Week 3 Upgrades/Downgrades
Posted 9/19 by Bob Magaw, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
DL Montae Reagor, IND:
(4 tackles, 1 assist, 3 sacks) There were some questions earlier in the week whether he would even suit up after not playing in week one against the Ravens. The defensive line has been on fire to start the season (fellow DT Larry Triplett had the monster game last week with 7 tackles and 2 sacks) and sustained the intensity with 6 sacks and 3 FFs Sunday. The Colts defense as a whole has to be one of the biggest stories in the entire league through the first two games of the season. They are playing like one of the top stop units in the NFL and the Colts will be very high up in the power rankings as the season progresses if this continues. For the first time in his Colts tenure, Dungy is starting to see the roughest outlines taking form of a defense that resembles the powerhouse units he assembled at Tampa Bay. Having the triplets on offense obviously creates some cap constraints on defense, but the front office led by Bill Polian and the team's coaching staff and scouting department have done an outstanding job of identifying talent in the draft and developing them once in the bigs. Even WITH a meaningless TD scored by the Ravens week one with the clock ticking out, the 10 points against in the two games COMBINED is the best start by an IND defense in almost a half century... let alone in the Dungy/Manning epoch.
DL Kyle Vanden Bosch and Randy Starks TEN:
(4 tackles, 1 assist, 3 sacks and 3 tackles, 3 assists, .5 sack) Vanden Bosch was well liked in Arizona for his motor and intensity, but he couldn't stay healthy. He had a breakout game with the rare sack hat trick. If he can stay out of the training room, his veteran presence and savvy will be a welcome complement to the trio of inexperienced second year Titans DEs (Odom, LaBoy and Schobel). Extending the youth theme (TEN landed in salary cap hell and had to jettison a lot of veteran talent in recent seasons), soph sensation Randy Starks was the youngest players in the draft and league last season... he won't even turn 22 until Dec. 14. As he matures and developes he will be a nasty combo of speed, power and agility, but he is already a manchild capable of being a disruptive force behind the LOS. It doesn't hurt that he gets to line up next to the talented if sometimes inconsistent DT Albert Haynesworth.
DL Mike Rucker, CAR:
After just a 2 tackle, 1 assist game in the emotional loss to the Saints week one, he came back with a strong effort in a replay of the 2003 Super Bowl. Despite the huge loss of Pro Bowl DT Kris Jenkins, he contributed 3 tackles, 1 sack and a FF against the rarely disturbed Tom Brady that was scooped up by Julius Peppers deep in Pats territory, led to one of the mind-numbing number of Stephen Davis 1 yard TD plunges and ended up being one of the biggest plays of the game (fellow defender Chris Gamble also helped the offense directly with a brilliant 76 yard punt return). Though the Jenkins loss hurts, the Panthers are as resilient and hard to rattle as their HC Fox, and during a historic near-comeback last season proved they have the right stuff in terms of the mental toughness needed to overcome challenges and difficulties. Don't feel too sorry for Rucker, as he still has phenomenal, freakish talents such as Peppers and Gamble on the roster, who are among the top athletes in the NFL at their respective positions.
LB Shelton Quarles, TB:
Led the team in tackles (6) and added 1 sack... has been making big plays, as he had 5 tackles and 2 FFs in the first game against the Vikings. Not an ideal dynasty league candidate at 34. Has been fairly productive when healthy, with at least 104 combined tackles in the last two seasons he played more than 11 games. He may be vulnerable to wearing down as he is a bit undersized at 6'1" 225 (the Bucs basically start three WLBs at MLB, SLB & WLB in terms of their stature). The Tampa Bay defense led by DC Monte Kiffin has not given up a TD this season. With an offense on the up (Griese, Clayton, Galloway, early ROY candidate Cadillac Williams and good looking fellow rookie Alex Smith), Chucky may not have as much occasion to wear his signature scowl in 2005 as the past two seasons... the Bucs are the only team in NFL history to suffer consecutive losing seasons following a Super Bowl win.
