense. That did hurt his grade quite a bit but he is still an option for this team. He built up a reputation of being one of the toughest guys in the Big 12 conference and their coaching staff raved about his leadership. I think Amaro is a guy that will find a way to make it work as a blocker. As a receiver, Amaro is another guy that creates the much needed matchup problems. In addition, he has ability with the ball on his hands to pick up extra yards. There is some sneaky athleticism to this kid and I think he is gonna be a productive player in the NFL.

Runner Up: CJ Fiedorwicz – Iowa

Day Three Target:

Marcel Jensen – Fresno State

I went in to a session looking to scout Derek Carr and DaVante Adams in October. Halfway through I was writing more notes on Jensen than both combined. Jensen is a huge frame that moves surprisingly well. Even more, he is a soft hands catcher that can change direction with ease. I think Jensen’s game will be taken to another level in the NFL and when considering he will likely be a day three pick, there is an opportunity for a big value grab here. There are some fine points to his game that need work. He isn’t a good blocker mechanically, but he does show effort. He also needs better route running underneath. But all that in mind, I think he immediately becomes the tight end of the future for NYG more so than Donnell and Robinson.

Runner Up: Nic Jacobs – McNeese State (66)

Most Overrated:

Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Washington

I saw Jenkins play a few times in passing back in 2012 and was somewhat impressed. He was definitely a name I had circled heading in to 2013 but he was deeply underwhelming in every tape I saw. The size and movement ability are there and he has shown some impressive ball skills. But when I watch an entire game of his, I can’t help but worry about the fact that he is just another guy for almost the entire game. A highlight here and there won’t do anything for this team. Jenkins shows almost no urgency as a route runner or as a blocker. He doesn’t show the toughness in traffic either. For a guy this big, he is a softy. I don’t want guys like that unless we are talking about day three. I can see the upside but I saw too much bad tape to give him a grade anywhere higher than round 5.

Runner Up: Xavier Grimble – USC (64)

NYG Approach:

There is an issue here with this class. NYG could use a fresh talent early on at the position, someone that could come in right away and make a contribution. The issue however is that the TE class as a whole lacks star power and depth. In addition, I keep track of every NFL roster and it appears to me that there will be several teams in the hunt for a quality tight end. That is going to make it tough for NYG to bring in the right value at the position considering there are several spots that need to be filled on this team via the draft. If NYG can’t find the right value in the first 3-4 rounds, I would ignore the position altogether. The last thing they should want is yet another experiment at tight end soaking up another roster spot. But if there is a chance to bring in one of those top 5-6 guys where the value is right, I would strongly consider doing it. This is a position that could really change things offensively if the right guy is brought in. As it currently stands, their current tight ends are going to struggle to make the much-needed impact.

Apr 172014
 
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Joel Bitonio, Nevada Wolf Pack (February 20, 2014)

Joel Bitonio – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Offensive Tackles

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

DISCLCAIMER:  I broke the OL previews in to two categories, guards/centers and tackles.  This can be difficult to organize because a few of these guys have the skill set to play different positions.  But keep in mind that versatility is part of their grade and I am grading these guys where I think they would best fit for NYG.

Current OT on the NYG Roster:

William Beatty – 29 – Signed through 2017

Justin Pugh – 24 – Signed through 2016

Charles Brown – 27 – Signed through 2014

Steven Baker – 26 – Signed through 2015

Tony Kropog – 28 – Signed through 2015

Where They Stand:

The Giants have a lot of question marks along the outside of the line.  However, the performance of Pugh throughout his rookie season was admirable to say the least.  He locked down the RT position and appears to already be the most reliable tackle this team has.  The question surrounding him is, does he stay at RT?  Or would NYG consider moving him over to the position he played in college, left tackle.  Part of that discussion revolves around the healthy of Beatty, who is recovering from a broken leg that could linger in to the summer.  Even if he does return healthy, has Beatty done enough to possess the most important position on this OL?  He is locked up long term but that can’t sway the coaches in to putting him back in the starting lineup.  He was a low level starter in 2013 and he could put a strict limit on how good this team can be.  Beyond the two starters, NYG has little-to-no long term promise.  Brown, Baker, and Kropog are replaceable right now.  They shouldn’t sway NYG from making any draft weekend decisions at this position.

Top 10 Grades:

1 – Greg Robinson – Auburn – 6’5/332: 84

2 – Jake Matthews – Texas A&M – 6’6/308: 83

3 – Taylor Lewan – Michigan – 6’7/309: 82

4 – Zach Martin – Notre Dame – 6’4/308: 81

5 – Joel Bitonio – Nevada – 6’4/302: 80

6 – Cyrus Kouandijo – Alabama – 6’7/322: 77

7 – Morgan Moses – Virginia – 6’6/314: 77

8 – Wesley Johnson – Vanderbilt – 6’5/297: 73

9 – Antonio Richardson – Tennessee – 6’6/336: 72

10 – Ju’waun James – Tennessee – 6’6/311: 72

Day One Target:

Greg Robinson – Auburn

I would put the chances of Robinson falling outside of the top 8 at less than 50%, but I think the view on him around the league is very mixed.  His top 5 potential didn’t really catch on until halfway through the college 2013 season, but scouts have been talking about him for a couple years now.  When looking for the “blue goose” left tackle prospect, Robinson is the kind of guy that coaches/GMs want.  He has the size and movement ability of the elite, once-every-three-or-four years guy.  My issue with him is there will be a lot of development and learning that needs to be done prior to him being put outside.  The Auburn scheme was VERY friendly to him, in that they ran the ball a ton and rarely asked him to play in a traditional pass blocking set up.  When it comes to how he fits in with NYG, I actually think he could be an elite guard.  Down the road he could make the move to left tackle, but that could take a year or two.  If Robinson somehow drops to NYG, they could have themselves an All-Pro caliber guard right away as well as a future left tackle.

Runner Up: Jake Matthews – Texas A&M

Day Two Target:

Joel Bitonio – Nevada

The more tape I have seen of Bitonio over the best two months, the more I believe he can be a very good starter in the NFL.  NYG needs to increase their power presence up front.  They simply need the blue collar guys that want to beat people up and drive them through the ground, which is the approach I see out of Bitonio every time I put his tape on.  There is some underrated athleticism to his game as well.  His feet are light, he can easily bend at the knees while keeping himself upright, and he has a pair of heavy hands.  Bitonio graded out as a first rounder for me, but I think he could be had in round 2.  He would provide some position-versatility for a unit that has questions across the board.  I am thinking NYG could have another Justin Pugh-type guy here, possibly even with more upside.

Runner Up: Morgan Moses – Virginia

Day Three Target:

Wesley Johnson – Vanderbilt

I’ve watched a lot of SEC football over the past few months.  One tackle stands out every time he is on the screen, and it is Johnson.  He won’t wow anyone with his movement or power, and he is a little undersized when it comes to his girth.  But Johnson was as productive as any offensive tackle in the conference outside of Matthews/Robinson.  There is some talk of him moving inside, but I don’t see why.  He outplayed Clowney and Ealy by a landslide.  He has 51 straights starts to his name, majority of which were at left tackle.  He is a guy that knows the game, works hard, and consistently does the little things right.  I think he can be a starter down the road once he adds some strength to his game.

Runner Up: Parker Graham – Oklahoma State

Most Overrated:

Billy Turner – North Dakota State

I think there are a lot of analysts that try too hard to label the diamond in the rough of a group from a small school.  Many have been all over Turner because of his size/movement combination.  But truth be told, Turner is a really bad lineman.  He has minimal use technique with poor footwork and light hands.  He is constantly chasing after pass rushers, rarely do you see him sit and anchor a position.  I’ve seen his name in some 2nd round talk, and I don’t think he is a guy you take before round 6.

Runner Up: Antonio Richardson

NYG Approach:

Like the guards/centers, there is instability at offensive tackle right now.  Pugh is solid, but I’ve never been a Beatty guy and last year almost shut the door on him.  He may be the starter though simply because there is nothing else on the roster than could upgrade the position.  I think his contract was very short-sighted and may have been one of the worst moves this front office has made in a long time.  Despite him being signed long term, I think NYG needs to address this position early on.  They can’t have any more repeats of what happened last year.  Their entire offense was dragged down to a lower level because of the poor play up front.  There will be an opportunity with one of their first three picks to bring in a nice value pick that could potentially contribute right away.  In this deep overall draft class, I think we are going to see a tackle drop way beyond his actual ranking.  NYG would be foolish to pass on him at that point.  This unit needs to get back to dominant, consistent, reliable football.  Their starting personnel and back ups can be replaced right now with some of these rookies. 

Apr 152014
 
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Travis Swanon, Arkansas Razorbacks (November 17, 2012)

Travis Swanson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Guards and Centers

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

DISCLCAIMER:  I broke the OL previews in to two categories, guards/centers and tackles.  This can be difficult to organize because a few of these guys have the skill set to play different positions.  But keep in mind that versatility is part of their grade and I am grading these guys where I think they would best fit for NYG.

Current G/C on NYG Roster:

Geoff Schwartz – 28 – Signed through 2017

Chris Snee – 32 – Signed through 2014

John Jerry – 28 – Signed through 2014

James Brewer – 27 – Signed through 2014

Brandon Mosley – 26 – Signed through 2015

Stephen Goodin – 26 – Signed through 2014

Eric Herman – 25 – Signed through 2015

JD Walton – 27 – Signed through 2015

Dallas Reynolds – 30 – Signed through 2014

Where They Stand:

Not so long ago, the inside of the NYG offensive line was a major strength that paved the way for a powerful, reliable unit.  While they lacked the superstars, their presence was often overlooked by many, even fans.  Last season’s struggle on offense was largely because of poor performance inside.  The signing of Schwartz and hopeful resurgence of Snee could lead to the needed confidence of the starting pair of guards.  However the issue resides behind them on the depth chart and between them at the starting center spot.  JD Walton has some impressive tape attached to his name and I think he could be the guy in the middle, but there needs to be a better secondary option should his injuries arise or his level of play doesn’t return.  When it comes to the depth, NYG has a bunch of guys with limited upside.  It would be a major gamble to go in to the season with this current group.  They have enough bodies for sure, but is the quality there?  I don’t think so.

Top 10 Grades:

1 – David Yankey – Stanford – 6’6/315: 79

2 – Travis Swanson – Arkansas: 6’5/312: 78

3 – Cyril Richardson – Baylor – 6’5/329: 77

4 – Trai Turner – LSU – 6’3/310: 77

5 – Xavier Su’a-Filo – UCLA – 6’4/307: 77

6 – Gabe Jackson – Mississippi State – 6’3/336: 76

7 – Conor Boffeli – Iowa – 6’4/298: 76

8 – Dakota Dozier – Furman – 6’4/313: 76

9 – Gabe Ikard – Oklahoma – 6’4/304: 75

10 – Weston Richburg – Colorado State – 6’3/298: 74

Day One Target:

David Yankey – Stanford

Before I discuss Yankey, just know that I don’t have any guards or centers with a first round grade.  I would only support a selection here after a trade down in to the late 20s.  But that aside, I do really like Yankey for the Giants offense.  His versatility is a plus, as he played tackle and guard at a really high level.  Yankey’s greatest trait is his straight and run blocking.  He is a well-put-together 315 pounds with a strong base and heavy hands.  He was heading towards a first round grade late in the year, but I noticed a deficiency in his pass blocking on closer examination.  He struggles to keep his balance and his feet will get stagnant.  Yankey may not be the day one starter that I initially thought he would be, but the high ceiling is certainly there.  If he can be had, one way or another via trade, at the end of round 1, it may be worth it down the road.

