The Defensive Backs:
Last season, the Stillers paid 10 defensive backs. The cap hit for this unit was about
$7.85 M. An even distribution, as outlined in my previous two articles, would have paid these men about $9.76 M. 7.85 is about 80% of 9.76. The Stillers scrimped, to some degree, on this unit but not to the extent that they did on the D-line.
The FO got a lot of value for their money. The Stiller pass defense was in the top 10 this year. That�s pretty good; considering that the team mounted a credible pass rush in about four of sixteen games, that ranking is quite remarkable. Seriously, the D-side got 38 sacks this year; they totaled 21 in the two Jax games, Bengals 1st game, and in the finale vs. the Bolts.
None of the Stiller D-backs went to the Pro Bowl; perhaps only Dwayne Washington could have been considered deserving. That said, as a unit, the men on the 2000 roster performed very well. However, given the contract situation here coupled with past performance at Stiller HQ, there is some question that this group can hold together.
At CB, both Washington and Scott have their contracts set to expire after the 2001 season. History suggests that Scott will be an UFA after next year and so may be gone after 2002. Following the Stillers 2001 finale, Dwayne could go straight from the locker room to the open market. He may have company there; Townsend and Simmons will be RFA shortly. If not now, they could be free to leave next year.
This a consequence lingering from the post-96 exodus at the CB position. Four of five CB on the 2000 roster came to the team within the period between the �97 and �98 drafts. The situation isn�t much different at safety; Alexander, Battles and Shields all have contracts up after 2001. Turning from cash, caps, contracts and all that crap, let�s look at some of the prominent D-units in the League today:
State of the Art: With the advent of multiple WR sets, there is a premium on cover skills throughout the secondary. Ideally, FS should have size, speed and coverage skill similar to big CB. SS is a swing position; Carnell Lake had superb skills but that is not common. While the SS does need to be able to play a TE downfield, this man is often the eighth man in the box. Like WR, CB come in all shapes and sizes. The dual prototypes might be "cover guys" like Rolle and Starks and "combo guys" like C. Woodson, McAlister or R. Woodson, circa �93. Traditionally, the Stillers have sought out the latter variety. Turning to some current groups:
- Ravens: Starks, at 5�-10" 170, is a cover type with tremendous speed. McAlister is a big, fast CB; together these men had 37 PD and 10 INT last year. FS Woodson is a converted CB; elderly but retains the speed to help over the top and to match-up with most teams 3rd WR. SS Herring is a fairly ordinary player.
- Fins: A balanced CB tandem just a bit smaller than the Stiller duo; Surtain and Madison had 31 PD and 10 INT last year, production nearly identical to Chad and Dwayne. FS Brock Marion is a former 8th round pick whose production (10 PD, 5 INT) was quite similar to the Ravens Woodson. SS Brian Walker is nothing special.
- Titans: Big CB, small CB similar to Ravens. Rolle and D. Walker went for 31 PD and 9 INT combined though Rolle had 7 of the picks. Rolle doesn�t have the speed of Starks but can jump with anyone in the League. SS Bishop, like Marion a former 8th round Pro Bowler, plays the run and defended 7 passes. FS Robertson is an okay complementary player.
- Giants: Huge DB corps, all +6�-1" and 215-225. CB Jason Sehorn was the state of the art, circa �97. FS S. Williams has CB coverage skills and SS size. S. Garnes is a big time run-stuffing SS who, this season, has had to give CB D. Thomas a lot of help over the top. This weekend, we will see whether Sehorn can single up on Randy Moss.
- Raiders: A third big CB, small CB tandem. C. Woodson has been a Pro Bowler since he collected his Heisman. Eric Allen is a cover type 13 year vet; at this point, he gets picked on but still can make an opponent pay. SS M. Pope is a former SF CB; FS Dorsett is a great athlete but not much at his position.
Note: Four of the five teams outlined here were profiled in my D-line article. Here, the Raiders substitute for the Saints. The NO-Viking playoff game demonstrated the limitations of relying strictly on pressure to stop a powerful passing attack. The Vikes O-line is huge and talented. When they defeated the Saint D-line, DB such as Perry and Oldham went on to demonstrated why the Stillers let them ride.
