Rip It Up And Start Again: Double-Blockbuster Seven-Round Mock

I was working on turning that four-round mock into a seven-round mock… and then the Eagles trade broke yesterday. So, we have two blockbuster trades to the top, presumably for QBs; hence the “Double Blockbuster Mock.” And, as the title suggests… we’re going the whole way. Seven rounds. All seven and we’ll watch them fall! (RIP, Prince. Another star too bright for this world.)

I’ll write commentary as much as I can– for the first round, for sure, and selected picks thereafter. A mix of what I think, who I like, and needs. And I projected a handful of trades.

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Post-Blockbuster Four Round Mock Draft

Yes, I know we’ve been living in a post-Blockbuster world for some time thanks to Netflix, but I mean the Titans-Rams trade that puts Los Angeles at the #1 spot. We’re assuming they take a QB, so I’ve mocked accordingly.

I’ll have short writeups for the early picks and then just list the later rounds. I’ve also projected a couple of trades here.

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The worst owner in the NFL

Owners of professional sports teams have a lot of responsibility when it comes to the success of their franchise. They are the ones putting up massive sums of money in an attempt to generate profit, but they also control the direction of personnel hirings. Much can be said about terrible owners in other sports, such as James Dolan of the Knicks, who can’t seem to get over his love affair with Isaiah Thomas. However, Dolan at least supports his team and his city and wants the best for them. Recent events have revealed an NFL owner who does not display this courtesy, in addition to ineptitude.

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Draft Review of the New Orleans Saints in the Payton-Loomis era, 2006-2014

With the Saints struggling to the finish line in a dismal 2015, and the impending end of the Drew Brees era, I thought about going back and looking at how the team got to this point, what went wrong, and what they could have done differently (and can do differently in the future).

I decided some weeks ago to choose their performance in the draft to examine for this purpose, but only now have had the time to collect the necessary data for this article. Even though Mickey Loomis has been GM of the team since 2002, I decided to start with the arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees in 2006, because of Payton’s strong input on the personnel side of the ball. I then decided to review the drafts from that point on through 2014.

The reason I’m not reviewing 2015 is largely because, after the 2014 draft was such an obvious disaster, the team fired longtime Director of College Scouting Rick Reprish, and most of the college scouting department. So far, the improvement has been immediately obvious, with Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha already being impact players in the linebacker crew, and Delvin Breaux, Damian Swann, Tyeler Davison, and Bobby Richardson all have contributed to one degree or another, with Breaux and Richardson starting. We haven’t even talked about a number of their other picks yet– Andrus Peat projects to be a long-term starting offensive tackle, and several players who have gone on IR figure to contribute in the future, too. This is easily the best Saints rookie class since the much-ballyhooed class of 2006 (three of which remain on the team today).

In hindsight, comparing the 2015 class to the ones before it makes it pretty clear this move was long overdue. Let’s take a look at the previous classes and see how the team did.

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2014 Re-Draft Mock

If you saw the 2013 draft that ran a few days ago, you’ll know how this works.

This mock isn’t necessarily tied to that one. It operates on the same rules, though. One thing you’ll find different is that, since we are only into the second year of these players’ careers, I had less hard data on how they would perform in the NFL, and so had to weigh predictions of future performance more heavily.

Onward:

1. Houston Texans
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

A no-brainer here, in my eyes. As much as they need a quarterback, and as much as they really could use a top-flight edge prospect like Clowney or Khalil Mack, Beckham is a passing offense all by himself, and a Beckham-DeAndre Hopkins combination at wide receiver would be absolutely devastating for years to come.

2. St. Louis Rams
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Donald has been an impact player from day one, with the kind of rare burst and agility required to penetrate the interior line that makes the concerns about his size seem silly in retrospect. Already one of the most fearsome interior rushers in the league.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

After a rough rookie season, Bortles is showing signs of growing into the quarterback the Jaguars believed he could become. I see no reason to change the pick.

4. Cleveland Browns
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

It’s time to put an end to the ridiculous trades, the drafting of players who don’t give a crap, and the complete disregard of your paid analytics study in favor of polling the homeless. The Browns have a quarterback, at last.