Runner Up: Cyril Richardson

Day Two Target:

Travis Swanson – Arkansas

I have a much higher grade on Swanson than most.  Although he graded out as a 2nd rounder, I think he could be there for the Giants 3rd pick.  He is a huge body inside that moves exceptionally well at the second level against linebackers.  I am most impressed by his ability to neutralize pass rushers up the middle though.  That was a major problem for NYG this past year and I’m not so sure it has been solved.  Swanson could make a move to guard, as he showed the movement ability necessary to do so at the Senior Bowl.  If NYG wants to get bigger up front, Swanson would be the ideal center to bring in.

Runner Up: Trai Turner – LSU

Day Three Target:

Conor Boffeli – Iowa

I recently finished up my scouting of Boffeli; he almost slipped under the radar.  I was really impressed with his ability to both anchor his position against bigger defensive linemen as well as move in space in a zone blocking scheme.  His performance against Minnesota’s Rashede Hageman left an impression on me.  He is a blue collar guy that I think would have fit in perfectly with the NYG offensive line a few years ago when it was considered one of the best in football.  He is undersized and may need some extra time before he can be thrown in to the mix.  That said, I would want a guy like him developing behind the starters more so than Brewer or Mosley.

Runner Up: Trey Hopkins – G – Texas (74)

Most Overrated:

Marcus Martin – C – USC (66)

I’ve seen it in a few different places that Martin is being considered the top center in this class.  I didn’t see much of him during the season, but I have seen 4 games of his in the past two months.  I don’t see a guy that can handle the NFL speed or power.  He gets stood up way too easily and his feet are very heavy.  Martin is not an impact run blocker, but merely a guy that just tries to get in the way.  It worked at USC, but I think he’ll struggle to succeed that way in the league.  Poor center play can be exploited really fast.  I have him graded as a day three guy, round 5 or 6.

Runner Up: Jon Hilapio – Florida (52)

NYG Approach:

As I stated earlier, I don’t see a round one value with any of these guys.  By no means does that mean I am down on this group though, as I see a lot of potential value throughout the draft here.  NYG needs to bring in another interior guy from what I can see.  I understand they are trying to develop Mosley, Brewer, and Herman but I would be fine with one of them getting the boot after training camp if a rookie comes in a shows more upside.  The center position would be a main focus here if the value presents itself, as there talent there is questionable at best.  If NYG wants to get back to a quality rushing attack as well as keep Manning upright for the back nine of his career, the situation inside needs to be addressed.  Waiting too long could end up being a major limiting factor for this team.

Apr 102014
 
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Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh Panthers (September 28, 2013)

Aaron Donald – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BBI New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Defensive Tackles

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

Current Defensive Tackles on the NYG Roster:

Cullen Jenkins – 33 – Signed through 2015

Mike Patterson – 31 – Signed through 2014

Jonathan Hankins – 22 – Signed through 2016

Markus Kuhn – 28 – Signed through 2015

Where They Stand:

While the free agent acquisition period is not over yet, this appears to be the group that NYG will enter draft weekend with.  It’s a very thin group that will hold this team back as it currently stands.  Jenkins and Patterson are both overachieving, reliable veterans that can wear a few hats for their front.  While I wouldn’t call them difference makers, they are at the very least guys that can be counted on.  Hankins and Kuhn are the wildcards here, as they will be given the opportunity to fill the shoes of the departed Linval Joseph.  I don’t have confidence in either of them to be the guy that needs to be in there for 80%+ of the defensive snaps, making opponents game plan around them.  This group as a whole needs a fresh body or two that can contribute right away.

Top 10 Grades:

1 – Aaron Donald – Pittsburgh – 6’1/285: 85

2 – Rashede Hageman – Minnesota – 6’6/310: 80

3 – Stephon Tuitt – Notre Dame – 6’6/304: 79

4 – Brent Urban – Virginia – 6’7/295: 79

5 – DaQuan Jones – Penn State – 6’4/322:  78

6 – Timmy Jernigan – Florida State – 6’2/299: 78

7– Louis Nix III – Notre Dame – 6’2/331: 78

8 – Dominique Easley – Florida – 6’2/288: 76

9 – Taylor Hart – Oregon – 6’6/281: 76

10 – Kelcy Quarles – South Carolina – 6’4/297: 73

Day One Target:

Aaron Donald – Pittsburgh

I had a hard time accepting the fact that Donald was indeed one of the top players in the draft.  I usually want guys with size inside, guys with consistent power presence that cannot be moved.  But after watching almost 10+ games of Pittsburgh dating back to last year, I’m convinced Donald will be a star.  He is the pass rushing presence that NYG has lacked inside for a long time and I think he is a better run defender than most will give him credit for.  It’s easy to look at his size and say he can’t handle the physical power needed to anchor a position against the run.  But when I scout him, I see a guy that can not only maintain position, but push linemen back, get off their blocks, and chase down the ball carrier like a linebacker.  Donald will likely be my pick for NYG should be available at #12.

Runner Up: Rashede Hageman – Minnesota

Day Two Target:

Stephon Tuitt – Notre Dame

Tuitt could easily grade out as a first rounder if you go by is 2012 tape.  He’s had a few physical issues over the past year and I did factor them in to his grade.  Now with that said, I only have so much access to his medical information but from everyone I have spoken with and everything I have read, he should be at 100% by this summer.  Tuitt played outside in ND’s 3-4 front, but I think he can easily move inside and play a Chris Canty-type role in a 4-3.  He is enormous and very hard to move but also shows the short area quickness to beat blockers one on one.  He is certainly a matchup problem because he can beat you a few different ways.  If NYG ignores the defensive line in round one, Tuitt will likely be the guy I want in round two if he is still there.

Runner Up: DaQuan Jones – Penn State

Day Three Target:

Brent Urban – Virginia

Some view Urban as a 3-4 only player, but I disagree.  When looking for defensive linemen, I am always looking for versatility.  Urban can play outside in certain looks, even in a 4-3, but he can also play a three-technique role and control a couple inside gaps.  I’ve even seen him play the A gap and make a difference.  Urban plays a similar role and style as JJ Watt.  While I don’t think he has the same upside, Urban could be a day three steal and I think he’ll be available early round 4.  I love his ability to bend and pursue.  He uses his hands and long arms to control blockers and he can get off them consistently.  I can see him doing well here right away as a rotational defender and eventually becoming an every down difference maker because of his size, movement, and versatility.

Runner Up: Taylor Hart – Oregon

Most Overrated:

Anthony Johnson – LSU (59)

Johnson was one of the top recruits out of high school a few years ago, and rightfully so.  I can remember watching his first college game and thinking he would eventually be a top 5 lock.  But Johnson has failed to progress and if anything, he’s gone backwards since that first game.  He looks the part and he’ll deliver some bone jarring hits here and there, but he is a poor defender play-to-play.  He doesn’t anchor against single, straight blockers let alone double teams.  He can’t reach the QB consistently, and he doesn’t have a long enough lasting motor.  Nothing about his game is appealing to me, and I have him graded in the 7th/UDFA area.  I see some labeling him a possible 2nd round pick and I question if that is simply a result of him being a top tier recruit years ago.

Runner Up: Daniel McCullers – Tennessee (64)

NYG Approach:

When looking at what is currently on the roster, I can’t see how anybody can refute the enormous need for another able body inside.  NYG needs one of these rookies that can come in and contribute right away, and that’s not even accounting for any injuries to their current tackles.  While they have a couple of serviceable, able bodies in there, none of these guys will alter the game plan of any offense.  There is a severe lack of presence inside.  This is not a group that linebackers will want to play behind nor will they take pressure of the ends against the pass.  This class is a solid group of defensive tackles for days 1 and 2 of the draft and I am confident the right value will be there with one of their first three picks.  The sooner the better, as I would put the need for a DT right up there with the offensive line as the top targets for the weekend. 

Apr 082014
 
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Chris Borland, Wisconsin Badgers (October 12, 2013)

Chris Borland – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BBI New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*DISCLAIMER:  Grading linebackers is arguably the most difficult thing to do because of the different schemes and roles across the league.  These grades are purely based on NYG’s 4-3 front.  Some teams have a scheme that could use an edge rushing linebacker and grade him out very high while a team like NYG would view him as a middle rounder at best.  So please keep that in mind….

Current Linebackers on NYG Roster

Jon Beason – Signed through 2016

Spencer Paysinger – Signed through 2014

Jacquian Williams – Signed through 2014

Jameel McClain – Signed through 2015

Mark Herzlich – Signed through 2014

Allen Bradford – Signed through 2015

Spencer Adkins – Signed through 2014

Where They Stand:

The NYG front office and coaching staff has had their share of troubles over the years when trying to piece together their LB group via every avenue possible when it comes to play acquisition.  The Draft, free agency, trades, waiver wire, in-season street free agents – they’ve attacked it from everywhere.  Personally, I think this has been a below average group for years and there is a direct correlation between that and their extreme inconsistency on the defensive side of the ball.  While the passing era of football has forced teams to only play one or two linebackers at a time for a lot of plays, I still think the value of quality guys in the middle of the defense is vital.  Since I’ve been drafting for NYG in real time to compare years down the road, I’ve been calling for names like Curtis Lofton (2008), Sean Lee (2010), Mason Foster (2011), and Devonte Holloman (2013).  The impact of these guys against BOTH the run and pass is enormous and I am consistently noticing a lack talent at the position hurting this team every year.  The trade for Beason was a nice start, but this group is still starving for another talented player. 

Top 10 Grades:

CJ Mosley – Alabama – 6’2/234: 81

Chris Borland – Wisconsin – 6’0/248: 81

Khalil Mack – Buffalo – 6’3/251: 81

Anthony Barr – UCLA – 6’5/255: 80

Jordan Tripp – Montana – 6’3/234: 79

Ryan Shazier – Ohio State – 6’1/237: 77

Jordan Zumwalt – UCLA – 6’4/235: 75

Christian Kirksey – Iowa – 6’2/233: 74

Trevor Reilly – Utah – 6’5/245: 74

Yawin Smallwood – Connecticut – 6’2/246: 73

Day One Target:

CJ Mosley – Alabama

I should be a bit of an asterisk on this one because I don’t have any of these linebackers graded in the top 12 overall.  But should NYG trade back a bit, Mosley could come in to play.  This is a player that earned a first round grade, but I have been a little let down on his lack of progression the past few years.  I thought he was going to be a ‘special’ player that ended up with a grade above 90; however he never really took the next step.  Despite that, I still think highly of him and believe he is one of the safer bets to be a quality difference maker for a decade in the NFL.  Mosley is a guy that does it all physically but will also elevate the play of his teammates with his high on-field IQ.  Mosley is a great mover in tight spaces as well as in pursuit to the sidelines.  He is also one of the better coverage LBs in this class.  He fits in well with what they want to do with the NYG LBs and he would fill a major hole in this defense.  A true three down linebacker here.

Runner Up: Khalil Mack – Buffalo

Day Two Target:

Chris Borland – Wisconsin

I’ve been raving about Borland for over a year now and I’ve yet to take a step back.  He earned a legit first round grade on my board despite the lack of ideal size.  He is one of the most instinctive LBs I have ever seen and his ability to move in traffic is second to none.  Watch any Wisconsin game, against any kind of offense, against any level of speed and you will see #44 in the frame on almost every play.  Borland is a quality tackler and quality cover man.  He consistently beats blockers to a spot, putting himself in position to impact the play.  He lacks the physical gifts that some of these guys have at the position, but Borland will be a productive player no matter what.  He is a great value pick in round 2, and could be an option for end of round 1 if NYG ends up there via trade.

Runner Up: Ryan Shazier – Ohio State

Day Three Target:

Jordan Tripp – Montana

Tripp comes from a slightly lower level of college football, but he has shined against better competition in his limited opportunities.  He has the wiry frame, movement ability, and power presence that I saw out of Kiko Alonso last year.  He may not be on that level right away, but I think Tripp will eventually be that same kind of defender in the league.  He can fly all over the field, but also has the presence to take on linemen and deliver a violent jolt when taking on their blocks. 

