"Sean (Payton) is one of the brightest minds in the NFL today and he knows he will not get back to the Super Bowl without a power rushing attack," said an NFC defensive coordinator. "He will put a lot of emphasis on a power rushing attack in 2014, which means more of Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram in the lineup. Teams also didn't have much fear of the Saints wide receivers going deep on them. Payton will bring in a "quick strike" wide receiver to get those safeties off the line of scrimmage. I think they follow the blueprint of what the Denver Broncos did in getting Peyton Manning a large array of aerial weapons. I believe they change up their style a bit to aid Brees, but a steady dose of power football would really enhance the Saints in 2014. The philosophy of all these long drives sort of ends by the Saints because now, if they can acquire that big play end, they can strike quickly offensively and have confidence in a talented defense that will get them some three and outs. That part has never been there in New Orleans under Payton. It is now."
I have gone back and forth over the last two weeks on who I would select for Super Bowl XLVIII. It is the classic matchup between the most explosive offense in pro football against the top ranked defense in pro football.
My heart is with Peyton Manning. I have known Peyton since he was a very young child and there was no doubt even back then he was going to be a football player, but even in my wildest imagination would I have thought that he would be amongst the greatest to ever play the position and the game.
Manning is just not a Louisiana product, but he has done something in sports very few people have done.
He is name-brand and it is all because of what he has done on the field as arguably the best regular season quarterback in the history of the league.
Throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013 is just a remarkable feat today.
Peyton is also coming back from a neck injury many thought would end his football career and he has accomplished those numbers at 37 years old.
This will be his third Super Bowl, but he knows as well as anyone how hard it is to play on Super Bowl Sunday.
He may never get this chance again and with a team that is built to highlight his own best features because of his accuracy skills and timing.
A win today would put him at another level because he would become the first quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
But he is up against a defense that is unique in modern pro football history.
In the modern era there always has been a team and a quarterback that has gotten the best of the top defenses over the past 35 years in a respective season.
The rules today give the offenses a great advantage to take full mileage of throwing the ball downfield and it is a different era of pro football, but how the Seahawks play defense is throwback style.
Most people think the 1985 Chicago Bears defensive unit was the best in modern times, but even that great Bears defense was lit up by the aerial circus performed by Dan Marino in their only loss of the season to the Miami Dolphins.
The Seahawks have lost 3 games this season, but no quarterback has lit them up.
The Seahawks have the best secondary in the NFL led by the best cover-cornerback in the league in Richard Sherman, the best free safety in the business in Earl Thomas and one of the top strong safeties in the league in Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks linebackers are underrated, but they are a talented and fast unit and I have not seen a linebacker group get to the edge so quickly on screen and swing passes to the backs.
But what makes the Seahawks defense percolate is their ability to get good initial pressure on a quarterback. It is not all about sacks, but the ability to get pressure that affects the timing of the pass downfield and it causes hesitation from the signal-caller.
That is the key to this football game.
Can the Denver Broncos offensive line handle the pressure put on by the very athletic front of the Seahawks?
If they can, the Broncos win this football game because the Seahawks can't match them point for point, but no offensive line has been able to protect their quarterback throughout a game and given that signal-caller the opportunities to make big plays downfield against the Seahawks in 2013 or in the early part of 2014.
The Seahawks secondary has given up some big plays, but when you break down the tape it has mostly come on great catches by a wide receiver and plays in which a quarterback breaks away from the pressure and makes a big throw off the run.
This is what makes this matchup great. The best tactician in the game offensively in Peyton Manning going up against the top ranked defense with the best secondary and a front four that has consistently disrupted quarterbacks all season long.
Drew Brees is one of the top five players in the league today and he had two shots at the Seahawks and the Saints couldn't figure it out.
Some will say the plays were there, but the Saints offense couldn't piece it together to defeat the Seahawks.
Sean Payton is the most innovative offensive mind in the game and he had difficulties in both contests this season.
Now, it is Peyton Manning’s turn.
The other factor is that all season long referees have let NFL secondaries pull, tug, hold, snag and maneuver wide receivers and tight ends long beyond the five yard limit.
You could literally call illegal contact or holding on every play, but the league is set up so much today with rules to favor the offensive side of the ball that they have given leeway to defenses to almost get away with a football version of a mugging at times downfield.
And no one does it better than the Seahawks.
On Super Bowl Sunday don't think that they will call this game close. They don't want constant interruptions and they will let a lot go on deep downfield.