5. Oakland Raiders
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

He seems to be every bit the surefire hit he was considered as a prospect. No change, although Derek Carr was certainly considered.

6. Atlanta Falcons
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Roddy White has finally gone over the hill. The offense has struggled this year in part because of Matt Ryan, but it’s also true that he only has had Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman as reliable, consistent targets. Lining up Watkins opposite Jones will really open up what the offense can do.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

I see no reason to change this pick.

8. Minnesota Vikings
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Since they won’t be getting Teddy Bridgewater, it’s imperative that they find another quarterback. Carr has proven capable of the job in Oakland, and the Vikings can’t risk missing out on him.

9. Buffalo Bills
Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina

This is where you can see the role of projection coming into play. Whether you consider that Clowney would lose his rookie season to microfracture surgery they way he did in Houston or not, the fact is, his ceiling is still incredibly high, particularly as a 4-3 defensive end (which is the defense the Bills were playing in 2014), and Mario Williams is starting to get up there in age (or alternately, Jerry Hughes will want too much money in free agency).

10. Detroit Lions
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

Mosley has been legit for Baltimore, and Detroit has needed a middle linebacker for some time.

11. Tennessee Titans
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

From what I can tell, Matthews is settling into the left tackle position just fine (unlike his college teammate Luke Joeckel).

12. New York Giants
Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame

Their persistent need for an offensive lineman leads them to one who played at a Pro Bowl level his rookie year.

13. St. Louis Rams
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Been disappointing so far, but I believe the Rams would still take him on potential. They probably shouldn’t, but then, I made that argument at the time.

14. Chicago Bears
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

There’s another receiver who’s arguably a better pick, but I think Landry is a better fit for Chicago’s personnel, whether you’re looking at this as the Brandon Marshall – Alshon Jeffery Bears, or the Jeffery – Kevin White Bears. Landry fills a slot role nicely on a team that has very good (and big) outside receivers. If Jay Cutler likes Eddie Royal, he’ll love Jarvis Landry.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

I actually don’t think Barr should necessarily slide here; this was more a matter of fit for other teams ahead of Pittsburgh. Obviously he’s a great fit here and should thrive as a 3-4 OLB.

16. Dallas Cowboys
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Lewan probably can’t be moved around the line like Zack Martin could, but he should thrive at right tackle (and can play left tackle, should something ever happen to Tyron Smith).

17. Baltimore Ravens
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Robinson could easily go higher than this. Baltimore is thrilled to get a true #1 wide receiver at this point in the draft, something they tried to acquire this year with Breshad Perriman (which hasn’t worked out so far, but we were skeptical it would even before the draft).

18. New York Jets
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

He’s been better than Calvin Pryor so far, and a true free safety would made things a lot easier for the Jets’ cornerbacks.

19. Miami Dolphins
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

He’s been arguably the top corner from this draft class, as his film indicated he well might be. He only fell because of concerns over his size, but size does not in itself a good cornerback make. (Any New Orleans Saints fan will know this, after the team’s biggest whiff of each of the last two offseasons was on a large cornerback.)

20. Arizona Cardinals
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU

At his best, Hill is the sort of powerful-yet-agile back that can be the perfect complement for Andre Ellington. He’s been a bit disappointing in 2015, but he’s a perfect fit for this team, so they’ll take a chance he can play up to potential.

21. Green Bay Packers
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

Fuller’s career got off to a promising start, but has been up and down since. The Packers will be willing to take a chance on his talent; in a redraft with such a short time frame, potential and projection still factors in here.

22. Philadelphia Eagles
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

A disappointing sophomore year (fueled in part by disappointing quarterback play) probably hasn’t made the Eagles unhappy with the selection. They certainly need wide receiver talent, so I saw it fit to draft the same player here. (Marcus Smith seems like a total bust, so they won’t go that route again.)

23. Kansas City Chiefs
Joel Bitonio, G/T, Nevada

They’re permanently in need of offensive line help; Bitonio has been solid for Cleveland, and could play guard or right tackle for Kansas City.