Summary: Obviously, there is a reciprocal relationship between the D-backs and the pass rush personnel up-front. If a D-coordinator has (4) D-backs who can match-up, then he is not forced into match-up substitutions. No team has (4) but some of the top teams do have (3). The Stillers do not; when they make match-up moves, they are forced, variously, to remove (1) of their top Fr. 7 players or to drop Porter, their best rusher, into coverage. This reduces the chance to pressure the QB. With no pressure, it can take (6) D- backs�s to hold coverage! In sum, while the 2000 Stillers played the pass pretty well, they rarely overmatched their opponents.
2000 Stillers: by tenure with the team .
#41 Lee Flowers: Very tough, excellent team guy, makes plays on desire.
Is a big hitter but, too often, whiffs in space. Somewhat lacking in coverage skills; in sum, is a player you can win with but is not a player who overmatches anyone. Contract up after 2002; at that point Lee will be an 8 year vet.
#30 Chad Scott: Until this season, plagued by injury. Starter as a rookie in �97, got hurt and missed time but came back to be the Stillers best DB in the stretch run. ACL injury in off-season workouts, missed all of �98. Tentative in �99 and, again, missed time to injury. Seemed to be fully recovered last year with 14 PD and 5 INT; generally played well, sometimes superbly. Scott is a good CB but lacks the make-up speed to be great. If he were moved to FS, could be a Pro Bowl player. This move could certainly allow the team to develop the kind of match-up advantages described previously. Will be a UFA after the 2001 season, should be considered a core player into 2005 or so.
#20 Dwayne Washington: Former 1st round pick (Vikings, 94). FA acquisition following the �97 season when the Stillers hoped to field Scott and Dwayne at CB with Lake at SS. Oh well. Has been a superb player for the Stillers; 14 INT in 3 years, 18 PD this past year after 12 and 29 in the previous two seasons. Not especially fast but knows how to play CB; limited J. Smith in Jags 1 as few CB have ever done. A 7-year vet but, at 27, is still young. DW has emerged as a team leader; he and Scott should form the DB core from here into the 2003-5 season. If not Chad, Washington is a candidate for a move to FS.
#26 Deshea Townsend: Size similar to Rolle and Starks but lacks their athleticism. Has emerged as a trusty ST man and nickel back. Quick, good feet, almost certainly better manned-up than in soft coverage since, after giving a cushion, he lacks the ability to close. Slightly built but was Stillers #4 sack man this past season. RFA in 2001; should receive a qualifying offer but nothing more. Deshea hasn�t got the top end to start in the League; there are players with his ability available every year on the second day of the college draft.
#23 Jason Simmons: Drafted5/98, one round after Townsend. Stillers sent (3) 7th round picks to Atlanta in order to draft this man. One player the Falcons selected with those picks was OT Ephraim Salaam. Not a household name, Salaam became a Super Bowl starter and has remained the Falcon�s ROT since that time. Beautiful work in the �98 draft; the Stillers needed a 5th because their own had been part of the Staat package. Having selected Conrad in round 3, they certainly couldn�t use Salaam.
Jason Simmons made a fine play in the Skins game when he stripped their TE at the goal line. He is a fair ST player but, really, is too small and too slow to contribute much. He is an RFA but should get no offer.
#47 Scott Shields: Fruit of another draft day blockbuster. In �99, the Stillers moved down in the 2nd acquiring the Vikings 3rd and 5th in the deal. That gave the Stillers (4) spots in the 5th; they shipped (2) to the Raiders for that team�s 3rd in 2000. Shields hasn�t done much but Porter and Poteat have produced and promise more to come. If there is a morale, it is that it is better to move down than to move up.
Shields plays like a cement-head. Remember Browns 1? KJ lined up left and came across the field. I think the Stillers were in a two deep; Shields was in some other area code. KJ is crossing and KJ is wide open. You can�t be more open. Shields was standing alone with, I swear, his legs crossed. He had struck a pose though it was one more useful for, say, modeling Armani than playing FS in the NFL. When KJ made the catch, Weber�s finest swung into action flashing that stopwatch speed which made him, once, so highly coveted.