The key player for Denver is slot-wide receiver Wes Welker. While the Seahawks may be able to play bump and run coverage with the outside receivers they will not be able to do that to Welker-if he is in the slot and he becomes the dump-off target for Peyton when quick pressure comes.
What he does after the catch is key.
The Seahawks don't need to have Russell Wilson play great, but good and him not to make a huge mistake by turning the ball over.
Wilson can't throw the ball as accurately as Brees, Manning, Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but he makes 3 to 4 big plays each game by his improvisational skills and his ability to break away from pressure and make a big play on the move.
Wide Receiver Percy Harvin is the "X" factor for Seattle and he has only played one full game in 2013.
We all saw Harvin heavily involved in the Seahawks offense before New Orleans Saints safety Rafael Bush put the football lumber to him, not once, but twice at playoff time. The big question mark is not the talent of Harvin and his potential big play skills, but can he hold up physically for an entire game.
Despite Harvin not playing for most of the 2013 season we have all seen Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate or tight end Zach Miller make a big play or two during a game.
Seattle is not a pass-oriented football team. They want to run the ball with an offensive line now healthy, and the toughest in-between the tackles runner in the game in Marshawn Lynch.
And the Seahawks are patient running the ball. It doesn't matter to them if in the first half Lynch has only 40 yards on 11 carries. In many games it has happened, but his wear down approach normally gets him 120 yards on 23 carries.
He is like a body punching boxer who just wears away at you and most of the time he succeeds. Each week Lynch takes on opponents with a relentless running style and routinely takes on multiple would-be tacklers for extra yardage.
Denver's defense has been outstanding the past few weeks against the run despite playing without five key starters, but they haven't gone up against a runner like Lynch in that timeframe.
Just a gut feeling, but I feel as though like what we saw a few years back between the New England Patriots and New York Giants on Super Bowl Sunday that this game will be just like Super Bowl XLII and a defensive affair.
I am picking the Seahawks to win 23-20 over the Broncos.
If Peyton Manning has a huge game and the Broncos win there will be no more doubters of just how good Mr. Manning has been and is, and watch if a host of NFL teams try and copycat what the Broncos did to give Manning the best chance to succeed.
They have surrounded the future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback with the best group of wide receivers/tight ends in the league and teams with star or future standout NFL quarterbacks like New England, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Carolina, Green Bay-and to an extent they already have done this, San Francisco and Seattle will do the exact same thing.
This is a team game, but it helps to have a star quarterback lead the way, and to have as many big-play weapons as you can on one team.
Today is the ultimate team match-up and the NFL could not have written a better script.
Joe Lombardi, who was formerly the quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints, took over as the new offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions this past week.
One NFC general manager told me he would not be surprised that in a short time Lombardi, the grandson of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, became a head coach in the NFL.
"Joe is a really bright guy. He has learned under Sean Payton, who has the best offensive mind in the game and most importantly worked with one of the great students in this profession in Drew Brees. If he can straighten out the kinks in Matt Stafford's game in Detroit it won't be long that he becomes a head coach. If Dennis Allen after only being a defensive coordinator one season in Denver becomes a head coach after coaching the defensive backs with the New Orleans Saints Lombardi can make the next jump too. And that last name of his doesn't hurt his chances either."
Two players that the New Orleans Saints coaching staff and scouting department seemed to be eyeing up pretty close was Florida State center Bryan Stork and Seminole linebacker Christian Jones.
Stork, a 6-4, 310 pound center, who has also started at guard, was a blocking tight end in high school.
He is a very solid run blocker and he displayed excellent hand usage during the practice sessions, but it was his quick feet and good pass protection skills that also caught the eyes of the Saints coaches and scouts.
His versatility, size and very good pass blocking skills make him a good fit player for the Saints.
Jones, a 6-3, 238 pounder has played middle linebacker, on the strongside and also at weakside linebacker for Florida State.
The son of former FSU All-American defensive end Willie Jones is strong at the point of attack and also very athletic as a pass rusher. But his ability to run the field really sticks out and we all know Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves versatility, toughness and all-out play.
That is what you will get if you draft Jones and he projects as a late second round pick or early third round selection in the May 2014 NFL draft.
Many of the top seniors decided not to play in the 2014 Senior Bowl either because of injury or advice from agents to work out on their own turf in a sterile environment, but it was two juniors who do not play quarterback that was also the buzz in Mobile.
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and former Thibodaux High School and Auburn left offensive tackle Greg Robinson were talked about quite a bit in Mobile.