24. Cincinnati Bengals
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

I wasn’t a fan of Shazier coming out, but he seems to have performed better than I expected (although his weakness are still there). I’m particularly interested in him for Cincinnati, whose linebackers seem to suffer from a lack of athleticism (which, for whatever Shazier’s faults are, he certainly does have those).

25. San Diego Chargers
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee

Another team always in need of offensive line help. James slides in nicely at right tackle here, which I’m sure the team would appreciate, given that they decided to move D.J. Fluker to guard after two seasons.

26. Cleveland Browns
Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State

Jackson has been one of the better players on one of the league’s most surprisingly good offensive lines. Cleveland will need a guard with Bitonio already drafted.

27. New Orleans Saints
John Brown, WR, Pittsburg St. (KS)

This could be controversial. I think Brown has arguably been better than Brandin Cooks, though– he may not run quite as fast in the 40, but he has better route-running and ball skills. The Saints clearly wanted to add some speed to their offense; Brown may be the best option for that.

28. Carolina Panthers
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Despite missing 2015 with a torn ACL, Benjamin showed enough production as a rookie that Carolina is still happy with the pick, I feel.

29. New England Patriots
Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

He’s been a revelation in 2015, taking on an incredible workload and being extremely productive doing so. New England takes him here with the intent of getting the kind of production he provided for Atlanta this year (and that they were getting from Dion Lewis).

30. San Francisco 49ers
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson

Big, talented, big-play receiver. Arguably could go even higher than this. Adds some serious talent to a receiver crew that could use it.

31. Denver Broncos
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Not sure how well he has played so far, but his regard as a prospect alone is good enough to land him here.

32. Seattle Seahawks
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

Hasn’t been everything Detroit hoped for when they drafted him in the top ten, but he’s started to come along his second season. The talent alone is enough for Seattle to take a chance; with Ebron, they don’t need to make a major move for Jimmy Graham.

2013 Re-Draft Mock

In order to gear up for draft season, and in some small way make up for the lack of Zone Reads content over the last two months due to various personal and professional obligations, I’ll be publishing some mock drafts and re-drafts in the next few days.

I decided to take a swing a 2013 first, because enough time has passed that I think I have a reasonable picture of player value, and also because it was generally regarded as such a weak class. I thought it would be a fun season to choose.

I didn’t try to do this as a strict ranking; at some point, prospects are close enough together in value where I can’t make any meaningful distinction. In certain cases, I’ve erred on the side of giving teams a player at a position of need, or, even better, a player who actually ended up on the team.

Last note: I eliminated all draft-day trades, but kept all pre-draft ones. (So the Jets have Tampa Bay’s pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, St. Louis has Washington’s pick from the Robert Griffin trade, and Minnesota has Seattle’s pick from the Percy Harvin trade.)

Without further ado…

1. Kansas City Chiefs
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

One of the few legitimate superstars from this class, Hopkins is a passing game all by himself, one of the four best wide receivers in football right now. He happens to be a great fit for Kansas City, whose passing game was woeful in 2012, and in 2013 would be led by Alex Smith, and whatever part of Dwayne Bowe could still be considered a useful wide receiver.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

A pretty easy selection of a guy who has a case for the #1 pick. True interior penetrators are rare and can disrupt an offense by themselves. Richardson’s suspension this year makes him a clear #2 behind Hopkins to me; the risk of missing games is enough to break any tie.

3. Oakland Raiders
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

An argument can be made for a number of players here. Since the Raiders chose a cornerback in the first round in real life (albeit after trading down), I mocked them a guy who has arguably developed into one of the league’s shutdown corners.

4. Philadelphia Eagles
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU

When in doubt, choose the pass rusher. Even though the Eagles took an offensive tackle originally, I simply felt pass-rushing was more important than pass protection. Ansah is seond in the league in sacks right now (11.5 through 11 games) and is arguably playing at an All-Pro level.

5. Detroit Lions
Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Armstead had FBS offers coming out of high school, but would only attend a college that allowed him to continue competing in track and field. The athleticism he showed at the Combine has translated to the NFL, as he’s become one of the league’s better left tackles. As Jeff Backus retired in the 2013 offseason, he’s a perfect fit for Detroit, too. (I’d play Riley Reiff at left tackle and Armstead at right tackle in 2013, then flip them.)

