Monday, May 19, 2014

Building The 53 - 2014 Green Bay Packers 1.0

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson added nine new players to the roster in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Following the draft, Thompson signed a number of undrafted free agents*.  There is always a good chance an undrafted free agent makes the opening day 53-man roster (think Sam Shields or Frank Zombo) but it is too early how many of those guys could make The 53.  There is a chance that Thompson makes a few more moves based on injury or need but as of right now Thompson 90 players to choose from for The 53.

I made the same predictions last year.  I correctly "predicted" 42 of 53 players that made The 53 to start the 2013 season.  I say "predicted" because the point of the post is for me to explain who I would keep on the 53-man roster and why.  There are some guys that were not even on the roster at the time of the post that made The 53 (Chris Banjo). When some of those guys don't make the roster I am not technically wrong, I just have a difference of opinion with Thompson.  The biggest group that I cannot predict are the undrafted free agents because as I said earlier, we know a couple of those guys end up showing enough in training camp to merit a spot on The 53. 

Keeping that in mind, here are my thoughts on the 53 guys that I would keep today if I were in charge of making The 53 for the start of the 2014 season:

Cut: Chase Rettig
Keep: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, and Scott Tolzien
Analysis: It will be a very interesting battle for the backup quaterback spot.  Even though it was just last training camp, it feels like a million years ago that B.J. Coleman and Vince Young "battled" for the backup quarterback spot behind Rodgers.  Ultimately Coleman beat out Young for the backup quarterback spot on The 53 but Coleman never saw regular season action.  When Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone for seven games, Flynn played better than Tolzien and Seneca Wallace (remember his nightmare performance in relief of Rodgers on MNF against the Bears or his start at home against the Philadelphia Eagles).  As of right now, Flynn is most likely the answer this season but Tolzien looks like the long-term answer at backup quarterback.  The conventional thinking is that given all the talent on the roster it might be hard to justify keeping three quarterbacks but for how much the Packers struggled without Rodgers under center, I think it makes sense to keep both Flynn and Tolzien if for no other reason than they've been with the team for the entire off-season and practice reps are scarce once the regular season starts.  So if Rodgers goes down again, Flynn or Tolzien could step in with more experience under their belt this year than last year.

Running Back:
Cut: Michael Hill, Rajon Neal, and LaDarius Perkins
Keep: Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Jonathan Franklin, and DuJuan Harris
Analysis: Despite the fact that the NFL has turned into a pass happy league, the Packers still have what amounts to three starting running backs.  I say three because both Franklin and Harris are coming off serious injuries from last season.  If both were healthy, it would actually give the Packers four legitimate starting NFL running backs.  All four have an injury history so it makes sense for Thompson to hedge his bets at the position.  When healthy, Lacy is clearly the best of the bunch.  Given Lacy's punishing running style, it will be interesting to see if the Packers use more of a two back system to keep him fresh or just ride Lacy as their first three down back since Ryan Grant left town the first time.

Cut: Ina Liaina
Keep: John Kuhn
Analysis: Fans love to cheer KUUUUUHHNN when he gets a rare hand off in short yardage situations but blocking and special teams is the reason Kuhn is entering his ninth season with the Packers.  Kuhn's blocks last season against the Cowboys to set-up Lacy's 60-yard run and the Bears to give Rodgers enough time to find Cobb to catapult the Packers into the playoffs will go down as two of his best plays ever for the Packers.  Add in that Kuhn is a special teams standout and I am fine with the Packers keeping Kuhn for slightly above the veteran minimum for the rest of his career.

Tight End:
Cut: Colt Lyerla, Jake Stoneburner, and Justin Perillo
Keep: Brandon Bostick, Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers, and Ryan Taylor
Analysis: Tight end Jermichael Finley's career most likely came to an end when he suffered a brutal neck injury against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field last season.  For all Finley's off-the-field drama and his unwillingness to block, there is no question that he is the most physically gifted tight end in franchise history.  The Packers know what they have in Quarless (good blocker and decent pass catcher) and Taylor (special teams ace with limitations on offense), the three interesting guys to watch are Bostick, Lyerla, and Rodgers.  All three look to be very physically gifted but also very raw.  Given that Thompson drafted Rodgers in the 3rd round, if healthy, his spot on The 53 is guaranteed.  Off-the-field, Lyerla looks like the closest thing to Finley so it would seem fitting if he made The 53.  On the field, Bostick looks like the closest thing to Finley so I gave Bostick a spot on The 53 over Lyerla.

Wide Receiver:
Cut: Myles White, Chris Harper, Kevin Dorsey, and Alex Gillett
Keep: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis
Analysis: I see Thompson keeping 14 or 15 skilled position (fullback, running back, tight end, and wide receiver) guys.  So far I've kept one fullback, four running backs, and four tight ends so that leaves five or six spots at wide receiver.  Despite letting James Jones leave via free agency, the Packers have the deepest group of wide receivers fighting for spots on The 53 in the last decade.  Besides Nelson and Cobb, none of the other wide receivers look like a number one option this season but there is very little difference between the third (Boykin) and tenth (Gillett) wide receiver on the depth chart.  Based on skill and draft position, the first four wide receiver spots are set (Nelson, Cobb, Boykin, and Adams).  Given their physical skills alone, I don't see Abbrederis or Janis making it through waivers so I gave them spots on The 53 ahead of the rest.

Offensive Tackle:
Cut: Aaron Adams, Jeremy Vujnovich, and John Fullington
Keep: Bryan Bulaga, David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, and Derek Sherrod
Analysis: The Packers look set at left (Bakhtiari), right (Bulaga), and backup (Barclay) tackle, assuming that Bulaga is fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered in training camp.  That leaves potentially one other spot up for grabs.  After Thompson drafted Sherrod in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, there is no way that Thompson could have envisioned Sherrod would be fighting just to make The 53 three years later.  Unfortunately injuries have really hampered Sherrod's progress.  If healthy, Sherrod should make The 53 but if he is hampered by injuries throughout training camp, Thompson should go in another direction.

Offensive Guard:
Cut: Andrew Tiller and Jordan McCray
Keep: Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, and Lane Taylor
Analysis: The Packers are set with their starers at guard with Sitton on the left and Lang on the right but competition for the backup spot is wide open.  If the Packers suffered an injury to any of their five starters, the first guy to fill any of the five spots would most likely be Barclay but I still think the Packers need to develop a guy that focuses solely on playing guard.  I gave the edge to Taylor ahead of Tiller just based on reputation from past seasons but if someone else shows well at guard in training camp, the Packers don't have a ton invested in Taylor so I could see them going in another direction.