One AFC general manager told me that Watkins was a player that could well turn out to be the top player on their draft board and the one non-quarterback that teams will be trying to trade up to acquire.
"Sammy has great size, sprinter's type foot speed and he really improved his route running skills this season and with DeAndre Hopkins in the NFL with the Houston Texans he showed he could take on and beat constant double coverage and he is also a force in the return game. I really believe his versatility, like what we saw last season with West Virginia's Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams)will make him a top-5 pick in 2014 and that will also upgrade the draft status of Marqise Lee (USC), Odell Beckham, Jr. (LSU) and Brandin Cooks (Oregon State)."
Robinson, the 6-5, 315 pound left tackle has been one of the "hot" players to watch since the start of November and NFL scouts can't wait to watch him work out at the Combine and also at Auburn's Pro Day.
Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews is the highest ranked offensive lineman in the 2014 draft class, but Robinson is not far behind him and he will be a top-10 pick in 2014.
The quick-footed left tackle prospect may well press former Hahnville High School and LSU safety LaRon Landry in being the highest drafted player from the Bayou/River Parish areas. Landry was the 6th overall selection in 2007.
Wide Receiver Frank Lewis, who went to Southdown High School in Terrebonne Parish and attended Grambling University, was the 8th overall pick in the 1971 draft.
Every year there are a handful of players that elevate their draft stock with a strong performance in the practice sessions leading to the Senior Bowl. Here is my take on the seven "Run Up the Board" players in the practice sessions for 2014.
1. Aaron Donald — Defensive Tackle — Pittsburgh
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman put on a fine performance in Mobile and he looks like a first round pick talent at defensive tackle, but the 6-0 1/4, 290 pound Donald was the eye-catcher during the practice sessions.
Despite not having ideal height and weight Donald used great leverage skills and hand-usage to defeat would-be blockers on a consistent basis and the scouts loved his hustle, desire and quick diagnostic skills.
In 2013 the Lombardi, Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Outland Trophy award winner totaled 28 1/2 tackles for losses, 11 quarterback sacks and he forced four fumbles.
In many ways he looks like a composite of Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals) and former New Orleans Saints/Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
If there were any question marks about his play and his talent it was put away this week and Donald looks to be an early second round selection.
2. Morgan Moses — Offensive Tackle — Virginia
Left tackles that can pass block well are in high demand by NFL teams. This week in Mobile one player who caught everyone's attention with his size, 6-6, 330, quick feet and his physicality as a run blocker was Morgan Moses from Virginia.
While Moses may need to lose a little weight to keep his unique quickness skills and movement ability as a pass blocker as a high level he certainly displayed all the physical traits scouts are looking for as a left tackle prospect.
His long arms and his work at both right and left tackle are huge plusses for him as a player and what I liked from him was his ability to finish off a block.
Right now Moses is pressing the envelope as a late first round pick or a very early second round choice in May.
3. Chris Borland — Inside Linebacker — Wisconsin
Borland is 5-11 and 245 pounds, but he made quite an impact all week in Mobile. Borland displayed excellent hand-usage in getting away from blockers, quick read skills and the ability to flow quickly to the ballcarrier.
Borland is also pretty good dropping back into his pass coverage area of the field. The Badger thumper in the middle looks like a third round pick.
4. Dee Ford — Outside Linebacker/Defensive End — Auburn
Every NFL team is looking for pass rushers and Ford displayed the edge foot speed and quickness that he had flashed throughout his college career for Auburn.
The 6-2 1/4, 242 pounder has really upgraded his ability to use his quick hands and long arms to get around blockers and he has terrific closing speed to the quarterback.
Pass rushers rarely last long on draft day and I look for Ford to be an early second round selection.
5. Gabe Jackson — Offensive Guard — Mississippi State
Notre Dame's Zack Martin was the top offensive lineman in Mobile, but the 6-3 1/4, 340 pound Jackson put on a real show for the scouts and coaches.
Despite his massive frame he was able to move his body around with great ease on the pitch plays and getting to the second level. He also displayed quick feet, good body balance and improved pass blocking techniques during the practice sessions.
Jackson will press Baylor's Cyril Richardson in being the top pure guard off the board in 2014 and he projects as an early second round choice.
6. Josh Huff — Wide Receiver — Oregon
The speedy Huff was not the name on the marquee for the Ducks’ offense, but he did catch 62 passes for an average of 18.4 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns.
Huff was impressive in his route-running tree and his ability to make sharp cuts downfield. He has excellent eye-hand coordination and his (4.43) 40-yard dash speed got him away from defenders in a flash.