6. Cleveland Browns
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

The Browns believed in the importance of a three-down running back who can be fully featured in the run and pass game enough to trade three other picks in order to move from #4 to #3 and draft Trent Richardson one year prior. Now they get the running back they thought they were getting then.

7. Arizona Cardinals
Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S, LSU

Mathieu displayed some of the most incredible instincts I’ve ever seen in college, but slipped in the draft for the nebulous, oversimplifying “character concerns” reason. He’s playing at an All-Pro level this year in Arizona; I am certain they would want to keep him at any cost.

8. Buffalo Bills
Keenan Allen, WR, California

Whether you see this as a move that allows them to avoid trading up for Sammy Watkins the next year and losing their 2015 pick, or as a receiver who complements Watkins well and opens up the possibility of a devastating pass attack, the Buffalo Bills were a team in serious need of offensive help, and Allen brings it. He was having a dominant season before he went down with an injury. (He’d certainly do a lot more for a passing game than E.J. Manuel would.)

9. New York Jets
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Lotulelei fell in the draft because of some medical concerns about a heart condition that were overstated. He’s become one of the better defensive tackles in the league; since the Jets miss out on Sheldon Richardson in this draft, they’re sure to want someone else to fill the position.

10. Tennessee Titans
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

Short was the Panthers’ second-round pick in 2013, to follow up Lotulelei, but this year he’s arguably played better than his higher-drafted linemate. He would make a devastating pair of penetrators alongside Jurrell Casey.

11. San Diego Chargers
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

They wanted a right tackle badly enough to draft D.J. Fluker #11 overall. Now they have a better one.

12. Miami Dolphins
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

Eifert would give their offense a dynamic seam and red-zone threat they didn’t have then, and that they arguably don’t have now (but that they hoped they were getting with Jordan Cameron).

13. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay)
Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State

Having a slight down year, but then, so is everyone in Detroit. Still a guy who can be a legit #1 cornerback.

14. Carolina Panthers
Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss

Collins could fill the outside linebacker spot opposite Thomas Davis (that Shaq Thompson does now), and switch to pass-rusher as needed. A good fit that offers flexibility on defense.

15. New Orleans Saints
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati

An athletic, potentially game-changing tight end? They’ve been able to put those to good use in New Orleans. In this scenario, Kelce is around to take over when Jimmy Graham is traded to the Seahawks– an ideal match.

16. St. Louis Rams
Kyle Long, G/T, Oregon

The Rams are always targeting nasty, physical offensive linemen– occasionally to a ridiculous degree (four linemen in the 2015 draft, and one more in the supplemental draft!)– so why not draft them one who’s actually good?

17. Pittsburgh Steelers
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

Vaccaro can play either free or strong safety, and his flexibility will become more valuable once Troy Polamalu is gone.

18. Dallas Cowboys
Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin

Pretty much the same logic they used to draft him in the real draft.

19. New York Giants
Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

Again, another team in need of an offensive lineman takes one who’s been pretty good (albeit after a somewhat rocky rookie year).

20. Chicago Bears
Larry Warford, G, Kentucky

See above. I put Warmack ahead of Warford because I think his ceiling is ultimately higher, although Warford was better out of the gate.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina

We’re reaching the point where above-average starters and good rotation players are the best left on the board, and when in doubt, I mocked a player to the team that drafted him originally if he was roughly at the top of the board.

22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

I’m not sure what kind of year he’s having, but I think he’s essentially the guy they expected him to be when they drafted him. Which is good enough for them to do it again.

23. Minnesota Vikings
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

See above.

24. Indianapolis Colts
Justin Pugh, G/T, Syracuse

The Colts have constantly struggled to protect Andrew Luck, so adding a guy who can step right in at right tackle is pretty valuable.

25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle)
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Yes, I just mocked the Vikings the same two players they drafted in the real draft. I guess that means they did a good job? (We won’t mention Cordarrelle Patterson.)

26. Green Bay Packers
Eric Reid, FS, LSU

They wouldn’t have yet drafted HaHa Clinton-Dix in this case, and Reid has been a pretty solid free safety for San Francisco, as far as I know.