Runner Up: Jordan Zumwalt – UCLA

Most Overrated: 

Kyle Van Noy – BYU (72)

Van Noy has one of the more productive resumes to look at when considering statistical compilation.  But I’ve seen him play almost 10 times and I notice a lack of consistent presence against blockers coming straight at him.  He doesn’t play strong enough at the point of attack; too often he is dancing around contact or even worse, giving up on plays.  His ability to pursue and rush the edge can get him drafted, but I don’t think he warrants anything within the top 4-5 rounds.  There is too much not to like here.

Runner Up: Shayne Skov (64)

NYG Approach:

As I previously stated, this defense needs an upgrade in talent at the LB group.  The addition and resigning of Beason decreased the level of importance a bit, but the issue is still there.  While the likes of Paysinger, Williams, and McClain can instill enough confidence to be a good-enough core at the start, there isn’t enough on the depth chart.  Injuries are inevitable and NYG is just one away here from having yet another year of LB liability.  There won’t be a player worth taking at #12 overall here, so I think they are looking at rounds 2-5 to bring in a quality rookie.  I would prefer one of those day two picks to be spent on one, but not to a point where the value isn’t matched up.  With that said, I think they can grab Borland in round 2, Tripp or Shazier in round 3, or even Zumwalt on day 3.  There can be a lot of debate on just how important this is, but I won’t budge on my stance.  The lack of talent and development at the LB position has held this team back more than most believe.

Apr 032014
 
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Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State Cowboys (October 26, 2013)

Justin Gilbert – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BBI New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Cornerbacks

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

Current CBs on the NYG Roster:

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – 28 – Signed through 2018

Prince Amukamara – 25 – Signed through 2014

Walter Thurmond – 27 – Signed through 2014

Trumaine McBride – 29 – Signed through 2015

Jayron Hosley – 24 – Signed through 2015

Zack Bowman – 30 – Signed through 2014

Charles James – 24 – Signed through 2014

Junior Mertile – 25 – Signed through 2014

Ross Weaver – 27 – Signed through 2015

Chaz Powell – 26 – Signed through 2015

Travis Howard – 25 – Signed through 2015

Where They Stand:

On paper, this is one of the best groups of CBs that NYG has had in recent memory.  The aggressive free agency signing of Rodgers-Cromartie was an impressive one for a front office that seems to usually error on the side of caution.  The addition of Thurmond may end up being the top signing of this offseason though.  He’s been a league-favorite of mine for a few years now and I think he will prove to be a difference maker right away.  Round out the top three with the upside of Amukamara and this secondary appears to have the makings of something really good.  The depth has a few question marks, as McBride/Hosley/Bowman all have their deficiencies, but what secondary in the league doesn’t find themselves in that position?  It seems NYG is scouring the street free agent market for a starter every year at some point in the season.  Reese appears to have really locked in a deep group at the position that will give them plenty of options should injuries arise.  This may be the most impressive group of a revamped defense.

Top 10 Grades:

1: Justin Gilbert – Oklahoma State – 6’0/202: 86

2: Jason Verrett – TCU – 5’10/189: 83

3: Kyle Fuller – Virginia Tech – 6’0/190: 82

4: Travis Carrie – Ohio – 6’0/206: 78

5: Aaron Colvin – Oklahoma – 5’11/177: 78

6: Phillip Gaines – Rice – 6’0/193: 78

7: Darqueze Dennard – Michigan State – 5’11/199: 77

8: Shaquille Richardson – Arizona – 6’0/194: 76

9: Brock Vereen – Minnesota – 6’0/199: 75

10: Nevin Lawson – Utah State – 5’10/190: 74

Day One Target:

Justin Gilbert – Oklahoma State

I would say there is a 50/50 chance Gilbert is available for NYG when they are on the clock at #12 overall.  I think he is widely considered the top corner in this class with his size/speed/agility/ball skills combination that isn’t matched by anyone in this class.  He had a dominant 2013 season and showed just how well rounded he can be now that he has put it all together.  Despite NYG beefing up their secondary via free agency, I think he should at least be a consideration for the slot.  In this era, a team may never have too many quality cornerbacks.  As I stated earlier, it seems as if NYG is looking for street free agents to be a part of the CB rotation on Sundays every year.  This is not a spot where you want to have questionable depth.  When you consider Rodgers-Cromartie is the only one that will definitely be around after 2014, a Gilbert selection makes sense.

Runner Up:

Jason Verrett – TCU

Day Two Target:

Kyle Fuller – Virginia Tech

I’m having hard time gauging where Fuller will land in this draft class, but I think he is a legit top 20 player.  His injuries are included in my grade, so I’m not ignoring them even though it appears they will not hamper him down the road at all.  Fuller was one of my favorite players to watch in 2013.  He is as aggressive as it gets against both the run and pass with elite movement ability and good awareness.  I love the toughness he brings to the table.  If he falls out of the first round, NYG should immediately consider him with their second pick.  He has quality-starting corner written all over him. 

Runner Up:

Aaron Colvin – Oklahoma

Day Three Target:

Travis Carrie – Ohio

I’ll venture to say most of you have never heard of my #4 overall CB.  That’s fair and from what I see out there, nobody has this kind of grade on him.  I’m fine with that because I don’t use the media’s perception as part of my grading process.  Carrie is a tall, well put together athlete that can move with anyone.  He has some of the best feet and hips you’ll find and enough speed to stick with speed receivers down the field.  He is a strong tackler that approaches that part of the game the right way.  Carrie may be my biggest diamond in the rough this year and I wouldn’t hesitate to take him on day three for one second.  He will be a player if he finds the right system that allows him to play bump and run coverage and attack the running game.  I am really looking forward to his career.

Runner Up:

BJ Lowery – Iowa

Most Overrated:

Bradley Roby – Ohio State

I want to like Roby because of his receiving ability and movement.  He is a top tier agility/speed guy that can catch the ball.  But every time I watch OSU tape, his lack of awareness and fluidity jumps off the screen.  When he is matched up against receivers that understand the mental side of the game and do the little things right, Roby gets exposed.  He loses a lot of his athleticism when tracking the deep ball as well.  His speed does not translate to the field and guys like that always bother me.

Runner Up:

Keith McGill – Utah

NYG Approach:

I’ve said it a few times that I am very confident this group of CBs can perform at a level that we haven’t seen here in quite some time.  Their top 3 corners can be as good as any in the league.  The depth behind them could be a lot worse when comparing depth charts from around the league, so I could see the case made for not addressing the position in the 2014 Draft.  I have a different view, however.  There are some interesting opportunities here to bring in a quality cover corner throughout the entire draft.  I would have to give a long, hard thought to Gilbert at #12 overall if he is there.  I understand he may not fill the biggest hole, or even the third biggest hole on this team right away, but cornerback is NOT a spot you want to ever be weak at.  It would be foolish to approach this as a “Cross that bridge when we get to it” type mindset.  Gilbert could have a spot on this roster right away that leads to contribution.  If he is passed on, I have a lot of different grades on this class when comparing to what I see out there.  There will be an opportunity in every round of day three for a great value grab.  I would say that should be the route taken if Gilbert is not the pick at #12 overall.

Apr 022014
 
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Calvin Pryor, Louisville Cardinals (October 5, 2013)

Calvin Pryor – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BBI New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Safety

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

Current Safeties on NYG Roster:

Antrel Rolle – Signed through 2015

Will Hill – Signed through 2015

Stevie Brown – Signed through 2015

Quintin Demps – Signed through 2015

Cooper Taylor – Signed through 2017

Where They Stand:

Upon initial glance, the safety group looks strong and deep for the 2014 season.  Rolle is one of the highest paid players on the team and even though his production hasn’t matched his cap number, his value goes deeper than what we see on the stat sheet.  He is the leader of the defense and comes to play every Sunday.  He is one of the more versatile and reliable players on this team.  Hill and Brown have both shown game breaking ability here and there.  They are aggressive players that are always around the action.  Both have concerns though.  Brown has the knee injury he will attempt to bounce back from and Hill has had his share of off-field issues.  Demps was a quality FA signing that can wear a few hats and Taylor showed promise as a special teamer in 2013.  This unit is strong for the current situation they are in, but we could be looking at an entirely different situation a year from now.  How much longer can NYG pay Rolle?  And are Brown/Hill capable of overcoming their respective problems?

Top 10 Draft Prospect Grades:

1 – Calvin Pryor III – Louisville – 5’11/207: 86

2 – Hasean Clinton-Dix – 6’1/208: 84

3 – Deone Bucannon – Washington State – 6’1/211: 81

4 – Dion Bailey – USC – 6’0/206: 78

5 – Terrence Brooks – Florida State – 5’11/198: 76

6 – Vinnie Sunseri – Alabama – 5’11/210: 74

7 – Marcus Trice – North Texas – 5’8/193: 73

8 – Shamiel Gary – Oklahoma State – 6’0/205: 73

9 – Ed Reynolds – Stanford – 6’1/207:  73

10 – CJ Barnett – Ohio State – 6’0/204: 72

Day One Target:

Calvin Pryor – Louisville

Pryor has been the top rated safety on my board since the early fall of 2013.  I saw him early two times and really liked his game.  He is such a well rounded player that makes the impact that some of the top safeties in the game can do.  Pryor is an angry missile from the secondary when defending the run.  His style is straddles the line of too-aggressive.  Pryor is a sound tackler that can be relied upon as the last line of defense in the open fiend, showing the ability to break down on the move and control his body enough to tackle an elusive runner.  In coverage, Pryor grades out as an above average defender, but lacks the elite movement ability.  He still gets his hand in on the action plenty, however.  There is a good chance Pryor will be the top graded player available when NYG is on the clock for me.  Even though the safety spot is not a vital position of need this season, he will still be a consideration.  He’s a reliable impact player that can change a defense.

Day Two Target:

Deone Bucannon – Washington State

Bucannon is the classic case of being a superb prospect coming from a poor defensive program.  Very few were able to see him play in 2013 from a general public perspective, but make no mistake about this player’s ‘special’ potential.  I’ll put his ability against the run up against anyone’s in this draft class.  He is a well built, explosive-in-short-spaces safety that can play in the box with the best of them.  He has consistently led that team in tackles with a career-high 114 in 2013 and has 15 career interceptions, including 6 this past season.  From the first time I saw this defense play, Bucannon always appears to be a pro football player matched up against kids.  He graded out as a 1st-round caliber prospect on my board and he would be a great value pick in round 2 or 3. 

Day Three Target:

Marcus Trice – North Texas

One of my favorite lesser-known prospects in the nation here.  Trice will fight the naysayers all day, every day because of his sub 5’10 listing.  The lack of size hurt his grade, but he still graded out as a borderline 3rd/4th rounder on my board.  Trice made an impact on every game I watched.  He is an enforcer that ball carriers fear but he can also play a deep cover 1 role, showing enough range to reach either sideline.  He anticipates the action well and gets his hands on a lot of passes.  Trice is a fun player to watch that will make his impact on a tea one way or another.  Sometimes I’ll overlook the meaurables when a player like this jumps off the tape as much as Trice did.  He is a spirited competitor that gets the most out of himself and others.  Day 3 will be when is start to consider this versatile defender for NYG.

Giants Approach:

I’ve put a lot of thought in to this, and admittedly am still struggling to come up with a clear cut answer on how to approach the safeties in this draft.  Overall, this group is below average when looking at my past grades.  Pryor and Clinton-Dix would help this defense; there is no doubt about it.  They are more talented than what is currently on the roster at the position with much more upside.  Their grades tell me they are worthy of the #12 overall pick, so those two facts should be enough to say yes to one of them if they are available, right?

Like most of you, I would rather wait on bringing in another young safety to this team.  One could make the case there is no room on the roster, and it would be a waste economically.  Although there is a little voice that says you don’t pass on high grades like this, especially considering the lack of stability at the position past this upcoming season.  In my ideal world, NYG passes on safety altogether in 2014 and reevaluates the position at this time next year.  You have to gamble on certain spots here and there and have faith that what currently resides on the roster will be good enough.