He can also help out in the return game and the coaches in Mobile praised his skills as a downfield blocker also.
Huff has moved into being a top-100 pick in 2014.
7. Kyle Van Noy — Outside Linebacker — Brigham Young
Last year in this same space I wrote about how the most impressive player in Mobile was Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher.
That honor this year should have went to Buffalo University outside linebacker Khalil Mack, but his absence left one of the most underrated football players in the country, Kyle Van Noy, an opportunity to seize the moment
The 6-2 1/2, 235 pounder displayed good pass rush skills off the edge and very good closing speed to the quarterback.
But what jumped out was his ability to run the field from sideline to sideline. His lateral movement skills and his athleticism showed up strong all week long.
Van Noy lacks great size and bulk strength and in many ways looks like an outside linebacker version of middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams) when he came out of Ohio State. His quick football instincts, toughness in run support and his ability to consistently get around would be blockers will have him going very early in the second round.
Van Noy is someone with 1st rate trackdown skills and also very sure openfield tackler.
While Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made his
move to try and catch Fresno State’s Derek Carr for the 4th overall quarterback spot Van Noy made his move to try and squeeze into Round One.
One thing to watch for is that Buffalo’s Khalil Mack will push UCLA's Anthony Barr for being the top outside linebacker off the board in May.
1. Jadeveon Clowney — Defensive End — South Carolina
2. Jake Matthews — Offensive Tackle — Texas A&M
3. Sammy Watkins — Wide Receiver — Clemson
4. Anthony Barr — Outside Linebacker — UCLA
5. Johnny Manziel — Quarterback — Texas A&M
6. Teddy Bridgewater — Quarterback — Louisville
7. Greg Robinson — Offensive Tackle — Auburn
8. Khalil Mack — Outside Linebacker — Buffalo
9. Blake Bortles — Quarterback — Central Florida
10. Marqise Lee — Wide Receiver — USC
11. Taylor Lewan — Offensive Tackle — Michigan
12. Louis Nix III — Defensive Tackle — Notre Dame
13. Mike Evans — Wide Receiver — Texas A&M
14. C.J. Mosley — Inside Linebacker — Alabama
15. Tim Jernigan — Defensive Tackle — Florida State
16. Darqueze Dennard — Cornerback — Michigan State
17. Eric Ebron — Tight End — North Carolina
18. Zack Martin — Offensive Tackle — Notre Dame
19. Odell Beckham, Jr. — Wide Receiver — LSU
20. Justin Gilbert — Cornerback — Oklahoma State
21. Cyrus Kouandjio — Offensive Tackle — Alabama
22. Ha Ha Clinton Dix — Free Safety — Alabama
23. Kelvin Benjamin — Wide Receiver — Florida State
24. Stephon Tuitt — Defensive End — Notre Dame
25. Brandin Cooks — Wide Receiver — Oregon State
26. Jace Amaro — Tight End — Texas Tech
27. RaShede Hageman — Defensive Tackle — Minnesota
28. Kony Ealy — Defensive End — Missouri
29. Jason Verrett — Cornerback — TCU
30. Cyril Richardson — Offensive Guard — Baylor
31. Dee Ford — Outside Linebacker/Defensive End — Auburn
32. Ryan Shazier — Outside Linebacker — Ohio State
33. Kyle Van Noy — Outside Linebacker — Brigham Young
34. Aaron Donald — Defensive Tackle — Pittsburgh
35. Allen Robinson — Wide Receiver — Penn State
36. Morgan Moses — Offensive Tackle — Virginia
37. Austin Seferian-Jenkins — Tight End — Washington
38. Derek Carr — Quarterback — Fresno State
39. Travis Swanson — Offensive Center —Arkansas
40. David Yankey — Offensive Guard — Stanford
41. Calvin Pryor — Free Safety — Louisville
42. Antonio Richardson — Offensive Tackle — Tennessee
43. Scott Crichton — Defensive End — Oregon State
44. Gabe Jackson — Offensive Guard — Mississippi State
45. Xavier Su’a-Filo- Offensive Guard — UCLA
46. Kyle Fuller — Cornerback —Virginia Tech
47. Jarvis Landry — Wide Receiver — LSU
48. Jordan Matthews — Wide Receiver — Vanderbilt
49. Bradley Roby — Cornerback — Ohio State
50. Will Sutton — Defensive Tackle — Arizona State
51. Trent Murphy — Outside Linebacker — Stanford
52. Ego Ferguson — Defensive Tackle — LSU
53. Jimmy Garoppolo — Quarterback — Eastern Illinois
54. Ed Reynolds — Free Safety — Stanford
55. Marcus Roberson — Cornerback — Florida
56. Deone Bucannon — Strong Safety — Washington State
57. Tre Mason — Halfback — Auburn
58. Trevor Reilly — Outside Linebacker — Utah
59. Davante Adams — Wide Receiver — Fresno State
60. Lamarcus Joyner — Free Safety/Cornerback — Florida State
61. Kelcy Quarles — Defensive Tackle — South Carolina
62. Billy Turner — Offensive Tackle — North Dakota State