Offensive Center:
Cut: Garth Gerhart
Keep: J.C. Tretter and Corey Linsley
Analysis: The Packers regularly run a no-huddle offense, which puts even more value on the center position than an offense that traditionally huddles up.  Despite the fact that the Packers play an uptempo style, apparently I value former starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith much more than Thompson does because Thompson let EDS sign a four-year, $14.25 million deal ($7.25 million guaranteed) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers instead of resigning him.  That means Rodgers will have his fourth different starting center (Scott Wells, Jeff Saturday, EDS, and presumably Tretter) over the last five seasons.  Thompson is putting too much faith in a couple of unproven guys given that Tretter (out most of his rookie season last year with injury), Linsley (drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft), and I all have the same number of NFL snaps under our belt.  The Packers could use some continuity at the center position for the next few seasons, so hopefully Tretter or Linsley seize the opportunity.

Defensive End:
Cut: Jerel Worthy, Carlos Gray, and Luther Robinson
Keep: Josh Boyd, Datone Jones, and Khyri Thornton
Analysis: This defense end position on The 53 is at little bit of a crossroads.  The Packers used high picks on Jones (1st round in 2013 NFL Draft), Thornton ((LINK)3rd round in 2014 NFL Draft(LINK)), and Worthy (2nd round in 2012 NFL Draft) but so far have very little to show for it. Boyd, the lowest draft pick of the group (5th round in 2013 NFL Draft), is ready to contribute the most this season while Thompson still holds out hope that Jones can morph into Cullen Jenkins 2.0.  The third spot came down to Thornton v. Worthy, given Worthy's history, I gave the spot to Thornton.

Defensive Tackle:
Cut: Mike Pennel
Keep: Mike Daniels, B.J. Raji, and Letroy Guion
Analysis: Daniels projects more as a defensive end than a defensive tackle but the Packers have him listed at defensive tackle so that's why he is listed at that position.  No matter what spot Daniels plays, despite being the shortest (6'0") defensive lineman currently on the roster, he is current the best.  Raji moves back inside this season for a make it or break it season.  In the middle of last season Raji turned down a long-term extension that averaged $8 million a season.  Raji ultimately signed a one-year, $4 million "prove it" deal.  If Raji can return to his pre-2012 form, he could play his way into a huge extension from a 3-4 team but if Raji has a lackluster season he could be inching closer to a veteran minimum extension.  Finally Guion, the former Minnesota Viking that signed a one-year borderline veteran minimum deal with the Packers, gives the Packers a big body (6'4" and 315 lbs) at defensive tackle.  I favor Johnny Jolly or Ryan Pickett over Guion but apparently Thompson feels differently since he usually favors in-house options over free agents.

Outside Linebacker:
Cut: Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Jayrone Elliott, Adrian Hubbard, and Shawn Lewis
Keep: Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, and Nick Perry
Analysis: Thompson finally assembled the best group of outside linebackers during his tenure that was propped up heavily when Thompson signed Peppers, the former Chicago Bear defensive end/outside linebacker, to a three-year, $26 million contract with just $7.5 million guaranteed.  Thompson is usually reticent to dip into the free agent market but when spends money (think Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson) it is usually money well spent.  Thompson was almost forced to make a splash in free agency at outside linebacker because Nick Perry has been injured and miscast at that spot since Thompson drafted him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.  As I've said many times, the Packers need to experiment with playing some 4-3 to give Perry a chance to shine.  That makes even more sense now because Peppers play defensive end in a 4-3 last season with the Bears.  Finally, Thompson brought back a quality back-up in Mike Neal.  If Matthews and Peppers stay healthy, I could see Neal and Perry getting some snaps at defensive end in passing situations.  That could leave spots for Mulumba and/or Palmer down the road but not right now.

Middle Linebacker:
Cut: Sam Barrington, Joe Thomas, and Jake Doughty
Keep: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Carl Bradford, and Jamari Lattimore
Analysis: I see very little difference between any of the top six middle linebackers on the roster, which is why the extensions given to Hawk and Jones make no sense.  Thompson will have to cut much more cost-effective options (Barrington and Palmer) in order to keep overpaid options (Hawk and Jones).  Although the Packers want to see what Bradford can do at outside linebacker, given his size (6'1" and 252 lbs), he projects much more as an inside linebacker.  Ultimately I gave Lattomore the roster spot over Barrington because of Lattimore's versatility, which would allow him to slide outside in a pinch.

Cut: Demetri Goodson, Jumal Rolle, Antonio Dennard, and Ryan White
Keep: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Devon House, and Jarrett Bush
Analysis: The Packers are so deep at cornerback that they can afford to shift Micah Hyde to safety.  The Packers invested heavily in Shields and Williams with Shields locked up through 2017 while Williams is in a contract year.  House and Bush are set to become free agents too so I could see the cornerback position looking quite different next season.  Thus if Goodson shows that he is actually progressing from the basketball court to the football field then the Packers should make a spot for him on The 53 because they are going to need to replenish at cornerback next season.

Cut: Chris Banjo, Charles Clay, and Tanner Miller
Keep: Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Sean Richardson
Analysis: Let me be the 10 millionth person to point out that the safeties did not have a single interception last season for the first time since before my parents were born.  Although Burnett looked to have a down year, I still think he brings a ton of versatility to the defense so his spot is secure.  The more interesting battle will be between Hyde and Ha Ha.  If Ha Ha beats out Hyde, the Packers need to find a way to get Hyde on the field but if Hyde beats out Ha Ha then it makes senses to let Ha Ha learn behind Burnett and Hyde.  I gave the final spot to Richardson ahead of Banjo purely based on size because the Packers need bigger, more physical safeties to defend the huge influx of tall tight ends (think Martellus Bennett and Kyle Rudolph) and wide receivers (think Alshon Jeffrey, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Marshall) in their division.

Cut: N/A
Keep: Mason Crosby (K), Tim Masthay (P), and Brett Goode (LS)
Analysis: Absent serious injury, there will be no changes at kicker, punter, or long snapper this off-season.

It is hard to trim the roster to 53 players and that is even without factoring in undrafted rookie free agents, which will possibly mean a few more roster spots will have to be created, since almost every year at least one undrafted rookie free agent makes the final 53-man roster.  The last five players I cut were Jerel Worthy, Andy Mulumba, Sam Barrington, Demetri Goodson, and Chris Banjo but I am sure the roster churn will continue so stay tuned.

* = Clay Charles (S, Hawaii), Jake Doughty (LB, Utah State), Jayrone Elliott (DE/OLB, Toledo), John Fullington (T, Washington State), Carlos Gray (DE, NC State), Adrian Hubbard (OLB, Alabama), Colt Lyerla (TE, Oregon), Jordan McCray (G, Central Florida), Tanner Miller (S, Iowa), Raijon Neal (RB, Tennessee), Mike Pennel (DT, Colorado State-Pueblo), Justin Perillo (TE, Maine), LaDarius Perkins (RB, Mississippi State), Chase Rettig (QB, Boston College), Luther Robinson (DE, Miami), Joe Thomas (ILB, South Carolina State), Jeremy Vujnovich (T, Louisiana College), and Ryan White (CB, Auburn).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Building The 23 - USMNT 3.0 for 2014 World Cup

For those that forgot, the United States was drawn into the "Group of Death" with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal.  As I said in that post, Building The 23 for the USMNT is similar to what I do with Building The 53 for the Green Bay Packers, Building The 25 for the Milwaukee Brewers, and Building The 15 for the Milwaukee Bucks.  I gave my first and second looks at the 23 players I thought USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann would take to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  Yesterday, Klinsman named his provisional 30-man roster that will have to be trimmed to 23 by June 2nd.