27. Houston Texans
Bennie Logan, DT, LSU

Logan has really come on strong his third year; he’s big enough to play nose tackle for Houston’s 3-4 defense, as well.

28. Denver Broncos
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

Despite Lacy’s apparent determination to prove wrong Rod Beck’s maxim that no one ever went on the disabled list with pulled fat, Lacy at his best could be the bellcow Denver was looking for when they selected Montee Ball in the second round that year.

29. New England Patriots
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

A pass-catching running back with game-breaking ability is a great fit for the Patriots. Ordinarily such a situational player wouldn’t go so high, but 2013 didn’t have a lot of top-end talent.

30. Atlanta Falcons
D.J. Fluker, G/T, Alabama

It’s a starting offensive lineman! And you know how much we’ve always wanted one of those!

31. San Francisco 49ers
T.J. McDonald, SS, USC

I’ve heard McDonald has had a pretty good year for the Rams. That and the fact that the 49ers drafted a safety in real life is good enough for me.

32. Baltimore Ravens
Ricky Wagner, OT, Iowa

A pretty good starting right tackle is a good get here. The Ravens won’t get the value they did in real life, when they took him in the fifth round, but he’s still capable of being a solid part of their offensive line.

Keep an eye out tomorrow for a 2014 re-draft.

The Third Coast Sainted Texans

Earlier this week, I posited the question on Twitter for two nearby teams that were having poor years: What if the Saints and Texans merged rosters?

They seemed to have rosters that would fit together well, with each team having a strength where the other hand a hole, and vice versa. To make it more interesting (and also realistic), I decided to look up the 2015 cap hits for every player and build the team under the salary cap (listed on spotrac.com as $146,025,476). My goal here was to create the best 53-man roster possible while remaining under the salary cap.

I’m only considering players who were on the team as of this week, when I wrote this– not players who were on the team earlier in the year (like, say, Akiem Hicks or Kenny Phillips for the Saints).

And here we go. Texans fans are likely to be unhappy for a little while.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

  • Drew Brees (age: 36, 2015 cap hit: $23,800,000)
  • Luke McCown (34, $665,000)
  • Garrett Grayson (24, $618,291)
  • Total: $25,083,291

This one is fairly straightforward. Brees is the only NFL-caliber starting quarterback on either roster, so he has to make the team, even at his age and cap hit. McCown is by far the cheapest of the next three options (Brian Hoyer’s cap hit starts with a 5, which would be fine if it were one digit fewer). And Garrett Grayson is the best prospect for the future. (Tom Savage is on injured reserve; we’ll get to IR at the end of the roster, but frankly, Grayson is the best prospect irrespective of Savage’s presence.)

RUNNING BACK

  • Mark Ingram (25, $2,000,000)
  • C.J. Spiller (28, $2,000,000)
  • Khiry Robinson (25, $585,334)
  • Marcus Murphy (24, $452,322)
  • Austin Johnson (FB) (26, $510,000)
  • Total: $5,547,656

know this one will make Texans fans unhappy. It’s pretty straight-forward: Arian Foster is a 29-year-old running back with a significant injury history and a cap hit of over $8.7M. You might be able to justify paying Foster and carrying one fewer running back if he could still reliably perform at his peak level, but at his age, you can’t count on that.

With Foster too expensive to risk, I think the rest of the Texans running backs are pretty bad, so this was fairly easy. No one besides Foster on Houston’s roster is even as good as Khiry Robinson, let alone Ingram and Spiller. Marcus Murphy adds value as a kick and punt returner. I went with Austin Johnson over Jay Prosch, knowing little about fullbacks, because he’s cheaper (and I don’t know how much Prosch plays, if at all).