Jan 222014
 
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New York Giants at Cleveland Brown (November 6, 1955), Rosey Brown (79)

New York Giants at Cleveland Brown (November 6, 1955), Rosey Brown (79)

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

(Part I)

Innovation via Delegation

The New York Giants first sought Army Black Knight Head Coach Earl “Red” Blaik as the replacement for Owen. After he declined the offer, assistant coach and former end Jim Lee Howell accepted the job, but only on the condition that he would be able to hire a staff consisting of coordinators on both sides of the ball – a unique idea at that time. Howell said, “Before the war, they didn’t specialize in coaches. One coach taught everybody everything.” Yet Howell foresaw a structure where the coordinators would handle their own sides of the ball, studying film, drawing up game plans, and grading their players while he oversaw the operation in more of an administrative role.

Landry had already served in a player-coach role under Owen, which not only would continue but expand. Instead of merely teaching Owen’s concepts to his teammates, Landry, who was regarded as an introspective genius by his peers, would be counted on to conceive his own game plans, a task he relished with aplomb. While playing in the Umbrella, he was already thinking ahead, visualizing a strong line that covered all possible gaps, linebackers who flowed to the point-of-attack, and a defensive backfield that covered zones on the field. Howell said, “Landry was brilliant, very, very smart. He could size up a situation very quickly and get it right.”

Sensing the defense was in good hands, Howell went outside the organization to fix the broken offense. Blaik suggested to the Giants his backfield coach, who badly yearned to coach in the NFL. Vince Lombardi (who went by Vinnie) had been a very successful high school coach at St. Cecilia’s in New Jersey before serving his five-year apprenticeship under Blaik at West Point. Among the things he picked up from one of the nation’s highest-regarded coaches was organization of practices, film study (still a relatively new idea at the time and not widely used), and an emphasis on unit execution rather than deception.

Working from Blaik’s dynamic power T-Formation, Lombardi saw many possibilities, which included implementing Single Wing blocking techniques for the offensive line (i.e. pulling guards) that he had learned while playing at Fordham. Howell liked what he saw in this burgeoning coach, “Lombardi teaches the style of football I like and believe in. Vinnie is daring and he is brainy. He knew what he could do with the players. His was very basic in his thinking. He was just a fine coach.”

The basic tenet of Lombardi’s philosophy was that players need condensed, uncomplicated information. “A few men working closely together in a spirit of discipline, singleness of purpose, and a commitment to excellence could succeed no matter the odds.” This was distilled to perfection with his signature play, the sweep.

Giants had been last in rushing in 1953. That would not be the case in 1954. Gifford teamed with new fullbacks Alex Webster and Mel Triplett. Left tackle Rosey Brown blocked and pulled. And the Giants plowed their way through the eight-man defensive fronts that were predominant of that period. Lombardi’s wider line splits made the defensive middle guard (today referred to as the nose tackle) vulnerable to double-teams.

The concert of destruction that took place at the snap was a choreographed framework that allowed for improvisation in accordance with how the defense reacted. The guards pulled. The lead guard blocked the defensive halfback and the offside guard blocked either the inside or outside linebacker. The center blocked back on defensive tackle. The onside offensive tackle chipped the defensive end, and then sealed the outside linebacker. The fullback or halfback blocked the defensive end, and then led the ball carrier into the hole, while the tight end influence-blocked the defensive end away from the point-of-attack. The reads of the ball carrier and his blocker (a halfback or fullback) was to determine the edge blocking, and the runner would decide whether to cut inside or take play to the edge.

Over time, Gifford would also have the added option of throwing the football. If Gifford made the proper read and a big play was available, he would pull up and loft a pass over rolled up defensive backs.

Lombardi humbly stated of his soon-to-be legendary sweep, “There is nothing spectacular about it. It’s just a yard gainer. It’s my number one play because it requires all eleven men to play as one to make it succeed, and that’s what ‘team’ means.”

The players noticed the differences immediately when they met at camp that summer. Halfback Kyle Rote noted, “When Howell took over in 1954 we started to have separate offensive and defensive meetings. Before, we all met in one big room. But the offense and defense became separate and definitive units under Jim Lee.”

Eagle Defense, Power T-Formation

Howell had traveled to Mississippi that off-season and promised Conerly if he came back he would be better protected. To make the existence of his reluctant quarterback more comfortable, the A-Formation was discarded, the T-Formation fully installed, terminology simplified, and a system of automatics that enabled Conerly to change the play at the line was developed.

Lombardi was also a breath of fresh air to Gifford. At the first practice the coach told the player, “We’re through fooling around with you. You’re a back now.” The stronger line would take time to gel, but players like Brown, Jack Stroud, and Ray Wietecha were soon to become stalwarts in the newly renamed Eastern Conference, and they gave the Giants a new attitude.

Although the Giants’ offensive system was largely ground-based and built around Gifford, the passing game was also vastly improved. End Bob Schnelker was the deep threat while Kyle Rote ran clever patterns underneath. Whether the pass was coming from Conerly or Gifford was the defense’s guess. Lombardi said, “Two intangibles make Gifford great – his versatility and his alertness. He gives the opposition fits by keeping it off balance. If the secondary comes up fast to check his run, he’ll heave the ball downfield; if the defense holds back, Frank’ll keep on running.”

The changes were evident early during the regular season. The Giants started the season 4-0, with point totals of 41, 51, and 31 in impressive wins. Week 6 brought a 24-14 loss at Cleveland, but the Giants bounced back with romps over Philadelphia and Washington.

Disaster struck in back-to-back games at the Polo Grounds at the end of November. Gifford injured his knee during a 17-16 loss to the Rams, and Conerly injured his knee on the first play of the rematch with Cleveland, which the Giants lost 17-6. The Browns went on to defeat Detroit for the NFL title.

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Despite the third-place finish, the Giants carried optimism into the offseason. Lombardi’s sweep proved to be a success – Gifford’s 5.6 yards per carry led the Eastern Conference. The passing game’s efficiency improved exponentially – in 1953 the Giants’ ends caught a total of three touchdown passes; in 1954 they scored 20. There was a feeling of improvement, accomplishment, and a belief in the new systems being taught by the staff.

Motley left the Browns after the season, but Cleveland made it six consecutive conference titles in 1955 regardless. The Giants started the season slowly and sputtered to a 2-5 record after a physically-tough loss at Cleveland. But they would not lose again. The highlight of their 6-5-1 season was a 35-35 tie with the Browns in the final Giants’ football game at the Polo Grounds (although nobody knew that at the time).

This game marked the first time Howell started Don Heinrich at quarterback, ostensibly to allow Conerly to “spot flaws in the Browns from the bench.” Not all Giants players liked this sometimes controversial strategy, including the supposed number one quarterback himself. Conerly said years later, “You can’t see a damn thing from the bench. It’s the worst seat in the place. I don’t know why they did that.”

The crowd of 49,699 for the game billed as the “grudge match” was the largest in New York that year. Two future NFL head coaches started for Cleveland at linebacker: Walt Michaels and Chuck Noll. The running game by committee for the Browns was Curley Morrison and Ed Modzelewski (whose brother Dick would join the Giants in 1956). On occasion, Brown would deploy five wide receiver sets to confound Landry’s growingly versatile 6-1-4 defense.

The early advantage in the coaching chess game went to Howell as Heinrich staked New York to an early 14-0 lead. However, Graham calmly led his team back and Cleveland took the lead 21-14 late in the third quarter. The Giants, now led by Conerly, immediately tied the game 21-21 on a disputed play. Price was seemingly on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run, but was hit and fumbled at the goal line. New York’s Bob Schnelker came out of the fracas with the ball. When the Giants were awarded a touchdown, the Cleveland bench erupted in protest.

The Giants’ defensive front harassed Graham on the ensuing possession, and forced a Cleveland punt. Conerly engineered a 65-yard drive that he capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rote in the back of the end zone. Graham responded with a precision drive of his own, tying the game 28-28. Noll gave the Browns the lead when he intercepted a Conerly pass and returned it 14 yards for the score. The Giants took over on their own 15-yard line, and Conerly drove the Giants 85 yards for the touchdown, converting several third downs along the way. The decisive play was a pass completion to Gifford at the Cleveland 15, where he broke a tackle and raced into the end zone for the 23-yard score. Ben Agajanian’s point after knotted the game 35-35.

Graham was the original master of the yet-to-be-named two-minute drill. All opposing defenses and coaches feared his prowess when there was little time left on the clock. He rarely made a bad read, extended plays with his feet, and would run for yardage when necessary. The three minutes left on the clock probably felt like an eternity to player-coach Landry after the kickoff.

Graham opened the proceedings on his own 27-yard line with a bootleg to the New York 45. Just like that, the Browns were nearing the edge of Groza’s field goal range. Two Morrison rushes pushed the ball down to the Giants’ 19-yard line, and Modzelewski plunged to the 14. Groza came on for a 21-yard attempt with 0:25 on the clock, but Phil Knight leapt high from the line and blocked the kick. New York recovered the loose ball while the Polo Grounds crowd rocked in bedlam. Conerly had time left for one desperation pass, which was completed to the middle of the field as time expired. Regardless, the New York fans gave the Giants a standing ovation as they exited the Polo Grounds. Cleveland went on to their sixth consecutive championship game appearance after the season, and sent Graham off to retirement with a 38-14 win over Sid Gillman’s Los Angeles Rams.

Coordination and the Man in the Middle

Significant changes took place for both teams prior to the 1956 season. Brown was frustrated with finding a suitable signal caller for his offense and rotated Tommy O’Connell, George Ratterman, and Babe Parilli under center. The Giants, on the other hand, found a quarterback for their defense. Landry retired as a player and was now a full-time, fedora-wearing coach on the sideline. As a player, Landry knew his own physical limitations, so he had dedicated himself to being the smarter player. He was always aware not only of his own responsibilities on the field but also those of his teammates. In the burgeoning days of Owen’s Umbrella, while Landry coordinated the secondary, he envisioned all 11 players operating in a similar fashion. As he grew into the responsibilities of coaching, Landry began to teach his teammates the concept of reading offensive tendencies, which he called “keys” during film study.

Landry’s central theory was that an offense’s possibilities were limited once its personnel were on the field and a pre-snap formation was aligned. Post-snap, the defense would then read each offensive player’s first step to see where the play would go. Landry distilled it down to a science. For example, the weight a guard had on his front hand could predict whether he was going to drive block or pull on a run, or drop back to protect on a pass. Landry wanted a smart player like himself to realize the defense’s potential.

Sam Huff came to camp as a guard, but was converted to middle linebacker, a new position that evolved from watching film of Bill Willis on the Browns. On some occasions, Willis would be a half-yard back from the line of scrimmage, either in a three-point or two-point stance. But Landry used Huff as a fully declared linebacker, a full yard back from the center, always in a two-point stance, which allowed him to read the offensive backfield. Landry said, “Sam was a very disciplined player. The thing that made him so good was that he would listen, and he would do what was necessary to operate our defense. The effectiveness of the 4-3 depends on the defensive team recognizing a formation, knowing what plays can be run from that formation, and then recognizing keys that tell them the likely play or plays to expect.” Huff attributed the success to his teammates, “We played as a team on that Giants’ squad. I had help. The defense was set up so the defensive linemen actually kept the blockers off me.”

When the two 1-1 teams met in Week 3 at Cleveland, the strain of lacking an on-field leader had already worn on Brown. Always way ahead of his time, he conceived of radio communication between himself and the quarterback to get the plays called. The Giants were onto him early, and designated rookie end Bob Topp to sit on the end of the bench and decipher the Browns’ plays with a receiver tuned in to Cleveland’s frequency. Brown eventually reverted to his rotating guard system to send the calls in, but the Giants rolled to their first win over the Browns in three years, 21-9, behind the strength of a rushing attack that compiled 256 yards. On Monday, The New York Times declared “the Giants handled the Browns the in the manner the Browns used to handle the Giants.” On Tuesday,NFL Commissioner Bell barred electronic coaching devices on game day.