Traditionally the breakdown of The 23 is 3 goalkeepers, 8 defenders, 8 midfielders, and 4 strikers.  Besides goalkeeper, some of the players drawn into defense or up front could also slide into the midfielder so those are not hard and fast numbers.  Here are my updated thoughts about the players Klinsmann should select for The 23.

Goalkeepers on 30-man & 23-man (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando.
Starter: Tim Howard
Analysis: Absent an injury to one of the three goalkeepers, the USMNT is all set at goalkeeper.

Defenders on 30-man (11): DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Fabian Johnson, Michael Parkhurst, and DeAndre Yedlin
Defenders on 23-man (8): DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, and Fabian Johnson
Dropped (1): Clarence Goodson
Added (1): Timmy Chandler
Starters: DaMarcus Beasley (LB), Matt Besler (CB), Geoff Cameron (CB), and Fabian Johnson (RB)
Analysis: The USMNT has a ton of quality options across the back four.  I am not as worried about the outside backs because those spots seem borderline interchangeable but I am starting to worry about the two central defender spots because continuity is key.  Thus Klinsman needs to settle on a healthy pairing soon to give them time to build the chemistry necessary to man what could be the the two most important positions on the pitch for the USMNT at the 2014 World Cup.

Midfielders on 30-man (10): Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Mix Diskerud, Maurice Edu, Julian Green, Jermaine Jones, and Graham Zusi
Midfielders on 23-man (8): Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Brad Davis, Mix Diskerud, Julian Green, Jermaine Jones, and Graham Zusi
Dropped (1): Landon Donovan* (previously treated as midfielder but now treated as forward
Added (1): Alejandro Bedoya
Starters: Brad Davis (LM), Kyle Beckerman (CM), Michael Bradley (CM), and Graham Zusi (RW)
Analysis: I started Beckerman over Jones despite Klinsman's affinity for Jones because that gives Klinsman the option to field two proper wingers.  Zusi deserves to start on the right side, which left the winger spot open.  I decided to give Davis the spot but the left winger spot is probably the least settled in the starting eleven so look for Klinsman to try a number of players in that spot, including possibly moving Beasley up from left back, Klinsman can find a suitable replacement for Beasley at left back.

Forwards on 30-man (6): Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Aron Johannsson, and Chris Wondolowski
Forwards on 23-man (4): Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Aaron Johnannson
Dropped (1): Chris Wondolowski
Added (1): Landon Donovan* (previously treated as midfielder)
Starters: Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey
Analysis: Eddie Johnson's goal against Mexico last September was the goal that secured the USMNT's spot in the 2014 World Cup.  For the third World Cup in a row the player that scored the goal to clinch the USMNT's spot in the World Cup (Steve Ralston against Mexico in September of 2005 and Conor Casey at Honduras in October of 2009) will not be on The 23 at the World Cup for the United States.  With Johnson no longer in the running for a spot on The 23 that leaves six guys fighting for four spots.  Interestingly Donovan is characterized as a forward instead of a midfielder.  The fourth striker spot likely comes down to Donovan and Wondolowski given that Altidore, Dempsey, and Johannson look like locks.  Since Donovan is the most successful player in USMNT history, I would give him the spot ahead of Wondolowski but it only matters what Klinsman and his assistants think come early June.

The USMNT play three exhibition games as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  The USMNT's first match is against Azerbaijan at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on May 27nd followed by a match against Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on June 1st and finally a match against Nigeria at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. on June 7th. Klinsman must submit his final 23-man roster following the USMNT's match against Turkey, at the latest.  Make sure to check back following that announcement by Klinsman for my initial thoughts on The 23.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Man City Report - Two Trophies out of Four Ain't Bad

There is no question that Manchester City has gone through a meteoric rise since I started following them in the mid-2000's.  I originally started following City because they were the underdogs in their own town employed midfielder Claudio Reyna from 2003-07.  Despite Reyna's injury history and gaffe against Ghana in the 2006 World Cup, he is still my all-time favorite member of the United States Men's National Team.  I am not trying to take credit for City's rise but when I started following City they were owned by Thaksin Shinawatra, the disgraced former prime minister of Thailand that has lived in self-imposed political exile in England since 2008.  Just a few years after I started following City, Shinawatra sold City to Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family.  As a result money has been flowing through the blue side of Manchester since 2008, which has recently gotten them in hot water with the Financial Fair Play rules.

After City won the Capital One Cup 3-1 over Sunderland, there was an outside chance that they could win four trophies this season.  At that point I thought there was an 85% chance they won the FA Cup, 51% chance they won the EPL, & 25% chance they won the Champions League.  As it turns out, City crashed out of the F.A. Cup at the hands of Wigan, the same team that beat them in the F.A. Cup Final in 2013 even though Wigan was relegated from the EPL last season. City crashed out of the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona.  That mean the only way City could hoist another trophy this season was to win the EPL.

When City lost 3-2 to Liverpool on the road on April 13th and barely tied Sunderland 2-2 at home on April 16th, it looked like they would have to settle for only one trophy this season given the cushion that they gave Liverpool.  Thankfully less than a fortnight later on April 27th, which will forever be known as "Brace Day" on the blue side of Manchester, City defeated Crystal Palace 2-0 on the road while Liverpool lost 2-0 at home to what amounted to Chelsea's second team.  The stumble by Liverpool on "Brace Day", pun intended as a shot at Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard's gaffe to gift Chelsea a goal, allowed City to regain control of their EPL destiny.  City won their final three matches 3-2 @ Everton, 4-0 over Aston Villa, and 2-0 over West Ham to win their second EPL title in three years.  Here are my final rankings projecting their transfer value going into the summer transfer window along with my thoughts on a few of the unsung heroes of City's 2013-14 EPL Champion squad:

Player Rankings
1. Yaya Toure (M, LR 1)
2. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 3)
3. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2) 
4. David Silva (M, LR 4)
5. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 8)
6. Samir Nasri (M, LR 6)
7. Fernandinho (M, LR 9)  
8. Joe Hart (GK, LR 11)
. Alvaro Negredo (F, LR 5)

10. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 10)
11. Jesus Navas (M, LR 7) 
12. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 12)
13. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 13)
14. Javi Garcia (M, LR 17)
15. James Milner (M, LR 14)
16. Gael Clichy (D, LR 15)
17. Matija Nastasic (D, LR 16)
18. Micah Richards (D, LR 19)
19. Jack Rodwell (M, LR 20)
20. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 21)
21. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 22)
22. Alex Nimely (F, LR 23)
23. Marcos Lopes (M, LR 26)
24. Joleon Lescott (D, LR 18)
25. Costel Pantilimon (GK, LR 24)
26. Erik Johansen (GK, LR 25)
27. Richard Wright (GK, LR 27)
5) Edin Dzeko (F, LR 8): I talked about selling Dzeko to help balance the books in my look at the January Transfer Window.  In fairness to me, at that time Aguero and Negredo were the preferred strikers while Jovetic looked like he was going to finally be healthy.  As a result, I thought City could get by without Dzeko.  Boy was I wrong.  Dzeko ended up scoring big goal after big goal in the second half of the season, which was huge given the injuries to Aguero and cold streak that plagued Negredo. I am still not sure Dzeko deserves to wear the #10 jersey for City but without his services I don't think City would have finished any higher than 3rd or 4th in the table this season so maybe that gives him the right to wear the #10 jersey for City.

10) Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 10): This season cemented Zabaleta's legacy as one of the best defenders in club history.  At left back this season City switched between Kolarov and Clichy to keep both players fresh since City made deep runs in the F.A. Cup, Champions League, and Capital One Cup.  The thought going into the season is that City would do the same at right back with Richards and Zabaleta but Richards continued to struggle with injuries so Zabaleta pulled what amounted to double-duty relative to his teammates at left back.  Zabaleta was one of the first players purchased in 2008, just a few years after I started following City. There is no question that Zabaleta is a member of my personal City Mount Rushmore.

14) Javi Garcia (M, LR 17): An injury to Fernandino with less than a month to go in the season thrust Garcia into the Starting XI in the central midfield for City's last few matches of the season.  Earlier in the season Garcia struggled when he played extended minutes but thankfully he learned from his struggles to serve as a perfect defensive cover to Toure, which allowed Toure to push forward to create numerous scoring chances each match.  Just six months ago I thought Garcia would be a part of a sham transfer to NYCFC to help balance the books to comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play Regulations but if  Garcia can carry his end of the season form into next season, he could push for regular playing time in central midfield ahead of Fernandinho.

20) Martin Demichelis (D, LR 21): I guess 7th times a charm given that Demichelis won two Argentine Premera Division Championships (2001-02 & 2002-03) and four Bundesliga Championships (2004-05, 2005-06, 2007-08, & 2009-10).  I've been critical of Demichelis throughout this season but there is no question that he made amends throughout the season to become an integral partner in central defense with Kompany given that Nastasic was injured for most of the season.  I know Atlético Madrid got Demichelis from Málaga on a free transfer just a few months earlier but as crazy as it sounds, Demichelis was the most cost-effective member of the team this season since City was able to purchase his services from for £4.2 million.  I am not sure that City would fetch £4.2 million for Demichelis right now, which is why he is so low in the rankings.  Much like Dzeko, if Demichelis' form did not improve in the 2nd half of the season, City would not be the 2013-14 EPL Champions.

City has to deal with the repercussions of their alleged violations of UEFA's Financial Fair Play Regulations, which could severely impact their plans to reload their already stacked squad in the summer transfer window.  With the 2013-14 season in the rear view mirror, make sure to check back in this space over the next few weeks for my thoughts on how City can navigate this all important summer transfer window.

Man City Report - 38 Stats on 38 Matches for Man City's 2013-14 Premier League Title

Yesterday Manchester City, my favorite English Premier League club, won their second league title in three seasons.  For those less familiar with the EPL, there are 20 clubs in the league.  The club in the EPL with the most points after 38 matches, one home and one away against each of the other 19 clubs, are crowned champions of the EPL.  Sure clubs can catch breaks throughout the EPL season by facing clubs when they are short-handed due to suspension or injury but I love totaling points of an even schedule to crown a winner based on their total body of work almost the entire season.  In honor of City being the most successful club of the 20 in the EPL over their respective 38 EPL matches in the 2013-14 season, here are 38 facts from City's 38 matches in their memorable 2013-14 title winning season:

38: matches played with 27 (wins), 5 (ties), and 6 (loses).

37: number of goals conceded.

36: fouls suffered by left back Aleksandar Kolarov, 2nd most for the club.

35: matches started by midfielder Yaya Touré, most for the club.

34: points earned away from home in 19 matches.

33: appearances (29 starts and 4 as a substitute) by midfielder Fernandinho, which is 4th most for the club.

32: matches where points were earned with 27 wins (earn 3 points) and 5 ties (earn 1 point) for 86 points.

31: starts by goalkeeper Joe Hart.

30: points last place Cardiff City amassed in the EPL, including a 3-2 home victory over City, which was City's first away match of the 2013-14 EPL season.

29: total appearances by midfielder James Milner (12 starts and 19 as a substitute).

28: starts by captain and central defender Vincent Kompany.

27: shots on goal by Yaya Touré that resulted in 20 goals.

26: starts by midfielder David Silva.

25: changes at the top of the table throughout the 2013-14 EPL season.

24: goals conceded in 19 away matches, City scored 39 en route to 10 (wins), 4 (ties), and 5 (loses).

23: players that appeared in the EPL for Man City this season, the least amount of players used by any team in the EPL: Sergio Aguero (F), Dedryck Boyata (D), Gael Clichy (D), Martin Demichelis (D), Edin Dzeko (F), Fernandinho (M), Javi Garcia (M), Joe Hart (GK), Stevan Jovetic (F), Aleksandar Kolarov (D), Vincent Kompany (D), Joleon Lescott (D), James Milner (M), Samir Nasri (M), Matija Nastasic (D), Jesus Navas (M), Alvaro Negredo (F), Costel Pantilimon (GK), Micah Richards (D), Jack Rodwell (M), David Silva (M), Yaya Toure (M), and Pablo Zabaleta (D).

22: fouls committed by Vincent Kompany that resulted in six yellow cards and one red card.

21: consecutive league goals scored from November 2nd through December 4th, unfortunately the final one was an own goal by goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.

20: goals scored by Yaya Touré, most for the club & 3rd most in the entire EPL.

19: times midfielder James Milner was used as a substitute, most for the club.

18: points dropped in six loses.

17: goals by Sergio Agüero in the EPL this season, 2nd most for the club.

16: clean sheets for City.

15: times midfielder Javi Garcia was used as a substitute, 2nd most for club.

14: days this season that City were at the top of the EPL table coming into the last day of the 2013-14 EPL season.

13: goals conceded in 19 home matches, City scored 63 en route to 17 (wins), 1 (tie), and 1 (loss).

12: points earned in four matches against Europa League bound Everton and Tottenham.

11: Joe Hart (GK), Pablo Zabaleta (RB), Vincent Kompany (CB), Martín Demichelis (CB), Aleksandar Kolarov (LB), Samir Nasri (RW), Javi Garcia (CM), Yaya Touré (CM), David Silva (LW), Edin Dzeko (S), and Sergio Agüero (S) were the starting 11 for City at home against West Ham in their final, title clinching match of the season.

10: players that started at least one match as a defender.

9: assists by David Silva and Yaya Touré, tied for most for the club.

8: appearances as a substitute by striker Edin Dzeko.

