Monday, August 26, 2013
The NFL All-Newcomer Team, Defense
In part one of the 2013 NFL All-Newcomer team, we gave you the top new faces in new places at each position on offense. The goal is to identify those players at each spot that will have the biggest impact on their new team's fortunes this year, from rookie Travis Frederick solidifying the middle of the Cowboys offensive line, to Danny Amendola becoming Tom Brady's new security blanket (when he's not hurt).
In part two of the series, we go defense and special teams. It may be a bit harder to quantify value of a defensive tackle or linebacker than a running back or wide receiver, but if your defense can't get off the field and is giving up touchdown after touchdown, the offense needs to keep pace. That means they become one dimensional. They don't have time to run, so the play-action game doesn't work anymore. The defense knows what's coming, turns up the pass rush, and the opposing secondary gets better jumps on the ball. And that's how Drew Brees, while putting up crazy touchdown totals, finishes first or second in interceptions thrown in two of the past three seasons (55 total).
So without further ado, Part Two of the 2013 NFL All-Newcomer Team, Defense and Special Teams:
DE: Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens
Dumervil may be an outside linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4, but this here is a 4-3 scheme and Dumervil has 63.5 sacks over his first six seasons in the league, with three seasons over 10 and another of 9.5. He may have more responsibility for dropping into coverage now, but with the rejuvenated Terrell Suggs on the other side, Dumervil could be in for a monster season.
DE: Osi Umenyiora, Atlanta Falcons
This spot could have rightfully gone to Cliff Avril, who left Detroit for Seattle, or Ezekiel Ansah, who replaced Avril with the Lions (and my early pick for DROY). But it's Umenyiora who will have the biggest influence on whether the Falcons can take the next step into the Super Bowl conversation. With all of the weapons on offense, Atlanta is going to score. But even with John Abraham's 10 sacks last year, Atlanta finished just 28th in the league with 29 sacks. Not only does Umenyiora have to at least equal Abraham's production (Abraham went to Arizona this offseason), he needs to take it up a notch. If he doesn't, Falcons fans should prepare themselves for another January heartache.
DT: Tommy Kelly, New England Patriots
Vince Wilfork has been holding down the middle of the Patriots' line for years, taking double- and triple-teams and giving lesser players the opportunities for one-on-one battles. Kelly may have been a false-start machine in Oakland, but he's also the most talented tackle to line up next to Wilfork since Richard Seymore left. Wilfork and Kelly combined in the middle are going to open up the rush lanes for the ends and keep the interior offensive linemen from getting to the next level on the Pats' linebackers.
DT: Aubrayo Franklin, Indianapolis Colts
While you could make a solid argument for a couple of rookie DTs like Star Lotulelei (Panthers) or Sheldon Richardson (Jets), the Colts' transition to a successful 3-4 in year two of the Chuck Pagano era depends on the same thing as any other team's transition to a 3-4: A legitimate nose tackle to clog up the middle. Without that, you get what the Colts had last year, which was a run defense that gave up 5.1 yards per carry (only New Orleans was worse). Nobody is going to mistake Franklin for Haloti Ngata, and he's probably not the best tackle to switch teams this offseason, but he will be critical to the Colts' defense being good enough to take advantage of Andrew Luck and the offense.
LB: Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals
If the Cardinals want to compete in a division with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, they had to beef up their run defense. Dansby returns his NFL roots after three years in Miami, where his team-leading 103 tackles helped the Dolphins hold opposing defenses to just 4.0 yards per carry last year. Opposing offenses rushed the ball against Arizona 506 times last year, second most behind only Jacksonville. Dansby's presence should restore some of the balance and force opposing QBs to contend with the Cards' very decent pass defense.
LB: Dannell Ellerbe, Miami Dolphins
It will be Ellerbe who is tasked with improving on what Dansby brought to Miami's defense last year. Personally, I think this is a downgrade when you factor in contracts and GM Jeff Ireland goes out in flames after an offseason straight out of the Dan Snyder playbook (early 2000s edition). But if we're talking about guys who will have major impacts on their new teams' success or failure this year, you can't leave out the guy with the shiny new five-year, $34.75 million contract.
LB: James Harrison, Cincinnati Bengals
If you've watched Hard Knocks, you've seen what I have: A strange dude hell bent on destruction. The AFC North is wide open, and while it's the Bengals offense that needs to take the next step, Harrison could also make the difference and turn a few of last year's six losses by 10 or fewer points into Ws.
CB: Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There was once a time in sports where you didn't even look at a guy as a major contributor the year after a major injury. That time has passed. Revis is nearly a year removed from the knee injury he suffered in his final season with the Jets, and if he is able to return to form, he will be a major factor in the Bucs' ability to navigate their division. Revis vs. Julio Jones. Revis vs. Roddy White. Revis vs. Marques Colston. Revis vs. Steve Smith. You get the picture. Playing defense is easier when Revis Island is a part of the equation.
CB: Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
In another episode of "What the hell is Jeff Ireland doing?" the Chiefs pick up a big, fast corner who is only 26-years-old, and they do it for roughly half of what Ireland paid mediocre receiver Brian Hartline. The new offense under Andy Reid and Alex Smith is getting the ink in KC, but the defense has the potential to be the best in the division. The Chiefs are going to get pressure on the QB, and with Smith now opposite Brandon Flowers, with Dunta Robinson in the slot, opposing quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning are going to have some rough days this season.
S: Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When you have the league's worst pass defense in the league's most pass-heavy division, that's an issue. With Revis manning one corner and Goldson now joining 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron at safety, Tampa may finally be able to compete with the high-powered offenses of its division foes. Now just to get a QB who can handle himself in the face of a rush...
S: Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers
The easy pick is to go with veteran future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, now of the Texans, but with Goldson off to the Bucs, it's the rookie Reid out of LSU who takes his place. It's not often a rookie gets to step in as the only first-year starter on a Super Bowl defense, but that's how much faith 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has in the 2012 All-American. He better show up, because San Francisco doesn't have a Plan B (Craig Dahl). And when it comes to defending the Bruce Arians offense in Arizona, or even the Sam Bradford-Chris Givens connection out of St. Louis (don't laugh), you don't want the middle of the field covered by a rookie who doesn't know which way is up.
PK: Phil Dawson, San Francisco 49ers
David Akers got to attempt 42 field goals last season in San Francisco. If Dawson gets those kinds of opportunities, you can guarantee he'll make a hell of a lot more than 29. If Akers had made even just half of the ones he missed, he would have been the second-highest scoring player in the league last year. Dawson may just be a kicker, but he's going to add an average of 2-3 points per game to the Niners total.
P: Shane Lechler, Houston Texans
With the incredibly bad offensive season ahead in Oakland, it's a shame they had to let one of the top punters in the league leave. But cap hell is what it is, and I guess $5.5 million was more than they could afford for a punter. Oh well. Their loss is Houston's gain, and Texans coach Gary Kubiak gets an ace punter to match his ultra-conservative decision making (only attempted seven fourth downs all year in 2012). Hooray, field position!
PR/KR: Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
This is really a crapshoot, and the call could have gone to any number of guys, including fellow rookie Cordarrelle Patterson of the Vikings. I even thought about going with Ted Ginn just so I could bag on Jeff Ireland again. But Austin, the eighth pick in the draft, is supposedly a combination of cheetah speed and hummingbird elusiveness (that's a thing, right?). Put it this way — anybody want to bet me he doesn't return a kick for a touchdown this year?