The Giants flexed their muscles with four more wins over Eastern Conference opponents, three of which took place on their new home field at venerable Yankee Stadium, just across the Macomb Dam Bridge from the Polo Grounds. When the Giants and Browns met in Week 11 for their rematch, 4-6 Cleveland was in the unfamiliar position of looking up in the standings at 7-2-1 New York. Brown must have used that as motivation, as the Browns defied expectations and manhandled the Giants in the rain and snow on the muddy field in a 24-7 romp.

The Giants clinched the Eastern Conference the following week with a win at Philadelphia, then won their first NFL Title since 1938 when they defeated the Chicago Bears at Yankee Stadium 47-7. Gifford had a season for the ages. He led team in both rushing yards and pass receptions, for the first of four consecutive seasons, and led the NFL with 1,422 total yards from scrimmage (819 rushing, 603 receiving). Gifford scored nine total touchdowns, five rushing and four receiving, and added two more scoring passes from his option role on the sweep. He also had 161 total yards and a touchdown in the championship game against the Bears. His receiving the NFL MVP award was almost anti-climactic.

The Browns made good use of their draft position following their first losing season in team history, taking fullback Jim Brown from Syracuse. The quarterback situation was still somewhat unsettled, as Brown split starts between O’Connell and Milt Plum, but the effects were minimal as their greatest success came when they were handing off to Brown, who led the NFL as a rookie with 942 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown would lead the NFL in rushing eight of his nine seasons, and this was the only one in which he did not go over 1,000 yards. He would also grow into a receiving threat over time, and lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage six times.

Umbrella Defense, Split T-Formation, Wing-T Formation

The Giants opened the season at Cleveland in what would be a tense defensive battle. Brown rushed for 89 yards on 21 carries, but neither team accumulated 200 total yards of offense. Cleveland won on a Groza kick at 0:23, 6-3. The Giants rebounded to win seven of their next eight games, fueled in part by another Landry defensive innovation: a linebacker “red dog” in which at the snap of the ball, Huff or one of the outside linebackers would immediately attack the backfield.

When the calendar turned to December, the 7-2 Giants were just a half game behind the 7-1-1 Browns. New York dropped games against San Francisco and Pittsburgh, rendering the finale against Cleveland meaningless in regards to the Eastern Conference standings. However, the Giants-Browns rivalry had achieved Yankees-Red Sox status, and the advance ticket sales for the game were 50,000 and the turnstile count for the game was 54,292, the Giants’ largest home crowd for the season.

This was the first game where Landry assigned Huff the explicit responsibility of keying solely on Brown. Landry said, “Our defense was not designed specifically for Sam Huff to stop Jim Brown, our defense was designed to stop the offense we were working against. Our defense was based on coordination. Sam was just one of the 11 people who were coordinated. Specifically, the front seven was coordinated against the run. He was just one element in that group. But he got great recognition, which he deserved, because in this particular defense he was stopping Jim Brown, who is almost unstoppable. ” Huff versus Brown almost became a rivalry within a rivalry.

The Giants’ offense played well. Heinrich and Conerly combined for 282 passing yards and Gifford scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. New York led 28-27 with under 7:00 left on the clock, but Plum lead Cleveland to the winning score as Graham had done so many times before. Brown had another strong outing for Cleveland, rushing for 78 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the 34-28 victory. Cleveland returned to the championship game but lost again to Detroit.

Reckoning and Recognition

The Football Giants’ ascension in New York’s consciousness came at just the right time. Following the 1957 season, both the Baseball Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers left town for California. Yankee Stadium was the fulcrum of professional sports in New York for all of 1958.

The first meeting between the two Eastern Conference stalwarts did not take place until the first week of November when the 5-0 Browns hosted the 3-2 Giants. A raucous crowd of 78,404, the fourth largest in Cleveland professional football history to-date, packed Cleveland Stadium but went home disappointed after a second-half come-from-behind effort by New York.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

Brown looked unstoppable for Cleveland in the first half, rushing for a 58-yard touchdown (his 15th of the season in just his sixth game!) but the aerial game struggled. Plum completed only four passes for the entire game and was intercepted twice by Jimmy Patton.

The Giants’ attack was balanced. Conerly tossed three scoring passes, two to Webster in the second half, the last of which came with less than three minutes remaining. They brought Conerly’s career touchdown pass total to 140, which placed him second all-time behind Sammy Baugh’s 187. The unlikely hero was Triplett, who outrushed Brown on the day 116 yards to 113 (which was 50 yards below Brown’s season average). It would be the sole 100-yard effort in Triplett’s career.

Landry’s coordinated defense truly came into its own in the second half. He had noticed keys on Cleveland’s formations that tipped off when Brown was getting the ball, and when he was being used as a decoy and the ball would go instead to Bobby Mitchell. Huff’s reads of Brown were nearly flawless, as Cleveland had only 23 plays from scrimmage in the second half, gained only two first downs, and never crossed the 50-yard line. Cleveland’s 17 points were far below the 35 they had averaged over their first five games.

The defense-first trend continued for the Giants throughout the season. The 1958 Giants would end up being the lowest-scoring team of Howell’s tenure with 20.5 points per game. But the New York fans not only didn’t mind this brand of football, they relished it. Landry recalled, “We knew we were something special in New York. The city was just on fire. It was amazing the way they supported the Giants, and the defense. This was a brand new thing in pro football, because no one even knew when you played defense until the late fifties.”

Cleveland and New York met for the final game of the regular season at Yankee Stadium with the Eastern Conference crown on the line. The 9-2 Browns stunned the 63,192 in attendance on the first play from scrimmage. Brown galloped through the middle of the Giants’ 4-3 front untouched and outran the secondary for a 65-yard touchdown. It was all defense for the remainder of the half as Pat Summerall and Groza exchanged field goals for the 10-3 halftime score. The Summerall field goal came after an uncharacteristic Cleveland fumble, which was recovered by Jim Katkavage on Cleveland’s 39-yard line.

As the snow fell during the scoreless third quarter, the Browns’ confidence increased. Their opening possession of the third quarter took a full 12 minutes off the clock, but the drive ended without points as the Giants thwarted a fake field goal attempt. Conerly’s unit was unable to move the ball and punted as the period came to a close. The big play to start the game loomed as the possible difference in a trip to the NFL Championship. This game took on the feel of a stare-down between two rugged defensive outfits.

Early in the fourth quarter the unthinkable happened as Cleveland turned the ball over in their own territory a second time. Poise and precision had always been hallmarks of Paul Brown’s team, which had committed just 12 turnovers in their first 11 games. Plum fumbled on his own 47-yard line and Andy Robustelli recovered for New York at the 45. Stymied by Cleveland’s defense all day, Lombardi’s unit seized the sudden change in momentum and struck quickly on his signature sweep/option. On first down, Conerly faked to Webster and handed off to Gifford who ran toward the right sideline. As he neared the boundary, Gifford spotted Rote coming open behind the defense. He pulled up and lofted a deep pass for a 39-yard advance to the Browns’ six-yard line. After a rush for a loss and incomplete pass by Conerly, Gifford completed a touchdown pass to Schnelker between two defenders on another sweep/option to tie the game 10-10 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

The Giants’ defense forced a punt after two sacks of Plum by Rosey Grier. But the offense failed to capitalize despite favorable field position when Summerall’s 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. The kicker remembered, “I’d have liked to have gone anywhere but back to the bench. But four or five of the guys came over and told me to forget it, that they’d get me another chance.”

Summerall did get another chance. The New York defense forced another three-and-out. The Giants fielded a short punt near mid-field (the exact yard line was impossible to determine on the now snow-covered field). Three incomplete passes left the Giants’ last hope hanging in the balance on fourth down and 2:07 on the clock, with a tie as good as a victory for Cleveland. Confidence was lacking for a Giants’ offense that had struggled all day. On third down they had missed a sure touchdown connection between Conerly (who was only 10-for-27 on the day) and Webster. “I had (the defender) beat pretty good, five or six yards. But the ball came out of the snow – I know that’s no excuse – and it went right through my hands and I dropped it on the five-yard line.” Webster said, “It would have been an easy six points.”

Howell took the unusual step of overruling his offensive coordinator Lombardi, who wanted to call another pass play, and sent Summerall on to the field for a desperation kick attempt. Summerall said, “I couldn’t believe that Jim Lee was asking me to that. That was the longest attempt I’d ever made for the Giants. It was a bad field and it was so unrealistic. Most of the fellows on the bench couldn’t believe it either.” Wellington Mara shared the popular belief, “That Summerall kick was the most vivid play I remember. I was (up in the press box) sitting next to Ken Kavanaugh and Walt Yowarsky and we all said, ‘He can’t kick it that far. What are we doing?’”

The attempt was logged officially from 49 yards, but some believe it was further. Summerall said, “No one knows how far it had to go. You couldn’t see the yard markers. The snow had obliterated them. But it was more than 50 I’ll tell you that.” Rote supported that theory. He remembered standing on the 50-yard line and said that Conerly spotted the ball, “two yards past me.”

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Regardless of the actual distance, any kick on that snow-covered field in the wind was going to be a formidable task. As Conerly cleared a spot for the placement, he heard Cleveland players shouting “stay onsides!” to one another. The snap, spot, and hold were perfect as could be, but the ball’s trajectory was not.

Summerall described the kick’s near wayward flight, “I knew as soon as I touched it that it was going to be far enough. My only thought was that sometime you hit a ball too close to the center and it behaves like a knuckleball, breaking from side to side. It was weaving out. But when it got to the 10 I could see it breaking back to the inside.” Conerly felt a little better about it, “I looked up as soon as Pat hit the ball. It looked real good and it made me feel real good. There was a lot of guilt riding on that one.”

Pat Summerall's Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall’s Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Summerall was mobbed by teammates as Yankee Stadium erupted in delirium. Plum moved Cleveland near mid-field where Summerall’s counterpart Groza attempted what was thought to be a 55-yard field goal, but it fell well short of the cross bar. The Giants survived 13-10 and had forced a playoff for the right to face the Baltimore Colts for the NFL Championship.

The perfectionist Paul Brown blamed himself for the loss. He stayed up that night and re-watched the game film. He concluded he made a tactical error by running the ball too much, perhaps caused by overconfidence from the game’s first play. After that 65-yard touchdown run, Brown was held to just 83 yards on 25 carries.

Brown was not the only one looking back; history was not on the Giants’ side. The Giants were 0-2 in the franchise’s two previous standings tie-breakers. The 1950 loss at Cleveland lingered in recent memory, but another from the past resonated as well. After the 1943 season, New York was tied atop the Eastern Division with Washington 6-3-1. The Giants forced the playoff by defeating the Redskins not only once, but twice, to close the season. However, despite the playoff being held within the friendly confines of the Polo Grounds, Sammy Baugh and his teammates exacted thorough revenge by whipping the Giants 28-0. Defeating the same team three times in the same season was believed to be an unrealistic expectation by most observers.

The players did not seem to notice the doubters however. Practices at Yankee Stadium were unusually spirited throughout the week, crisp and hard-hitting. The enthusiasm carried over to the game on a bright but bitterly cold 20-degree Sunday in front of 62,742 eager fans.

Jim Brown received the opening kickoff and advanced it 45 yards. Plum completed a pass before Brown fumbled on a hit by Katkavage that was recovered by Grier. Heinrich returned the favor however and threw an interception of his own. After a Cleveland punt, Heinrich threw a second interception. The New York defense held again. And Conerly took the field and crafted a 12-play, 84-yard drive, mixing runs and passes. The final play of the drive was a bit of razzle-dazzle drawn up by Lombardi earlier that week.