7: goals by David Silva and Samir Nasri, tied for 5th most for the club.

6: goal difference in Manchester Derbies in favor of City thanks to a 4-1 win at home and a 3-0 win on the road.

5: jersey number of right back Pablo Zabaleta, the unsung hero of the club this season because his impact doesn't usually show-up on the stat sheet.

4: top flight English league titles in club history: 1936-37, 1967-68, 2011-12, and 2013-14.

3: managers to win the EPL title in their first season in charge: Manuel Pellegrini (City 2013-14), Jose Mourinho (Chelsea for 2004-05 season), and Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea for 2009-10 season).

2: goals scored (Nasri and Kompany) against West Ham in their final match of the season to clinch the EPL title, they second 102 total.

1: team at the top of the EPL table at the end of the season ... Manchester City.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Building The 53 - 2014 Green Bay Packer Draft Picks

Welcome to my fifth annual review of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson's performance in the NFL Draft (2010, 2011, 2012, & 2013).  The 2014 NFL Draft marked Thompson's tenth draft of his tenure in Green Bay.  There is no question that the best pick Thompson made during his tenure so far in Green Bay was his first in 2005 when he drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick.  Last year I said that either of Thompson's first two pick, UCLA defensive end Datone Jones or Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, had a chance to be two of the best players ever drafted by Thompson.  I was spot on with Lacy but Jones will have to improve next season to back-up my assertion on his ceiling. 

The Packers entered the 2014 NFL Draft with nine picks.  The two biggest surprises of the draft  were that Thompson did NOT make one trade across the three days of the draft, which means he used the same nine (seven standard and two compensatory) picks he owned before the start of the draft.  The other shocker was that 1/3rd of the players selected by Thompson, three total, were wide receivers.  These posts always run long so without further adu, here is my review of the nine players that Thompson drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft:

1st Round (21st overall): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Safety
Twitter Handle: @haha_cd6
School: Alabama (SEC)
Height: 6'1-3/8"
Weight: 208 lbs
Arm Length: 32-1/4"
Hand Size: 9"
40-yard Dash: 4.58 sec
3-cone Drill: 7.16 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.16 sec
225-pound Bench Press:11 reps
Vertical Leap:33"
Broad Jump:119"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: Dee Ford (DE, Auburn), Deone Bucannon (S, Washington), or Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois)

Analysis: After an impressive 2012 campaign, safety Morgan Burnett struggled in 2013.  The Packers will most likely move Micah Hyde from cornerback to safety this season, which on paper gives them a formidable pair at safety in Burnett and Hyde.  At this point we have no clue whether Hyde's rookie season will translate to success this season, especially since he will be changing position.  That makes the Ha Ha pick a borderline no brainer when he was available with the 21st pick.  I am not trying to jinx Thompson's first pick this year like I did last year with Jones but I think Ha Ha has a chance to be very special despite the fact that he posted one of the lowers amount of reps on the bench press and registered one of the shortest verticals at his position at the combine.  Basically I value Ha Ha's play at Alabama much more than his measurables given that Alabama plays borderline NFL competition week in and week out in the SEC.

2nd Round (53rd overall): Davante Adams, Wide Receiver
Twitter Handle:
School: Fresno State University (Mountain West Conference)
Height: 6'0-7/8"
Weight: 212 lbs
Arm Length: 32-1/2"
Hand Size: 9"
40-yard Dash: 4.56 sec
3-cone Drill: 6.82 sec
20-yard Shuttle:4.30 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 14 reps
Vertical Leap: 39-1/2"
Broad Jump:123"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa), Morgan Moses (OT, Virginia), Marcus Martin (OC, USC)

Analysis: Thompson filled the loss of wide receiver James Jones with Fresno State wide receiver Davante Adams with the 53rd pick in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.  Going into the 2014 NFL Draft the Packers were already deep at wide receiver with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Chris Harper, and a smattering of young guys.  Given all those names it does NOT seem like wide receiver was a need but their top three wide receivers are due new deals before 2015 so Adams could be a nice hedge against losing Nelson, Cobb, and/or Boykin.  Adams has some pretty big shoes to fill though because so far in his tenure Thompson has gone three for four drafting wide receivers in the second round: Terrence Murphy (2005), Greg Jennings (2006), Jordy Nelson (2008), and Randall Cobb (2012).  It is almost unfair to ding Thompson on Murphy because Murphy suffered a freak, career ending injury early in his career.  Last season Adams lead the nation in receptions with 131 catches for 1,718 yards, and 24 touchdowns in 2014.  The height and weight measurables are less than spectacular given that he is only 6'0" and 208 lbs but Adams posted one of the highest vertical jumps at his position at the combine so he is clearly very athletic.

3rd Round (85th overall): Khyri Thornton, Defensive Tackle
Twitter Handle: N/A
School: Southern Mississippi University (Conference USA)
Height: 6'2-5/8"
Weight: 304 lbs
Arm Length: 32-3/8"
Hand Size: 9-3/8"
40-yard Dash: 5.03 sec
3-cone Drill: 7.83 sec
20-yard Shuttle: N/A
225-pound Bench Press: 28 reps
Vertical Leap: 29"
Broad Jump: 112"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: Chris Watt (OG, Notre Dame), Trai Turner (OG, LSU), or Dri Archer (RB/KR, Kent State)
Analysis: On the positive side of the equation, Thornton posted one of the longest broad jumps at his position at the combine.  Besides that, Thornton is somewhat of an unknown commodity to me at this point so I am a little skeptical given that Thompson used a premium pick on him.  I understand that one school of thought is that the Packers need to continue to get younger on the defensive line but if Thompson decides not to resign defensive lineman Johnny Jolly and/or Ryan Pickett to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum then all the Packers have is youth along the defensive line.  It seems much more prudent to me to sign Jolly and/or Pickett on the cheap than to use such a high pick on Thornton, only time will tell if Thompson is right or I am right.

3rd Round (98th overall): Richard Rodgers, Tight End
Twitter Handle: N/A
School: California (Pac-12)
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 257 lbs
Arm Length: 32-1/2"
Hand Size: 10-1/8"
40-yard Dash: 4.87 sec
3-cone Drill: 7.23 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.47 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 16 reps
Vertical Leap: 31-1/2"
Broad Jump: 116"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: Crockett Gillmore (TE, Colorado State), Bryan Stork (OC, Florida State), or Maurice Alexander (S, Utah State)
Analysis: Unfortunately it looks like the Packers are searching for the next Jermichael Finley instead of just resigning Finley.  I understand that the Packers want to be cautious given the fact that Finley suffered a potential career ending injury against the Cleveland Browns last season but I am not sure that Rodgers is the answer.  Rodgers posted one of the lower number of reps on the bench press at his position at the combine.  Reps on the bench does not always directly correlate to blocking prowess but I am worried that Rodgers will not be able to block in the NFL, which is problematic because the Packers are in need of a versatile tight end that can not only split out wide as a receiver but also line-up next to the tackle and block on running plays.