LB Demorrio Williams, ATL:
(10 tackles, 2 assists) If there were any remaining questions about how decisively the former Cornhusker star and super soph had beaten out former Eagle FA acquisition Ike Reese for the SLB gig, a few more games like this should help dissipate them faster than Milli Vanilli's post lip synching recording prospects. Scout Mel Kiper called him possibly the best open field tackler in the 2004 draft class that included highly touted LBs Jonathan Vilma (Defensive Rookie of the Year), D.J. Williams and Daryl Smith. Though listed at 6'0" 230, he struggled to keep weight on last year and reportedly finished the season closer to 215, causing some insiders to label him a pumped up, glorified safety. Ever since giving up over 100 lbs in some cases to OL as a Nebraska rush backer, he combats his size disadvantage with a lightning quick first step, uncanny instincts, an innate sense of pursuit angles and the athleticism, speed and agility to be almost unblockable and a huge mismatch for most plodding, ponderous OL in open field, man-on-man blocking situations. His 10 tackles were as many as MLB Ed Hartwell and WLB Keith Brooking combined for (5 each). If Williams ever gets a chance at WLB in the future he has the talent to put up surreal, mind boggling tackle numbers.
LB Lofa Tatupu, SEA:
Following up a solid 4 tackle, 2 assist debut in the tough opener with the Jaguars, he made his presence felt in a 21-18 barnburner with the Falcons with another 4 tackles, 2 assists plus a sack. While not a burner like other top (and more highly touted) LBs from the class of 2005... Odell Thurman, DeMarcus Ware and college Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Johnson, Tatupu has NFL bloodlines and pedigree (his father Mosi played for many years) and scores high in the instincts and intangibles department. The ex-prep QB and leader of the National Championship caliber USC defense has off-the-charts football smarts and comes to the Seahawks far more advanced and pro-ready than many typical rookie LB prospects... he clearly benefited from the tutelage of former NFL HC Pete Carroll. Despite the hard loss to Jacksonville, one bright spot singled out by DE Grant Wistrom was that MLB prodigy Tatupu already was getting the defense lined up better than at any point last season... and he should get nothing but better. While his size has been red-flagged as a potential issue, he is 230+. Perhaps the top two LBs from the past two classes (Jonathan Vilma and Thurman) play at about that weight. New Seattle GM Tim Ruskell was groomed in TB, where they enjoyed a lot of success drafting "undersized" playmakers such as Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks... and they turned out to become not only pretty good players, but dominant at their respective positions. Ruskell witnessed first hand how size can be an over-rated attribute.
LB Andra Davis, CLE:
The former 4-3 MLB looks like he could thrive as a 3-4 ILB. Added to his 10 combined tackle (4 tackles and 6 assists) season opener he turns in one of the top defensive efforts in week two, with 19 combined tackles (12 tackles and 7 assists). He looked like an ascendant player coming off a career high 136 combo tackles before having his third year of service with the Browns cut short by a knee injury in a forgettable 2004 season. HC Romeo Crennell is an acknowledged defensive guru, but you don't have to be a genius to figure out that it helps your team win by putting your best players in position to succeed. Davis will flash some athleticism and playmaking ability on occasion... witness 5 sacks in his stellar soph campaign (2003) and 3 INTs in last year's injury-truncated 11 game season.
DB Bob Sanders and Mike Doss, IND:
(9 tackles, 2 assists and 9 tackles) There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Colts secondary... there was concern that Doss had played his way out of a job last year, followed by the off-season incident in which he fired a hand gun outside of a night club (the Colts were reportedly shopping him), leading to a week one suspension. Sanders was moved from SS to FS, has had difficulty staying healthy and may always have size concerns. The former Iowa Hawkeye star got off to a slow start and made it to the Downgrades list last week after a 2 tackle, 1 assist effort. In addition to the 11 combined tackles, the "Hitman" also made a nice play to knock down a potentially game winning TD pass from Byron Leftwich while the clock elapsed, helping to preserve the victory (though he should have gotten the INT). If Sanders and Doss keep on putting up numbers like this, it may not matter who plays SS or FS. In a rare down game by Peyton Manning, the leadership shown by the defense (also including legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate Freeney and a suddenly dangerous DL with Mathis, Reagor & Simon, the nitrous-fueled LB trio of Brackett, June and Thornton, and a more physical and resilient secondary with Doss, Sanders and first rounder Marlin Jackson) helped the team win a game they probably wouldn't have in recent seasons.
DB Mike Brown, CHI:
His 4 tackles, 1 INT and a weaving TD Return, after an elite MLB-like 9 tackles in the defense's heroic, first game 9-7 losing cause to the Redskins have firmly situated himself back on the IDP map. Brown has always been a "Johnny-on-the-Spot" and a playmaker when the ball is in his hands (as evidenced by the consecutive games with INTs returned for TDs in the Bears last playoff season)... with Pro Bowl MLB Uhrlacher often on the prowl and moving around a lot, Brown could see a lot of tackle opportunities after a position switch from FS to SS. Demoted former SS Mike Green racked up 106+ tackles in the last two seasons he played more than 10 games. The Bears defense has talked about picking the team up on its shoulders to help out until an extremely young offense matures with the experience that can only come through reps. They may be on the field a lot until that happens. Chicago enjoyed their biggest margin of victory in almost two decades (since 1987).