Shields shows no signs of being an NFL safety. I�d have him gain 15 pounds or so and move him to LB. He is a project and, to me, projects best as a Speed Freak type LB. While he learns, he could earn his keep playing ST. It could be argued that LB who can�t tackle haven�t much value. Very true, but, up front, it is tackle or die. This imperative could focus Shields� attention.
#24 Nikia Codie: Plucked off Detroit�s P. Squad last winter. Played (4) games when Shields went on IR. Had 1st career INT when Leaf hit him between the numbers. Cap hit was $70K in 2000; worth twice that.
#27 Brent Alexander: If Shields gets little from considerable ability, the opposite is true for this man. Alexander settled the pass defense this season; his savvy made the players around him more effective. Can play both FS and SS and is effective on ST. Lacks speed but makes plays on intelligence and anticipation.
On the downside, Brent is not an especially good cover man. Did have 3 INT but only 4 PD this past season. I like him as a 3rd safety. If he starts, should be paired with a man who has superior cover skills. Since neither Alex nor Flowers cover very well, their tandem doesn�t get the Stillers an overmatch in this department.
#22 Hank Poteat: Superb punt returner, good KO man, didn�t play defense this year. Coming out of college, was considered to have good man-up skills but would likely struggle in zone coverage. Better explosiveness that Townsend but size/speed/quickness suggests that he is a nickel back.
#28 Ainsley Battles: Rookie FA, appears to be a young Brent Alexander.
Summary: While there is no immediate need in the starting corps, the Stillers are one high speed, shutdown CB from having an exceptional secondary. It is more likely that they would get such a player in the draft than via FA since proven CB come at a nice price. Given that Alexander and Washington both will be up for renewal following the 2001 season, it may be smart to draft at CB/FS this year. The Stillers need to get ahead of the curve; drafting a quality DB this spring might give them room to maneuver in the winter of 2002. Poteat is the wild card in all this; if the FO sees him as a starter, the need here goes way down.
Prospects for Improvement:
First Day: I don�t see the Stillers going CB in round one unless they do a deal like the Gildon-to-Bears outlined in my LB article. If not, some of these men will be gone when the Stillers draft in round two. Not all though, so:
Cover Types: Again, smaller more athletic players.
- Jamal Fletcher 5�-10" 175, 4.5 40. Univ. of Wisconsin. Maybe best cover CB in the draft, top 15 type.
- Fred Smoots 5�-10" 180, 4.45 40. Miss. State. Highly confident, very good cover man who is almost as good as he thinks he is. Unlikely to be available in 2nd.
- Will Allen, 5�-10" 180, 4.28 40. Syracuse. Really fast, really raw. Possibly available in 2nd. My early favorite.
- Andre Dyson, 5�-10", 170, 4.38 40. Utah. Brother in pros. Attitude issues, got torched in one game this year and went into a shell for the rest of the season. Will be available in 2nd but is a dubious value there.
Combo types: "Stiller" types.
Quentin Jammer (Texas), Nate Clements (OSU), Gary Baxter (Baylor) and Ken Lucas (Miss.) are all about 6�-0" 195 and 4.4-4.5. Jammer may have the most upside; Clements can return kicks. Unlikely any of these men will be available in the 2nd.
Ligarius Jennings ( Tenn. Something) and Dwight Smith (Akron) are just as fast, weigh in at about 200# but are somewhat shorter. Both will be available in the 2nd.
Second day: If the Stillers stick with only two first day picks, it is not likely that they will draft at DB until round 4, or later. There will be a lot of speed available on the second day, in all sizes.
- Rays Walls 5�-10, 180 4.38 . So. Miss. Townsend with speed.
- Khari Reynolds as Walls but William & Mary.
- Nate Gates, Georgia Southern. Ditto. 4.29 40.
- Eric Kelly 5�-10" 200 4.38 40. Kentucky.
- Scott Cary 5�-11" 208 4.38. Kentucky State.
f. Tony Driver 5�-11" 195, FS-type. Notre Dame
Sleepers: These players suffered injuries early-on which will took them out of their regular season. Can be values in the late rounds; refer to Terrell Davis or Anthony Poindexter.
g. Willie Middlebrook 6�-2" 195. Minnesota.
- Trayvon Walker 6�-1� 195. Illinois.
(Next Time: D-side Free Agents)
The Steel Phantom