4th Round (121st overall): Carl Bradford, Linebacker
Twitter Handle: N/A
School: Arizona State (Pac-12)
Height: 6'0-3/4"
Weight: 250 lbs
Arm Length: 30-1/4"
Hand Size: 9-3/8"
40-yard Dash: 4.76 sec
3-cone Drill: 7.25 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.3 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 23 reps
Vertical Leap: 37-1/2"
Broad Jump: 122"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: Khairi Fortt (OLB, California), Tre Boston (S, UNC), or Brock Vereen (S, Minnesota)

Analysis: I actually think Bradford has a better chance to make The 53 as a middle linebacker than an outside linebacker but much like waiting a year to move Hyde from cornerback to safety, I am sure the Packers will toy with Bradford outside unsuccessfully for one year and then move him inside, if he is still around.  I say "if he is still around" because Bradford posted one of the slowest 3-cone drill times at his position at the combine.  That worries me because whether Bradford ends up inside or outside, his ability to change direction with speed is lacking so he will not be able to make up for mental errors with his speed.

5th Round (161st overall): Corey Linsley, Center
Twitter Handle@Linsley71
School: Ohio State (Big "Ten")
Height: 6'2-3/4"
Weight: 301 lbs
Arm Length: 32"
Hand Size: 9-3/4"
40-yard Dash: 5.25 sec
3-cone Drill: N/A
20-yard Shuttle: N/A
225-pound Bench Press: 36 reps
Vertical Leap: 27"
Broad Jump: N/A
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford), Vinnie Sunnseri (S, Alabama), or Jimmy Staten (DT, Middle Tennessee State)
Analysis: Despite participating in very few drills at the combine, Linsley performed well in the drills that he completed.  In fact, Linsley posted one of the highest amount of reps on the bench press at his position, which is huge (no pun intended) for the Packers because lately they've had finesse centers (Saturday and EDS) as opposed to maulers.  Although it looks like the center position is JC Tretter's to lose, don't count out Linsley.

5th Round (176th overall): Jared Abbrederis, Wide Receiver
Twitter Handle: @abbrecadabra
School: University of Wisconsin (Big "Ten")
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 195 lbs
Arm Length: 31-1/4
Hand Size: 9-1/2"
40-yard Dash: 4.5 sec
3-cone Drill: 6.8 sec
20-yard Shuttle:4.08 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 4 reps
Vertical Leap: 30-1/2"
Broad Jump: 117"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: Jeoffrey Pagan (DE, Alabama), Jon Halapio (OG, Florida), or Jordan Zumwalt (OLB, UCLA)
Analysis: Selfishly, it is nice to see Thompson add a Badger despite the fact that Abbrederis posted the least amount of reps on the bench press at his position at the combine.  Thankfully wide receiver is one of the only positions where a low number of reps on the bench press is not too detrimental.  Look for Abbrederis to fight for the 5th receiver spot on offense and the starting punt returner spot on special teams.

6th Round (197th overall): Demetri Goodson,
Twitter Handle: N/A
School: Baylor (Big "12")
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 194 lbs
Arm Length: 31-5/8"
Hand Size: 9-1/4"
40-yard Dash: 4.52 sec
3-cone Drill: 6.80 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 4.34 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 11 reps
Vertical Leap: 37"
Broad Jump: 123"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks: Andrew Jackson (ILB, Western Kentucky), Luke Bowanko (OC, Virginia), or Jemea Thomas (S, Georgia Tech)
Analysis: The Packers have a ton of young, talented cornerbacks fighting for six cornerback spots.  Thus given that Goodson is merely a 6th round pick, his spot on The 53 is far from guaranteed. Thankfully Goodson posted one of the best 3-cone drill times, which bodes well for his agility given how much cornerbacks have to change direction and sprint to catch-up with receivers.

7th Round (236th overall): Jeff Janis, Wide Reciever
Twitter Handle: @jrjanis
School: Division II - Saginaw Valley State University (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference)
Height: 6'2-7/8"
Weight: 219 lbs
Arm Length: 32-3/8"
Hand Size: 9"
40-yard Dash: 4.42 sec
3-cone Drill: 6.64 sec
20-yard Shuttle: 3.98 sec
225-pound Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Leap:37-1/2"
Broad Jump: 123"
Wonderlic: N/A
Other Possible Picks:Will Smith (ILB, Texas Tech), C.B. Bryant (S, Ohio State), or Michael Sam (DE, Missouri)
Analysis: A combine freak that posted great numbers in virtually every drill for his position helped catapulted Janis into a virtual lock to get drafted.  In fact I am sort of shocked he lasted this long given his physical abilities.  The only real knock on him is that he did it against lesser competition in Division II but given how well he tested at the combine, the Packers better find a spot for Janis on The 53 because I am not sure he will make it through waivers to sign him to the practice squad.

I am less excited about the 2014 NFL Draft than I was about the 2012 or 2013 NFL Drafts for the Packers.  There are more question marks than answers from the 2012 NFL Draft for the Packers while it looks like the 2013 NFL Draft will be one of the best of the last decade.  That is a long way of saying that the predictions in this post should be taken with a grain of salt but given that the Packers follow the draft-and-develop model, hopefully this draft is more like 2013 than like 2012.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Building The 53 - 2014 NFL Draft Day 1 Packers Review

It was a very entertaining first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Just like last year, there were five draft day trades and no running backs were drafted.  The two biggest surprises of the first round were the Cleveland Browns and the Minnesota Vikings moving all over to net each team a potential franchise quarterback and an impact player on defense.

The Browns started the 2014 NFL Draft with the 4th and 26th picks in the first round.  The Browns traded back from 4th to 9th with the Buffalo Bills adding two extra draft picks (2015 1st and 4th round picks).  The Browns then traded back up from 9th to 8th with the Vikings giving up the 154th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft presumably to take a quarterback. Ultimately the Browns drafted Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the 8th pick while the Vikings took UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr with the 9th pick.  I am much higher on Gilbert than Barr.

Later the Browns traded the 26th (from Indianapolis Colts for the underwhelming running back Trent Richardson that they took with the 3rd pick in the 2012 NFL Draft) and the 83rd picks in the 2014 NFL Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Hopefully 3rd times a charm with the 22nd pick because the Browns previously drafted Brady Quinn (2007) and Brandon Weeden (2009) with that same pick in previous drafts.

Just when we thought the first round was going to end in a whimper with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks taking another edge rusher, the Vikings gave the Seattle Seahawks the 40th and 108th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft for 32nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  The 32nd pick is especially valuable because it is the last pick of the first night of the draft.  The Vikings used that pick to draft Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The Vikings/Seahawks swap could be the most interesting trade in the 2014 NFL Draft because the Houston Texans own the 33rd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, which is the first pick in the second round.  Given that the Seahawks already have a franchise quarterback, they were not going to take Bridgewater so the Texans thought they could stand put and still grab Bridgewater until the Vikings swooped in to get their first true franchise quarterback since Fran Tarkenton left town the second time.