The play started out as a simple sweep left by Webster on the Cleveland 18-yard line. Webster then handed off to a reversing Gifford sprinting right. Gifford cut through a hole behind the right guard. Racing up field, Gifford juked a safety then surprised everybody when he lateralled to a trailing Conerly. The old quarterback was hit at the goal line but fell into the end zone for what would be the game’s lone touchdown. Conerly said, “It was something new we put in this week. The lateral on the end was optional.”

The Browns responded with another drive into Giants’ territory, but Groza’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide left and short. Conerly engineered another drive that Summerall capped with a three-pointer to give the Giants a 10-0 lead at the half. Cleveland managed one more scoring threat late in the third quarter when Don Maynard lost a fumble returning a punt. Plum moved the Browns to the New York six-yard line, but following two sacks, Huff intercepted a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. Cleveland never threatened again. After a quick exchange of punts the Giants ground away the clock with their power running game and controlled the ball 10 of the final 11 minutes.

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

The furiously-fought game’s stars were the magnificent front four, who wrecked Cleveland’s blocking schemes. Robustelli, Katkavage, Grier, and Modzelewski kept Huff free from interference and harassed Plum and Jim Ninowski every single snap. Brown endured the worst showing of his otherwise sterling career with eight yards on seven rushes. Taking into account Brown’s 20-yard run in the third quarter, it means Brown lost 12 yards on his other six carries! Huff said, “Cleveland likes to run its plays to perfection. As long as they run the play perfect, they figure your mistakes will beat you. Well, here I was knowing Jimmy would run and just where he would run. I wasn’t about to make any mistakes.”

The fans in attendance helped fuel the inspired front four’s engine, roaring their appreciation every time the defense held and the Cleveland offense trudged to the sideline. Brown said, “They just played even harder than last week, more determined.” Cleveland was held to a meager 86 yards of offense and seven first downs. The Giants had two times as many plays from scrimmage, 80 to 40, and they controlled the pace with 211 yards on 53 rushes. This was only the second time the Browns were held scoreless in nine NFL seasons, and it was the first in 114 games. The last occurrence was the very first meeting between the two teams in 1950. Howell acknowledged the impressive performance, “They played the best defensive ball I ever saw a club play against a real good team.” Katkavage succinctly stated, “We just played better under pressure.”

The Giants hosted the Baltimore Colts the following week in what became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Giants’ fans would probably disagree as their team lost the first overtime game in NFL history, 23-17. But the stage had been set for professional football to capture the nation’s imagination. After the season, Lombardi moved on to Green Bay. The Giants repeated as Eastern Conference champions in 1959, this time on the arm of NFL MVP Charlie Conerly who blossomed under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Allie Sherman. The clinching-game was on a Yankee Stadium field flooded by delirious fans who were probably somewhat in disbelief of the one-sided 48-7 score over Brown’s Cleveland team.

By the end of the next decade, football not only surpassed baseball as the National Pastime, it had become a national obsession, dominating television ratings in season while commanding headlines throughout the offseason. This was a far cry from the game’s humble stature at the opening of the decade when NFL box scores were fortunate to receive a few paragraphs of type while being buried on the sports pages alongside the previous day’s finishers in the money at the local race track.

The two teams represented the American / Eastern Conference in all 10 NFL Title games in the 1950’s, with the Browns winning three (’50, ’54 & ’55) and the Giants one (‘56.) Each franchise is well represented from the era at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Cleveland: Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Dante Lavelli, Len Ford, Frank Gatski, Lou Groza, Doug Atkins, Mike McCormack, Jim Brown, Henry Jordan, Willie Davis, Gene Hickerson, Bobby Mitchell

New York: Steve Owen, Emlen Tunnell, Arnie Weinmeister, Tom Landry, Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown, Vince Lombardi, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff

The head-to-head outcomes were remarkably even, with Cleveland holding a 10-9-1 regular-season advantage, and both teams winning a conference tie-breaker.

New York Giants vs. Cleveland Browns (1950's)

10/1/50New York 6 at Cleveland 0
10/22/50New York 17 vs Cleveland 13
12/17/50New York 3 at Cleveland 8 (American Conference Playoff)
10/28/51New York 13 at Cleveland 14
11/18/51New York 0 vs Cleveland 10
10/12/52New York 17 at Cleveland 9
12/14/52 New York 37 vs Cleveland 34
10/25/53 New York 0 vs Cleveland 7
12/6/53New York 14 at Cleveland 62
10/31/54 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/28/54 New York 7 vs Cleveland 16
11/6/55 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/27/55New York 35 vs Cleveland 35
10/14/56New York 21 at Cleveland 9
12/9/56 New York 7 vs Cleveland 24
9/29/57 New York 3 at Cleveland 6
12/15/57New York 28 vs Cleveland 34
11/2/58New York 21 at Cleveland 17
12/14/58New York 13 vs Cleveland 10
12/21/58 New York 10 vs Cleveland 0 (Eastern Conference Playoff)
10/11/59 New York 10 at Cleveland 6
12/6/59New York 48 vs Cleveland 7
The Rivalry That Changed Professional Football: New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)
Jan 202014
 
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Emlen Tunnell (45), Tom Landry (49); New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 1, 1950)

Emlen Tunnell (45), Tom Landry (49); New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 1, 1950)

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

When most people think of a fierce rivalry, the first image to arise is often a series of intense, physical contests – two teams meeting on the field, imposing wills, doling out punishment, one trying to outlast the other. One rivalry during the NFL’s transformative stage encompassed all of that while transcending the physical scrums along the line of scrimmage. When New York and Cleveland jousted for American and Eastern Conference supremacy, the games were more than a battle of brute strength. The coaching staffs engaged in contests of creativity and attempted to outsmart one another. The game of football and its fans still reap the rewards to this very day.

The Father of Modern Professional Football

The organization and structure of football practices are now taken for granted, but it was Paul Brown’s reforms that profoundly altered the way teams prepare for football games. George Halas, a legendary innovator in his own right, credited Brown with “turning the league into an organized, highly skilled endeavor instead of a bunch of big lugs whaling the daylights out of each other.” Brown himself humbly stated his motivation for organizing his practices was to instill a sense of pride into his assistant coaches and players. He wanted them to feel that football, as a full-time occupation, was important, and something worthy of complete dedication.

Brown was strong-willed and did not waver on a conviction. “I believed strongly in the things that were necessary for us to win, and I refused to tolerate any exceptions to those beliefs.” He held his staff and players to high standards. “I always believed that young men want to work in an atmosphere of reasoned discipline and order, and respond better under those conditions.” As a result, the following major innovations that Brown began not only changed the way football was played, but how it was perceived by the general public:

  • Full-time player scouting
    • Character was as equally important as athletic skill; “selfish or disloyal, or those who could not adjust their individual skills to our team concepts” were dismissed from consideration
    • “The ability to perform under pressure is the mark of a great player”
    • Standardized the 40-yard dash after calculating the average distance needed to cover a punt, the most repeated play in football
  • Film study
    • Not only of opponents, but self-scouting and recognizing his team’s own tendencies
  • Playbooks
    • Players were required to take notes during meetings and routinely quizzed to gauge their retention
    • If players understood why they were doing something, “they were more apt to be in the spirit of the occasion”
  • Took play-calling duties away from the quarterback
    • Initially sent plays in by rotating offensive guards; later pioneered the use of transistor radios in the quarterback’s helmet
    • Provided the quarterback with “check-with-me” calls to use at the line of scrimmage if the defense’s alignment was unfavorable
  • Instituted a year-round conditioning plan
  • Racially re-integrated professional football
    • Brought Marion Motley and Bill Willis to the Browns in 1946; no black players had been on an NFL roster since 1934
  • Meticulously pre-planned practices
    • Handed out itineraries to players
    • Morning practice would be spent on all aspects of a single rushing play, then afternoon practice on a passing play
  • Designed an attacking passing offense
    • Conceptualized read-and-react option routes (today known as ”option routes”) and timing patterns
    • Analyzed the geometry of the football field, exploiting open space by spreading defenses away from the line of scrimmage
    • Taught offensive linemen to block passively on pass plays, forming a ”pocket” for the quarterback
    • Conceptualized zone blocking for the offensive line to maximize the capabilities of fullback Jim Brown

More than anything, Brown was passionate about teaching. The list of men who played under and coached alongside Brown, eventually finding their own success as head coaches, is unparalleled:

  • Weeb Ewbank
  • Lou Saban
  • Blanton Collier
  • Don Shula
  • Chuck Noll
  • Don McCafferty
  • Bill Walsh

Brown was tagged as football’s first “genius,” a title he disdained, even if it was merited. His colleagues did not dispute it. They knew they had to be prepared and have their teams performing at their best when they faced Cleveland, and that is what served to further the game of football more than anything else. Head coaches did not want to be embarrassed. They readily adopted Brown’s practices and spent extra time studying film, developing counter plans as they anticipated how Brown would try to beat them. Brown inspired innovation among his colleagues, which is possibly the greatest of all possible legacies.

An Unlikely Protagonist

Giants’ head coach Steve Owen had enjoyed a great run with his team from 1933 through 1946, winning eight Eastern Division titles and two NFL Championships. During his tenure, New York made playing defense a brutal art form. Owen pioneered defenders playing off of the line of scrimmage when most teams deployed seven-man lines and relied on safeties to clean up on ball carriers who may have slipped through cracks in the front wall. Hall of Fame center and linebacker extraordinaire Mel Hein recalled, “Owen brought in the 5-3-3 in 1937 and we first used it extensively in 1938. The 5-3-3 was especially effective against Chicago’s T-Formation. Since we had linebackers left, right and center, none of us had to go running after the first fake. We could wait in our positions to see if the play was coming. Also, we ran stunts from this defense, with the linebackers and linemen crisscrossing as they rushed.”

Passing offense innovations accelerated with the arrival of precision quarterbacks such as Washington’s Sammy Baugh and Chicago’s Sid Luckman. Deft receivers like Don Hutson caused problems for defenses packed near the scrimmage line. Large, slow linebackers were exposed in coverage. Many teams adopted Earle “Greasy” Neale’s 5-2-4 Philadelphia Eagle defensive alignment that became known as the Eagle Defense. Earle said, “This defense was most effective against the tight T-Formation. A man-in-motion or a flanker spread it out.” The four defensive backs covered more of the field, but it would soon be discovered that this defense was still vulnerable.

The Giants were mired in a malaise of decline when the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) merged with the established league prior to the 1950 season. Realignment brought change and new challenges. The Eastern Division was rechristened the American Conference when it inherited the four-time champions of the rival league. The Browns’ 52-4-3 legacy, which included professional football’s first perfect season [15-0] in 1948, preceded them, even if NFL stalwarts were loath to recognize their accomplishments.

Owen’s football roots were firmly grounded in single-wing style formations, having a hand in the dirt and winning the battle on the line of scrimmage. He hadn’t brought a new offensive concept to the game since his A-Formation in the early 1930’s and the Giants were among the last teams to resist adapting to the modern T-Formation.

Defensive coaching was minimal in the late 1940’s. Teams met as large groups and 80% of the meetings and practices were spent on offense. Defenses lined up at the line of scrimmage, beat the man in front of them, and then pursued the ball carrier. There was little or no anticipation whatsoever. Aside from accounting for a man in motion, pre-snap defensive alignments did not change.

The Umbrella Opens

Brown proved to be a catalyst for change. Knowing he would face Cleveland twice every season, Owen spent the offseason studying game film of his new opponent. Owen had the foresight to realize brute force was not enough to get the job done against this “finesse” team. He needed to account for the open spaces on the football field. The Giants played a 6-1 defensive front, and Owen took advantage of the talent on his roster, knowing he had rangy, athletic defensive ends. They would align in their standard front, but at the snap of the ball the ends would drop out and cover the flats, while the defensive halfbacks would retreat. The two safeties covered the deep middle, and the result was an umbrella-like coverage. He thought this would serve the dual purpose of controlling the Browns’ precise passing attack while still being able to defend bruising fullback Marion Motley.