WIDE RECEIVER

  • DeAndre Hopkins (23, $2,080,010)
  • Brandin Cooks (22, $1,905,330)
  • Willie Snead (22, $435,000)
  • Jaelen Strong (21, $627,995)
  • Nate Washington (32, $615,000)
  • Total: $5,663,335

DeAndre Hopkins is a budding superstar, an obvious choice for our #1 receiver and a must-have even at five times the cost. Brandin Cooks hasn’t turned into the star the Saints envisioned, but at his current age and cap number, he’s still a bargain– and he’s more suited to this role, the #2 to Hopkins’ #1. Willie Snead has come on strong as arguably the Saints’ most reliable receiver. Jaelen Strong is very young and a fine prospect to ease along in a fourth or fifth wide receiver role. I chose Nate Washington as the “cagey veteran mentor” to round out the bunch. Marques Colston is too expensive and has seemingly lost it. You could argue for Cecil Shorts, but Washington is on a one-year minimum deal and Shorts is being paid $6 million for two years. Even though he’s younger, I’m not sure he adds much value to the team at all, let alone over Washington. Cooks, Snead, and Strong can contribute on special teams, so I wasn’t worried about finding a player to fit that type.

TIGHT END

  • Ben Watson (34, $1,900,000)
  • Josh Hill (25, $586,668)
  • C.J. Fiedorowicz (23, $730,826)
  • Total: $3,217,494

It was a lot easier to justify Watson for the top spot after the game he had Thursday night against Atlanta. He’s the best do-it-all guy on either roster. Hill has the most athleticism; Fiedorowicz is a guy I don’t think is all that special, but is young, cheap, and has a relatively high draft pedigree (then again, I’m not sure if the Texans understand the draft).

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

  • Duane Brown (30, $9,500,000)
  • Terron Armstead (24, $769,359)
  • Andrus Peat (21, $2,071,544)
  • Total: $12,340,903

A no-brainer. This might be the best trio of tackles in the league.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

  • Jahri Evans (32, $7,000,000)
  • Brandon Brooks (26, $1,696,359)
  • Xavier Su’a-Filo (24, $1,261,727)
  • Total: $9,958,086

Evans is on the decline at 32, but he’s still the best guard on either team. Brooks is not someone I know much about, but I’ve generally seen his play well-graded and spoken fairly well of– or at least well enough to be the team’s other starter. Su’a-Filo is on this team for roughly the same reason C.J. Fiedorowicz is.

CENTER

  • Max Unger (29, $3,000,000)
  • Ben Jones (26, $1,662,362)
  • Total: $4,662,362

It’s easy to pick both starting centers when they come this cheaply.

TOTAL OFFENSE: 24 players, $66,473,127

DEFENSE

I’ve listed the team in a base 3-4, which made the most sense to me with the personnel I had to work with.

ENDS

  • J.J. Watt (26, $13,969,000)
  • Cameron Jordan (26, $4,169,000)
  • Bobby Richardson (22, $436,666)
  • Jared Crick (26, $1,639,875)
  • Total: $20,214,541

Watt and Jordan are a fantastic duo to have here and well worth the money. Bobby Richardson has played well so far his rookie season, particularly against the run. I don’t know much about Crick, but he’s cheap and he plays a lot of snaps for Houston, so he makes the team.

TACKLES

  • John Jenkins (26, $746,890)
  • Tyeler Davison (23, $489,306)
  • Christian Covington (21, $457,621)
  • Kaleb Eulls (24, $438,333)
  • Total: $2,132,150

One of the weakest groups on the team, but a very young one with lots of chance to improve playing between Jordan and Watt. Jenkins has the size to be a true nose tackle, so he’s the starter in the run-stuffing role. The word is that Vince Wilfork has looked ordinary, and even if he hasn’t, 2 years and $9 million is a lot for a 33-year-old nose tackle. (Though it’s not out of line with the kind of deals the Texans like to hand out– see “Reed, Ed.”) The other three are all rookies with varying talent level and skill sets; Davison is the most explosive of the bunch.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

  • Jadeveon Clowney (22, $5,062,045)
  • Hau’oli Kikaha (23, $957,511)
  • Whitney Mercilus (25, $2,979,030)
  • Kasim Edebali (26, $512,000)
  • Total: $9,510,586

Clowney hasn’t produced the big numbers yet, but he’s shown the flashes of greatness that made him the top pick in the draft. Kikaha now leads all rookies with four sacks (in six games); he’s been less flashy but steadily productive. Mercilus is a fine player, although nothing special, and Edebali has shown some signs of life as a rotational pass-rusher.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

  • Stephone Anthony (23, $1,404,766)
  • Dannell Ellerbe (29, $1,900,000)
  • Bernardrick McKinney (22, $971,840)
  • Justin Tuggle (25, $585,834)
  • Michael Mauti (25, $585,000)
  • Total: $5,448,440

I hate to say it, but Brian Cushing might be done. He looks like a shell of his former self out there– and to make matters worse, he’s on the second year of a six-year deal, one where his cap hit each year is higher than the entire ILB crew I’ve assembled here.