DB Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble, CAR:
Prized free agent CB addition Lucas led the team with 10 tackles, and second year sensation Gamble was equally impressive with 6 tackles, 1 FF and a momentum changing 76 yard punt return (looked like a TD until super freak TE Ben Watson ran him down at the Patriots 13) which led directly to one of Stephen Davis' three 1 yard TD plunges and a 17-7 first half lead New England was unable to overcome. Even with the king-sized void left by Kris Jenkins being put on IR early for the second consecutive season, the Panthers have one of the most talented front sevens in football. Between Peppers and Rucker rushing the passer, Morgan and Witherspoon shutting down the run (and coveted first round SS/OLB hybrid Thomas Davis adding to the mayhem in a run support and blitz capacity), Carolina's dynamic CB duo could clean up on a lot of run support tackles forced by checkdown and safety valve-type passes, as well as a boost in INT opportunities from the relentless pressure applied by the Panthers front seven (plus Davis).
DB Terrence Holt, DET:
After failing to get a tackle or assist in the week one victory over the reeling Packers (Holt did get an INT), Torry's younger brother roared back with 8 tackles, second on the team only to MLB Earl Holmes (12). Lions QB Joey Harrington had 5 INTs, thus it is unlikely Holt will see so much action in typical weeks, so keep this in perspective when trying to discern breakouts from false alarms as the 2005 season unfolds.
DB Adam Archuleta, STL:
After a non-descript 3 tackle, 1 assist box score in the season opening debacle in San Francisco, the Plyometrics poster child bounced back with 6 tackles, 2 assists and a sack that was one of the biggest plays of the game and helped seal the win in the final minute. In a Jekyll and Hyde-type year last season that saw the Rams go just 8-8 yet become the first non-winning team during the regular season to win a playoff game in NFL history, Archuleta was one of the biggest question marks in the offseason due to a massively debilitating disc injury that he opted to treat with physical therapy rather than surgery. After being switched from SS to FS and back to SS with whispers that the coaching staff was trying to spare his back the pounding it would receive as an in-the-box safety, there were some legitimate concerns about how he would perform entering the season. At least the dust has settled on the Rams very turbulent pre-season safety situation to the point where we can say Arch should be the guy at SS for the rest of the way... FS is a different story. At the least he seems to have preserved his straightline speed and retained much of his signature burst and suddenness. The former college LB has put up big tackle numbers for a DB in several previous seasons... with a somewhat sketchy front seven, if his health permits, he probably won't lack for tackle opportunities and has a chance to approach some of those prior career numbers.
DL Terrell Suggs, BAL:
(1 tackle, 2 assists... no sacks in two games) With 22.5 sacks in his first two seasons, mostly as a 3-4 OLB, it was thought that he might be among the league sack leaders this season returning to his college position of 4-3 DE and becoming even more of a dedicated pass rusher. Unfortunately, after a second pummeling in as many weeks (this time by the lowly Titans), a disturbing trend is that the Ravens may have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. If opponents are in the lead early and often, they can salt the game away in the second half and fourth quarter by pounding the ball on the ground... not Suggs forte.
DL Jevon Kearse, PHI:
His 2 tackles in the 49ers blowout was identical to the box score in week one (also no sacks through two games). As one of the highest priced DL in NFL history, he hasn't made a lot of big plays since last season, his first as an Eagle (just 7.5 sacks in 2004 with 2 FFs). Still one of the fastest DEs in the league, he has not consistently shown the closing burst routinely on display when he burst on to the NFL scene with 35 sacks in his initial three seasons with the Titans and looked like a future HOFer.
DL Robert Geathers, CIN:
Begins the season with high expectations, especially in light of his switch to LDE with former #4 overall pick, DE Justin Smith. Identical 1 tackle, 1 assist games with no sacks through the first two weeks were not what his owners had in mind when the role switch was announced in the off-season. The season IS still young, he is just 22 and two sub-par games have done nothing to diminish his still bright prospects for dynasty purposes... and the Bengals are 2-0 for the first time in nearly half a decade.