The scheme looked great on paper. Fortunately the Giants received a small bonanza of their own from the AAFC that made it come to life on the field. The New York Yankees were one of the teams that gave the Browns some competition during their four-year reign. Although they never defeated Cleveland, New York tied them once in 1947 and opposed the Browns twice in the AAFC Championship Game, nearly defeating them in 1946 before an Otto Graham-led 4th quarter comeback sent the Yankees home with a 14-9 defeat. The strength of the Yankee team was its defense, and Owen’s umbrella was supported by four newcomers from the Yankees: Arnie Weinmeister, Otto Schnellbacher, Harmon Rowe, and Tom Landry.

Single Wing, A-Formation, 5-3 Defense

Weinmeister was a rare physical specimen. At 6’4” and 240 pounds, he had the strength to consistently win skirmishes in the trenches, but it was his fluid athletic ability, speed, and the desire to dominate that set him apart. He regularly terrorized quarterbacks in the pocket and tackled backs and receivers downfield. When Weinmeister joined the Giants, he told Owen the way to defeat Cleveland was “to knock them on their butts.” Weinmeister and fellow tackle Al DeRogatis were charged with crashing the pocket on pass plays, and funneling Motley to linebacker John Cannady on rushes.

Schnellbacher, Rowe, and Landry formed a unique blend of talents with Emlen Tunnell and were the key to the success of Owen’s strategy. Defensive halfbacks Landry and Rowe played with solid technique and rarely gambled in their coverage. Tunnell had great range and ball instincts. He often freelanced through the secondary, and usually had the speed to recover from a misread. Schnellbacher combined instincts with technique. What set them apart as a unit was all four were exceptional tacklers. Tunnell recalled years later, “That was the best tackling backfield I ever saw. Everyone knew what the other fellow was going to do and that’s what made it so much fun.”

The two-time defending NFL Champion Eagles did not have much fun when they faced Cleveland on Saturday night of the NFL’s showcase opener. The pro passing game was relatively unsophisticated at this point, and Brown took a quantum step forward for this game by splitting both his ends wide on the line of scrimmage. Brown believed, “You had to integrate the running game with an intelligently conceived passing offense to win in pro football.” He also refused to allow the defense to dictate where the ball would be thrown.

Neale’s Eagle Defense was subsequently shredded by quarterback Graham’s sharp passes to ends Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli. When Neale adjusted by having his two linebackers cover the flats, Graham had Motley pound into the undefended middle. When the linebackers pinched in, Graham sent halfback Dub Jones around end to catch a pass in the short middle or sent Motley wide on a sweep. After the 35-10 thumping, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell congratulated Brown and told him Cleveland was, “the most intensely coached team I have ever seen.”

The Giants opened their season the next day in Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 18-7, playing their standard defense, as Owen dared not tip his hand to the shrewd Brown. The schedule makers did New York a tremendous favor by giving them a bye for Week 2. The Browns traveled to Baltimore and whipped the Colts 31-0 while Owen drilled his new scheme to perfection at practice.

The Giants visited Cleveland in Week 3, and the results of the new defense were so profound they may have even shocked Owen himself. As New York’s defense came to the line, they showed a standard 6-1 front. At the snap, the ends quickly dropped to cover the flats and the defensive halfbacks dropped to cover the deep sidelines while the safeties covered the middle. The four down linemen attacked the backfield while the linebacker spied on Motley. The Browns were unprepared but, more surprisingly, were slow to respond to the strategy.

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (October 22, 1950)

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (October 22, 1950)

Graham did not complete a single pass in the first half and was intercepted three times. The Cleveland fans, so used to seeing their team trounce the opposition, booed their team as they went into the locker room trailing 6-0. In the second half, Owen anticipated Brown altering his strategy. Cleveland came out in the third quarter shortening the pass routes of the ends and running wide, but Owen had closed the Umbrella, blitzing his defensive backs, pressuring Graham, and plugging any rushing lanes. The 6-0 score held up, marking the first time the Browns had ever been held scoreless. So impressed was the multi-talented Tunnell, he later said, “We did such a job that afternoon that I never again wanted to play offense.”

Tunnell still clearly recalled the details years later when he was a Giants’ assistant coach, “In 1950 we developed a defense against the Browns that came to be known as the Umbrella. Our ends, Jim Duncan and Ray Poole, would drift back and cover the flats while tackles Arnie Weinmeister and Al DeRogatis and guards Jon Baker and John Mastrangelo were charged with rushing the passer and containing the run. The lone linebacker, John Cannady, was told to follow the Brown fullback wherever he went. Tom Landry played the left corner, Harmon Rowe the right, I was the strong safety and Otto Schnellbacher the weak. If you would look at this alignment from high in the stands it looked like an opened umbrella. In truth, it was the same 4-3-2-2 used today. We did go into other formations, but mostly we used this 4-3 arrangement. It was so successful against the Browns that we beat them twice. The first time we played them we shut them out, the first time that had ever happened to them.”

Given the challenges Cleveland’s offense presented, DeRogatis explained the defense’s strategic goals. “The modern 4-3-4 defense came into being largely because of the fantastic ability of the old Cleveland Browns to make a defense look bad. With great ends, a great blocking and running fullback, and a phenomenal quarterback, the Browns, coached by Paul Brown moved with awesome finesse over almost everyone they met. As a result, Steve Owen devised the Umbrella Defense, which dropped the standard six-man defensive line, to go to at least a version of the 4-3-4 which most teams use now. Against the standard six, the receivers could beat you short; the swing could wreck you outside; the fullback forced you to protect the middle; and the quarterback, who could do anything, passed, ran, screened, drew, and kept you off balance. So the 4-3-4 was born and almost revolutionized the game.”

The teams met for a rematch in front of 41,734 enthusiastic fans at the Polo Grounds three weeks later. The 4-1 Browns punctured the 4-1 Giants’ Umbrella with 13 second-quarter points. The final seven came seconds before the half following a major mental error by New York return-man Jim Ostendarp. On the kickoff following a Lou Groza field goal, Ostendarp let the ball hit the ground and roll to the one-yard line, where Cleveland recovered. Graham plunged for the touchdown on the next play to increase Cleveland’s lead to 13-3.

Owen altered his defensive strategy for the second half after Weinmeister left the game with a knee injury. Instead of having the ends drop off in the Umbrella they rushed Graham relentlessly. Poole and DeRogatis harassed Graham, who completed just four passes and lost 71 yards in sacks over the final 30 minutes. Cleveland crossed midfield just once. The Giants’ offense completed the comeback on a bit of razzle-dazzle when quarterback Charlie Conerly faked a hand-off to Eddie Price and flipped the ball behind his back to Joe Scott who raced around end for an uncontested touchdown and a 17-13 win.

Weinmeister boasted after the game, “We were smarter and better. We proved that defense was more important than offense. A lot of people thought the first win was a fluke. We knew it wasn’t and we were determined to prove it to everybody else.”

Cleveland rolled through the remainder of their schedule unblemished. The Giants fell flat versus the Chicago Cardinals the week after their victory over the Browns. The ship was righted quickly, and New York won impressively the rest of the way, including an amazing run where they scored 50 points three times in four weeks. The Giants and Browns finished tied atop the American Conference with 10-2 records, necessitating a playoff in Cleveland.

Bitterly cold temperatures limited attendance to 33,054 fans. The field was frozen and Owen obviously recalled how basketball shoes helped his underdog Giants pull off an upset against the heavily-favored Chicago Bears in 1934. He brought enough on the trip so the entire squad would be outfitted for the full 60 minutes. The master of preparation Brown would not be outdone; Cleveland took the field in black Chuck Taylors.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (December 17, 1950)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (December 17, 1950)

After the Browns went up 3-0 early in the first quarter, both defenses took control. The icy field made it impossible for backs and receivers to cut sharply, and for passers Graham, Conerly, and Travis Tidwell (Giants) to plant and throw. The teams would combine for just six pass completions and 91 passing yards for the entire game. Owen mixed the A-Formation with the T-Formation throughout the first half, before committing solely the A for the second half

Five minutes into fourth quarter, New York’s Gene “Choo Choo” Roberts whipped around right end with interference in front of him. Before he could reach the end zone, Roberts was caught from behind on the Cleveland 4-yard line by Bill Willis after a gain of 32 yards. Two plunges by Price netted just a single yard (Willis was in on both tackles). On third-and-goal from the three, Conerly tossed a touchdown to end Bob McChesney, but the Giants were flagged for a false start. On the next play, Conerly’s pass was intercepted, but Cleveland was called for defensive holding. The Browns’ fans were in a full-throated frenzy, on their feet chanting “Hold that line!” as they exhorted their defense.

On first and goal from the four, Price ran for one, but the Giants were penalized for an illegal snap. On second and goal from the eight, Joe Scott was tackled for a five-yard loss by Willis. Conerly’s third-down pass was deflected incomplete and the Giants settled for a field goal and 3-3 tie after the frustrating series.

Taking possession with 6:10 left in the game, Graham led the Browns on a march downfield, including three Graham rushes for 36 yards. However, like the Giants on the previous series, Cleveland settled for a field goal after having a goal-to-go situation. With time on the clock for one last desperate drive, Conerly was tackled in the end zone for a safety, completing the Browns’ quest for revenge on the only team to defeat them in the 1950 season. Cleveland went on to defeat the Los Angeles Rams (who ironically had left the city of Cleveland following an NFL Championship in 1945) in one of the most thrilling championship games in history, 30-28.

Despite falling short in the playoff game, the Giants’ three-game series with the Browns that season had to be considered a success. In 180 total minutes played, Owen’s Umbrella Defense surrendered only one touchdown to an offense that routinely piled up points against the rest of the league. The Browns led the American Conference with 310 points scored, and their average margin of victory was just over 13 points. In their three games against New York, their aggregate 21 points came from the lone touchdown, four field goals, and a safety from their defense.

Brown poked some holes in Owen’s Umbrella the next season. Cleveland swept the season series with New York, won the American Conference title but lost to the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship game. In 1952 the Giants swept the Browns, but Cleveland three-peated as conference champs, and lost again to Detroit. The significance of these two campaigns came to full fruition in 1953. While Brown furthered the offense of the future, developing and expanding the roles of the Split End and Flanker in T-Formation variations, Owen never fully adapted to the T-Formation, and continually reverted to his familiar A-Formation. This stunted the development of quarterback Conerly.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 12, 1952)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 12, 1952)

The nadir came in an ugly 62-14 December loss to Cleveland at the Polo Grounds that was so bad even backup quarterback George Ratterman threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after Graham had been pulled. The Giants’ leadership was forced to admit their 23-year steward for the franchise needed to retire. The archaic offense was inept, scoring a meager 179 points over the 12-game season. The once-formidable defense was ragged; the league caught up to the Umbrella scheme and there was no counter strategy on the horizon. The locker room was despondent; many players contemplated early retirement.

Multi-threat performer Frank Gifford, who played both ways and averaged 50 minutes per game at the end of the season while the Giants struggled with injuries, recalled, “The last five games of 1953, I didn’t come out. I played offense and defense; I was kicking off, running back punts, kicking field goals. I was really questioning whether to come back in 1954.” A significant part of Gifford’s frustration was the inability of Owen to figure out a role that maximized his abilities. Gifford had been a star tailback for USC in college, but Owen relegated him to defensive halfback. “I would have cut the good looking son-of-a-bitch if he hadn’t been our top draft pick,” said Owen.

Quarterback Conerly, who was the NFL Rookie of the year in 1948, would turn 34 the next season. He was tired of being beaten up not only on the field behind a faltering offensive line, but by the booing Polo Grounds fans who hung up signs reading “Back to the Farm Charlie.”