Anthony is the star of the bunch, but Ellerbe has been surprisingly good, surpassing my expectations. McKinney is a long-term player there, though he’s more of a run-stopper. I had no idea whom to go with for the fourth ILB spot; Tuggle beat out Akeem Dent based on age, salary, and slightly higher PFF grade. Feel free to replace him if you like someone better. Mauti won the special teams roster spot with his blocked punt Thursday night.

CORNERBACK

  • Keenan Lewis (29, $4,500,000)
  • Johnathan Joseph (31, $11,750,000)
  • Kevin Johnson (23, $1,827,166)
  • Delvin Breaux (25, $439,000)
  • Damian Swann (22, $481,807)
  • Total: $18,997,973

Another difficult decision I had to make was Joseph vs. Kareem Jackson. I was initially on Jackson because he’s younger and had a lower cap hit, but upon further research, I discovered he’s graded out really poorly this year, and he’s in the first year of a four-year contract extension; he’ll be 31 when it ends. Joseph is 31 now, but his cap hit is lower for the next two years than it is now, and the team can cut bait after 2016 with no further penalty. With the play so far of youngsters Johnson and Breaux, that is likely to happen. Also, Lewis has proven himself a fine #1 corner, even if he is exiting his prime, and Swann has performed solidly so far after winning the Saints’ nickel job as a rookie.

SAFETY

  • Jairus Byrd (29, $5,500,000)
  • Kenny Vaccaro (24, $2,570,376)
  • Rahim Moore (26, $3,000,000)
  • Andre Hal (23, $527, 281)
  • Total: $11,597,657

The Saints structured Byrd’s contract such that his cap hit makes him an affordable risk here– and even allows us to spend $3 million on Moore for when Byrd is inevitably injured. Vaccaro seems like an obvious choice, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Hal so far.

TOTAL DEFENSE: 26 players, $67,901,347

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Kicker: Zach Hocker (24, $435,000)
  • Punter: Thomas Morstead (29, $3,400,000)
  • Long Snapper: Justin Drescher (27, $875,000)

I chose Hocker before Thursday night, but he’ll probably be fired after that game. Well, the Texans already fired Randy Bullock this year, so I decided to go with the guy who stuck around the longest.

Morstead is more expensive than Shane Lechler, but he’s also twelve years younger and has a lifetime pass for hitting the greatest onside kick in NFL history.

Drescher is cheaper and younger than Jon Weeks.

TOTAL SPECIAL TEAMS: 3 players, $4,710,000

TOTAL 53-MAN ROSTER: $139,084,474

We’re still nearly $7 million under the cap, so I decided to add some players to our Injured Reserve list (who do not count against the 53-man roster, but do count against the salary cap):

  • CB P.J. Williams (22, $494,651)
  • SS Vinnie Suneri (22, $377,125)
  • OLB Davis Tull (23, $373,433)
  • TE Ryan Griffin (designated for return) (25, $381,611)
  • OL David Quessenberry (25, $613,363)
  • OLB Reshard Cliett (23, $340,621)
  • QB Tom Savage (25, $408,146)
  • OLB Anthony Spencer (31, $665,000)
  • FS Rafael Bush (28, $1,900,000)
  • Total Injured Reserve: $5,553,950

That brings the entire roster, 53-man and injured reserve, to a GRAND TOTAL of $144,638,424Still close to $1.5 million and change to work with; if you’re not comfortable cutting it that close, I totally understand removing Bush from IR. The team’s only contracts that are both long and expensive going to legitimate stars like J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan, leaving money to extend key players currently on their rookie deals, such as DeAndre Hopkins and Terron Armstead, when the time comes. Not a bad spot to be in. Of course, it’s easy when you get to pick and choose from two rosters.