63. Martavis Bryant — Wide Receiver — Clemson
64. Jeremy Hill — Halfback — LSU
65. Ka’Deem Carey — Halfback — Arizona
66. Louchiez Purifoy — Cornerback — Florida
67. Carlos Hyde — Halfback — Ohio State
68. Zach Mettenberger — Quarterback — LSU
69. Arthur Lynch — Tight End — Georgia
70. Christian Jones — Middle/Outside Linebacker — Florida State
71. DaQuan Jones — Defensive Tackle — Penn State
72. Dominique Easley — Defensive Tackle — Florida
73. Michael Sam — Defensive End/Outside Linebacker — Missouri
74. Shayne Skov — Inside Linebacker — Stanford
75. Chris Borland — Inside Linebacker — Wisconsin
It’s that time of the year when even as successful as the season has been for the New Orleans Saints people want to know who to keep a close eye on when it comes to college players for bowl time and all-star games.
Here is my look at 6 prospects that look to be late first round picks for the 2014 NFL draft in May.
1. Jarvis Landry-Wide Receiver LSU
2. Cyril Richardson-Offensive Guard Baylor
3. Travis Swanson-Offensive Center Arkansas
4. Justin Gilbert-Cornerback Oklahoma State
5. Trevor Reilly-Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Utah
6. La'El Collins- Offensive Tackle LSU
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had a signature season for the Tigers in 2013, but what he will be remembered for is how he finished his senior season.
Mettenberger completed 64.9% of his passes for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and 8 pass interceptions in 2013 and he led a team with a mediocre at best defense to a 9-3 regular season finish.
But it was how he played through an injury that everyone should remember him for.
It was obvious since the Ole Miss game that the flame-throwing Mettenberger had a lower-leg injury and a knee issue. He played through that injury and the 6-4, 230 pounder was still a really good player for the Tigers after a sizzling early season start.
While Mettenberger is not a “get in your face” type leader for criticism or encouragement he really caught everyone’s attention for his toughness, his grittiness and his quiet leadership on a team void of a “big man” leader on offense and also on the defensive side of the ball.
While being banged around quite often against Alabama and again against Arkansas Mettenberger showed the type intangibles that the pros were looking for and for some, it was in question.
You might question his decision making process at times, his lack of quickness in the pocket and a lack of a take-charge presence out on the field, but you can’t question Mettenberger’s toughness as a player and how much football means to him.
I strongly believe that Mettenberger will end up being a late first round pick in the 2014 NFL draft and my comparison to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco coming out of Delaware will be the one you will hear quite often over the next couple of months.
Just a couple of years back one of the most highly-sought after football players in the country was Thibodaux High School star quarterback/athlete Trovon Reed. Reed had his choice of just about any school in the country to choose from before he decided to sign with Auburn over LSU.
A player on that Thibodaux High School team who was overshadowed due to the exploits of Reed was offensive tackle Greg Robinson.
Robinson was also a highly coveted player and like Reed he also signed on with Auburn.
But in college Greg Robinson has emerged as the star performer from Thibodaux and emerged as one of the top left tackles in the Southeast Conference.
This season the second year fulltime starter has emerged as one of the elite left tackles in the SEC and he has caught the eyes of NFL scouts.
The 6-5, 320 pound Robinson redshirted in 2011, but he earned a starting spot in 2012, starting 11 games and this season he has been outstanding in pass protection and also being a huge impact player as a run blocker.
While Robinson is listed as a redshirt sophomore he is three years out of high school and his play has him in my eyes as a probable top-100 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, if he decides to come out early. Robinson has not only been a good player, but he has been dominant at the left tackle spot displaying excellent athleticism and “power” skills as a run blocker.
While Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio will be named 1st team All-SEC and he will probably be a top-12 pick in the 2014 NFL draft I really think the best left tackle all season long in the state of Alabama has been Greg Robinson.