The Rivalry That Changed Professional Football: New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)
Jan 062014
 
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Greg Robinson, Auburn Tigers (September 21, 2013)

OT Greg Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 6, 2014 BCS National Championship: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

AUBURN

*#73 Greg Robinson – LT – 6’5/320

Third year sophomore. Unfortunately Robinson did not receive the public recognition until halfway through the year because most had no idea he was three years removed from high school. Robinson caught my eye last year when I was scouting opposing players. He is enormous but carries minimal bad weight. He is light on his feet but can anchor himself in to the ground and stone a bull rusher. Robinson may be THE left tackle of this class if he comes out. While I think he is a bit raw and will need some balance/core/stability work, Robinson has two years of starting experience in the SEC with game tape just as, if not more, impressive as Kouandijo. If he comes out, he could really go anywhere from #1 to #15 overall.

*#21 Tre Mason – RB – 5’10/205

Third year junior that has not declared yet. Mason is a fun player to watch. He had a big year (1,600+ yards) in 2013 but I am trying to figure out how much of it was the scheme, and how much was it based on his talent. He is short, but Mason is not undersized. He is thick throughout and he runs with power between the tackles and in space. He can shoot out of a cannon and accelerate through traffic with the best of them. Very efficient mover with minimal wasted steps. Once Mason is in the open field, he has good, but not great speed. His game is based on short area quickness and breaking tackles, which is what I want most in a running back. Right now he is a 2nd rounder but there is a chance he ends up being the first back taken.

#30 Dee Ford – DE – 6’2/240

Fifth year senior. Ford is a playmaker from the outside that makes things happen behind the line of scrimmage. My gripe with him is a pure lack of size/bulk and the fact that he doesn’t make his presence known play to play. If Ford doesn’t sack the QB or guess right on a running play, he doesn’t make an impact. He won’t be able to handle the power of the NFL unless he gets significantly bigger. Ford’s lack of staying power wasn’t an issue in college, but he will be manhandled by tight ends if he is an every down guy. Right now, he is a situational pass rusher that only fits certain schemes. Day three guy.

#11 Chris Davis – CB – 5’11/200

Fourth year senior. Best known for his return for a TD after a missed Alabama FG to win the game. Davis is actually a solid CB prospect that I think can be a contributor early on in his career. He is very quick, very explosive. He plays downhill with aggression. Davis is an excellent turn and run guy. He has the quick twitch and reaction that you want to see out of corners. His return skills will only boost his grade as I think he could be a 5th or 6th round guy.

#35 Jay Prosch – FB – 6’0/258

Fourth year senior. Rarely will you see a traditional fullback be drafted, but I think Prosch has a good shot at being a day three pick. He is not a receiver, he is not a rusher. But Prosch might be the best lead blocker that I’ve ever seen and I think his impact at the next level will be immediate. Prosch is effective in space against fast linebackers and defensive backs He always has his balance and power under him. He can send a violent jolt to defensive linemen as well who often outweigh him. He can perform multiple blocking duties at a high level and even though this role is dwindling in numbers around the league, I think Prosch will be drafted.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#94 Nosa Eguae – DE – 6’3/269

FLORIDA STATE

#75 Cameron Erving – LT – 6’6/320

Fourth year junior. Redshirted in 2010 because of a back injury. Backup defensive tackle that played in every 2011 game as the team’s primary run stuffer. Made the move to left tackle prior to the 2012 season and has started every game since then. Finished 2012 season on a strong note and has displayed an impressive tool set. Some consider Erving a top 10 pick and I think it is very possible. He is still somewhat new to the position, which will lead some to believe that he has a lot of untapped upside even though he plays at a very high level currently. He is an easy bender with a lot of hand power. He leans too much though and will likely need some time to shore up some technique issues before he can play. I think Erving is a solid prospect that may need some time on the bench before starting. But all in all, a likely top 15 guy.

*#1 Kelvin Benjamin – WR – 6’5/242

Third year sophomore. Benjamin has evolved in to my favorite WR in this draft class if he comes out. I have a higher opinion of him than most though. He would be better suited off returning to school so he can play with Winston one more year and make himself a definite top 10 pick in 2015. What I like about Benjamin is obvious. His height, length, and girth make him a matchup nightmare for defenses. At his size, it is unreal how well he moves when going after a pass and/or running with the ball in his hands. He has progressed more than any WR in the nation over the past year. In that offense, we may not even come close to seeing what he is capable of. I may have a top 10 grade on Benjamin when all is said and done but if he comes out, he will likely be a late 1st rounder.

#22 Telvin Smith – OLB – 6’3/215

Fourth year senior. Career backup and rotational defender until 2013 but has been consistently productive when his name is called. Was the team’s third leading tackler in 2012. Took over the starting WILL position in 2013 and flourished. Thin but wiry frame, plays stronger than he looks. Top-tier speed in pursuit, can play sideline-to-sideline. Aggressive downhill defender that can fill the lane and locate the ball carrier. Good form tackler that can be relied upon in space. Excellent in man coverage, can stick with most, if not all backs and tight ends. Fluid hips that turn well, light feet that can change direction. Has the tendency to over-pursue on runs to the other side of the line, opening cutback lanes. Discipline isn’t always there when it comes to his assignments. Will dance around blockers too often rather than meeting them straight up. Smith’s game speed and power can make him a three down defender at the next level. He has played both the MIKE and WILL positions very well for one of the nation’s top defenses over the past two years. He is also considered to be one of the more vocal leaders of the team. Smaller linebackers with supreme speed and good enough power are becoming big time players across the league. I think he can be a top 45 player in this class, although I’d expect him to be a 3rd/4th rounder in May.

#20 Lamarcus Joyner – S – 5’8.195

Fifth year senior that has seen a lot of playing time at both CB and S. Lacks the ideal height (5’8”) but weighs a solid 195 pounds and plays worth a chip on his shoulder. Possesses elite acceleration and agility. Can chase down some of the fastest receivers that college football has to offer from behind. Closes a 10 yard window as fast as anyone. Effective blitzer (5 sacks through November in 2013) with the ability to explode through small creases and ability to finish. Has long arms for his height. High energy player that the FSU defense looks to for leadership. Over-aggressive style can be taken advantage of by QBs with the ability to look off defenders. Takes a lot of false steps and is often found recovering. His attitude can only do so much downfield in one on one situations. Gets too hands on and will be flagged a lot. Creates mismatches that opposing offenses will look to exploit. Joyner is a hard nosed football player that can overcome his physical shortcomings. His approach and versatility are always in high demand across the league. Could be a 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#80 Rashad Greene – WR – 6’0/175

Third year junior that has led the team in receptions and yards all three years of his career to this point. Also an accomplished punt returner in 2012. Easy and fluid mover that can separate from man coverage all over the route tree. Has the speed to knife through a secondary over the top. Aggressive pass catcher with a strong pair of hands. Slight frame that can be beat up at the point of attack. Usually starts off the line. May not handle the press corners effectively. Effort as a blocker is there, but he does not make a big difference on the edge. Greene shows a lot of NFL ready skills and I’m not sure how much he could gain by returning to school. His upside is limited but he could be a QBs best friend because of his ability to get open, catch the ball, and run after the catch. 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#8 Timmy Jernigan – DT – 6’2/298

Third year junior. Was a top tier, 5 star recruit out of high school that made an immediate impact in a rotational role as a freshman in 2011, winning the team’s newcomer of the year award. Plays the inside gaps, mostly lining up over center. Smaller than the typical nose tackle, but plays low and powerful, making him a tough guy to push back. Strong player with outstanding footwork. Incredible quickness and speed for the position. Does a nice job of sending the initial punch with a strong pair of hands, keeping his base low so he can control the engagement with the blocker. Well-developed technique, knows how to get off blocks using moves and positioning. No matter that, he will need to develop more lower body strength before being relied upon against NFL linemen. Jernigan is a disruptor in every sense of the word that has several ways to beat a blocker. Despite his less than ideal height/weight numbers, he can play multiple roles along any defensive front. Could be 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#32 James Wilder Jr. – RB – 6’2/226

Third year junior. Top tier athlete out of high school that was highly recruited. Son of former NFL running back James Wilder. A physical specimen with the size/speed/strength that will make NFL coaches dream about stardom. Hard-nosed, physical runner that is tough to bring down once he has a head of steam. Broke out in 2012 with almost 6 yards per carry and 11 TDs. Superb blocker with the ability to process information quickly and deliver a violent jolt to the defender. Breaks a lot of tackles in space and is a tough guy to bring down past the second level of the defense. Maintains a strong grip on the ball and can be relied upon to secure it. Runs with a high pad level in traffic. Lacks the quick twitch acceleration and change of direction when approaching the line. Too many recovery steps with approaching the line of scrimmage. Not a natural receiver. Limited role but can be a valuable weapon as part of a committee approach. Wilder Jr. could declare early and me a mid-round pick that out-produces backs drafted ahead of him. I see some Eddie George here. A true workhorse that does a lot of little things well on top of having enormous gifts.

#7 Christian Jones – LB – 6’4/232

Fourth year senior that has started games at both outside linebacker positions as well as defensive end. Productive player that led the team in tackles in 2012, and was second on the team in 2011. Great size/speed/strength numbers that contributes on special teams as well. Physical player that plays well with his hands. Pursues well across the line. Can close a 5-10 yard window fast. Effective tackler that makes the effort to wrap up while maintaining a powerful presence. Can be used in a variety of ways. Gets locked on to and ridden out of plays by quality linemen and tight ends. Doesn’t use his hands effectively to control the engagement with blockers. Lacks awareness and reaction as a pass defender. Better athlete than he is a football player. I’m not as high on guys like this. He looks like a guy that will be a solid backup and special teamer, but I wouldn’t draft him until day three.

#31 Terrence Brooks – S – 5’11/197

Fourth year senior, two year starter. Plays a lot of single high safety but has shown the ability to approach the line and make tackles in the box. Led all FSU defensive backs in tackles in 2012. Quick and fluid hips that can get him moving laterally in a blink. Anticipates well and has coverage ability that you will find in a cornerback. Doesn’t have good enough speed to run downfield with speed receivers. Won’t make a lot of plays in back side pursuit. Aggressive player but doesn’t have the physical presence as a tackler to make a big difference. Does a lot of little things well to get him on the field, but has not stood out among a talented FSU defense. Sometimes guys like this get overlooked because they lack star power, but are solid prospects that can grab a roster spot in the NFL. Brooks can be a reliable third safety that can play both spots if need be. Day three guy.

#52 Bryan Stork – C – 6’4/312

Fifth year senior that has been starting since 2011. Has seen time at both guard and center. Graded out as the team’s top blocker in 2012 and is considered to be the leader of the line. Big weight room strength. Active feet that can get his hips in to the hole easily. Moves in space like a tight end, very good athlete. Lacks the power presence when matched up with bigger defensive tackles. Doesn’t create a new line of scrimmage. Leans forward too much. Weak hands prevent him from locking on to a defender. Stork isn’t strong enough for my liking when it comes to immediate production/reliability. He has good movement skills though so I think he can be drafted late and be given time to add some power to his game.

#81 Kenny Shaw – WR – 6’1/170

Fourth year senior that has played in every game since the start of 2011. Big play threat that works best in the slot because of his ability to find the holes in zone coverage. Very thin frame that needs to add bulk. Won’t break a lot of tackles. Average agility in space to make defenders miss and will often go down on initial contact. Not a pure hands catcher. Will allow the ball to get in to his body which impedes his after the catch ability. Not a fluid mover considering his size/frame. Has been the beneficiary of such a talent-rich Florida State offense which has inflated his statistics. There isn’t enough here to get me excited about his potential in the NFL. I don’t think he will handle the physical side of the game and we aren’t talking about an elite burner here. Late rounder.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#97 DeMonte McCalister – DT – 6’2/285
#55 Jacobbi McDaniel – DT – 6’0/286
#6 Dan Hicks – DE – 6’4/260