DL Anthony Hargrove, STL:
Follows up a 1 tackle, 2 assist underwhelming effort in the shocking 49ers loss with a 1 assist clunker. This amidst word that he was demoted in the pre-season and is no longer the starter but will remain in the rotation. Hargrove is a physical specimen with the natural ability and raw skills dominate some day... but he may be a bigger project than even many Rams insiders suspected. Hargrove is very raw, being a former prep QB and safety who only played two seasons at Georgia Tech (suspended his junior year for academic reasons and elected to skip his senior season and come out early). He is still a tremendous dynasty prospect, but will be hard pressed to make a big contribution for redraft purposes until he figures more prominently in the Rams DL rotation.
LB Derrick Brooks, TB:
(2 tackles, 1 assist after only 4 tackles week one... he did have an INT in that game) The perennial Pro Bowler is well off the pace of last year when he had 109 tackles and averaged nearly 7 per game. He is a seemingly ageless physical specimen who has never missed a game and managed to play at the highest level in his ten previous seasons... Brooks will be 33 by the time the 2006 NFL Draft rolls around.
LB Dan Morgan, CAR:
Only 2 tackles, 1 assist in the wake of a 3 tackle, 1 assist game in the game one gut-wrencher to the Saints. His problems in the past stemmed from an inability to stay on the field. When he suited up, he generally has produced at a high level... Morgan (helped carry the Miami MLB torch from Ray Lewis to Jonathan Vilma) was credited with 20+ combined tackles by the Carolina defensive coaches after reviewing the 2003 Super Bowl film. Last season he was pacing to be among the league leaders in tackles before missing a month's worth of games (AGAIN!). He just signed a lucrative contract so the power outage in his stat production can't be chalked up to contract negotiations weighing on his mind. Without man mountain Jenkins, OL blocking schemes will find it easier to get to him at the second level.
LB Napoleon Harris, MIN:
Only 3 tackles and two assists in the first game loss to the Bucs, than a 2 tackle, 1 assist game in the Bengals stinker. The Vikings are probably the biggest disappointment in the early going. So far Randy Moss for Nap and Troy Williamson is looking pretty lopsided... Minnesota doesn't have a good track record when it comes to blockbuster trades (see the infamous Herschell Walker trade that will go down as one of the most one-sided in league history).
DB Quentin Jammer, SD:
Just 5 tackles in his first two games COMBINED, with no INTs (and only one INT all of last season). This former high first rouder has not played up to his formidable college pedigree, and up to now, hasn't made enough big plays to justify the high value draft pick used on him.
DB Madieu Williams, CIN:
There is no doubt Williams is one of the Bengals most talented young defenders with Odell Thurman and David Pollack (HC Marvin Lewis is investing high draft picks on defense and it is paying off... a first and two second rounders are represented by these three). He put up borderline Defensive Rookie of the Year numbers in 2004 with 103 combined tackles (86 solos), 2 sacks, 3 INTs and a return TD, putting superb athleticism and impressive versatility on display from CB, SS and FS. For now he has settled into the FS role, probably his most natural position. While coming out strong with a 10 combo tackle effort in the first game victory, he had 2 solos and 1 assist on Sunday. Williams should evolve into one of the surest open field tacklers at FS in the NFL. But it is starting to look like after a rough start in the inaugural two seasons of the Lewis regime, the HC finally has enough of his kind of players to construct the kind of defense he was renowned for with the Ravens. With a better supporting cast and surrounding talent (particularly strong DROY candidate Thurman and former top collegiate DE Pollack), Williams may play more of a center fielder role and not have as many sloppy seconds tackle opps with the voracious, ultra-talented Georgia rookies in front of him. The Vikings shut the run down early as they fell far behind quickly and were forced into a catch up mode passing game, so the lack of production by the former Terps star could be anomalous... this situation bears close watching in the upcoming weeks/months.
DB Dunta Robinson, HOU:
A lackluster 2 tackles, 3 assists in the first game shellacking by the Bills, than just 3 tackles in the 27-7 beating at the hands of the Steelers. Because not as much was expected of the Texans as the Vikings, they may not be as big a disappointment, but surely far more was expected and they have been colossal disappointments thus far. Robinson could be the victim of his outstanding rookie season in 2004, in which he was narrowly eclipsed for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors to Jonathan Vilma. Despite his lack of experience he came in and immediately performed at an extremely high level... some scouts insisted he merited Pro Bowl consideration and was already playing like one of the top CBs in the NFL. With that kind of a reputation preceding him, QBs may be reluctant to test him, even at this early stage in his career. In the IDP world, CB is the one position subject to the odd, upside-down state of affairs where stat production can be inversely proportionate to talent. The better you are, the worse your numbers. This second year stud CB is really, really good and possesses exceptional athleticism and talent... which is bad!