The other trade in the first round was the Arizona Cardinals trading the 20th pick to the New Orleans Saints for the 27th and 91st picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Given that the Saints gave a huge contract (six-year, $56 million contract with $28 million guaranteed) to safety Jarius Byrd earlier this off-season, at that point I knew the Green Bay Packers actually had a chance to nab my (realistic) draft crush Alabama safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix with the 21st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Here were my thoughts on Ha Ha in mid-January when I gave my first look at the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft for the Packers:

"Right now it looks like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, or bust given the lack of quality safeties in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Ha Ha is a 21-year old junior from Alabama that at 6'1" and 208 lbs is not the biggest hitter but has the skills to start at safety as a rookie in the NFL in 2014.  Ha Ha reminds me a lot of Eric Reid, a standout rookie for the San Francisco 49ers.  Pryor has essentially the same build as Ha Ha but playing at Louisville as opposed to Alabama didn't prove he can do it on a big stage like Ha Ha did the last three years.  This feels a little bit like the the 2007 NFL Draft when the Packers desperately needed a running back so every mock draft had them taking Marshawn Lynch with the 16th pick.  Ultimately Lynch went 12th to the Buffalo Bills and the Packers took defensive lineman Justin Harrell, oh dang.  I obviously favor Ha Ha over Pryor at this point but we are still very early in the process so that might change by the 2014 NFL Draft.  Clearly Ha Ha or Pryor would fill a huge need for the Packers, which is why I would be shocked if the Packers actually drafted either unless they traded up in the first round." (Source) 

Ultimately Pryor went 18th to the New York Jets. As the Packers got closer to picking in the first round, I sent out a ton of Ha Ha related tweets.  Speaking of tweets, Ha Ha got himself in some hot water with this tweet just before the start of the 2014 NFL Draft that put a smile on Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders' face.  Thankfully Packers general manager Ted Thompson choose Ha Ha.  In case you are wondering whether I liked the Ha Ha pick, here are two of the tweets that I sent:
I gave LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Packers yesterday in my 2014 First Round NFL Mock Draft because Ha Ha and Pryor were off the board.  Beckham went 12th overall to the New York Giants.  In my description of Beckham, I actually talked more about safeties than Beckham:

"The Packers clearly need a safety but with Clinton-Dix and Pryor off the board, taking Deone Bucannon (S, Washington), Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois), Terrence Brooks (S, FSU), or Lamarcus Joyner (S, FSU) feels like a reach this early in the draft despite the fact that the Packers desperately need a safety opposite Morgan Burnett.  I guess I favor Bucannon's larger frame but still am leery to pull the trigger on him, which is why I took the best player available even thought wide receiver is not really a need for the Packers.  My guess is that Beckham goes much earlier but at 21, I couldn't pass up such a dynamic pass catcher.  Plus, this feels a little Jordy Nelson-esque, which obviously turned out great for the Packers." (source)

For those, including me, that said the safety position is being devalued we were clearly wrong based on what happened at the end of the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.  With the 27th pick the Cardinals drafted Washington State safety Deone Bucannon.  Don't lose sight of the fact that if the Cardinals stayed at 20, they could have taken Ha Ha.  Instead the Cardinals got Bucannon and the 91st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Clearly I like Ha Ha more than Bucannon but we will have to see what the Cardinals get with the 91st pick before determining whether the Packers or Cardinals made out better.  Just three picks after the Cardinals picked Bucannon, the San Francisco 49ers drafted Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward despite the fact that they traded up in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft to take LSU safety Eric Reid. Only time will tell but I favor Ha Ha over Pryor, Bucannon, and Ward.

With the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft in the books, there are a number of talented players available: Marqise Lee (WR, USC), Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame), Cyrus Kouandjio (OT, Alabama), Louis Nix III (DT, Notre Dame), Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri), and Ra'Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota) just to name a few that were projected to go in the first round.  As a result, it will make the second and third round of the 2014 NFL Draft this evening very interesting.  Make sure to check back for my Packer draft thoughts on Twitter in real time tonight and tomorrow.  Finally make sure to check back in this space on Sunday morning for my extended thoughts on entire draft.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Building The 53 - 2014 First Round NFL Mock Draft

Welcome to my 5th annual NFL Mock Draft.  I tried to do the traditional "guess what other reams will do" in my first NFL Mock Draft in 2010 but that is futile since I have no real inside information besides ESPN Insider so for the fourth year in a row (2011, 2012, & 2013) I decided to serve as every team's general manager for their pick (or picks) in the first round.

This year, there are wildly different thoughts on whether any of the quarterbacks should go in the Top 10.  Given that most teams picking in the Top 10 have some quarterback need, I actually think it is worth taking a quarterback early because the new rookie salary cap allows you to get cheap assets even in the Top 5.

I am sure there will be a number of trades in the first round, especially towards the end if all the quarterbacks are still available, but I am not going to make any trades because those are too hard to predict too.  Without further ado, here is what I would do if I was in charge of each team when they pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft along with some Twitter length thoughts about each pick:

#1) Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) - There is outside chance that Clowney will be the defensive version of JaMarcus Russell but there is an even better chance of him being the next coming of Reggie White so the upside is worth the minimal downside risk.

#2) St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Greg Robinson (OT, Auburn) - Even as a rookie Robinson projects to be one of the most athletic tackles in the NFL so he could somehow be a steal with the second pick.

#3) Jacksonville Jaguars
: Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M) -
The Jaguars have a ton of needs on both sides of the ball but their unending pursuit of a franchise quarterback could finally come to rest with Manziel.  Worst case, at least Manziel will bring interest to a fan base for a few years.  Remember this is the same franchise that is the same fan base that wanted Tebow, they are clearly yearning for a real NFL quarterback.

#4) Cleveland Browns
: Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville) -
Despite having quarterback Brian Hoyer in the fold, let's not forget he is  but coming off a serious kneed injury.  The Browns recently signed quarterbacks Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young too but neither is at long-term answer at quarterback.  Although Hoyer (when healthy) is a serviceable option, much like the Jaguars taking Manziel, the Browns taking Bridgewater will excite the fan base.

#5) Oakland Raiders
: Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M) -
Former Packers front office member Reggie McKenzie was quoted as saying "You draft for the future, not today".  I couldn't agree more with McKenzie.  Although their are some sexier players still available, taking Matthews will allow the Raiders to have their left tackle position settled for the next decade, which is something they desperately need.

#6) Atlanta Falcons
: Kahlil Mack (OLB, Buffalo) -
There were rumors that the Falcons wanted to trade up to get a pass rusher so staying put and still getting the best pass rusher not named Clowney looks like a steal.

#7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson) -
Thanks to Matt Millen, teams are scared to draft wide receivers too high but I am actually fine with Watkins going as high as third.  If the Bucs can somehow sit at seven and still get Watkins, it will go a long way towards making quarterback Josh McCown or Mike Glennon successful next season.

#8) Minnesota Vikings: C.J. Mosley (MLB, Alabama) -
I see Mosley going at least 10 picks later because middle linebacker has such low positional value but let's not forget that some thought the Carolina Panthers taking Luke Kuechly 9th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft was a reach for the same reason...look how well that turned out.  I get that Kuehley is more of a sure thing than Mosley given Mosely's injury history but that doesn't scare me enough to pass on Mosley.

#9) Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan) -
Following the 2013 NFL Draft it looked like Matthews and Lewan were going to be the top two tackles in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Lewan had some off-the-field incidents that hurt his draft stock but there is no denying his talent.

#10) Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State) -
NFL teams can never have too many cornerbacks given how slanted the rules are in favor of the offense, especially teams playing in the NFC North so Dennard makes a ton of sense for a team with secondary issues.

#11) Tennessee Titans: Blake Bortles (QB, UCF) -
Although quarterback Jake Locker has shown flashes, he is clearly not a long-term solution.  Although I am not a huge Bortles fan, I still think it is worth rolling the dice given that they could have him on the cheap for five seasons that to the new rookie contracts.

#12) New York Giants: Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh) - The NFL Draft being a few weeks later hurt some players like the quarterbacks already discuss since it gave scouts a few more weeks to pull apart their game tape or grill them during one of their many private workouts while it helped others like Donald since it gave those same scouts a chance to watch more tape on some lesser known commodities. The Giants could replace the loss of Linval Joseph to the Vikings with a very similar player in Donald.

#13) St. Louis Rams: Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M) - The chances of Evans getting out of the Top 10 are low but the Rams would be absolutely ecstatic to land him without having to trade up to give quarterback Sam Bradford a huge target to compliment slot receiver Tavon Austin.

#14) Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama) -
Much like Mosley, I secretly hope that Clinton-Dix is available when the Packers are on the board but think chances are slim.  If the Bears have any reservations about drafting Clinton-Dix, all they need to do is think back to how 2013 finished.

#15) Pittsburgh Steelers: Zack Martin (OT, Notre Dame) -
At some point the Steelers have to get a legitimate left tackle to protect quarterback Ben Rothlisberger's blind side.  The upside on Martin is lower than the other tackles taken so far in this mock draft but the floor on Martin is fairly high too, which makes this a nice pick for the Steelers.

#16) Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville) -
The Cowboys have a ton of needs to fill so although safety might not be at the top of the list, getting a thumper like Pryor is too enticing to pass on at this point.

#17) Baltimore Ravens: Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State) -
The most versatile of the high-end linebackers in the entire draft makes Shazier a perfect fit for the Racens since they like to move linebackers to different spots in their 3-4 defense.

#18) New York Jets: Eric Ebron (TE, UNC) -
There is no way Ebron should last this long, especially given the significant drop-off at tight end after him so the Jets should hand in their card the minute the Ravens pick if Ebron is still available.

#19) Miami Dolphins: Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State) -
Shocking that it took 19 picks to have the second cornerback drafted.  Part of that is due to depth at the position but there is still no way that the Dolphins can pass on Gilbert.

#20) Arizona Cardinals: Morgan Moses (OT, Virginia) -
There is very mixed opinion on Moses, obviously I am higher on the guy than others.

#21) Green Bay Packers: Oddell Beckham Jr. (WR, LSU)
- The Packers clearly need a safety but with Clinton-Dix and Pryor off the board, taking Deone Bucannon (S, Washington), Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois), Terrence Brooks (S, FSU), or Lamarcus Joyner (S, FSU) feels like a reach this early in the draft despite the fact that the Packers desperately need a safety opposite Morgan Burnett.  I guess I favor Bucannon's larger frame but still am leery to pull the trigger on him, which is why I took the best player available even thought wide receiver is not really a need for the Packers.  My guess is that Beckham goes much earlier but at 21, I couldn't pass up such a dynamic pass catcher.  Plus, this feels a little Jordy Nelson-esque, which obviously turned out great for the Packers.

#22) Philadelphia Eagles: Marquis Lee (WR, USC)
- Another year in college sure hurt Lee's draft stock given that he looked like a lock for the Top 10 following the 2013 NFL Draft.  Hopefully 2013 was an aberration not the start of a trend line.

#23) Kansas City Chiefs: Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
- Really hard to tell whether Latimer will create enough separation in the NFL to be effective but his big frame makes him awful enticing.

#24) Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) -
As I've said many times in this space, I have a soft spot in my heart for Virgina Tech since that is where Sister-in-Law Cheese is going to get her Ph.D in less than a week.  Father-in-Law Cheese is a Bengal fan by birth but Packer fan by marriage so this pick is a match made in heaven.

#25) San Diego Chargers: Ra'Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota) -
I got to see Hageman play against the Cornhuskers last season and came away impressed by how much of an impact he had on the game.  Unfortunately it is hard to tell whether Hageman has the motor to play every down that way in the NFL though, which make him a somewhat risky pick in the first round.

#26) Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts): Jason Verrett (CB, VCU) -
There is a chance that Bridgewater is still on the board here but I reached for him with the 4th pick so I decided to get a quality cornerback to play opposite Joe Hayden with the pick the Browns got from the Colts for Trent Richardson, the underwhelming 3rd pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

#27) New Orleans Saints: Timmy Jernigan (DT, FSU) -
Following the national championship game it looked like Jernigan was a sure fire Top 10 pick but some off the field stuff hurt his cause.  If the Saints can get Jernigan to focus, they might get the steal of the first round.

#28) Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State) -
Given their lack of talent at wide receiver, I might be able to some playing time at wide receiver for the Panthers.  Despite Cooks being diminutive like myself, he automatically becomes the best wide receiver on their roster.

#29) New England Patriots: Stephon Tuitt (DT, Notre Dame) -
The Patriots love to plug versatile defensive lineman into their scheme, which makes a guy like Tuitt a perfect fit.

#30) San Francisco 49ers:
Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA) - Some scouts think Barr is too soft to contribute at the next level.  If there is any team that will get the best out of Barr, it is the 49ers.

#31) Denver Broncos
: Louis Nix III (DT, Notre Dame) -
I love Irish Chocolate's (food) space eating ability.  I know that seems like a cheap shot but I actually think true nose tackles in 3-4 defenses are becoming devalued too much since they setup highlight reel plays instead of making highlight reel plays.  If the Broncos take Nix, I see outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware having huge seasons next year.

#32) Seattle Seahawks: Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri) -
There are very few weaknesses on the Super Bowl Champ's roster.  The key to them winning the Super Bowl last season was their ability to consistently getting after the quarterback so the rich get richer by adding another versatile pass rusher.

I was going to write a three-part preview (offense, defense, and special teams) of the 2014 NFL Draft for Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson but work intervened so my half-written preview died on the cutting room floor.  Absent a trade, Thompson is on the clock with the 21st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft this evening.  Make sure to check for my thoughts on Twitter tonight and my in-depth thoughts in this space tomorrow morning, assuming work comports.